5 Low-Cost, Low-Maintenance Alternatives to the Family Dog
There’s something about owning a pet that appeals to everyone. Whether you have always dreamed of owning “man’s best friend” or perhaps aspire to be the neighborhood cat lady, chances are good that you may be in the market for a companion animal in the future. But what if you just don’t have the dough, time, energy or space for the more traditional pets? Here are five species that may not bring you the newspaper every morning, but won’t leave you for the family down the street, either:
African Clawed Frog – For just about $18 at your local pet store, you can own this 4-5 inch long aquatic frog, along with a small habitat, large rocks, a few plastic plants, and a bottle of pellets to feed it for a year. We own one of these, and the upkeep is minimal. Simply change out the water when it gets murky, and remember to throw a few frog pellets in every other day. Easy peasy. They live for up to 15 years, and love to hide behind rocks. These make a very good beginner pet or are perfect for the person who would forget to tend to a pet daily.
Leopard Geckos – This pet is a bit more costly in initial cost and setup. Unlike most reptiles, however, this one is nocturnal and doesn’t require any special UV lighting. Unique in that it has no sticky toe pads (guess who won’t be climbing out of the tank anytime soon) but has eyelids, this gecko must be fed fortified bugs. Not for squeamish people or those who like to travel out of the country on long trips. Plan on having this pet around for 20 years or so.
Hedgehogs – Also referred to as “African” or “Pygmy” hedgehogs, these were part of an exotic animal fad a few years back. There are still hedgehog breeders with long waiting lists for the “perfect” hedgie asking for insane amounts of money for their babies. However, I have found that doing a simple search of local shelters and the few Hedgehog rescue societies will most likely get you a hedgie for less than $50. We owned a few as a child, and they are adorable! Easy to keep in a 2-3 foot tank, a single hedgehog needs very little interaction (and may prefer it that way.) It’s true that they have quills, and in a situation of feeling threatened they will roll up in a ball and “hide.” Care is similar to that of a hamster, but their diet is specialized. It is also worth mentioning that certain states outlaw the keeping of hedgehogs as pets, so check for your state.
Hermit Crabs – While not the most interactive of pets, the hermit crab does have some personality! Setup is inexpensive and similar to that of the Clawed Frog – minus the water, of course! The crab will need to be fed daily and bathed weekly. Once the crab has reached a certain size, you will need to offer it a variety of new shells for it to dwell in. Please consider purchasing a crab from a local pet expert, and avoid those being sold in mall kiosks across the country. (Somehow I’m not so sure about those guys being avid pet lovers.) If held regularly, you can expect your crab to respond to your touch and even come out to see you face to face!
Madagascar Hissing Cockroach – I know. Just the thought of the things has my skin crawling. Cockroaches do make very good pets, however. They enjoy being held, but do not require it (that’s essential for us squeamish folk.) Setup requires a large tank with the most secure mesh lid ever invented and a bedding of shavings, along with some fun places for them to hide (egg cartons work well.) They feed on fresh fruit, veggies, and dry dog food. If you can get used to their gross appearance, just remember that they do hiss.
I’m sure that there are several other great small pets that I have failed to mention. My list is based on cost, space, and the stink factor (which is why I left out hamsters and gerbils.) Having a unique pet may also help kick-start the conversation at your next house party (or send them home reeling and gagging.) Find the one that works for you, and maybe with some experience, you can graduate to getting a Fido or Ms. Whiskers in a year or two. Just don’t let them near the hedgehog!