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by Terri Jackson
Looking for a furry companion, but don’t have the space for one, or want to avoid the mess and mayhem that can come with a larger animal? Well, here are ten little critters big enough to steal your heart, but not quite big enough to steal food from your table…unless give them an assist.
With its spiky hairdo, solitary nature and penchant for staying up all night, the hedgehog could be considered the “rebel” of pocket pets.
They are nocturnal creatures that sleep all day and are quite active at night. Their day begins when most people are having dinner, which may work out well for interaction after dinner and before your bedtime. If you’re a night owl, even better!
Among small animals, the athleticism of the hedgehog is unparalleled. A non-wire bottom exercise wheel is ideal for the keeping these busy little buddies in shape. Just keep in mind that things may get a little noisy, so you might not want to set up their turf too close to a bedroom. Hedgehogs also need unconfined time. Make sure you take yours outside to swim or explore under close supervision.
Hedgehogs are very antisocial and should be contained separately. It may also take some time for yours to warm up to you, but with a little patience you will eventually earn its trust. The younger the hedgie is when you get it, the easier it will adapt to being handled.
In their natural habitat, hedgehogs eat a wide variety of vegetation, insects and roots. This diet can be difficult to replicate at home, but luckily there are several retail products available to meet their dietary needs. As a supplement, you can treat your buddy to mealworms, crickets, fruits and veggies.
With proper care, the average lifespan for pet hedgehogs is four to six years. Some even live as long as eight years—that’s more than 100 human years!
9. Sugar Glider
At the opposite end of the social spectrum is the sugar glider, which gets its name from its unique ability to glide to and fro. Since they are extremely social animals, they tend to fair better as pets when paired with another glider. It’s even OK to house a male and female together if the male is neutered at five or six months old.
Being a marsupial that was born in a pouch makes the sugar glider a literal “pocket pet.” As adults, they still love to nestle in shirt pockets or cloth pouches, so be sure to include one when furnishing your furbaby’s domain. You should also include branches and shelves for perching and gliding. The sugar glider is a proficient escape artist, so the cage should also have narrow spacing to thwart any breakouts.
Sugar gliders are nocturnal by nature and don’t keep banker’s hours, so before getting one, be sure your schedule will allow you time to cozy up to your little buddy on a nightly basis. This is a must if you want to tame your glider and avoid getting nipped.
Gliders are healthiest when kept on a high-protein, omnivorous diet. Boiled eggs, cooked lean meat, insect pellets, leafy greens, small portions of fruit and nectar-filled pellets specially formulated for sugar gliders, provide the ideal combination of nutrients to sustain their activity.
At 12-15 years, the potential lifespan of a pet sugar glider exceeds the average lifespan of a dog. It is very rare, however, that they live beyond six to eight years.
If you’re into posting cute pet pics and videos, the adorable, affectionate and ever-entertaining ferret is the furry friend for you.
Ferrets are crepuscular, meaning they are most active around the hours of dusk and dawn. Very curious and playful, they spend 14-18 hours a day sleeping (likely dreaming of the fun they’ll have when they wake up). Ferrets are tenacious problem solvers and never shy away from a challenge, so it’s a wise idea to give them puzzle-type games and toys.
One ferret is a good time, but two is a party. It is recommended to have more than one ferret at a time. Not only will they pal around with each other, but they’ll still crave your attention. So, when it comes to socializing, the more the merrier. One would think that with their active lifestyle, ferrets would make noisy roomies. But on the contrary, they are very quiet and the most noise they make is when they are afraid or injured.
Ferrets should have lots of room to run around, so when it comes to cages, bigger is better. A tall cage with multiple levels is the optimal living space for them. To get proper exercise, they should also have time to roam freely outside their cage every day. You can even take them for a walk, but invest in a harness first!
The ferret diet consists of meat—and only meat. As a matter of fact, they are basically unable to digest plants or fruit. Packaged dry, meat-based ferret or cat food is a convenient and nutritious means of meeting their dietary needs. If you want to go the extra mile and secure the occasional mouse or rabbit for your ferret, that’s perfectly fine, too.
Perhaps the biggest plus to having a ferret as a pet, is that they can be litter trained. Although they can’t be trained to the same level of reliability as cats, they can be trained to be fairly consistent litter box users, and if you take them for a walk, they can “do their business” then.
Chinchillas are best known for their thick, luxurious fur, but perhaps they should also be known for how long they can live as pets. So, if you’re thinking of getting a pet chinchilla, read these tips and info thoroughly—you just might need them for the next 15-22 years!
With gentle handling, most young chinchillas will become tame and bond with their humans. Just don’t expect them to enjoy being held or constantly cuddled like your typical furry pet. Chinchillas prefer to explore, and some like to climb on their owners. They can be paired with another chinchilla of the same sex, or they can “hold down the fort” on their own.
