Our Top 10 Tips for New Small Pet Owners

Are you thinking of adding a new small pet to your family? We've collected our Top Ten Tips here for new pet owners to give those who are new to the world of small pet ownership a head start.

1. Do your homework - Which Species is Right for You?
The first step to a happy owner and a happy pet is getting a good match. Factors you should take into consideration include: the habitat space the species will take, the level of daily maintenance needed, the ages of the members of the household, the general personality of the species and the average lifespan.

If you are looking for a long term buddy to share your house with, a bunny might be a great choice. If you are looking for a little buddy but have limited time or space, a hamster can make a great low maintenance pet. If anyone in the house has allergies, you may need to avoid hay eating species like bunnies, chinchillas and guinea pigs.

2. Pass up the Pet Stores - Get Your Pet from a Reputable Source!
One of the best places to get your new pet is a rescue or shelter. Not only are you saving a life by adopting a homeless pet, many shelters and rescues have health guarantees and strive to provide healthy, socialized animals for adoption.

Another option is to purchase your pet from a reputable breeder. A good breeder should be breeding for excellent health and temperament and will only breed a limited amount of litters a year, as well as guarantee the health of their animals.

3. Home Sweet Home? - Pick out the Right Habitat
Your choice in habitat is one of the most important choices for your new pet. A good habitat will not only be large enough for your pet to play and exercise in their own home, it will provide good ventilation, a solid surface floor so that your pet’s feet are not injured, and be easy for you to clean on a regular basis.

Remember, your pet’s habitat is an investment and if you buy a good cage to begin with, it will last you the life of your pet. If you buy a poorly made cage, you may end up causing health problems for your animal and need to replace the cage in the first year.

4. Prevention is Better then Cure - Start with a Healthy Diet!
A good diet is one of the most important steps to maintaining a healthy pet. Bunnies, Guinea Pigs and Chinchillas need healthy pellets and unlimited hay. A good quality timothy hay can be good for most adult animals, and a good quality alfalfa can be a good choice for animals who are younger. Your herbivore’s pellets should also be made of a high quality hay and not have seeds, nuts or other items mixed in. Guinea Pigs need a form of stabilized vitamin C in addition to fresh fruits and vegetables to stay healthy.

Rats, Hamsters and Mice can be fed mixed diets or high quality, nutritionally complete lab blocks. If you are buying a packaged food, look for one without alfalfa pellets or dried corn that can be hard to digest or pose health risks. Provide fresh water daily, and be sure that your pet’s bottle or bowl is cleaned out regularly to prevent bacteria growth.

5. Is your Pet’s Bedding Dangerous? Be sure you are using the right type.
There are several types of bedding sold for pets that are actually dangerous and can cause long term damage to your pet’s respiratory system. Cedar and some Pine wood beddings contain aromatic oils that can cause respiratory damage to your pet. If you buy pine, look for Kiln Dried Pine and open up the bag to let it air out for 24 hours before bedding your pet’s cage with it.

There are safe bedding alternatives including recycled cardboard beddings like Carefresh. Burrowing animals like hamsters and mice will appreciate a bedding they can tunnel in as well. Nesting material can be as simple as unscented white toilet paper for your pet...skip the fancy fluff beddings, they can actually cause dangerous internal impactions or get tangled around your pet’s limbs.

6. Toys & Treats - Keeping it Fun and Healthy
When you go shopping for toys and treats for your pet, it’s important to find safe toys and healthy choices that are appropriate for their species. A commonly made mistake is picking a wheel for your pet. Your wheel should have a solid running surface not have any spokes where your pet enters and exits the wheel, which can cause broken limbs and tails. Safe brands of wheel include Silent Spinners and Wodent Wheels.

Run-about balls can be tons of fun for mice, hamsters and rats, but be sure that you don’t leave your pet unattended or in the ball for too long. After ten minutes of running time, you should give your pet a break in the cage to get a drink of water and a snack. These balls should not be used for chinchillas as they can overheat, or guinea pigs as it causes stress on their back, or bunnies since they don’t fit!

7. Keeping it Cool, and Warm!
Temperature control is very important with small pets, it’s important to place your pet’s habitat in a place where it will not be in any direct sunlight and where it will be free from drafts. During the warmer weather, you can place a frozen water bottle in your pet’s habitat for them to lay against to cool down. High temperatures can cause heat stroke, respiratory failure and cardiac arrest, so if you are feeling the heat...so is your pet!

During the winter, it’s important to keep your pets warm. Hamsters that become too cold can go into hibernation and will not be able to wake themselves up, and other species need special consideration too. Burrowing animals can be given extra nesting material and bedding, and there are a variety of pet safe heating pads you can place under a portion of the cage...just be sure you leave your pet some space to get away from the heated section if things warm up too much!

8. The Critter Salon - Grooming and Hygiene for your Small Pet
When your pet is provided with a clean habitat and enough room to avoid any dirty spots in the cage, they will largely keep up on their own grooming themselves. Some pets can use a little extra help to really shine. Long haired pets should be combed or brushed regularly to prevent tangles.

Bunnies and Guinea Pigs will benefit from a monthly nail trim. This can be done at home or done by your veterinarian. If you have never clipped nails before, ask an experienced owner to show you how first. If you have a rat or hamster with long nails, you can either very carefully clip them, or place a brick or rock in their cage for them to climb on to wear down their nails.

What about bath time? A bath is often not necessary for small pets unless they have gotten something particularly dirty or potentially toxic in their fur. If you do need to give your pet a bath, use warm water, a shampoo made for small pets such as Earth Bath, and be sure to completely dry your pet before putting them away. Bathing can strip protective oils from the coats of some species, and can be a stressful experience. Caution should be exercised when bathing chinchillas and rabbits and done only when absolutely necessary. Remember, your chinchilla prefers a dust bath!

9. Pet Looking Under the Weather? Don’t Delay, See a Vet!
Unless you are used to identifying and treating minor health conditions at home, it is best to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible when you notice that your small pet is looking ill or acting differently. Small pets are prey animals in the wild, and a sick or injured prey animal is often dinner...which means your small pet is genetically predisposed to trying to hide their illness. When you notice that your pet is sick, they may have already been sick for some time. Even a minor case of mites or fleas should be treated immediately before it can cause other problems.

A qualified exotics veterinarian will be able to treat minor problems such as mites or sniffles, as well as more complicated procedures such as dental work or tumor removal surgeries.

10. Away for the Weekend? Meet the Pet Sitters!
If you are planning to be away for more then just an overnight, a pet sitter can be a real life saver for your pet. Your pet will benefit from not having their regular feeding and exercise schedule disrupted, and your pet sitter will be able to keep an eye out for unexpected problems such as water bottle malfunctions, injuries, illness, or even a temperature change in your house that requires adjustments to your pet’s habitat.

Be sure to talk to your pet sitter and hire someone who is experienced in dealing with your pet’s particular species and knows what signs of illness to watch for. If you will be boarding your animal with a pet sitter, be sure to ask them what quarantine practices they follow if they board multiple exotics at their house or have pets currently at the residence.

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