10 Tips for Bringing Home a Rescued Small Animal

Adding any new pet to your home is an exciting time. From rabbits and guinea pigs to hamsters and gerbils, there are many options for those interested in bringing a small animal to the family – all of which are available through incredible rescues across Canada and the United States. But if you are bringing home a rescued small animal, there are a few important things to consider.


Often small animals are portrayed as low- or no-maintenance pets. But, as animal lovers, we want to provide them with the best possible quality of life.

To do this, we need to approach bringing home a rescued small animal with the same level of importance as we do when bringing home a dog or cat. This includes setting up the ideal habitat, providing much-needed mental enrichment, and creating a healthy diet.

If that sounds a little overwhelming, don’t worry. This list will walk you through the steps that you need to take as you prepare for your new best friend.

Be Prepared for Your New Small Animal Rescue with These 10 Tips

Purchase All Necessary Supplies in Advance

You are going to be excited when you bring home your new pet on the first day – and you should be! This is a memorable time for every pet owner.

The last thing that you need in those early days is to be stressing out about whether may have forgotten something important.

Make a list of everything that you are going to need well in advance. This will give you time to add items to the list as you remember them and research the larger items that you are considering, allowing you to make a smart purchase decision.

Some of the key items to get you started include a properly sized enclosure, food and water dishes, a bedding solution, healthy treats, and toys designed for small animals.

Choose an Enclosure with Enough Space

One of the biggest misconceptions regarding small pet rescue is the amount of space these animals need to live a happy, healthy life.

There are many cages and enclosures being marketed to small animals that don’t meet their basic needs. If you’re unsure or find yourself torn between two options, I always recommend selecting the larger of the two.

The minimum cage space required for small animals according to the MSPCA is:

  • Hamsters: 20-gallon aquarium or 12”x12”x20” wire cage (1-3 hamsters)
  • Gerbils: 20-gallon aquarium or 20”x20”x12” wire cage (1-2 gerbils)
  • Mice: 20-gallon aquarium or 12”x12”x20” wire cage (1-3 mice)
  • Rats: 24”x24”x24” wire cage (1-2 rats)
  • Guinea Pigs: 6.5ft2 to 10.5ft2 wire cage (1-2 guinea pigs)
  • Rabbits: 8ft2 pen (1 rabbit)
  • Chinchillas: 30”x24”x15” wire cage (1 chinchilla)
  • Ferrets: 24”x24”x48” wire cage (1 ferret)
  • Sugar Gliders: 24”x24”x36” wire cage (1-2 sugar gliders)

Keep in mind that these are just the minimum cage sizes. For smaller animals that are living in an enclosed cage, you should also consider incorporating multiple levels to expand upon their living space.

Larger animals on this list like rabbits, chinchillas, and ferrets will also need daily access to additional space outside of their habitat for exercise.

rabbit sitting on a blanket | 10 Tips for Bringing Home a Rescued Small Animal

Set Up Your Pet’s Ideal Habitat

After you’ve purchased all the supplies that you are going to need, it’s time to set up your new pet’s habitat.

Don’t wait until the last minute to do this. Scrambling the night before picking up your pet is only going to create unnecessary stress and could lead to overlooking something important.

Consider Where You Are Going to Set Up the Enclosure

The enclosure itself is only one part of creating an ideal habitat for your pet. You should also put some serious thought into the right location for your cage or aquarium.

Take note of the lighting, average daily temperature, any drafts your pet may be exposed to in the area, and the level of activity in that area of your home.

Social animals like guinea pigs prefer to be in the heart of the home where they can be part of the family. They will thrive in a living room or family room where they can connect with you regularly throughout the day.

Another consideration that is often overlooked is the time that your new pet will be active. Hamsters, for example, are more active at night meaning that you may not want them in your child’s bedroom where they could keep them awake all night long.

Keep Your Rescued Small Animal Contained for the Ride Home

I know that you want to see and hold your new pet as soon as possible, but the safest choice that you can make is to wait to open your new pet’s carrier until you’re home.

Small animals can be surprisingly fast, and they have a knack for finding every little hiding space. You don’t want to lose your pet in the vehicle!

Additionally, you need to consider your pet’s stress and anxiety levels. Everything they know is changing. They are overwhelmed by new sounds, new smells, and new surroundings.

Most pets feel safer and more secure in their carrier. Give them the space that they need to avoid frightening them or making the transition more stressful.

Allow Your Pet to Decompress

Building on that point, give your pet some time to adjust during the first few days in their new home. This means keeping any interactions to a minimum.

Allow your pet to decompress and familiarize themselves with their new home.

This includes getting used to their new enclosure, any sounds and smells they are experiencing, and getting used to having you (and your family) around.

When you do interact with your pet, such as when you are changing out their food or water, move slowly to avoid scaring them.

person holding a guinea pig | 10 Tips for Bringing Home a Rescued Small Animal

Keep the Volume Down in the Beginning

Another way that you can help your pet adjust is to try to keep the volume in your home down in the beginning.

Of course, this can be challenging in some homes, such as those with young children.

If you can’t keep the whole home quiet, try to control the volume in the area of the home where your pet is kept. This may require keeping doors closed or limiting access for the younger members of the family.

This doesn’t mean that you should avoid being around the pet entirely. Speaking calmly in their vicinity can help your pet get used to hearing your voice.

Learn to Recognize the Signs of Stress or Illness

Most animals will go out of their way to hide the fact that they aren’t feeling well. For this reason, injuries and illnesses are often caught late.

To protect your pet from unnecessary pain, learn to recognize the subtle signs that something is wrong.

Some of the more common signs to watch out for include:

  • Shaking or trembling
  • Excessive licking or scratching in a specific area
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Excessive urination or failure to urinate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sudden aggression
  • Low or hunched posture
  • Panting or heavy breathing
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Runny eye or nose
  • Whining or crying
  • Lameness, weakness, or loss of coordination
  • Reluctance to play

If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian. If possible, you want to connect with a veterinarian that specializes in the care of small animals.

Stick to Gradual Introductions

Introducing your pet to all their new family members at once can be overwhelming. Especially if they are joining a larger family.

Don’t rush introducing everyone. Instead, take your time and focus on one person at a time.

When you can see that your pet has adjusted to one person and is comfortable in their presence, you can then introduce the next.

It will take time and patience, but you are setting yourself up for a long, happy life together.  

gerbil sitting in a cage pin | 10 Tips for Bringing Home a Rescued Small Animal

Offer Mental and Physical Enrichment Opportunities

Provide your new pet with plenty of options to be active both mentally and physically right from the beginning.

For many small animals, this may include purchasing and setting up an exercise wheel.

Other great items to consider adding to your pet’s habitat (depending on the type of pet) include enrichment puzzles, ladders and platforms for climbing, tunnels to explore, and toys to play with.

Are you the proud parent of a rescued small animal? If so, we’d love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments!