Free Range Pets: Can Guinea Pigs Live Outside?
My oldest child, now an adult, first kept guinea pigs about 30 years ago. She kept them indoors and delivered fresh grass and sliced vegetables to their cage, took them outside to play and graze in a grassy enclosure on sunny days, and tried to remember to clean the bottom of their cage out every day. It was a full-time job.
My youngest child, not yet a teenager, has a completely different approach to keeping guinea pigs. Instead of keeping them indoors and taking them outside for a treat, they live outdoors all through the year, and they come on little adventures inside the house occasionally.
Life With Outdoor Guinea Pigs
When she's tackling a difficult assignment for school, a guinea pig sits on her lap to encourage her to stay put until the job is done. While one hand writes, the other hand rhythmically strokes her little friend. She often wanders around the garden with a guinea pig tucked inside her jacket, and one or more might get a chance to come inside and watch TV.
There's even a guinea pig cage (with two stories and a ramp plus wire mesh inserts placed in the doors) in her tree house. With her dad's help, she created it from a wooden cupboard and then painted it blue.
The boys are kept separate from the girls after babies are born, giving the mothers time to rest and recuperate for a few months before allowing them to breed again. The bachelor pad is a triangular structure originally designed to hold rabbits, given to her by a woman who no longer needed it.
She checks her guinea pigs' food and water every day and makes sure they have fresh greens to eat, but cleaning their cages is no longer a necessity. A cage with a wire base positioned on grass is easy to freshen by simply picking it up and moving it to fresh grass.
Happy to Live Outdoors in Winter
Letting Guinea Pigs Roam Free
When a guinea pig is set free inside the house, it can be almost impossible to catch. Darting around behind furniture and hiding under the middle of the couch, a quick-moving guinea pig can take hours to catch.
If you're lucky, a wanderer might come close enough to a piece of carrot or a cabbage leaf for you to grab it, but if a guinea pig is used to being fed in a cage there's a good chance it will ignore food in the middle of your carpet.
Obviously it is courting disaster if you let a guinea pig run free in your garden. With an abundance of food to choose from, there's a good chance it will decide to free-range forever. Some people might manage to establish a guinea pig's home in a box before taking down the surrounding barriers and be confident it will return at some time to be caught for a cuddle, but there's always the danger of it being eaten by a cat or some other predator.
So how can you safely provide a guinea pig with an environment where you can catch it if you want to, but still let it roam free?
Guinea Pigs Need Exercise
If you have a greenhouse or a structure protected with shade cloth, there's only a few modifications necessary to adapt the area to accommodate guinea pigs.
- You need to stop them escaping. This can be achieved with wire mesh at the lower level.
- They'll need shelter from the sun and the rain. Provide them with a box or a barrel to sleep in.
- Exercise is important. Leave them room to run under planter boxes that contain your herbs or flowers.
- Protect them from the cold. Keep two or more guinea pigs so they can huddle together and share body warmth - and fill their bed area with straw.
- Protect from predators. Make sure your outdoor guinea pig enclosure can't be accessed by cats, dogs or flying predators like hawks.
- Fresh food and grass is essential. Feed your guinea pigs regularly.
Guinea Pig FamiliesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Guinea Pigs Having Babies
Everyone loves baby animals. Breeding, however, is often complicated. That's not the case with guinea pigs.
If your child is eager to have a new-born experience with a pet, I recommend guinea pigs for the task. Here's why breeding guinea pigs is comparatively trouble-free ...
- Females can successfully breed from a young age. In fact, it is recommended they have their first birth young.
- Babies are born fully formed and covered with hair. There's no waiting for hairless bubs to develop and open their eyes before children can pick them up and play with them.
- Guinea pigs seem to welcome all babies into their community. We've never witnessed any form of aggression or jealous behaviour towards the new-born.
- It is very obvious when a guinea pig is reaching full term. Their little legs seem to disappear and bellies grow so big the mother looks like she's about to burst. There's no confusion about when to leave them alone and let them start nesting.
Pregnant Guinea PigClick thumbnail to view full-size
What Can Guinea Pigs Eat?
Feeding Guinea Pigs
With the benefit of hindsight, I feel a bit silly about the way we fed our family's guinea pigs years ago. Chopping and slicing vegetables seems rather unnatural when you think about guinea pigs in the wild.
Nature gave them sharp teeth to gnaw and chomp their way through food. They love grass and need fresh grass every day to ensure they get a constant supply of goodness including Vitamin C, but grass is not their only food source in the wild.
We grow lots of organic vegetables, and the guinea pigs love munching on most of them. Big comfrey leaves are devoured within minutes. The giant leaves from globe artichokes can keep them busy for hours.
A big pumpkin put on the floor of their enclosure can keep them busy for days!
Our Guinea Pigs Are Not Shy
Guinea Pig Noises
Listen to your guinea pigs and they'll tell you what they need. Guinea pig noises are very specific, and quite easy to identify with a bit of practise. We can tell what our guinea pigs are saying from a distance because we are used to the sounds they make.
For instance, we feed our guinea pigs twice a day. They are used to the routine and come to the door when they see a friendly face approaching. Any one of the group can be picked up for a cuddle when they gather to eat. They are not at all frightened by us and gather around the food even if we remain standing or sitting close by.
On the rare occasion when we miss a meal time, they call for a feed. They have specific calls for 'bring more food' or 'top up our water bottles' and a lovely gentle purr when they are being stroked. With time, it becomes easy to understand what guinea pigs are trying to say.
All Guinea Pigs Talk
Indoors or Outdoors?
Would you rather your pet guinea pigs live inside your home, or outside?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
How do I make my guinea pig more confident?
Be patient. Hold your guinea pig gently and hand feed it with grass. Talk quietly with it. Get it used to coming to you as you hold grass outstretched. I believe a guinea pig’s confidence is linked to an owner’s patience.
Maybe it needs a smaller home for a while, so it is not so easy to hide from you. Or perhaps it needs a friend. If you had another friendlier guinea pig, this one might follow its lead.Helpful 4
© 2013 LongTimeMother