“Pocket pets” are what people call small domestic animals such as gerbils, hamsters, ferrets and rabbits. Many people opt to adopt a pocket pet as opposed to a dog or cat because they are easier to take care of, and they don’t require as much attention as their canine and feline counterparts. Whether you live in a small space and cannot have a large animal, you’re gone all the time and cannot properly care for a more active animal or whether you just want a pet that is low maintenance and relaxed, pocket pets make great companions for the non-dog and non-cat people. With that in mind, this guide is meant to help you decide which pocket pet is ideal for your lifestyle and pet-ownership goals.
Preparing for Your Pocket Pet
Though some small animals are much more low maintenance than larger animals, you still need to take time to prepare your home for them. Oftentimes, this means investing in a terrarium, tank or cage, and accessories designed with your future pet’s needs in mind. Many people wrongly assume that small animals don’t need a lot of space. They might buy a hutch for their rabbit and line it with a thin layer of shavings, or they might invest in a small tank for their gecko and call it a day, but these types of environments are not acceptable. Many smaller animals still need plenty of space to run around in, foliage to hide beneath, shavings to burrow into and toys to play with. While owning and caring for small animals might be easy and inexpensive, setting up their living environment is often a costly endeavor.
Some things to keep in mind before bringing your new pet home:
- Reptiles need a climate-controlled environment.
- Rodents like toys such as spinning wheels and tube mazes.
- Most small animals are used to be prey, and so like to have objects to hide under and behind. This is especially true of rabbits.
- Ferrets are very curious animals, and so need a “ferret proofed” home to live in.
- Some small animals, such as chinchillas and rabbits, need a companion to remain emotionally happy (which can positively affect their lifespan).
- Many small animals need an indoor environment in which they can sleep and rest, and an outdoor environment where they can play and run around.
- Some birds, such as parrots, can live for up to 80 years. If you’re not willing to make that big of a commitment, reconsider your choice to buy a bird.
- The same can be said for turtles.
- Crustaceans such as hermit crabs can live for up to 40 years, but need a climate-controlled environment. Additionally, as they grow, their cage will need to grow with them.
- Fish are fairly easy to care for, but only if you stick with the basics, like gold fish or beta fish.
Easiest Small Animals to Care for and Why They Might be Right for You
While hamsters are fun and active pets, they are nocturnal, which means that they can be a disappointing pet for small children. However, if you work long days and are home alone only at night, a hamster might be ideal for you, as a hamster is great company in the evening hours.
Hamsters are relatively low maintenance and can entertain themselves with a hamster wheel, tubes and toys. They need a wire cage with a solid bottom to live in that is nicely padded with shavings.
Guinea pigs and hamsters are often lumped into the same category, but the truth is that they are very different animals. Guinea pigs are much more active than hamsters, and have a much more expressive personality. Once you get to know your piglet, you’ll be able to tell when he’s happy, sad, mad or excited. Unlike hamsters, which can spend a great deal of time in their own little space and be happy, guinea pigs prefer a large open space where they can run around, graze freely and be safe from predators. Guinea pigs also need to be with others of their species, as loneliness tends to set in with these animals, which contributes to depression.
Many people think that rabbits make great pets for small children, but in actuality, rabbits are difficult to care for and temperamental. That is not to say that they don’t make great pets—they do!—they are just not the “easy animal” everyone assumes them to be. Rabbits are extremely complex creatures, and they need a very specific environment to be happy. For starters, rabbits cannot be placed in an enclosed hutch and left alone. They need an enclosed space for sleeping and resting, but that space needs to be attached to an outdoor area where they can run around and play safely. Rabbits are also naturally skittish creatures, so they need plenty of coverage to hide from predators, such as cats and foxes.
Finally, rabbits need a companion of their own kind in order to thrive both physically and emotionally.
Chinchillas are cute, cuddly little creatures that tend to make people think of a little puppy, kitten and hamster all at once. These animals are extremely intelligent creatures with a happy disposition. Once you get to know them and them you, you will find that you can even teach them basic tricks for the right treats.
Like hamsters, chinchillas are nocturnal animals and so might not be the best animal for small children who go to bed early. If you are buying a chinchilla for your children, consider their average lifespan of 15 years. That is a long time to own a small pet, so really consider if your child will continue to love and nurture this pet when they’re 12, 16 or 18 years old.
