A primer on caring for small mammals: the good, the bad, the smelly

Chinchillas

Pro: These Pikachu lookalikes are all about the fur, considered the softest in the world. 

Con: They require “dust baths” daily or several times a week to remove oil and moisture from their fur. 

Fun Fact: They’re the Methuselahs of pocket pets, typically living 10 years or longer. 

Hedgehogs 

Pro: These nocturnal, spine-covered insectivores can be snuggly pets, if you acclimate them to people early. 

Con: In-breeding has caused health problems among hedgehogs in the U.S., says Lori Keller, a Hilliard resident involved with the Hedgehog Welfare Society, shortening lifespans to two to three years. 

Fun Fact: More than 5,000 spines cover a typical hedgehog. 

Ferrets

Pro: These energetic and social predators are more like a dog than a typical pocket pet, even greeting strangers and playing with other animals. 

Con: They’re prone to such ailments as heart disease, lymphoma and inflammatory bowel disease, says Dr. Barbara Oglesbee, an exotic animal veterinarian at the Hilliard MedVet clinic. “People don’t realize that when they get that cute little 1-year-old ferret,” Oglesbee says. “Then it’s heartbreaking for them when they can’t afford to sustain the treatment for these diseases.” 

Fun Fact: A group of ferrets is known as a “business.” 

Read all the stories in our Columbus Pets Guide.

Guinea Pigs

Pro: They don’t have as much personality as ferrets, but guinea pigs are easygoing and curious pocket pets that bond well with their human owners. 

Con: The smell. Cage cleaning is a daily burden, especially if you have more than one, and males have scent glands that grow stinkier as they age. (Oglesbee says neutering improves the odor.) 

Fun Fact: A nearly hairless breed is called “skinny pigs.” 

Sugar Gliders

Pro: These palm-sized marsupials are a sight to behold as they glide in their sizable enclosures. 

Con: The noise. “As long as they’re afraid of you, they are just these screeching, screaming little angry balls of angst,” says Keller, who’s rescued sugar gliders in the past. 

Fun Fact: They are literal pocket pets, who will snuggle in the shirt pockets of their owners.