• Small animals can be a lot of fun to interact with if you plan ahead and follow a few safety tips.

    Most of us get a pet for companionship and for the simple joy of playing and spending time with the animal. Unlike dogs or cats, small animals such as gerbils, rabbits and guinea pigs have fewer means of communicating to you their likes, dislikes and fears. That’s why learning to play with your pet in an appropriate manner can improve the safety aspects of play for both of you.

    Some Do’s

    • Handle your pet gently on a regular basis.
    • Leave your pet alone if it is a nocturnal animal. Most likely, it will want to sleep during the day and be more inclined to play in the evening or at night.
    • Keep other large pets like cats and dogs away from your small animal. Even simple play with a cat can be quite traumatic for your small animal.
    • Wash your hands before and after playing with your pet. Hand washing is the most effective way to avoid spreading disease.
    • Play wheels with solid surfaces and a back wall are safer play toys for animals with small feet.
    • Pay close attention if your play involves moving your pet from one location to another. Transport always provides a chance for your pet to get loose. Once loose, it could be stepped on accidentally or discovered by your cat or dog.
    • Think about designing a play area. Large cardboard boxes can be a nice change of pace and provide a secure environment in which to play with your small animal but watch for any chewing of holes in the boxes.

    Some Don’ts

    • Do not place your hamster/gerbil cage in direct sunlight as these animals can quickly suffer heatstroke if exposed.
    • Don’t expose cages to a draft as small rodents can become chilled quite easily. Also, if the ambient temperature drops significantly, semi-hibernation could be induced.
    • Never feed or give your hamster sharp food items or wood shavings as these can puncture the lining of a hamster's mouth pouch and an abscess can develop.
    • Never underestimate your small pet’s climbing ability – they are agile upward climbers, but can be very clumsy coming down: in most cases, they just drop down which can result in fatal spinal injuries.
    • Do not give your pet any wood unless you have purchased it from a pet store and it is specifically designed for small animals and rodents. Normal wood may contain harmful chemicals that can kill your pet.
    • Never leave 2 small animals alone if they are not compatible. Hamsters, for example, are solitary animals. Bringing two together could cause them to turn quickly on one another, resulting in injury or even death.

    Small animals can be quite a handful sometimes but by following some simple rules and taking a few precautions, you can ensure that you and your small pet will enjoy a great relationship.

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    Pets that are handled frequently are less fearful of people and are less likely to bite.