Caring for Your Small Animals
Feeding and Watering
You can find food mixtures specifically made for each of the popular small pets. These food mixes are formulated for the dietary needs of each animal, and help provide a well-rounded diet.
You may find it easiest to feed from a heavy ceramic bowl, as it is less likely to be knocked over (creating a mess to clean up) in the cage by your pet when it runs and plays.
Don't ever feed your small pet a mixture formulated for a different species. Rabbit food can be harmful to smaller animals, for example.
All small animals will enjoy supplementary treats such as fresh fruit and vegetables. Make sure to feed in small pieces though, and only as much as your pet will eat. This avoids the problem of moldy food developing in the cage. Try to limit the amount of treats that are high in sugar or fat, as this can lead to obesity.
Guinea Pigs, Chinchillas and Rabbits also require a constant supply of hay (timothy hay is recommended). These small animals chew on hay to balance their diet and to grind down their teeth which grow continuously. Many of the animals will also use the hay as bedding.
A supply of fresh water must be available at all times for your small pet. The easiest way to ensure this is to purchase a water bottle which hangs on the side of the cage. This eliminates the problem of spilled water from a dish as well. As some small animals may not know how to use a water bottle, a water dish may be necessary to ensure they receive the water they require. Water should be changed daily.
For increased nutrition, you can also purchase vitamin drops which can be added to your pet's water. Be sure to change the water regularly to maintain freshness.
The cage you choose needs to be big enough for your pet to run and play. For the smallest animals (hamsters, mice, gerbils, rats) an aquarium can be used but they do not provide ideal ventilation so a wire or open-air cage is considered superior.
The bigger the cage, the better it is for your pet. Your cage will have to fit one (or more) full-grown animals, as well as food, water, toys, ramps, and a 'house'.
Most small animals prefer to have some sort of enclosed 'house' inside their cage where they can go to sleep or simply hide. This can be as simple as a small box, or a more elaborate wooden home purchased specifically for your pet. Keep in mind that a flimsy cardboard box will need to be replaced much more often.
A floor covering such as wood shavings or small animal litter is also required for the cage. This covering makes the cage more comfortable and also soaks up urine. Be aware that strong-smelling woods such as pine or cedar shavings may irritate your pet.
With rabbits and ferrets, you will also want to fit a litter box into the cage. Ferrets and rabbits can be litter trained which cuts down on your cage clean-up.
However, all small animal cages should be cleaned at least once a week. Remove your pet and everything in the cage and place fresh 'flooring', fresh food and water and the 'house' back in the cage. You may find your pet appreciates having the hay it was using for bedding replaced in its cage - but only if the hay is unsoiled.
Mostly small animals will be timid at first but are easy to tame. They should be treated gently so they learn to relax and trust you. Never allow your small animal to bite you.
Start with gentle patting or stroking of your pet while it eats, so your pet learns to associate you with pleasant moments. You can do this right inside its cage until it becomes accustomed to your hand.
When you progress to picking-up your pet, make sure it's whole body weight is supported. A rabbit needs its hind legs supported too. Never pick-up your pet by its ears (including rabbits), tail or legs. This can injure the animal and it may bite you and/or avoid future contact.
Always wash your hands before handling your pet as it may smell food on your hands and try to nibble you. You should always wash your hands afterwards as well.
Toys and Accessories
Small animals will make good use of ladders, ropes, hammocks, tunnels, and platforms. Some will run on a small animal wheel for ages while some will never go near it. Toys should be provided as well - blocks of wood for chewing, cardboard tubes, and toys designed for inquisitive little pets. Look for rope and wood toys as many plastic toys can't stand up to chewing by a determined small animal. The last thing to do is sit back and watch as your little pet amuses you with hours of antics and play.
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