Small furries environment

Small furries environment

How big should their enclosure be? What should be inside it? What happens in cold winters and hot summers? What is a gerbilarium? Which plants are poisonous?

In this section we’ll look at:

  • Chinchillas
  • Dwarf Hamsters/Syrian Hamsters
  • Ferrets
  • Gerbils
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Mice
  • Rats
Chinchillas

Chinchillas

  • Give chinchillas an indoor enclosure or a room in your home as they are very active. Both of these are better than a large cage. Ensure that any cage is at least H2 x W2 x D1M.
  • Give them lots of levels and platforms for them to climb and jump from.
  • Give them exercise time outside their cage every day. You need to supervise this closely in a safe and secure room. Make sure there’s nothing they can chew on, especially electrical wires.
  • Keep the enclosure at a steady temperature between 10 - 15°C, out of draughts and direct sunlight. Chinchillas have a thick coat and are very prone to overheating . They often get distressed at around 21°C and can die if it gets above 30°C.
  • Keep the enclosure away from busy or noisy areas – e.g. your TV or music system – as noises and vibrations make chinchillas stressed.
  • Protect chinchillas from young children and predators, such as the family cat.
  • Secure the enclosure very well so your chinchillas can’t escape.

What should the cage floor be made from?
  • It needs to be indestructible – ideally non-toxic wire, as chinchillas chew through wood.
  • If it’s a wire mesh floor, ensure there are plenty of solid floored platforms and branches for chinchillas to spend time on, or their feet may develop health problems.
  • Ensure wire mesh floors have no gaps wider than 15mm x 15mm – so their feet don’t fall through and become injured.

What should I put on the cage floor?

Use wood shavings on the cage floor or beneath the wire mesh. Don’t use sawdust. It’s too dusty for their eyes and lungs.

What does a chinchilla nest box look like?
  • Chinchillas need a quiet and secluded nest box (25cm x 25cm x 25cm) where they can hide.
  • Put in clean, dry hay, straw or shredded paper for bedding, e.g. clean white kitchen roll.
  • Use dust-free material ideally.
  • Avoid newspaper because the ink can be toxic.

How do I clean their enclosure or cage?

1. Clean it once a day
  • Remove any shavings or bedding that are wet and dirty.
  • Remove any uneaten fresh food.
  • Clean the food and water containers before refilling them.
2. Clean it more thoroughly once a week to keep it hygienic.

3. Clean it out completely every month or two:
  • Strip it out completely.
  • Scrub it thoroughly inside and out with pet-safe cleaning agents (available from pet shops).
  • Only allow your chinchillas back in when it is completely dry.

Dwarf Hamsters and Syrian Hamsters

Dwarf Hamsters/Syrian Hamsters

  • Keep a deep layer of shavings or potting compost at the base of their cage as hamsters love to burrow. 
  • Clean their cage thoroughly once a week. We recommend you leave behind a small amount of unsoiled old bedding , so their familiar scents aren’t completely removed during cleaning. Try not to alter their environment too much as hamsters dislike any rapid change.
  • Give your hamsters as big a cage as possible so they can get plenty of exercise. In the wild, they can travel up to 5 miles a night.
  • Keep the cage at a steady temperature between 18 - 21C, out of draughts and direct sunlight. Hamsters start getting sleepy and start hibernating if the temperature stays below 10°C .
  • Keep the enclosure away from busy or noisy areas – e.g. your TV or music system – as noises and vibrations make hamsters stressed.
  • Secure their cage very well as a hamster is a great escape artist.

What does a hamster nest box look like?

  • Hamsters need a quiet and secluded nest box where they can sleep during the day.
  • Put in clean, shredded paper e.g. clean white kitchen roll, or cloth-based materials for bedding.
  • Avoid newspaper because the ink can be toxic.
  • Avoid cotton wool: it can cause dangerous blockages if eaten – and can become wrapped around legs, constricting how they move.

Ferrets

Ferrets

What should my ferret space be like?

  • Give ferrets the biggest area you can as they need lots of space to run around and play. The floor area should be at least 10 square metres.
  • Ensure the hutch is weatherproof, raised off the ground and out of direct sunlight and strong winds.
  • Secure it well so they can’t escape. Sink any wire mesh into the ground so that they can’t burrow out.
  • Line the floor with clean woodshavings or sawdust, but not sand. Ideally, any material used should be dust-free.
  • Give them clean, dry hay, straw or shredded paper as bedding.

