Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, Mice, or Rats are all sociable animals and are fairly easy to look after, this is why they make great little pets and friends. To ensure your small animal lives a happy and healthy life, great love and care is needed.
It is vital that your small animal has the best start to life, and what your pet is fed in their first year is crucial to their health, growth and adult development. Choose a feed that has been designed by a nutritionist to provide all the nutrients and vitamins required for healthy development, and assists in the prevention of disease. Feeding the right food throughout your small animal’s life will assist in fighting obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems.
Many human foods can cause illness to your small animal, so avoid chocolate, garlic, onions, sugary foods, junk food, uncooked beans, cabbages, peanuts, corn, avocados, iceberg lettuce, mushrooms, leeks, rhubarb, potato and potato peel.
Your small animal can eat: cucumber, tomatoes, carrots and carrot tops, apple or pears without the seeds, broccoli, parsley, strawberries, spinach, kale, pasture hay, capsicums, brussel sprouts, watermelon, rockmelon, kiwi fruit, and bananas.
Your small animal should always be provided with fresh water and changed daily.
Hutches are ideal for rabbits and guinea pigs. Choose a sturdy hutch that has two sections, one section for activities and the other section enclosed for protection and sleeping. Make sure the hutch is placed in a well sheltered and ventilated area outside that is out of direct sunlight. Guinea pigs cannot jump very high or climb, so make sure there is easy access around the hutch.
Rats and mice need a sturdy cage that can’t be chewed through with plenty of ventilation. There is a great range of cages suited for rats and mice and choosing a cage can become overwhelming. It’s best to choose the largest cage you have space for to ensure your new friends will have enough space for exercise.
Cleaning the hutch or cage should be done 2-3 times a week, depending on how many live in it. Replace any bedding and clean the your small animal's home with a pet safe disinfectant.
Provide some toys for your small animal to keep stimulated and interested.
As a general rule, allow your small animal to get used to you and your hands over the first couple of days before picking them up.
Domestic mice and rats generally rarely bite, but it’s advised to wash your hands if you’ve been handling food incase they do mistake your hands for food. With rats, use two hand to pick them up, and with mice one hand is acceptable.
When picking up your rabbit, use one hand to support under their chest and the other hand to support the back legs and rump. This is important as rabbits can kick their back legs and break their backs. Never pick up a rabbit by it’s ears.
When picking up your guinea pig, use two hands to support the full weight of your guinea pig's body.
Wood shavings is ideal for all small animals. Straw and hay is suitable for rabbits and guinea pigs, however is too sharp for rats and mice - wood shavings is a more suited option. Some of the bedding might get eaten away and might need replenishing. Make a nest-like area with the bedding for your rabbit to sleep. Clean and replace regularly to keep odour to a minimum and maintain hygiene levels.
Rats and mice can get overweight fairly easy, so in conjunction with a healthy diet, they need to exercise. As they love to climb, have ladders and ropes in their cage, and exercise wheels are a popular item too.
Rabbits and guinea pigs need to run around in a play pen for a little while each day. If you’re going to let your rabbit run free around the backyard, make sure it’s secured and predator free so there’s no chance your rabbit can escape.
Small animals love to chew and nibble. Their teeth are always growing, so provide your rabbit with gnawing toys, branches, and mineral stones to chew on.
Rabbits and guinea pigs will need to be wormed every three months, while rats and mice don't need worming at all. Your small animal will need to be checked for fleas regularly. Fleas and mites can be found in the bedding and irritate your small animal. Sprays are available at Pets Domain to eliminate fleas and mites. If severe infections and irritations occur, take your small animal to the vet.
Rabbits will need to be vaccinated from Calicivirus on a yearly basis. This virus is severe and usually results in death. If your rabbit is under 12 weeks of age, a second booster is required after 4 weeks of the initial vaccination.
Your small animal will tend to hide the fact that they are sick, so keep a close eye on any symptoms of illness.
Signs that your small animal might be sick include bare spots of fur, drooling, abnormal stools, not eating, excessive scratching, rapid breathing, and sneezing or throat rumbling.
If you notice your small animal with any of these symptoms it could be a variety of things, for example:
Pasteurella (snuffles) - Sneezing and watery eyes can be a sign, your guinea pig should be taken to the vet for consultation.
Heat Stroke - results from the environment being too warm.
Parasites or skin fungus - Your guinea pig will scratch alot and might have bare spots of fur. Can result from poor hygeine and not cleaning the hutch frequently.
Myxomatosis - a fatal virus commonly spread by mosquitoes. Initial symptoms include swelling around the eyes, face, and ears. Sometimes rabbits can become blinded from the swelling. Loss of appetite and fevers also can occur. If your rabbit has these symptoms, take it to the vet immediately as myxomatosis is fatal.
Scurvy - lack of Vitamin C found in fruits and vegetables.
Bacterial Infection - Diarrhoea and sneezing can be a sign, your guinea pig should be taken to the vet for consultation.
Heat Stroke - results from the environment being too warm.
Parasites or skin fungus - Your guinea pig will scratch a lot and might have bare spots of fur. Can result from poor hygiene and not cleaning the hutch frequently.
Rats and Mice:
Mammary Tumors - lumps that can appear anywhere on the body.
Dental Disease - Often is overgrown teeth and will need to take your mice or rat to the vet.
Respiratory Disease - sneezing and nasal discharge are common symptoms, long life treatment is required.
Barbering - Sometimes rats or mice might bully, so separation of the dominant animal is required.
Your small animal can be desexed if desired. It can reduce serious health risks and your small animal will also have a calmer temperament.
Rats and mice can be sexed between 4-6 weeks of age. Females become fertile as soon as 50 days, so separation between male and females is wise if you do not wish to breed.
Rabbits can be desexed between 4-5 months of age.
As guinea pigs mature 4-5 weeks of age, it is wise to keep male and females separate and may be desexed from 5-6 months of age.
For more information, download our care sheet: