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The Essential Avian and Small Mammal Checklist

Insurance Ranked - Updated January 9, 2023
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The Essential Avian and Small Mammal Checklist

Adopting a bird or small mammal might seem like a small task, but the truth is they can require a lot of work.

The new relationship between you and your furry, feathery, or hairless family member can be incredibly rewarding and bring you a lifetime of love and joy.

But before you bring your new family member home, there are some important steps you'll have to take first.

Make Sure You're Ready

No matter what pet you adopt -- bird, rat, guinea pig, etc -- they'll require a lot of care and attention. Birds and small mammals tend to be playful and full of energy their whole life, so you'll need to have time and patience to bond with them.

Here are some factors to keep in mind before you adopt:

  • Do your research before you adopt. Birds have an incredibly long life span and certain breeds (like larger parrots) can outlive their owners. In contrast, small mammals (like rats and mice) only live a couple of years, so you have to be prepared for the short amount of time you get to spend with them.
  • Make sure you're not allergic to pet dander before you bring your new pet home. If you do have any allergies, you can look for a breed that has a lower chance of causing them.
  • Make your home a safe environment for your pet by removing any small objects that could be a choking hazard and hiding any electrical wires and cables that they may chew on.
  • Create a unique play area that is furnished with toys, treats, puzzles, and obstacle courses. Rearrange your furniture and put up gates to keep your curious pets in their play area and not a part of their house where they could get hurt.
  • Get rid of any toxic plants or other substances your pet may come into contact with (or securely lock them away).
  • Keep your windows closed and make sure to supervise them if you allow them to explore other areas in your home.

When You Bring Them Home

cockatiel

As with any adoption, it's going to take some time for both you and your new family member to adjust. Here's what to do once you bring them home.

Socializing & Training

Every species is different when it comes to sleep habits and diet, so you should consult your vet on what type of food and healthy habits work best for your pet.

When it comes to potty training, birds and small mammals are generally easy to train:

  • Birdcages can be lined with paper and cleaned daily; when you take them out, you can train them to only use the bathroom by taking them back to their cage and giving them positive reinforcement like treats when they begin to do it on their own. With small mammals, you can use paper pellet bedding (which is odor-absorbing), straw pellet bedding, shredded cardboard bedding, or cloth bedding that is changed daily. (Just makes sure there aren't any gaps or threads in the bedding that your rat could get tangled in.)
  • Rodents like rats can be trained to use a litter box by placing small litter boxes in their cage with different bedding than the rest of the cage. Reward them with treats and praise whenever they use the box, and eventually reduce the number of boxes you keep in the cage until it is down to one.

Socializing your pet can take a few weeks to a few months, depending on their situation. All animals respond well to positive reinforcement, treats, and praise. Be gentle with your pet and reward their good behavior while ignoring unruly behavior or giving them their own space until they have cooled off. Older and abused pets can also learn new tricks and behavior, but you'll have to be extra patient and gentle with them.

Introduce your pet to new environments, people, and other pets slowly and with supervision. Playtime and playdates are a great way to get them used to other people and pets.

Get your pet used to a regular sleep schedule. Birds, in particular, need at least 12 hours of sleep to keep them from nesting and potentially laying eggs. Covering their cage with a blanket at night can help maintain this routine.

You can get them used to activities such as baths by presenting them with lots of rewards. Birds usually love taking baths in shallow bowls and will do so on their own after becoming more comfortable. Small mammals may need to be coaxed and get rewarded with extra treats to get into a body of water. Pro tip: rats and ferrets are good swimmers and enjoy diving for treats like sweet peas.

This is also the ideal time to get them used to traveling in a carrier, which you can line with soft blankets, perches, and their favorite toys.

Take Them To The Vet

Take your pet to the vet to the vet as soon as possible for a wellness checkup, vaccinations, and (in the case of small mammals) spaying/neutering. The latter can prevent health issues such as mammary tumors, and even keep them from marking their territory.

This is the perfect opportunity to ask your veterinarian about any health issues your pet may face in the future because of their breed or other underlying cause. For example, rats are prone to respiratory illnesses and mammary tumors, and your vet can give you tips on how to prevent and manage these.

