Can I Keep My Guinea Pig (Cavy) Outdoors?
If you are reading this article, I am assuming you have already decided that you like the idea of having a pet guinea-pig (cavy). The next question you are asking is whether it is okay to keep your guinea-pig outdoors as opposed to inside the house. Well, speaking as someone who used to have an entire stud of guinea pigs that were a combination of pets and show animals, I can say that, providing your climate is not a particularly hot or cold one, and the conditions you keep your guinea-pigs in follow some basic rules, there is no reason why they won't be perfectly happy and healthy living outside.
Keeping your cavy (as I prefer to refer to them) outdoors is a natural way for your pet to live. The basic rules do mean that you will need to make sure they are not lonely, so keeping them in pairs or same sex groups is best, and you must ensure they have adequate bedding and secure housing, (cages/hutches must be predator proof and escape proof). It is also vital you provide them with plenty of Vitamin C in their diet as they cannot naturally produce it in their bodies like most mammals can. Vitamin C is found in many natural vegetables like cabbage, carrots, lettuce etc, but if an outside hutch has a pen that can be put down on grass and moved around as necessary, they will get access to Vitamin C this way too. If you are concerned your guinea pig may not be getting enough Vitamin C, then put a normal human Vitamin C tablet into their water bottle. As Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin you cannot overdose your pet on it because they will pass out any excess in their urine. Always check to make sure the water in their bottle has not frozen in cold weather. You can slow this down a little by using slightly warm water to fill the bottles, and wrapping them in bubble wrap for insulation before reattaching them to the outside of the wire mesh.
If you are going to keep your guinea pig outside then make sure you buy the best quality hutch you can afford. It will need to be rodent proof (not just to stop your guinea-pig from escaping, but to stop rats from chewing their way in). Ideally the sleeping area should not be in direct contact with the ground as damp and cold will rise up through the wood into the sleeping quarters, as well as giving rats and other predators easy access to gnaw their way into the hutch. Try to cover sharp external corners with metal to avoid them being chewed on by outside creatures who want to gain access.
A pen that allows access to grass is another great addition, but make sure it does have a wire floor so that nothing can tunnel underneath it to get to your guinea-pig. The grass will still protrude through the wire so your pet won't miss out, and providing you move the pen a few times a week the wire won't be uncomfortable for them to walk on because the uneaten grass will act as a cushion. Fit a ramp that leads from the outside pen into the sleeping area and make sure this area is filled with good quality (non dusty) hay or straw.
A wire roof to the pen is equally important, as this will stop predators from targeting your cavy from above, e.g. birds of prey, cats, terriers, rats, polecats etc.
Do you keep your guinea pig / cavy indoors or outdoors?
Locate the hutch/cage in an area that is not in direct sunlight and is well sheltered from wind and rain. Too much heat will quickly kill your guinea pig, and if the cage is facing straight into oncoming icy winds and rain your pet will suffer a similar fate. The best option is to move the hutch or cage under cover if the weather turns really cold e.g. a shed or garage, but if there is nowhere for you to move the cage to, then try getting a thick blanket and covering over the front of the cage at night (or during severe weather conditions) to keep the drafts out and the natural heat in. This is another good reason to keep two or more cavies of the same sex together, as they can snuggle up and keep each other warm, as well as generating body heat to warm the hutch. If you are going to keep more than one guinea pig together I recommend keeping all females to avoid babies. You could try a few males together, but this only has a chance of working if there are no females anywhere nearby. If there are other females close, the smell of them will cause fighting between your males.
Please please don't be tempted to put a rabbit in with your guinea pig as a companion. Rabbits tend to bully the smaller guinea pig so the guinea-pig ends up fearful and miserable, (if not seriously injured.) Often very obvious nips and tears appear on the guinea-pig's ears as a result of the rabbit picking on them.
Do you agree guinea-pigs / cavies make great pets?
Always keep an eye on your guinea pig's health. If he or she show any signs of being unhealthy take them to a vet as soon as you can. They don't have a great ability to fight infections and tend to 'give up' very easily, which is why you should not delay in taking them to a vet if they show any signs of being unwell. Look out for runny noses, a dull, 'staring' (non-shiny) coat, runny eyes, or lifeless looking eyes, lethargic behavior, loss of appetite/weight, shivering or lack of activity. If you spot one or more of these danger signs then take your pet to the veterinary surgery as soon as you can. It might just save their life.