I’ve had little pets for a few years now and I get a lot of people asking if they think they’d be a good pet for their kid or a good first pet for someone. Whilst I’d more or less always yes to this, because they make amazing pets, they are not for the feint hearted and, in my opinion, definitely not beginner pets. They’re upkeep can be time consuming, they won’t always trust you right away so sometimes that can put people off, they’re medical bills can be costly, and it’s recommended that they always live in pairs. They require a lot of attention and this can sometimes get a little overwhelming for people, especially if they’re looking for an easy pet. Although they are fantastic pets, they do require a little bit of work and patience.
For being a small animal, they need a lot of living space.
The required sizing for small animals is sometimes a little off. If you google the required sizes for two adult guinea pigs it’ll say somewhere between six feet squared to eight feet squared. From my experience, this isn’t enough. When you consider food, bedding, hideaways, hay, toys and water, it doesn’t leave them much room to run around in. I’d say for two guinea pigs at least ten square feet is a decent amount. Snow’s cage is ten square feet and she also has access to the floor of the room (which is pet proof, ofc) so she has miles of room to run around in.
The rats cage is actually big enough for up to 4-6 rats (I have 2!) so they have plenty of room to climb around in. It’s also full of boxes to hide away in, hammocks, ledges and ropes, running wheels, tunnels, toys and lots of things to climb on. This can be a high cost when you first get a cage because they generally don’t come with anything inside them, so you will need to buy all the toys etc yourself separately.
They require constant upkeep and cleaning, despite living mostly in a cage.
Even though all my little pets live in a cage, except Snow who gets free roam of the pet room floor as well as her cage, their cages and living spaces need to be fresh and clean. This means fresh bedding and blankets for the rats every three to four days, fresh fleece bedding and blankets for Snow every two to three days, clean bars, running wheels and hideaways, water bottles changed twice daily with fresh water, and poop swept up and removed at least once a day, if not more.
This can sometimes take me between an hour to two hours a day, depending on what needs done, so it can be very time consuming. Something to keep in mind if you’re planning on getting some little furry babies of your own.
Food needs to be varied and fresh, can’t just be buying food in cans or boxes.
With small pets you can’t just feed them food from a box or a sachet like you can with cats or dogs. They require a balanced diet of fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as fresh sources of protein for rats (they’re omnivores like us!).
Snow on a daily basis is given a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits from a list of produce that we know she likes, such as romaine lettuce, cucumber, peppers, carrot, parsley, blueberries, tomatoes, strawberries and grapes. She won’t be given all of this at once, it’s varied throughout the week. On top of this she also requires a constant access to fresh hay and nuggets to munch on, this makes up the majority of her diet and is needed for her to keep her teeth happy and healthy and her digestive system moving at all times. If a guinea pig stops eating, this can cause they’re little digestive system to shut down and lead to an early death.
The rats on a daily basis will get a mixture of diced cucumber, diced carrot, chicken breast, tuna, egg white, cashew nuts, peas, sweetcorn, grapes, blueberries, cereal mixes and muesli. Again, not all the same time, just a variety each night.
It’s important to keep their diet different and varied so they don’t become bored with the same food every day. Plus, when guinea pigs get excited for food they make the loudest little ‘wheeking’ noise, it’s so adorable, even though they’re essentially yelling for food!
They need a lot of time attention to become well-handled and cuddly.
If you get your small pet from a reputable and trusted breeder then the likelihood is that they’re already going to be well handled from the minute they were born. This is best way to be, the quicker you can handle them and get them used to affection and cuddles, the easier it’ll be in the long run.
If like me, you adopted your little ones, then it can take time to get them used to you. For example, guinea pigs are prey animals, so their natural instinct is to run and hide, or stay completely still until the threat (you) leaves. This is perfectly normal behaviour and it can take some time to earn their trust. Luckily small animals are very food-focused, and you can get close to them this way. I found the quickest way to earn their trust and affection was by spending time next to their cages with treats and talking softly to them, so they associate my voice and presence with food. This took a few months with Snow, until she eventually trusted me enough to cuddle her without freezing or running away. The rats took a bit less time, but still at least 6-8 weeks before they wouldn’t run when I was trying to pick them up.
If required, medical bills and medicine can be quite costly.
All pets will need to visit the vets in their lifetime and small pets are no different. Although they don’t need jags the way cats and dogs do, they do need other checks. For instance, the rats are incredibly prone to breathing problems and can pick up infections really easily. As we adopted the rats we don’t know how they were treated or taken care of before us, so we got them pretty sickly when they were babies. This has meant constant trips to the vets for check-ups, antibiotics, medicine and, more recently, surgery. One of my rats had a lump (most likely a mammary tumour) which was removed by our vet. Now my other rat has a similar lump which will need to be removed, too. The surgery costs around £80 per rat, and then antibiotics on top to stop infection.
Snow, *touch wood*, has been healthy and happy her whole life so far, so thankfully her only trips to the vets have been check-ups, which happens twice a year. This doesn’t tend to cost much, but again, it’s another cost to factor in.
All in all, small pets require a lot of time, effort and money. I would love to say that everyone should get small pets as they are beautiful little animals and, if cared for correctly, are very affectionate and loving. However, not everyone is going to be able to afford the patience and time to look after them. If you’re considering getting small animals, definitely look into what’s actually involved and then visit your local rehoming centre, they usually always have animals like guinea pigs and rats available for adoption (mostly because people get them and underestimate how much effort they are!).
If after all this, you’re still considering getting one, definitely let me know. I always love to see other people’s little furbabies!