Unique and Much Better than a Mere Guinea Pig Cage
My name is Pandora. I'm dictating this from the landing that leads to the loft of my Palace. Xena and I decided to host this virtual open house in the hope you will provide for your piggies to live in comparable style.
There are many ways to build nice homes for the guinea pigs who live with you, but we like our Palace best. (Due to popular demand, I'm also providing links to instructions for making cuddle cups and sleeping bags for your piggies.)
Please bear in mind that our Palace does not have a roof. It is only suitable for indoor use where there are no predators such as dogs or cats to threaten us. A dog does live in our house, but the dog is only allowed downstairs. We live upstairs and a sturdy door makes sure the dog never comes up here.
You can see a plastic American mailbox hidey on the base level near the left side of this photo. It can also fit in the back corner, under the loft and behind the ramp, instead of the front where it is shown here. Because the back of the mailbox has been cut off, we can run through it when we run laps.
The loft is sized to fit entirely inside the metal gridwork for the base. At the height we chose for our loft, putting it entirely over the base makes the lower level dark. Worse, it does not allow our humans to reach the entire base level for housekeeping. We did not want to make the ramp steeper by raising the loft higher, so we offset the loft. It covers only 1/3 of the base. Our humans use table space under the overhand as storage for some of our supplies.
The way our loft is built, it can be positioned anywhere from completely above the base to offset by all but about 6 1/2 inches. By the way, no, I'm not tall enough to reach the hay wheel when it is mounted that high. Part of the genius of my Palace is the storage space it provides. When we aren't using the hay wheel, it can be stored "in the attic" like this or "on the shelf" where the loft shadows the table.
Now I'd like to tell you more about what makes this such a delightful piggy home.
What's So Great About the Palace?
As Xena demonstrates, you can get an up-close view of your piggies all the time when they live in a Palace like this, while the piggies get a panoramic view of everything happening around them. In this photo, Xena is in the loft. When one of our humans is sitting at the desk near our Palace, the loft is at human eye level. This is how Xena looks to a human sitting by the Palace in a chair, looking through the glass lower level of our Palace walls.
Yes, you read that right. The lower portion of our walls is made of glass. The prototype has clear plastic walls, but glass is optically clearer and more resistant to scratching. We wouldn't scratch it, of course, but our humans sometimes would when they attend to janitorial duty. That's why we chose glass. We reserve the prototype for travel, since it folds up and fits in our suitcase.
It's boring to live in a place where the lower portion of the walls is opaque. We have to stand on our hind legs to see out when it's like that, and we can't stand on just our hind legs for very long. With glass walls, we are able to watch the neighborhood through the windows of our room. Most importantly, we can do a better job of supervising our humans. When we can't keep an eye on them, they have a tendency to forget to top up our greens, dry food, hay and water… or forget to change our litter boxes. It's hard to find good help, so we have to supervise closely.
The glass walls are just high enough for us to see out all the time without obstruction, and to keep things we kick up from falling out into the room. Above that, we have a metal grid. That allows us to have excellent ventilation.
As a bonus, when our humans ignore our instructions, we can chew on the metal grid to make noise. That gets their attention back on track right away.
The overview shows the Palace is a two-story home. Most of the time, we simply like the variety of having two levels of living space. We can be together, or be on separate levels for some private time. We can not only run laps, we can run up and down the ramp. When I have a really bad heat cycle, I tend to take it out on Xena. The humans raise and block the ramp so she can spend a day or two on her own in the loft while I stay in the larger base. Once in a while we need a break from each other, and the Palace lets us have it in style.
Lots of Space for Hideys and Goodies
We get a different layout every time our Palace is cleaned, which keeps the place interesting. In this layout, we have a standard commercial corner litterbox with a plastic roof under the landing. A cloth is draped over the roof to make a curtain for us. As we illustrate here, all sorts of lovely hideys, plus goodies like the living salad bar in the background, can fit in the Palace even under the loft. When we lower the ramp in this layout, the salad bar is behind the ramp.
