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This holiday season you may be wondering if you should finally give in to your son or daughter’s pleas for a hamster/guinea pig/gerbil. With pet stores offering deals on cages, food & toys, it is easy to fall prey to the image of a cute, low maintenance pet.

Don’t fall for it!

While any of these little guys can be a welcome addition to the family, they are also a lot of work. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Depending on what type of pet you decide on, they can live anywhere from 3-5 or more years. Your impulse purchase brings with it a long-term commitment.

2. Proper feeding of all these little guys requires more than just picking up a bag of food at the pet store. Many over the counter foods contain seeds and nuts that are not a normal part of the diet. Good food gets expensive, as do the fresh fruits and veggies you should offer as well. Guinea pigs require hay on a daily basis as well.

3. Does anyone in the family suffer from allergies? If so, these guys are probably not for you. No matter how small, animals shed dander and can cause allergy/asthma attacks. Even if you don’t have animal specific allergies, many people are sensitive to hay. My husband suffered for years living with my daughter’s guinea pig because he was severely allergic to the hay.

4. Most all pet store pocket pets are unused to being handled and will bite (often severely) when frightened. Be prepared to work with your new pet over several weeks before letting little hands near them.

5. The cages sold in many of the pet store bundles are usually on the small side for what is recommended. That plastic cage with all the tubes may look cute, but may not be the best size for the pet you want.

6. Keeping a pocket pet happy and healthy means giving them fresh food, water and hay (in the case of guinea pigs) daily. Depending on the size of the cage, bedding needs changed at least once a week. Larger pocket pets need their nails trimmed and bathed occasionally. Yearly vet visits for all are recommended.

If, after reading all this, you are still sure that a pocket pet will be under the tree this Christmas, then you are better prepared than most. Consider the size and type of pet carefully. Especially consider the age of the child/children who will be responsible for day to day care. Smaller doesn’t necessarily mean easier to care for, just easier to ignore or forget. No matter the size, a pet is a big responsibility. We are happy to help you with any concerns or questions. Feel free to contact us for additional information.

Dr. Kelly Yeager

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