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Small animals with big personalities need plenty of attention

23 April 2018

For many of us, our first ever pet was probably a small animal such as a gerbil, rabbit, hamster or Guinea pig. Wonderful memories can be made from lovingly tending to these little creatures. They may be small but they’re big on personality and fun. They can make ideal pets for children, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a big commitment with a need for daily attention.

If you’re thinking of bringing a furry friend home for you and your family, it’s important to consider what your new pet will need to stay contented and healthy, from the right diet to the right space. It’s a question we get asked a lot and we’re always happy to offer our informed advice, as animal welfare is our top priority. We’ve put together a guide to choosing and caring for your small animal, so before you take the plunge, you’re armed with the facts:

Choosing the right pet

They come in all shapes and sizes so choosing the right one for you is the first consideration. We would advise doing some research prior to making the decision so you know the individual needs of each:

Gerbils – are fantastic to watch but harder to handle. If your children want a furry friend they can cuddle, a gerbil probably isn’t the best choice. Their super speedy nature means they’re hard to pick up and won’t sit still.

Guinea pigs – these social animals make wonderful companions but require lots of attention and company of their own kind. Guineas should always be kept in pairs or as a herd. They need a diet rich in Vitamin C which means a daily helping of fresh veg and a lot of hay for vital fibre. An endearing nature makes them an enjoyable addition.

Rabbits – with the right care, bunnies can live for up to 12 years so they’re a huge commitment. It’s also vital that rabbits live in bonded pairs. They require a very large weatherproof space at all times, to exercise and play, so accommodation is an important consideration. Rabbits can make brilliant house pets, but your home will need to be rabbit-proofed beforehand. With some planning, they can become trusted friends with their owners if handled correctly and treated sensitively.

Hamsters – a popular choice for children, it’s important to know what breed of hamster you want, as Syrian hamsters are solitary and need to live alone, while dwarf hamsters would prefer to live in same-sex groups. The main drawback is they’re nocturnal which means they’ll want to play once the children have gone to bed. Hamsters enjoy being handled if picked up gently from an early age.

Meeting their needs

All small animals are busy – they need plenty of exercise, and expel energy through burrowing and foraging. Providing suitable accommodation space and items to stimulate them is important, including objects to keep their teeth busy such as cardboard rolls and chewable activity toys. However, avoid the temptation to overcrowd the cage or enclosure.

Provide supervised time outside of their homes - so they have the chance to stretch their legs and explore. Rabbits and Guinea pigs need a secure large space to run, jump and play such as a purpose-built pen or pet-friendly room. All pets need daily attention, so set aside time every day to play.

Research their dietary requirements - to guarantee a long and healthy life, as there will be foods that should be avoided. For example, rabbits and guineas need fresh veg everyday but lettuce can be harmful and carrots are too high in sugar. Check food and water once a day and clean cages at least once a week.

If you’re looking for further advice, our in-store teams have been classroom trained so they’re best placed to answer your questions on how to care for your furry friend. Visit our website to find your local branch