A Pet Sitter's Guide to Caring for Rabbits, Hamsters, Guinea Pigs, and Small Mammals

Michael Grenier
Michael Grenier February 12, 2024

Have you thought about expanding your business and adding new services? Learning how to care for small animals might be precisely what you're looking for! We've created a guide for adding rabbit care and other small animal services to your business and it's updated for 2024!

Should You Expand Your Services?

At this point, you may already have a successful pet sitting business. Your clients love you, their pets are happy and healthy, and your business name is spreading like wildfire! But what if you could keep that momentum going? One way to help your business grow is by adding additional pet care services that can also help to provide an essential service to pet parents that are often overlooked.

Adding different types of pets to your services list outside of the usual dogs and cats can bring in new clients and additional revenue for your company. The prospect of branching out in such a way may seem a little overwhelming at first, but we'll help you figure out your next steps, pricing, and helpful details you need to know about pet sitting for animals like rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, and more! If you are just starting out and trying to decide which services your company will provide, take a look at our Academy Lesson on What Services Pet Sitter and Dog Walkers Offer for more information.

Make sure to check out our Time To Pet Academy and Blog for more great resources on starting and growing a pet care business. Or, if you’re looking for articles that speak directly to pet owners, check out the Blog at Local Pet Care.


Which Types of Animals Can a Pet Sitter Care For?

Venturing into pet sitting for different kinds of animals might feel intimidating at first, but it’s important to remember that you can care for almost any small animal if you have the proper knowledge and skills. This learning curve will be the same as when you learned about caring for dogs and cats and teaching your staff members will also be the same process. When it comes down to it, most of the fundamentals for animal care are the same across the board.

Whether it's caring for rabbits, hamsters, other small rodents, frogs, lizards, or fish – you might find that these pets take equal or less time typically to care for than the dogs or cats you are used to visiting. You may even find yourself caring for some small animals now among your current clientele, as it isn’t uncommon for people to have fish in addition to a cat or dog. While they’re out of town and you are visiting their residence daily to care for their kitties or you are staying overnight in their home, they may already ask you to feed or clean the tanks of the fish or other small animals they are leaving behind. Oftentimes, their routines are much simpler, and depending on the type of small animal, they may not even need to be looked after each day.

If any of your current or prospective clients have a combination of small and larger pets, they will be overjoyed to know that you can provide care and service to all of their pets. Not only will you save them time and money, but they will know they have a singular sitter or team dedicated to looking after their beloved pets. This is where building connections with your clients begins and what helps to nurture trust between them and your company. This post focuses on caring for small mammals, but many of the tips provided could work for fish, reptiles, and any other type of small animal.


How to Care for Small Mammals

Let's talk about the basics of caring for small animals. Some care instructions will be similar from animal to animal, while others will have their own specific needs for each species, like special bedding for rabbits or climate-controlled environments for reptiles. To begin with, we’ll cover the types of things small mammals eat, and then we’ll cover the sorts of supplies their care requires and some care techniques that are commonly shared between them.

What do small mammals eat?

People often make the mistake of assuming that small mammals like mice, gerbils, and hamsters are herbivores who thrive on a primarily plant-based diet. However, in the wild, they can be seen eating a variety of food, from insects and seeds to grains and grass. This is because, for most small mammals, the truth is that they are omnivores like we are and actually do best when their diet consists of a mixture of plant and animal-based sources. When it comes to small mammals like rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs, however, they are largely herbivores and thrive on a heavily plant-based diet.

When it comes to the question of what diet best suits a small mammal and what you should be feeding them while they are under your care, the most important thing to do is to defer to the instructions, measurements, and routine provided to you by the pet parents. Before they leave their pets in your care, you should have held a Meet & Greet at their residence where you talked through the different aspects of their pet’s care. One of the essential things to establish during that meeting is what a pet parent feeds their pet, how much they feed them, when they feed them, where you can expect to find their food, and the dishes with which to feed them. While it is good to do your research (and perhaps even consult a veterinarian) on what is best to feed small mammals, it is vital that you not overstep your position as a caregiver when a pet parent explains their pet’s feeding routine to you.

Some pets might have special dietary restrictions, allergies, or preferences that a pet parent has already considered and consulted with their veterinarian about. While we will go through a list of what some of the most common parts of a small mammal’s diet are below, please remember that what follows is not an extensive list of all dietary needs [for small mammals], but certain key factors of each animal’s balanced diet, as described by the team at the San Bruno Pet Hospital.


