Last September, I bought myself a betta to keep me company in residence. He's a good little fish, and still doing remarkably well in his spacious 3 gallon filtered tank - I just added a pair of zebra snails to keep it clean for him, there was a bit of algae buildup, but Alliefish himself is fine and fit and will probably keep swimming around for another 6-12 months.
But there's one big problem with fish: you can't cuddle them. Not if you want them to live, anyway. This September I'll be heading off to a different university to get my Master's degree, and I'll be staying in an apartment instead of a shared suite in residence, and that means I'll probably end up in a place that allows pets.
As much as I would love an adorable little kitty cat, my life just doesn't allow that degree of committment right now. So, I am contemplating a small animal of some sort. Something in the hamster/gerbil/rabbit/guinea pig line. I have never had such a pet, so I have several questions about them.
1. What species is the most affectionate? I don't want a cute soft furry thing that just sits in its cage all day, I want to be able to play with it and pet it and call it George without it biting me or hyperventilating from the stress of contact. Also, I understand we're talking about brain sizes measured in cubic millimeters here, but it would be nice if my pet recognized me and interacted with me, and maybe learned some tricks. Significant bonus points to any species I could train to ride around on my shoulder.
2. What about lifespans, and general hardiness? I don't want to get all attached to some bright-eyed and bushy-tailed critter only to have it die two weeks after bringing it home, but at the same time, if I wanted something that would be with me for 15 years, I'd just get a cat.
3. Where should I buy my future pet from? Is there a significant difference between a $20 pet store hamster and one given away for free by some pet owner in town whose supposedly male creature just gave birth? I would prefer a younger creature so I could try to head off the development of bad habits - how old are the ones sold in stores? Or if I went with an animal from a recent litter, how old would it need to be before it could be taken away from its mother?
4. Accessories! How big a cage would I need for each species, and what should I look for in the way of toys? I've seen those Habitrail cages and add-ons in pet stores, and I think I could furnish a small apartment for about the same cost as a full cage/tunnel/maze/observatory/detachable wheel setup. How much room and how many toys do they really need? I know with bettas, most pet stores recommend the tiny little plastic 1/2 gallon (or even smaller) tanks, while anyone on a dedicated betta message board will accuse you of rampant animal abuse if you house your 2" long fish in anything less than a 10 gallon heated tank with full biochemical filtration and a rock-solid nitrogen cycle. My Alliefish, however, is perfectly happy in the middle ground between the two. Are small animals the same way, or is bigger actually better for them? Also, is there any reason to buy new stuff, or would something used do the job just fine? (I'd be careful to wash anything used thoroughly, of course).
5. What about travel? Does anybody know how easy it is to cross the Canada-US border with small animals? I've checked the relevant governmental websites, and they look pretty straightforward.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency DOES NOT permit the importation of:
a) Prairie dogs, Gambian pouch rats, or squirrels from any country; or
b) any rodents from Africa.
Rodents, other than those identified in a) and b) above, can be imported into Canada without an import permit, health certificate, or inspection(1).
Rabbits, Guinea pigs, hamsters, ferrets, and other pet rodents:
There are no CDC or USFWS restrictions or requirements on these animals if brought in as pets.
So, it sounds like I could just load the cage into the back seat of my car and drive right across. Anyone have any experiences to the contrary? And do rodents handle travel reasonably well, or do they get all freaked out by it? Our dogs are wonderful travelers, they just curl up in the back and sleep during the drives to and from Florida during the winter, but I was wondering if a smaller animal would get rattled by the noise and vibration over long distances.
6. Anything else I should know about small animals in general? Given the information provided above, what species would be the best for me, out of the more common ones? As much as I'd love something neat like a ferret or chinchilla, they're a bit out of my price range - I think I'm limited to hamsters (regular or dwarf, and what's the difference?), gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, and rats. And the latter might be a bit iffy - my mother is terrified of them, and they might be harder to get across the border. (When asked "Anything to declare?", compare "Just my adorable pet hamster, neatly secured in his cute bright plastic cage with completely adequate ventilation, food, and water!" to "Well, there's this rat... careful, he bites").
Educate me about pet rodents!