All species of small pets such as hamsters, rats, guinea pigs, and chinchillas need somewhere to nest. In the wild, these animals would either burrow into the ground or find somewhere safe in the undergrowth to sleep, away from predators. Providing a similar place for your pet is very important to encourage their natural instincts. Being so small, these animals can startle easily so provide a hide to prevent anxiety in your pet.
The wide, open space of your pet’s cage can be a little daunting for a prey species like a hamster or rat. Items to create cover such as hides and other furniture will help them feel more at ease and give them additional places to explore. Hideaways such as a hamster igloo are a great way to do this, as well as being made from plastic so are easy to clean. You may find choosing a hide that opens at the bottom helpful for cleaning out too.
It is important to choose the correct size of a house for your pet. Remember, a rat igloo or chinchilla house needs to be larger than a hamster house so that your pet doesn’t get stuck. Guinea pigs are very sociable creatures so their houses should be large enough for them to snuggle up with their companions.
The placement of your pet’s hideaway depends on the species that you have. In the wild, chinchillas would live on the rocky, rugged slopes of the Andes Mountains whilst hamsters are found burrowing in deserts, steppes, and sparse rocky areas. Knowing this, your chinchilla's bed should be placed somewhere high up, their cage should include multiple levels (as should a rat’s cage) so place their hide on a secure level. As hamsters like to burrow, place their house on top of deep bedding or provide thick bedding inside their house so they can make a nest inside.
Make sure your pet's house is away from strong smells such as air fresheners or smoke, rats in particular have a very good sense of smell, and these odours can cause stress. Place their houses out of direct sunlight, somewhere not too bright during the day. Small pets are most active during the evenings and sleep during the day so bright sunlight will interrupt their sleeping patterns. Keep their house clean, and don’t allow urine-soaked bedding or faeces to build up as this will cause health issues.
When choosing a house for your furry friend, think about the following criteria:
Is the house safe for your pet to use? Entry and exit holes should be large enough to pass through with ease and there should be no parts that could hurt your pet such as hinges or screws.
Will the house be comfortable? Materials such as wood and plastic will retain warmth whereas ceramic houses may need extra bedding to be comfortable.
Rodents love to chew, it's in their nature and important for their dental health too. Hides and houses should be able to withstand the odd nibble and be made from materials that are safe when this happens. Wooden and cardboard hides won’t last long in your rodent’s cage whereas plastic and ceramic will.
All cage accessories should be easy to clean as maintaining hygiene in your pet’s cage is very important. Wooden hides will absorb and hold urine so will need to be replaced more often than plastic houses. Cardboard is unsuitable as a hide as it will quickly become wet from urine and collapse.