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Pocket pets can be excellent first pets

PET TALK

Descr ibed by their name, pocket pets are small fluffy companions that could fit right into your pocket. Guinea pigs, sugar gliders, hedgehogs and hamsters are all a part of the pocket pet family.

Pocket pets are an excellent addition to a home that is looking for a first pet or has very small children who might be afraid of dogs or larger traditional pets.

Pocket pets have a shorter lifespan than dogs and cats, require less space, and are usually quiet and friendly.

"Pocket pets are more fragile than traditional pets and are very good at hiding any signs of illness," said Dr. Christy Rettenmund, intern w ith the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science. "Any changes in behavior, appetite, or appearance warrant a visit to your veterinarian."

Owning a pocket pet is a little different than owning a dog or a cat. It is a good idea to do some research before purchasing one of these pets because they have specific diet and husbandry needs.

"Each type of pocket pet has specific nutritional requirements," Rettenmund said. "Guinea pigs need vitamin C in their diet because their bodies are not able to produce it. They should be fed a vitamin C supplement in addition to their regular diet, which should include timothy hay, a variety of vegetables and a small amount of pellets.

"Hedgehogs do well on low calorie, small kibble dog food with crickets for treats. Hamsters and rats tend to eat rodent blocks. Sugar gliders are the most difficult in terms of meeting their nutritional requirements. They can be fed a mix of Mazuri insectivore and Mazuri diet for frugivores."

There are also certain precautions that pocket pet owners should take in order to ensure the safety of their pet.

"Most injuries to pocket pets involve bite wounds or trauma from dogs and cats, or traumatic injuries from owners who drop their pets," Rettenmund said, "so it is important to keep any pocket pets away from dogs, cats, ferrets, and snakes in the household."

Pocket pets are very fragile creatures and require proper handling techniques. For example, they should always be held over soft surfaces to prevent injury from a potential fall.

"It is always important not to hold them too tightly," Rettenmund noted, "which may mean that small children should not be allowed to hold them, at least without close supervision."

Pocket pets should be kept in an environment with controlled temperature and humidity (i.e. an inside enclosure). They should be housed in an escape proof area where dogs and cats do not have access to them. Multiple rodents living in the same cage could also be a safety hazard.

"Some rodents do better in groups, especially rats" said Dr. Sharman Hoppes, Clinical Assistant Professor of Zoological Medicine at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science. "However, in order to be kept in groups they need adequate cage size."

"When multiple rodents live in the same cage, they will sometimes groom each other too much which is called 'barbering.' The hair is usually missing from the head in these cases," Rettenmund noted. "If rodents are excessively grooming their cage mates they should be separated."

Remember that pocket pets need to be seen by a veterinarian on a regular basis just like traditional pets.

"These pets should still receive yearly checkups with a veterinarian to ensure that they are healthy," Rettenmund said. "After the purchase of a new pet, the owner should bring it to a veterinarian that sees exotic animals to make sure it is healthy and receiving an appropriate diet.

"Pocket pets can also carry zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transmitted from pets to people). The types of zoonotic diseases are specific to the type of pet purchased. The veterinarian can help make sure that your new found friend is disease free and that the owner-pet relationship gets off to a healthy start."

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.


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