While some recent developments seem to suggest that the pet care industry is catching up, the vast majority of guinea pig cages for sale are just far too small. But guinea pig slaves can take matters into their own hands, by building the cage our pigs deserve.
Guinea Pig Cages is one of the most well known guinea pig communities on the internet. The site came about because of the findings of the owner of the Cavy Spirit guinea pig rescue, that the larger the cage, the happier and therefore healthier the pigs were. The old rules for guinea pig cage size were found to be outdated, these old cages just weren't big enough for a piggies needs!
Remember that pet care for every animal has moved on hugely since we first welcomed companion animals into our homes, and sadly, the smaller animals were left behind in this drive to give our pets the best care we could. In the last 5-10 years though, guinea pig care has modernised hugely, and the two most important points of guinea pig care that we have discovered are that having a companion and having a large cage make the difference between a guinea pig surviving, and a guinea pig thriving. One day, we can hope, the pet care industry will join us in wanting this for our pets.
The recommended cage sizes listed on Guinea Pig Cages are the result of much trial and error, and you can read the testimonials page there, or really any of the major good guinea pig forums, to see countless tales of piggies who have become happier and more sociable animals by virtue of getting that large C&C cage.
Guinea pigs love to run, and love to move about constantly when they are awake. Think about how much space you have to roam inside, or how much space your pet dog or cat has. It's only fair that a piggie has just as much space proportional to her body size.
Remember that guinea pigs have a dominance hierarchy and this means that territory size is important! A small cage will lead to squabbles for territory, particularly amongst boars, so the larger the cage, the more peace there will be.
A larger cage has more space for houses, toys, bowls, hay racks and water bottles - the more you have of all these things, the happier and more content your piggies will be.
If you have your first young pigs at the moment, it can be hard to believe how big your pigs will get! I used to wonder at the size of the pigs I saw on Guinea Lynx, while looking at my little Rosie and Gracie who could each fit in the palm of my hand. Now I look at my five big girls in their 3x5 C&C and wonder if I should make it a bit bigger!
"Hey, this house has shrunk!" (Click for full size versions.)
What Difference Does It Make Really?:
Many pigs, when experiencing a large cage for the first time are a little overcome. It can take a while to win a nervous new piggie around and it might be a couple of weeks or more before you start to see how happy your pigs are. The number one difference to the happiness of a piggie is having a piggie pal, but a large cage is a close second.
When I adopted and brought home Brie and Frisky as little pups they lived in their quarantine cage in the bedroom. Even though this cage fell just short of the minimum for two pigs, it was clear that this would never be enough space for a non-temporary home. The little pigs just couldn't stretch their legs out properly, their wasn't enough space to run as fast as they wanted to which led to them dealing with their energy in other ways - namely, bickering and getting on each others nerves!
After introductions with my older pair of girls, they went to live in the newly expanded 3x4 cage. I had no idea piggies were capable of moving so darn fast! Brie and Frisky would zoom around and round the perimeter of the cage, seemingly overcome that finally they could run at full pelt. At floor time I would open up the door and they would run round the cage, out the door, around the room, back in the door and round the cage - rinse, lather, repeat until they threw themselves down on the floor of the cage for a quick nap.
I knew them just how important a big cage was for happiness and health, not to mention herd harmony. (Brie still does those mad zoomies by the way!)
When Purdie came to our house she had been a lone piggie in a small cage. Despite being near blind she is the biggest fan of a large living space as she loves to trundle about at her own speed. She and Gracie are huge fans of checking out every new house or toy that changes position - and of course the bigger the cage, the more houses and toys there are to play with.
Bigger cage = happier pigs. Happier pigs = healthier pigs.
Brie chills out in her favourite corner.
Guinea pigs must also be kept inside. It was (and is in many countries) common practise to keep guinea pigs outside in a hutch. Again, in the last 5-10 years we have learned so much more about these little animals. We now know that their tolerated temperature range is far smaller than we previously thought. We also know that they adore being part of a human family as well as their own piggie family. We also know that piggies are capable of falling into a depression from loneliness, and that a stressed or unhappy piggie is far more likely to become ill.
Few of us would even think of keeping our pet dog outside at all times, or living outside ourselves in our shed at all times. While guinea pigs can survive this method of housing, we want our guinea pigs to thrive.
There are many more reasons guinea pigs must be kept inside and they are outlined in the article as further reading here, so as not to derail this topic.
Dangers of Outdoor Housing
How To Build:
Cubes can be bought in major stores in the US, and online in the UK. Coroplast can be bought from sign makers or from eBay. The guide on Guinea Pig Cages is quite thorough, and even the clumsiest and most error prone (this from the woman who once cut her odd shaped cage coroplast back to front!) can put together a great cage. I find the optional zipties between cubes to be very helpful.
If you live in a country where cubes or coroplast are hard to come by, you can use different piggie safe materials. A linoleum flooring can be used, or in some places people have used the material from paddling pools. The forum on Guinea Pig Cages has message boards for various countries so you can get help building your cage.
If you are in the UK, I have a UK Supplies Link List that I try to keep as up to date as possible.
Cage tops can be used for safety if you have larger animals in your house or enquiring toddlers. If that doesn't apply you can leave the cage open at the top, which allows more interaction with your piggies. If you have both male and female pigs in your house but in separate cages it is best to put a lid on top of the males cage to prevent them climbing out to get to the females. Piggies are not known for their climbing skills but a determined boar can and will get to any females nearby in heat if he can.
It is also a good idea not to put any houses too near the walls of the cage for this same reason - again, piggies are not known for their jumping skills, but the occasional pig can be very skilled at it! If a house is near a cage wall it provides the means for escape, and though pigs can be skilled at getting out, few are skilled at getting back in.
