Small caged animals like rabbits and guinea pigs are often considered “starter” pets, as people tend to think of them as being low-maintenance creatures requiring little time and attention. People who have never had pets or who are looking for something for their kids to care for often get rabbits and guinea pigs under such assumptions. While it’s true that these animals don’t quite have the same psychological depth as dogs and cats, which live more prosperous lives when provided with regular affection and socialization, they are still not pets that can simply be fed and forgotten.
Whether or not getting a caged pet like a rabbit or guinea pig is the right move for you depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking to test your caretaking abilities (or those of your kids’) with a pet that still requires some work but that you might not find yourself as attached to as a dog or a cat, a rabbit or guinea pig is probably a good way to go. However, if you truly just want an animal to have in the background that you don’t have to spend more than a minute a day with, you’re probably better off just getting a fish.
The problem with animals like rabbits and guinea pigs is that many people don’t realize how much maintenance they actually are until after acquiring them. This often leads to the pet getting neglected or rehomed, or the owner putting time, energy, and money into something that isn’t bringing them any joy. So if you’re thinking about getting a small animal, the following is a list of things to consider first.
1. Daily Care
Yes, you can probably set out a large amount of food or water for a rabbit or guinea pig and it’ll be fine for a couple of days. This doesn’t mean you should, though. Rabbits and guinea pigs are just as deserving of fresh food and water as dogs and cats. More importantly, if you don’t form a regular habit of checking their food and water, you’re more likely to become lax about it and go unintentionally longer periods without providing them these things, causing them to run out without your awareness. Additionally, things can happen to their food or water without you realizing it. If they use a water bottle, for example, the bottle can crack or develop a leak, leaving them bereft. If their water is in a bowl, the bowl can spill or end up sullied by the pet’s food or waste.
2. Cleaning the Cage
Perhaps one of the most tedious aspects of having a rabbit or guinea pig is cleaning their cage. In order to keep your pet healthy and to avoid a smelly situation for your home (which can quickly attract flies) the cage should be cleaned and the bedding changed at least every one or two weeks. Because changing out the bedding can be messy, it is typically more convenient to dump the old bedding in a bag outside to avoid getting it on the floor of your home. This is a much less welcome chore to complete during cold winters. The actual cage itself should also be wiped down before adding new bedding.
3. Cost of Supplies
People are often surprised by how much money goes into caring for a rabbit or guinea pig. In addition to a standard pellet-based food, these animals also should be supplied with timothy hay on a regular basis so that they receive proper nutrition. Then there’s the matter of bedding. The more often you change out the cage, the more often you’ll need to buy bedding. This can quickly add up, especially if you use two different types of bedding. For instance, some people will use a base of odor-control bedding with pine bedding on top. Then, of course, if you want to give your rabbit or guinea pig more than the essentials, you should buy toys, tubes, tunnels, and/or treats for their stimulation and enjoyment.
4. Letting Them Loose
One of the best ways to make your rabbit or guinea pig a true member of the family is by giving them time outside of the cage. If you do let them run around the house at all, however, you should keep in mind that, unless they are litterbox trained, they will probably poop and maybe pee as they go about. They may chew on cords, risking their safety, or other objects. Then, when you’re ready for them to go back in their cage, they may be difficult to catch, hiding under furniture and eluding your grasp. This is especially important to keep in mind if you leave your kids in charge of the rabbit or guinea pig.
So if you’re interested in getting a rabbit or guinea pig, but you lead a busy life, aren’t the best at forming consistent habits around the house, aren’t sure if you can afford the supplies, or if you don’t think your kids are up to the aforementioned challenges, then you may want to reconsider.