When considering what sort of animal to buy for your next pet, maybe you should consider a ‘pocket pet’. While here in Queensland the type of pocket pets we can keep is limited by law, the rats, mice and guinea pigs that we can legally keep make great pets.
Rats are often thought of as dirty, disease carriers but just the opposite is true. They are fastidiously clean, affectionate and intelligent. If handled from a young age, their temperament can be compared to that of a dog. Rats are communal animals who prefer company. It is ideal to keep 2 females together, as 2 males may fight, and 1 of each may produce unwanted babies.
Accommodation for your new pet rat needs to be strong and sturdy since they like to chew, and include a cozy sleeping area. They love to climb, so their cage should allow for this, as well as the provision of toys and treats for mental stimulation. Ripped up newspaper makes ideal bedding. Shavings can also be used but may contribute to respiratory problems.
Rats should be fed a diet of prepared pellets, some seeds and grain and the occasional well washed vegetable as a treat. Fresh water should always be available. Many household cleaning products, garlic, tomato leaves and red cabbage are toxic to rats so should be avoided.
Health problems that most commonly affect rats include respiratory problems and tumours, particularly mammary tumours in females. Rats can live for 2-3 years and make wonderful companions.
Mice are very similar to rats, and their general care is much the same. Although more timid and less outgoing than their larger cousins, once tamed they still make great pets.
Did you know that the correct name for a Guinea Pig is a Cavy. Cavies are also communal animals and do best when kept as pairs or small groups. Like mice and rats, males tend to fight unless they have been brought up together. Their accommodation should be a water and draught free hutch with a sleeping compartment.
Guinea pigs need vitamin C so fresh green leaves should be provided each day. Suitable leaves include fresh grass, milk thistle, dandelions, lettuce, carrot tops, silverbeet, cauliflower leaves, the occasional cabbage leaf and celery. They can also eat fruit, especially apples, but no citrus. They should be fed rabbit or guinea pig pellets and some good quality hay. Potatoes, onions, rhubarb and some clovers are toxic so should be avoided.
Guinea pigs can get very tame with handling, even learning to recognise their owners’ voice. Their lifespan is longer than that of rats or mice, being 5-7 years.
In general, these pocket pets are cheap to buy and easy to keep and provide nearly everyone with years of good companionship. So next time you are considering whether a dog or cat is for you, maybe think a little smaller, you never know you might become addicted.