cavymadness: guinea pig care and gifts

care links:    home    food    habitats    health    boys & girls    cavy life
These care pages serve as a basic overview of guinea pig care.
More in-depth information can be found through the CavyMadness Facebook community
and via excellent care pages listed on my links page.


types of habitats
cage basics: the essentials
keeping your cavy interested
toilet training
free-range guinea pigs
the great outdoors

Our piggies depend on us for their safety and well-being; make sure that you have the best home sweet home for yours.

Are you ready for the responsibility of cleaning the cage? Since keeping things clean is an almost-daily task, choose a cage that is easy for you to clean. At the very least, you will need to replace the bedding two or three times a week. Ideally, you should remove bedding as it becomes soiled or wet, and replace. Then do a thorough cleaning once a week with a solution that is mild enough for guinea pigs. Also clean water bottles, food dishes, and any tubes or houses.

Your cavy's home must have a solid bottom to prevent foot injury, and plenty of ventilation. I highly suggest getting the biggest cage you can fit into your room. Most books recommend 2-3 square feet per cavy, but that's not very much. Romping room is very important for piggy health. Cages should have walls high enough so that they can't toss out the litter. Cavies can climb up on a shelf, but if you add a level, keep it low so they don't jump off and break a leg. Some really helpful size and setup information is also available at

types of habitats

aquariums (not recommended)
First, aquariums can be too isolating to guinea pigs, who love to interact with their surroundings. Ammonia (from urine) can build up quickly, as can heat, both of which are hazardous to your guinea pig.

plastic pans with wire tops (ok, but with reservations)
The basic pet store cage is often too small, but there are online places and large pet store chains that will carry large cages. The sides should be high enough to keep bedding inside, and the top should be wire, with an opening that allows easy access to your guinea pig. I personally feel that any guinea pig person can build a better habitat than one that's pre-fab.

"designer" cages (don't even think about it)
These are marketed to you, without consideration for your pet. One particular plastic cage on the market is designed to look futuristic — it has a solid bottom, then a clear plastic top that curves up, with a small wire opening at the top. This type of plastic cage is inhumane; it is too enclosed, and heat and ammonia could build up too quickly. These cages are more in line with a reptile's needs than a small mammal's.

metal cages (ok, but with reservations)
The same points for plastic cages apply to metal ones: solid bottom, sides high enough to keep the litter in, and spacious enough for the guinea pig to be active. Beware of sharp metal edges, and make sure that the cage is rust-free.

Cubes and coroplast cages (versatile, spacious, and popular) features information and instructions on building a habitat out of cubes/grids and Coroplast, a corrugated plastic. The site discusses where to find cubes and Coroplast, the advantages and challenges of building a cage with these materials, and various options. Definitely worth a look if you're planning to build your own! NOTE: The cubes MUST feature a grid that is 9x9 squares; newer models have larger squares, and your guinea pig can get his head stuck and/or injure himself!

custom cages (oooh. so many possibilities...)
Here's where you get to go nuts and fully customize your piggy's pen. Hardwoods and plastics are easily cut to special sizes; if you use wood, make sure to treat the wood (and let it dry thoroughly) so that urine won't rot the wood quickly. The sides can be wood, Plexiglas, interlocking panels, large plastic storage boxes and even corrugated plastic. The general rule of thumb: no sharp edges, and nothing toxic. Cavies will chew on just about anything in the cage, including the cage itself! For that reason, be aware where you're putting nails or glue.

creative habitats
Many people have devised some wonderful, functional habitats for their guinea pigs. Browse this list of sites for ideas; you may find something that will work well with your home! If you find a site that is not listed here but offers some great ideas, please send it to me and I'll add it to the list.

