Guinea Pig Run FAQs

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Welcome to the world of guinea pigs. If you’re reading this, you either already care for your own ‘piggies’ or you’re thinking of getting one as a pet. Before you spend any money on guinea pig runs, check out the information and useful links here. You can easily spend $100 / £70 or more on runs, or perhaps a house for your guinea pig, only to find its simply too small.

Whilst the average pet store sells all manner of ‘small animal products’, a little reading here could save you a small fortune and keep your guinea pig healthier and happier. Here’s some FAQs – click on the sections on the left for more detail.

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Why do I need to buy or make a guinea pig run?

Modern domestic guinea pigs are thought to be the descendants of wild cavy from South America. Just like their roaming ancestors, they need plenty of space to roam in to keep them healthy and contended. They absolutely require daily exercise – this is not an animal that can live in a cage or house all the time. You need a run to allow them their natural behavioural patterns, exercise and mental stimulation. Apart from avoiding boredom, guinea pigs biologically need exercise to maintain bodily function. If they become overweight they are prone to ill-health, including cardiac problems, diabetes, bladder problems, breathing problems, foot diseases, constipation, and ovarian cysts in females (1).

There are many options for making or buying something suitable to allow your guinea pig his or her freedom in.

How big should it be?

You might read that guinea pigs need a minimum size of 4 square foot of space per guinea pig for housing. This is now considered by many guinea pig experts to be totally out of date – as we know more about keeping guinea pigs as pets, standards change. The modern trend is for a 7.5 foot square house area – for one guinea pig, and more for multi-guinea pig ‘households (1).

You’ll also need the run for exercise – as big as possible. Happy guinea pigs literally run around, cavorting about, making little bucking and twisting movements referred to as ‘popcorning’. Think of a guinea pig shouting ‘wahay!!’ – using body language only, and you kind of have the idea of popcorning.

Where do I buy a good, cheap run?

With space in mind, you may find cheaper runs sold in pet stores are simply too small. Second hand runs will be cheaper, but see the section on Safety before buying one. You could also make on yourself. We’re mentioning experts Cavy Spirit guinea pig rescue recommend Sue’s C & C cages (2) for cheap, quality modular housing – you could try adapting the designs to make a large indoor run. A percentage of proceeds from the sales also support their work and the cages can be delivered outside the US on request.

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Can I use it outdoors?

You can’t use a C&C cage – indoor use only. But you can buy or construct an outdoor run – great for exercise, natural behaviour and stimualtion. Only use it when the weather is mild. Guinea pigs don’t tolerate extremes of temperature – so they should never spend all their time outdoors, even in an outdoor hutch. Make sure its is predator proof, escape proof and child proof.

What’s the difference between a cavy and a guinea pig?

Trick question really – a guinea pig is a cavy; it’s just a more ‘zoologically’ correct name for them. But they are totally distinct from wild cavy – pet guinea pigs are domestic animals, needing care and suitable temperatures, unlike their wilder and hardier cousins.

Jules Hanson

Useful Resources

  1. Guinea Pig Cages [online] – site provided by  Cavy Spirit {online}. Your Guinea Pig’s Home.

http://www.guineapigcages.com

2. Guinea Pig Cages [online] – site provided by  Cavy Spirit {online}. Buy A C C Cage.

http://www.guineapigcages.com/buycc.htm

Photo Credits – fantastic photos by:

1. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/alimay 2. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/Istalri


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Outdoor Runs

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The first thing to be aware of is that experts warn pet guinea pigs can’t live outside (1,2). They don’t tolerate extreme temperatures, and in a gale, their house could blow over, causing serious injury. So using a run outside is ok in mild weather, but only when you’re around to keep a watchful eye on the skies. Don’t leave your guinea pig out in wind or rain – or strong sunshine.

