Pocket Pets

March is adopt a rescue Guinea Pig month. In honor of this, I will be discussing Guinea Pigs and a few other pocket pets.

There are a few things that, regardless of which pocket pet you choose, all require the same care requirements.

  • Never use cedar chips! It is harmful to them.
  • Don’t use a cage with a wired floor.
  • Always purchase fresh food.
  • Provide plenty of fresh water – more than what you think they will drink. Most do well using a water bottle.
  • A food dish that can’t be easily tipped over.
  • Provide them with something to chew on to prevent overgrown teeth – untreated wooden chew sticks, toilet or paper towel rolls.
  • Pocket pets were prey species and they thrive in an area that allows them somewhere to hide away from everyone.
  • Most pocket pets require some type of vitamin supplement – make sure the supplement is made specifically for the pocket pet you own.
  • Some pocket pets such as hamsters are nocturnal. Meaning they are most active at night.
  • If someone in the household has allergies or asthma, pocket pets are not a good option due to most of them require hay in their diet.

Here is a very brief discussion on history, care requirements and health concerns.

Guinea Pigs – Guinea Pigs have been in people’s lives since the Inca Empire. Although, they were used as a food source during the Inca Empire and are still used as such in South America today. Pet Guinea Pigs have an average lifespan of about 5 years. Each guinea pig requires at least 2 square feet of cage space. Some guinea pigs do well living with another one but keep a watchful eye to make sure one isn’t bullying or stressing out the other and not allowing it to eat. We recommend a hay rack for leafy greens, hay and grass to keep it clean and fresh.  Your pig will need a commercial brand guinea pig food, hay and room temperature leafy green vegetables. Fresh fruits like kiwi, oranges, grapes, strawberries, peaches, apricots and melons can be given as a treat.

There are some foods that are harmful if given to your guinea pig. Avoid spinach, peanuts, beet tops, potatoes, iceberg lettuce, onions, garlic, cabbage and broccoli.

Common health issues that guinea pigs can have are: inflamed feet, pneumonia, urinary stones, gastrointestinal problems, pink-eye, cataracts, overgrown teeth and heatstroke (can occur with temperatures above 75 degrees).

Mice and Rats – The term Fancy Mice or Fancy Rats refers to unusually colourations patterns in their fur. Fancy mice became popular pets in 18th century Japan. Fancy rats became popular in Victorian England. Mice and rats average lifespan is 2-3 years. Both mice and rats need to have a chew proof cage that is at least 24”x 12” x 12”. They need paper towels, napkins, hay or straw for nesting. Mice and Rats are very smart and need an exercise wheel and toys to keep from being bored. They will need to eat commercial mice or rat food. Fresh foods like sweet potatoes, tomatoes, apples, corn, broccoli and many others can be included into their diet.

Common health issues for mice and rats include: abscesses, ear infections, eye infections, greasy yellow scaly areas, hairloss, heat stroke, overgrown teeth, respiratory infections, ringtail, and tumors.

Hamsters – Hamsters gained popularity in the 1930’s. Their average lifespan is about 1-3 years. Cages needs to be at least 15 inches long by 12 inches high. Hamsters need bedding in their cage to burrow. Toys such as an exercise wheel, ramps, and tunnels are needed for your hamster to exercise and explore. A diet of Hamster pellets or mixed seeds and grain is a good starting point. Acceptable treats include fresh foods like acorns, apples, bananas, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, zucchini, cucumbers, grapes, kale, oranges, peas, spinach, sweet potatoes, and turnips.

Hamster’s common health issues include: cheek pouch injuries, abscesses, dental issues, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, fungal infections and heatstroke.

Gerbils – Gerbils became popular to own in 1964. Gerbils can live between 2-8 years. Gerbils love to play, burrow, climb, and explore so tunnels, tubes, branches, ramps and an exercise wheel make exciting additions to their cage. You can use commercial Gerbil food as a primary food source. Fresh fruits and veggies can be used as treats. Gerbil’s like carrots, celery, peas, cucumbers, string beans, grapes, apples, pears, cooked potato, raisins, bananas, and plain popcorn.

Avoid spinach, lettuce and citrus fruits since some can be harmful to gerbils.

There are several common health issues that gerbils can have such as: Allergies, dental issues, tail issues, dehydration, ear infections, head injury, heat stroke, hypothermia, mites, poisoning, respiratory infections, seizures, strokes and tumors.

MVVS recommends bringing your pocket pet in for annual check ups to make sure they are at their healthiest. Dr. Amy Hinton would be more than happy to give them a clean bill of health.


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