Pocket Pet is a term used to describe a domestically bred small mammal that is commonly kept as a pet. Pocket pets include hamsters, gerbils, fancy mice, fancy rats, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and rabbits, among others. Pocket pets are relatively inexpensive, easy to acquire and they’re great fun. Because they have their own unique needs in terms of proper diet and housing and require daily care and attention, it’s important to research their requirements before acquiring a pocket pet. In addition, due to their small size, pocket pets can be injured easily. Just like larger mammals, they can also develop diseases or have parasites. Some health issues affecting pocket pets can be caused by environmental conditions, such as exposure to drafts or extreme temperatures, poor ventilation, improper diet, substrate or housing, as examples. These are some of the reasons why veterinary care for pocket pets is just as important as providing it for your cat or dog. If well cared for, your pocket pet will enjoy a healthy and happy life.
Your pocket pet’s care requirements will include the following:
- A species-specific diet: As appropriate for each particular species, his or her diet might include any of the following: a pelleted formula diet or seeds, grains, hay, dog or cat food, etc. plus any recommended supplemental vegetables and, of course, clean, fresh water daily.
- Appropriate clean housing, water, feeding dish and cage substrate: House your pet in as large a species-specific cage as possible, placing it in a ventilated indoor area free of drafts, extreme heat and cold or excessive dust. A wire mesh bottom can cause foot and toe injury or infection thus provide a solid floor foundation for him or her to walk on. Water and feed dishes should be easily accessible. Depending upon the species, the ideal substrate (cage liner) is a paper pulp product, such as Carefresh or Yesterday’s News. Avoid using wood shavings because they can potentially cause respiratory problems and skin irritations. It’s very important to clean caging, accessories, toys, water and feed dishes and replace cage substrate regularly so that bacteria will not build up.
- Careful handling and providing a safe environment: Handle your pocket pet gently and with extra caution to avoid undue stress or injury; provide strict adult supervision of children handling the pet; provide a secure cage to prevent accidental escape in your home; avoid exposing your pet to larger animals, such as a cat or a dog, who could cause injury to your pet or even death; separate sexes to avoid undesired breeding, competition and fighting, stress and injury. Hiding areas can be provided your pet by furnishing paper towel rolls, tissue or cardboard boxes or purchasing small hideaway houses, igloos or tunnels from a pet product supplier.
- Environmental enrichment: To avoid boredom and stress, provide your pet with a means of exercise, such as an exercise wheel, species-specific safe toys and interaction with you.
- Veterinary exam: An initial veterinary health exam is recommended to rule out parasites or other underlying conditions that may be present. It's important to monitor for changes in behavior, eating, urinating or defecating that might indicate a health issue requiring veterinary care.
VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital offers veterinary services, including diagnostics and treatment, for pocket pets of all types. For some information on basic care and husbandry of common pocket pet species, please see the following information sheets:
If you have questions or concerns about your pocket pet or to schedule an appointment, please contact our hospital at (310) 473-2951.