Since they are both nocturnal and crepuscular, they should be housed in a quiet area during the day. Chinchillas hail from the mountainous areas of South America, so they fare better in cooler temperatures. Be sure to take extra care so as not to let yours get overheated. A large, multi-level cage should be put in a cool area of your home where the temperature does not exceed 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
Not only does the chinchilla wear a thick coat of fine fur, it also requires the finest chinchilla-specific food. High quality pellets and grass hay makes up the bulk of a nutritious diet. A mixture of loose ingredients consisting of pellets, corn, seeds and other grains may seem like a good idea, but once it’s out of the packaging, your picky little eater will likely scarf down the parts they like and leave the rest.
Dogs love to chew—and so do chinchillas. Make sure to keep plenty of chew toys around to keep their incisors in good shape. Pesticide-free wooden blocks, tree branches, wooden parrot or rabbit toys make great choices. You should also invest in a “chinchilla block” or pumice block to keep its teeth filed down. Leave toys that have small or plastic parts on the store shelf.
Enjoy an occasional bubble bath? Well, the chinchilla equivalent is a dust bath. Chinchillas must bathe in dust regularly. Not only do they seem to enjoy the baths, the ritual bathing keeps their fur conditioned. The dust permeates the chinchilla’s thick fur, absorbing oil and sweeping away dirt. “Chinchilla dust” can be purchased at most pet supply retailers.
Want a small rodent that behaves like “man’s best friend?” Well, you should consider the highly social, playful and “talkative” degu. Degus are curious creatures that need plenty of social interaction with their humans and other degus. Otherwise, they can become hostile and neurotic. Housing your degu with one of the same sex is both stimulating and cathartic for them.
With training, a degu will come to you for a snuggle or petting. They can be quite the chatterboxes, making sounds similar to gibberish and emitting high-pitched screams if their food is stolen. Degus also have another “anti-theft system” that is unique to certain rodent species—they can shed their tails to escape predators. So, never pick up a degu by the tail. It can be painful for them, and it will not grow back.
As with other rodents, degus need plenty of wooden chew toys to gnaw on. A nice mineral and salt block is also a great way to keep your degu occupied while supplying it with supplemental nutrients.
Large wire cages with several levels, such as those made for chinchillas or ferrets, make ideal enclosures for degus. It should also include a nesting box, furnished with hay, shredded paper, tissues, or paper towels. The box will be made to simulate the burrows they dig in their natural habitat. As with other pocket pets, degus need sturdy branches, ropes and an exercise wheel with a solid surface to stay fit.
Degus can live up to 10 years. To improve your degu’s longevity, a diet that is low in carbs and high in roughage is recommended. Premium pellets and grasses like alfalfa and Timothy hay are staples of the degu diet. Leafy greens and veggies such as sweet potatoes, carrots, cucumbers and bell peppers are also great supplemental fare.
Gerbils are a popular pet because they are easy to care for, hearty and docile, which makes them a great pet for older children. They are most active during the day, so their schedules coincide with that of most kids.
Gerbils are very friendly and are prone to loneliness and depression if not paired with another gerbil of the same sex. That said, it is important to keep in mind that two males who were not raised together may be aggressive towards each other. To handle your gerbil, you will first have to gain its trust. This can be accomplished by feeding it small treats. With a little time, it will eventually let you scoop it up in your hand. Never pick up your gerbil by the tail.
Since they tend to be frisky, gerbils need lots of room to exercise and play. As with the previously mentioned pocket pets, a large multi-level cage with a solid-surfaced exercise wheel works best. A 10 gallon aquarium with wire mesh cover is also a suitable alternative. Whatever home you choose for your gerbil, make sure it is securely closed. They are known for escaping from enclosures that are not properly secured and having poor eyesight—a combination that can have dire consequences. Since they may not be able to identify predators and other safety threats, be very attentive and make sure that there are no toxic plants or pets around when you let them venture outside their cage.
When it comes to eating, gerbils like it all. Their ideal diet is a balance of pellets, carrots, broccoli, turnips, leaf lettuce and small portions of apples and bananas. Although they don’t drink much, make sure they have access to a fresh supply of water at all times.
Like chinchillas, gerbils like a good dust or sand bath. It removes excess oil helps keep their fur thick and healthy. So, make sure to get chinchilla dust when purchasing your gerbil’s accommodations.
If there was a poster child for small pets, it would be the ever-popular hamster. Kids love them. Adults love them. They are fairly easy to care for, so that makes them a great pet first pet for young children or busy adults.
There are many different breeds of hamsters and these breeds come in several different colors and have traits that set them apart from each other. Syrian hamsters, dwarf hamsters and Chinese hamsters are the three main types of hamsters that can be found in pet stores. Chinese and dwarf hamsters only grow to be about four inches long. Syrian hamsters are the most common type of pet hamster. They are bigger than the Chinese and dwarf, and come in a variety of colors and descriptive nicknames such as teddy bears, goldens and pandas.
Hamsters are most comfortable housed alone and can be tamed by earning their trust with yummy treats. They are normally very docile, but be careful not to scare, wake or startle your hamster or it may bite you.
Your hamster’s cage should have plenty of space for exploration and proper ventilation. To prevent escape, cage wire should be spaced according to the size of your hamster. Furnishings should include a soft, absorbent lining, an exercise wheel with a solid floor, a water bottle, and a small house that can be used for climbing and hiding.