What happens in summer?

Move the hutch to a shaded area and also make sure their exercise area has some shade. Ferrets are sensitive to extremes of temperature and can get stressed when it’s over 30°C.

What happens in winter?

Give them a large indoor exercise area or they can develop obesity or osteoporosis (brittle bone disease) and other diseases. Use a shed or car-free garage as exhaust fumes are fatal. Give them extra bedding when it gets really cold.

Make playtime fun

Make sure their exercise area is big enough for them to have a good run around. Put in toys for them to play with and tubes or drainpipes for them to explore and hide in.

Toilets for ferrets

  • Ferrets are very clean and usually choose one particular area to go to the toilet, called a latrine.
  • We recommend you give them a litter tray as it’s easier to clean out.
  • Put the litter tray in the area they use anyway as this will encourage them to use it.
  • Ferret litter trays are normally corner-shaped and have two high sides as ferrets squirt soft faeces upwards.

How do I clean the hutch?

1. Clean the hutch at least once a day:
  • Remove any wet or dirty shavings or bedding.
  • Removing any uneaten fresh food.
  • Clean the food and water containers before refilling them.
  • Clean out the litter tray.
2. Clean the hutch more thoroughly once a week to keep it hygienic.

3. Clean it out completely every month or two:
  • Strip it out completely.
  • Scrub it thoroughly inside and out with pet-safe disinfectant, available from pet shops.
  • Only allow your ferrets back in when it is completely dry.

Hazards around the home and garden

  • Keep the hutch and run safe from young children and family pets, such as cats and dogs.
  • Keep ferrets away from electric cables as they can chew through them.
  • Keep rubber toys and soft furnishings away from ferrets as they can cause a life-threatening blockage if accidentally swallowed.

Gerbils

Gerbils

What does a gerbil nest box look like?

  • Gerbils need a quiet and secluded nest box where they can sleep during the day.
  • Put in bedding for small pets or shredded paper e.g. clean white kitchen roll, so they can make a nest.
  • Avoid newspaper because the ink can be toxic.
  • Avoid cotton wool: it can cause dangerous blockages if eaten.

Give gerbils their own playground – a gerbilarium.

  • Gerbils love digging, so give them a gerbilarium – a big plastic tank below a wire living area.
  • Choose one from a pet shop that’s as large as possible, so your gerbils get enough exercise.
  • Make sure it’s tall as gerbils love to stand on their hind limbs. 
  • Fill the tank with appropriate burrowing material such as potting compost, rather than woodshavings. This lets them climb, burrow and play to their heart’s content. So they get exercise and stay happy and healthy.
  • Keep the gerbilarium indoors, out of draughts and direct sunlight – and away from busy or noisy areas , e.g. a TV or music system as the noise and vibration can make your gerbils stressed.

Keep adult gerbils in an environment between 20° and 22°C. 

How often should I clean the gerbilarium?

  • Clean out the gerbilarium every two to three weeks, or more frequently if it is becoming soiled.
  • Give it a thorough clean every three months:  do a thorough clean, wash it well and replace all the burrowing and nesting materials.
Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs

What should my guinea pig space be like?

  • Give guinea pigs a large hutch and the biggest grassy area you can, so they can access it whenever they want. Guinea pigs need lots of space to run around and play.
  • Ensure the hutch is weatherproof, raised off the ground and out of direct sunlight and strong winds.
  • Secure it well so they can’t escape and safe from predators – dogs, cats, foxes, rats and birds of prey. Sink any wire mesh into the ground so that they can’t burrow out.
  • Line the floor with clean woodshavings or sawdust, but not sand. Ideally, any material used should be dust-free.
  • Put clean, dry hay, straw or shredded paper as bedding.

What happens in summer?

Move the hutch to a shaded area. Make sure their exercise area also has some shade. Guinea pigs are sensitive to extremes of temperature and can get stressed when it’s over 27°C.

What happens in winter?

Give them a large indoor exercise area or they can develop obesity or osteoporosis (brittle bone disease) and other diseases. Use a shed or car-free garage as exhaust fumes are fatal. Give them extra bedding when it gets really cold.

