Whether you own a guinea pig or are thinking of getting one, you might ask “Can guinea pigs live outside?”. Some people might think that it might be a good option for several reasons, but guinea pigs are really indoor pets, and here’s why.
- Guinea Pigs Are Sensitive to Ambient Temperatures
- Everybody Wants to Eat Him!
- Guinea Pigs Need Attention
- Guinea Pigs Need To be Closely Monitored
- Poll: Tell us What You Think
Lots of people have cats or dogs who spend their whole lives outside as outdoor pets. In South America, wild guinea pigs live outside, so you might think that it would be feasible to just get an outdoor hutch and let your guinea pig(s) live outside.
If you have a small living area, for example, you might not want a large guinea pig cage taking up a bunch of your limited indoor living space. An outdoor arrangement might also be more convenient when it comes to matters of cleanliness. But guinea pigs should stay indoors. Here are several things you need to know.
Guinea Pigs Are Sensitive to Ambient Temperatures
Guinea pigs are quite sensitive to ambient temperature changes. A guinea pig needs to be in an environment that is consistently around 64-78 degrees Fahrenheit. Guinea pigs are unable to sweat (except on the soles of their feet) because they don’t have eccrine sweat glands on their body.
To regulate their body temperature, they have their internal homeostasis, of course. The body’s homeostatic responses are the same in guinea pigs as in humans – when they get cold, blood flow to the skin decreases to conserve heat and protect the vital organs like the heart and lungs. The opposite is true when they become hot – the blood vessels leading to the skin dilate which increases blood flow to the skin. This enables the body to cool itself off by losing heat to the environment through radiation and convection. The hair will lay close to the body so that it doesn’t trap air and create an insulating layer.
This is Bugzy. He was left outside, and his ears got frostbitten. He was rescued, and now lives inside.
Guinea pigs will also try to regulate their temperature through various behaviors. If they get cold, they will try to huddle with other guinea pigs to warm up, and they will shiver and fluff up their fur to try to insulate themselves. When they get hot, they will try to find shade to try to cool themselves down.
The normal body temperature for a guinea pig is between 101-104 degrees Fahrenheit. When a guinea pig overheats, it can suffer heat stroke and die fairly quickly. Ambient air temperature is just one factor that can cause a guinea pig to overheat and die, however.
For air temperature, guinea pigs don’t tolerate temperatures over 90 degrees F. But there are other factors. If you leave a guinea pig outside where the sun shines on him, the heat from the sun in that local area can cause him to overheat, even though the air temperature may not even be close to the 90-degree danger zone.
You might think, “Well, I’ll just make sure he has a place to get out of the sun”, and then provide him with a box or a plastic hideaway. But you have to know that many of those hideaways trap heat, and it’s actually hotter in the hideaway than it is outside. For a real life example about how a loving guinea pig owner lost all her guinea pigs by leaving them outside for just a couple of hours, read Rachel’s story.
Guinea pigs can tolerate cold better than they can tolerate heat, but they don’t tolerate cold very well, either. They can suffer hypothermia and suffer heart failure when subjected to prolonged cold. And again, you can’t judge the “coldness” just by the air temperature. The amount of wind and humidity also play a role in making the guinea pig cold. Guinea pigs don’t tolerate wind and drafts (source) well at all. The humidity of their environment needs to stay between 30-70% (same source), as well. A damp environment will also cause their hay and bedding to mold easily, and high humidity increases the chances of him getting sick.
So before you move your guinea pig outside, you need to ask yourself:
- Can I really monitor the temperature accurately to make sure it never gets too hot or too cold?
- Can I be sure there is a place that is actually going to provide cooler temperatures when the sun is shining on his area?
- Will I be able to ensure that he can be kept away from wind and drafts?
- Can I be sure the humidity where he’ll be will always be ideal?
- Will I be able to keep tabs on him and monitor him frequently enough if he’s outside?
Everybody Wants to Eat Him!
I had chickens for a while, and it seemed like everything under the sun wanted to attack them and eat them. Dogs, raccoons, hawks, foxes, opossums, owls, and even a skunk were some of the predators that tried (and some of them – successfully) to eat my chickens. I spent more time trying to protect them and fortify their enclosure than I spent on the rest of their care and maintenance combined. Guinea pigs are the same way. Everything and anything out there wants to attack them. Keeping them safe and protected is vital if you are considering moving them outside.
