Archives for Rats

May is National Allergy Month

Terrific Allergy Free Exotic Pets

Achoo! What to do? You want a pet, but you’re allergic. So, what can you do? Get an exotic pet, of course! If you’re allergic, don’t despair. There are still terrific pets available that are allergy friendly. Here are just a few:

1. Reptiles:

If you’re allergic to fur and feathers, you can always resort to scales. Snakes, turtles, tortoises, and lizards of all kinds – all of these pets are non-allergenic but still offer a great deal of fun. Large and small, legged (lizards, turtles, tortoises) or legless (snakes), nocturnal or diurnal (active at night vs. during the day), carnivores or herbivores (meat vs. vegetable eaters), there are so many factors to consider if you’re planning on a reptile. With vibrant colors and varying body types, reptiles are fascinating to look at. What if you want a pet that’s responsive to you? Reptiles are still a great choice. As any reptile owner would tell you, reptiles know their owners – they respond to both their voices and their sight. They are responsive to handling and definitely appear more relaxed in their owners’ hands than in those of a stranger. When cared for properly, with the correct nutrition and environment, many reptiles can live very long lives (some turtles and tortoises can live more than 50 years!). So no need to worry if you’re allergic; there’s a reptile out there that’s just right for you.

2. Birds:

Many people who are allergic to fur are not necessarily allergic to feathers. Note, however, that some species (African gray parrots, cockatoos, and cockatiels) have a powdery white substance (powder down) on their beaks and feathers that can be allergenic to some people. But, if you don’t find yourself sneezing around birds as you do when you encounter a furry creature, then a bird might be right for you. Just as there are a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors of reptiles, the same is true for birds. You can choose from small birds that can entertain you with their singing (i.e. canaries) to large birds that can amuse you with their talking (African gray parrots and Amazon parrots). Some birds are known to be cuddly (cockatoos) while others are notorious for clowning around (caiques). Smaller birds (finches, canaries, budgerigars) are generally short-lived, while larger birds (African gray parrots, Amazons, macaws) may live for decades. Whatever bird species you choose, you can be sure that with a bird in your house, you’ll never be bored.

3. Hairless Guinea Pigs:

While not completely hair-free, the hairless guinea pig certainly is much less allergy-inducing than its hairy counterpart. While some people think these little wrinkly rodents are funny looking, they are actually very cute. Guinea pigs make great pets with or without fur, so if you’re not horribly allergic and can stand being exposed to a peach fuzz amount of hair, a guinea pig may be right for you. Hairless guinea pigs are friendly, very responsive, and generally love being with their owners. Other than not needing to be brushed and needing to keep them out of the sun so that they don’t burn, hairless pigs can be cared for the same way that haired pigs are. A heaping portion of hay, a small amount of vegetables, fresh water, and a daily vitamin C supplement, plus lots of attention, and you can keep a guinea pig happy and healthy. Guinea pigs are hardy and affectionate. Unbeknownst to many people, they purr and coo when they’re happy. They can make wonderful companions for nearly any family.

4. Hairless Rats:

Similar to their larger cousins, the hairless guinea pigs, hairless rats have a few sparse patches of fuzzy fur but are, for the most part, hair-free. These little hairless wonders are generally great pets for anyone with an allergy to the dander from saliva that hangs out on long hair, causing people to sneeze. They are as smart as and as endearing as furred rats and make great pets for people who want a low maintenance, short-lived pet. Living on average 2-3 years, hairless rats, like their haired counterparts, love to hang out on their owners’ shoulders, play games, watch TV, and run through mazes and tunnels. They bury, dig, and hide things and will keep their owners endlessly amused. They bond closely to their owners and often to other rats and are excellent for people looking for small, easily cared-for pets.

5. Amphibians:

Not the first type of animals on most people’s lists for pets, frogs and toads can make great pets if you’re more interested in watching than in handling. Like reptiles, amphibians lack any allergy-inducing fur and instead have a thin, delicate skin covering their bodies. From the smallest fire-bellied toads to the largest Pac-man frogs, amphibians come in all sizes and colors and are simply phenomenal to look at. With their large eyes, necks that bulge in and out as they breathe, and shiny, glistening skin, amphibians are great for people that like to study and appreciate the natural behavior of animals. Some are active during the day and others at night. In general, amphibians are not meant to be handled for fear of damaging their sensitive skin or transmitting infectious bacteria to them from our hands. Some also secrete toxins from their skin that can be irritating or poisonous if absorbed by human skin. Many eat insects and require very specific tank set-ups to be healthy. So, if you’re allergic, and you’re the type that enjoys watching nature shows on TV but would prefer seeing the real thing up close, an amphibian may be just the pet for you.