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Underneath the run – some tips

Garden chemicals, lawn ‘treatments’ weed killer and so on can be dangerous to your guinea pig. Even if you’re sure what has been treated where in your garden, we suggest you don’t risk it and use an indoor run instead. Also check for anything sharp and electrical cables – guinea pigs will chew electrical wires. Check for poisonous plants – for example, even buttercups (above) may harm your guinea pig.  It’s not possible to list all the poisonous plants in different states, counties and countries here but you can buy a ‘field guide’ book for your area to look them up. See Useful Resources for websites with more ideas (3,4).

Run design – some tips

Although experts recommend them for indoor use, be aware that C & C cages are not designed for outdoor use.

Create a ‘hidey place’ inside the run – being able to hide creates a naturally secure feeling for them. You can buy ‘hidey ‘toys’ in pet stores. Some owners use durable plastic ‘stools’ – the low-level type you might use to stand on to reach a high shelf. The space between the stools legs is great for ‘piggies’ to hide in.

If you’re buying an outdoor run from a pet store, buy the biggest run possible. We’ve seen some shockingly small runs advertised as suitable for guinea pigs, representing a waste of your money. Some are way too small to allow them to exercise properly in – meaning your cash has just gone on a bunch of wire and wood for no earthly reason! Watch out also for the measurements given – they may be from the outside of the run, not representing accurately the true amount of space available inside. If an absolute minimum of space for housing is 7.5 square feet for one guinea pig, you run needs to surpass this – remember they’re coming out of the house to truly get some proper exercise to keep them healthy.

Big enough to excercise? Typical store product

Big enough to excercise? Typical store product

Also make sure any wood or materials used in the frame’ of the run is not treated with chemicals as some chemicals will definitely harm you pet. Check the entire run carefully for anything sharp, including splinters or cut ends of wires, or anything that could become sharp with chewing. Make sure the gaps between wires are small enough to prevent smaller predators (snakes, rats, etc) sliding through them (see below).

Outdoor runs need to be escape proof – must be enclosed on all sides with a ‘roof’. Apart from losing your pet as it gallivants away, you need to keep things out as well as your ‘piggie’ in. Depending on where you live, treat any wildlife predator as a threat:

  • Foxes
  • Racoons
  • Stray dogs
  • Stray cats
  • Feral cats
  • Birds
  • Raccoons
  • Snakes
  • Ferrets
  • Rats
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The following advice applies outdoors and indoors for the run, housing and anywhere else the guinea pig will be. Although many other pets do co-exist peacefully with guinea pigs, ALWAYS be aware of the ‘unknown factor’. Guinea pigs are small, scurrying creatures – and, well, cats and dogs are larger, clawed, toothed animals, which have instincts to chase things, and sometimes hunt things. Simple as that. So bear in mind:

Pet dogs – no matter how normally ‘well behaved’, instinct can overtake a nice good dog from a nice good home! However well constructed your run (or guinea pig house) is, a large, aggressive dog in ‘attack mode’ is likely to be able to destroy it.

Pet cats – again, they may normally be the perfect garden companion, but ultimately, they’re an instinctual animal, and a guinea pig is not exactly a fighter – it’s small and defenceless.

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Parasite patrol

Check carefully every time at least after an outdoor session that your pet hasn’t picked up parasites – fleas, tics, small flies, etc. Be especially vigilant about flystrike, particularly for longer haired guinea pigs. Flystrike happens when flies lay eggs, usually around the bottom area, which hatch within hours into maggots. The maggots then eat the skin – apart from the gross-out factor, it causes serious systemic illness. Treat any suspicious sore patches, or the sight of flies around the guinea pig, or maggots on the skin or floor as an emergency needing immediate vet treatment. It happens more in warmer weather. Ask your vet for anti flystrike products to guard against this.

Kids!