You might think, “No problem! I’ll just put them in an area that is completely enclosed by a fence or wire mesh. They’ll be fine!” WRONG!!!!
I hate to admit it, but I’ll tell you my story. I had a beloved guinea pig named Cookie. One summer, it was so warm and nice outside, I thought, “I’ll put him outside for a while so he can get eat fresh grass and get fresh air and enjoy living like a free cavy”. So I bought tall metal posts and strong wire fencing. I built him a nice big enclosed area. I built him a spacious wooden home to go in his enclosed area. I placed it immediately outside my back door, so all I had to do to check on him was open the door, and he’d be there – just two feet away. All was well and good for three days.
Then one day, shortly after midnight, I heard Cookie squealing and hollering like a madman. I rushed to the door, flung it open, and saw a raccoon carrying Cookie in his mouth up the pine tree that was next to the pen. I ran after him, but I didn’t catch him. He scurried up the tree with my guinea pig in his mouth.
Cookie continued to scream this unnerving, horrible scream. I grabbed the broom that was next to the door and tried to reach up into the tree to get to the raccoon, but it wasn’t long enough. I was screaming and yelling, however, and soon my neighbors all came out to see what the ruckus was about.
One neighbor grabbed a plastic picnic table she had for her little boy and brought it over. I climbed on it and poked the broom into the tree, but still couldn’t reach the raccoon. After ten minutes, the raccoon finally dropped Cookie from the very top of the tree.
My oldest daughter ran and scooped Cookie up and then ran inside with him. I ran in after her. As soon as I entered the house, I saw my daughter just completely covered with blood – Cookie’s blood. We examined him and found that the raccoon had completely chewed off one of his hind legs. There was just a bit of bone sticking out of a massive hole at his hip. He also had deep holes the diameter of a pencil all down his back. We cleaned him up and cleaned my daughter up, and then we got him nestled into his cage upstairs. We thought he would die. He was really mangled.
He was terrified of everything and everyone, so we checked on him regularly and cared for him, but tried not to disturb him. It took three months before his demeanor calmed down again. It took a couple months for his massive wounds to heal. He did heal, however, and he got used to having three legs.
The raccoon had torn down the fence I had built in order to get to Cookie. It wasn’t a flimsy fence – I built it pretty well. But raccoons are smart and strong. I thought he was safe and protected, but I was wrong. So if you plan to house your guinea pig outside, you need to understand how clever all those animals out there are and how committed they are to getting at your little guinea pig.
Guinea Pigs Need Attention
Guinea pigs need attention and social interaction. When the guinea pig is housed outside, it’s too easy to not provide him the social interaction he needs. How many times a day will you actually go out there, take him out, interact with him, cuddle him, or play with him? When an animal is housed outside, it’s too easy to forget about him. It’s an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of thing. A big part of being a guinea pig owner is the day-to-day interaction he provides for you and that you provide for him.
My neighbor has a German Shepherd that he keeps tied to a tree, all day, every day, 365 days a year. The dog never gets any exercise, he has never been off his 6-foot chain, He never goes out to interact with the dog in any way, other than to provide him a dish full of food once a day. It angers me, and I can’t understand why he even HAS a dog. What’s the point of having a smart, lovable pet when you don’t interact with it or provide for its emotional needs?
In my opinion, it’s the same for a guinea pig that gets housed outside. How can you give it the social interaction it needs if it’s living outside? Life pulls us in all different directions, and if the guinea pig is outside, it’s just too easy to be too busy with other things. Will you really go outside and spend plenty of quality time with him every day?
Guinea Pigs Need To be Closely Monitored
Guinea pigs are masters at hiding symptoms of illness. By the time you notice that something is definitely wrong, the illness is probably advanced. So as a guinea pig owner, it’s important to look at them daily. Watch their behavior. Take note of how much they’re eating and drinking and pooping. If you’re constantly looking at him and interacting with him on a daily basis, you will notice as soon as something just “isn’t quite right”, and you can get help quickly – when it’s not too late.
If you house your guinea pig outside, you will not be observing his behavior that closely, so the chance of you detecting a problem early on is going to be quite difficult. By the time you figure out something is wrong, it could very well be too late to do anything about it.
What Do You Think?
I, personally, think guinea pigs should be house pets – housed inside. But there are guinea pig owners who do keep their guinea pigs housed outside, especially those who live in warmer climates. What do you think?