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Small Furries and their Needs

small furries blog header

Many people seem to think that small furry pets such as rabbits are the ‘easy’ option. Because of this, they can sometimes not get the attention and care they deserve.


Rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas are all known as fibrevores. This means that they require a high level of fibre in their diet to keep them healthy.

Their teeth grow continuously so lots of fibre helps them to keep these worn down. If these pets are not provided with enough fibre then their teeth can become occluded, meaning that they grow so that they don’t meet normally. This can prevent your pet being able to eat properly.

Aside from fibre, they have other dietary requirements too:

  1. Fibre: Hay/ Grass
  2. Complete pellet-based food
  3. Fresh greens
  4. Fresh water

All small furries should have access to a plentiful supply of hay and/or grass. If your rabbit or guinea pig lives indoors, or you have no access to a garden with any grass, you can always grow a small patch of grass yourself in a tray or window box (or purchase a similar available product).

They should also be offered a variety of ‘greens’. Good examples of this would be brussel sprouts, kale, spinach and watercress. Try to avoid giving them iceberg lettuce as this is mainly water and has very little nutritional value. They will also enjoy fruits such a strawberries, honeydew melon and kiwi. Despite the typical image of a rabbit gnawing away on a carrot, carrots do NOT count as greens!

Chinchillas, on the other hand, will benefit from eating carrots, as well as a variety of fruits including apples, blueberries, grapes and oranges.  Chinchillas love raisins. However, because of their high sugar content these should only be given sparingly as a treat (a maximum of four a week).

In addition to this, small furries should also be fed a complete, pellet-based food. People often over-feed by  accident as they think the bowl looks empty. Try switching to a bowl intended for a hamster, etc to make sure that you are giving the correct amount.

They should also have a constant supply of fresh water– some animals may prefer a bowl, some a bottle. Your pet will let you know either way or offer both if you are unsure.

Environment and lifestyle:

Hutches for rabbits should be at least 2 feet tall to allow rabbits to stretch upwards as they would in the wild, as well as long enough to allow them to make at least three hops (if you have a pet rabbit, go and see how much distance this is– you might be surprised!).

The home office minimum requirement for rabbits used in labs is that their hutches should be at least 1.2m long and 0.45m wide. However, if yours is a much-loved pet rabbit that could live up to 10 years, don’t they deserve more space than that?

The rabbit Welfare association and fund is currently running a campaign called ‘A hutch is not enough’, designed to highlight the plight of the UK’s bunnies.

In addition to a hutch, rabbits should also have a large run. Rabbits are crepuscular which means that they are most active at dawn and dusk. This means that they might still be stuck in their hutch at their most active time of day before you’ve moved them into their run!

You can purchase specially designed tubes to link up hutches and runs. This means that your bunny can make their own choices about what they’d like to be doing, such as hide in their hutch if it starts to rain or a predator enters the garden.

Guinea pig hutches should be at least five times the length of the guinea pig and a foot wide. Like rabbits, they should have access to a secure run.

Your rabbit and guinea pig will be both benefit from being checked and groomed regularly. Try and make sure that they are never left outside damp as this can increase the chance of them being affected by flystrike.

Chinchillas are bright inquisitive animals who need a lot of  stimulation. As such, they should have a large, multi-level cage with plenty of things to keep them entertained.

Chinchillas will also love the opportunity to have a run-around outside their cage. This should be in a secure space, with no small areas they may get stuck in (from experience, trying to pry them out from the back of a coat cupboard is a long and exhaustive process!).

You should provide plenty of things to chew in their cage to help keep their teeth at the correct length (avoid anything plastic as these won’t last long and may be ingested). It means you should also be aware that if you let your chinchilla out, they may chew furniture or cables– try to avoid rooms containing any priceless family heirlooms! It is also worth noting that chinchillas are nocturnal (so avoid having their cage in a bedroom).

As any chinchilla owner will know, one of the most enjoyable things about having one is watching them cut loose in their dust bath! This should be offered to them a couple of times a week. Do not leave it in their cage as it will end up being used as a toilet! Your chinchilla will happily roll about in their dust bath to keep themselves clean. You can see a good example of a chin in a dust bath below:

Unlike rabbits and guinea pigs, you shouldn’t groom them as the purpose of the dust bath is to help them clean their coat. You should also NEVER let them get wet. Chinchillas are fairly fragile, shy little creatures who need a good deal of time and care so they don’t make ideal pets for young children. Be aware too that they can live to over 20 years old!

General small furry advice:

  • Check their teeth and nails regularly.
  • Use a complete food, rather than a mix. Otherwise, your pet will just pick and choose the tastiest bits and leave the rest!
  • Small furries are very susceptible to extreme weather, and cannot cope with hot weather.
  • All small furries are sociable animals and will be far happier with a bit of company. The best combination is a female and a male (with both neutered). However, if you are reluctant to get a female spayed then try a pair of females together.
  • Remember that your small furry pet is a prey animal– just because your cat or dog may not be able to actually get to them through their cage, it doesn’t mean that the small furry won’t be terrified if they can see or even smell them. Think about how secure you’d feel staring at a tiger through a thin wire mesh!
  • Small furry pets are likely to be stressed by handling initially. Build up contact with your pet gradually  until they are comfortable with you and try to win them over and make them feel comfortable by offering treats.

If you are interested in getting a small furry pet or have any questions or concerns about a current pet, please give your local Medivet branch a call for advice by using our online practice finder.

Posted August 11, 2015 in Pet Care Advice

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