The ideal height for our loft depends upon favorite hideys and whether you want the loft offset like ours, or nested inside the grid squares of the base. If it is directly above the base, it must be high enough for humans to reach under for cleaning. If it is offset, it should be at least as high as the tallest hidey you want to put under it, plus at least half an inch to allow you to put the hidey in place.
Provisions Fit for a Queen
We would not want to bore you with a complete catalog of our favorite supplies, but people here are shocked when they learn how old we are. We do not live on the junk food that too many shops sell. We eat well, use good hygiene supplies and have nice furnishings. Click here if you want to get comparable supplies for your guinea pigs in the USA or UK.
How to Move Piggies In and Out of the Palace
Grabbing with hands is rude!
You may be thinking you couldn't ever catch piggies in a Palace like this when you want to take them out of it for some reason. It's rude for a predator like yourself to chase piggies and pick us up with your hands. That's what you might do when hunting us. It can also be dangerous to your piggies. The Palace is big. Unless you are tall, you might not be able to do a proper two-handed lift when you pick up your piggies in a far corner. We need a two-handed lift supporting both our chests and our bottoms to protect against back injury, since our hindquarters are so heavy.
The polite way to take us out of our Palace is to offer a cuddle cup. Xena and I have cuddle cups and know which one belongs to each of us. When our humans put one down in the Palace, we know it is a request. The appropriate one of us gets into the cuddle cup when ready. If the human is in a hurry, the human might block our way out of a corner to tell us to get in promptly.
Either way, the piggy gets in deliberately and a human lifts the cuddle cup, piggy and all. This is much more civilized than being grabbed with bare hands. It allows us some control of the situation, since we get to step into the cuddle cup at our own pace. It is also safer, since it gives us proper support.
By the way, don't try one of those cute-looking harnesses for walking guinea pigs on a lead. Those are very dangerous and can hurt our backs terribly.
How to Make Cuddle Cups and Sleeping Bags
You can easily buy a cuddle cup or sleeping bag for your piggies, but if you can sew and want to make your own instead, here are some tutorials.
How to Make a Cuddle Cup. This is well illustrated.
How to Make a Sleeping Bag. These sleeping bags are about 12 inches square, maybe a tad more. The examples have a bright flannel print on the outside and solid colored fleece on the inside.
You've already seen one of the best uses of a cuddle cup—it's a piggy car for going to and from the Palace or pet taxi. Last time I got an eye infection and had to visit the vet, he was very impressed by how Xena and I use our cuddle cups as transportation shuttles.
Sleeping bags are also called cavy cozies, snuggle sacks or cozy sacks. Leaving your piggies unattended with their sleeping bags is not safe—but sleeping bags are great for cuddle time with humans.
Tips for Our Piggy Cousins about Using your Sleeping Bags
You can sleep in your sleeping bag on a human's lap, but try to get your human to lie down and let you walk into your sleeping bag while it is on the human's abdomen. Get your human to put a little handful of something especially nice to munch just inside the opening after you are inside. (Cilantro, maybe a couple of stalks of fresh dill, a piece of carrot…)
After you have eaten your snack, hunt around until you find the really soft comfy spot over the human's bladder. Settle there to take a long nap—the longer, the better. Your human will appreciate demonstrating love for you by resting quietly and resisting the need to visit the loo until after you wake up and indicate you are ready to get into your cuddle cup for the trip back to your Palace.
Tips for Humans
Some guinea pigs like to be petted and cuddled. Others don't. Abyssinians like me and Abby crosses like Xena are renowned for being especially intelligent, but somewhat aloof. Xena and I aren't fond of being petted. We also feel uneasy cuddling in the open.
But cuddle time is very nice in the shelter of a sleeping bag with a snack of cilantro (coriander leaf), maybe a little dill… To us, food = love = food = love. Give us a way to hide and eat while we cuddle, and we are likely to be more willing to spend some cuddle time with you.
Getting Started with Your New Sleeping Bag
Inspect the Outside
Visually Inspect the Inside
While standing outside, visually inspect the inside of your new sleeping bag.
Check for Smells
Stick your nose in a little and sniff to make sure it is not perfumed, in case a human foolishly washed it with scented laundry soap.