Another potential threat to guinea pigs is unfortunately unsupervised children! Whilst this is obviously a common sense issue, it’s certainly worth reflecting on -no one’s saying kids are ‘bad’ here. Children may be enchanted by the delightful guinea pig and want to cuddle them. Think about how younger children express affection for their teddy bears, dolls and stuffed toys. Perfectly normal for them, its just they’re not old enough to know that this could hurt a lovely fluffy cuddly-looking guinea pig! Children obviously have to be carefully taught animal handling skills and need adult supervision around guinea pigs all the time until they are much older and have demonstrated fully they have acquired those skills. Younger children may also accidentally feed the guinea pig something that could hurt it, thinking they are being nice (6). They could also try to gets it attention inappropriately – perhaps banging the wire of the run, or making lots of noise (“Helloooooo Mr Guineeeeee Piggieeee!!!!”) that could sadly simply frighten and stress your ‘piggie’.

Maggie & Claire Down

IMPORTANT:

None of this information is intended to replace the advice of a knowledgeable professional vet on guinea pig care. These articles are intended as a general introduction to the topics only. Every single animal has different needs – so whilst efforts have been made to provide helpful information, we respectfully advise you to check with your vet to accommodate your individual pet’s needs. Thank you.

Useful resources

1. Guinea Pig Cages [online] – site provided by  Cavy Spirit guinea pig rescue [online].

Cage Safety – Cat, Dog & Kid Proofing your Cage.

http://www.guineapigcages.com/safety.htm

2. Guinea Lynx [online]. Housing for Health and Happiness.

http://www.guinealynx.info/housing.html

3. Guinea Lynx [online]. Poisonous Plants.

http://www.guinealynx.info/forages_poisonous.html

4. ASPCA [online] Animal  Poison Control Centre

http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/

5. ASPCA [online] ASPCA Guide to Pet Safe Gardening

http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/pet-care-tips/pet-safe-gardening.html

6. ASPCA [online] People Foods To Avoid Feeding Your Pets

http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/people-foods.html

Photo Credits – fantastic photos by:

1.  http://www.sxc.hu/profile/Poofy 2. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/wyrls 3. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/Gabija


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Indoor Runs

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There’s no reason why you shouldn’t buy or make an indoor run for you guinea pig. In guinea pig care, this is known as Floor Time and they need it every day, especially if their house is at the minimum size recommended by experts (7.5 square feet per guinea pig). Even if their house is bigger, include Floor Time as part of their daily routine for enrichment and exercise. You may reap the rewards with delightful displays of ‘popcorning’ where guinea pigs make crazy-looking little flips and turns – this is a sign of a happy ‘piggie’.

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How big should it be?

They key to it all is space. Guinea pigs need to be able to really run about to properly exercise and stay healthy – imagine housing a mini-athlete. You theoretically could construct an indoor run using modular Cubes and Coroplast (C&C) caging. C&C cages are made from modular grids, which you need to connect together to make the enclosure using cable ties rather than connectors. The grids are sold in many standard outlets in the US but be aware that the square spaces on the inner grids must not be more than 1.5 inches. This is vitally important as one expert author warns guinea pigs have died after becoming trapped in grids with larger spaces (1). We think you’d need a fair amount of grids to make it ‘worthwhile’ – bigger than the house so they can really zoom about. One guinea pig rescue organisation has an entire site devoted to guinea pig housing and recommends Sue’s C&C cages (2), with some of the profits from the sale going to support the rescue work.

Make sure the square spaces are less than 1.5 inches across

Make sure the square spaces are less than 1.5 inches across

One of Sue's C&C coroplast enclosure bottoms

One of Sue's C&C coroplast enclosure bottoms

One of Sue's C&C Cages assembled

One of Sue's C&C Cages assembled

Some tips

If you construct a large modular space for them to run in, be aware of potential hazards. The floor should not be wire. For other types of run, whether you buy one from a pet store or build on yourself, check for:

Sharp edges (cut wires, splinters, etc)

Treated wood – chemicals could be harmful if ingested

Small enough wire or mesh ‘spaces’ – could feet, or noses etc become caught? Could the guinea pig become trapped in anyway?

Some of the runs we’ve seen in pet stores are simply not big enough – the idea is to have the freedom to exercise outside the house and if the run isn’t big enough, in essence you just wasted your money. Buy the biggest size possible – experts seem to recommend a minimum living space of 7.5 square feet, for which they will need a bigger space to have floor time to exercise in.

