You've probably discovered most cages marketed for Guinea Pigs aren't suitable for permanent living space. Sturdy for travel? Certainly. Good for containing hay, a litter box, or creating a cavy kitchenette? You bet! But the tiny cages sold as "starter kits" (that's a story for another day), don't meet guinea pigs' basic needs.
The Humane Society of the United States provides the following guidelines for minimum adequate living space for guinea pigs:
One guinea pig: 7.5 square feet cage (minimum), but more is better; generally 30" x 36" is a good size.
Two guinea pigs: 7.5 square feet (minimum), but 10.5 square feet is preferred; generally 30" x 50" is a good size.
Three guinea pigs: 10.5 square feet (minimum), but 13 square feet is preferred; generally 30" x 62" is a good size.
Four guinea pigs: 13 square feet (minimum), but more is better; generally 30" x 76" is a good size.
Note that it's recommended to go up one size for groups of males; two males need the same size cage as three females would, for example.
Room to zoom
Not only are guinea pigs larger than many other rodents, but unlike gerbils, hamsters, rats, and mice, they don't really utilize vertical space. Cavies are clumsy creatures, and while some safe ramps to a loft can provide variety, only floor space "counts" toward square footage requirements. Guinea pigs also live longer than their smaller pals, and a large habitat will provide enrichment and contribute to a happy, healthy lifespan.
While guinea pigs aren't known for their svelte figures, exercise is still important. Guinea pigs are most active as dawn and dusk, which may not be your ideal schedule for floor time. A big cage with toys, tunnels, chews, hides, and a big pile of hay to forage in will let guinea pigs exercise on their own terms. A guinea pig that gets plenty of exercise may be less prone to bumblefoot, respiratory issues, heart problems, diabetes, impaction, and a host of other health issues.
The more the merrier
Another benefit for your guinea pig is less conflict within the herd. Guinea pigs are social creatures and live in groups in the wild. Almost all guinea pigs fare much better with a pal (although it's best to let them pick a friend, rather than plop two strangers together and order them to be BFFs). That being said, limited space can cause tiffs over territory. Small cages don't allow for "alone time" and even the best of friends need some time away from one another every now and then. Bigger cages allow for multiple hides, food dishes, and other accessories, so guinea pigs will be less likely to feel resources are threatened.
If you have a singlepig and are looking to add a buddy soon, it's the perfect time to upgrade their digs. Putting new friends together in an unfamiliar cage that doesn't smell like either one increases the chance the resident guinea pig will accept a new roomie. Bonus points for introducing first on neutral territory with even more space, like a blocked off kitchen, until they get to know each other and really settle down.
Need more convincing?
Bigger cages benefit you, the pet parent, too! Yes, you'll get the joy of watching happy piggies popcorn and do zoomies, and may even enjoy stronger bonds with your furry potatoes. Seeing them come out of their shell and really getting to know their individual personalities is invaluable. From a practical standpoint though, bigger cages also mean less work.
Even the highest quality, most absorbent bedding will start to have an odor more quickly in a tiny cage. Larger cages require cleaning fewer times per week. They also allow room for kitchen areas and litter trays. While guinea pigs aren't known for being as enthusiastic about litter training as rabbits, they do tend to pee and poop most where they eat and drink. Having space to dedicate to a big box of hay or a kitchen space means this area can be easily dumped daily, creating less mess - and less clean up - in the rest of the cage.
Safety at any size
No matter how many square feet your guinea pigs' cage is, making sure it's species-appropriate is of utmost importance. Guinea pigs are built differently from other rodents, so cages marketed for other types of animals aren't just too small, but can even be dangerous.
- No aquariums. Guinea pigs need a lot of ventilation. Ammonia build-up can cause respiratory issues, even in a frequently cleaned cage. Plenty of airflow is essential. If you're concerned about nosy cats, dogs, or toddlers, try building a DIY lid from closet shelving. Sturdy, and plenty of airflow - voila!
- Baby proof! If you're using C&C cages, double up the grids to make the squares half the size for a few weeks until the babies are bigger. A baby's head can get stuck even in the approved nine-square-across grids.
- Use solid bottom cages. Plastic, coroplast, and even canvas on a sturdy surface will suffice. Wire bottoms designed for waste to fall through easily leads to bumblefoot in guinea pigs. Bumblefoot is a hard-to-treat infection that can require amputation if not caught early.
- Keep ramps to a minimum. Multi-level cages aren't necessary for guinea pigs. Think wide cages, not tall cages. Steep ramps, slippery ramps, and those without high sides are just asking for injury. Covering ramps with fleece fabric helps guinea pigs' feet grip so they won't fall, if you do choose to add a loft.
- No exercise wheels or vertical, winding tunnels. Guinea pigs have delicate spines and aren't built to bend the way smaller rodents like mice can.
If you've sacrificed a dining room so your guinea pigs can have the recommended living space, you're a great pet parent. If you don't have enough space right now to upgrade, but your guinea pigs are safe, loved, get along well, and are allowed daily floor time for exercise and enrichment, remember that you're also a great pet parent.
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