As social animals, guinea pigs need daily interaction their entire lives, long after the initial novelty has worn off. Keeping only one will require that you take her out of the cage and interact with her more than if you were to have at least two. Otherwise the lone cavy will face boredom and depression. While guinea pigs should not be kept outdoors, they benefit immensely from time outside of the cage each day.
Guinea Pigs Outside
Keeping your guinea pig outdoors in a hutch is not only dangerous, but encourages lackadaisical ownership. If the guinea pig is out of sight, chances are she will be out of mind and not given even the most basic care. Furthermore, she will face extreme weather and stress from predators. Housing your cavy inside promotes more interaction and greater attention to her health.
The Difference a Cage Makes
Ideally, a guinea pig's cage will be located somewhat near activity so that she can feel included, but quiet enough for her to rest. It must be out of direct sunlight and drafts in an area that remains around 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The cage's size should be a minimum of 7.5 square feet for a single cavy, or 10.5 square feet for two. Larger cages or cage-free options allow additional room for guinea pigs to exercise whenever they desire, not just when you are available. A single cavy, or those in small cages, will require significant time outside. Note that exercise wheels and balls, while ideal for smaller rodents, are unsuitable for guinea pigs whose feet and spine can become injured.
Importance of Time Out
Guinea pigs need time outside of the cage each day for at least an hour, though twice a day is best. If possible, take them out at dawn and dusk, when cavies are most active. Either purchase a small pen or enclosure, or utilize a room where young children and other pets cannot gain access. Clear the floor of electrical cords, houseplants and other things you do not want her to chew, and never leave your cavies unattended. While cuddle time is great for bonding, it does not count towards exercise, which is primarily what time out of the cage is for. Since a new guinea pig may be shy at first, give her space, but entice her with tasty treats, fruits or vegetables. Over time, you can hide her favorite treats in and around toys such as cardboard boxes, paper bags and large jars.
Only on days with nice weather can you take your cavy outside for no more than an hour or until she wants to go back inside. Again, use a secured pen on grassy terrain with partial shade. Though you must supervise the guinea pigs whenever they are outdoors, a roof or cover protects against predatory birds. Bring along water for your cavy to drink, in addition to toys and treats.
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Pam Smith has been writing since 2005. In addition to her work for Demand Media, her articles have been published online at CBS Local. She also wrote for the Pennsylvania Center for the Book's Literary Map while earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at the Pennsylvania State University. She is currently an editorial assistant for Circulation Research.