Guinea pigs outside: what to do in winter?
Larger groups than a couple are better suited for keeping guinea pigs outside. In this way, the Meeris can motivate each other to run through the enclosure in order to keep warm. They can also cuddle up in their little house and warm each other. The food may be a bit higher in fat and calories in winter than in summer, otherwise you can follow the tips in our guidebook "Guinea pigs: nutrition and food for rodents".
Keeping guinea pigs outside: Properly secure enclosures
If guinea pigs stay outdoors all year round, their enclosure must be particularly stable and completely secured. Otherwise the animals are easy prey for cats, free-running dogs, martens, magpies, jays and other birds of prey as well as rats. Mice can also be dangerous for Meeris if they enter their home as they may transmit diseases. Therefore, choose a tight-meshed, solid wire mesh for the walls, the ceiling and the floor that cannot be bitten and through which no mouse can slip.
Mice pass through holes that are so small that our little finger can pass through them. The mesh should ideally only be about five square millimeters in size. Under the outdoor enclosure, you must also lay wire mesh over the entire area 30 to 50 centimeters deep, so that no intruders can dig into them from below. Even more reliable, but more complex, is a concrete foundation that is about 50 centimeters underground.
Protect guinea pigs from the weather in winter
At least as important as protection against unwanted guests is protection against the weather when guinea pigs are kept outside. This applies not only in winter, but also in summer, since Meeris cannot tolerate high temperatures and easily get a heat stroke. The pigs therefore still need a well-insulated shelter inside the enclosure, which remains dry and warm but does not allow heat to build up. The house must be big enough for all sea ice, but not too big so that not too much heat escapes in winter. In the house you should set up several sleeping places for the animals and lay everything generously with litter, straw and hay.
For example, the walls can consist of two wooden panels with a polystyrene panel in the middle. If you build a hollow roof over the flat roof, the heat will not build up so easily in the sunlight. Several staggered entrances give the animals the opportunity to walk in and out at any time without being pushed into the corner. With a piece of cloth or leather in front of the entrances, you can additionally protect the house from drafts. Nevertheless, a few louvers 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, that is, protected from the rain and in the shade.
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Equipment in the outdoor enclosure
In addition to the shelter, your guinea pigs in the enclosure also need sufficient shelters. Wicker bridges, cork tubes, branches, twigs and stones are suitable for this, which provide shade and offer the possibility of hiding. It is important that you do not place any dormitories outside in the enclosure, otherwise your guinea pigs will seek shelter from the weather there and 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 pot. The animals could freeze to the drinking point in winter.
Regularly muck out guinea pig enclosures
When guinea pigs are kept 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 is any food left-overs. If mold develops, it can be life-threatening for rodents. In addition, Meeris cannot tolerate sudden changes in temperature and must slowly get used 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 because they are already weakened or sensitive.