Thinking of introducing a pocket pet into your family? Here are some important things to consider when bringing a small mammal into your home that differ from adopting a dog or cat:
1) Diet: Small mammals require very specific diets and each species of pocket pet has unique dietary needs. For example, rabbits eat a high fibre/low carbohydrate (no more than 2 tbsp pellets per day and occasional green leafy vegetables is ideal) diet and should have timothy hay available to them at all times, making up 90% of their daily intake. Guinea pigs are similar to rabbits, but it is also very important that they receive a daily supplement of vitamin C. In contrast, ferrets are carnivorous but also require a low carbohydrate diet. A high-quality ferret or feline kibble with a canned feline diet is ideal for them. Before introducing a pocket pet into your home, make sure to research their specific dietary needs!
2) Housing: Pocket pets are small, but they still require a lot of space (Syrian hamsters require a bare minimum of 450 square inches of floor space, and it just gets bigger from there!). Most pet store enclosures do not meet these requirements, but there are many DIY options available online (for example, "tote bins" are a great and affordable option for our hamster friends). The type of flooring in these enclosures is also important; avoid wire-based bottoms as these are often associated with a condition called pododermatitis or "bumblefoot". This goes for wire running wheels too! Many small mammals are also sensitive to certain types of bedding that are high in dust, particularly rats and hamsters. Paper based bedding is recommended. If using wood shavings, make sure it is aspen-based (not pine or cedar). Finally, the location of the enclosure itself needs to be considered. Avoid areas of the home such as the garage that will have higher amounts of dust. You also don't want the area to be too hot or cold and avoid exposure to strong cleaning products or scents.
3) Pairs: Many small mammals are social animals and require another member of their species in order to thrive. Guinea pigs, rabbits, rats and ferrets fit into this category. This does not apply to all small mammals however; for example, Syrian hamsters are solitary creatures and become very territorial as they mature. Housing them together can lead to significant injuries and even death. Remember to get two members of the same sex or to have your pets spayed or neutered to prevent accidental pregnancy.
4) Enrichment: Just like dogs and cats, small mammals need regular daily exercise for both their physical and their mental health. Providing plastic-based wheels is a must, as well as providing free-roam time - make sure the area is safe for them first! No wires, things to ingest or chew or holes to get into! This is particularly important for ferrets, as they are very curious! Many small mammals have teeth that continuously grow throughout their lifetime, so it is important to provide an array of appropriate chewing materials to avoid dental disease. Toys to play with are also a must - provide a variety and routinely change them up to prevent boredom. Finally, some small mammals require specific treatments, such as dust baths for chinchillas. Rats and hamsters like dry baths too, but avoid dust bath products and provide a sterilized sand product instead.
5) Expectation: it is important to also be aware that the normal lifespan of some pocket pets is significantly SHORTER than that of a dog or cat. This means that for some species, their natural lifespan may only be 2 or 3 years long! Therefore even after a year, they might already be prone to developing some underlying organ illness or even cancers.
6) Veterinary Care: routine bi-annual wellness examinations with one of our veterinarians are very important for pocket pets! Again, with some small mammals having a shorter lifespan, 6 months is actually a "long" period of time for them. Frequent check-ups allow our veterinarians to pick up on early underlying systemic disease as well as to discuss nutritional and husbandry care for your pocket pet to make sure their needs are being met.
As always, if you have any specific questions or concerns about your current or future small mammal do not hesitate to contact our team; we would love to hear from you!