Many people are drawn to smaller pets like hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs due to space constraints. But the fact is even though these pets are small, when it comes to caring for them, bigger is better. Small pets do better with larger habitats, more bedding, ample hay, and lots of exercise and socialization.
They may be little but even small pets need elbow room. A larger habitat allows pets room for exercise and more space to sleep, eat and play. There is a body of literature supporting the health benefits of a larger cage size. These studies show benefits with reproduction, lifespan activity, and other positive effects. Since you can’t take your gerbil on a walk, their habitat needs to be larger enough to accommodate exercise wheels and space to run around.
Likewise providing ample bedding is preferred as it allows pets to dig, tunnel and forage for treats. Having plenty of bedding also helps keeps their enclosure clean and dry. Soiled bedding not only smells bad but can lead to medical problems. In particular it can lead to pododermatitis, more commonly known as bumblefoot, which is an inflammation of the skin of the paws and feet. Bumblefoot is common in rodents and small animals that are housed on abrasive surfaces, (like wire) and those that have prolonged contact with wet or soiled bedding. Bumblefoot causes red, swollen, painful feet and lameness. Left untreated it can lead to severe infections, arthritis, and chronic inflammation of the tendons. To prevent health issues like pododermatitis, be sure your pets always have plenty of soft absorbent bedding like carefresh, spot clean as needed, and change bedding regularly. Avoid using cedar chips or pine materials which may be toxic to some animals.
Fresh grass hay is a vital component of a small pet’s diet and has many health benefits. Hay provides essential fiber. Dietary fiber stimulates gut motility and helps promote normal healthy stools. Dietary fiber also helps reduce the risk of obesity. Certain small animals, like rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs, need hay for their dental health. Their teeth grow continuously, and hay satisfies their natural need to chew and helps wear down their teeth so that they do not become overgrown. Finally, hay keeps small pets busy and helps prevent boredom. Be sure your small pet has ample high-quality grass at all times. Speak with your veterinarian to learn which type of hay is best for your pet.
Exercise & Socialization
Just like us, small pets need exercise and socialization. The more the better. Provide your pet exercise wheels, tubes and/or play structures that allow them to climb, explore and run. Don’t forget you can take your little critters out of their cage for exercise too. Hamster balls are great fun for hamsters, humans and even entertainment for curious cats. Larger animals like, guinea Pigs and rabbits enjoy exercising in exercise pens that can be set up inside or outside (always be sure to supervise them especially if they are outside). In addition to exercise all pets need companionship and socialization. Be sure to give your pets lots of love, cuddles and pets. The more love the better.
Exception to the rule
In the case of food and fruits and veggies, more is not better. Too much fruit can lead to obesity and gastrointestinal problems. Likewise, too much commercial food like pellets can also lead to an overweight pet. The best way to prevent over feeding or intestinal upset is to follow feeding guidelines for your particular pet’s species. Wee Companions is a great resource for information about small pet husbandry, care and nutrition and don’t forget you can also ask your veterinarian for advice.
These pint size pets may be small, but they give lots of love. Be sure you provide them with the space, bedding, hay and exercise they deserve. And remember, in this case bigger is better.