Fur, Feathers, Shells, or Scales?
Exotic animals can make great pets – but do your homework first.
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Are “pocket pets” a good option?
That’s actually a term we don’t like to use,” says Pope. “They’re really not designed to be carried around in somebody’s pocket.” Cute and cuddly, these little critters don’t take up as much space as, say, a collie, but they have special problems of their own. A kid wanting a hamster, for example, really needs to research all the different varieties. Petco, for example, offers such types as Fancy, Long-Hair, Short-Hair, Roborovski, Djungarian, Chinese Dwarf, and more, and each has slightly different requirements for diet and habitat.
Some basic rules about the small mammals can mean the difference between life and death for them. Guinea pigs, for example, are very sociable creatures and get along fine in the same cage. Put two male hamsters in the same cage — and determining the sex is not easy — and the next morning owners will probably find just one, very fat hamster. We’ll spare the details.
Ferrets, always popular pets, have scent glands that can create an incredibly foul odor that permeates their bedding — and your clothes — unless that gland is surgically removed. Many pet stores, in fact, have already done that before the animal is sold. And though gerbils sure look cute rolling around a room in those clear plastic balls, Pope warns against them. “They can roll downstairs or get lost under beds,” he says. “And owners tend to forget about them and leave them inside all day long.”
And all these “pocket pets” can develop a wide range of diseases. On a visit to Pope’s clinic, he was treating a ferret suffering from pneumonia, and a hamster with “wet tail” — a pretty descriptive term for diarrhea. On the day we visited Hannon, he was examining a pet rabbit brought in for an eye infection. That’s actually a fairly routine procedure for a veterinarian who has treated a seahorse for a swimming bladder infection, and has operated on the famed Peabody ducks after they swallowed pennies dropped in the hotel fountain where they spend their days. (Pennies contain zinc, which is toxic.)