Springtime is all about new beginnings, and for many families this is the perfect time to add a new, furry member. For those who aren’t ready or able to care for a dog or a cat, “pocket pets” are a frequent starting point. Although they are adorable and offer lots of love, these smaller pets are not always the easiest to care for! Here at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital in Frederick, MD the two pocket pets we see the most are rabbits and guinea pigs.
While some rabbits do fine outdoors, it is best for rabbits to live inside. For optimal room to move about, 12 square feet (3’ x 4’) are needed for every 5lbs of rabbit—and in order to keep their feet healthy, they need a solid-bottomed cage (not the wire cages so often seen in the pet stores). Bunnies can be litterbox trained, which frees them up to roam around a room or a floor of the house under supervision. This exercise is important for maintaining a healthy GI tract.
Speaking of GI tracts, rabbits need to eat constantly. While those pelleted diets are tasty, they aren’t all created equal. Look for a high-quality timothy-based diet—we love Oxbow Bunny Basics. While these pellets provide lots of nutrients, the most important thing a rabbit can eat is hay! Every bunny should have access to
an unlimited supply of clean, fresh timothy hay. Fresh greens are an important part of each rabbit’s diet, too, but take care to avoid anything high in calcium (such as spinach and kale) to prevent urinary problems. Sugary foods like sweet potatoes, apples and carrots can cause GI stasis, a painful and life-threatening condition where the intestinal tract basically shuts down.
Another consideration for prospective bunny owners is altering. Intact rabbits are prone to behavioral problems and cancer—80% of intact female rabbits will develop mammary cancer, which spreads rapidly and is usually fatal. If trying to house a pair of male rabbits together, neutering both is vital to prevent fighting.
Guinea pigs (or “cavies”) are similar, but not identical, to rabbits. They also require a solid-bottomed cage, but for these critters, substrate is extremely important. Guinea pigs cannot have any wood shavings that contain aromatic oils, such as cedar or pine; the oils produce a toxic gas when they mix with guinea pigs’ urine. Cavies are very susceptible to upper respiratory issues and need a clean, dust-free environment—for this reason, recycled paper (e.g. Carefresh) is the best substrate choice.
As far as food, guinea pigs require a nonstop supply of fresh timothy hay just like their bunny cousins. However, guinea pigs cannot produce their own Vitamin C (just like people!) so it is very important that they eat a guinea pig-specific pelleted food, which needs to be stored in the dark to protect the Vitamin C. Fresh fruits and veggies such as oranges and romaine lettuce are great additions to a cavy’s diet and can help boost Vitamin C intake—optimally, guineas should
receive the Oxbow Natural Science Vitamin C supplement daily to ensure they’re getting enough of this critical nutrient. Also, like rabbits, high levels of calcium and sugar in a guinea pig’s diet are very dangerous, so it’s best to avoid foods or treats rich in these.
Here at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital, we love fur-babies of all sizes! Our veterinarians and staff are available and happy to assist with any questions a new bunny or cavy owner might have!