Small Animal & Bird Housing

This information is not exhaustive but opens your eyes to species-specific needs and requirements. Remember, as you are bustling about your daily duties, your small animals and birds are confined here 24 hours a day. At the end of the day, you go home to other activities.

Imagine what it’s like for them…

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What size housing is best?



Bigger is better! A rabbit’s enclosure should be at least 4-6 times the size of the bunny when he’s entirely stretched out–more if he is confined for a large amount of the day. Enclosure sizes also should be decided in conjunction with the amount of exercise time and space the rabbit has access to. A larger area should be provided to allow rabbits to run and play for at least 5 hours of the day. The rabbit’s cage should be seen as its primary habitat and opportunity for enrichment rather than its primary confinement.

Rabbits’ feet were not designed for wire floors, so a plastic floor, padded with substrate or lined with a sheet or blanket, is best, and easier to clean. Rabbits also enjoy having access to an area of ceramic tiles to cool themselves in warmer weather.

Two types of water options (dish/bottle) as you won’t know at first which one each individual rabbit is accustomed to. Hay should be the primary food source and pellets only offered as treats. Fresh dark leafy greens, dandelions and clover are all good options but make sure none have been treated with pesticides or herbicides. Litter box… much easier for cleaning, readily used by rabbits (easy to train) and added bonus for the adopter. By lining the cage bottom with a sheet and providing a large litter box, the rabbit will usually choose the substrate in the litter box to urinate and defecate in. Rabbits prefer a litter made from recycled paper like Yesterday’s News™.

Hiding place – this is essential for a prey animal. It can be accomplished as easily as providing a sturdy cardboard box with an entry cut in one side. The box mimics the rabbits’ burrow and can also provide a perch and jumping opportunity. Since bunnies like to chew, the box can be replaced if the rabbit destroys it. There are commercial options like a bunny igloo that can be used as well. You can build or buy your rabbit a two-story “condo” with the floors connected by a ramp–rabbits enjoy the opportunity to be “vertical” creatures.

Guinea Pigs:

Large housing will make cleaning easier and will encourage your guinea pig to express natural behaviours, which can decrease stress.

Wire flooring must be avoided. Enclosures should have solid bottoms. They can be covered to prevent foot injuries with shredded newspaper, grass hay, aspen or hardwood shavings. Avoid using wood shavings made from pine or cedar. Guinea pigs will usually choose one area as the toilet area. Once they have selected this area, don’t put food, water or toys in the space but leave clear as the toilet area.

A shallow ramp is a good exercise option to allow them to run up to another level or perch.

Depending on what they were used to before, two types of water options (dish and bottle) should be provided as you won’t know which one each guinea pig prefers. Hay must be provided at all times and guinea pig chow only offered in limited quantities. Guinea pigs have an absolute dietary requirement for vitamin C. This can be provided by adding a vitamin C supplement to their water daily or by offering them fresh vegetables. They enjoy many fresh vegetables and dark leafy greens. Ensure all products have not been treated with pesticides or herbicides.

As guinea pigs are startled easily, a hiding place must be provided. They should have access to a hiding place at their convenience, when they need some quiet time. Guinea pig igloos can be purchased, but a shoe box is also a good option.

Find more information about guinea pig care at the BCSPCA.


The housing size for birds should be as large as you can accommodate. There must be enough space for your bird to stretch their wings out fully and to fly short distances. Different bird species require different types of cages – parakeets and cockatiels like height, while finches and canaries prefer width. To make your bird feel safe, keep the cage off the floor at all times. Cages should have a variety of perches. Never use sandpaper perches, and avoid perches that are all the same size.

Birds can benefit from supervised time out of their cage in a safe environment. To keep your bird safe, ensure the environment is free from items that are chewable (wires, cords, furniture etc.), keep all windows and doors closed and keep other animals out of the room.

Regular exposure to natural daylight is required, so placing the cage in a room with a window is best, but not in direct light. Different species of birds have different temperature preferences and requirements. At all times, birds should be kept in warm environments and away from drafts.

Every bird species has different dietary requirements, so it is best to consult a veterinarian for specific information about your bird. A proper diet promotes good health and avoids medical conditions from arising. A good diet generally consists of a high quality pellet, a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains, and a small amount of seed. Most avian veterinarians no longer recommend feeding grit to birds, because of the diet most pet birds eat. Feeding your bird grit may cause grit crop impaction, which is a potentially serious medical problem. Check with your veterinarian.

Fresh water is required daily, and is best placed away from perches to avoid contamination from droppings.

Find additional information at  ASPCApro Avian Care in Shelters.

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