  • Rabbits – Unlike mice or hamsters, rabbits are considered strict herbivores, and they do best with a diet that consists of fresh, leafy greens and a good supply of grass hay. Leafy greens “provide not only fiber, but a variety of vitamins, such as A and C, minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates." If you have a rabbit whose diet has primarily consisted of store-bought pellets or grains and you want to introduce greens into their diet, consider doing so over a period of a few weeks. This allows their bodies to get accustomed to the new food source and can help prevent diarrhea as a result of the greens causing their digestive tracts to “speed up.”
  • Guinea Pigs – Though very similar to a gerbil or hamster, guinea pigs actually have diets similar to that of a rabbit. They are considered herbivores, and it is recommended that they receive plenty of dark, leafy greens in addition to grass hay and store-bought pellets. “Dark leafy greens are particularly important to guinea pigs due to their requirement for an external source of vitamin C.” This is because guinea pig bodies do not produce their own source of vitamin C, unlike many other rodents. “Dark, leafy greens are very high in vitamin C” and are vital to maintaining a healthy diet for a guinea pig. “For instance, a cup of fresh kale contains approximately 250mg of vitamin C compared to a cup of oranges (without the peel) which contains only 50mg of vitamin C.” When it comes to store-bought pellets, it is highly recommended that they receive only a limited quantity, as they can be high in calorie and fat content.
  • Chinchillas – Originating from chilly mountain habitats, chinchillas are herbivores whose diet largely consists of “dry grasses and other plant material.” However, they eat less leafy greens than rabbits and should instead “be provided with unlimited grass hay” as the fiber contained in the hay is essential for their digestion. Like guinea pigs, chinchillas can also be offered store-bought pellets, though they should be given in smaller amounts. Unlike many other small mammals like rabbits or guinea pigs, obesity isn’t as prevalent an issue with chinchillas as they are less likely to overeat.
  • Rats, Mice, and Hamsters – Unlike the other small mammals we have touched upon, rats, mice, and hamsters are considered to be omnivores. While “they all eat primarily plant material” in their diets, “rats, nice, and particularly hamsters are also known to eat some meat products” as well. It is also recommended that good pellet food be kept on hand at all times for your rat, mouse, or hamster to feed on freely. While we mentioned previously that these rodents also love nuts, seeds, and grains, these types of food are high in fat and should only be given to your small rodents in limited quantities.

As we have touched on briefly above, pellet foods can be purchased for small mammals. Some pellet foods are more recommended for certain small mammals than others, and pellet foods are actively discouraged for some small mammals (like rabbits). Even animals like rats, mice, and hamsters, where pellet foods are considered a staple part of their diet, require careful thought when purchasing them. You want to be very mindful of the ingredients used in these pellet foods, how much fiber they contain, and whether or not they are high in fat. You should also keep an eye on whether they are for babies or full-grown adult small mammals, as this can drastically impact how receptive an animal is to the food. It can also cause harmful side effects. Another thing you want to be cautious of is “not [to] use pellet mixes that contain grains and seeds along with the pellets. The addition of the grains and seeds only add[s] to the calorie and fat content [of the food], which can result in obesity, liver, and intestinal disease.”

You can read more about small mammal diets in other articles such as VeterinarianKey.comVeterinarianPartner.vin.com, and PetSmart.com.

What supplies do small mammals need?

Whether it's for rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, ferrets, rats, or chinchillas—most small mammals have very similar needs regarding cages, food, bedding, and supplies. One of the most important things you should ensure is that the small mammal you’re caring for always has fresh, clean water available. The San Bruno Pet Hospital recommends purchasing your small mammal a sipper water bottle and calls it the “best choice because it cannot be contaminated with bedding, food, feces, or urine. Animals unfamiliar with a sipper bottle may have to be trained to use it however.”

Below, we have a (non-exhaustive) list of items and supplies that you—or your client—will need to get set up with for any small mammals under your care.

  • Cage / Habitat
  • Dry Grasses (e.g. Grass Hay)
  • Bedding / Nesting
  • Pellets
  • Fresh, Leafy Greens
  • Treats
  • Toys
  • Bowl(s)
  • Sipper Water Bottle
  • Supplements
  • Hideaways

When it comes to a small mammal’s habitat, hideaway, or toys, there are tons of ways to be creative and find ways that will keep you and them entertained for hours!


What Are Basic Care Techniques For Small Mammals?

Routine grooming and cleaning of your small pets is essential, as well as regular cleaning of their cage or habitat. For animals like rabbits and guinea pigs, you'll want to line the bottom of their cage with three to four inches of bedding. You will also want to ensure that their cage or habitat is kept in a room with a temperature of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit on the low end of the humidity spectrum. You can even put a small litter box in the corner and fill it with a half-inch of litter for them to use to do their business if you would like. Small pet litter and bedding are sold based on animal type so that you can get the best one suited for your pet’s needs. A multistory cage or habitat that allows your small pet enough room to comfortably stand on their hind legs and get ample exercise from running around is highly recommended.

