by Julia Bockwinkel
The original definition was meant to include any of the small rodents which were kept as pets and could fit in your pocket, but the definition has expanded to include a few critters who do not easily fit in your pockets. Rats, mice, rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, chinchillas, guinea pigs, hedgehogs, sugar gliders and more are included in this fascinating group of pets. Approximately 5% of all pet owners surveyed had pocket pets, and frequently more than one (or even more than five).
Most pocket pets are housed in a cage of some sort which means that all their needs must be met by their people caretakers. They will have no escape from a hot or wet or urine or feces filled area. You will be responsible for providing a safe, clean and healthy place for them to live in. This is very important! A cage left in the sun, a water bottle that leaks, litter filled with ammonia from the urine, etc. can all be deadly. Please take your responsibility seriously. Provide an environment appropriate for that particular animal. Know the temperature ranges which are comfortable for them, know if they are burrowers (they need a place to hide which simulates a burrow, dark and cozy), know what they eat and if they have special dietary needs (guinea pigs need vitamin C), know their behavioral patterns and what is normal or abnormal, know their main health problems and what to do if they get sick, provide mental stimulation (toys, running wheels, etc.) when appropriate for their mental health, know what to do if they escape, control noise levels near them, drafts, heat or cold and if dietary changes must be made, make them slowly.
All these terms refer to when an animal is usually active. Nocturnal refers to main activity times at night, diurnal during the day and crepuscular during the transition periods of dawn and dusk. Knowing this could help you enjoy your pocket pet. A nocturnal creature may not be the best choice for living in your bedroom at night when you are trying to sleep and your friend is trying to train for a marathon by running on itís wheel for hours on end. If the pet is meant for a child, having a pet awake when you are has advantages.
Are they really happier in pairs? or in a group? or alone? This is actually a really important question to answer. A female hamster may actually kill a male hamster if he is new to her and she is not sexually receptive to him. Know the what is normal, how they live best and try your best to provide them with what they need.
All food supplied to the pocket pets should be as fresh as possible (check the milling date, should be less than 2 months old). This is especially important for guinea pigs (vitamin C). Do not feed rabbit food to guinea pigs or chinchilla food to rabbits, etc! Feed them the appropriate food for their species! Try to buy from a store with a high turnover of food, not a store where the food could be old. Goodies are okay as long as they do not constitute more than 10% of their diet and are appropriate for them, clean and pesticide free. Water should be available at all times and fresh daily, more often if the water becomes dirty. Watch out for guinea pigs, they can spit in their water bottle and make a nice mix of water and food pellets.
Pocket pets can be fun, affectionate and good companions if treated well and appropriately for who they are. They can make great pets for young, old and college students in small living spaces themselves. Learn as much as possible about your friend and you both will be happier, enjoy!
Each "Pocket Pet" animal facts page is divided into the following sections: