Keeping animals outdoors requires a lot of effort if their needs are to be fully met. Although they originate from South America, guinea pigs have evolved to live happily in a northern climate, provided that they are kept in the right kind of enclosure. However, it is vital that their winter fur is allowed to thicken naturally during the late summer and autumn months, before they are exposed to cold winter temperatures. The outdoor enclosures sold in retail outlets are too small and are unsuitable for constant use outside. However, if you have some DIY skills, you can build an appropriate enclosure out of wooden slats and fine-mesh fencing wire or chicken wire. Before acquiring guinea pigs, potential owners should be fully aware of the time and costs involved in keeping them. The more planning that goes into setting up the enclosure, the easier it will be to look after the animals in the long term. Guinea pigs kept outdoors should be in groups of at least three or four.
- Location: Near the house (in sight); half in shade, half in the sun; rainwater must be able to drain away.
- Size: Here the general rule is 'the bigger, the better'. Two to three animals need at least 8 m².
- Breaking out (and in): To prevent the guinea pigs from escaping, the base of the fence should be set into the ground. A roof will provide protection from both rain and predators.
- Care: To allow you to look after the guinea pigs and visit them (several times a day), the enclosure should be easily accessible to you. The fence should be at least 150 cm high so that you can gain easy access to the enclosure when you clean it out.
- Weather: The feeding area must be covered, and plenty of sheltered places must be provided (open pipes, overhanging fir-tree branches, etc.) to offer protection from the sun, as guinea pigs are very sensitive to heat. In hot weather, air must be able to circulate freely in the hutch. A weatherproof, insulated hutch with bedding and hay should be available for each individual animal. However, these should be large enough to accommodate several animals at once. The hutch must be well enough insulated to prevent the drinking water from freezing in winter. The entrances to the hutches must always be kept free of snow, and at least half of the outside open area should be covered so that it stays dry.
- Structure: You should start with a fenced-off area in the garden. The enclosure must be arranged in such a way as to offer the animals enough variety in their activities and keep them stimulated. Since guinea pigs are timid animals, they must be given plenty of places to which they can withdraw and hide away. Many natural materials are suitable for use in enclosures, including logs, twigs, earthenware jars, pipes (earthenware, concrete, or hollowed-out logs, etc.), up-ended wooden crates, bricks and pieces of root and bark. Guinea pigs love gnawing and hiding under overhanging fir branches. You can also plant shrubs (e.g. hazel) in the enclosure and leave small piles of earth. Use your imagination! Make sure the habitat stays interesting for your guinea pigs by rearranging it regularly.