Hamsters, Guinea Pigs, Rats and More: A Guide to Small Pets

Small mammals are some of the most popular pets for American households. If you don’t have a large yard for a big dog to run around in, you might consider a hamster, guinea pig, rat or other small animal as a friendly alternative to a much larger pet. While many people think of small mammals as an easy pet option, there are a lot of responsibilities that go along with owning any type of animal.

Before purchasing or adopting a small mammal, do some research on the specific type of animal so that you can best provide the proper care for your new pet. Remember that many shelters are home to small mammals like bunnies and guinea pigs in addition to larger pets, so before you go to a pet store to purchase a small mammal, check out your local pet shelter.

caring for small mammals

1) Small Mammals Are Not Necessarily Good “Starter Pets”

Guinea pigs, rabbits, rats, hamsters, and other small mammals are among the most re-homed pets in the U.S. Unfortunately, this means that many people buy or adopt a small pet thinking that they will be easy to care for. But when the pet outgrows their first cage or gets sick, the pet owner decides to give up the pet to a shelter.

Avoid this scenario by doing plenty of research about your pet’s needs before you adopt. Create a plan to make sure that you can afford the upkeep of their cage, food, and veterinary needs. Small pets require gentle handling, and aren’t necessarily the perfect pet for very small children.

2) Your Pet Needs a Suitable Habitat

Depending on the size of your small mammal, your pet will require a cage large enough to run around in. Does your pet require a litter box? Know that wood shavings often contain oils that are toxic to small mammals. If your pet requires bedding, use newspaper shavings or paper pellets.

Most small mammals need exercise, so make sure the cage you buy is large enough to fit a wheel or other equipment for your pet to be active. If you plan on letting your pet roam around the house outside of a cage, make sure your home is pet-proof. Keep anything nonedible that he could eat out of reach.

3) Rabbits and Guinea Pigs Eat More Than Just Carrots

Invest in pet food that will provide your pet with proper nutrition and a balanced diet. Most small mammals enjoy the occasional carrot or other fresh vegetable, but fresh vegetables alone won’t provide the proper nutrients.

Avoid medical issues and nutritional deficiencies by combining fresh foods with pet feed that’s specific to your breed of small mammal.

4) Your Small Mammal May Be Considered Prey to Your Other Pets

Hamsters, chinchillas, guinea pigs, and rats can look like a tasty snack to larger pets like dogs and cats. If you already own larger pets, you may not want to let your small mammal roam around the house freely.

Keeping your small mammal in a room that’s off limits to other pets will help you avoid accidents between pets. Ensure that your old pets are compatible with your new pet in order to avoid having to give your new pet up to a shelter in the future.

5) Small Mammals Are Considered Exotic by Veterinarians

Not all veterinarians care for all kinds of animals. Many small mammals are considered exotic by veterinarians, so make sure to find a local veterinarian that will be able to properly take care of your new pet.

Ask your local animal shelter or pet shelter about veterinarians in the area that will see your small mammal. If you can’t find a local veterinarian that will take care of your pet, you may want to reconsider the type of pet you decide to get.

6) Small Mammals Can Have Long Lives

Before you invest in a small mammal, think about future life events that could affect both you and your pet. Think about moving, new babies, spouses, and even future pets that may affect the life of your small mammal.

A healthy bunny can live up to seven to ten years, so be sure to think about where you see yourself in ten years before investing in a pet. If you were hoping to pack your bags and travel the world in the next ten years, a pet that could live for 15 years may not be the right choice.

7) You May Be Allergic to Their Hair

When handling small mammals and other exotic pets, be very conscious of germs that they could carry. Be prepared for more frequent hand washing, especially if you have small children at home.

Allergens from small mammals can be present in hair, dander, saliva, urine, and dust that collects inside of the cage. Get tested for allergies to pet dander before you invest in your small mammal to ensure that you can enjoy spending time with your new pet.

8) Small Mammals Have Varying Social Needs

Read up on your future pets behavioral traits before you make the purchase. If you’re looking for a pet that you can snuggle up with, get a pet that is generally amicable and social.

If you work 40 hours a week and aren’t home very often, don’t get a pet that requires lots of attention and social validation. Give your pet the best possible quality of life by understanding their social needs.

9) Some States Prohibit Certain Small Mammals as Pets

Some states prohibit certain animals if they have the potential to change the natural ecosystem of the area. For example, hedgehogs are prohibited as pets in Colorado, so don’t expect to be able to legally obtain a hedgehog there.

Before you invest in any new pet, check with local authorities to make sure that you won’t be breaking any laws. Having a new pet confiscated can be traumatic for both you and the animal, so avoid that by doing research ahead of time.

10) A Change in Behavior Could Mean a Variety of Things

Monitor your pet’s behavior throughout your term of ownership. This way, you will be able to detect changes in behavior and get to a veterinarian if necessary. Make it a habit to schedule routine visits to the vet regardless of how your pet appears.

A change in your pet’s appetite, sleep patterns, or activity levels could be a sign or disease, pregnancy, or other health issues. Ensure that your pet lives a happy and healthy life by paying attention to their routines and habits.

Author: Giano Panzarella