Now that you are sure it is safe, you can walk in.
Turn around so you will be able to see what is going on outside and breathe fresh air. (Now you can see why a piggy as robust as I am had to get Sweet Mama to make a sleeping bag twice as big as this one.)
Settle for a Nap
Settle down for a nice nap.
Understanding Basic Guinea Pig Language
Sweet Mama came along and waded into the poison ivy to rescue me from the killing heat of a Southern USA summer when I was about half an hour from a miserable death. I love her, and I have even warmed to Big Scary. But they were so ignorant! They didn't know about litter boxes. They didn't know my dietary needs. They didn't know to use a half-and-half mix of water and white vinegar to clean my home. They didn't know to wash all my laundry in hot water (we use 60 degrees Celsius) with unscented laundry soap. They didn't know anything—and because they didn't comprehend even the most rudimentary elements of guinea pig language, I had a heck of a time educating them.
It got even worse one day when I was having a cuddle on Sweet Mama's lap and I asked to go back to my Palace so I could pee. Both humans were there, and they thought my voice sounded very cute. They were so entranced and took so long asking each other what I was saying, I couldn't hold it any more. I am sorry to say… I peed. Right there.
They put me back in my Palace right away after that, a bit too late to save my dignity. Unfortunately, for weeks thereafter, whenever I enjoyed a cuddle and sang Happy Piggy, they thought I was saying I Gotta Go. I would get settled into a lovely cuddle and when I told them how nice it was, they would hastily dump me back into my Palace.
In the end, I had to use a website to teach them the basics. To get the same lessons yourself, click here.
The picture above is an example of the kind of thing that we find so delightful, we may sing Happy Piggy. We love Burns brand of Green Oat Hay better than all other varieties of hay, and the puzzle of getting it out of the hay wheel is an added pleasure.
It is a high honor when we sing happiness to a human, so make sure you receive it with appropriate grace!
How to Learn Guinea Pig Language
You probably can't learn to speak guinea pig fluently, but you can learn to understand it well enough for your guinea pigs to communicate with you. With attentive humans, we can develop sophisticated communications. For example, although chuttering is usually how we tell you not to do something or not to come too close, I taught Big Scary that in some situations it means I want to be petted. If we want something in particular, I can usually get the message across accurately so the human can bring the right thing on the first try.
MGPR Guinea Pig Audio Dictionaryis the website I used to teach rudimentary guinea pig language to Sweet Mama and Big Scary. When you have learned the basics at this website, pay attention to your piggies and they will teach you subtleties.
Greens, Greens, Greens!
Every morning, we get our first batch of greens and bell pepper for the day on a freshly washed plastic plate. We get more greens and peppers throughout the day whenever our plate gets too empty. Greens, timothy hay or oat hay, and timothy-based dry food are our staple diet.
We get a variety of other fresh veggies that are good for us, and some herbs such as cilantro, but some of our favorites have to be eaten in moderation. For example, we can each eat one baby carrot per day, but too much carrot would be bad for our livers. Similarly, we can only have so much at a time of chard (just leaf, not stems or thick veins), Belgian endive, parsley, dill, cucumber, radicchio, blueberries, cherries (with stones removed), strawberries, apple (peeled and cored), pear (peeled and cored)… You get the idea. Just as with humans, the better it tastes, the more likely it is to be bad for us if we eat too much. Even more like humans, sweets are the most restricted. We only have a little fruit in a day, never very acidic fruits like oranges.
Sometimes we get a salad bar—a shallow plastic tray full of growing baby lettuce plants or grasses grown from birdseed. Our lettuces are always leaf lettuces, not iceberg, because iceberg is bad for us.
At bedtime, we each get two blueberries and one other treat such as a small chunk of cucumber or a leaf of Belgian endive. Those are hand fed. Bedtime treats taste better one at a time, served with extra love.
Our Main Drinking Station (and More)
In the corner of the base where we have two water bottles, we have a pad of bricks. If the water bottles drip, damp brick is no problem, whereas soggy toweling would be squishy underfoot. Getting up on the bricks for drinks wears down our claws a little so we don't need them clipped so often.
