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A beautiful, yellow-eyed cat receiving treatment. Doug Hall feeding a well-loved client.

Paws For Thought- Article 18

26th September 2019

Choosing A Pet- Part 1.



If you are thinking of getting a pet- be it the first time you’ve had an animal or adding to a growing menagerie at home, the choice can sometimes be overwhelming and confusing. It is important to consider your lifestyle when deciding what pet will best suit your situation and then do extensive research on the practical implications of owning and providing for an animal for the whole of their lives.

In this article we will provide an overview of the smaller species (exotics) and their requirements, and then the 2nd part of this article will delve deeper into cats/dogs and some breed dispositions to be aware of. If you are interested in buying a puppy or kitten, please look out for our article on “Choosing a breeder” for further information before choosing your new addition, which will be out soon!


“What species of animal should I get?”

With a huge array of species of animals for sale, it is sometimes all too easy to purchase an animal without realising their complex needs. We often find that small furry animals such as hamsters, rabbits and guinea pigs are purchased for children, assuming that as they are small, they will be easier to care for than a dog or cat. Unfortunately, quite often the opposite is the case. Below I will outline the minimal husbandry required for each species and their benefits/limitations as pets:


1.       Small rodents (hamsters/gerbils/mice/rats)-

·         These species are all “prey animals” which means that although with training they can become loving pets, they are generally scared of people and other animals. Without gentle training, they will often bite out of fear. They also will hide signs of pain so as not to show weakness which can make diagnosis of illness very difficult.

·         Hamsters and mice are nocturnal, rats are generally nocturnal but will have bursts of activity throughout the day and gerbils are diurnal. If the rodent is nocturnal, this is not an ideal pet for a child who would generally want to interact with their pet during the day.

·         Small rodents require an enriched cage full of toys/hiding places, that is kept clean and provides them with the opportunities to perform natural behaviours- including tunnelling, storing food and nesting.

·         Rats, mice and gerbils can be social animals and can become depressed without an appropriate friend. Hamsters are generally the opposite- sadly they will often turn to fighting and killing any other hamster introduced.


2.       Guinea pigs-

·         Guinea pigs are also “prey animals” but they seem to be more amenable to handling than some of your smaller species of rodents and make lovely pets when given the right attention and environment. 

·         They are quite sociable and do well with either a litter mate (as long as there is no rivalry) or if they are not happy with another guinea pig then they need a lot of human interaction. We don’t generally recommend housing with a rabbit, as they require different diets, and can be bullied by larger rabbits.

·         Their diet should consist mainly of hay/grass, but can be supplemented with some fresh vegetables and complete pellets (not a muesli). They also require vitamin C supplementation.

·         Their cages need cleaning regularly and they also require hiding places.


3.       Rabbits-

·         Rabbits are “prey animals” like guinea pigs and smaller rodents and often hide illness from humans.

·         They can be sociable, but picky over who they will share their environment with. If they don’t have a rabbit friend, they require a lot of human interaction and can make lovely pets with the right person.

·         Rabbits teeth grow continuously throughout their life, and like guinea pigs they require a diet mainly consisting of grass/hay to keep they teeth short, but they can also be supplemented with some fresh vegetables and complete pellets. If rabbits stop eating for any reason, they can quickly develop ‘gut stasis’ which is a very serious condition.

·         Rabbits can be strong and jumpy, and if their backs are not supported when they are held, they can injure themselves easily. For this reason, they are not generally suitable pets for children.


4.       Birds-

·         Birds are demanding pets to keep and it is incredibly difficult to provide an appropriate environment for them. Birds that can fly, should be given the opportunity to do this and unfortunately in captivity it is impossible to allow them to perform natural behaviours which can cause severe stress. Some breeds of parrots can travel 10-20km per day in the wild.

·         Their diet needs to be complete and varied and any deficiencies can cause health issues.

·         Birds are generally social creatures and without friends they can turn to self-mutilation, feather pecking or anorexia.

·         Flightless birds such as chickens can be lovely pets with the right environment and enrichment. If they are free range- even better, but be careful of foxes!!


5        Reptiles-

·         Reptiles have very special requirements, and they need a carefully controlled environment in order to survive and thrive. They will live in a vivarium, will heating and lights and this is obviously expensive equipment.

·         They also have quite niche diets- requiring insects or frozen mice to be given as appropriate. Ideally they should be given live insects in order to perform natural behaviours, as well as being given the opportunity to hide/climb.

·         Illness in reptiles can be difficult to manage, and you will likely have to seek advice from specialist exotic vets.


6.       Fish-

·         Although fish are commonly thought of as easy pets to keep, they actually require a lot of attention in order to provide them with the right level of care.

·         The tank dimensions will determine how many fish you can have, and if the tank is overstocked this will greatly impact the health and ultimately the lifespan of your fish. You must have a filter, lighting system and a heater (depending on the species).

·         Illness in fish is commonly due to husbandry issues, and it is important to regularly check the pH, nitrites and nitrates of your tank in order to keep your fish in good health.

·         Partial water changes should be performed weekly and care should be taken to make sure that the water is safe for the fish- by either purchasing water from your local aquatic centre of treating the water.


Exotic pets can be lovely pets but require a lot of work to achieve the correct environment, diet and companionship for them to lead a happy life. Many exotic pets are not suitable for young children to look after, and shouldn’t be bought without extensive research, as they require calm interactions, expensive housing and regular cleaning.

If you would like to discuss anything in this article, please ring us at The Cape Veterinary Clinic on 01483 538990. Please do look out for the next part in this series- on dogs, cats and breed dispositions to help you decide on a pet to suit you and your lifestyle.