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Caring for Small Animals

Small animals make great pets and because they are very dependent on their owner to provide care and attention every day, owning a rabbit, guinea pig, mouse or ferret teaches a child responsibility and companionship.

Small animals can be housed in a variety of appropriately designed cages or hutches but it is important to find out the correct size guidelines before making a purchase.  Other points to consider are whether the cage or hutch is easy to clean, safe for both the children and the small animal, has no sharp edges and has the appropriate weather protection.

Better Pets and Gardens can provide you with the appropriate size guidelines for hutches and cages for your small animal.

Bedding should be safe, dust-free and non-toxic whilst keeping your pet warm and dry. There are several types that can be used to line the bottom of their cages such as pine shavings, pellet bedding and hay or straw. Remember to use properly labeled small animal pet bedding as some pine shavings not intended for small animal bedding can have toxins that are harmful.

Guinea pigs, mice and rabbits are big nesters so nesting material such as straw, hay or shredded paper can be useful for them to sculpt hiding places and sleeping areas.

Even though some small animal bedding is very absorbent and good at treating odour control you will still need to change it weekly applying only a thin layer to the floor of the hutch or cage as too much crowds your pet’s home. When cleaning hutches or cages, place your pet into a safe room or separate carrier and sweep the cage and scrub the floor with warm soapy water or a specific hutch disinfectant.

Rabbits and guinea pigs are clean by nature and can be toilet trained. They will choose one corner of their hutch as a bathroom so simply put a newspaper-lined tray in that spot and they will soon learn to use it. Fill it with suitable litter and change it daily.

Small animal feed differs for each animal. Both rabbits and guinea pigs can eat the same pellets made of lucerne chaff but rabbits also eat a mix made of chaff, whole oats and lupins. Mice and rats eat specific mouse pellets and ferrets are best to eat a specially mixed dry food rich in protein and low in fat. Ferrets are carnivores so their diet is best with a lot of meat and poultry. All of these foods are nutritionally complete diets for your small animal but they always enjoy small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables every day and unlimited hay should be available for rabbits and guinea pigs at all times.

Fresh water should always be available for your pet. Rabbits and ferrets can use a sturdy bowl but all small animals are best provided with a dispenser bottle with a soft tip to keep the water clean and stop it from spilling.

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for your small animal and suitable toys can make exercise more fun.   Rabbits enjoy toys such as chew sticks or simple shredded paper to dig in.  Guinea pigs love to hide when they play so plastic tubing toys and caves are perfect.  Mice and rats enjoy climbing, running and hiding so ideal toys for them are tunnels, ladders and mouse or rat wheels whilst ferrets will play with almost anything.  Remember to pick a toy that is durable and safe.

Rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets need regular grooming but mice and rats do not. Brush your furry friend once a week and cut their nails from time to time.  Ask one of our friendly staff for information on how to do this yourself or alternatively take them to the vet to be clipped.  Bathing a rabbit or guinea pig might seem like a strange thing to do but over time they will learn to enjoy it.  Specific shampoos are available for small animals which are mild on their skin and there are even some powders that will clean and deodorize without the need for water.

If you are concerned that your small animal is sick, seek medical attention immediately. Common symptoms of illness are sneezing, coughing, diarrhoea and lethargy as well as loss of appetite.  They can be susceptible to external parasites such as mites and lice and our team can give advice on how to treat these safely.

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