bunny and girl

Small animals are great for teaching young children empathy, understanding and gentleness. (metro images)

Small animals are often surrendered to shelters after pet owners realize they were not prepared for the commitment involved.

Bunnies, rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs are the most common small mammals that can be kept as pets.

These critters are great for teaching young children empathy, understanding and gentleness as they learn to care for and handle their tiny pets.

However, if you are thinking of adopting a small animal, make sure that you are prepared for it to be a family pet, and know that adults in the household are ultimately responsible for the animal’s care.

Before bringing your furry friend home, you want to make sure you are educated about the proper diet, bedding and enrichment that the animal will need to thrive. You also want to take a look at each type of animal in terms of their sociability and lifespan to determine which one is best for your family.

The more time you spend with your pet, the more sociable it will be. As it gets used to the sights, sounds, smells and habits of your household, it will come to form a bond with you.

Guinea pigs live five to seven years on average and tend to be easier to socialize. They will purr when they see you or when you pet them as a sign of affection! They can also learn to squeak or squeal when they hear their treat bag opening.

Rats, mice and hamsters have shorter lifespans, between one and three years. Rats are highly social and intelligent animals that require lots of socialization and enrichment to keep their minds active. Mice and hamsters make great pets but can be more difficult to handle due to their smaller size.

Rabbits’ personalities vary, but they are much bigger than the other animals mentioned. They can be litterbox trained, making cleaning easier, but they do benefit greatly from time outside the cage to hop around.

Regardless of which pet you choose, taking time to spend with them and care for them is essential as well as providing them with time outside of their cage to exercise and play.

Because small mammals are confined to cages for most of their lives, their environment must be kept clean at all times. Bedding, food and water should be changed daily. Wheels and toys in their cage can help provide enrichment when you can’t be there to take them out to exercise. When appropriate for the species, having a buddy can also help to enrich their life and provide them with company.

The smaller the environment the bigger the smell if not cleaned properly! A dirty environment can cause health problems for your pet and increase the risk of disease, which means more trips to the vet. You wouldn’t want to be trapped in a portable potty and neither does your pet!

In addition to a clean environment, make sure your pet is housed in a temperate and draft-free environment.

Find an vet qualified to treat your pet in the event that it gets sick.

Lethargy, sneezing, not eating or drinking, itching, discolored urine or runny stool are all indicators that your small mammal may not be feeling its best. If you notice any changes in behavior, take your tiny companion to the vet to ensure that it is not silently suffering from an underlying illness or disease.

Small mammals can make great family pets and teach children to be good stewards. Make sure to supervise interactions between your children and your pet to make sure that both remain safe, and always have your child sit on the floor when holding your pet. That way, you can avoid any injury that could come from an accidental nip and resulting drop.

If you are ready to adopt a small critter, check out your local animal shelters and humane societies to find one in need of a loving home.

Kristina O’Keefe of North Attleboro blogs at kristinascritters.com to promote the status of animals in society.

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