"What? I do this all the time!"
Where To Put:
The best place for your cage is in a high traffic area of your house so that your guinea pigs get the maximum human socialisation. For many people this is the living room or kitchen, but it can also be your bedroom. Most important is to make sure that the cage is not in any draughts as that is the major cause of URI's. The room needs to maintain a temperature of between 65 to 75 degrees F (18 to 24 degrees C) - higher than this can cause heat stroke which pigs are very susceptible to as they have no means of cooling themselves (they can't sweat!), lower than this and the pigs get as chilly as we would in light clothing - guinea pig hair is no thicker than the hair on our human heads (unlike many other mammals).
The cage can either be up high, on a table or built up on cubes with storage underneath, or it can be on the floor. The former is a good idea again if there are larger animals or enquiring toddlers in the house. The latter is fine as long as there are no draughts.
My cage is on the floor with a door built in so that I can just open the door for floor time. The benefit of this is that when the piggies need to pee or poo they run back in the cage to do it! Much less tidying up for me!
Hot Weather & Guinea Pigs
Cold Weather & Guinea Pigs
Rosie helps me open the door for floor time.
As long as the area of your cage meets the recommended size you can be as creative as you like with the overall shape. You can have an additional level (often called a hay loft), just make sure that the ramp is safe and not to steep. There is a photo gallery on Guinea Pig Cages where you can get some neat ideas.
Remember as well that a cage can always be expanded upon later. My own cage has gone from a 2x4 L-shaped square to a 3x4 L-shaped rectangle to a 3x5 rectangle.
(Click images for large versions.)
Make sure your cubes are the kind that are 9 squares by 9 squares grids. Last year Target changed their cubes to an 8 square by 8 square grid and these are unsafe! The squares are too large and a guinea pig can get her head stuck which is traumatic and potentially fatal if you aren't there to help her. It may not look like a big size difference but it is! Guinea pigs can get their head stuck in a much smaller space than you would think.
If you have baby pigs it is best to double up your cubes slightly staggered so that the squares in the grid are even smaller. Baby pigs can get their head stuck in normal "safe" cubes so it is best to take this precaution with the very young pigs.
Now that you have your cage you need to decide on your bedding! This falls into two broad categories, disposable bedding and reusable bedding.
Disposable bedding options include Carefresh, Yesterday's News, Megazorb, Aspen shavings, and wood pellets. Newspaper is usually used beneath these or a different kind of the above beddings underneath another. Disposable beddings that should never be used are cedar shavings, pine shavings, sawdust, cat litter, corn cob bedding, straw or just newspaper by itself. Cedar gives off phenols that are very harmful to small animals, as does non-kiln dried pine - many of us prefer to skip pine altogether to be on the safe side. Corn cob bedding and straw go very moldy and can hurt a piggies feet. Sawdust is far too dusty and causes URI's. Cat litter is very dusty as well and can be toxic if swallowed. Newspaper by itself of course is not absorbent enough and is very smelly and horrible to live on.
The most common reusable bedding is fleece, just normal polyester fleece. While disposable beddings work by absorbing urine, fleece works by wicking the urine through to layers of towels underneath. You can buy fleece in many stores and all you need to do to prepare it for use is to wash it 3-4 times without any fabric conditioner - this breaks down the water resistant properties of the fleece. You can then cut or fold the fleece (I fold) to the shape of your cage, making sure to have at least 2-3 layers of towels underneath (I buy the big bath sheet towels and fold them over).
The fleece can either be attached in place to the coroplast using some kind of bullclip or similar, or you can use large flat stones or bricks in the corners to prevent any would be tunnellers. I use a large stone on the place Brie always tries to tunnel.
The bedding I use is Vetbed Gold with one end of the cage being fleece. Vetbed works in much the same way as fleece but it is designed specifically for animals and wicks moisture away very quickly. It also combats odour and inhibits dust mites which is great for my dust allergies. It is quite expensive but lasts for years. It also means that I only need to do a full cage changeover every week. As far as I know it is not available in the US, but some US members of Guinea Lynx have ordered it across especially as it is very efficient and the deep pile is very luxurious to the guinea pigs. Vetbed is available in the UK and Canada.
Whatever bedding you use it is normal that the guinea pigs will eat a small amount. Pigs try things out with their teeth, and find the strangest things tasty. In small amounts this is not harmful but it does help to illustrate further why some beddings are dangerous to use.
"Comfy, we has it."
Cleaning Your Cage:
Whichever bedding you use you can spot clean one or twice a day, either brushing up used bedding in the case of disposable options, or brushing up or hoovering poos and hay off of the fleece. Once to twice a week the whole cage will need cleaned out. With the fleece and towels you simply brush it down and put it all in the washing machine - so make sure you have enough fleece and towels to use as bedding while the first lot is in the wash. A little vinegar in the wash will help combat any odours that would try to build up over time.
When all the bedding is lifted up you can wash down the coroplast. The best thing to use is a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water. This is non-toxic to the guinea pigs and very effective at cleaning and combating odours. The coroplast is very easy to wipe down.
The bigger your cage the longer it will stay clean, a small cage will need cleaned out more regularly.
A larger cage results in happier, healthier piggies. The piggies have more room to exercise, can run about whenever they so wish, and there is more space to have lots of different houses and toys that can be moved about to create a new environment to explore every single day. Larger cages also result in less fights for space, particularly with boars.
As if that wasn't enough, larger cages stay cleaner for longer, hurrah. And with these happy healthy pigs running about, there is plenty for us owners to watch and enjoy.
"Hey!", says Rosie, "Get back in your inferior side of the room!"
NB: Still to come - introductions, quarantine, finding your new pig, as well as toys, hidey houses and cage accessories :)