Saturday, August 4, 2012

House Hunters: Small Pet Edition

All of us at 4 Lil Pigs n Buns like to see people think outside the box when it comes to housing your small pet – or perhaps I should say think outside the pet store box!  In fact, if you wish to adopt from us, we will not approve most pet store cages.  There are a few exceptions, but the bulk of the cages that are available for purchase in a pet store are much too small.

So what alternatives are available?  If you can’t find a cage in a pet store, where CAN you find one?  Well, I am about to talk about some excellent and fun options.

BUNNIES

X-Pens
Advantages:  Spacious, inexpensive, easy to move around
Difficulty:  Easy

Well, you can’t find an appropriately-sized bunny cage in the small animal section of the pet store, but you can find one in the dog section!  Puppy exercise pens can make excellent bunny habitats.  They come in different heights, so if you have a bunny who is a high-jump athlete, you might want to invest in a taller pen.  They can be a bit pricey ($60-$80), but oftentimes big chain pet stores have them on sale.  I bought my 30" tall x-pen off of petco.com (http://www.petco.com/product/5874/Precision-Pet-Eight-Panel-Wire-Pens.aspx?CoreCat=OnSiteSearch) for about $40.  You would pay as much for a small pet store bunny cage anyway.  Another option is to look for used ones on Craig’s List.

A nice example of a bunny x-pen setup
Putting an x-pen bunny habitat together is very easy.  If you’re worried about your bunny being on your flooring, you can put rugs or other floor material such as linoleum.  You just need to be aware of what your bunny might chew or ingest.  The author of this blog uses a low-pile outdoor rug from Walmart (about $15).  It has worked very well.  The cute rugs in the above photo are inexpensive blankets from Old Time Pottery.  You can use your imagination – just watch to make sure your bunny doesn’t decide that the flooring is a good thing to eat!  You'll have to try something else if they do - luckily there are many different, inexpensive options.

For further instructions and ideas (including flooring ideas), see the House Rabbit Society pen living page:  http://www.rabbit.org/journal/4-4/pen-living.html

STORAGE CUBES
Advantages:  Inexpensive, spacious, completely customizable, can "remodel" as needed
Difficulty:  Can be as simple or as complicated as you wish to make it!  A simple pen is easy to build.

One product that has been incredibly useful to those of us in the world of small pets is storage cube grids.  You’ve probably seen them – they are very popular around back-to-school time, when people buy them for their intended use!  Rabbit and guinea pig people use them to build pens for our furry friends.  

 
One of the best things about making a bunny habitat from cube grids is that you can use your imagination to make a fun environment for your pet.  Another advantage is that you can easily change it around as you wish.  You can start with a simple, basic pen.  Once you become more confident, you can add levels.  The possibilities are endless!
The author's storage cube bunny pen (guinea pig pen is attached to the right)
Another combo bunny/piggy setup
A custom-built wood/wire grid combo setup with levels
The basics are easy.  You will need at least a couple of boxes of storage cube grids.  Beware of the ones from Target that have larger openings - these will not work.  A lot of times K-Mart and Bed, Bath, and Beyond carry them.  You can also order them online.  Here are a couple of sources:



You will also need zip ties (also known as cable ties).  These help stabilize the pen.  The plastic connectors never hold very well.  I use the connectors plus the zip ties.  Available at places like Home Depot or Walmart.
This tool is very helpful for cutting the trailing ends of the zip ties (it's difficult with plain scissors):
Dowel rods and lightweight wood boards can be used to make shelves.  You will also need something to secure the pen closed when you want to confine your bun to the pen.  I use snap hooks available at Home Depot.  There are many different items you can use.
There are several detailed online guides to building storage grid bunny condos.  You can search for "NIC rabbit condo", or visit one of these excellent links:

GUINEA PIGS

STORAGE CUBES
Advantages:  Spacious, inexpensive, completely customizable, can "remodel" as needed
Difficulty:  Again, can be as simple or as complicated as you wish! 

Our favorite kind of cage for guinea pigs is what is commonly known as a C&C cage (cube & coroplast).  Like the bunny pens mentioned above, these are built with wire storage grids.  Since guinea pigs don't consistently use a litter box, a "pan" is needed.  This is where the coroplast comes in.  Coroplast is a corrugated plastic material that is commonly used to make signs.  
Coroplast is usually readily available at sign stores.  Call a few around town to find the best prices.  I've been quoted anywhere between $10 (really good) to $30 (really expensive) for a 4x8 sheet.  To make the pan, you will need the coroplast, an X-acto knife (to score the coroplast), scissors, and packaging tape.  Many people are intimidated by the process of building these, but it's really very easy!  It can be a lot of fun too - get your whole family together to design a fun habitat for your piggies!