Ever since we got deathly ill at the end of summer 2009, we have to take medicine every night. It's Critical Care nutritional rescue and Bio-Lapis probiotic powders mixed in water, fed through a specially modified small syringe (no needle). I pretend that I don't want to leave the Palace to get my medicine, but it tastes so luscious that I gulp it down. It doesn't just keep us going after the damage to our digestive systems—it helps us feel perky. I've heard the humans remark that I'm acting half my age.
While Xena waits for her turn, she stands on the bricks and makes a racket with the water bottle. She takes her medicine through the metal grid, then gets green oat hay hand fed through the metal grid while I eat some as I cuddle on a human lap.
As you can see, standing on the bricks puts us at the perfect height for chewing on the metal grid or getting premium morsels of food without needing to stand up on just our two hind legs. A few times a day, I have a lot of fun standing on the bricks and demanding that the humans feed me choice pieces of oat hay, one at a time, through the grid. Xena does a little of that too. We keep our humans busy!
Medicine for Guinea Pigs
Especially Critical Care and Bio-Lapis
We've noticed some visitors come to our web page to find out about giving medicine to guinea pigs. As you know, guinea pigs need to eat and drink pretty steadily. If we don't keep food and water moving through our digestive systems, we can go into multiple organ failure and die. But when guinea pigs get very sick, we can't continue eating and drinking very much. We need help.
That's what Critical Care and Bio-Lapis are for.
Unfortunately, we got terribly sick, and the last time it happened we got permanent damage. We've had a lot of experience with CC and BL. The first thing we suggest is that you shouldn't even try to stick to what the label says. A piggy simply can't go through the mix from a whole sachet of each of those medicines in one session. You can refrigerate leftover CC slurry as long as 24 hours, but warm it gently to room temperature before giving it to a guinea pig. BL is not so tolerant of being kept. As soon as you mix it, you reconstitute the probiotic and it is best consumed right away.
We deal with this by keeping the dry mixes in sealed containers until we are ready to take our medicine. We don't mix the two medicines separately. We mix a little CC powder and a little BL powder together—usually mostly CC unless our problem is a digestive tract infection. (Our poo sometimes smells like sulphur when that's happening.) Then we add water that's just slightly warm to the touch. After it sits for about 10 minutes, we add more until it's a slurry that is watery enough to administer with a no-needle syringe.
Frankly, we don't find that the syringes from the vet work very well for this. We modify some tuberculin syringes to improve the flow.
When we are very sick, our humans give us some of this as often as we can stand it all day until bedtime. We have a medicine session every couple of hours. Each of us takes the medicine mixed from about half a teaspoon of powder (give or take a little) in each session—not enough to be stuffed, but enough to keep us hydrated and keep enough nutritional support going through our stomachs.
Other medicines, we use exactly the way the vet advises. Very few antibiotics, pain relievers or other medicines are safe for guinea pigs, so it's important to follow the directions carefully.
Behind the Ramp
This is part of one of our favorite layouts. At the far end, you can see the entry to our waffle-block hidey, which is under the landing and stretches across more than half of that short end of our base level. Although you can't tell from this angle, we keep one short end of that hidey open so we can run laps through it. A long litterbox is in it. Another long litterbox is behind the ramp, leading to the door of the waffle-block house. We get plenty of light and air circulation in this layout, so it's great for warm days.
Main Floor (Base Level)
This is the rest of that view, showing most of the main floor on our base level. You can see our favorite dry food bowl. The humans call it a stainless steel soap dish. We just know it is low enough to be easy to eat from, and wide enough for us to eat from together side by side.
As you can see, we leave the end of the waffle-block hidey open so we can run laps easily. You can also see our beloved hay tunnel, which we've heard the humans refer to as a plumbing tee. In the loft, we often have a hay manger instead, and a couple of hay tubes (cardboard tubes from toilet paper rolls, stuffed with timothy hay). We are clever piggies and know how to get hay out of a hay tube without getting our heads stuck inside, but for safety it's best to cut the cardboard tube lengthwise.
