Are you allergic to cats? Can you imagine yourself training your dog? In that case, pocket pets are your perfect fur babies. Pocket pets include rats, mice, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, hedgehogs, and chinchillas, said AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association), a non-profit organization. They may require less time and effort than dogs or cats, but it is advisable to do prior reading before getting a pocket pet. Many of them require unique dietary needs and housing. Some pocket pets can outlive traditional pets so you have to be prepared to take care of one.
Pet Ownership In the UK
As of 2018, a total of 13 million households in the UK have a pet, representing 45% of all UK households, according to PFMA (Pet Food Manufacturers Association), the leading trade body for the UK’s pet food industry. Households mainly owned dogs (26%), cats (18%), rabbits (2%), indoor birds (1%), domestic fowl (0.4%), guinea pigs (1%), hamsters (1%), and tortoises and turtles (0.8%).
In 2018, 28% of households have children and pet dogs, up from 2017’s 24% followed by households with cats and children (21% in 2018 versus 20% in 2017). 8.3% of households with small mammals as pets and children, up from 8.2% in 2017. A smaller percentage of households had birds and children, down from 2017’s 2.2%. Overall, 53% of household had pets and children, up from 50% in 2017.
Rabbits are the most popular small mammals with a population of 900,000 followed by guinea pigs (400,000), hamsters (300,000), gerbils (100,000), rats (100,000), ferrets (100,000), and keep mice (50,000). In the last three years, 9% of households in the East Midlands region owned at least one small mammal along with West Midlands (7%), South West (6%), South East (5%), Wales (4%), and North East (3%).
PFMA also conducted a nutrition survey for over five years at the London Vet Show to compare data and monitor trends. 215 attendees participated in the survey and found that 32% of small mammals are obese, compared to 12% of birds, 47% of cats and 52% of dogs. When asked about their thoughts on feeding habits for different types of pets, 76% of veterinarians agreed that pet food gives optimum nutrition for small mammals, versus 91% for dogs and cats and 80% for birds.
In value terms, the UK pet food market experienced slight growth in 2019, reaching a high of £2.6 billion ($3,400,787,000). Pet food for dogs showed the highest value at £1,371 million ($1,793,261.14 (followed by cats (£1,141 million or $1,492,422.30), small mammals (£65 million or $85,019,675), fish (£67 million or $ 87,628,965), and indoor birds (£11 million or $14,386,845).
Kinds of Pocket Pets
They are quiet and shy animals who do well when accompanied by another chinchilla. Chinchillas are nocturnal so expect them to sleep during the day. In that case, it is recommended to place a nesting box or hiding area in the enclosure.
Chinchillas consume grass-based pellets and hay to wear down their teeth, which grows continuously. Provide a box or tray with dust made to absorb oil and dirt from your chinchillas’ fur. They need dust baths several times a week.
2. Guinea Pigs
They don’t require a lot of care and are social animals. Provide your guinea pigs with a well-ventilated wire cate with a solid floor lined with fleece or towels. Feed them with grass hay and species-specific pellets. Guinea pigs should consume foods rich in vitamin C like kale, peppers, and parsley as they cannot produce this vitamin by themselves. If they don’t consume these foods, guinea pigs will develop a deficiency.
3. Small Rodents
If you have small children, it is not recommended to keep hamsters as hamsters tend to bite. Alternatively, mice and gerbils are friendlier and have less tendencies to bite. Hamsters should be housed individually. If not, fights with other hamsters will ensue. You can keep mice and gerbils in one enclosure. Female pairs are the safest cage mates because males may become aggressive.
Enclosure should be a wire cage with a solid floor and narrow spaces between the bars to prevent the rodents from escaping. Rodents need additional climbing surfaces and an exercise wheel. Bedding should be provided to satisfy their desire to bury food, dig, and tunnel. Bedding would also serve as a nesting material. Cardboard or shredded paper towels are good bedding materials.
Rats make the best pets for families with children. Rats are intelligent, clean animals that enjoy being housed together so it is best to purchase at least two rats of the same sex. A wire cage should be spacious enough to accommodate multiple climbing surfaces and room for exercise. Consider installing platforms at different heights and placing an exercise wheel.
Provide your rats with a nesting box and hang a hammock from the top of the cage. Pet rats consume commercially formulated pellets, as well as occasional treats of fresh fruit and vegetables. They also need to chew on wood blocks to prevent teeth overgrowth.
Veterinary Care for Pocket Pets/Small Mammals
Exotic pet veterinarians usually recommend an annual check-up for young, healthy pets and twice a year for geriatric pets, said Laurie Hess, DVM and Rick Axelson, DVM of VCA, an operator of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada. Your veterinarian will do a thorough physical examination to document your pet’s weight, activity level, diet, and general appearance.
A trip to the veterinarian’s office will also entail blood testing, which can include a complete blood count and serum biochemical profile. The latter examines various organ enzymes. Fecal analysis can be conducted to detect internal parasites, abnormal bacteria, or yeast. However, in some occasions, tests like bacterial culture and sensitivity of stool or nasal/eye discharge or skin scarping can be performed to identify any health complications in small mammals.
Your veterinarian can also examine your pet’s body for abnormalities in size, shape, as well as the position of body organs using x-rays. They will screen your pet for tumors granulomas and abnormal fluid accumulation and examine its bones and joints.
Do your homework before getting a pocket pet for your home. Pocket pets have different dietary needs unlike traditional domestic animals like dogs and cats. Small mammals also need veterinary care, so you might have to find an exotic pet veterinarian near your area and see what kind of services they offer.