The pet world is dominated primarily by dogs and cats, which are arguably the most commonly owned domesticated animals. Owners of small animals often feel left out of the conversation regarding pet ownership because of this fact, and that isn’t fair! To level the playing field a little bit, here are 5 small mammals that deserve more time in the spotlight, due to their potential for amazing companionship. Before you get too attached to the idea of owning any of these, make sure that it’s legal in your state first!
1. Rats – Often regarded as “gross” “disgusting” and “ugly” which is very unfortunate and also incorrect. I think when these people are repulsed by rats, they are thinking of sewer rats (which actually are pretty scary looking) or the rats that carried the plague in the 14th century (in the rats’ defense though, it wasn’t them who carried the disease, it was the infected fleas that lived on them). Another commonality is for someone to say “I just can’t deal with the tail, it’s so gross!” This is irritating, because the lack of fur on an animal for some reason makes it “gross” to some people – yet us humans are one of the only mammals who lack fur covering our whole bodies like most of our warm-blooded counterparts. Somewhat hypocritical if you ask me!
Rats make amazing pets not only because they are adorable, but because they are extremely intelligent little critters – some are even smarter than dogs and cats! You can train them to do a number of tricks, and they can bond very closely to you, wanting to snuggle, sit on your shoulder, and burrow in your sleeves. They are also extremely clean creatures, said to be cleaner than most animals which is probably surprising to all the rat-haters out there. The pet rats – sometimes called “fancy” rats – have been domesticated over hundreds of years of breeding in order to make them the docile, affectionate, and loving creatures that they are. Because of this, they will play with you similarly like a kitten would, lick you as if they are a dog, and come when you call them! The possibilities are endless, especially if you have a lot of patience and time on your hands – your rat may even want to go on walks with a harness and leash! Check out this awesome site that encourages and educates people about owning pet rats!
2. Rabbits – Also very intelligent creatures, Rabbits vary on the scale of sociability depending on how much time you commit to spending with it. If not socialized properly and left alone quite often – especially outside – the rabbit can become quite skittish and not want to be picked up or touched. On the contrary, if you spend a lot of time with your rabbit, even if it is just spent sitting near its cage, the rabbit will warm up to you. If you leave its cage door open, it
may even come outside to play or spend time with you on its own accord. Rabbits can be very similar to cats in the sense that they like to spend time with you, but on their terms only! Many die-hard rabbit owners have a “House Rabbit” setup where the rabbit has free reign of the home, with either a litter box somewhere (yes, rabbits can be litter trained) and a hut or an open cage for them to go when they want private time.
While rabbits do not have the same capacity for learning tricks like rats do, they can be taught simple commands, and they can hang out with you and cuddle much like a larger animal would! They can also communicate using either sounds, actions or body language to let you know if they are enjoying something, are hungry, or want to chill. For instance, I know someone who had a rabbit that would throw its toys around when its food or water dish was low. Rabbits can also be trained to walk on a harness and leash which could be a lot of fun for both of you – although you must be cautious about your rabbit possibly eating a neighbor’s grass or plants which could potentially have dangerous pesticides! Rabbits are very sensitive creatures, and drastic changes in food, routine, or environment in general could be detrimental to their health. For more information about owning a rabbit, check out this informative page from Petfinder! If you do want a rabbit, adopt one from a local shelter with the understanding that it could live up to 10 years or perhaps more!
3. Ferrets – More rambunctious than rabbits and rats, Ferrets are very curious and excitable creatures who are a bit more demanding to care for. They are also highly intelligent, and can be taught a variety of tricks that dogs can be taught, like fetch, sit, come, and more. Ferrets have the tendency to be a bit energetic to the point of having difficulty focusing, so training requires a lot of patience and dedication. If you take the time to do it though, you will be a much happier owner than one who leaves their Ferret to their own accord. An antisocial Ferret will be skittish, wild, and unruly – whereas a trained one will be submissive, well-behaved, and act more like a loyal dog. To properly tire out your Ferret, at least four hours a day of playtime is recommended, otherwise it could be bouncing off the walls of its cage and perhaps escape if it isn’t secure enough.
