Small animals with BIG hearts

16th Oct, 2017

Written and photographed by Lauren Nàmer

Adopting a small animal is a wonderful, rewarding experience. They’re endearing and entertaining, and can be amazing little family members. If you put in the work and attention to detail that they need to be happy, the results are so worthwhile – for them and you.

Adopting a little critter

Having small animals is more difficult than most people think; it’s not just about cleaning a cage and dishing out food. They’re sensitive creatures and can be long-lived (bunnies can reach 15 years). It’s a serious commitment; potential adopters need to make sure they’re well-equipped to provide exactly what their chosen critter (creature) would need.

Although little critters are great pets for all ages, they’re particularly popular choices for children. However, although they can be lovely childhood pets, careful consideration of the children’s ages and capabilities in comparison with the species is important. For example, hamsters are better suited to older, calmer children because their small size makes them harder to handle for little children (plus they bite more readily when nervous). Guinea pigs are gentle, easy to handle and rarely bite, so they’re fine for smaller children; they do, however, require more space. Consider when they’ll be awake; for example, hamsters are nocturnal, so if you want to play with them during the day, you’ll be out of luck, whereas guinea pigs are awake all day and sleep at night so may be a better choice.

There are six main criteria one needs to keep in mind when considering adoption of small animals:

1. Space

We believe in quality of life and giving the animals what they require for both physical health and emotional well-being. This means adequate exercise space and suitably sized living quarters – and outside time daily. A cage or a hutch is not big enough for these animals to spend the majority of their lives in – it may be used for sleeping and shelter only.

Rabbits need no less than a 4m x 4m run, guinea pigs 3m x 3m – but the bigger the better! Hamsters, mice and rats might have very large cages, which provide enough roaming space plus adequate, safe, supervised, free-roaming space outside their cages daily.

2. Stimulation

Giving critters enough stimulation involves supplying various toys suited to their species, safe things to chew on, ‘hidey holes’, things to climb and exercise on, and keeping their environment interesting by changing things around often. Interacting with you is also important. Critters that do not have enough to explore become bored and often destructive, and may even become sick.

3. Food

These days there are fantastic quality food brands available for these small animals and a lot more is known about their complicated digestive systems and dietary needs. Giving good-quality hay, species-specific pellets and lots of fresh food will assist in giving them a long, healthy life.

4. Companionship

In order to provide these animals with a well-balanced life, we believe strongly that they require same-species companionship (except hamsters, which are solitary) and that’s why we home them in pairs or small herds. They’re very social animals and they thrive with others. Pairing animals takes knowledge and patience, and pairing them responsibly (either in same-sex pairs or sterilising) is the only way to prevent more unwanted animals and suffering. Most of these critters live in herds in the wild, so providing companionship of their own species certainly provides them with a more natural lifestyle. 

Humans simply cannot communicate with these animals in the same way that their own species can. However, human affection, affirmation and love will certainly help – and interacting with them is still important.

5. Health

Critters, like other pets, need regular check-ups and being prepared for emergency vet care if necessary. This is vital to their survival. Being aware of their health problems and knowing your critters well will assist you in acting fast if they’re sick and will potentially save their lives. These animals, being small, are vulnerable to the slightest illness and, due to the fact that, as prey animals, they hide their illnesses well, they do require a knowledgeable guardian.

6. Safety

All critters are prey animals and need to be protected from dogs, cats and birds of prey. They also need to be handled very carefully by children, preferably monitored by adults as they can easily be injured by being dropped or cuddled too hard. They should be kept away from possible poisonous plants, or areas of escape or danger.

Remember, if you put in the work, they’ll change your life for the better. Adopting saves lives!