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How to choose the best small pet

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Small but mighty

Dogs and cats seem to get all the love, but small pets make great companions, too. Here are a couple things to keep in mind when you select a small pet to join your brood.

Although there are a ton of small animals in the world, the term "small pet" normally refers to small mammals like guinea pigs, hamsters, chinchillas and rats. They're often considered "starter pets," and can help teach young children responsible care for pets. However, they require some thought before purchasing.

We talked with veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber to find out what potential owners should keep in mind before bringing a small pet home.

The benefits and drawbacks of small pet ownership

According to Werber, space restrictions often make small pets the best choice for owners and their families. "Even places that won't allow pets will usually allow small pets since they are kept in an enclosure," said Werber. Not only that, small pets aren't usually as dependent on daily interaction and cuddling, so they may be an ideal choice if you don't have a lot of time.

Keep in mind, though, that the limited interactivity of small pets may pose a problem to some potential owners. "They aren't always amenable to being handled," explained Werber, and they sometimes bite when startled. If you need a lot of cuddle time with a pet, a small pet may not be the best choice.

How to select the right small pet for you

If your space restrictions and interactivity needs appear to match up with what small pets can offer, Werber said it's a great idea to go full steam ahead. Here are his suggestions:

  1. Consider caregivers. "Small animals are a great way to introduce kids to the basics of caring for an animal," said Werber. He added, however, that small pets can bite when startled, so young children should never be left alone with the animal, and should certainly never have sole responsibility for the pet. Guinea pigs and rats are usually less fearful and prone to biting than smaller animals like hamsters, so may be a better choice for a young child's pet.
  2. Remember your other pets. Werber added that you need to monitor your small pet when he or she is out of the enclosure, since "small running animals can trigger a prey response," when around larger animals. If you can't monitor your pets, opt for one that doesn't need to get out of its enclosure, like a fancy mouse.
  3. Remember the difference between nocturnal versus diurnal. "Some small pets are noisier than others," said Werber, which can become a big problem if you choose a species that is awake at night. Rats and hamsters, for instance, are busiest at night, while rabbits and guinea pigs are awake during the day.
  4. Consider your time commitment and the pet's life span. Small pets require varied time commitments, including their life spans. Werber stated that some small pets, like guinea pigs, require special foods and have maintenance issues like occasional tooth care, which can all add to your time commitment. Moreover, fancy mice only live two to three years, rats live three years, guinea pigs live four to five and rabbits up to eight. All of these commitments are important to consider before bringing a pet home.

National Geographic Exploration Loft

Once you make a selection, Werber said to finish doing your research. "Check online, or visit a complete pet store to help you get set up with the right environment and get any recommended supplements or accessories," he said. Purchase an adequate environment for the pet of your choice, like the 22-inch by 16-inch National Geographic Exploration Loft. Finally, Werber added, "Verify that the pet you're considering is legal in your state and municipality."

This post was sponsored by PetSmart.

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