For the cube part, you will need the same supplies as stated above:  zip ties, storage cubes, and scissors or the cutting tool shown above.

For EXCELLENT and detailed instructions, visit this link:  http://www.guineapigcages.com/howto.htm

Can't find supplies or too intimidated to do it all yourself?  Kits are available!  You can find simple C&C kits, ones with ramps and levels, ones with lids for homes with other pets or small children - so many options!

Here are some examples of what you can do with a C&C guinea pig cage:
A basic pen with no "add-ons"
A combo piggy/bunny C&C (bun on bottom, pigs on top)
A combo bunny/piggy setup with ramp, 2nd level, and storage underneath
Another view
An example of a "kitchen area"
Happy pigs in a nice C&C cage!
So what if you've already purchased one of those small pet store cages and can't return it?  You can still use it!  It can be used as a travel carrier, or you can integrate it into your pen setup.

This pet store cage was transformed into a penthouse suite!
The absolute best resource for building a C&C cage for your piggies is the original Guinea Pig Cages website:  http://www.guineapigcages.com/

These are the cage size standards as recommended by Guinea Pig Cages (which is also what we recommend):

    Cage Size Standards
# of Pigs
Minimum
PREFERRED
generally
in grids
in grids
 7.5 sq ft more is better 30" x 36" 2x3 grids 27" x 41"
 7.5 sq ft 10.5 sq feet   30" x 50" 2x4 grids 27" x 56"
10.5 sq ft   13 sq feet 30" x 62" 2x5 grids 27" x 71"
  13 sq ft more is better 30" x 76" 2x6 grids 27" x 84"

HAMSTERS, GERBILS, ETC.

CUSTOM CAGES (RUBBERMAID BINS, ETC)
Advantages: Inexpensive, spacious, customizable
Difficulty: Moderate (depends on how handy you are at cutting plastic and hardware cloth)

What about our even tinier furry friends?  Can you make customizable cages for them?  Absolutely!  You can find many different instructions and ideas on the internet.  Here is one from one of our Facebook fans:
This homemade cage houses gerbils
The cage is made from a large Rubbermaid-type bin.  Choose a roomy one with sides at least 12" high.  The wheel is a Silent Spinner, and it was attached by punching a rectangular hole in the side of the bin, then pushing the knob through and attaching it.  The "lid" is made from vinyl-covered hardware cloth.  Here is what the creator of this cage had to say about it:
Next for the lid I used "hardware cloth" that is vinyl covered. You can find it here at home depot:  http://www.homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1v/R-202024055/h_d2/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10053&langId=-1&keyword=yardgard&storeId=10051   - you will need wirecutters to cut this, or VERY heavy duty scissors. It took some patience to bend it correctly so it fits decently, but it was worth it: saved SO MUCH money and it allows for much more circulation than the official mesh lid on the real tank. 
She also used this hardware cloth to make a non-diggable bunny litter pan:
If you'd like instructions on building this, contact us on our Facebook page and I'll forward the full instructions!
 
The author's Rubbermaid bin hamster habitat (yes, the hammy is face-first in the food dish!)
All in all, the sky is the limit on building fun habitats for your small furry friends!  As you can see here, many of these ideas came about from thinking outside the box.  As long as the items are safe for your critters (non-toxic, won't tangle around your critter, cause choking hazard, etc), give it a shot and see if it works!  If you're trying to come up with ideas, search the internet for custom cages.  Beware of ones that may not be appropriate, but most custom cages are probably more spacious and appropriate than store-bought ones.  There tons of photos, instructions, and ideas for building your own custom habitat out there on the internet.

If you want to try building one of these for your small pet, but can't find materials or are unsure where to start, feel free to contact us.  You can always find us on our Facebook page, or you can email us at questions@pigsnbuns.org, and we'll do our best to get back to you as soon as we can.  In addition, we would love to see photos of your custom critter habitats!

The author would like to thank everyone who contributed photos and information to this blog!

4 comments:

  1. Great and informative article. While I already have 3 story nic cube condos that I built for my bunnies, with exer pens attached for their play areas...I saw a couple ideas that I am saving for future reference! Thank you for writing this. I've shared it on my FB wall.

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