Pocket pet choices and care
Special to the Tribune
The term “Pocket Pet” is used to describe 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 is not practical to provide space and care for a cat or dog.
Although some think of them as “beginner” pets for children, pocket pets are fragile due to their size, and they need special supervision. In return for less demand on time and space, they are just as sensitive and just as affectionate as any larger pet.
About 30 minutes of interaction a day and an enriched environment keeps a pocket pet active, mentally and physically healthy. 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.
The more pocket pets are handled, the tamer they stay. Because they are small, pocket pets can be startled and become fearful. They are approached slowly and awakened gently before being picked up. 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. To avoid dropping their pets, children should be taught to sit on the floor while they’re holding them.
Pocket pets do best with a sipper bottle hung from the side of the cage to avoid contamination from with bedding or droppings. 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.
– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director
of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA.
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