Selecting the small pet that's right for your home is no small feat. With all the adorably tiny options, it can be difficult to determine whether your family's new addition should have fins or fur. After all, some pets need massive amounts of care and attention, while others prefer to be left alone. It all depends on how much time and effort you're willing to put forth to become a pet owner.
You should also consider whether you'd like the type of pet you can curl up with on the couch or prefer to watch at a distance. A little snuggling might be possible with a chinchilla, but it's a sure bet your hermit crab won't take the bait. And, there are a few pets that aren't a good fit in households with preschoolers.
So, where will you start? We've got the scoop on 10 popular small pets that, in one way or another, reward their owners with companionable ease.
10. Guinea Pig
As small pets go, guinea pigs -- also known as cavies -- are virtual giants. In fact, each of the 13 guinea pig breeds recognized by the American Cavy Breeders Association can weigh up to 3 pounds or 1,360 grams (that's a lot compared to a parakeet). They come in several colors and patterns, and can have short or long hair.
Life Span:Five to 10 years
Best For:Children of any age; a great "starter" pet
Feeding:Commercial pellets, prairie hay, fresh vegetables and water; daily dose of vitamin C
Housing and Exercise:Guinea pigs need lots of exercise. Pet retailers sell portable enclosures in which your guinea pig can safely explore an indoor or outdoor environment. You can add pipes for your pet to run through or offer hiding places like small boxes. However, resist the urge to add an exercise wheel to its cage. That's because running in a wheel could cause injuries to your guinea pig's back or legs.
Good to know:Guinea pigs are actually from South America (not Guinea) and aren't pigs at all.
Sometimes called "pocket pets" because of their size, hamsters have pet appeal in triplicate: They're cute, furry and oh-so-friendly. People began keeping hamsters as pets in the 1930s, and this easy-to-care-for pet has grown in popularity ever since. The most common hamster breeds include the Syrian hamster (also known as the golden hamster), which can grow up to 7 inches (17 centimeters) in length. The Roborovski dwarf hamster, on the other hand, is only 2 inches (7 centimeters) in length.
Life Span:Two or three years
Best For:Children 8 and older; hamsters are nocturnal -- unlike young kids
Feeding:Commercial pellets, fresh water; occasional treats of fresh fruits and vegetables, and cheese
Housing and Exercise:Wire hamster cages with a solid bottom; hamster wheels, tubes and other toys. Shredded paper or tissue makes good bedding. Most hamsters don't mind living alone. In fact, they tend to be aggressive in same-sex pairs.
Good to know:If you adopt two hamsters of the opposite sex, you may soon have a bevy of baby hamsters. That's because a hamster pregnancy only takes about two weeks, from start to finish. Why the rush? It's all part of nature's grand design to keep the breed alive.
Car insurance commercials excepting, there's just something appealing about a diminutive green lizard. However, one of the most popular gecko pets isn't actually green at all. It's a leopard gecko, and it sports an all-over pattern of brown spots. It also makes a great small pet. These pets are naturally shy, but with patience you can earn their trust. You'll be rewarded with a gecko that will happily explore the hand that holds it.
Life Span:Up to 20 years
Best For:Children 10 and older
Feeding:Worms and crickets, fresh water
Housing and Exercise:Heated terrariums ranging from 75 degrees to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 29 degrees Celsius) during the day, and only slightly cooler at night. Minimal exercise, especially if there are rocks or pieces of wood under which it can hide.
Good to know:Mishandling could cause a gecko to shed its tail, which is a natural defense mechanism. Also, a gecko's a night owl, so to speak. It likes to spend the night feeding and investigating its surroundings rather than sleeping, which is reserved for daytime.
They can come when called, use a litter box and exercise on a leash. Sounds like a strange mix of cat- and dog-like qualities, but for this household pet, it's all in a day's work. There are more than 60 breeds of rabbits in the United States, so you can choose from a variety of sizes, colors and ear lengths. Even weight is an option, because rabbits can range from 2 to 13 pounds.
Parrots are colorful, lively and playful pets. There are more than 350 different types of parrots; they range in color from vibrant red and green to stately gray and black, and can be quite small (about 3 inches or almost 8 centimeters) or quite large (up to 40 inches or more than 100 centimeters). When given plenty of living space, exercise and positive attention, these extremely intelligent birds are very affectionate toward their owners. Most parrots have an uncanny ability to mimic human voices, as well as other sounds. Don't be surprised if your parrot begins to imitate a barking dog, a mewing cat or even your cell phone's distinctive ring.
Curious and covered in fur, ferrets are an interesting pet. But they aren't low-maintenance; they like to explore and roam. This makes it tricky if you've got a lot of visitors opening and closing your front door. And, ferrets can be temperamental toward visitors, making them prone to proffer a nip if mishandled. The reward for all your ferret-care, however, is a pet with personality-plus.
Not just any ol' fish will do for a pet. We need an easy-to-manage breed with an equally manageable tank. So, we're opting for a betta fish. These vibrantly colored fish come in shades of green, red, violet and orange; sometimes the shades seem to blend into each other like an Impressionist painting. Aside from the big visual impression they make, bettas are quite small. Most are only a couple of inches in length.
It's nice to have a small pet that can't outrun you, and a turtle certainly fits that bill. They're happy to set up camp in your home and are always ready for an adoring audience. Box turtles are a popular choice, with their colorfully patterned shells and winsome good looks, but they are picky eaters. Red-eared sliders are more aerodynamic, sport distinctive red marks on each side of the head and aren't so fussy.
Chinchilla fur is so velvety that the best thing about your new pet will simply be holding it. A chinchilla's luxurious coat comes in a range of colors, from white to charcoal. Unlike most furry mammals that have one hair fiber per follicle, a chinchilla can sprout up to 80 hairs from just one follicle. This South American native is technically a rodent. But it's so charming, with its saucer-like eyes and bowl-like ears, that we'd rather not give that too much thought. Chinchillas resemble a kangaroo, with front legs that are markedly shorter than their back legs, and a thick, bushy tail.
Good to know: The chinchilla doesn't have body odor. Even its droppings will take several days to emit a smell; if the animal's cage is cleaned frequently, odor becomes a non-issue.
Even if the extent of your crustacean knowledge is Mr. Krabs of "SpongeBob" fame, don't rule yourself out as a hard-shelled pet owner. Hermit crabs are interesting, active little creatures. They have five sets of legs, a tiny head equipped with long antennae and, of course, a shell. Being called a hermit is quite a misnomer, because these tiny pets can be very social and active especially in the evenings. They burrow in the sand, crawl on top of rocks and will even curiously investigate items in their environments. Occasionally, you may even hear a chirping sound from your hermit crab.
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