Outdoor Runs

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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