Purchasing a small animal can be the perfect alternative for anyone looking for companionship without the responsibility associated with cats or dogs. Additionally, children can benefit greatly by caring for a small pet and learning about responsibility at a fraction of the cost for a new puppy or kitten. Listed below is a breakdown of common small pets and the care required.
Care: Rats and mice are cleanly, low-maintenance pets that are easy to care for. Rats can be potty trained to only use one corner of a cage while mice generally cannot. Their cages require weekly cleaning, and they bond readily with humans.
Intelligence: Rats are extremely intelligent while mice have average intelligence.
Lifespan: Approximately 2 years
Special Considerations: Mice do not require the same socialization as rats. Mice are generally happy to remain in their cage while rats should be provided with direct human interaction outside of the cage for at least one hour per day.
Care: Guinea pigs require social interaction and time spent outside of their cage daily. They also require regular grooming, exercise, and have special environmental needs, such as a box to hide in, clean bedding, high-quality food pellets, and daily access to Timothy hay. A guinea pig cage should be cleaned at least once a week.
Intelligence: Highly intelligent; learn best when 9 – 10 months old
Lifespan: 5 – 6 years
Special Requirements: Guinea pigs are social animals and often do better in pairs.
Care: Ferrets are active animals that require plenty of social interaction and time spent outside of their cage. A minimum of four hours is recommended: two hours with their humans, and two hours spent exploring on their own. Due to their curious nature, a house should be “ferret-proofed” to avoid accidents. Ferrets have similar grooming requirements as dogs, and require regular baths, ear cleanings, nail clippings, and dental care.
Intelligence: Highly intelligent and curious
Lifespan:7 – 10 years
Special Requirements: Ferrets should see a veterinarian that specializes in ferret care since these animals are prone to certain species-specific diseases.
Care: Rabbits can be kept as indoor or outdoor pets, although house rabbits are becoming increasingly common. A house rabbit requires a large crate, such as a dog kennel, and plenty of exercise (30 hours per week outside of the crate is recommended). Rabbits have minimal grooming requirements and can be litter boxed trained.
Intelligence: Each has a unique personality and intelligence, similar to cats and dogs
Lifespan: 7 – 10 years
Special Requirements: Rabbits have teeth that continue to grow throughout their entire lives and therefore chewing is a necessity. Rabbit-proofing the house to keep him or her from chewing on wires is required.
Care: Birds require a large cage (the biggest you can afford) as well as plenty of playtime and mental stimulation. As social animals, having more than one bird is recommended. Given the bird’s nature, it is also recommended that they be provided as much out-of-cage time as possible. Of all the small pets, birds are considered the most high-maintenance.
Intelligence: Extremely intelligent
Lifespan: 10 – 50 years, depending on species
Special Requirements: Birds communicate both verbally and nonverbally, so learning bird body language is important if planning to keep one as a pet.