You can also ask your vet for recommendations on food, treats, bedding, and more.

Finding a veterinarian who specializes in birds and other exotic animals is essential when it comes to getting them the best care. Make sure to research nearby vet offices and ask your family, friends, shelter, or rescue for recommendations on what would be the best fit for your exotic or avian pet.

You should also look for an emergency clinic with 24/7 availability in case your pet falls seriously ill and your main clinic is closed.

Invest In Pet Insurance

No matter the reason -- emergency, illness, accident, treatment, or wellness appointment -- vet care bills are expensive.

Pet owners may struggle with covering high vet bills, and many times, they are put in the devastating position of choosing between potentially life-saving treatment for their pet or going into debt.

We believe that every pet parent should be able to give their pets the best care possible. Pet insurance is one way to help reduce the costs and make treatments and checkups more affordable.

The best time to get pet insurance is as soon as you adopt your pet. Pet insurance providers offer the most affordable quotes and comprehensive coverage when your pet is young and healthy since most providers typically exclude pre-existing conditions and might exclude necessary coverage for health issues when your pet is aging and ill.

Depending on the plan you pick, pet insurance can cover multiple types of care, such as dental issues, exam fees, hereditary conditions, physical therapy, surgery, and more.

Want to learn more about pet insurance coverage? Look to our top providers here.

What You Need: The Avian & Exotic Pet Checklist

Along with unconditional love and attention, your new family member will need some important supplies:

  • Food bowl
  • Water bowl or bottle: For rodents, you may have to buy a steel water bowl that is chew-proof. Make sure you refill these daily for the cleanest water and to make sure your pet has all the water they need.
  • A blend of seeds and pellets (for birds)
  • Pellets and fruit/nut mixes (for small mammals)
  • Vitamin drops: Put the appropriate type of vitamin drops in your pet's water to help keep them healthy
  • Mineral blocks and cuttlebones (for birds)
  • Treats: Birds love millet spray and seed stick treats that you can hang in their cage. Small mammals are fans of nearly everything, but it's a good idea to double-check what they can and can't eat.
  • Sleeping chamber (for small mammals): Rodents may want a small house or hideaway place they can burrow in to sleep comfortably.
  • Cage cover (for birds): You'll want to cover your bird's cage with a blanket to help them get a full night of sleep.  
  • Bedding, hay, and nesting fluff (for small mammals)
  • Nesting material such as grass or hay (for birds)
  • Litter and litter box (for small mammals)
  • Toys: This includes bells, ropes, smalls stuffed animals, swings, hammocks (for small mammals), exercise wheel (for small mammals), and pet puzzles are both fun and stimulating
  • Chew toys: Birds' beaks and the teeth of most small mammals will grow their entire life, so you'll need to provide them with the proper chew toys to help them keep their teeth at the appropriate length.
  • Indoor playpen
  • Large cage: Pets deserve to have plenty of space to run around, explore, climb, and play in. In addition to a separate play area, their habitat should be spacious and comfortable. If you're worried about a cage that is too wide, consider getting a multi-story home for them.
  • Cage stand (for birds)
  • Perches (for birds)
  • Cage liners (for birds)
  • Travel carrier
  • Harness and leash in case they go for walks
  • Small brush (for small mammals)
  • Nail clippers
  • Styptic powder to help stop bleeding for small cuts and nail clippings
  • Pet shampoo (if needed)
  • Spray bottle to help give your pet an easier bath
  • Dust and dust bath (for chinchillas)
  • Book on how to care for your pet
  • Enzyme-based cleaner and paper towels/rags

Should I buy pet insurance for my bird or small mammal?

Coverage for avian and exotic pets is harder to find (currently, only Nationwide offers it) but it can help you cover treatments, procedures, check-ups, and more. The best time to buy pet insurance is when thay are young and healthy, which ensures you'll receive the best coverage.

What should I do the first few days after I bring my new pet home?

There are some important steps you'll have to make after you bring your new pet home, such as buying essential items (food, cage, carriers, toys, blankets, etc), begin training and socializing, and make an appointment with the vet to get an overall assessment of their health.

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