Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Exotic Care #3 – Looking after a hamster, rat, guinea pig or gerbil

Is it the pet for me?

Guinea Pigs are an ideal first pet. They live up to 8 years and they are more social than other small furries, rarely scratch or bite. They are curious little creatures and love to be petted once tame.
Gerbils are quite active and love plenty of activities – this is a great chance for some DIY adventure courses made out of cardboard for creative pet owners. Active during day and night be aware of this when choosing where to put the cage. Their lifespan is a little shorter 3-6 years and as they naturally live on desert they eliminate a lot less. These are very curious and inquisitive creatures and good for older children.
Hamsters all an ideal all rounder for the older family. They need a little less room than the others. These are nocturnal animals which means they sleep during the day, and because of such are better suited to older children or teenagers as they will not always be active when small children want to play. Playing with them while they are sleepy may make them cranky, which is understandable! Their lifespan is between 2-3 yrs.
Rats are very intelligent and friendly and need a lot of attention. They are also sensitive and to be respected and therefore suitable for older teenagers and adults. They are one of the more active rodents and a couple of hours a day needs to be set aside to play and stimulate these pets.


All of these little rodents are very active at different times. Dawn and dusk is a guinea pigs activity time. Their activity level means that the bigger the cage the better for any of these creatures. Straw pellets or smooth wood shavings are ideal for bedding and a little cotton wool or similar material can be added so that the animal can nest, stay warm and hide itself when it wants some privacy. Cat litter is inappropriate. A insulated nest box is needed with a couple of exits and if they are housed outdoors this should be slightly raised off the ground.
These are all little prey animals so it is important they feel safe where they live and have plenty of nests and hidey holes. The cagr or hutvh should be situated in a well venitiated but dreught free area. You must choose if the pets are to be indoor or outdoor and if the latter more insulated hutch should be provided. Outdoor living should also A heavy food bowl is ideal and obviously fresh water should be available at all times from a upside down drip bottle. The cage should have a couple of levels so the pets can run around and keep fit. Exercise wheels are a great way to keep them trim and stimulated. Children and adults alike can ahve great fun together making fun adventure courses for your pet out of loo rolls, empty cereal boxes and the like .


Any new pet will be shy for the first few days. It is important to establish a bond of trust with it and you may do this by spending a good quantity of time talking to it let it get used to the soft calm sound of your voice. Leave it in the cage the first few days and let it settle into its new surroundings with its new sights, smells, voices and faces. It is then time to offer small tasty treats from your hand to get it used to you and make the whole experience a positive one. When they are used to your hand you may pet them lightly. After they are used to this you may pick them up but fully support them front and rear. One hand to support their rib cage and the other hand to support their backside. If they feel secure they will not be likely to be scared and bite.

Picking a healthy pet;

This can be applied to all small furries. Firstly the eyes, ears and nose should be fully open, dry and clean with no weepiness or crusty lesions. Its teeth should not be excessively long and it should have a good appetite and have no trouble eating or chewing. The skin and fur should be soft and shiny with no bald patches or parasites or excessive scratching. There should be no odd lumps or bumps felt. The paws and nails should be soft and clean and the nails a normal length (not curling beyond the foot pad). The bum should be clean and free from any signs of diarrhoea. The animal should be alert and interested in its surroundings and sound on all fours.
Guinea Pigs: These are very social creatures and you should always have two to keep each other company. This helps re-create their natural environment and promotes their well-being. A lone guinea pif could develop abnormal behavhious form lonliness. Owners must be aware that childrens excitemtn over a new pet can abate and it can be left on its own, an unfair environemtn for these social little creatures. It is always easier to house animals together that have grown up from a young age. Fighting can break out between males if there are kept with females around. If there are no close females male guinea pigs tend to get on fairly well as theres no on to fight over! The problem can also be eliminated if males are castrated before reaching sexual maturity (4-5 m old). As they behave differnently i would reccommend keeping rabbits and guinea pigs seperate.
If the pigs are leapfrogging and squealing it can indicate something is unwell, and you should take it to a vet asap.


Guinea pig – these creatures are herbivores which means they are vegetarians. Help replicate a natural diet by providing fresh hay as the main staple. A tablespoon per pig is enough of pet shop pellets as they are quite rich. Supplement these foods by little treats of dandelions, lettuce, carrots, herbs, turnips, and small amounts of apples, pears, spinach, celery, tomatoes, gherkins, and green cereal are all suitable. The wrong foods can be unsuitable and cause fatal stomach problems. Do not introduce any sudden changes in diet for similar reasons. Such unsuitable foods would include starchy, sugary foods like silage, too much cabbage/spinach, or too much dark green leafy veg. If introducing fresh grass do it very slowly  and do it gradually in the Spring time.
Drinking water from an upside down water bottle should always be fresh and available.  A guinea pigs teeth will continuously grow and fruit tree branches or gnawing blocks should be provided to wear these down. It is normal for guinea pigs like rabbits to eat their droppings. This is a normal behaviour for this species unlike cats and dogs. They have a high vitamin C requirement and so it can be added to the drinking water and little treats of carrots and some citrus fruits including kiwis.

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