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Why small pets are a big responsibility

Approx. 4 minutes read

It’s easy to think that small animals make for easy, low-maintenance pets who take up less space and have fewer needs than dogs or cats, but it’s a mistake to minimise the level of responsibility required for their care. All animals deserve holistic care, love and lots of attention. Before you commit to adopting a small pet like a hamster, rabbit, guinea pig, chinchilla or other little rodent, consider the following as part of their care:

1. Habitat

Now that you’re spending more time at home, the place feels a little empty, doesn’t it? You can envision a cage, terrarium or hutch in the perfect sunny spot in your house or flat, but how much do you really know about the housing needs of the small pet you intend to care for?

Each small pet has different habitat needs in which they can express their natural behaviours. Some small pets – like hamsters – like to burrow, while some – like chinchillas – are quite agile and need lots of space and varying levels of elevation in their cage. Rabbits also need a dedicated hutch in which to sleep and eat, but – as with most pets – they do need to be let out in an enclosed garden or room to exercise and explore. The same goes for pet birds – from finches to budgies, cockatiels and parrots – who MUST NOT be kept caged up all day, every day.

No matter how small your pet is, it still requires freedom. Think of its cage not as its house, but rather as its bedroom and bathroom. Before you commit to buying and setting up a habitat for your small pet, thoroughly research their housing, bedding and shelter needs. If your small pet is housed correctly, it minimises their stress and increases their levels of comfort and safety, which improves their quality and length of life.

2. Veterinary care

As with a dog or cat, your small pet will need a veterinarian who is experienced with small pet health needs. Again, before you commit to adopting a small pet, ask around your area for a recommendation for a vet who specialises in small pet care. It’s not a matter of if your small pet may need veterinary care, but rather when. Read our article about the kinds of veterinary care that small pets need. It’s best to have your vet’s contact number on hand in case of a small pet medical emergency.

3. Socialisation

Some small pets are solitary by nature. Hamsters are solo creatures who need to be trained properly and patiently to interact with you, while guinea pigs are more gentle and sociable. Their sociability means they are likely to get lonely when you don’t have time for them, so perhaps adopting two guinea pigs is the better option if that’s your small pet of choice. Chinchillas and rabbits don’t do well on their own and require a friend of the same species to ensure their emotional needs are met, as well as super special social care from you. On the other hand, a pet rat is quite laid back and loves human interaction and the positive reinforcement from learning tricks.

With this in mind, are you aware of the social needs of your small pet of choice? And if you’re considering getting a small pet for your child, make sure the pet they want to love and care for matches their own levels of sociability.

4. Small pet food

It’s easy to think that all small pets can survive on some fruit and vegetables and pellets, but the appropriate research is required to ensure your small pet gets exactly the right kind of nutrition they need. As with any living creature, their diet is the foundation to their health and longevity, so it’s critical that you feed your small pet the appropriate and healthy diet they need.

Browse our small animal food range to get an idea of just how varied small pet diets can be, then speak to your vet to get the right recommendation for your small pet’s nutritional needs. Also ask your vet about pet rodents’ teeth and the fact that they never stop growing!

Read more about the dietary needs of these small pets and birds.

5. Cleaning and maintenance

Small pets eat and poop in equal amounts. Some small pets can be trained to use a litter box as a cat would, but because of their eating and expelling habits, their hutches and cages need regular cleaning and maintenance. Chinchillas love to take dust baths, so be prepared for the extra cleaning up required in that regard.

Hamster and rabbit habitats need to be scooped on a daily basis, while larger cleaning, sterilising and bedding replacement should be done once a week, depending on how many animals are housed in the same habitat.

Since your small pet needs daily exercise outside of their habitat, and their habitat needs daily maintenance, you can combine the two activities for the sake of convenience. That’s not to say you should busy yourself with cleaning their cage while they keep themselves entertained (because that can lead to small pets getting lost!), but that you play with them first and give them some exercise, then house them in a smaller enclosure while you’re cleaning their main habitat.

6. Compassion and consciousness

You can be forgiven for looking at a small pet and seeing a little body with physical and social needs, but inside that tiny creature is a conscious being. That small pet is alive and aware, and he or she needs compassion and patience and understanding as much as any dog, cat, horse or livestock animal would. Part of the ‘care’ in pet care involves empathy for animals and ensuring you have a true understanding of that pet’s living experience.

Most small pets (excluding birds) only live a few years, but if you treat them with holistic care, empathy and kindness according to their needs, those few years can be adventurous and rewarding for both you and your small pet.

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