As you can see from this short list of animals, there are many pet options for people with allergies to fur. It’s not the hair that makes the pet, it’s the personality. Besides, as many people say today, bald is beautiful, not just for people, but for pets, as well!

Rodents: more than just vermin

When I tell people I treat rodents, often their initial reaction is, “You treat what?!” I know that at this point, they’re thinking about pesky vermin that get into the trash in your garage or that run through the subway. Somehow, the word “rodent” has a very negative connotation. What most people fail to realize is that many adorable, fuzzy, familiar pets are actually rodents. Here are 5 common rodents that I care for regularly in my exotic animal hospital that have their own unique features and benefits as pets.

Guinea pigs: One of my all-time favorite rodents. Guinea pigs are small, fairly low-maintenance animals that make great first-time pets for families. They don’t require a lot of space, are very responsive to their owners (they actually purr when you pet them!), and can live up to about 8 years with proper care. They do require a great deal of hay to chew on so that they can wear down their continuously growing teeth, some commercial guinea pig pellets, and a small amount of fresh vegetables. They also need a daily vitamin C supplement, since their bodies don’t make vitamin C naturally. They come in different coat colors and lengths and love to interact with their owners and be petted.

Rats: Another terrific pet. Most people don’t think of rats as pets, but talk to any rat owner, and they’ll tell you what phenomenal pets rats can make. Perhaps the smartest rodents, rats can learn tricks, love to hang out with their owners, and are extremely affectionate. They actually respond to their owners when their name is called. They also require a modest sized living space and a simple diet of a good quality rodent pellet plus a small amount of fresh vegetables daily. They come in white, brown, gray, black, and variations of these colors, as well as varying coat lengths (short-haired, long-haired, and hairless). The only down side of rats is that they are short-lived, with most surviving only 2-3 years.

Degus: Very similar to rats. With a body the size of a rat’s and a tail the length of a gerbil’s, degus (also called brush-tailed rats) look kind of like oversized gerbils. Intelligent like their rat cousins, degus are very social and full of personality. They communicate through an extensive vocabulary of sounds and are very active during the day, unlike many other rodents that are nocturnal, making degus more attractive as pets. Degus thrive on a diet very similar to rats’. They are also fairly long-lived, with an average lifespan of 6-8 years but as long as 13 years. They are perhaps one of the less well-known but highly recommended rodents as pets.

Chinchillas: perhaps the cuddliest of all the rodents I treat. Slightly more skittish than some other pet rodents, chinchillas are definitely one of the cutest. With their incredibly soft, fluffy fur, they look more like toys than other rodent species. They live, on average, 8-10 years but have been reported to live as long as 20 years by some breeders. Their tiny noses and whiskers twitch continuously, and they often dart around very fast. They are curious and active and have been known to run for miles in wheels in their cages at night. When grabbed by a predator, they actually escape by releasing a large clump of fur – a defense mechanism called a fur slip. Thus, it’s important to never hold them by their skin. Like guinea pigs, they must chew hay constantly to wear down their ever-growing teeth that can become impacted (like our wisdom teeth) if they don’t frequently chew. Their luxurious fur comes in a variety of colors (black, brown, ivory, beige, and others) that they keep clean and oil-free by rolling around rapidly in bath of finely ground pumice stone – a quite amusing sight that never fails to entertain their owners.

Small Rodents: Hamsters, gerbils, and mice are less demanding than some larger rodents. While these 3 species look different from each other, they are similar in that they generally fit in the palm of your hand and typically require fairly small, multi-level tanks in which to live. These small rodents are low maintenance pets that eat commercial rodent pellets and fresh vegetables daily. They generally live 1-2 years. While some hamsters enjoy being held, other hamsters and many mice and gerbils can be a bit nippy; young children may enjoy them more by watching these active little pets bury themselves in shredded paper, climb through tubes, and zoom up ramps across their cages.  Children may also enjoy building paper towel tunnels for them to run through. These animals can make good first pets for kids as long as they have adult supervision for care and handling.

So, next time you hear the word, “rodent,” maybe you will conjure up the image of a fluffy chinchilla or a purring guinea pig. Rodents come in all shapes, colors, and sizes, with varying lifespans. If you’re considering animal you can pet but that doesn’t require a lot of high maintenance care, perhaps a rodent is right for you