Pocket Pets: Tiny Critters with Big Personalities

*Story Written for Women’s Edition, September 2018

Gone are the days of Paris Hilton and Elle Woods with their chihuahuas in their handbags; now, true “pocket pets” are all the rage in the form of hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, and even chinchillas. Pocket pets are typically some form of rodent and vary in their care. Here are a few of the most common pocket pets and how to care for them so you can determine which one is right for your household.

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If you have a household with older children, you might opt for a rabbit. Living between 8 and 10 years, rabbits come in a variety of breeds. They love interacting with humans and are easily potty-trained. They require less care than many other pocket pets and require no vaccinations whatsoever. However, they do need a good amount of time outside of the cage and at least 12 square feet of enclosure space, depending on their size and weight.
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It is essential that bunnies have access to chew toys because they are lagomorphs, which means that their teeth continuously grow throughout their lives. Chew toys are essential to whittle their teeth down to a comfortable length. Rabbits eat a varied diet, including greens, pellets, veggies, and hay (for the digestive system). An important thing to remember with rabbits (and most other pocket pets) is that they are instinctually prey animals, so they’re easily startled. It is essential to approach them slowly and let them come to you, as they can be highly sensitive at first. If you get down to your bunny’s level and let the animal make the first move, you’ll be playing and cuddling together in no time.

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Chinchillas are very energetic but are not good for households with small children because they are extremely sensitive to light and sound. Living on a crepuscular cycle, these soft critters are most active at dawn and dusk and may literally bounce off the walls of their enclosures! A single chinchilla needs a minimum of 5 or 6 cubic feet in its cage to roam, and 10 to 12 cubic feet are needed if you opt to purchase a playmate. They play with a variety of chew toys and live between 15 and 20 years. These rambunctious rodents need regular dust baths, an exercise wheel, and a very specific diet of hay and alfalfa pellets to maintain a healthy digestive system. However, with the right amount of time, money, and care invested, these soft creatures can be wonderful companions for years to come.

The greatest pocket pet for any household with children has to be the tried-and-true guinea pig. With a short lifespan of about 5 years, these cuddly critters are fantastic with children, easily potty trained, and have been kept as pets since the 16th century! Needing a cage of only about 8 square feet, these portable piggies are sweet, loving, and require a simple diet of hay, vegetables, and pellets. Like rabbits, their teeth constantly grow, so they need plenty of chew toys to keep their teeth ground down. They have poor eyesight, so handle them slowly and deliberately. It is also recommended to keep at least two guinea pigs at a time because they are happiest when living in groups. However, be sure to get two of the same gender to avoid potential conflict and unwanted offspring. Keep in mind that a pair of guinea pigs will need a larger cage than a single pet.

As with any pet, be sure to see a veterinarian regularly. Different vets specialize in different kinds of pets, so be sure to ask before you make an appointment. These tiny creatures age far quicker than other animals, so it is essential to keep their nutrition levels as high as possible. Be sure to bring them to the vet if you notice any changes in behavior or appetite. As most pocket pets are prey in the wild, they will instinctually hide signs of illness until it is sometimes too late; as soon as any symptoms show, the situation needs to be dealt with immediately. A seemingly healthy pocket pet may deteriorate and expire in a matter of hours if symptoms are ignored or left untreated.

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It is essential to make sure an animal will be a good fit in its environment to ensure the happiness of both owner and animal. Depending on the level of commitment you want to invest, the bottom line is to really learn about an animal’s needs before purchasing one. (Also note that not all pocket pets are legal in every state. If you’re looking to get a hedgehog or a chinchilla, you should check your local laws.) You can still enjoy cuddling with a pet if cats and dogs are not for you! Consider a pocket pet as a fun and entertaining companion.

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