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Guinea pigs


The hutch
  • The minimum size for a hutch for two guinea pigs is 100 centimetres × 50 centimetres × 40 centimetres high.
  • One-third of the hutch should be enclosed to provide a warm, draught-free sleeping area. The remaining two-thirds should be a light and airy run, covered in strong mesh. The floor should be impervious to urine and moisture.
  • As you will need access to both the sleeping quarters and the run, especially for cleaning, many hutches have a hinged roof for this purpose. Catches on these should be strong and secure enough to prevent dogs from breaking in.
  • Guinea pigs prefer a temperature range of 18–23°C with a light cycle of twelve hours light and twelve hours dark. They prefer subdued lighting.
The outdoor hutch
  • The dimensions for an outdoor hutch are the same as for an indoor hutch, but an outdoor hutch should also have a sloping, waterproof roof that overhangs the sides. The cladding of the sleeping quarters should also be waterproof.
  • To protect guinea pigs from predators (dogs and cats), the hutch should be strongly constructed using welded mesh and/or be elevated on stilts.
  • The door to the sleeping quarters should be protected from the wind and rain so that both the guinea pig and its bedding stay warm and dry.
  • Guinea pigs are susceptible to cold temperatures and to changes in temperature. During winter, they should be housed indoors for warmth.
Sleep and play
  • There are two components of bedding – lining and litter material and overlay materials.
  • Lining material, such as newspaper or plain newsprint, absorbs urine and spilt water. Litter material absorbs urine and other moisture and also covers faeces. Use untreated sawdust or kitty litter.
  • Overlay materials are used mainly in the sleeping quarters, and they include shredded paper, straw, and good-quality hay.
  • Use lining materials in the sleeping quarters and add a generous amount of overlay.
  • In the run area, use lining material, litter, and some overlay, depending on the space available.
  • The run should be large enough for guinea pigs to run around and should include hiding places, such as pipes and logs. Like all rodents, guinea pigs need visual security. In the wild, they spend the day sheltering in burrows and feed at nightfall. They enjoy having straw and hay to burrow in and to chew on.
  • Good hygiene reduces unpleasant smells and the risk of disease. Cleaning materials include rubber gloves, a scrubbing brush, a cloth, dishwashing detergent, and water.
  • The sleeping quarters and run should be cleaned twice a week. If cages are left dirty, irritants such as ammonia, moisture, and bacteria may rise to harmful levels, causing illness.
  • Disinfect the furniture in the run twice a month with a weak bleach solution (10–20 millilitres per litre of water). Leave it to stand for a minimum of fifteen minutes and then rinse it well and dry it.
  • Each month, wipe all the hutch surfaces with a bleach solution. Rinse them well and dry them.
  • Every day, wash the water bottles and tubes with detergent and water. Rinse them well. Once a week, disinfect the bottles and tubes with the bleach solution, soaking them for at least fifteen minutes. Rinse them well and dry them.

Hutch diagram

  • optimum temperature range 18–23°C
  • bring indoors during winter at night
  • subdued lighting preferred.


Hutch diagram.

Guinea pig hutch: main features


Hutch diagram explanation

The wooden hutch 100cm X 50cm X 40cm high shown is the minimum size for two guinea pigs.

One third of the hutch is for sleeping quarters and has warm, dry overlay (hay or straw) for sleeping or hiding. Above the sleeping third of the hutch is a hinged lid.

The remaining two thirds of the cage is an open run with strong wire mesh to protect the guinea pigs from predators. Inside the hutch there are objects for gnawing, lining to absorb urine, and litter to cover faeces.

There is a feeding dish for vegetables or hay – uneaten food should be removed.

There is small feeding trough attached to the side bars containing dry pellets – the guinea pigs base diet.

Also attached to the sidebars on the opposite side of the cage is a water tube that should be washed daily.

The hutch should be brought indoors in winter and subdued lighting is preferred.

