Written by: Leann Quire, Director of Shelter Operations, Humane Pennsylvania
When you think of an animal shelter do you envision cuddly kittens rolling on their backs while playing with toy mice? How about dogs pleading with their eyes through their kennel doors for you to adopt them? Of course that is what comes to mind! But what about a curious ferret who reaches out of the cage to grab your sleeve or an active hamster running on their wheel? Most people go to a pet store when they want to add something other than a cat or a dog to their family. In addition to dogs and cats, many shelters also help “pocket pets” which are smaller pet mammals like guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, mice, chinchillas, gerbils, ferrets, as well as other animals like birds and even reptiles! There are even rescue groups who specialize in these smaller furry and scaly animals. In honor of National Adopt a Guinea Pig Month we would like to talk about the wonderful animals looking for homes in animals shelters who sometimes don’t receive the spotlight.
Let’s start by talking about different types of small animal pets:
Hamsters are fun and active, but they are nocturnal so they might be best if you work longer days or are home at night time. Being independent creatures they enjoy running on wheels and climbing in tubes. Each hamster is unique, so you may have a hamster who enjoys being held or you may have one that rather be on its own. Hamsters typically can live up 2 or 3 years.
Rabbits are fun animals, but require more care than most people think. They should not live their lives in a small enclosed area. They can spend their time sleeping and resting in smaller pens, but they need room to run and play. Rabbits are intelligent and emotional creatures, so regular interactions or companionship is important. Rabbits also need to stay occupied or they can get into trouble by chewing on things they shouldn’t. Be prepared to provide appropriate items for them to chew on. On average, a domestic rabbit can life 8-12 years!
Mice and rats are very active and love to play, investigate, and move around their surroundings. Rats love social interactions and make great pets. Mice can be more difficult to hold, so they may not be a good choice if you are looking for a pet you want to cuddle and hold regularly. Mice and rats typically live a similar lifespan to hamsters at 2-3 years, but some rats in good health can live even longer.
There are many different kinds of birds and some can live as long as humans. They need appropriate space and can have very particular diets. Make sure you do ample research before taking on a pet bird if you have never had one before.
Ferrets are curious, mischievous, and smart! They can be litter boxed trained and act similar to a dog or cat with their training and interactions. They generally live 5-10 years.
Reptiles require special temperatures, diets, and enclosure needs. Be sure to research and talk with professionals before taking on a reptile.
Guinea pigs are very active and have big personalities! They prefer big cages they can run around freely, but also enjoy being able to hide in a small igloo or space that makes them feel safe when they are scared. Guinea pigs are also social animals and prefer to be with others of their own species, so it is best to get more than one guinea pig so they don’t become depressed. Guinea pigs are known to live approximately 4-8 years.
Education and Care
Research, research, research! There are so many different types of small mammals, birds, and reptiles you can adopt and each kind has specialized needs from their enclosures, diet, and enrichment.
Considering your lifestyle and sleep schedule is important before taking on any new pet. Some pocket pets are nocturnal and are most active at night. Other pocket pets are prey animals and by instinct are more prone to stress. Because of this you may need to make extra considerations on where the critter is housed and if any other animals in your home may cause extra stress for the critter. Changes in diet, loud noises, moving, and bringing in new animals can all cause stress.
Just like with cats and dogs, critters require veterinary care. It is always important to establish a relationship with a veterinarian if you have an animal as they require routine care and may need emergency medical assistance. If you are adopting a critter it is especially important to take the time to find a veterinarian in your area who specializes in caring for critters because not all veterinarians will see rabbits, guinea pigs, reptiles, birds, etc.
Enclosure and environment are extremely important for critters as they help them to stay safe. It is important to keep your animals enclosure cleaned regularly. Many people fail to clean critter enclosures as often as they should and this can cause serious and life-threatening medical issues. The size of the enclosure, temperature, lighting, and access to enrichment and toys are all important things to consider. There are many different critters, so if you are unsure of what type of enclosure you should get talk to an animal care professional and they will be happy to assist you.
One of the many benefits to adopting small animals is that the wonderful staff will educate you on what enclosure to purchase if one doesn’t come with the animal and how to properly care for them.
Pocket pets and other smaller critters can be fantastic pets, but they are different from cats and dogs. Take your time to research the specific needs of the animal you are considering adopting and remember that animal shelters and rescue staff are knowledgeable and happy to assist you if you are looking for information or resources. Just because these pets are typically smaller than cats and dogs doesn’t mean they require less care or can’t be loving and fun pets. Rats are very intelligent and can learn lots of tricks, ferrets can make your sides hurt from laughing at their mischievous antics, and guinea pigs can melt your heart with their cooing and excited squeals. Open your big heart to the small animals who are in shelters or rescues looking for homes.