Keeping your pet suitably housed and comfortable is vital for their welfare. It may seem obvious, but having enough space and comfortable places to rest are some of the basic needs of any animal. Unfortunately, particularly for many of our small pets, having enough space is a luxury that eludes them. Many hutches marketed for rabbits, or cages for hamsters are tiny and do not allow the animal to exercise as they should.
Rabbits need a shelter (e.g. hutch) of a minimum of 6’x4’x2′ with a run which they have free access to of at least 8′ long. They should be able to take 3 hops (not steps) across their house and be able to run properly in their exercise area. They should also be able to stand up on their hindlimbs without their ears touching the roof. The Runaround system is a great way to mimic a rabbit’s natural burrow with interconnected runs, shelters and tunnels. A hutch is not enough!
House rabbits also need plenty of exercise and should not be kept cooped up in an indoor cage all day. Make sure that any wires and cables are out of reach as these are highly tempting to nibble! The best bedding for rabbits is straw, with plenty of access to grass and hay to nibble constantly.
Guinea pigs also need plenty of space for exercise. They are more sensitive to cold weather than rabbits so are best kept indoors or in a warm shelter, particularly in the colder months. Guinea pigs can be kept on wood shavings or straw.
Wild hamsters can travel up to 9km (5 and a half miles) per night! Providing your pet with an exercise wheel can help them to burn off excess energy (make sure that the wheel is solid rather than with rungs as hamsters have lost limbs by getting them stuck), but making sure that their cage is big enough for them to explore is also important to prevent boredom. Hamsters like to burrow so providing somewhere deep enough for them to do this will help keep them happy. Wood shavings are a good base for the cage, but they should also be provided with a bedding area with softer bedding material. Make sure that this is non-toxic and that any strands are not too long to avoid getting little legs caught.
Dogs in general get a much better deal, but there are still some who are kept outside in barren conditions. Older and arthritic dogs, particularly, need careful consideration of their bedding. This should be easy for them to get on and off, comfortable (try sitting on it for 5 minutes to test it out) and large enough for them to stretch out without falling off the edge.
Cats are notorious for choosing their own place to sleep, but it is still a good idea to provide them with choices. If your cat is solely indoors, providing plenty of scratching posts and places to sit, climb and play is really important to keep them fit and healthy.