Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

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September 11, 2012
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Pet column: Small pets offer big affection

The term "pocket pet" describes small domesticated animals, usually of the rodent family, such as rats, hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs. These cute, furry and entertaining mammals can be delightful companions when it's not practical to provide space for a cat or dog. In return for less demand on time and space, they are just as sensitive and just as affectionate as any larger pet.

The more pocket pets are handled, the tamer they stay. It's best to always approach pocket pets slowly, awakening them gently when asleep. Hamsters and gerbils are held in the palm of cupped hands. Guinea pigs and rats are lifted up with one hand wrapped around the shoulders and one hand supporting the back of the body. Since pocket pets are fragile because of their size, children must be supervised when around them. To avoid dropping them, children should be taught to sit on the floor while they're holding small pets.

About 30 minutes of daily interaction and an enriched environment keeps a pocket pet active and mentally and physically healthy. They can be taught tricks. A small "hide box," tube, or other enclosed area provides a sense of safety and comfort. Plastic tunnels, wheels, hollow rolling balls with latching lids, and other specially designed and readily available toys create exercise gyms. Safe toys are made out of metal or durable plastic so they can't be chewed and swallowed. Rodent teeth grow continuously. Constant chewing naturally files teeth down. Rodent chewing blocks are made out of wood or very dense pressed plant fibers.

Pocket pets do best with a sipper bottle hung from the side of the cage. The sipper tube should be made out of metal or heavy plastic so that it can't be chewed or shattered. Fresh, high-quality commercial pellets or feed blocks designed for each species of pet provide the most complete nutrition. Pellets are made from seeds and grains ground together in the right proportion to provide the proper protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Seed mixes do not make good staple diets. Healthy treats are supplements of fresh fruits and vegetables three to five times per week. Different pets have different nutritional needs. Guinea pigs, like humans, lack the enzyme that produces vitamin C. They need vitamin C from fresh fruits and vegetables like kiwi fruit, tomatoes, oranges, carrots, broccoli, and kale. A vitamin C supplement can be added to water.

Big love comes in a small package. Pick a pocket pet companion from this popular list:

Rat: Intelligent. Said to bond like a dog. Clean, quiet, social with each other, gentle. Active in the evening and at night. Best if two same sex are kept together. Minimum 14-inch-by-24-inch-by-12-inch cage per single pet. Life span of two to three years.

Hamster: A variety of beautiful, short to long coats. Solitary, aggressive to each other. Active at night. Minimum 150-square-inch-by-10-inch high metal cage with lid. Life span of two to three years.

Gerbil: Quick, active day and night. Friendly, curious, social with each other. Low odor, minimum waste. Minimum 180-square-inch-by-6-inch high cage per pair. Life span of three to five years.

Guinea pig: Purebred for show as well as cross bred. Need calm environment. Like to run and chase. Talks with chirp, purr, squeak and whistle. Minimum 1-foot-by-2-foot cage. Life span of five to eight years.

- Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and S.P.C.A. to help "Keep Tahoe Kind." Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Sep 11, 2012 05:27PM Published Sep 11, 2012 05:25PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.