Chinchillas don’t require much maintenance, but they do need a fairly large cage with a dust bath in it. Chinchillas are very enthusiastic about their dust baths, so if you’re going to adopt one of these creatures, you need to be prepared to sweep up and clean up dust on a frequent basis.
Chinchillas, like guinea pigs and rabbits, need a companion to live with.
Mice and Rats
Mice are interesting animals to watch, as they’re very active and playful and able to climb robes, run around in tunnels and put on a show for children. However, they are very squeamish and not easy to hold. If you want to buy a small animal for your child to hold and cuddle, you may want to consider buying them a rat.
Rats are hugely fond of social interaction, and they are highly intelligent, making them great pets for children and adults alike. Without attention, rats can become very depressed, thereby shortening their lifespan.
Rats and mice both need ample space, though rats need more than mice. While a large aquarium might work for a mouse, rats need a cage with multiple levels, similar to a hutch you might buy for a gerbil or hamster.
Parrots are wonderful, human like pets, as they’re playful, lively and intelligent. However, like humans, parrots have the potential to live for up to 80 years. For this reason, it is not recommended that a parent buy their small child a parrot. If you’re going to invest in a parrot, you should be old enough and at a stage in your life to make that type of long-term commitment, especially considering that parrots become very attached to their humans over time.
Parrots cannot be placed in a small birdcage—they need an area the size of a small room (at the very least) to fly around in. Their cage should be cleaned every other day and lined with a thin layer of gravel.
Hermit crabs don’t get enough credit as pets, which is a shame, as they are highly active, interesting and social little creatures. While hermit crabs can be great fun for kids—after all, they get to pick out cool new shells as their little friend outgrows hers—they require more commitment than most children are ready for. Hermit crabs can live for up to 30 years when taken care of properly. Proper care includes providing them with an environment with a continuous temperature of 75 degrees. They love humidity, so daily misting is encouraged. They also need sand to dig in, rocks to climb and places to hide out in.
Ferrets are a lot like cats: independent, curious and mischievous. However, they make great pets, as they’re highly energetic and intelligent. Children especially love ferrets, and if trained properly, they can be the loyal and low-maintenance companion you desire. Keep in mind though that because of their curiosity, your home should be ferret-proofed, with all things that could potentially harm or trap your pet put up and out of reach.
Though reptiles such as snakes, lizards and frogs are relatively low maintenance, setting up the proper environment for them can be a difficult and expensive task. Reptiles need a just right environment to thrive, which should be moderated with a heat lamp. They also need plenty of foliage (preferably foliage similar to their native habitat), hiding spots and ground covering.
Reptiles eat live prey, which can make some people squeamish. If you’re not into feeding live mice or bugs to a creature, a reptile may not be the best pet for you.
Assuming that you’re buying a gold fish or some other non-tropical fish, a fish may be the ideal low-maintenance small pet you’re looking for. While you would still need to invest in a nice tank, filters, rocks or pebbles and foliage, beyond that, caring for a fish requires very little investment of your time. You just need to feed them daily, make sure that the pH balance of their water is good and clean their tank weekly.
However, if you invest in tropical or exotic fish, your time and money investment could skyrocket, as many fish require a precise environment to thrive.
If each of the above animals requires more work than you’re willing to invest, you may do well to buy a pack of sea monkeys. Sea monkeys are ideal for small children who just want to look at things moving but not actual care for a live creature. They require hardly any maintenance, and only need to be fed growth food every five to seven days. If the water starts to get too cloudy though, you can negate the food for awhile longer. Sea monkeys live up to two years, the ideal lifespan for small children that want a pet but that don’t firmly grasp what owning a pet entails.
Talk to an Experienced Veterinarian About the Best Small Pet for Your Lifestyle
Small animals can make great, low maintenance pets. That being said, each living creature still needs a proper living environment, a healthy diet, care and nurturing from its owners and adequate medical attention. If this all sounds like something you can provide for your pet, talk to the veterinarians at the United Veterinary Center for advice on what small animal would make the best pet for you.
The next article will be on the exotic pets that are easy to care for.