The larger size of the guinea-pig requires that the animal be kept in a hutch rather than a cage. Whatever is used—whether cage or hutch—it should not be less than 24in. Long, 18in. Deep and 12in. High. This would be suitable for a single animal, a pair could do with a hutch of similar width and height but some 36in. Long while a boar and two sows, kept for breeding, would require a hutch about 48in. Long. By these standards, most metal cages would be too small. Wooden cages may not appear so elegant as metal but if they are neatly and soundly made, and are painted in bright colours, they can be highly serviceable and certainly not eye-sores. The idea that any box will do is a hangover from bygone days and could lead to the energetic guinea-pig’s escape.
The larger size of the guinea-pig hutch makes it inconvenient to have in the house, unless one is fortunate enough to have extraordinarily big rooms. The hutch could be kept in a garage provided it is roomy, well ventilated for air and light, and one is careful about exhaust fumes. It is much better, however, to keep guinea-pigs in an outhouse or garden shed. Again it is essential that there is adequate ventilation and light. This need not be excessive, of course, but a shed with no windows and a door which is closed for most of the day is not being fair to the little animal.
If a shed is used to house the guinea-pig it should be water and draught proof. A leaky roof leads to dampness even if the leak is not over the hutch Draughts can be harmful especially if the hutch is an open one (I.e., has several wire sides instead of wood). There is a difference between a steady current of air flowing through a shed and a keen draught due to openings or slits in the wood-work. Make sure that the hutch is not sited in a draught. It is a good plan to cover the windows on the inside with wire netting This is not to prevent the escape of the guinea-pig but to keep out prowling cats. Even if the cat cannot get at the guinea-pig, it is quite capable of worrying the animal and damaging the cage.
There is no reason why a suitably constructed hutch should not stand by itself in the garden. The hutch must be rain and draught proof which implies that it should be more robustly built than a hutch kept in a shed. Tongued and grooved timber is more expensive than ordinary boards but correctly used, it can eliminate most cracks and prevent rain seeping in. The roof may be covered with roofing felt and slope from front to back. If tongued and grooved timber is not used, roofing felt can be tacked around the sides to prevent draughts. It is advisable to have the roof overlapping the front by three or four inches so that rain drops fall clear of the doors. The door may be of wire on a sturdy frame. While an indoor hutch may have one or two wire doors for the whole length of the hutch, it is a good idea for an outdoor hutch to have a smaller door so that part of the front is boarded. This provides shelter for the guinea-pig from either excessive sun or rain.
The hutch should be raised off the ground by 12in. to 18in. Obviously this makes for easier feeding and cleaning but also prevents water and mud splashing into the wire front. It also discourages cats from worrying the inmates. Most of the wind and rain in Britain comes from the west and, as far as possible, the hutch front should face towards the east. It is an advantage for the hutch to stand in the lee of a building or wall. The building or wall in fact, will take the worst of any storms!
Guinea-pigs do not mind cold wintry weather so long as the hutch is free from draughts and they have plenty of warm bedding. However, some people have sacking nailed on the top of the hutch which can be thrown back on good days but can be allowed to hang down in front of the wire door on bad days. Another device is to fit slots on the door, into which hardboard or ply-wood can be inserted during the really bad winter months. The hardboard should not extend to the top of the wire but leave a gap of two to three inches for the occupant to obtain air and light. The hardboard or ply-wood should be water-proofed with several coats of paint or it will not stand up to its task for any length of time.
Hutch cleaning should be on a weekly basis. Most guinea-pigs make a lavatory of one or more corners and just how thoroughly cleaning will need to be done will depend on the size of the hutch and the behaviour of your pet. Clean, dry sawdust should be sprinkled over the floor sufficient to make a good layer. Bedding material may consist of woodwool, meadow hay or straw. Meadow hay is the best material since the animal can have a quiet lunch whenever it desires. Because the bedding will tend to be eaten, as well as laid upon, any soiled material should be promptly removed, rather than left to cleaning out day. This will help to avoid stomach upsets which can so often result from eating contaminated hay.
Guinea-pigs like and deserve to have plenty of exercise and outdoor pens can be constructed for this purpose. These are essentially a light frame completely enclosed in wire netting. Low square or rectangular compounds can be made. The wire netting should be of lin. By 1 in. mesh and be affixed on the inside to guard against gnawing of the wood uprights and side pieces.
The wire netting should also cover the floor to prevent the animal from digging in soft earth or scratching up the lawn. A section of the top of the pen may be covered with tongued and grooved or feather edge timber to provide shelter from showers of rain. The pen may be stood on level ground or on a lawn. The guinea-pigs will nibble the grass but will not keep the lawn in such good trim as a mowing machine ! The pen will require frequent moving (say daily) otherwise the concentration of urine will pollute the soil. On lawns, too much urine will kill the grass, leaving bare areas.