Pocket pets such as hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas, hedgehogs and guinea pigs are small, appealing pets that adapt well to living in captivity. They each have their unique characteristics, and it is important to understand what they require to keep them healthy.
Hamsters do not need a lot of living space. Similar to other rodents, they have four incisor teeth that grow throughout their life, and they need to chew to keep these teeth worn down properly. A unique characteristic is the cheek pouches used to store and carry food which is located on each side of their face. When full, their faces take on a very round, cute appearance. With gentle handling, they can become tame, but they are known to bite and perhaps they are not the ideal choice of pocket pet for children.
Gerbils are friendly and rarely bite. They love to chew, and an exercise ball on a solid floor provides a great outlet for energy and enrichment. Like hamsters, gerbils should be fed a commercial pelleted diet with a small number of fresh veggies such as cabbage, kale or broccoli. Because gerbils are quick movers and like to jump, care should be taken when holding them.
Hedgehogs have quiet, odourless and non-destructive behaviour. They are active in the evenings like gerbils and hamsters, and they prefer dim, quiet environments. A hedgehog’s first defence is to roll up into a ball with the head and feet tucked in and quills protruding. Be prepared for the possibility of stinging fingers although some hedgehogs can be quite tame and will rarely roll-up. Hedgehogs are omnivores, and their varied diet consists of low-calorie cat food, veggies and an insect diet.
Chinchillas are fast and agile climbers and love to chew, including the baseboards of your home. They are one of the most affectionate rodents and most will like to cuddle. Unlimited timothy hay with a small amount of pelleted diet as well as limited greens are fed as part of their daily diet. Chinchillas have a long life span with some living as long as 15 to 20 years, so this must be part of the decision to purchase a chinchilla. Chinchillas bathe daily in the dust, and there is nothing cuter then observing them roll around in their dust bath.
Guinea pigs are the most popular rodent seen at our vet clinic. They are intelligent and quiet animals but be prepared to be entertained by the greetings of purrs, squeaks and whistles. Guinea pigs require a daily source of Vitamin C which can be found in a variety of vegetables and fruits or supplemented daily. Fresh grass hays must always be available with a limited amount of pellets. Ideally, guinea pigs are housed in pairs or more of the same sex.
Pocket pets can be a wonderful addition to your home. It’s important to take time to do some research to see which pet and the care they will require best fits your family.
Written by: Dr. Suzette Dibblee