Small animals like hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs are often a popular choice for a child’s first pet. If your child has been asking for a small pet, and this would be your first one, you probably have some basic questions on how to take care of one of these little guys. North Star Rescue, a San Francisco-based non-profit dedicated to the rescue of small companion animals, has put together a fantastic list of tips for new small pet owners. Here’s a quick rundown:
Pick the species that’s right for you. Check out this list of pros and cons for several types of common small animals.
Adopt, don’t shop. Pet stores are not the only places to get a small pet. You can seek out local reputable breeders, and also visit local shelters and rescue groups to find an adoptable small pet.
Invest in a good quality habitat for your small animal. Don’t skimp on size, material, or construction quality for your pet’s new home.
Do your research on the best diet for your particular species of small animal. All small pets are not alike, so diets differ between rabbits, hamsters, mice, etc.
Choose safe bedding for your pet. Did you know that certain types of wood beddings can harm your little guy’s respiratory system? Safe options include things like recycled cardboard products.
Know what toys are safe for your small pet. Exercise wheels should have solid running surfaces, not spokes, which can injure tiny legs and feet. Also, never leave your small animal unattended in a plastic running ball, and limit time in the ball to 10 minutes and then give your pet a break.
Not too hot, not too cold. Like Goldilocks, your small pet likes the temperature just right. Small mammals can get overheated in direct sunlight and hot summer weather, and some species will go into hibernation if they get too cold in the winter.
Keep your pet and his home neat and clean. Make sure you clean your pet’s habitat on a regular schedule. Long-haired small pets can be brushed, and it’s a good idea to talk to your vet about trimming nails on larger pets. Don’t be too quick to bathe your small pet in water…many prefer dust baths.
Take your small pet to the veterinarian. Small pets need veterinary care just like dogs and cats. As prey animals, they can be good at hiding illness, so keep a close eye on their appearance and behavior and take them to the vet if they seem sick.
Find a small pet sitter. Never leave your small animals unattended for longer than one overnight trip away from home. Find a sitter or boarding facility experienced in the care of your particular type of pet.