Guinea pigs originate from Peru where it is warm and dry, which is why Winter in the UK is not ideal for them due to the fluctuating temperature and higher levels of humidity. When the weather outside falls below 10 degrees, they cannot stay outdoors without their hutch having proper weather proofing, or they will need to be moved indoors or to a shed or outhouse. Due to the drop in temperature and change of humidity, guinea pigs will be prone to respiratory problems which can be fatal, such as hypothermia or pneumonia, as well as infections becoming more common. Due to the damp, fungal skin problems are common at this time of year. It’s really important to make sure they stay warm, so if your guinea pigs are outside, follow this advice to make sure they won’t get too cold!
Move the hutch indoors, or into a heated shed
Ideally, you should bring them indoors, but this is not always an option. If you want to keep them outside, the hutch can be placed inside a heated shed with a small oil-filled electric heater. You need to monitor the temperatures, so having a thermometer will be useful. Greenhouses and conservatories are not ideal as the glass can cause a lot of condensation, making the humidity levels rise. Another option is to move the hutch into a garage with a heater, however, this will not be safe if you use the garage to keep your car in, as the fumes can harm the guinea pigs.
If you cannot move the hutch, then insulate it
If you have to keep them outside in a hutch, make sure it is well insulated and covered up, especially at night.
You can purchase “Hutch Huggers” along with “Hutch Snuggles” which are specially made to protect your pets from the elements. The Scratch and Newton Hutch Snuggle is made with material designed by NASA for the purpose of using it on space shuttles, and it helps to regulate the temperature within the hutch. It can be left on all year round, as in the winter, it creates a microclimate to keep your guinea pigs warm, and in the summer it keeps the temperature inside cool. Please make sure you check any other products are safe to leave on all year round if you decide to go with a different brand.
You can then add the Hutch Hugger to keep the rain and draughts out, keeping your guinea pigs, their food and bedding nice and dry.
If you cannot get a Hutch Hugger, don’t worry as there are other options. Thick blankets can be placed over the hutch, with some tarpaulin draped over the blankets which will keep the coldness out and the heat in. You can cover the front of the hutch overnight, but make sure you leave a gap to allow ventilation.
You can add more permanent insulation if your guinea pigs live in a shed or playhouse and you cannot add a heater. This method will create a barrier – keeping the heat from your guinea pigs trapped inside therefore warming the inside on cold days, and blocking out the heat from the sun on warm days. Be sure to use non-toxic materials, in case your guinea pigs come into contact with it. Good options are;
- Foil bubble wrap – light and easy to work with.
- Polystyrene sheets – can be cut to size and available in different thicknesses.
All you need to do then is attach the insulation between the boards of the Wendy house or shed, making sure the insulation is covered over to prevent your guinea pigs from chewing it. Make sure you insulate the roof too, as heat rises, a lot of the warmth will be lost through the roof otherwise.
Turn the hutch away from the wind and rain to prevent them getting wet and cold through the wire mesh on the front of the hutch. Damp bedding won’t only make them cold, but it can also cause them to become unwell. If you cannot move the hutch, put a barrier in front of the hutch to stop the wind blowing in. Large mesh doors can be covered with perspex, as this will allow light into the hutch, but prevent draughts. Always make sure there is adequate ventilation for them, so leave a gap of a few inches.
Use extra bedding
Sounds obvious, but it’s sometimes forgotten. A thick layer of newspaper will help keep the heat in, as well as packing in as much straw as you can into the closed side of the hutch. By doing this, the guinea pigs can bury themselves. You could place a box in the hutch and add extra bedding inside of it as a smaller area will help them warm up faster and if it’s big enough for two or more, they can share body heat. It’s important to remember that even though rabbits are big and fluffy, they shouldn’t be kept with guinea pigs, and here’s why.
Also keep in mind that water bottles will freeze, so it’s worth getting an insulated cover for the bottle to go in, otherwise they will be without water if it freezes during the night. The covers are really useful and fit most water bottles.
Get them a heat pad
These pads are really useful and a must have for any guinea pig owner. Brands, such as the snuggle safe heat pad are made out of hard plastic so cannot be chewed and all you need to do is put them in the microwave to warm them up. The pads come with a fleece cover to make it a bit comfier for your guinea pig. The heat pads are really good for all guinea pigs, particularly the young and elderly.
Check the hutch is ready for the winter
Now is the time to check that your guinea pigs’ hutch is ready for the winter. Some things to check for are;
Ensure the roof is solid and covered with roofing felt to protect it. Sometimes, the roofs of hutches are made with cheap material which won’t last, so it’s worth checking before Winter sets in. If your hutch does have a poor quality roof, it can be replaced, so don’t worry too much. Sloping roofs are better than flat roofs and will last longer. The reason is the rain can run off of a sloped roof but will pool on top of a flat roof, damaging it.
Raise the hutch height
Raising the height of the hutch by adding legs, and then standing the hutch on paving slabs or bricks will prolong its life. Damp rises, so if the bottom of the hutch gets wet, it will rot. Raising the hutch will allow air to circulate, reducing damp.
Treat the hutch with pet safe wood treatment
Even if you’ve purchased a hutch with treated wood, it will need redoing every few years as it does wear off. This preserve will protect the wood and stop it the damp and prevent the wood from rotting. Before retreating the wood, make sure it is safe to use around pets. Firstly, brush off any dirt on the outside of the hutch with a stiff brush, and then lightly sand the outside. It can now be treated with wood treatment. I would also recommend removing your guinea pigs from their hutch whilst you do this and do not put them back in the hutch for a few hours as the fumes can affect them.
Taking these steps will help keep your guinea pigs warmer over winter if you are unable to bring them inside. Remember, guinea pigs do not hibernate, so if your guinea pig becomes lethargic and goes off of its food, it needs to see your vet as soon as possible.