How do I clean the hutch?

1. Clean the hutch at least once a day:
  • Remove any wet or dirty shavings or bedding.
  • Removing any uneaten fresh food.
  • Clean the food and water containers before refilling them.
2. Clean the hutch more thoroughly once a week to keep it hygienic.

3. Clean it out completely every month or two:
  • Strip it out completely.
  • Scrub it thoroughly inside and out with pet-safe disinfectant, available from pet shops
  • Only allow your guinea pigs back in when it is completely dry.


Poisons and hazards around the home and garden

Keep your guinea pigs safe. Make sure the hutch and run are escape-proof and safe from predators – dogs, cats, foxes, rats and birds of prey. Don’t let guinea pigs have access to electric cables, as they will chew through them.

Poisonous plants for guinea pigs

There are many other poisonous plants not on this list. If in doubt, keep your guinea pigs away from your plants and flowerbeds, especially if they’ve been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides.

  • Bluebell 
  • Crocus
  • Daffodil
  • Dock
  • Foxglove
  • Hyacinth
  • Laburnum
  • Poppy
  • Ragwort
  • Tulip
  • Yew

Mice

Mice

What should my mice space be like?

  • Give your mice as large a cage as possible, so they can get plenty of exercise.
  • Ensure it has different levels for your mice to climb.
  • Keep the cage indoors, out of draughts and direct sunlight – and away from busy or noisy areas, such as near a TV or music system, as noises and vibrations make mice stressed.  
  • Keep the temperature between 18° and 22°C.
  • Secure the cage very well, so your mice can’t escape and they are protected from predators, such as the family cat.

What should I put on the cage floor?

It’s best to give them commercial “dust free” mouse bedding – e.g. wood pulp or paper-based materials, available from pet shops – as some mice are prone to respiratory disease of the lungs and airways. Never give cedar or pine woodchips as they are toxic.

What does a mouse nest box look like?

  • Mice need a quiet and secluded nest box where they can sleep during the day.
  • Put in clean, shredded paper e.g. clean white kitchen roll, or cloth-based materials for bedding so they can make a nest.
  • Avoid newspaper because the ink can be toxic.
  • Avoid cotton wool: it can cause dangerous blockages if eaten – and can become wrapped around legs, constricting how they move. 

How often should I clean their cage?

Clean it thoroughly once a week. We recommend you leave behind a small amount of unsoiled old bedding, so their familiar scents aren’t completely removed during cleaning. 
Rats

Rats

What should my rat space be like?

  • Give your rats as large a cage as possible, so they can get plenty of exercise.
  • Don’t fill a small cage with too many rats as they become stressed.
  • Ensure it has different levels for your rats to climb.
  • Keep the cage indoors, out of draughts and direct sunlight – and away from busy or noisy areas, such as near a TV or music system, as noises and vibrations make rats stressed. 
  • Keep the temperature around 20°C.
  • Secure the cage very well, so your rats can’t escape and they’re protected from predators, such as the family cat.

What should I put on the cage floor?

  • Cover with a suitable material such as non-toxic woodchips, or commercial rat bedding, e.g. wood pulp or paper-based materials, available from pet shops.
  • Never give cedar or pine woodchips as they are toxic.
  • Don’t use dusty materials such as woodshavings or sawdust as rats are very prone to developing respiratory disease of the lungs and airways
  • Clean the cage regularly as soiled bedding can also cause respiratory disease.

What does a rat nest box look like?

  • Rats need a quiet and secluded nest box where they can sleep during the day.
  • Keep the nest box dark as rats are very sensitive to light, especially albinos.
  • Put in clean, shredded paper e.g. clean white kitchen roll, or soft bedding material so they can make a nest.
  • Avoid newspaper because the ink can be toxic.
  • Avoid cotton wool: it can cause dangerous blockages if eaten – and can become wrapped around legs, constricting how they move. 

How often should I clean their cage?

  • Clean it thoroughly once a week. Good cage hygiene is crucial to rats’ health, or it can cause respiratory disease.
  • We recommend you leave behind a small amount of unsoiled old bedding, so their familiar scents aren’t completely removed during cleaning. 
  • Check the cage two or three times a week. Remove any bedding or nesting materials that are soiled with urine or faeces.