combinations Dale's main, boy's dorm and girl's condo
Seagull's creative combinations
cubes / grids Kelly's cage pages
Seagull's condo

wood, Plexiglas Mary's piggy palace
OinkerNet's condo, complete with running track

wading/kiddie pools Seagull's exercise pen
theme cages
(for cube/grid cages)
Visit kathy's theme cages for lots of decorating ideas and tips!habitats - theme cages

the madness pen.
I opted for basic plywood with a Plexiglas front for my pigs. This is the largest pen I had; it allowed me to section off an area for visiting pigs, or in this case, whenever Cordelia bullied the other girls. The only problem with wood is urine, which will eventually seep into the wood and require replacing the wood. This particular pen lasted 6 years. I placed bricks in corners to prevent urine buildup, and I used a system of layered newspaper under bedding to prevent urine from seeping into the wood (the newspaper/bedding option is described later on this page).

cage basics: the essentials

In addition to the size and structure of the pen/cage, location is essential to your cavy's health and happiness.

Guinea pigs need human contact and a stimulating environment. You'll notice very quickly that your piggy will react to feeding times and general noises in the room. The best place to put your guinea pig's home is a room that you frequent, but one that is not too loud. Daily contact is a must, and there is no such thing as too much cuddling. Guinea pigs crave interaction. Our piggies' pen is in our bedroom, and every morning we're greeted by all their faces pressed against the Plexiglas front, awaiting food.

Make sure the cage is away from direct sunlight and direct sources of heat. Guinea pigs can get hot very quickly. Also avoid drafts from fans, old/loose windows and vents. Guinea pigs are very susceptible to colds, which can be deadly. Guinea pigs have a similar "comfort zone" to humans. They fare well in warm, but not hot, climates. Generally, your normal home temperature range (usually 65-75 degrees F) suits guinea pigs quite nicely.

Guinea pigs tolerate cold better than hot temperatures. Since they cannot sweat to cool themselves down, guinea pigs will stretch out and become lethargic as the heat rises. Heat exhaustion and death are very real risks to guinea pigs, so provide a means for them to stay cool in hot temperatures. A popular method is freezing water in plastic bottles so that they can lay next to the bottles to cool off. Of course, remove all labels, since guinea pigs are notorious nibblers. Anything that you place in their cage should be safe to eat.

Note, however, that guinea pigs do not tolerate temperature fluctuations either, so controlling their environment is important.

Of course, there are basics that every piggy needs to stay happy. A sturdy water bottle and a hay rack. Food dishes should be heavy, so that they're not tipped over easily. Plastic bowls are often too light, and are chewed too easily. Make sure the food dish is small enough so that the guinea pigs don't sit in it. And if you can find one, get a dish that is wider on the bottom than the top, to prevent tipping.

The complete cage setup, from the cage itself to the bedding to the items inside the cage, should provide plenty of room for your guinea pig, and enough interactivity to keep him or her interested. However, there's no substitute for cuddling, so be sure to play with your guinea pig every single day. As many will agree, two guinea pigs are often happier than one.


Never, ever use typical pet-shop beddings such as cedar, the green stuff, and fragranced wood shavings; they are treated with or contain fragrant oils and are toxic to guinea pigs. Kitty litter is unsuitable for guinea pigs, since it is clay-based, dusty and treated with fragrance.

Aspen, CareFresh, and fleece are three of the most popular bedding options.

wood shavings
DO NOT GET CEDAR. The fragrant oils (phenols) are toxic and can cause respiratory damage to your piggy. Aspen shavings are a very popular choice, since they are inexpensive, safe, and control odor fairly well. Pine shavings can often contain fragrant oils, but oven/kiln-dried pine is available. Highly recommended: Aspen. BUT...

Buying pine shavings through a bulk distributor can give you a huge savings. If you want to use pine, look specifically for kiln-dried pine shavings at farm/feed stores and sawmills; this type of pine has been oven-dried to remove the oils. The shavings should be coarse, about the size of breakfast cereal flakes, with no dust. And they should not smell pungent. Some manufacturers use turpentine in their drying process, which will have a very astringent odour (and is very harmful to pigs). You'll have to do a bit of searching to find the safe kiln-dried pine. Look for three things to ensure that your pine shavings are safe for guinea pigs:

  1. Kiln-dried and sifted to remove small bits;
  2. No strong smell (pine oils, turpentine, other chemicals)
  3. Large flakes, not sawdust (Grab a handful, squeeze, and release. If bits stick to your hand, it's too dusty.)

