Pocket pet popularity is on the rise and for good reason – rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets not only make great companions, but their smaller build and confined living quarters mean that those living in apartments and units can enjoy the perks of pet ownership too.
So, in the interest of keeping our pocket pets healthy and happy, let’s talk about how to best set up and look after your new little fur-friend.
First things first, you’ll need to set up your pocket pet’s home. There are heaps of options on the market, so you will need to choose whether the enclosure is for indoor or outdoor use. but we generally advise to steer clear of anything with metal framework, many of these items come from overseas and can have toxic metals such as zinc and lead, as part of their construction. If your pet was to chew on these metals then they would become seriously ill. You will also need to be mindful of other pets in the house to make sure that they cannot get through to the pocket pet. Outdoor timber is often fine and will help maintain a more moderate temperature, again though watch to see your pocket pet is not chewing on the timber and eating their way out. Wire mesh walls and floors are essential, make sure your hutch or cage is enclosed on all sides as little critters can be great chewers and diggers, and the last thing you’ll want is an AWOL loved one. If you are building your own hutch, keep in mind that you’ll want easy access to all areas of the enclosure for cleaning and capturing purposes, and make sure that your pet will have plenty of room to roam and graze as they please. Do not use treated timbers as these can be toxic.
Adequate shelter from rain, heat and other extreme weather conditions is crucial, as well as an area for safe hideaway and retreat for your pet. Pocket pets are super susceptible to heatstroke, predators and exposure to viruses like myxomatosis and calicivirus. Indoor enclosures are often plastic tub bases with wire tops and come in a range of sizes, including multistory for the adventurous pets.
Guinea pigs and rabbits are herbivores, which is a bonus if you have lots of leftover veggie scraps from your household. Tops of carrots, tomatoes, corn on the cob and capsicum are lovely treats, but STAY AWAY from lots of green leafy veg as the high water content can lead to diarrhea. Coarse hay (Timothy or Oaten hay) help their ever-growing teeth to be worn down. Limit access to Lucerne hay as the high calcium can increase with risk of bladder stones. Foraging through grass is a favorite too, so offer lots of supervised enrichment time in the great outdoors if it is safe to. Chew toys and treats can also be purchased from many of the pet stores. Cardboard boxes are another favorite and you can hide food treats inside as an environmental enrichment task.
There are many specialised pocket pet pellets which will offer basic dietary requirements, and oaten hay will offer extra fibre that these littlies need daily. We prefer the Vetafarm or Oxbow brand.
Ferrets love a diet of both commercial ferret dry food (or kitten food if you can’t find it) and a meaty bone once a week to help clean their teeth (mine love chicken necks).
Steer clear of sweetened pet ‘treats’ as these can upset tummies and rot teeth, a frozen strawberry or banana will go down just as well. Be sure to research toxic foods thoroughly as there are many that can really harm your pocket pet that may surprise you – tomato leaves, lilies and apple seeds are among them.
Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, Ferrets and rodents are prolific breeders, so if you have a variety of sexes in tow, we can’t stress enough to you the importance of desexing your pets. You WILL end up outnumbered. Desexing pocket pets can assist in the reduction of cases of reproductive cancers too, with almost 100% of entire female rabbits over 4 years of age having uterine cancers. Female ferrets MUST be desexed or mated and bred every time they come in season. If this is not done, they continue to stay in season, produce oestrogen and the end result is bone marrow suppression, bleeding internally and death.
Your ferret and/or rabbits will need regular health checks and vaccinations, as well as treatment for heartworm and fleas, both Revolution and Advocate are suitable parasite control products. Ferrets are vaccinated annually and rabbits every 6 months for Calici-virus, unfortunately we do not have a vaccine for myxomatosis in Australia. Your guinea pig may need a trim if they are longhaired from time to time and nails clipped, but with a little practice and a whole lot of patience, you can take care of this at home yourself.
It is a pretty fairly common misconception that pockets pets are a lower maintenance pet – they will still require all of the care and time you offer to bigger pets like dogs and cats. With some good research before purchase, a sturdy and safe enclosure, good quality vet care and a healthy and varied diet, you can ensure your pocket pets enjoy a long and enriched life.