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September 16, 2020

Considering a New Pet? The Surprising Joys of “Thinking Small”

A Beginner’s Guide to Small Pets 

woman holding rabbit

What is an “Exotic” Pet?

The term “exotics” is used commonly in the veterinary and animal communities as a broad stroke definition for pet species other than dogs and cats.  In reality, this term can apply to many different species, all with uniquely different personalities and needs when it comes to key areas such as nutrition, housing, and care.  Some of the more common exotic species kept as pets include rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, hamsters, gerbils, rats, and mice, but there are many more.       

Why Should I Consider an Exotic Pet?

For prospective pet parents, there are many reasons to consider exotic pets when it comes to your family’s newest potential addition.  The list of reasons you might decide a small exotic pet is the right fit for your family is almost endless, but here are a few of the top reasons you might decide a small exotic animal is right for you:

Small Pets are Intelligent and Affectionate

Much like dogs and cats, many small animals are incredibly intelligent and affectionate.  Many species love to play, explore, and even cuddle – just like their more commonly domesticated counterparts.  With this in mind, it’s always important to remember that every species is unique with key instinctual behaviors they never completely lose in a domesticated setting.  For example, rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small animals are prey species by nature and are likely to be more sensitive to perceived threats within their environment.      

With Proper Nutrition and Care, Many Small Pets Will Live a Long and Healthy Life

For many years, there has been a sad misconception that small pets aren’t likely to live long, healthy lives.  Thanks to increased popularity and considerable improvements in nutrition, care, and education, this myth isn’t nearly as persistent as it once was.  In reality, certain species of small exotics (such as rabbits and chinchillas) can live ten years or longer when fed and cared for properly.  Other species, such as rats, hamsters, and gerbils, do have shorter lifespans, but this doesn’t diminish the joy they can bring into the lives of their caretakers.    

A Small Pet Might Be the Best Fit for Your Family

Dogs and cats are amazing animals, but they’re not always the right fit for every family.  For example, maybe you don’t have the kind of big backyard or acreage that dogs need in order to explore and thrive.  Or, maybe someone in your family is allergic to the family cat you had as a child.  Whatever the reason may be, many pet parents have discovered that their small animal is the perfect fit for their family.   

Exotics Have Unique & Interesting Personalities

If you’ve ever owned a dog or cat, you know there’s nothing better than when they joyfully express their emotions and unique personalities.  When it comes to big personalities, small pets are no exception.  A happy rabbit might perform an impressive, acrobatic jump/twist called a binky.  Guinea pigs make a high-pitched squeal called “wheeking” when they are happy.  The list of unique expressions different species use to share their emotions goes on and on. 

No matter which species you’re considering when researching potential pets, it’s essential to do ample amounts of research in order to make an educated, responsible decision.  Feel free to reach out to your local veterinarian with any specific questions you might have.  In the meantime, start by asking yourself and your family important questions, including: 

  • Is there an experienced veterinarian in my area who can provide regular care for the species I’m interested in?
  • Am I prepared to provide build a safe and comfortable habitat for the animal? 
  • Can I afford to provide healthy nutrition and enrichment and regular veterinary care? 
  • Am I ready to “pet proof” my home and all the areas the pet may explore, and can I provide ample space inside and outside the habitat to allow my pet to thrive? 
  • Have I researched the potential lifespan and am I prepared to provide loving support for the entire life of the animal? 

If you can confidently answer “yes” to these and other important questions, you are likely well on your way to a positive, lifechanging experience for you and your future best friend.