|Small Animals - Little Furries|
There are a variety of animals which can be kept indoors from the more obvious cats and dogs, to hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils and even rabbits. Hamsters, gerbils and small pets can make great first pets for children, as they are fairly easy to care for and give children an insight into the responsibility needed to keep their pet happy. Hamsters can live for 2-3 years, and despite being so small, definitely display a range of personality traits. They are nocturnal, so expect them to be active at night. The common Golden or Syrian hamster is a solitary creature, so keep them singly or they will fight. The Chinese and Russian dwarf varieties are more sociable; your pet supplier can advise on buying a single sex pair. Invest in good quality feed supplemented by occasional treats of apple or carrot.
Gerbils are usually more easily tamed than hamsters, and are very comfortable in pairs, although it is wise to buy them together so that you don’t have to introduce one to an existing pet’s territory. Gerbils can be fed in much the same way as hamsters, although do keep the fresh vegetable to a minimum as they contain too much moisture and can cause digestive problems. Gerbils are inquisitive by nature, and will need plenty of room for burrowing. As with all small pets gentle handling is essential, and they should never be lifted by the tail.
Cavies, or as they are more commonly known, Guinea Pigs, are another highly sociable and affectionate creature. They can become very attached to you, and chirp excitedly on your return from work! Unlike rabbits, they love attention, and will grunt and squeak away at you if you stop before they are ready! Cavies are happy in same sex pairs – females together are fine, and males who have grown up together will also be comfortable. Cavies do have an inability to produce vitamin C, so a constant supply of fresh vegetables is essential, although keep green, leafy vegetables to a minimum. Guineas also make good indoor pets, but will need more supervision and enclosure than a house rabbit. They are harder to litter train although will develop a habit of using the same spot in their cage, so hopefully should return to base provided they are not roaming too large an area. Health wise, it can be very hard to spot and illness in rabbits and cavies, because as prey animals they tend to hide any difficulties. Keep an eye on what they eat, energy levels, and as a good indication, get to know what to expect from the litter tray. Not a pleasant job, but one which will probably give you the quickest indication as to any illness or sudden health issues.
Contrary to popular belief, rabbits are not necessarily good children’s pets, as they are timid, gentle creatures who respond to slow movements and peace and quiet. They also need gentle handling, and support under the rear - hold tight as they can wriggle free and do themselves an injury falling to the floor. More people are adopting rabbits as house pets these days, and unusual though it may sound, they can make for a very loving and gentle indoor companion. There is a lot of debate as to whether to keep a single animal or two. They actually don’t co habit well with guinea pigs, so consider two bunnies – a mixed sex pair stands probably the best chance of forming a good relationship. Rabbits are actually very sociable creatures, and seem to live longer, happier lives within a community of some sort, so if you are planning on keeping your pet in a hutch outside, company will stave off boredom. Indoors, if you are around, you may find they bond equally with you as they would with a rabbit partner. Either way, don’t forget they should be neutered – not only do they ‘breed like rabbits’, but health wise this is much safer as it can help prevent a uterine cancer in females and other difficulties. If you do keep them outside, your bunnies need exercise, so invest in a run to keep them safe from foxes and other predators, and watch as they gambol around keeping your lawn trimmed for you!
Rabbits are very easily litter trained – simply placing a tray or two (filled with natural litter – wood based, paper or straw) in their chosen spot will avoid accidents after a few days, and as a rule they are very clean creatures. They will need a base in your home if you do plan to let them range free. Mine have free range downstairs, and are allowed on the landing, but still spend plenty of time in their indoor hutch. As rabbits are prey animals, they do behave differently to the more traditional house pet – they hide and don’t always respond well to physical affection. Once they are settled however, and become used to the surroundings and your company, they can make the most delightful of house pets – mine will sit and watch TV on the sofa with me, chase around the lounge jumping over the furniture, and generally provide amusement and companionship. One of the main drawbacks with house rabbits is that they do have a natural instinct to chew. This is because like rodents, their teeth grow continuously and need to be worn down – a mainly straw or hay diet helps; and most chewing can be contained fairly easily by providing a whole host of boredom busters and suitable chewable items. Try apple wood sticks, willow matting and so on, all of which are available from good pet shops. This doesn’t mean however that they will stop entirely. I have one chewer and one non chewer, but even he cannot resist the temptation of cords on the floor. After the death of a second Playstation controller, I have bunny proofed again (hide wires, or put them inside tubing to protect them – not only to save your electricals, but to make sure you don’t come home one day to frazzled bunny) the problem has ceased. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still the odd nibble – for some reason the buttons on our remote controls seem very tempting indeed!
Finally, find a rabbit and small animal friendly vet – they are not as easy to find as you may think; but as rabbit medicine can be quite complicated, once you find one, stick with them. Rabbits will need annual vaccinations at the very least, and all animals require a basic level of health care. More importantly, get your pet insured – rabbits particularly can be prone to dental problems and gut issues, and it can prove very costly for treatment – insurance has saved me from some unthinkable decisions over the years, and my bunnies from a very difficult time.
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