Recycled wood pulp bedding, such as CareFresh, is immensely popular but costly. It is soft and dust-free, but it can mold quickly if left in the cage too long when wet. Carefresh is made of wood pulp by-products from the pulp and paper industry used in the manufacture of paper and cardboard. They don't use dye nor chemicals, and it's virtually dust-free. However, this environmentally-aware bedding comes with a high price tag. Search online for the best prices; many people buy in bulk and form a co-op with others in their town. Visit Carefresh's site for more information, pricing and ordering.

straw and hay
Both are popular as burrowing material, but they can mold rather quickly. A soft pile of hay makes a great burrowing spot for your cavy. But beware of sharp ends that can poke your cavy in the eye. If you want to use straw and hay, use it as a top layer with some newspaper or other bedding below it. Make sure that it's not moldy to begin with, and break up long, hard bits of straw that can be sharp.

towels and fleece
This is a very popular option among people who can rotate the towels/fleece often. Using fabric in the pen is cost-conscious, environmentally sound, and fabulous for your pigs. However, fabrics will become wet and soiled quickly, so you must be prepared to change your towels/fleece. Fabric is an excellent option for those with allergies to wood shavings. If you have a washer and dryer at home, and don't mind the small bit of effort required to keep your pigs fresh and dry, fleece is one of the best, in my opinion, options for bedding.

kitty litter and other bedding
Any type of traditional clay-based kitty litters are not suitable for small animals. Most contain dust, strong fragrances, and hard bits. Dust and fragrance are pretty obvious - both are harmful for your guinea pig's respiratory system. Hard bits? Hard pellets can cause callouses and general discomfort to your piggy. Corncob-based beddings are absorbent and control odors, but come with a high choking risk and can be harsh on your pigs' feet.

a good method for bedding...
I recommend this method for using bedding of any kind: Place many layers of folded newspaper in the cage, and then add a small layer of bedding on top. To clean, simply lift out the top sections of damp newspaper along with the soiled bedding, and refresh with new bedding on top until you reach the last layer of newspaper. Then clean the cage and start over. Use only the daily newspaper with black ink, since glossy pages (such as Sunday paper inserts) may be toxic to guinea pigs if eaten.

This method saves a lot of time, and allows you to do that deep-cleaning less often; urine wicks into the newspaper, making it easier to deal with. And you're recycling newspaper, too! For six guinea pigs, it took me about five minutes every other day to take out the soiled top layers and refresh the bedding. I remove all the newspapers and scrub the cage about once every three weeks.

cavymadness bedding method

keeping your cavy interested

What should you put in the cage to keep your guinea pig interested? Here's where you get to be creative. A popular item is 4-inch PVC pipe from house supply stores; it lasts much longer than cardboard tunnels and can be cleaned easily. Plus, it can't be eaten! A shelter of some sort is necessary, though some will argue that a hiding place will make your guinea pig more skittish. However, guinea pigs are "run and hide" creatures, so yours will need some sort of dark refuge. A house can be as elaborate as you can build it, or as simple as a cardboard box. My suggestion: make it a three-sided shelter, so your guinea pig is under something, but can still see you (and you can see them). Bricks are good for climbing onto, as long as they are clean and your guinea pig doesn't start eating them. In the summer, my girls are stretched out on bricks and large pieces of slate tile, which stay cool despite the hot days. Here's an idea: line up a couple of bricks and put a tile square on top. It's a little piggy platform! On hot days, that nice, cool tile will be the best spot in the house.

Other climbing toys include wood blocks, flowerpots, cut tree branches, and wooden platforms with ramps. Remember to keep climbing things low; a fall can seriously injure a guinea pig, and they're a little daft when it comes heights.

Many owners suggest bird toys or ferret toys for guinea pigs; try anything, as long as it:

  1. can be eaten or chewed without risk of choking;
  2. does not have sharp edges or anything that can harm a guinea pig;
  3. won't take up too much room in the cage; and
  4. isn't too narrow (tubes) or small for your piggy.

