Keeping guinea pigs outdoors: what to do in winter?
It is also possible to keep guinea pigs outside in winter, but it is quite expensive. Although the rodents tolerate cold, but not moisture, they must also be protected from potential intruders as well as direct sunlight and draughts. You can find out here how you can set up a species-appropriate, comfortable outdoor enclosure for your guinea pigs that is also winterproof.
Can guinea pigs stay outside in winter? – Shutterstock/Jarry
Larger groups than a pair are better suited for keeping guinea pigs outdoors. In this way, the Meeris can motivate each other to run through the enclosure to keep warm. They can also snuggle up in their house and keep each other warm. The food in winter can be a little higher in fat and calories than in summer, otherwise you can follow the tips in our guide “Guinea pigs: nutrition and food for rodents”.
Keeping guinea pigs outdoors: properly securing the enclosure
If guinea pigs are kept outdoors all year round, their enclosure must be particularly stable and secured all around. Otherwise, the little animals are easy prey for cats, loose dogs, martens, magpies, jays and other birds of prey, as well as rats. Mice can also become dangerous to Meeris if they invade their homes, as they may transmit diseases. Therefore, choose close-meshed, solid wire mesh for the walls, ceiling, and floor that cannot be bitten and will not allow a mouse to slip through.
Mice fit through holes small enough for our pinky to fit through. The meshes should ideally only be about five square millimeters in size. Under the outdoor enclosure, you must also lay wire mesh 30 to 50 centimeters deep over the entire area so that no intruders can dig in from below. Even more reliable, but more complex, is a concrete foundation that is about 50 centimeters below the ground.
Protect guinea pigs from the weather in winter
At least as important as protection from uninvited guests is protection from the weather when keeping guinea pigs outdoors. This not only applies in winter, but also in summer, since Meeris do not tolerate high temperatures well and easily get heatstroke. Inside the enclosure, the piglets therefore need a well-insulated shelter that stays dry and warm, but does not allow heat to build up. The house must be big enough for all sea creatures, but not too big so that too much heat escapes in winter. In the little house you should set up several sleeping places for the little animals and lay out everything generously with bedding, straw and hay.
For example, the walls can consist of two wooden panels with a styrofoam panel in the middle. If you build a hollow roof over the flat roof, the heat from the sun does not accumulate as easily. Several staggered entrances give the animals the opportunity to run in and out at any time without being pushed into a corner. With a piece of fabric or leather in front of the entrances, you can additionally protect the house from drafts. Nevertheless, a few air slots or air holes in the side walls should not be missing so that the air can circulate and no moisture forms inside. Furthermore, the house and part of the outdoor enclosure should be dry, i.e. protected from rain and in the shade.
Equipment in the outdoor enclosure
In addition to the shelter, your guinea pigs also need sufficient shelter in the enclosure. Willow bridges, cork tubes, branches, twigs and stones are suitable for this, as they provide shade and the opportunity to hide. It is important that you do not put any sleeping houses outside in the enclosure, otherwise your guinea pigs will seek protection from the weather there and will then be surprised by the cold. The simple wooden houses without insulation are not winterproof enough. It is best to refill fresh water several times a day and check whether it is frozen. For this reason it is better to offer the water in a bowl than in a drinker. The animals could freeze to the drinking point of the trough in winter.
Muck out guinea pig enclosures regularly
When keeping guinea pigs outside in winter, it is even more important than usual that you regularly muck out the enclosure and the shelter and carefully check whether there are any leftovers lying around. If mold develops, it can be life-threatening for the rodents. In addition, Meeris do not tolerate sudden changes in temperature and must slowly be accustomed to colder or warmer temperatures. If you want to keep them outside in winter, it is best to leave them in the outdoor enclosure all year round. Only old, sick or pregnant guinea pigs are better off in the house, as they are weakened or sensitive anyway.
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