New Zealand is a nation of pet owners — and our love of furry, feathered and finned friends has only risen in recent times. In fact a 2020 report by the Companion Animal Council found New Zealand is home to more than 4.35 million pets, not much less than our 5.2 million human population. And while we will always be big on dogs and cats, our love of little guys has risen, too.
'Pocket pets' is a lovely catch-all term for rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, rats and chinchillas - and one that is thoroughly fitting given their compact size and sweet natures. Just like a cat or dog, they require daily care without the need for our constant attention. Like pooches and puddy cats, that special relationship between human and animal can absolutely exist with a pocket pet, which is probably why they’re fast becoming trusted companions to New Zealanders.
These little mammals are a perfect starter pet for children. The daily tasks of cleaning the cage or hutch and giving fresh food and water are small and achievable for those starting to take on responsibility around the house. Having a small pet whose survival is entirely dependent on them teaches empathy and care for others, as well as respect for animals.
It’s not just ‘care and chore’ on offer however – there are fun and games to be had. Bonding with their humans is important for pocket pets. Many will love being picked up and cuddled, as well as having free rein to explore an area (safely contained of course).
Children enjoy playing and interacting with them and learning about how their pet communicates. If you’ve ever seen a guinea pig ‘popcorning’ with excitement, you’ll know it’s the equivalent of a dog rolling on its back in happiness. Rabbits can show affection to humans by ‘grooming’ them and chinchillas make chattering sounds when happy or excited.
Pocket pets are just as enriching for adult lives too. These little guys have loving natures, respond to interaction and reveal distinctive personalities once trust is gained. It may come as a surprise that training them is actually quite easily. Rabbits, for example, naturally prefer to toilet in the same area, so can be trained to go in a kitty litter tray. Guinea pigs can be trained to come on command using treats while rats are highly intelligent, capable of learning various tasks.
Pocket pets do need regular interaction with humans to build a bond and, as with any pet, they require time and patience to begin with. Check their dietary needs carefully before taking one home too. They have very specific diets and should only be given high quality pet food that replicates their natural diet as closely as possible.
Another benefit of these littler friends is they can easily be accommodated in a smaller home or one without fencing (so long as you have a secure cage to protect from predators). For those renting a home, this can also be a good way to keep an outdoor pet that won’t cause damage to your interiors.
Quite simply, pocket pets are easy to care for, live happily on compact properties and are affectionate, mellow companions. Perhaps a pocket pet is the one for you?
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