Are you thinking of adding a small animal to your family? Often referred to as "pocket pets," there are many different options for smaller pets that vary in size, needs, and personality. How do you choose the perfect pet for your family? Today we're going to break down some key factors that you should consider when choosing the best small animal for you and your home.
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So you've decided it's time to add another member to your family? Congratulations!
Adopting a new pet, regardless of size, is always an exciting time.
But it can also be incredibly overwhelming! From choosing the best small animal for you to purchasing all of the equipment you need … there's a lot to consider.
Unfortunately I cannot give you a "magic answer".
There is no single answer to which pet is best. It will be different for every family.
However, there are a few factors that will help you decide which small animal will best fit your family, home, and lifestyle.
This includes the space you work with, the time you have, whether or not you are looking for a pet to handle and cuddle with, and much more.
Don't forget that it's about the FAMILY, not just YOU.
For example, if you share your home with a child, this should also be considered!
Let's take a look at some of the most common "pocket pets," including the benefits and potential challenges associated with each of them.
Reading through this will help you narrow down what best fits your individual circumstances.
Use this guide to choose the best small animal for you and your home
I want to start with hamsters as they are arguably the most popular and common pets.
While they are low maintenance and only occupy a relatively small area compared to some of the other options on the list, they may not be suitable for every home.
Hamsters are generally good at self-entertaining as they have a living space that includes everything they need, including tubing, a variety of toys, and an exercise bike.
However, they can also be socialized with a little patience so that they can be held and petted.
This means they are a great option for those who may work late but still want to enjoy a little company when they get home.
When there are young children at home, a hamster may seem ideal at first. However, there are a few concerns that you need to be aware of.
Hamsters are relatively fragile due to their small size, which means that if handled too roughly, they can be easily injured.
Young children can be taught to be gentle with pets. However, they are still kids, and mistakes can easily occur in the blink of an eye.
Hamsters are also nocturnal animals. You are likely to be most active while your child is sleeping.
If you're looking for a pet that your child can play and bond with all day long, you may want to look further.
Finally, it should be noted that while hamsters are one of the cheapest pets on the list, they also have one of the shortest lifespans.
There are several types, each with slightly different expected lifetimes.
That being said, the average hamster will live around 2-3 years.
Related: "DIY Frozen Vegetable Treats for Guinea Pigs"
Mice & rats
Although they often get a bad rap, mice and rats can make great pets.
That being said, you need to be honest with yourself. If they make you or your family squeamish, check out the other options on the list.
Mice and rats are both highly active and playful pets.
Because of this, they need a cage with enough space to run and play, including toys, tunnels, climbing ropes, and other forms of entertainment.
Your cage should have multiple levels so that they have more space to explore.
Mice are often skeptical about being treated first, but with time and patience, they can enjoy being held on.
That being said, they're also small and fast, which means it could be difficult for young children.
Rats, on the other hand, love social interaction and thrive best in a home with regular attention.
If you work long hours or are often away from home and therefore away from your pet, these may not be the best option.
Without regular attention, they can become depressed.
Their lifespan depends on the species, with many different options available.
The Common Rat lives an average of 2 to 4 years, while the Fancy Mouse has a shorter lifespan of around 1 to 3 years.
Gerbils are another active pet and are known for their high energy levels.
They're relatively easy to care for compared to many of the other pets on the list, but not too practical.
While they can be trained to be held, they are fast and their energy keeps them from wanting to be held for too long.
They'll be pretty happy in a smaller living space than some of the other pets, as long as there is room to move around and the ability to burn off their energy like an exercise bike.
Be sure to buy a gerbil-friendly wheel as the standard wire hamster wheels can cause tail injuries.
Gerbils do best in groups of 2-4. Therefore, if you are planning on bringing a gerbil into your home, consider committing to several.
If you are often away from home for hours, they make great pets.
When kept in a group, they are fairly content to be left on their own in their cage for an extended period of time.
However, they are very sensitive to moisture and should not be kept in a damp environment.
If you are looking for a cute, gentle pet that can be handled easily by children (with supervision, of course), the guinea pig should be on your list.
Guinea pigs are friendly animals who enjoy the attention of their new family.
However, they also get lonely (which can lead to depression) easily. For this reason, it is generally recommended that you consider a second guinea pig as a companion.
When bringing home a guinea pig, you need to give your new pet a lot more room to roam than the other options up to this point.
They also require more exercise since they cannot safely use an exercise bike like the smaller rodents listed (exercise bikes can injure your guinea pig's back and / or legs).
Unlike many other small animals, guinea pigs show their emotions in ways that you and your family can sense.
Getting to know your pet can help you determine if they are feeling happy, sad, or angry.
They're also more talkative than many of the animals on the list, and communicate using a variety of different sounds.
If you have a child who is interested in connecting with their pet, this is a great opportunity.
Your guinea pig would require a balanced diet of fresh hay and vegetables.
