The warm and humid weather this past Friday, and news of several upcoming days of 80-plus-degree and sometimes-humid weather, sent me scrambling to put my air conditioners in my windows. Despite the lack of sun, the air was uncomfortably humid and I'd be hard-pressed to say who "wilted" faster that afternoon...me or the guinea pigs. Some four hours after I turned the air conditioners on, the five of us started coming back to life.
The next morning as I arrived for an appointment, another customer -- who recently adopted two guinea pigs from a town shelter -- greeted me with questions about what the guinea pigs would need in this weather. Experienced in caring for special-needs cats, guinea pigs are new territory for her and she was concerned about whether her non-air-conditioned, minimally-fan-equipped house would be okay for her new charges.
Below are some suggestions. For those who have menageries of pets that include some combination of guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, dogs, hamsters, ferrets, birds, and more, several of the tips and routines have applicability to your entire brood.
- Make sure the water bottle is full when you leave in the morning. Depending on how warm the day gets, your guinea pig(s) could drink a full bottle of water in the 8-ish hours you're at work.
- On days when you have to run in for dinner and then run back out for a few hours in the evening, check your animals' water supplies before you go back out. If they drank a lot during the day, they may have little water left by the time you get home...and won't have enough to make it through the hours you're gone in the evening.
- Ensure that water comes out of the drinking spout when you touch the metal ball at the tip. This metal ball bearing can sometimes get stuck, preventing water from coming out properly or at all.
- Ensure that the water bottle is big enough for the number of guinea pigs you have. Consider buying a bigger bottle or a second bottle to hang in the cage.
- Make sure the bottle and drinking spout are clean. Buildup can make for icky-tasting water that the pigs won't drink. If your water bottle has a black rubber ring inside the cover (as opposed to clear rubber), dry it with a light-colored towel. If you see black smudges on the towel, you need to replace the water bottle -- the rubber ring is breaking down, adding a taste to the water that will cause your pigs not to drink. While you wash out the water bottles, this is a good time to wash out your other pets' water bowls (which can get a little slimy in humid weather).
- Include "juicy" items -- like romaine lettuce, slices of cucumber, chunks of honeydew melon or cantaloupe -- in your pigs' diet morning and night (but don't go overboard). Some guinea pigs just don't drink a lot by nature, and enticing them with juicy fruits and vegetables ensures that some extra fluids are getting in their systems.
- Leave the house cool and/or well-ventilated for your animals while you're gone. Have as many windows open as you can, leave fans going, or leave your air conditioning on low. But remember: Even in warm weather, guinea pigs can get sick from drafts so don't open windows that are right next to their cages or leave a fan (even an oscillating fan) going that can blow air directly into their cage. You can open windows in another part of the same room, or position the fan so that it will cool the room without blowing on your pigs.
- If the guinea pig cage is right next to a window that gets a lot of sun, closing the shades, adjusting the direction of the Venetian blinds, or partly closing your curtains can filter out the sunlight (and the resulting heat) from their cage.
- Move the guinea pig cage into a different room where you know your pigs will be cool enough. This might be a room in a shady corner of the house or one that catches a steady breeze, or it might be a room with an air conditioner in it. This way, you can close the door, set the air conditioner on low (so the room doesn't turn into a freezer), and keep your electricity bill manageable.
- Putting the cage outside -- even in a shady location -- is NEVER an option.
- Check the cage daily, and spot-clean areas of the bedding that have gotten wet during the day. Leaving such wet spots in the cage can lead to skin problems for guinea pigs.
- Keep extra bedding on hand to accommodate daily spot-cleanings and more frequent bedding changes. During hot spells, you will go through a little more bedding than usual. However, the cost of extra bedding is still cheaper than the vet bills, time spent travelling to and from the vet office, and time spent nursing your guinea pigs if they come down with a skin problem as a result of having to live on wet bedding.
Summer weather always presents challenges for pet owners. Some days turn out to be hotter or stickier than predicted, and aging animals of any species become less tolerant of the heat. Keeping your animals amply stocked with water, keeping them in cool environments, and knowing what the early warning signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke are for the different species in your house will go a long way toward keeping your animals healthy and safe.
If you have more warm weather pet care tips, use the Comments link below to share them with us.