Never place the run over or near to electrical wires or sockets or appliance wires, there is a real risk of electrocution. Guinea pigs are chewers and they will literally chew through electrical cables. Check the area under the run for anything that could cause injury, and don’t place it over freshly shampooed carpets as chemicals may cause harm. You may want to invest in a dedicated cheap rug to place underneath it, which you can keep clean just by popping in the washing machine. Droppings are not a huge issue with guinea pigs but they may leave some from time to time plus a little urine, so you may want to pop plastic bin liners under the rug – but make sure they can’t get to it to chew it as plastic can be harmful.

Some household substances and houseplants are poisons for pets (3,4). Easiest policy =  no houseplants plants at all in, on or touching the run, or anywhere a piggie could get to!

Think about who is around in the home. Pet dogs and cats do live peacefully alongside guinea pigs but should always be supervised, for the following reasons:

Pet dogs – no matter how well behaved, they may have an uncontrollable instinct to chase! Even if your dog seems ‘normally ok’ with your guinea pig, never leave them alone together. Should some canine instinct overtake your well-mannered dog, a hyped-up, excited dog will break into an indoor run, even if only ‘playing’. Could they poke an inquisitive nose or paw through a grid, mesh or wire space?

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Pet cats – again, no matter how normally well they seem to get along with your guinea pig, ultimately, both are animals. Pet cats may just want to ‘play’ but this can still seriously hurt a defenceless guinea pig. Do not leave them alone together and again, be careful that their  paws could not swipe into the run through the grid, mesh or wire spaces.

And of course, we’re sure we don’t need to tell more exotic pet owners about the dangers of leaving snakes, ferrets, rats, etc unsupervised.

If you have other pets, the bottom line is the run needs a roof and to be both escape proof to keep the guinea pig in and ‘predator proof’ to keep the other guys out.

Be aware especially of children, well, just being children. Younger children quite naturally express affection for their teddies, toys, mummies and daddies by hugging and cuddling. And they will not be able to realise that their enthusiastic ‘cuddles’ can hurt the guinea pig. They may also want to ‘feed the nice piggie’ inappropriate items (5), or attract its attention by banging on the run, or making other loud and unfortunately traumatic, scary noises for their new found friends in the run. Always supervise children and gradually teach them good careful handling skills.

Hidey Places

Guinea pigs like to be able to hide to make them feel secure, so placing something they can safely hide in into the run is going to make them a whole lot happier. Pet stores do sell hidey ‘toys’ and some owners have simply opted for durable plastic ‘stools’ – the low-level type you might use to stand on to reach a high shelf. The space between the stools legs is great for hiding out in.

Jules Hanson

IMPORTANT:

None of this information is intended to replace the advice of a knowledgeable professional vet on guinea pig care. These articles are intended as a general introduction to the topics only. Every single animal has different needs – so whilst efforts have been made to provide helpful information, we respectfully advise you to check with your vet to accommodate your individual pet’s needs. Thank you.

Useful resources

1. Guinea Lynx [online] Housing for Health and Happiness.

http://www.guinealynx.info/housing.html

2. Guinea Pig Cages [online] – site provided by  Cavy Spirit guinea pig rescue [online].

Your Guinea Pig’s Home.

http://www.guineapigcages.com

3. Guinea Lynx [online] Poisonous Plants.

http://www.guinealynx.info/forages_poisonous.html

4. ASPCA [online] Animal  Poison Control Centre

http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/

5. ASPCA [online] A Poison Safe Home

http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/a-poison-safe-home.html

6. ASPCA [online] People Foods To Avoid Feeding Your Pets

http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/people-foods.html

General indoor run information:

Guinea Pig Cages [online] – site provided by  Cavy Spirit guinea pig rescue [online] Floor Time

http://www.guineapigcages.com/floortime.htm

Photo Credits – meet the artist at:

1. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/lieke 2. http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=profile&l=sue_r_b


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