The biggest mistake people make when keeping a rodent such as a rat, guinea pig or mouse is choosing to house them in a cage that is too small or unsuitable. Choosing the right home for your pet is very important. Enclosures must allow the animal to fully display their natural behaviours such as running, hiding, burrowing and climbing.
Space, therefore, is key. A large rat cage will help prevent stress by allowing your rat to exercise and explore. Guinea pigs need enough space to run and race around whereas hamsters need space to dig their deep burrows like they would in the wild. For rats, providing nothing smaller than a 3ftx3ftx3ft large multi-storey rat cage is recommended. Hamsters are best kept in large cages with deep layers of dust-free, absorbent bedding. Guinea pigs need a hutch with a run, the bigger the better, but at least 1.5x1m with a 2mx1m run attached.
In addition to a large cage, letting your pet out to explore a safe and supervised space for several hours a day will increase their mental stimulation and fun for both your pet and you. It may be best, if you are planning to do this for your hamster, gerbil or mouse, to first place them into a play ball - a hollow plastic sphere. These ensure your pet is kept safe and won’t go missing in your home!
Rat playpens are a great idea to create a safe space for your rat to play. Indoor runs with narrow bars give your rat extra space and a new environment to explore whilst making sure they don’t escape into other areas of your home. Add interactive toys such as balls, climbing ropes and tunnels to the space to engage your pet.
Small pets should be kept in warm, well-ventilated areas of the home, away from harsh sunlight or loud noises. Rat cages and hamster cages are made from metal bars to allow the animal to see out but will allow smells and heat in. It is therefore important not to use harsh fragrances around the cage or place the cage too close to radiators or anything that may be chewed through the bars like curtains or furniture upholstery.
Guinea pigs are often kept outside in runs and hutches, or even, a shed. Any animal that is kept outside is in danger of becoming too hot or too cold depending on the weather. If the temperature gets too high, guinea pigs will quickly become stressed and can overheat. Make sure there is ample shade and move a hutch into a shaded area when the sunlight is too harsh.
When the weather takes a turn for the worst or when the temperature drops, bring your guinea pig indoors or keep them in a shed or garage. Adding extra hay and bedding to insulate their hides will also help keep them warm and comfortable. Hutches should be weather-proofed with waterproof roofs and stabilised into the ground to prevent gusts of wind from knocking them over.
Your pet's cage should be a safe space to have fun in and exhibit all of their natural behaviours. Multiple levels with ramps, stairs, ladders and frames will provide a sense of fun and keep your pet busy exploring and exercising. Deep hamster cages with levels and areas to burrow and dig are best for this species. Glass cages are often used for hamsters but these are not always suitable as they do not provide adequate ventilation, giving rise to respiratory problems. Vertical rat cages are a great way to provide stimulation to climb but should they should also have adequate floor space for running around and digging.