Aside from painting things the same color they were before, things have been pretty quiet at the Casa Fickbonne. So you know what that means: it’s time for another guest post! This time we’re visiting the Boston apartment of my sister-from-another-mother Lauren Schumacher, as she pimps out an old built-in cabinet for her new guinea pigs, Frank and Charlie. If you’ve never met Lauren, understand one very important fact about her: she takes really, really good care of her animal companions. Hence the Malibu Guinea Pig Dream House. Take it away, Lauren!
This guide to building a Malibu G-Pig Dream House is going to make some assumptions.
Assumption #1: You have decided to treat yourself to all the things you were denied in childhood. You larder overflows with Cookie Crisp; your home is alive with the joyful noise of guinea pigs.
Assumption #2: When selecting your apartment or home, you made the right decision to take the beat-up charmer with built-in cabinetry…and a light mouse problem.
Assumption #3: You’ve educated yourself a bit about C&C cages. They are humane, flexible, easy to clean, and just dying to be pimped.
Assumption #4: You either own an electric saw of some kind, or have already endured the Hunger Games-like experience of hunting one of Home Depot’s fine professional apathists and convincing them to cut wood for you. May the odds be ever in your favor.
Are we good? Let’s build a dream house. You will need:
- One piece of hobby wood, cut into two pieces, to form the ramp and the landing
- One small hinge, preferably without safety-style pin
- A few screws or whatever
- A cheap foam paintbrush (only if your bookcase needs a fresh coat)
- One small can of glossy paint or stain (ditto)
- A staple gun and staples
- One sweet-ass drill
- Sheet or two of coroplast (sold there as Twinwall)
- A cardboard box
- One or two yards of fleece fabric
- Old towels
- Binder clips
- Scrapbook paper and tape (only if you’re feeling frisky)
Step #1: Wrangle Your Pigs
Pop your piggies into that cardboard box. Does that sound depressing? It isn’t. It’s the guinea pig equivalent of a gingerbread vacation home. Stick a little hay in there, hitch their water bottle up to the side, and those fuckers are set. The race is on to complete their new home before they figure out how to eat their old one.
Step #2: Rehab Addict that Bookcase
Clean and dry your bookcase, and give it a fresh coat of paint, as-needed. The C&C style cage is designed to be completely waterproof, but in the unlikely case of a leak, your cabinetry will be somewhat protected by a fresh coat of paint (or stain, as needed). Plus, that shit just looks better. You can see in this photo the before (lower shelf) and after (upper shelf).
Step #3: Build Your Ramp
Your pigs will need a landing, as well as a ramp. You want it to be as shallow of an incline as possible—they’re rodents, not springbucks. Use the hinge to connect the two pieces. (I suggest a hinge without a safety-style pin. That way you can pop it out and remove it for easy cleaning later.) If you wood starts to split, like mine did here, I suggest skipping that third middle screw altogether.
Step #4: Install The Landing
The only trick here is that you don’t want to put unnecessary holes in the bookcase. I found a bit of scrap lumber in our basement (nestled safely amid some truly ancient mouse carcasses), and drilled it into the bottom of the lowest shelf to act as a support beam. Guinea pigs are not heavy, so you don’t need much.
(Oh, and there was an old screw sticking out of one of the shelves. I hung a chew toy on it. They haven’t outwardly expressed their interest, but I know g-pigs love a good accent piece.)
Step #5: Dress Your Ramp
Cut a scrap piece of both coroplast and fleece down to the size of your ramp. Staple the fleece to over the coroplast, making sure all the wooden edges underneath are fully covered (they will chew them otherwise). It will stay here basically permanently. You won’t have much of an opportunity to clean this fleece, but you shouldn’t need it. They will not loiter on the ramp, a- peein’ and a-poopin’—they really don’t like hanging out on an incline. Once every few months, you can pull the staples out, wash it, and re-staple. Slip your pin in and you now have a working ramp.
Step #6: Build Out Your C&C Cage
Now’s the part where you rely on the kindness of other tutorials. Cut, fold, and tape/glue your coroplast into shape. Depending on the shape of your bookshelf, you may need to saw it in half to fit it in—that’s okay, just use packing tape to seal it back together once it’s in.
Step #7: Check Your Pigs for Doneness
Having gorged themselves on hay and celery bits, they should be sleepy little sausages. If they’re not, thow ‘em away and get new ones, because yours are clearly broken.
An aside on guinea pigs: I had a coworker ask me, with great incredulity, “Why would you get guinea pigs? What is the point?” She wanted to know if it did anything, because she was baffled as to why two grown adult humans would house two domesticated novelty rats in their dining room. When I confirmed her suspicion that “they mostly just sit there being guinea pigs” she made the same face I’ve seen Planned Parenthood protesters make when I elbow them aside shouting “EXCUUUUUUSE ME, I’m late for my FIFTH ABORTION THIS MONTH!” You know, that face that says I knew it, I KNEW this is the way the world really works and it DISGUSTS me.
Fast forward to the swanky-swanky team holiday party, hosted at my place. I plop a guinea pig in aforementioned coworker’s lap. The music fades away as a light comes on in her eyes. She strokes the guinea pig’s silky, human-woman hair, and lifts him to her ear to catch his tiny orchestra of responding noises. A look of childlike joy spreads over her face, and in a voice that is thick with both emotion and alcohol, she whispers “I have to get one.”
