Keeping warm in the winter is essential for all animals and your small rodents / cavies are no exception.
Below are some tips to keep your pets healthy in cold weather.
Rodents (rats, hamsters, gerbils)
The first most cost effective way of keeping your rodents warm is to add extra bedding to their home. The bedding will need to be highly absorbent and changed regularly to ensure that your pets do not become ill from cold / wet bedding. The deeper the bedding, the better it will be as your furry friends can burrow in it when cold. It is also worth adding extra soft nesting material for your pet. You can also cut up strips of kitchen roll that they can use to nest in.
There are now a great range of hidey homes, hammocks and snuggle caves that can be bought from large retailers and independent craftspeople. These are often made from fleece and other soft, warm materials. These are great for your pet to sit in when cold or when sleeping.
To add more extra heat, you can purchase microwavable heatpads if it is particularly cold and you can even purchase some hidey homes with heatpads already installed.
Warm foods are a good way of keeping your pets cozy in winter. Rodents (particularly rats) will enjoy soups, mashed potato and cooked vegetables on a cold day.
Blankets and towels can also be added to your rodent's home for extra warmth but make sure they are changed regularly to avoid dampness and smells.
Please note that you have to be especially careful to keep syrian hamsters warm as they can go into hibernation if too cold and unlike wild animals their bodies are not equipped to cope with this. You do really need to keep an eye on the temperature in this case.
Rabbits and guinea pigs
Rabbits and guinea pigs are often kept outside and because of this it is especially important to be prepared for winter.
If your rabbits or guinea pigs are kept outside, you may consider bringing them inside. You may be able to bring them into your home itself or a shed / garage. If you bring your pet's hutch / home into a garage, please ensure that it is unused as the fumes from cars would be very dangerous for your pet.
If you can not bring your pets inside, at the very least you should make sure that the hutch is well sheltered and appropriately insulated. Rabbit hutches can be covered with blankets, duvets and then tarpaulin to make sure it is waterproof. Alternately, specially made hutch covers can be purchased from pet stores. The hutch should then be placed in a sheltered area so that it is protected from the wind.
Extra bedding is very important when it becomes cold and it must be changed regularly so it stays warm and dry. Nesting boxes and cozy hideouts can be added to the hutch also. You can also purchase fleece cage liners to further insulate your pet's home.
Water bottles will need checking regularly so that they do not freeze and a spare one should be provided in case of this possibility. Bottles can be insulated by wrapping them in thermal clothing, bubblewrap or special wine bottle insulators.
Again, heatpads can be used but if you do not have one of these, a sock stuffed with rice can be used instead. You just microwave the sock and make sure that no rice comes out. Also allow the sock to cool after being heated up before adding it to your pet's hutch / cage.
As well as heatpads, some owners purchase heat lamps that are most often used to keep reptiles warm. Heaters can be used too but should not be too close to the cage as the bedding materials could become a fire hazard.
You could also consider keeping a thermometer in the room that you keep your pet in to monitor room temperature.
It is important to remember that the main danger with rabbits is that they overheat but they still should not be left out in the cold in a wire cage with no protection from the wind and rain.