Seen any wild guinea pigs lately? No? Not too surprising. What we now know as the standard furry potato is no longer in existence in the wild. Spanish explorers brought guinea pigs over from Europe, domesticated them as exotic pets, and here we are today. Still in existence in South America, however, are our little ones’ cousins. Conveniently, also called… guinea pigs.
Wild guinea pigs, just as adorable as our domesticated friends, can be found living in burrows in the mountains, grasslands, and forest edges of Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Peru to this day.
Guinea pigs live in herds in the wild, hence why they do best with the comfort of their own kind. In their natural environment, guinea pigs’ pals serve to help watch for predators and threats. Ever wonder why it’s so hard to keep large groups of guinea pigs – especially males – at home? Well, in large part it comes down to space. Wild guinea pigs have the ability to pick and choose their social network. When guinea pigs reproduce and the population increases, groups of 10-15 usually split into sub-units consisting of one to four males and one to seven females. In the wild, escalating fighting is rare because the highest-ranking males of each sub-unit respect the bonds of the others’ groups. They have the freedom to choose individual living and sleeping spaces for their group.
Can you recreate such harmony at home? Probably not, but adequate living space can certainly go a long way in strengthening your guinea pigs’ bonds. Guinea pigs with room to zoom are simply happier and healthier. You've probably discovered most guinea pigs cages marketed for cavies aren't suitable for permanent living space. Sturdy for travel? Certainly. Good for containing hay, a litter box, or creating a cavy kitchenette? You bet! But the tiny cages sold as "starter kits" aren’t sufficient. For a pair of male guinea pigs, 10.5 square feet at least is recommended. When it comes to guinea pig cage size, bigger is always better. A big living area isn’t a luxury for guinea pigs - it’s a necessity. Here are our top 3 reasons to upgrade your guinea pigs cage.
1. Room to Zoom
Not only are guinea pigs larger than many other rodents, but unlike gerbils, hamsters, rats, and mice, they don't really utilize vertical space. Cavies are clumsy creatures, and while some safe ramps to a loft can provide variety, only floor space "counts" toward square footage requirements. Guinea pigs also live longer than their smaller pals, and a large habitat will provide enrichment and contribute to a happy, healthy lifespan.
While guinea pigs aren't known for their svelte figures, exercise is still important. Guinea pigs are most active as dawn and dusk, which may not be your ideal schedule for floor time. A big cage with toys, tunnels, chews, hides, and a big pile of hay to forage in will let guinea pigs exercise on their own terms. A guinea pig that gets plenty of exercise may be less prone to bumblefoot, respiratory issues, heart problems, diabetes, impaction, and a host of other health issues.
2. The More the Merrier
Another benefit for your guinea pig is less conflict within the herd. Guinea pigs are social creatures and live in groups in the wild. Almost all guinea pigs fare much better with a pal (although it's best to let them pick a friend, rather than plop two strangers together and order them to be BFFs). That being said, limited space cause squabbles over territory. Even the best of friends need some time away from one another every now and then, you know? Bigger cages allow for multiple hides, food dishes, and toys, so guinea pigs will be less likely to feel resources are threatened.
If you have a singlepig and are looking to add a buddy soon, it's the perfect time to upgrade their digs. Putting new friends together in an unfamiliar guinea pig cage that doesn't smell like either one increases the chance the resident guinea pig will accept a new roomie. (Bonus points for introducing first on neutral territory with even more space, like a blocked off kitchen, until they get to know each other and really settle down.)
3. Lower Maintenance
A spacious guinea pig cage can benefit you, the pet parent, too! Even the highest quality, most absorbent guinea pig bedding will start to have an odor more quickly in a tiny cage. Larger cages require cleaning fewer times per week. They also allow room for kitchen areas and litter trays. While guinea pigs aren't known for being as enthusiastic about litter training as rabbits, they do tend to pee and poop most where they eat and drink. Having space to dedicate to a big box of hay or a kitchen space means this area can be easily dumped daily, creating less mess - and less clean up - in the rest of the cage.
In a big guinea pig cage, you'll get the joy of watching happy piggies popcorn and do zoomies, and may even enjoy stronger bonds with your furry potatoes. Seeing them come out of their shell and really getting to know their individual personalities is invaluable.