Fresh air, new impressions, food everywhere – a back garden can be a blissful change for rabbits and guinea pigs – especially when your pets usually spend their time inside.
“The chance to graze is the most natural thing you can offer them, ” says Alexandra Stoffers, rabbit expert at a German animal shelter in the northern province of Schleswig-Holstein.
Pet owners should keep a few things in mind, however, before releasing their little friends outside.
While rabbits are generally considered to be less sensitive to cold, guinea pigs are a bit pickier. “They should only be kept on the lawn if you feel comfortable walking barefoot outside for a longer period of time yourself, ” advises guinea pig specialist Claudia Michel.
As much as rabbits and guinea pigs like to graze, if they are used to being fed, you should slowly introduce them to grass, dandelions or meadow herbs.
“The composition of fresh greens is different from the usual animal feed sold at supermarkets, ” says veterinarian Anja Ewringmann, who specialises in small animals. “If the animals are not used to it, it can lead to digestive problems.”
Owners should also consider vaccines, especially when it comes to rabbits: They can contract the viral diseases RHD and myxomatosis, especially if there might be wild rabbits in the area.
“You should definitely have them vaccinated, ” says Ewringmann – but that also applies to animals that only live indoors.
And not every garden plant is suitable for your pet’s appetite. It’s better to not even give them the opportunity to nibble on things like thuja, yew, ivy, cherry laurel or oleander. Keeping them in an enclosure helps – especially if you can’t keep an eye on them all the time.
Make sure to set the pen up in a shady area and provide your pets with enough water when they are in it, as rabbits and guinea pigs are both sensitive to sun. “In the blazing sun, they can quickly get heat stroke, ” says Michel.
A tree is the most natural source of shade while heat frequently accumulates in the little wooden houses that are often used to provide shelter for pets and can therefore even cause harm.
In addition, the enclosure should be as big as possible and made of closely meshed wire. This stops your pets from escaping – and also protects them against attackers like cats, dogs and bird of prey. – dpa
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