The Small Pet Buddy System
By Michelle Edmundson
Small pets can be a great addition to your family. They can be fairly easy to keep, care for and can be relatively inexpensive (compared to some pets). Many small pets are social animals, meaning they get lonely without companionship. Even if you have a lot of free time to dedicate to your pet it is important to identify which pets require a cage mate to live a happy life.
Mice, Hedgehogs & Hamsters
If you are only able to provide a home for a single small animal there are still great options for pets. Most types of hamsters, hedgehogs and common mice are perfectly happy being solo and actually do better that way. These pets can become territorial when in a cage with same sex companions as they get older. Contrary to these, fancy mice and dwarf hamsters prefer living with a same sex partner or groups. It is important to make sure you are getting same sex companions to avoid little surprises! All of these small pets will happily mate with their opposite-sex counterparts (only hedgehogs are normally fixed).
Guinea Pigs, Rabbits & Gerbils
Guinea pigs, rabbits and gerbils do best with a cage mate, although they have been known to house alone. Unless you have a lot time to socialize with your pet it is recommended your pet have a buddy. Guinea pigs and rabbits can be spayed or neutered and it is important to ensure they are before housing them with their cage mate. Gerbils are not usually fixed so it is best to cage same sex companions. Gerbils are not overly social with their pet parents, but are great fun to watch in pairs. You will find that guinea pigs and rabbits will be friendlier, more social with humans and happier overall when they are provided with a cage mate. Rabbits and guinea pigs may be housed together, just make sure they have enough space in their cage. You may even see your guinea pig start to hop with the rabbit! Of course, a same-species pairing is ideal, but if you do house a rabbit and a Guinea Pig together, make sure you feed them separately, and monitor that the rabbit is not bullying the Guinea Pig.
Ferrets, Degu, Chinchillas, & Rats
There are small pets that prefer a cage mate even if you have significant time to socialize with them. Ferrets, degu, chinchillas and rats are extremely social with their own kind and may display aggression, depression and anti-social tendencies if not supplied with a proper cage mate. Because of this if you are not able to have two pets, it is recommended to select another pet that prefers to be alone. It is essential to ensure they are of the same sex, or have these pets spayed or neutered before housing them together. Most of these pets will be fixed before you bring them home, but double check to avoid surprises!
Reptiles, Crustaceans, Amphibians & Fish
Not a fan of fuzzy critters? There are other great options of pets that do not require a buddy to be happy (and most should not have one). Hermit crabs, turtles, many types of frogs, lizards and snakes are great singular pets that you can still handle and socialize with. You can also a get fish, such as the betta that is very social with its pet parent but is best housed alone.
If you are thinking about a bird it is important to think about how they exist in the wild. Birds live in flocks and are very social. For small caged birds you should provide another bird to socialize with to keep them happy. You will also find that they sing more with a companion. Large birds can be alone in a household, but without quite a bit of interaction with their owners they may become depressed.
When considering a new pet it is important to do your research on the type of pet you are interested in order to ensure you are able to fulfill their requirements for a happy healthy life. There are many shelters and organizations dedicated to small pets, reptiles and birds that can provide you with great pet options and information.
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