Ferrets are known to get into troublesome and potentially unsafe situations, so Ferret-proofing the room is important before taking it out for playtime. While this is important for any pet, it is especially so for Ferrets due to their somewhat unpredictable and fast movements. Their long body makes it easier for them to cause damage if they are in a cramped area. Make sure that any electrical wires are covered, harmful foods and edible objects are put away, and that no flammable or breakable items are in precarious places. Because they have a life expectancy of 7 – 10+ years, owning a Ferret is a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If your Ferret is acting “crazy” and you feel that you cannot control it, please seek a trainer or someone to help you get a handle on the situation. They can be quite high maintenance pets, but the payoff is endless adorable antics and playtime fun! Not to mention, they have a special little “dance” that Ferret owners refer to as the Happy Weasel War Dance – which entails the Ferret bouncing up and down happily and enticing the owner to join them in playtime! Read a beginner’s guide to owning Ferrets here and see if you’re up to the task!
4. Hedgehogs – While some people do not consider them to be cuddly due to their sharp quills, there is no denying that Hedgehogs are cute. They are by no means a popular pet, and some states even have made it illegal to own them! They are considered “exotic,” but they are appealing even to “mainstream” pet owners due to their adorable and unique attributes. Although their quills can and will poke you, handling will become easier once you become accustomed to this fact. They are nocturnal, so they will be sleeping for most of the day – which could be either a good or bad thing for the owner. It is a common misconception that they are rodents, but that is false – so therefore they do not need to chew all the time like a rodent does, and during playtime it probably won’t want to venture off and chew electrical wires.
Out of all the animals on this list, the Hedgehog is the least social of the bunch; its sociability closely resembles a hamster. It is best to hold them every day, but don’t expect it to be super bonded and close to you – although that is certainly not out of the realm of possibilities. Don’t expect to teach your Hedgehog tricks either, because they do not have the mental capacity or understanding to absorb any teachings. If you are super determined, you can get it to perform a couple simple tricks, but definitely not any complex feats. They do have the tendency to be a bit more stand-offish and independent, and if you are irritating them, they could bite you as a way of communicating that they want to be left alone. Hedgehogs in general are little anxious creatures, so if you overwhelm it or stress it out, it will bite you – not out of aggression though – to let you know to “Back off!” While Hedgehogs are not high maintenance pets by any means, they are definitely particular and picky – so try not to drastically change their environment or routine otherwise their whole personality could change! Here is a more detailed introductory guide to owning Hedgehogs for you to look at!
5. Sugar Gliders – The smallest mammal on this list, and one of the most social, is the very interesting-looking (but cute) Sugar Glider. Often mistaken as a rodent (as is the Hedgehog), it is actually part of the Marsupial family along with Kangaroos and Koalas, so it will not chew destructively like rodents do. The “Glider” part in their name refers to the loose skin between their arms and legs that enable it to “glide” momentarily through the air as it jumps from place to place. They are a bit high maintenance in the sense that they require a cage, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lots of socialization. But the payoff is having a highly bonded little friend that will be extremely loyal and affectionate to you! Many Sugar Glider owners carry their little buddy in their shirt pocket, bra, or have them perched on their shoulder.
Due to their cleanliness, they are not smelly like Ferrets or other such animals have the potential to be. It is very unlikely for a Sugar Glider to be litter trained, but they will not poop or pee where they sleep and eat. In terms of training in general, Sugar Gliders can simple tricks and commands, but they mostly prefer to snuggle and spend time with you. Unlike other creatures their size like Hamsters and Gerbils, they usually form a very strong bond with their owner. As far as other people are concerned, your Glider will take a while to warm up to them, especially if that person only comes around every so often. While other household pets can also bond with your Sugar Glider, please exercise caution and supervise all play dates! A couple other advantages to owning Sugar Gliders are that they don’t require any vaccinations or regular vet visits, and they are ideal for people who suffer from allergies caused by other mammals. Before you buy a Sugar Glider and make the commitment, make sure you don’t live in California, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, or Alaska – because they are illegal there. Also, check out this introductory overview that will give you more details about Sugar Glider ownership.
So there you have it, a handful of small mammals that are often overlooked as potential companions due to their size, appearance, smell, and other various factors. The biggest reason of all however, is that they aren’t a dog or cat, which are commonly held in higher regard in the pet world. These animals listed may be “critters,” but they have advantages that dogs and cats do not have, and they also have specific characteristics that make them ideal – especially for those people that are allergic to larger mammals, or do not have a housing situation that is ideal for a dog or cat. Or, perhaps dog and cat owners would like to expand their pet-ownership horizons and give one of these fabulous furballs a home! Whatever your reason is, make sure you are armed with the knowledge necessary to be as prepared as you can before owning these pets. They may be small, but they can cause big problems if they fall into the wrong hands!