Most of us have dogs and cats in mind when we think of pets, but other animals can be great choices, especially in small spaces
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
You’re in your first apartment, and you’re ready for an animal friend to be your roommate. But even if the place where you live is pet-friendly, you need to think about your neighbors and landlord when choosing your new pal. A loud or destructive pet isn’t going to help you win friends and could cost you big bucks -- or even get you kicked out. With that in mind, here are some apartment-friendly pets to consider.
-- Rats! No, that’s not an interjection. Domestic rats are friendly, smart and like people. Highly trainable with food-based positive reinforcement techniques, they often enjoy riding in pockets and on shoulders as well as performing tricks. They come in seven coat varieties and 40 different colors and patterns; think cinnamon pearl, cocoa, silver lilac, merle and seal point Siamese, to name just a few. Rats are easy to feed with commercial rat food, plus some fruit, nuts and vegetables to round out their diet. Choose a cage marketed for a slightly larger animal such as a chinchilla or guinea pig, and your rat will be good to go. They can be chewers, so keep them well-supplied with chew toys. The downside: their short lifespan of two to three years. More on rats as pets: petmd.com/exotic/care/pet-rats-all-about-fancy-rats.
-- Doves or finches. If a feathered friend is more your style, look beyond noisy hookbills such as parrots. Doves are typically quiet -- except for cooing sounds or morning greetings. “Their wings should not be clipped, and they should get free flight indoors every day,” says Daleen Comer of Lake Forest, California. If you’re worried about droppings, bird diapers or little “flight suits” are available commercially. When socialized from an early age, they can be docile and friendly. Comer’s ringneck dove Cloud was a therapy bird for many years. More about doves: olivesplace.org/pages/doves-as-pets.
Finches are charming aviary birds for both beginners and experienced bird lovers. Society or zebra finches are inexpensive, but they need a cage with plenty of space for flight and an assortment of toys and perches. They’re a good choice if you enjoy looking at their pretty colors and listening to soft chattering but don’t want to handle them. More on what finches need: bit.ly/3C1U7u9.
-- Bearded dragons. Friendly and easy to care for, these reptiles seem to enjoy human contact and are intrepid explorers around the house. As they move around, their tongue, which contains scent receptors, flicks out to tell them about their environment. For Kristen Thornton of Castle Rock, Colorado, a bearded dragon was a no-brainer since her husband and two sons are allergic to furry pets. Her son Cooper likes Ash, as they named her, “because she is cute, snuggly, active and fun.” Beardeds need large tanks with heat lamps or warming pads that ensure a range of temperatures in different areas, as well as special lighting to provide UVB rays so they can absorb dietary calcium. They are omnivores, eating both plants and insects, and live to be about 10 years old. You can learn more at reptilesmagazine.com/bearded-dragon-care-sheet.
-- Blue-tongue skinks. These ground lizards are on the larger side -- 1 to 2 feet in length -- but they are easy keepers in terms of temperatures, bedding and food, says Ashley Timms of Sheffield, England, who has been a fan for 10 years. “They do not require feeder insects and happily live on good meaty dog food and veggies. They are exceptionally smart and inquisitive and seem almost like cats.” Price ranges from $150 to $250 unless you have your heart set on an unusual color or species. Then you can find yourself spending up to $5,000. A tank for an adult should be at least 36 inches long by 18 inches wide by 10 inches high, but larger is better. Blue-tongue skinks prefer being “only lizards.” Bonus: They can live 20 or more years. For more information: reptilesmagazine.com/blue-tongue-skink-care-sheet.
Prefer a dog, cat or bunny? See next week’s feature.
for cat litter
Q: What kind of cat litter is best?
A: The short answer to that question is whatever they’ll use. But as with anything cat-related, there are nuances. Factors that affect a cat’s preferences include scent and texture. Most cats prefer unscented litter.
A 2018 study looking at feline litter preferences found that the 18 participating cats had a significant preference for clay or silicate types of litter over wood pellets. In the second phase of the study, in which 12 cats took part, clay and silicate litters were compared. That time, cats preferred clay.
But the reason there are so many different types of litter is to appeal to specific cat and human preferences. Take clay litter. It’s inexpensive, absorbent, widely available and -- at least in this study -- cats like it. Clumping clay litter is easy to scoop, and cats like the sandy texture.
But clay litters can be dusty, and cats tend to track it through the house. That’s where litters based on paper, wood and plants come into play. They’re great for people who have allergies and need to keep dust levels low. They’re also biodegradable and flushable, if a “green” litter is important to you.
Silica-based litter, which resembles little crystals, is also biodegradable, absorbent and dust-free. As the study showed, though, not all cats like its texture.
If you have a new cat or want to swap litters for some reason, run your own experiment by choosing two or three litters and giving your cat a choice. You’ll be able to tell which one he prefers.
The most important thing to remember is that your cat’s opinion is the only one that counts in this matter. Forget trying to buy whichever one is on sale. When you find a litter your cat likes, stick with it. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
pets and people
-- Pets often go missing during natural disasters such as Hurricane Ian. To help them be reunited with their families, the Petco Love Lost online database is available to simplify and shorten the lost pet search by using just one photo of a pet. Pet image technology enables the database, which has more than 1,800 participating shelters, to identify pets quickly so they can be returned home. It’s free to use and is as easy as listing a pet and uploading a photo to search the database. Users can sign up to receive alerts about their pet and create digital “lost pet” flyers to post on social media and distribute via email. People who have found animals can upload photos of those animals as well to help facilitate a match. For more information, visit lost.petcolove.org.
-- Halloween is coming up, and you’ll want to keep your pet safe and happy during the spooky season. Pet insurance providers want pets to stay safe, too. Embrace shares a few tips for success. Keep candy, wrappers and decorations away from pets. Candy can contain toxic-to-pets ingredients such as chocolate, xylitol, raisins, coffee and macadamia nuts, and wrappers, fake spiderwebs or other garlands can cause blockages if pets ingest them. Scary costumes can be, well, scary to pets, so start now to get them used to your apparel, including masks. Now is also the time to introduce pets to their own costumes if you’ll be dressing them. Costumes should fit well without being scratchy or heavy and shouldn’t limit pet vision or hearing. If you have lots of trick-or-treaters and will be opening and closing the door frequently, make sure pets are in a safe space so they can’t escape, or keep them leashed and at your side. For more tips, see fearfreehappyhomes.com/5-ways-to-help-pets-have-a-fun-and-safe-halloween. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.