Popular Small Pets
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.
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.
Good to know: Guinea pigs are actually from South America (not Guinea) and aren’t pigs at all.
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.
Life Span: Five to 10 years
Best For: Children 8 and older
Feeding: Commercial pellets, fresh vegetables for a treat, fresh water
Housing and Exercise: Indoor-only rabbit cage with a solid floor. Rabbits need lots of exercise; specially made enclosures can provide a safe outdoor environment for hopping, as can an enclosed indoor space. Some rabbits can be trained to exercise outdoors with a collar and leash.
Good to know: Why aren’t bunnies and preschoolers a good mix? All that cuddling and carrying around really stresses a rabbit, whose instincts are shouting “danger, danger, danger!” Before long, the rabbit’s young admirer may be covered in scratches from its powerful claws as it beats a hasty exit.
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.
Life Span: Up to 80 years
Best For: Any age, but better for teenagers and adults
Feeding: Commercial seed mixes, fresh water; fresh vegetables and fruit
Housing and Exercise: Cage should be large enough for bird to fly short distances and
should be cleaned every other day. Lining the cage with a thin layer of gravel will aid in the cleaning process — and the parrot’s digestion. That’s because ingesting an occasional piece of gravel helps a bird grind seeds in its belly.
Good to know: Parrots like to play with toys, such as ropes, bells, mirrors and other bird-centric forms of entertainment. But they especially like to repeat what you say. Most parrots can be taught many words and phrases, but they seem to have a knack for mimicking everything. Many parrot owners quickly learn to choose their words carefully — especially if the phrase is not worth repeating
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.
Life Span: Five to 8 years
Best For: Children 12 and older
Feeding: Commercial ferret pellets or cat food, fresh water
Housing and Exercise: Although you’ll want a wire cage with a solid base for your ferret, they prefer to have the run of the house instead of caged confinement. When given their freedom, they will investigate every nook and cranny.
Good to know: Ferrets can get a little gamey, so bathing every 10 to 14 days is recommended; some owners have the animal’s scent glands surgically removed. It’s also a good idea to keep your ferret’s nails trimmed. Overgrown nails will snag carpets, furniture and draperies.
4. Betta Fish
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.
Life Span: Up to 3 years
Best For: Any age
Feeding: Commercial betta food
Housing and Exercise: You can skip the complicated aquariums and filter. Just keep your betta’s fish bowl water clean and warm. They do best in water that’s 78 degrees to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 to 26 degrees Celsius), probably because they originated in the tropical waters of Southeast Asia.
Good to know: There’s a reason bettas are sold one at a time. Pairing bettas, whether male or female, can lead to fights and injuries.
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.
Life Span: Up to 40 years
Best For: Children 8 or older
Feeding: Earthworms, insects, and fruits and vegetables; or commercial pellets, depending on turtle breed.
Housing and Exercise: Turtles require a terrarium or aquarium that’s roomy enough for a few rocks large enough to perch upon, as well as dry areas in which they can burrow and shallow water in which they can rehydrate. They don’t need a lot of exercise.
Good to know: Turtles are walking bacteria factories. Even the healthiest turtles are carriers of salmonella, bacteria that can morph into a serious intestinal disease known as salmonellosis in humans. Any contact with a turtle, including its food or water containers, should be followed by a thorough, disinfecting hand washing.
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.
Life Span: Up to 20 years
Best For: Children over 10; chinchillas are fragile animals
Feeding: Commercial pellets, fresh water
Housing and Exercise: The chinchilla doesn’t need complicated care. It will thrive in a variety of environments and temperature conditions, but it’s most comfortable at a balmy 65 degrees to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 24 degrees Celsius). Most chinchillas live in wire cages with solid floors.
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.
1. Hermit crab
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.
Life Span: Up to 30 years
Best For: Any age
Feeding: Commercial pellets, dechlorinated fresh water and salt water, occasional fruit.
Housing and Exercise: Hermit crabs can live in terrariums. They thrive at temperatures of about 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) and love humid conditions, which can be encouraged with a daily misting. With sand to dig and rocks to climb, hermit crabs don’t need additional exercise.
Good to know: As they grow, hermit crabs shed their shells for larger ones. This means once in a while you’ll suddenly discover a naked crab running about, and should always have a next-size-larger shell ready for it. These shells can be purchased at retailers that sell hermit crabs. The shells can be plain, like nature intended, or decoratively painted by hand. We prefer the latter. There’s just something about seeing a hermit crab sporting a polka dot shell that we adore.