Small pet, huge headache?

Who decided it would be a good idea to keep a rabbit in a cage?

At Animal Rescue Organisation we have seen both sides of the pet shop story
~ the great homes with people who take excellent care of their caged pets right through their entire lives and the terrible stories of cage neglect
and suffering when the novelty has worn off.

Make no mistake, baby rabbits & guinea pigs are cute. But did you know, by 1 year old, many rabbits have been disposed of by their owners ~ dumped at a welfare organisation or back at the pet shop they were purchased from?

Hundreds more end up on Gumtree ("other pets" section) with owners saying, "I spent R1000 on everything so must get back R800!" Other sellers are a little more desperate to pass on their headache. As one Gumtree advert begged: "Free to good home, kids lost interest!" together with a photo of a terrified guinea pig being held up like a piece of meat.

Most people who have given ARO their unwanted rabbits are delighted to be rid of them, but
there are the few exceptions to this. Sometimes life's circumstances force people to give up their pets and some people think a welfare organisation is better than a pet shop as far as options go. However, all across the Cape, little colonies of dumped pet bunnies can be seen frolicking in the freedom
of grass verges and mountainsides ~ from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens through to Tokai and as far out as the Scout hall in Somerset West, where hundreds of sweet little buns enjoy their freedom. If you are serious about keeping little critters, try to adopt ~ check out Facebook for rescue groups
and your local welfare organisations who often have little ones looking for a new home.

Petshops keep cages or enclosures of rabbits, and guinea pigs, sometimes all thrown in together like one big (un)happy family. Hamsters are generally bunged in fish tanks together, so that they can all fight and breed, in order to deliver you, the unsuspecting buyer, a litter of 6-8 dear little babies 3 weeks later. If you try to return your unwanted caged pet or their unexpected off spring to the pet shop, the shopkeeper will either love you or chase you out depending on his stock levels. Be careful, if you purchase a pet who has lived in communal cages as described above, you will probably go home with a pregnant female or breeding pair! Do not take "the word" of the pet shop salesman when he says, "these are both females". Most Pet shop employees have no idea how to sex a rabbit, hamster or guinea pig and quite frankly are not concerned with this petty detail, preferring to concentrate
on ringing up all the novelty extras which they insist are essential for a happy pet!

Rabbits are marginally less expensive than Guinea Pigs, but both can be expensive. A small packet of guinea pig food costs around R65 and you will need 2-3 per month for 2 guinea pigs. Add in vegetables, greens and bedding and suddenly you have rung up over R300 extra onto your monthly food bill.
More than a cat. Rabbits love to run, jump, dig and chew so try to avoid the "hutch trap" and rather opt for an enclosure of at least 3m x 3m outside with shelter. Keeping a house rabbit could land you in an electrical disaster so keep any wires hidden. If you insist on bunny being indoors, find a good electrician and watch bunny closely because those teeth can chew just about anything! Rabbits live in groups in the wild and do not cope well alone. Although they will fight for a day or two, they must have companionship of other bunnies and that will require sterilisation somewhere along the line.

If you are a brave soul who is considering "small pet keeping" you would appreciate knowing that it can cost as much as R2000 to sterilise a rabbit at a private veterinary practise and it will cost you upwards of R500 to sterilise a guinea pig! Of course, it is wise to shop around for the best rate. Animal welfare hospitals will only help you if you can show that you are entitled to use the welfare system by virtue of your joint household income.

If you are really dedicated, these dear little fluffies can bring much pleasure. Before you enter a relationship with a caged pet, ask yourself: do I want to be plagued by guilt because I did not clean the cage out and they stink to high heaven? Do I have enough money to afford these darlings and
do I need this in my life for the next 4-10 years? Would anyone be bothered if I made the appropriate excuses and purchased a PlayStation instead?

Queries, interests or concerns about small pet ownership can be directed to and we will try to assist you to the best of our ability.

Article by the Animal Rescue Organisation