When the weather is nice, you may be thinking about bringing your small pets outside to get their daily dose of running, climbing and exploring. But before you grab their harness to head outdoors, there are a few things to consider. We turned to Shachar Malka, DVM, at Long Island Bird & Exotics Veterinary Clinic in Great Neck, New York, for advice on bringing rabbits, ferrets and other small pets outdoors to play.
Tips for Taking Your Pocket Pet Outside
To make sure getting some fresh air is enjoyable for both of you—and most importantly, healthy and safe—go over this checklist before you head out.
1. Stay close to your critter.
It’s scary but true: Hawks, owls and other birds of prey are predators of small pets and may snatch pocket-sized animals if they wander unattended, according to Dr. Malka. Stay with your pet at all times—ideally with him suited up in a harness and leash.
The Kaytee Small Animal Harness & Stretchy Leash lets you scoop up your cuddly small pet quickly if necessary. You can also put him in a covered pen outside. One option is the Marshall Small Animal Playpen. The water-resistant floor protects tiny feet from hot or rough surfaces.
2. Check the weather.
Extreme temperatures, whether hot or cold, can be harmful to your pocket pet. Temperatures between 65 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal (and, happily, delightful for you to be outside, too), according to Dr. Malka. Your pet also should have access to water and shade.
3. Stay in the backyard or on a patio in the rear of your home.
Dr. Malka recommends staying in a secluded area away from the public. A cute pocket pet is a magnet for curious neighbors and playful children passing by. They mean well, of course, but your pet might be frightened by the attention, cautions Dr. Malka.
Staying far away from the sidewalk also protects your pet from dogs. Even normally friendly dogs being walked on a leash can be triggered by the sight of your little critter and possibly injure your pet.
4. Consider the time of day.
Day being the operative word here. Stay inside once it gets close to dusk to avoid run-ins with nocturnal predators, Dr. Malka warns. Raccoons, possums, coyotes and foxes may make an appearance, even in the suburbs.
Also, take note of when any loud daily delivery trucks or rumbling school buses go by, or fire sirens go off predictably. Try to avoid taking out your small pets at times when loud noises might occur. “Loud noises can spook your pet,” Dr. Malka says. “They can have a fight or flight response and may try to take off.”
5. Protect your pet against fleas.
Bringing your small pet outsides increases their chances of getting fleas. There are different forms of flea control and prevention. Dr. Malka suggests talking to your veterinarian for recommendations on which one would be best for your particular pet.
6. Feed your pet first.
Why? If your pet isn’t hungry, it will reduce (though not eliminate) the odds that he’ll eat a plant or something else that could make him sick. Even so, keep a watchful eye and be prepared to move quickly!
Special Considerations for Ferrets and Rabbits
While it’s important to keep a close eye on all small animals when being brought outside, ferrets and rabbits tend to need special attention.
Ferrets are brave little explorers who have a knack for getting into small spaces and things they shouldn’t. Keep them on a leash and harness to keep them safe.
“Having a ferret harness connected to a leash will allow them to have fun while also keeping them safe,” Dr. Malka says.
Opt for a harness specially designed to suit a ferret’s body, like Marshall Pet Product’s harness and lead. You might want to start out indoors to get your little explorer used to a ferret harness.
Ferrets may also need to be vaccinated before exploring the great outdoors. Dr. Malka recommends the following:
- Ferrets are susceptible to canine distemper. It’s an airborne virus, so your ferret could come into contact with the pathogen outside fairly easily. An annual canine distemper vaccine created for ferrets can protect him.
- A rabies vaccine is also in order for ferrets who regularly explore the great outdoors.
- Discuss with your exotic animal vet whether a heartworm preventative is needed. It can depend on the area in which you live.
Bunnies require daily exercise outside of their cage, but they like to dig and hop, which can make it difficult to keep them safe. Don’t let your rabbit hop around outside without being safely contained in a rabbit-appropriate pen or enclosure, or secured in a rabbit harness with a rabbit leash attached.
“It is in their nature to dig,” Dr. Malka says. “You want to make sure they are in an enclosed area, and supervised at all times, so they don’t dig out it. You also want to make sure the area has walls or fencing tall enough that they can’t jump out.”
If you go the harness/rabbit leash route, make sure that rabbit harness is properly secured before taking him outside. The Niteangel Harness with Elastic Leash for Rabbits is designed to fit snugly without gripping, rubbing or pulling fur.
There’s no reason not to have shared outdoor experiences with your small pets. By following these six tips, you’ll ensure a fun—and safe—outing.
Christina Vercelletto is a pet, travel and lifestyle content specialist and a former editor of Parenting, Scholastic Parent & Child, and Woman’s Day. She lives on Long Island with her Chiweenie, Pickles, and 20-pound Calico, Chub-Chub.