Pet shops sell a large number of items for small mammals, some of which are suitable, others just aren’t. Sometimes it can take a while to find items which not only suit your pets but also yourself.
Here I’m going to say what Carl has and also, perhaps more importantly, what he doesn’t have and the reasons I don’t endorse these products.
For various reasons right now his set up isn’t completely how I want it; I plan on getting him a larger cage soon but most of it I’m happy with.
I’m the first to admit, Carl’s hay isn’t the cheapest option. Hay (and grass) should make up at least 70% of a guinea pigs diet (the next biggest component should be fresh fruit and vegetables followed by a concentrate food, ideally pellets). If you’ve got a rabbit then 90% of their diet should be hay or grass due to them not needing as much fruit or veg.
I want him to be as healthy as possible which means I would prefer to spend money on good quality hay which suits him. Cheaper hay often has a lower nutritional value (it hasn’t got as much good stuff in) and may be full of dust and, in worse cases, mould. This is more likely to cause them to be ill so may end up being false economy (alongside it not being nice for your pet).
When I first adopted Carl drank huge amounts of water, a sign of kidney damage/ failure. He hadn’t had the best upbringing and had a large amounts of medications and serious infections which took their toll.
I feed Carl Burgess Feeding Hay with Dandelion and Marigold. I was aware Marigold is supposed to help with Kidney Disease in rabbits and so I decided to give it a try. The worst it could do is not help (and cost me more!). Gradually over the next six months he began drinking less, he was no longer drinking the huge amounts he previously had. His improvement could be for a number of reasons, some being that he gradually recovered from his previous problems, however, I like to believe the hay helped.
But would I always recommend this hay? No
Though it suits Carl, it isn’t perfect. One of the main functions for hay is for rabbits and guinea pigs (as well as farm animals) to grind their teeth. Hay should, therefore, ideally, be in large strands. With this product, the hay has been cut shorter. If your pet has this hay they don’t have to grind the hay as much and therefore, especially in those prone to dental problems, this hay may cause more issues. Instead, some other products, including some made by Burgess (eg. long stem feeding Hay), may be more appropriate.
This hay is not designed to be used as bedding, partly due to the expense of it.
Some other types of hay are very dusty. Guinea pigs, like many rodent species, have very sensitive airways. Dust can irritate them and therefore causing them to sneeze, cough or breathe with more difficulty. Along with this, some types are quite old or made from low-quality grass and therefore do not contain all of the goodness they otherwise could have. These should be avoided.
One of these is the Pets at Home brand Timothy Feeding Hay which I’ve always found to be very dusty.
It is also possible in some cases to buy hay directly from a farm. Whilst this may be good a high quality, it must be remembered that this has not been dust extractors like hay from many companies producing products for small mammals. This means that the hay is more likely to contain dust and therefore, irritate their airways more. If this appears to be the case you should avoid hay from this supplier.
Carl is on a pelleted diet. He’s on Burgess food with mint and he seems to really like that.
Recently a relative fed him for a night. She couldn’t find Carl’s food so bought him another brand (unsure which) and he left most of it. With Burgess Nuggets, throughout the course of a few hours (he eats his vegetables in preference to it much of the time), he eats every single nugget.
With rodents there is usually a choice of pelleted food or the more traditional muesli style. I would strongly recommend avoiding the muesli form and instead going with pelleted versions.
Pellet foods are slightly more expensive but they tend to be the better quality diets and with the length of time they last the extra cost shouldn’t be that noticeable in the long term and reduces the risk of other problems.
Muesli style foods tend to have parts which your guinea pig/ rabbit will eat and other things they’ll avoid. Often people feed them too much leading to them picking out the bits they want. Owners quite often leave the uneaten bits in the bowl and when these seeds accumulate over a few days they leave their pet with just these to eat. Their pet will often still refuse these and go without concentrate food for a day or more.
Muesli-style foods tend to be higher in fat and sugar, especially the parts most pets find tasty. This puts them at higher risk of diseases such as diabetes which affect small mammals and are quite common in hamsters. These foods also often lead to obesity, causing animals to become unfit. Therefore, when possible, muesli-style foods should be avoided if there is a pelleted version.
Carl has space Back2Nature litter as his bedding/substrate.
This is very much like cat litter (in fact the company produces cat litter which looks identical) and is both very absorptive and good at reducing odours. This is great for a male guinea pig as these often smell more than females and, I found that larger areas of this remain dry compared to other substrates.
I have tried CareFresh bedding before, in fact, Carl was on that when I first got in. Though I liked the low amount of dust as well as the odour control properties, I did find Back2Nature, this was less absorptive. This was a problem for a guinea pig who urinated a lot and meant I was often cleaning out large amounts of his bedding in one go so it cost a fortune.
Personally, I don’t like the use of shavings or sawdust. These are sometimes produced from pine which is toxic to many small animals so they could become ill if eating it.
The main reason I don’t like shavings is that I have seen many eye injuries caused by shavings getting under their eyelids. This causes damage to the surface of the eye which can be both painful and, in more severe cases, can cause permanent, severe damage to the eye. Carl had one eye removed when he was only eight weeks old and therefore, wherever possible I aim to reduce the risk of him having injuries to his remaining eye. Therefore, I choose not to use wood shavings or sawdust.
