Hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, and rodents all fall under the category of (very cute!) pocket pets - but how do you know if a pocket pet is right for you? And if they are, which one?'
While it may seem like the ideal option for areas or homes where there isn’t space for larger animals, caring for them is not a one size fits all approach, and each has it's own individual needs regarding safety, comfort, and optimal health.
Before you decide to take home a pocket pet, here are 9 things you you should consider:
What Type of Housing Do Pocket Pets Need?
Not only does your pocket pet need suitable living quarters, they also need you to provide them an environment that is safe and has the space and tools they need to go about their normal daily activities.
- Cage size - the bigger the cage, the better it is. However, rabbits prefer an an oversized pen or even free-roaming indoors.
- Bedding - comfortable and safe bedding like paper-based, aspen shavings, or fleece liners. Use a litter box with hay or paper-based litter if you have a rabbit.
- Provide exercise wheels, tunnels, chewing toys, and hiding places galore! Rabbits and guinea pigs love chewing fresh hay, so make sure to provide them with plenty of it.
What Should You Feed Your Pocket Pet, and How Often?
Keeping your pocket pets well nourished will keep them healthy and active - but they also have some interesting nutritional requirements too.
- Rabbits - The major portion of a rabbit's diet consists of grass hay. However, as an occasional treat, you can feed them green leafy vegetables (parsley, kale) and fruits like carrots, strawberries, and apples. To ensure they get essential nutrients, you can also feed them high-quality rabbit pellets. The recommended daily consumption is based on the body weight of the rabbit, so check the packaging before feeding.
- Hamsters - Look for high-quality hamster food containing a mixture of seeds, grains, and protein. You can also feed them fresh vegetables (carrot, cucumber), fruits (banana, apple), and cooked eggs in small amounts occasionally.
- Guinea Pigs - Like rabbits, guinea pigs need plenty of hay in addition to vegetables (leafy greens, bell peppers) and small portions of fruits (oranges, strawberries). Vets recommend you also feed them 1/8 cup of pellets daily to keep your guinea pigs healthy.
- Rodents - High-quality commercial food in the correct amounts along with a small amount of fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and grains will fulfil the nutritional requirements of a common rodent!
How Do You Handle a Pocket Pet?
Taming or handling a shy pocket pet needs consistency and patience. Here’s a couple of ideas to help you make your pocket pet feel comfortable in its new home.
- Create a safe environment away from disturbances.
- To help them feel secure you can provide hiding spots (like tunnels!) in their cage. These will also serve as safe havens for them during stressful times.
- Always approach them slowly while offering treats or food so they don’t get scared, and use positive reinforcement techniques.
- Avoid sudden movements and get them used to the scent and sight of your hand. If you do need to grab them to prevent accidents or escapes, use both hands with a firm grip.
What health issues should you be aware of, and how do you prevent them?
Diarrhoea, obesity, respiratory infections, dental problems, and tumours are common in pocket pets. Guinea pigs can also suffer from vitamin C deficiency as they can't produce it on their own. To lessen the chance of your pet suffering from ill-health, try implementing these preventive measures:
- Maintain a clean environment - this will prevent infections and bacterial growth.
- Feed them balanced meals - a nutritious diet will prevent dietary related health issues.
- Monitor your pet - identifying any changes in habits and quickly responding may prevent long term health issues.
- Visit the vet - regularly take your pet pocket to the vet for health check-ups.
How do you provide mental stimulation and exercise?
Mental stimulation and exercise are very important for the well-being of your pocket pets. Here's how you can keep them mentally and physically active:
- Hamsters and rodents love running in exercise balls or on wheels. They come in many sizes, so make sure you chose the correct one for your pocket pet!
- Tubes or mazes of tunnels can also provide your pocket pets places to run and explore.
- Provide them plenty of safe chew toys and wooden blocks to keep them entertained and engaged.
- Use simple tricks or positive reinforcement training to keep them mentally active. This will also strengthen your bond with them.
- Lastly, Petting them gently will build trust and provide social stimulation.
What is the lifespan of your pocket pet?
Here's what we think is the most important thing to consider - with some pocket pet's lifespans generally much shorter than their larger pet counterparts. Here are the average lifespans of the most common pocket pets:
- Hamster - Syrian hamsters' average lifespan is 2 to 3 years. However, dwarf hamsters only live up to 1.5 to 2 years.
- Rodents - The lifespan of rodents may vary, with mice's lifespan around 1.5 to 2 years, rats' lifespan around 2 to 3 years, and gerbils' lifespan around 2 to 4 years.
- Rabbits - depending upon the breed, rabbits live up to 8 to 12 years or even longer.
- Guinea Pigs - the lifespan of Guinea pigs is generally 8 years if proper care is provided.
Are there specific grooming needs?
Different pocket pets have different grooming requirements.
- Brushing - If your pocket pet has long fur make sure you regularly brush it to prevent mats and tangles and remove loose hair.
- Nails - Trim nails regularly to prevent overgrowth, which can cause discomfort and mobility issues.
- Teeth - Provide chewing items to help wear down growing teeth and prevent dental problems.
- Diet – A balanced diet contributes to healthy fur and skin.
Compared to other pocket pets, rodents have minimal grooming requirements as they groom themselves.
Can you keep multiple pocket pets together?
Pocket pets may be small but they don’t always like to share their space. Generally, guinea pigs and rodents can co-exist without problem, but that's not always the case with other species due to predatory and territorial behaviours. Mice and gerbils can be housed together but females are best as caged males may become aggressive.
If you bring new pocket pets home, keep them in separate enclosures to observe their behaviour for a few weeks. When introducing them, use a neutral space (such as a playpen or bathroom) and supervise the interaction closely. Then, gradually introduce them in short supervised sessions in the shared enclosure.
How often should they be checked by a vet?
Just like larger pets, pocket pets need regular veterinary visits to address health concerns and take on-time preventive measures.We recommend a visit your vet at least once a year for dental examinations, vaccinations, and general health check-ups. If you notice your pet has had a change in eating habits or is less active, don't wait for your checkup and instead seek the advice of your vet immediately.
Because many pockets pets age so quickly, they could be considered senior very early in your relationship with them. Giving them the correct care and attention will keep your pocket pet healthy and happy, enriching your life with all the joy pet ownership is known to provide.
If you are unsure what pocket pet is right for you and what you need to do to ensure it lives a happy heathy life, you can always have a chat with your vet care professional!