Keeping small mammals as pets
Vicki Moore did not believe in the general principle of keeping animals as pets, but realised that animals would be and if they were they should be kept in the best way possible.
Lots of animals lead a miserable life due to the way they are kept. If you are going to keep a pet it is your duty to do your best for it. The following are some guidelines to help you achieve this
This is general advice on how to protect your pet from safety or health hazards. For advice on individual species please consult your veterinary or expert books.
As with all pets we recommend that you check with your local shelter first, whether there are any small mammals that need a new home. You will be saving a life.
It can be a very rewarding experience to care for a small mammal. But, there are a number of things to think about before deciding whether to take that step towards getting one.
Questions you should ask yourself
Before purchasing a small mammal you should ask yourself the following questions:
Are you prepared to do some extensive research about the species selected by you in advance? Different species have different needs.
Small mammals like guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats and even ferrets can be found in many households. However, they are not always perfect companions for children. Also ferrets are not a pet for beginners, and pets which are most active night, like e.g. hamsters, really don’t belong in children’s’ bedrooms.
Before purchase ask whether your rodent prefers to live on its own or whether it prefers to live with a partner or in a little group and in what gender combination. The style and the size of the cage depend on this.
There are cases where rabbits and guinea pigs get along fine, however, they really prefer the company of their own species. Provided you don’t wish to breed, you also will have to enquire about the perfect timing for castration.
Before you buy a rodent in a pet shop, inspect their cage carefully. If you see any traces of diarrhoea, don’t buy an animal there. Lots of them come to your home already being affected by stomach problems. Look at their fur too. Do they appear apathetic?
Do you know how to handle your pet correctly? Different species need to be lifted up in a different way. Have proper handling explained to you.
Since most of the small mammals have a need to spend their energy by moving around a lot any cage should be as big as possible. Some of them, like Gerbils, like to burrow tunnels and a cage should be bought with that in mind. As all of the small mammals commonly available in pet stores do gnaw a lot, a cage should be made from glass or non-toxic plastic. A wire cage should not be coated with plastic, as this will be chewed off. The wire must be made from rust-free material and the individual bars must be in such a distance from each other, that the pet cannot be trapped in between.
There must be enough air circulation in the cage, however drafts must be avoided. Especially glass and plastic cages heat up fast when exposed to sunlight. There are colourful plastic cages on the market which resemble structures from Sci-Fi Films, with plastic tubes going in and out. However, apart from the fact, that they may be toxic when gnawed, the small tubes don’t allow enough air circulation. The fact that they are almost completely closed is beneficial only to the owner. For the pet, however, the accumulation of harmful gases from the excrements and urine, pose a threat to its health.
Different levels connected by ladders, ramps and non toxic-twigs make the cage environment more exciting. Empty toilet or kitchen towel rolls are a good toy. A nesting place is vital for withdrawal. You can also build your own house or toy from wood. Whatever you chose it should be easy to clean as hygiene is very important in keeping your pet healthy.
Do not use cat litter, sand or turf as bedding for the cage as this is detrimental to your pet’s health. In the case of rabbits or guinea pigs do not use straw, which they might consider as food.
The night and day rhythm of each species must be respected. Albinos especially need extra precautions, when light is concerned. Ask you dealer or breeder for advice about this.
Select a permanent area for the cage, which is neither exposed to drafts or noise, for example radio or TV.
If there are other animals in the house, make sure they cannot reach and attack your pet. Make sure electric wires cannot be reached by your pet. Apart from the nuisance that some of your electric appliances do not longer work, the animal might actually electrocute itself by chewing a wire.
While rabbits and guinea pigs don’t need different levels in their wire cage, as they don’t like to climb as much as the small rodents, they really should not be kept in their cage all the time. Rabbits especially need a lot of exercise. They love to run and not just to hobble around. If you can’t take them into a garden everyday (provided the weather is not too bad), you really should not keep rabbits. In the garden they should have a safe enclosure that allows them to run. While guinea pigs tend not to move that much, they too enjoy being out on the grass. Make sure they can retreat to a sheltered place and no toxic plants are accessible to them.
There a ready-made food mixes on the market. However, most of them need to be supplemented by fresh vegetables or plants. Depending on the species there is also the need for animal protein. Ask your vet how to enrich the diet of your pet. If for example you collect plants like dandelion, which guinea pigs love to eat, make sure you don’t collect them close to a road and not from an area sprayed with pesticides. Fresh food should be removed from the cage before it goes off. Pellets etc should be stored in a dry environment free from strong odours.
The pet industry constantly comes up with new ideas for your pets. Mostly they are designed to give you pleasure rather than your pet. The small rodents need to expend their energy. Apart from objects made from non-treated wood to use their fast growing teeth on, there is the exercise wheel. Make sure you buy a closed version made from solid non-toxic plastic. This means that the space between the bars is closed, so that neither feet nor tails can be trapped between them. The big open metallic wheels can be quite noisy at night. Their squeal might interrupt your sleep. While the use of a lubricant spray may be a temporary solution for you, it puts you pet’s health in danger.
There are so-called “Hamster Balls” on the market. These also come in bigger sizes for rats. The instructions on the packages are horrific. The animal is introduced into the ball and the lid is shut. Then the animal moves the ball through the room by it own effort. Can you imagine, how terrified the little creature must be? Apart from the usually poor air circulation the ball can hit corners or furniture or, if placed on a table can crash to the floor. It can’t get out on its own and does not have any possibility for withdrawal. Some of these wheels come with a stand and can be used as a common hamster wheel, but we still don’t like the whole concept, because in a completely transparent enclosure orientation is not possible.
Don't buy plastic tubes
Don’t buy plastic tubes either. Children are encouraged to build ever changing different structures and introduce the rodent. As mentioned before there is only poor air circulation and the softener in the plastic is harmful for the animal’s health when chewed. The small containers cannot be kept hygienic. The lack of orientation and withdrawal puts the animal under stress. Depending on the angle (steep or vertical) there is the risk of injury.
Ropes to climb on may be dangerous too. Avoid loosely twisted or braided ropes made from cotton or hemp as they may lead to strangulation. Synthetic materials are not recommendable either.
A word on so-called mini pigs and mini ponies:
The denomination “mini” is misleading. Mini pigs are still pigs and mini ponies are still horses which have the same needs as their larger brothers with regards to movement and exercise. owners of mini pigs are especially in for a disappointment, when the pigs gradually grow much bigger than desired and display a strong desire for exploration and activity. They need to root and wallow like normal pigs and should not be kept indoors exclusively.