Another downfall of shavings is they don’t contain the odour as well leaving cages with this substrate smelling worse.
Carl has a hay rack which came of his cage.
This is solid and attaches to the outside of his cage.
The reason I use a hay rack is to ensure that this hay remains as clean as possible and does not get mixed with his urine or droppings. I like the use of a solid hay rack as this reduces the amount of hay spilling out. It is also more stable and therefore is less likely to cause problems if Carl somehow gets his leg stuck in it.
I have got a metal ball that can be used to feed both treats and hay to him. This is more of an enrichment activity rather than something which wouldn’t contain all of his food as it’s really small. I do sometimes use this though due to its size I don’t use alone for his hay.
You can also buy hay nets for small mammals. These are not too dissimilar from the metal ball above however, these are much softer and, often larger. These, like the hay rack, prevent the hay from touching the floor and therefore help to keep it dry. I have never personally used these and therefore cannot fully endorse them however I thought there were worth a mention.
All guinea pigs need somewhere to hide. Even the most confident of guinea pigs spend a large proportion of their lives hiding. One of the most common hiding places is a tunnel.
Personally, I like using either Sea Grass tunnels or hay based tunnels. These give Carl something safe to chew which not only means there’s less of an issue if they chew on them but also gives them something to do; enrichment is very important.
It’s very common to see plastic based tunnels. Though these last longer they will likely get gnawed upon leaving a risk of the plastic cutting their mouth. There’s even a small risk of them swallowing some plastic which could cause them a lot of damage.
Carl also has a log tunnel. This comes flat and is pieces of wood connected by wire. It can then be bent into a circle to create a tunnel or, like Carl’s, bent to create a bridge going onto a raised area of his cage. This not only is used for him to climb up onto but he can also hide underneath it. It is also safe for him to chew and he’s had it since I got him over 18months ago and it will last him for years to come.
Kongs were originally designed to fill up with treats/ biscuits for dogs to chew on when you’re out at work/ at night. Ones for small mammals/ birds are similar and it just gives them something to do.
Carl has a Kong. I put some of his treats in there and occasionally some of his veg. He doesn’t tend to use it much though and leaves things in it and I end up just emptying them back out.
Though you can use these it is important to check them daily for things stuck in them and empty them out. If you don’t, food or treats stuck in them will go mouldy causing you guinea pig to become ill from breathing in the mould particles or eating mouldy food.
Carl has a weird wooden toy. It is like a cage on the outside with a wooden ball inside. He doesn’t play with it much but does chew on it. This gives him something to do and some animals enjoy moving them around.
The chewing helps to grind their incisors down and allows them to carry out normal behaviour whereas moving it around and exploring helps engage their brains.
As mentioned previously, I am worried, perhaps overly so about Carl’s eye becoming damaged and that lead to me buying him beds to place in his cage instead of using hay/ paper bedding/ shredded straw. He doesn’t always sleep in a bed but he does have the option.
Carl lives in my house where it’s kept warm enough for him. He also does take some of his hay and create his own bed. I see this as a normal behaviour and a form of enrichment. Yes, it’s expensive hay for him to use as bedding but if this is what he chooses to do then it’s up to him.
All animals need water. In the case of mammals, this needs to be given in a way they can drink it.
Usually, small mammals are given water from a bottle or bowl. Personally, with Carl, I use a water bottle. This gives him constant access to clean water. I ensure it is changed daily to make sure it’s fresh and the bottle is clean. I also make sure that there are no issues with the bottle not working.
Carl likes to play with the nozzle and ball within it. Though this sometimes causes parts of his cage to be wet it does give him something else to do so I don’t mind replacing some of his Back2Nature a bit more often.
Water bowls are more natural for them to drink from. However, both guinea pigs and rabbits tend to poo in them which causes the water to quickly become very dirty. They also, often, tip these over or walk through them leading to their substrate becoming wet too and them having no water left.
Using a bottle or a bowl comes down to preference. So long as animals have water in a form they will drink from is the main thing. Some animals will refuse to drink from a bowl whereas others refuse to drink from bottles. The main thing is finding out what your pets will drink from and providing them water in that form.
If your pet is ever going to spend time at the vets (either when ill or being neutered) it is important you inform the staff the way that your pet drinks their water. This will ensure they will be given water in the way they are used to and so they are more likely to drink which will improve their health and healing.
1 of Carl’s favourite toys and free is the inside tube from a toilet roll or kitchen roll. He throws this around and chews them. You can also stuff them with hay (or goodies) and hang them up to the sides of the cage using parcel string if you wish; I’m yet to try this with Carl but it is on my list of enrichment activities.
So that’s a bit of a summary of what he has and why. I haven’t included his cage in this (he’s getting a new, bigger, cage soon) or his vegetables, I will likely cover those at a different time.; in short, Carl gets a variety of veg and fruit on a daily basis.
To find out more about Carl then click here.
This blog post is a bit different to most of the others but I hope you found it educational and enjoyable. To discuss anything then please write a comment below, especially if you have any questions. If you’re interested in reading further animal-related blog posts then please put your email address in the subscription box in the box in the right sidebar to get emails when new blog posts come. To discuss something with me more privately then feel free to contact me directly.