betty the hamster outside in a pet cage waving

This is Betty.

She's a Syrian Hamster and is super cute and friendly.

Betty recently popped into the Me & My Pets office to say hello and we were bowled over by her adorable nature.

Tiny claws, fluffy tummy, big cheeks and wide eyes – she's the perfect pet – especially for small children. And if you're thinking of getting an extra family member, there are a few things you need to know to make sure they're looked after, as well as loved.

Food

Small animals nibble and graze throughout the day and they should have access to fresh food and clean water at all times. Being vegetarians, small animals need a mixture of dry food and fresh vegetables. Pop into your pet store for advice on what dry food is best for your specific pet – for example, rabbit food is different to hamster food.

And it's always best to get pelleted food.Small animals can be very selective about what they eat and if the food you give them is all the same shape and size, they won't miss out on any nutrients by just eating the bits they like.

Science Selective Hamster Food is perfect as it is not only balanced but is all the same shape and texture.

Vegetables are great for helping them get their vitamins but just be aware that too many can make them ill and give them upset stomachs. This can be fatal in small animals.

As long as you aren't overfeeding fresh food, it can be great as a treat! Some of the things you might like to give them are:

  • Baby carrots
  • Red pepper
  • Cucumber
  • Broccoli – especially the stalk
  • Sunflower seeds

young boy petting a guinea pig in a basket held by his mother

A place to hide

Out in the open, small animals such as rodents are prey. So, it's only natural for them to feel scared. Give your pet somewhere they can hide so they can feel safe whenever they need to. Plastic, pet-safe houses are great and you can get cardboard houses too which are nibble-safe – ideal for giving them something to gnaw on.

Small pets tend to live inside the house so you will need somewhere safe and warm to put them – somewhere quiet if possible.

Make sure they have a suitable, safe cage that is their own, or shared with a compatible furry friend. Remember pets such as guinea pigs and rabbits shouldn't live together in the same cage, so make sure you research what the best living conditions are for your new companion.

There are a whole variety of cages and huts and lots come with tunnels and ramps to help give your pet places to explore when they're inside their cage.

Bedding

Your local pet store is the best place to find the right bedding for your small animal. Remember if you're using wood shavings, they should be dust extracted otherwise your pet could develop respiratory problems. Never use cotton wool.

You can get soft, recycled paper which is great for burrowing and is soft to walk on too – perfect for small animals.

Carefresh is a great choice. It's clean, safe and also helps to keep smells to a minimum.

Exercise

Even tiny animals need to stretch their legs! Make sure your pet gets their daily exercise. Hamster wheels are great, especially if your pet is nocturnal. And remember to find a wheel that's big enough. Syrian hamsters (like Betty!) can get a lot bigger than new owners first realise and if their wheel is too small, it can hurt their backs.

Of course, hamster balls are great – especially for helping them get some extra exercise indoors. Just make sure it's secure and that you keep an eye on them – just to avoid any problems like the cat finding them as well as making sure they don't manage to bite through the holes into any wires.

And if you're planning on letting your rabbit loose in the garden, here's how to make sure it's safe for them to run around freely.

Playtime

Small pets love playtime and it's really important they get the level of interaction they need for their emotional health. A great way to interact and bond with your small pets is with a Mini Play Pen. The mat keeps floors clean and dry and the foldaway barriers help to keep them safe as well as stop them from scurrying off!

They're great for giving your children time with your pet as they can stroke, feed and learn to hold them while in a safe space.

Watch Betty exploring hers, here:

You can also make your own pet toys which is a great activity to do with the kids.

Cuddle time

Cuddle time is great for giving your small pets some bonding time with you. And if you have small children, they'll enjoy stroking and playing with their pet – it's also incredibly therapeutic.

When it comes to handling small animals, many of them are much more delicate than people realise. If you are picking them up or if your children are learning to hold them, make sure they know to be very gentle with them. They should be fully supported underneath by either your hand as you scoop them up. As you hold them, cup one hand gently above them to help them feel safe.

It's really important that you're gentle with small animals when holding them and that you don't pick them up too much. Rough handling or too much picking up and putting down can make them stressed which in turn can make them very ill. Never let them fall – always place them down gently.

Small pets will also be frightened by loud noises so remember to be gentle and quiet when you're around your pets.

Health

  • Smaller animals don't tend to need to visit the vet which is good news. There are however, a few things to make sure you keep an eye on:
  • Rodent's teeth never stop growing, so they gnaw and chew on things to help keep their length down. So, make sure they have things to nibble on that will help with this. Their diet should primarily help with this but you can also get various pet safe chew toys. Speak to your local pet store for more information.
  • To help make sure your pets stay healthy, make sure you clean them out once a week and that they always have access to fresh food and clean water.
  • Their claws will also keep on growing. Again, giving them access to something rough so that they can file their claws is great. But if you notice that they need clipping, speak to your vet for advice.
  • An important thing to look out for in rodents who are kept in cages is wet tail. It is mainly seen in hamster breeds but can be found in rabbits, gerbils, rats and mice. Wet tail can be caused by stress and/or bacteria and looks like a wet tail (covered in faeces), diarrhoea, a loss of appetite, a lack of energy and they might also be walking with a hunched back. If you see any of these symptoms, you need to take them to a vet immediately. Without urgent treatment, wet tail can be fatal.

The most important thing is to keep an eye on your pet and make sure they have everything they need to stay healthy. Watch out for any changes in their behaviour or appearance, as these will be the first signs to tell you that something's wrong.

Small animals make great pets and they're perfect for children too. If you're thinking of getting a small animal as a pet, make sure your children are old enough to understand how to hold them as well as how to act around them. You might like to get them involved in some of the care giving too so that they can start to take on a few responsibilities too.

As soon as your pet settles in at home, their personalities will really start to shine. They are really rewarding and will give you just as much love – if not more – than you could ever imagine.

Any questions? Find us on Instagram and Facebook @Meandmypetsofficial.

*This blog is about taking care of rodents including gerbils, rats, mice and hamsters. It is not about caring for your rabbit. Rabbits have more specific needs which are not detailed here.