Under the Loft Overhang
This layout under the loft overhang is more suitable for cool days. We have a log cabin hidey at the same place where you saw the waffle-block hidey earlier. Leading to it is one of our American mailbox hideys. The door to it is open between the mailbox and the log cabin. A small folded towel is on the folded-down door, and another lines the floor of the mailbox under our litterbox. We're a little warmer when lounging in the litterboxes in these hideys—very handy on all those chilly days in Britain.
Both layouts allow us each to have litterboxes for lounging close to each other without crowding each other.
Entry to the Loft
The short litterbox in the landing latches onto a short end of a long litterbox, which we like to have in a milkbox hidey. This is our most frequent spot to lounge together. Because it's up in the loft and right by the window, it gives us the best view of the neighborhood. It also guards the entry to our loft. We share hay tubes here, too. Our third water bottle is at the loft beside the landing, just to the right of this photo.
One of Our Loft Layouts
This gives you a look at one of our loft layouts. Our log cabin and soap dish are in the loft this time. Although we sometimes run laps in the loft, the turns at each end are tight, so we more often run laps at the base level. Even in this layout, though, we're fond of seeing how fast we can go from one end to the other.
In this layout, we can look over the shoulder of one of our humans while she works at her computer desk. The glass walls let us see everything. We learn a lot from the Internet that way!
A Few More Tips
Some human experts say guinea pigs like routine. Xena and I think variety is the spice of life. We don't want too much routine and consistency. We want a different layout every time our Palace is cleaned. We want enough routine to be sure we'll get our medicine and our bedtime snack every night, but we're not fussed about what time. We want to get in our pet taxi and go somewhere once in a while—maybe even take our transportable Palace and stay somewhere new for a week or two.
We are braver piggies than most. Before moving here, we trained for months so being in a cargo hold with dogs and being in a crowded airport wouldn't scare us too much. Without such training, the sight of a dog can literally frighten a guinea pig to death. But we do want to keep our adventures safe and comfortable. I was dumped when I was about a year old, so I know how dangerous it is outdoors. That's why I traded in my human for a better set. We stay inside. I have no desire to go outside again except in our taxi!
By the way, in addition to cuddle cups, each of us has a sleeping bag somewhat. We like to rest in our sleeping bags on a human belly and munch on delectables such as cilantro, but we do not use our sleeping bags on our own. I get carried away with being bossy and lie down across the opening of Xena’s sleeping bag while she's in it. She can't get fresh air when I do that. I would never forgive myself if I hurt her, so we save the sleeping bags for cuddle time with our humans.
How to Build a Piggy Palace Yourself
Your guinea pigs deserve a palace of their own. I have published guidance about how to build the base, loft and ramp. That is elsewhere on this website.
Xena’s update: Pandora died 4 January 2012. She had cancer. She was very proud of this virtual tour of her Palace and pleased to start providing help for people who want to build a Palace for their piggies too. She had other web pages on the drawing board. I am heartbroken, but I will finish her guide about building the loft and I will maintain her writing in her memory. Rest in peace, my beloved Pandora!
Belinda’s update: Xena died 27 March 2013 after nearly a year of valiantly soldiering on despite life threatening health problems. I came to live with her after Pandora’s death. We became good friends and I miss her a lot. She rests next to Pandora under a big oak tree in a grassy garden.
Alternative Guinea Pig Lodging If You Can't Provide a Palace
If you can't build a Palace this elaborate for your piggies, here is an alternative that provides enough space. Most of the guinea pig habitats sold in stores don't allow enough space for us to get exercise. We looked long and hard for something you can simply buy that is as close to our Palace as possible, and this is it.
Midwest Expandable Guinea Habitat
or the more elaborate model…
Midwest Interactive Guinea Habitat Plus
and if you have a cat or some other reason to need a fully enclosed cage to protect your piggies…
Midwest Guinea Habitat Top Panel
plus you can add a ramp (which needs to be kind to our feet, as this one is)…
Midwest Guinea Habitat Ramp Cover