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Little Ones

Pets for the dog-and-cat-averse.

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With its canine salons and all-natural-dog-treat bakeries, ours is a city obsessed with its pups. Cats, too—BuzzFeed was founded here, after all. But away from the din of the doggie day cares exist equally passionate pet owners who have forgone allergy-inducing pooches for parrotlets, gerbils, and bearded dragons. Small-pet ownership is on the rise throughout the U.S.; Americans are living with around 116 million fish, birds, small mammals, and reptiles. And folks aren’t just buying hamsters for their 7-year-olds: The city abounds with rat meet-up groups, reptile clubs, and homegrown Instagram feeds starring camera-loving hedgehogs. (And get ready for a House of Cards–fueled guinea-pig boom.) That’s not to say owning a rodent or a reptile is easy; they require strict diets and careful enclosure. What follows is a guide to navigating the complex alt-pet scene—and if you think cat people are obsessed, wait until you meet the woman with 40 hermit crabs.


Small and Furry
The case for a rat and the drawbacks of a chinchilla.


Clockwise, from top left: Hampster, Rabbit, Chinchilla, Gerbil, Rat, and Guinea Pig.  

Hamster
Life span: 2 years; Diet: Pellets, some produce; Difficulty Level: Not too bad; Smelly; Bites
These nocturnal fur balls are not big fans of being picked up. Syrians are bigger and more tolerant of handling than dwarves, but it’s best to keep both away from small children. Explains Sean Casey of Sean Casey Animal Rescue: “If kids take them out during the day, the hamsters wake up scared and may bite.”
From $13 at Petco; Sean Casey Animal Rescue

Rat
Life span: 2–3 years; Diet: Rodent blocks, seeds; Difficulty Level: Easy; Kid friendly
These smart creatures can be super-friendly (licking hands, rolling over for tummy rubs). Some can even be toilet-trained, like Britney, owned by Chaya Goodman, an Upper East Side vet tech. “Britney lived most of her life out of her cage; she had a spot in my room where she went to the bathroom, so I just put a pad there.”
From $14 at Petco; Sean Casey Animal Rescue

Rabbit
Life span: 8–12 years; Diet: Grass hey, pellets, dark leafy greens; Difficulty Level: Hard work
Rabbits should get four hours of out-of-cage playtime a day in a bunny-proofed area. The House Rabbit Society offers free home visits and tips on care, and if you’re lucky, volunteer Amy Sedaris just might show up. “I was at Stephen Colbert’s house and was appalled. I said, ‘Shame on you for the size of that hutch!’ But I sent him info and they turned things around.”
Adopt at House Rabbit Society or Petco

Gerbil
Life span: 2–5 years; Diet: Pellets, sunflower seeds, fresh greens; Difficulty Level: Easy; Kid friendly
Gerbils, the clean-cut class presidents of the rodent world, are more tolerant of handling than hamsters, and smell a little better than other rodents. “They’re less aggressive,” says Barbara Burn, author of A Practical Guide to Impractical Pets. This makes them ideal for kids. Plus, they’re active during the day, as opposed to nocturnal hamsters.
From $14 at Petco; Sean Casey ­Animal Rescue

Chinchilla
Life span: 12–20 years; Diet: Grass, pellets, produce; Difficulty Level: Not too bad; Smelly; Kid friendly They might look like football-shaped koalas, but ultrasoft chinchillas would rather not be held. They’re also nocturnal. Says Hell’s Kitchen–based owner Anjali Thomas: “Mine will rattle his cage at night while he’s playing. He also loves to throw his poop out of his cage. I’m always cleaning.”
From $160 at Petco; Chin Friends Chinchilla Rescue

Guinea Pig
Life span: 5–8 years; Diet: Grass hay, pellets, veggies; Difficulty Level: Not too bad; Kid friendly
Guinea pigs need three hours of cage-free exercise a day, and the more human interaction they get the more down-for-­cuddles they are. “When mine see me take out their food,” says Mandy Jordan of Have a Heart Guinea Pig Rescue, “they start ‘popcorning’: jumping straight up in the air. It’s this fantastic sign of joy.”
$38 at Petco; Have a Heart Guinea Pig Rescue


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