Some guinea pigs love squeaky toys, or little cat toys with bells in them. Others will try to destroy anything you put in the cage! You'll have to try a few different things to see what toys your guinea pig likes. When trying out new toys, it's good to think like a toddler: can you chew it, or lick it (like Portia)? Will it break if you throw it around?

a list of safe toys for your guinea pig

  • thick PVC pipe (short sections)
  • Pigloos, with a larger entry hole cut in them
  • terra cotta flowerpots
  • carboard boxes (no glue, staples, plastic)
    ...and NO GLOSSY CARDBOARD. Can be toxic to guinea pigs!
  • bricks, tile, and wood blocks (even baby blocks!)
  • fruit tree branches, chemical-free
  • guinea pig, ferret, or cat/dog toys, safe for chewing
  • tennis balls
  • straw chew/hide balls
  • chew-safe squeaky toys

wheels, balls and other hazards
Do not buy rodent wheels for your guinea pig, even if they say "for guinea pigs." The bars on the wheel can easily injure a foot, and guinea pigs are simply not made for them: they are heavier than rodents and not as nimble for such a fast-moving contraption. Your cavy can easily break a foot in a rodent wheel. Keep in mind that guinea pigs are closer (in terms of care) to rabbits than to rodents.

Big plastic balls are marketed as being ideal for guinea pigs, but 99% of the guinea pigs in the world will sit, terrified, in the ball. This plastic ball is too disorienting for guinea pigs; it cuts them off from their environment, and doesn't allow them to really see where they're going. It's much better to just let your piggy roam in the kitchen, with a few towels thrown on the floor. Keep all wires, small spaces and other hazards out of your guinea pig's way during floortime.

toilet training
Sorry, guys - I simply haven't had much luck in this area, so I'll leave it up to the people who've had success in this area. Visit my messageboard to meet many guinea pig enthusiasts who will have tips on toilet training your guinea pig.

free-range guinea pigs

If your guinea pig has a pen and you put him on the floor for exercise time, throw some old towels and a couple of boxes or baskets on the floor so that he can have a little place to hide. Just as you'd baby-proof a room, make sure that your guinea pig cannot get himself in trouble by chewing wires, ingesting toxic plants or chemicals, or getting stuck somewhere dangerous.

Some people set up a free-range habitat for their guinea pigs and litter train them so that they can wander around the house freely. I haven't been able to do this myself, as my girls generally pee wherever they can and chew on my table legs. But if you'd like a free-range guinea pig, you must toilet train her from a young age, and set up little homes and feeding stations so that she can hide when she needs to. You'll need to keep wires and potential hazards out of her reach.

the great outdoors

No, not an outdoor cage; outdoor homes are complicated and best left to experts. I'm talking about taking your guinea pig outdoors for exercise.

Some guinea pigs love being outside; others are nervous about open spaces (and strange noises and smells). Don't trust your guinea pig to stay next to you; make a small play area out of wire, short fencing, or wire shelving. You can use anything, as long as your guinea pig cannot escape! Place something for the guinea pig to run into when frightened. One of my guinea pigs heard a crow in the distance one day, and just ran in circles from fright! I put a small tree branch with leaves in the play area, and she dove under it for a few minutes.

Guinea pigs are adorable munching happily on grass, basking in the sun and making happy wheeking noises. Only take them outside on warm days — if you can wear short sleeves comfortably, then it's warm enough. The ground should be dry, never damp, and the area should be free from pesticides, animal droppings and chemicals. Do not leave your guinea pig in full sun; it will get overheated too easily. It is essential to provide a water source, either through slices of watermelon or other watery fruit, or a water bottle. Once you've made sure that your guinea pig is comfortable and happy outside, enjoy yourself! Just keep a close watch.

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care links:    home    food    habitats    health    boys & girls    cavy life
These care pages serve as a basic overview of guinea pig care.
More in-depth information can be found through the CavyMadness Facebook community
and via excellent care pages listed on my links page.


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