Another critical thing to remember when caring for small mammals is that regular veterinary checkups are just as crucial for small mammals as for cats and dogs. Always take them in for an initial checkup a few days after bringing them home, and be sure to schedule annual wellness exams for them. You should also contact a veterinarian immediately if you notice any signs of lethargy, inappetence, or a change in their bowel movements, as these can all indicate illness in your pet.

Only some veterinary clinics have small mammal services, so make sure to do your research to see what veterinarians provide care for your small pets in your area. PetSmart actually has 900 of its own pet hospitals around the country, and they typically have small pet veterinary services available.

Do rabbits need vaccines?

Always check with your veterinarian first! There are diseases that both wild and domesticated rabbits can be subject to contracting, but the most commonly known (and dangerous) ones are Myxomatosis and Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (RVHD). Both diseases are “acute and fatal,” and while they used to be uncommon in the United States, over the past few years, more cases have started to crop up.

According to PetMD, Myxomatosis is “a fatal disease for domestic rabbits,” and “there is currently no treatment.” Symptoms of Myxomatosis in rabbits include fever, lethargy, swelling, and difficulty breathing.

RVHD is a disease unique to wild and domestic rabbits and cannot be spread to other animals. It attacks a rabbit’s liver, and symptoms include bleeding, sudden collapse, and death. It is also highly contagious among rabbits. Currently, only one vaccine is available for pet rabbits in the United States. It is for a recent strain of RVHD called RVHD2 that first appeared back in 2021. It is available in 45 states and while it doesn’t have full approval from the FDA yet, the outlook is positive on it eventually being officially approved. Unfortunately, no official vaccine for Myxomatosis is available in the U.S., but it is available in Europe and the United Kingdom.


Both Myxomatosis and RVHD originate from flies, fleas, and fur mites. They can also be contracted from other infected rabbits through indirect contact. While flea, tick, and other prevention methods are used with other pets like dogs or cats, some of them can be quite toxic to rabbits. If you would like to use these types of prevention methods for your rabbit, be sure to confirm with your veterinarian whether or not it’s safe first. Otherwise, you can find more ideas on how to help protect your rabbit from disease here!

Although the FDA hasn’t officially approved vaccinations for these two diseases yet, veterinarians are currently working with manufacturers to create vaccines. Be sure to continually check for updates about these diseases, potential vaccines, and sanitation protocols so that you can keep your rabbit up-to-date with the latest protections!

How Much Should I Charge for Small Animal Services?

When deciding how much your company should charge for small animal service, you must first decide which small animals you and your team will serve. Whether you want to stick with small mammals and look after mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, and the like, or if you want to extend your services to fish and reptiles, you will need to have a good idea of what services you will be offering. Once you have decided on what services you want to provide and which pets you want to service, as you decide on pricing, you should keep in mind that small animal services usually cost less than services for larger pets. In fact, most companies will do some sort of combination rate for pet owners with two, three, or even five of the same small animal – especially if they are all in the same cage. Or, if the pet owners have a small mammal in combination with larger pets like a cat or dog, some companies may even offer an add-on fee for the smaller pet versus a full-service rate.

Here are some potential small mammal services to think about adding to your business:

  • Drop-in-visits
  • In-home boarding
  • In-business boarding
  • Feeding/cleaning/medication administrations
  • Additional services like taking in the mail and watering plants
  • Add-on fees when caring for small mammals in addition to cats or dogs on visits or overnights

There's no one right choice for every company. The services you add will depend on your business model, expertise, and preferences. The prices you ultimately charge will also depend on your city and state and the amount of experience your business and your staff members have.

The average national pet sitting rate for cats and dogs is about $25 for a 30-minute drop-in walk or visit. When it comes to rates for typical small pet sitting services, the price will naturally be lower. It will be up to you to decide what a fair rate is for your services. Small mammals might take less effort to care for than cats or dogs, but you still need to consider the travel time involved and the fact that you are blocking your calendar off from other potential clients. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Setting Your Pet Sitting and Dog Walking Rates for some helpful pointers on setting your new rates. While this guide isn’t specifically geared toward small mammal care, many of the tips can be used to help you determine your rates for these new services.


Say Hello to My Little Friend!

Knowing how to care for small mammals is a valuable addition to any pet sitting business, and it lets you expand your company’s repertoire of services that clients, both existing and prospective, might seriously need! This seemingly small expansion to what your business offers could actually have a massive, lasting effect on your company for the better! And, of course, when you use Time To Pet, you can easily keep track of all those adorable little mammals and their services, just like you would for a cat or dog. So maybe it's time to think a little smaller and add small mammal services to your company’s roster today!

Make sure to check out our Time To Pet Academy and Blog for more great resources.

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