Hamsters may be easy to take care of, but only live an average of two years, so forming attachments may prove to be a challenge. If you are considering getting one for your child, perhaps you should prepare your little one by explaining a hamster’s life span before you get one—instead of trying to replace one that has crossed the “rainbow bridge.”
3. Fancy Rat
Rats get a bad rap. The common or “street” rat is the type of rat that is notorious for spreading disease and fear in humans. But did you know that its cousin, the domesticated or “fancy” rat, makes an awesome pet? Here are some of the reasons why.
Fancy rats purchased from reputable dealers are typically disease-free. They should only be allowed to explore indoors to prevent exposure to wild rats that carry diseases like salmonella and rat bite fever. If you make sure your rat was bred from a line of healthy, robust rats and you take good care of it, odds are it will stay healthy and happy.
Most people assume that rats are dirty, but in fact, cleanliness is a virtue amongst domesticated rats. They are constantly grooming themselves in an effort to stay tidy and need your assistance to do so. You can do your part by trimming their nails and changing their food, water and bedding. In addition, toys and all surfaces and need to be cleaned regularly.
Fancy rats are extremely intelligent, friendly, and often exhibit loving behavior towards their humans. They are also quite social with one another, buddying up to play games and look for trinkets. Your rats’ cage should include the standard water bottle, exercise wheel, wooden blocks, branches and other climbing accessories, a nesting box lined with material for shredding, and hammocks.
Domesticated rats typically live from two to three years. After reaching puberty at six to eight weeks old, females go into heat every four to five days. So, unless you’re interested in breeding an unbelievably large extended rat family, your rat should paired with at least one same-sex pal.
Although it is assumed that rats will eat anything, it doesn’t mean that they need to eat everything. Pelleted food and rat blocks are a basic means of supplying nutrients to your furry friends. Small pieces of fruits, veggies, whole-grain bread, pasta, dog biscuits, cheese, nuts and cooked low-fat meat also make tasty treats.
2. Fancy Mouse
In many ways, the fancy mouse is like a miniature version of the fancy rat. They tend to be jumpy and more difficult to handle than more sizable rodents, but with a little patience and a few treats you will literally have them “eating out of your hand.”
Fancy mice are very social and do well in same-sex pairs or groups. Since males can become aggressive towards each other, it is best to avoid pairing them unless they are siblings. If you don’t want mice to take over your life, males and females should never be allowed to mingle.
To get them used to the sound of your voice, you should hang out next to their cage and talk to them quietly. They will become more at ease and you can offer seeds and other tiny morsels from your hands. When they are comfortable with you, they will begin to walk on your hands to get to the seeds.
A wire cage with a solid floor and sufficient space will provide a proper home for your pets. It should be outfitted with plenty of accessories for climbing and recreation, like platforms, horizontal bars, and of course—an exercise wheel. You should steer away from purchasing an aquarium or plastic cage. They may meet space requirements, but will be hard to clean, can be poorly ventilated and your mice might chew through the plastic.
Make sure to provide a nest box and nesting materials for your mice. You can either buy one or make your own. Pieces of tissue, paper towel, or hay make excellent nesting materials. Since mice like to mark their territory, you should only clean their nest out once a month or every other month.
Contrary to popular belief, cheese is not the staple of a mouse’s diet. The bulk of a well-balanced plan should be composed of rodent pellets and loose mixes made up of seeds and grains. Supplements may include small amounts of fruits, vegetables, crackers, peanut butter and whole grain bread.
1. Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs are easy peasy. They are friendly, keep a schedule that is compatible with most kids and adults, and handle stress well. Those are just a few reasons why they top our “10 Best” list.
There are several different breeds of guinea pigs, and they come in a bevy of different colors and coat lengths—even hairless. They can live up to a decade and at two to three pounds, tip the scales as one of the heaviest pocket pets.
As far as a proper cage is concerned, the roomier the better. Guinea pigs are not only large, they’re also social. So you should get a cage big enough for at least two of them to comfortably scamper about. You can also have an enclosure custom-built for your guineas. That said, be sure to let them venture out of the cage or pen for a change of scenery.
The guinea pig dietary needs differ from other rodents in one distinct way. Since they are incapable of making their own vitamin C, they need supplements that contain this essential nutrient. Guinea pig pellets are specially formulated to meet their nutritional requirements, and contain a healthy dose of vitamin C. They also need a lot of roughage, like Timothy hay, alfalfa and leafy greens.
If you have short-haired guineas, grooming them will be a snap, but if you have ones with longer hair you will need to do a little more to maintain their beauty routines. Guineas with short hair only need to be brushed about once a week. Those with long hair need to be combed or brushed according to how long their hair is and whether they are losing excessive amounts of hair. Take special care to trim your guinea pigs’ nails at least once a month. Unless they are regularly trimmed, the nails will start to curl and impede mobility.
There are several advantages to having a small animal as a pet, but just because they are small, it doesn’t mean they need less attention. Keep that in mind and you and your little buddies will be “in the pocket.”