Unlike some of their smaller counterparts, guinea pigs are a little messier, which means you'll need to clean your pet's cage more often.
Even if you keep their cage immaculate, they have a smell.
The average lifespan of a guinea pig is slightly longer, with the average guinea pig living for 5 to 7 years.
Related: "How To Care For Rabbit Teeth"
Rabbits are a popular pet and are often considered a great starter pet for kids.
However, they are not the "simple, low-maintenance" pet for which they are often marketed.
Rabbits are masters of hiding when they are sick, which means you need to read up on the most common rabbit diseases, as well as the signs that they are not doing well.
Rabbits are like cats in that some like to be treated, some don't like to be carried at all, and many are somewhere in between depending on the moment.
This can be difficult for a child to understand as they are comfortable in one moment and not the next.
They are very active and social animals and enjoy exploring their surroundings.
Another way they are like cats is that they can be trained to litter. This means you can allow your rabbit to roam your home without much clutter.
Make sure you do some serious rabbit proofs before giving your rabbit access to any room as they love to chew!
With a wide variety of different breeds, their size and lifespan vary significantly, and they live anywhere from 5 to 10 years on average.
Dwarf breeds can weigh as little as 2 pounds. fully grown, while larger breeds could weigh up to 15 pounds.
Your rabbit will need a large room to call home. This could be a large cage or apartment, a practice pen, or even full access to a rabbit-safe space.
Make sure you provide them with an enclosed space to sleep and rest in, as well as plenty of space to run and play.
They are happiest and most thriving when kept together with a companion.
WARNING: Ferrets have been made illegal in some regions of the world, including some US states. Take some time to research local laws in your area.
Very curious and mischievous, living with a ferret is never boring.
They are incredibly intelligent and have a penchant for anything unless you have completely ferret-proof your house.
Ferrets are very social animals that live best in pairs or in groups.
At the same time, they can be temperamental when dealing with children, especially visitors they are unfamiliar with.
Because of this, they might not be the best choice when you have an active household with lots of people coming and going.
Your ferret will need a "home base" like a wire cage, but shouldn't be included.
They are happiest when given the freedom to run the house.
Ferrets, similar to cats and dogs, need to be trained to avoid destructive behavior or other behavioral problems.
They are very pet friendly, which means that they don't like being home alone for long periods of time each day.
If you are looking for a pet to play with and keep busy with, they are a great choice!
However, ferrets have a distinct odor no matter how clean you work to keep them.
The average ferret lives between 5 and 8 years of age.
WARNING: Chinchillas are also considered "exotic" pets and are therefore not legal in some regions of the world. Take some time to research local laws in your area.
The first thing to note is that the average chinchilla has a much longer lifespan than any other animal on this list and is roughly 15 to 20 years old.
Think carefully about where you want to be 15 years later to make sure you are ready to commit for the long term.
Chinchillas are gentle and intelligent pets who interact with each other regularly (in their spare time).
They are not interested in being held and cuddled. Instead, they enjoy the freedom to roam your house and come back to you when they feel like it.
Because of this, they are not recommended for homes with younger children.
If you are looking for a low maintenance pet, you may want to look further.
Chinchillas are complex pets and have very specific grooming needs.
They require very specific diets as too many treats can have serious health consequences.
Male chinchillas are happiest when there are two of them, but they are prone to depression when their cage mate dies, which can be serious.
Female chinchillas are more aggressive and are content with being one single pet.
Their soft fur is beautiful to look at, but requires special care. You will need a dust bath about 2-3 times a week.
Finally, you need to consider the space needed for a suitable cage as it requires a large, multi-level habitat.
Chinchillas are chewers, which means they can destroy anything plastic. To avoid unnecessary problems, they should be placed in a metal / wire cage instead.
They are nocturnal animals, so they should be given a safe and quiet place to rest during the day.
Related: "Easy to Make DIY Ferret Toys and Accessories"
WARNING: Like ferrets and chinchillas, there are some areas of the world where it is illegal to own a hedgehog. Take some time to research local laws in your area.
Hedgehogs are unique and adorable pets, but they require more active grooming than many of the other pets on this list.
They are also more prone to health concerns.
They live an average of 5 to 7 years, but that can come with higher vet bills along the way.
If you're looking for a pet that can be handled, you need to start young and stick to your socialization efforts.
They need to be treated daily to avoid relapsing into bad habits (like biting).
As with the other pets at the bottom of this list, hedgehogs need a large enough habitat to explore.
They also need to exercise outside their cage daily to avoid obesity issues (a common problem according to veterinarians).
They are well-known escape artists. Therefore, pay attention to the clearances in the beams of your cage to ensure that they cannot slip out.
Hedgehogs are sensitive to their environment, which means you need to consider all the details of their habitat.
The ideal temperature and lighting must be maintained to avoid unnecessary health complications.
Have you ever owned one of the pets listed above? If so, I'd love to hear all about it in the comments!
How did you choose the best small pet for you and your family?