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“Pocket Pets”-  little joys and big responsibility
By: Michelle Ferrera, DVM

Wander into any local pet store and you’ll likely find an array of cute little “pocket pets”.  “Pocket pets” is a term used to describe an array of small mammals which are kept as pets.  These pint-sized pets are creatures such as mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, ferrets, rabbits, hedgehogs and chinchillas.  These pets have gained immense popularity due to their size, demeanor, and ease of housing.  Many parents allow their children to have a ‘pocket pet’ before a larger pet, as pocket pets can teach children valuable lessons regarding responsibility and husbandry.   It is important to do some research, however, before purchasing a small mammal, so that you can be prepared for the needs and care of the pet. There is a lot of responsibility that comes with pet ownership, even when the pet is tiny! 

Although small, each of these pets has very specific housing, care, and food requirements. 

For example, with proper care and attention, rabbits can make lovely housepets. .   They can be neutered to prevent some types of objectionable behavior and improve health of the animal long-term.  They can be trained to urinate in a litterbox and have outgoing, curious personalities that their owners love.  They have very specific dietary needs, however, and the improper diet can lead quickly to severe dental disease and gastrointestinal problems.  Even the wrong type of hay fed to a rabbit can cause serious health issues!  Do not rely solely on recommendations of a pet store clerk or internet regarding food choice and  bedding- there is a lot of misinformation available that can harm the health of your pet.

Selecting your pet properly will prevent many problems.  Make sure that you purchase your pet from a reputable source.  Be sure to note if there is odor to the enclosure, see if the water source is fresh and clean.  Also, it is often a good idea to purchase the pocket pet while young. This allows the pet to become accustomed to human interaction while still young and impressionable.  Many older pocket pets have not been socialized properly and thus may be more likely to bite or to hide from humans.

Routine veterinary care is important even for pocket pets.  You will want to select a veterinarian who is comfortable treating your specific species of pocket pet.  We recommend routine wellness exams for pocket pets.  These exams can identify problems such as dental disease early, while still treatable.  These wellness exams are also a great time to discuss the proper food and housing for your pocket pet, which vary widely from species to species.  Your veterinary care team will direct you toward resources for appropriate care of your small pet, and help you to enjoy the best relationship possible with your new family member.

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