Never underestimate something because it has no immediately-apparent value. Because you will only be cheating yourself out of the guinea pigs you deserve.
Step #8: Line That Shit
Lay down some old-ass towels, and lay your fleece over those. Cut it so that you have extra fabric (it’ll shrink a bit as you wash it), and use the binder clips to pin it into place. If you’ve done your homework, you know that the fleece will instantly whick urine down to the under-layer, and provide a soft, reusable bedding that is easy on their ridiculously disease-prone feet and butts.
A word about the type of fleece you’ll use… As you can see from the scrap fabric in their box, I initially used a dark plaid. It worked really well, but the white portions would get not-so-white in a big way after a day or two. This time around I tried some straight-up black. It’s fine, but you can see every little hair and hay particle without a pattern to distract your eyeballs. So, I recommend a dark pattern without any spots of white or light colors.
Step #9: Pimp It
God help us if you don’t already know that guinea pigs have needs. They need water, hay, fresh food, pellets, sticks, hiding places, and other environmental stimuli—in that order.
All guinea pig water bottles leak. All of them. 100%. Don’t be fool like me. Skip the glass and buy a cheap plastic one.
Timothy hay is their main staple food. It keeps their molars ground down, and gives them the fiber they need to succeed in school. Some people do hay racks, but this is the Lean Cuisine of the guinea pig hay experience. Give them a little litter box full of it. Let them sleep in it, roll around in it, fight over it—you’ll be pleasantly surprised that they make an effort to pee in it too. Eventually I’d like to build them a wooden hay enclosure with a coroplast bottom to give them something productive to chew on, but that’s another project for another day.
Feeding your piggies some fresh food is a thankless task, because all they want is carrots. “What’s this? A summer squash, high in the vitamin C my body cannot produce independently, examined carefully for bruises and purchased with your precious money at an obscene organic markup? WEEEEEEK WEEEEEEK WEEEEEEK NOT A CARROT I HAET U 😡 WEEEEK WEEEEK!” So just shove a baby carrot at them every morning and night, screaming “FINE, GET SCURVY, SEE IF I CARE!” and make sure you cry a lot.
(And by the way, your guinea pig does not care about the environment. “The environment” is a pastoral nightmare landscape of things that can pick him up and take him to a second location to eat him. So cram the glass bottles and your organic produce, all you’re doing is keeping the world outside flush with eagles, snakes, coyotes, and domestic housecats.)
Pellets are like, ok, whatever. Quarter cup a day, I guess.
Sticks of some kind are necessary because, unlike us, their little teeth grow continuously. (Why human teeth don’t do this is beyond me. Our teeth seem to think that we still die of old age at thirty, and they DEFINITELY don’t know about the larder full of Cookie Crisp. I would gladly exchange quarterly teeth floating for the torturous experience of smelling my own burning teeth as a dentist drills through them.) So give them sticks.
They will need a place to hide from imaginary predators like “the doorbell” and “the sound you make when you yawn.” Giving them a little stick hut fulfills more than one need. Frank sleeps on top of it, for reasons.
My strong, handsome, extremely straight late cat remembered the guinea pigs in his will, and bequeathed to them the use of his heating pad. You microwave it for five minutes, and it’ll stay warm for about half the day. It’s nice to offer it to them during the winter months, and it’ll give you peace-of-mind if you keep your windows open in the spring and fall.
I taped some scrap pieces of scrapbook paper to the walls behind them. If this were my house, I would probably get a swank piece of designer wallpaper to line the back wall of the bookshelf, but I’m a lowly renter, and it’s just not worth the investment. You can do whatever you like—just make sure it’s taped down flat. If the pigs can reach it, they will eat it, polka-dots and all.
Step #10: Pig-Proof It
Speaking of renting, I don’t own this cabinet. See the smears of white paint all over the stained portion? It came that way. I have no idea what their reason was for the half-paint, half-stain, slapdash job they did, but I’m too timid to change it.
Regardless of ownership, you don’t want your pigs using your built-in as a chew-toy. Slip a scrap piece of coroplast over any protruding areas they could reach. They cannot eat a flat piece of wood, but any edge or corner is fair game. For the first week, keep your ears perked for any sounds of heavy-duty chewing, and reapply coroplast as-needed.
Epilogue: Install G-Pigs, Find Joy
Rouse your little porcine angels and Dumbo-Drop them directly into their new home. They will probably re-establish dominance by rumblehumping for hours. Incentivize them to figure out the ramp by placing them on one level, and all the cool stuff on another. Once they know how to do it, they’ll use it daily without complaint.
This will not be my pig’s forever home—we’re gearing up to buy our own place within the next few years, and at the top of my wishlist is more space for them. But for now, they seem to really love it in there. They’re up off the floor, so they have more to see… I don’t have to worry about a visiting dog reaching in and Attack On Titaning them…And this built-in now proudly proclaims my priorities. “Look at me, world! I’m a property sloth! I love books, wine, and small mammals! Deal with it!”
Special thanks to Frank and Charlie, without whom this tutorial would’ve been extremely creepy.