We live in a world of options. Take coffee, for example- with or without cream and sugar or flavored syrup? How about espresso, or cappuccino? We also have several options when it comes to pets. Nearly everyone is familiar with the notion of keeping a cat or dog as a companion animal. A plethora of other friends- furry, feathered, and scaled- are available to bring joy to your life. Where can these creatures be found? Your local animal shelter or rescue group, of course!
Birds make beautiful and entertaining pets. If you are looking for one to sit on your shoulder, maybe say a few words or mimic whistles, consider a cockatiel. If you are more interested in the delightful sights and sounds of birds but aren’t looking for as much interaction, consider a pair of zebra finches. Companion birds are not simply different breeds, like dogs, but different species. Be sure to study up on whichever variety you choose. Like all other pets, birds need medical care, daily maintenance, and enrichment. They also have specific environmental needs regarding temperatures and cage design preferences. Many of the smaller companion bird varieties have lifespans of 10 to 20 years. Larger birds, like African Greys and Macaws, can live much longer lives and require a much larger investment of time, money, and planning.
Guinea pigs, contrary to their names, are actually rodents. These little creatures are generally quiet pets, though they do tend to make happy squeals and “purrs” when greeting a beloved human or in anticipation of a favorite treat. Guineas typically live five to seven years and can be housed singly or, with caution and proper introduction, in pairs. Beware of placing two unfixed pigs of opposite gender together- they multiply in the blink of an eye! Guinea pigs are entertaining, social pets who enjoy play time, being brushed, and can even be taught to use a litter box with enough time and patience. Like birds, guineas don’t tolerate extreme temperatures well and have specific housing needs, like not having wire bottomed cages as these are harmful to their feet.
Rats have a lengthy history alongside humans, most of which is unpleasant. From their part in the bubonic plague of the middle ages (the fleas that feasted on the rats were the true culprits) to the objectified life in the laboratory conditions of modern science, rats have only recently been seriously looked upon as possible companions. As it turns out, these little creatures make terrific pets. They are social, intelligent, and fairly easy to care for. They are omnivores who appreciate a variety of foods and treats, live about two years, and can be trained to perform various tricks. Like many other small animals, rats spend a good portion of their days grooming themselves. The undeniable odors come from soiled bedding and can be tamed with daily cleaning and appropriate bedding materials.
Hedgehogs hail from Africa and Southern Europe. These creatures may remind one of tiny porcupines as they are also covered in quills. When a hedgie feels threatened, he can roll into a ball and extend his sharp coat of spines. Living four to six (and sometimes up to 10) years, these nocturnal pets can eat quality cat food, a variety of produce, and enjoy treats of mealworms or crickets. Though these cuties can be social with humans, they are not very huggable (this can be painful to the human) and prefer solitary housing.
A nearly endless variety of reptiles and arachnids have made their way into the world of being kept as pets. These creatures can be very amusing and provide a great deal of companionship for the right person. Different species have very different needs, from the type of enclosure they are kept in to the temperature and humidity of their environment to their diets, some of which are comprised of other animals. If you are interested in having a reptile, spend some time researching them to find an animal that is a good match for your lifestyle.
Keeping a small animal as a pet can be a very rewarding experience. Most have not been companions to humans for long, so there are still many behaviors that we don’t understand yet. Discovering the world of another species can be part of the magic of keeping a pet. Each individual critter has its own personality and quirks, just like you. Consider the source of your pet, shop around for a veterinarian familiar with the species, and do a little research before choosing your new companion. These steps will help to ensure a long and fulfilling friendship for you both.