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They all have different features and have very different physiology, husbandry and dietary requirements. Fresh water should always be provided for all species.
Like cats and dogs tiny pets need a lot of care and attention. Most of them are sociable animals and not a pet to be left in a hutch all the time. Too often vets see tiny pets given to children as their first pet, as the novelty wears off they are left outside in their hutch and parents end up caring for them. I urge people to think carefully whether your daily schedule can include feeding, cleaning, checking, interacting with and exercising a tiny pet before getting one.
Rabbits are very popular and they come in all different sizes and breeds. Their housing needs to be kept clean, avoid direct sunlight, rain and drafts and provide soft bedding such as meadow hay. They are herbivores and need a diet of hay, fresh grass, weeds such as dandelions, vegetables and a small amount of good quality rabbit pellets. Avoid giving rabbits lettuce or too much cucumber as they can upset their digestive system. Rabbits also require annual immunisations to protect them from Calicivirus in New Zealand, ask your vet about it. Rabbits can also be trained to use the litter tray and make a fun pet indoors also.
Guinea pigs make fun little pets. They are very sociable animals and often thrive with another guinea pig friend. Their housing requirements are similar to rabbits as they can get cold and heat exhaustion easily so protect them from the elements. They also like hiding in holes and boxes and provide them with a variety. They need a diet high in protein, fibre and vitamin C so a good quality pellet or muesli and hay should be provided at all times. Fresh grass and vegetables are also very good but avoid lettuce and potato. Fruit can be given but keep it as a treat only.
Rats and mice make good indoor pets. They also thrive with a companion and are sociable active animals. It is best if their chew-proof housing or cage has multiple levels as they need exercise and stimulation. Lots of toys, ladders, boxes and a wheel is also very popular. Rats and mice have high ammonium levels in their urine so an absorbent bedding such as shredded paper or paper cat litter make a good substrate. Rats and mice are omnivores so they can digest plant and animal food. A good quality rat or mice pellet should be provided at all times along with fresh fruit and vegetables.
Chinchillas make lovable fun pets but are unsuitable for young children. They can be shy and may bite if they panic. Housing two chinchillas together is also a good idea as they can get too attached to its owner otherwise. Chinchillas like chewing and providing them with chew-proof toys and a large cage with untreated branches is essential. Safe varieties of tree to use include apple and willow. They also need a dust bath and hidey holes. A balanced diet includes good quality hay, chinchilla-specific pellets, nuts, seeds and treats such as dried fruit (banana, cranberries or apples).
Tiny furry pets have teeth that grow continuously, so their diet is very important in order to keep these teeth worn correctly in addition to keeping them in the best health. They do get sick and injured and are very good at hiding their symptoms. So any symptoms such as being quiet and dull, not eating, discharge from eye(s), dribbling of saliva, diarrhoea, bad odour or lameness indicates urgent veterinary attention is required.
Remember to spend time with them – tiny furry pets do not belong just in a cage. They are sociable and loving animals and love and attention goes a long way.
Yolande Howell BVSc (Hons)