After you have decided that a small mammal would fit nicely into your family, one of the first things you need to have is the proper home. Most small mammals do not do well with free access to your house. Rodents typically hide in small places, ferrets are quite active and seem to find the worst places to play. Rabbits tend to chew up everything if the proper confinement and safe housing is not provided.
Easy to clean and available in a variety of sizes, the aquarium is the most popular cage for small critters. Gerbils, rats, mice, guinea pigs and even hedgehogs can be safely housed in this glass house, provided that the correct size, bedding, accessories and cleaning are available.
Gerbils can do well as a pair in at least a 10 gallon aquarium. Since gerbils enjoy burrowing, a thick layer of wood shavings or corncob bedding is a must. A hide box and plenty of cardboard paper towel rolls provide the necessary accessories. Also, a tight fitting screened lid is vital to ensure safety and provide necessary ventilation.
Rats need plenty of space so if you have more than one rat, which is recommended, get at least a 15 gallon aquarium. Rats are agile and clever so a securely attached screened lid is very important. A layer of wood shavings provides great bedding. Don't forget the sipper bottle and food crock. If you can accomodate a larger aquarium, your rat will certainly appreciate it. Rats can produce significant amount of waste so weekly or twice weekly cleaning is important.
Mice also do very well in aquariums. Several can be kept in a 10 gallon aquarium but make sure there is only one male, if any. Males housed together often fight and tend to secrete a strong scent, which only another mouse can really appreciate. Provide wood chips as bedding, food, water, hiding places and chew toys and you are all set.
Guinea pigs are other critters that can do well in an aquarium, but it needs to be a big one. One guinea pig will need around 2 square feet of aquarium space. Since cavies are social, they prefer to live with other guinea pigs so an even bigger aquarium will be needed. Wood shavings and other commercially available beddings work well with cavies. A secure lid is always a necessity to keep your pig in and other creatures, such as curious kitties, out.
Hedgehogs seem to do best when kept in an enclosure with slick glass sides. Agile climbers, hedgehogs have a tendency to escape other types of enclosures. You need at least a 20 gallon aquarium for your hedgehog. A secure lid is required. Cover the aquarium floor with shredded paper or wood shavings. Hedgehogs are prone to skin problems so keep his home clean and dry.
Some people prefer to house their small mammal in wire cages. These cages provide excellent ventilation and the concern about sunlight resulting in overheating is not as serious as with aquariums. The primary problem with wire cages is that the critter's foot can get caught in the wire mesh flooring and some animals are agile climbers. Wire cages are easily climbed and escape is possible.
Rabbits, chinchillas and ferrets tend to do best with the wire cages. It is very important that a solid floor is provided. A baking sheet or other alternative can be used to provide solid flooring. And, make sure the mesh on the sides of the cage is made of very narrow gaps so that the animal cannot get his paw caught.
Other Types of Housing
Hamsters can be housed in aquariums but seem to enjoy living in plastic hamster cages. These specially designed cages often have tunnels and lofts to allow plenty of entertainment. Since hamsters are very susceptible to high humidity illness, a plastic hamster cage provides adequate ventilation.
Rabbits are sometimes housed in hutches. These large homes are typically made of wood and work best for rabbits housed outdoors. A hidebox, straw and protection from the sun, cold and predators are important considerations when making or purchasing a rabbit hutch.
Sugar gliders are a special consideration. These animals are typically tree dwelling and need a tall cage with plenty of ventilation. The cage should measure at least 20 inches by 20 inches by 30 inches. Large, upright commercial birdcages often work well. Nesting type boxes need to be provided for the gliders to sleep in during the day. Try wooden bird nest boxes, small cardboard boxes or cloth pouches with a slit in front that is then anchored to the side of the cage. Provide lots of toys for entertainment and your sugar glider will think he is in heaven.