Ask Elizabeth: 02/08

Dear Elizabeth: My teenager is crazy about animals – she wants to be a veterinarian and is constantly asking to bring home all sorts of pets. We have dogs, horses, goats, an alpaca and, of course, a cat (Buster). For my daughters birthday, she is begging me to let her adopt a Guinea pig from our local shelter. So far, I have managed to hold firm to my rule of no caged pets, but Im weakening.

My main concern is that Buster, a fierce hunter of mice, will bring about an early demise to any small pets we bring home. Do you have any tips on keeping Guinea pigs (or other small creatures, since Im sure that, once we bring home one, others will follow) safe from cats in the home? And will these precious little beings be stressed, living in the home of a proud hunter? I wouldnt want them to live an unhappy life!


I can see where your daughter gets her love of animals – its very kind of you to want to provide a safe and stress-free life for any little critters that share your home. My heart is warmed by your daughters desire to adopt a Guinea pig from your local shelter. Many people arent aware that all sorts of pets, from the tiniest mice to the largest draft horses, are often languishing in shelters, just waiting to be adopted.

I am happy to report that cats and small pets can happily coexist in the same home if you follow some basic precautions and use some common sense. While it is possible for cats to become friends with indoor pets that the cat would consider prey if encountered outdoors, it is safest to assume that Buster will consider any small pet fair game. The little ones will need your protection to live a long and happy life.

  • Invest in a sturdy cage that cant be tipped over or pried open by curious cats. You may want to fasten the cage to the wall using thin guide wires and eye hooks. Cages with closely spaced bars or solid walls will prevent Buster from pawing at the pet – scratches can be painful and may lead to infections.

  • Make sure the cage has a top strong enough to support Busters weight, since some cats will jump onto a cage. Oddly enough, many small pets are not disturbed by the presence of a cat peering down at them from above.

  • Doors to the cage should have cat-proof latches or should be wired shut with twist ties. Dont underestimate the persistence of a dedicated hunter.

  • Provide a nesting box inside the cage so that little critters have a secure place to escape from prying eyes. Many cats like to sit a few feet away from the cage, watching intently (a form of kitty TV, perhaps?). While most small animals dont appear to be threatened by the cats presence, a secure resting place may be welcomed by the little pet.

  • Ideally, keep small pets in a separate room away from Buster and the dogs. If this is not possible, make sure to confine any potential predators while the little pets are being handled or their cages are being cleaned. It only takes a moment for a cat, especially a successful hunter like Buster, to pounce on a small pet, and the results may be tragic. Fluttering birds or scurrying rodents may prove irresistible for even the most gentle of cats.

  • Cats can be encouraged to behave calmly around caged small pets. Introduce Buster to the cage containing your new pet only while you can supervise his reactions. If he quietly investigates the new cage, great! If he gets overly excited or tries to break into the cage, squirt him with a water pistol. For maximum effectiveness, dont let him see that youre the one with the squirt bottle – without scolding, squirt him with the water and let the water be the reprimand.

It sounds like you and your daughter are on your way to experiencing a whole new world of small pet ownership. By following my simple guidelines, Im sure you will ensure that Buster and any newcomers will enjoy life in your loving home. Best of luck to you all! Love, Elizabeth