Optimum temperature for guinea pigs is 18–23°C.

How to care for guinea pigs

  • Guinea pigs are messy. They kick their food and bedding around their cages and urinate and defecate in open water and food containers. Food (dry pellets) and water are best supplied in hoppers and bottles that are attached to the sides of the run. Water bottles should have bungs that cannot be chewed.
  • Regularly check that the sipper tube of the water bottle is unblocked because guinea pigs often spit food up the tubes, stopping the flow of water. An 800-gram guinea pig will drink 80–320 millilitres of water a day.
  • Each day, remove and replace uneaten fresh food.
  • Guinea pigs are herbivores and, like people, cannot make their own vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Dry pelleted food, formulated for guinea pigs and available from pet shops and some veterinarians, is a good base diet that should be supplemented with fresh, well-washed raw fruit and vegetables. Carrots, beans, celery, carrot tops, silverbeet, and cabbage are good for keeping their teeth in shape and supplying vitamin C.
  • A supply of quality hay is a necessary source of dietary fibre.
  • Store dry food in an airtight container in a cool dry place. Avoid sudden changes in diet and do not buy more than three months' supply of food at once to maintain its nutritional value.
  • If you don't give guinea pigs something to gnaw on, they will chew their hutch. Fruit tree branches are good, but select plants carefully because many garden plants are poisonous.
  • Guinea pigs enjoy gentle handling and petting, and it is normal for them to vocalise while being handled. Daily handling helps to keep them tame and provides an opportunity to check on their health. However, if they are over-handled, they can easily become stressed.
  • To hold a docile guinea pig, use one hand to support its chest with your thumb and forefinger in its armpits or around its shoulders and your second hand to support its hindquarters. A guinea pig that falls or is dropped may be seriously injured.
  • Guinea pigs rarely bite, but they may scratch.
  • Wash your hands after handling guinea pigs.
  • During your daily health check, look for normal activity. Is your guinea pig eating and grooming? Check its fur and skin for scabs, scurf, bald spots, or itchiness. Check its eyes, ears, and nose for any discharges and check that its faeces and urine are normal. Know what is usual for your guinea pig. Cleanliness is vital.
  • Lice, ringworm, and vitamin C deficiency can cause skin problems in guinea pigs.
  • Dentition problems can be caused by overgrown teeth or by the guinea pig not having enough hard food to eat or a gnawing block to chew on.
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhoea, can be caused by eating contaminated food or by sudden dietary changes.
  • Stress may also cause guinea pigs to become ill, and they may deteriorate rapidly if their illness is ignored. At any sign of illness or if you have questions, consult a veterinarian.

Interesting facts about guinea pigs

  • Guinea pigs are small, nocturnal, grazing rodents from the Andes mountains in South America. In their natural habitat, they live in social family groups. Because they are social, it is best to keep two to three animals of the same gender.
  • There are many different breeds with fur of different lengths. Long-coated varieties need regular grooming.
  • Guinea pigs have open-rooted teeth that continue to grow, and so they need constant wear to maintain good dentition.
  • Female guinea pigs weigh 700–900 grams, and males weigh 900–1200 grams.
  • A guinea pig's lifespan is three to six years.
  • Although females (sows) may breed at under twelve weeks of age, it is best to wait until they are at least four to six months old. Males (boars) reach puberty at three to four months old.
  • Gestation is sixty-three to sixty-eight days. The babies are born fully developed, with fur and teeth and with their eyes and ears open. The average litter size is three to four, and sows may mate and conceive again within six to eight hours of giving birth.


The text and illustrations for this online edition of Caring for animals: A Guide for teachers, early childhood educators, and students (published on Te Kete Ipurangi for the New Zealand Ministry of Education in 2005) is copyright © Crown 2005. All rights reserved.

Content has been adapted for the web from the printed version, originally published in 1999 by Learning Media Limited for the Ministry of Education. Although no longer available this publication may still be available in some schools.