Before you bring your small animal home, you’ll need to have a few items on hand to make your new pet feel safe and comfortable. The plethora of toys, foods, beddings, cages, and other trinkets available may seem confusing, but in reality you only need a few essential items to provide your small animal with everything he needs to live a long, happy life.
Bedding is an important component of your pet’s environment. It is used to absorb moisture, to reduce odors, and to provide a warm, dry place for your pet to sleep. Your small animal may also engage in some natural behaviors with his bedding, such as burrowing and building a sleeping nest.
Many types of bedding are available for purchase. Some are made from wood shavings, like pine and aspen, or recycled paper and wood pulp. Ideally, you should buy bedding that is dust-free.
Cages and Enclosures
The single most important piece of equipment for your small animal is his cage. All small animals need to a cage in which to live. It must be large enough so that the animal has enough room to move around comfortably. The cage must also provide good ventilation and be escape-proof. Sturdy wire cages are the most commonly available and come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.
Different small animals need different cages. A pair of gerbils can do well in a 10-gallon (37.8-l) aquarium with a weighted-down wire mesh top. Rabbits are not natural climbers, so they need a cage with maximum floor space rather than vertical height. Rats can live in certain tall cages sold for birds. Research the animal you want first to learn what type and size cage or enclosure will allow him to thrive.
Every living thing needs a varied, high-quality diet to stay in the best health possible, and small animals are no exception. Research will tell you what type of diet your small animal requires. For example, hedgehogs will eat insects in the wild, and offering an occasional bug will benefit the animal. Gerbils will eat plants, berries, and nuts. Ferrets are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meaty prey items, not grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Specially formulated foods are available for purchase, and dry pellets and mixes are the most commonly seen. You can supplement these foods with freshly sliced fruits and vegetables. Live food animals are also available if you need them. In the case of ferrets, they can be given raw or cooked and deboned meat.
There are products for sale that allow you to brush your small animal, which will help keep him clean and healthy. Grooming time is also a great opportunity to bond with your small animal—the more you handle him, the more he will be used to and trust you. You will also need to buy nail clippers for some small animals; gerbils will bite down their own nails, for example, but rabbits and guinea pigs need you to trim their nails.
Most small animals will love a small box or faux house in their cage. This offers a sense of security, a safe hiding place to which to retreat from loud noises and any disturbing activity outside their home. Hides come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and are made mostly of either plastic or wood.
Even small animals need to play! Toys will give your pet something to do and will make him even more enjoyable. With objects to play with, in, and on, he will be more active and interesting to watch, and he’ll feel content and happy. Many types of toys are available—be sure to buy playthings that are an appropriate size for your small animal. Also, avoid toys that have small parts that can be bitten or chewed off and swallowed.
Water Dish or Bottle
Your small animal must have clean water, which you can offer in a gravity-fed water bottle that attaches to the side of the cage or in a bowl or container inside the cage. If the latter is your choice, keep an eye on it, as bedding and other objects will make their way into the bowl.
Your small animal must always have access to clean water. Change it daily, and clean the bottle or bowl regularly.