News & Politics

How Much Is That Hedgehog in the Window?

Some people think outside the kennel when it comes to pets. If a dog or cat isn’t your thing, consider these unusual animals recommended as good pets.

Ball of Fun

In a new home, hedgehogs initially may be nervous and roll into a ball. Once comfortable, the small, spiny animals are gentle and social, with cute faces and soft underbellies. They have almost no odor and can be litter-trained.

Hedgehogs live anywhere from three to eight years; buy one that’s six to eight weeks old—and weaned—so it can get used to being handled. They cost between $100 and $150 and are about the size of a baseball when they curl up.

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Males as Moms?

Seahorses are plucked from the sea by the thousands for home aquariums and use in Eastern medicine. But recently breeders began to raise them in captivity, which makes for a hardier pet and a guilt-free owner.

One of the most common breeds raised in tanks is the lined seahorse, which is brown and sometimes tinted with yellow or orange. It grows as big as five to six inches.

Some seahorses mate for life, with males competing for females in tail-pulling competitions. The male carries eggs, which the female deposits in his breeding pouch, for two to four weeks before giving birth. “It’s an amazing sight—hundreds of miniature seahorses swimming around the aquarium,” says Jim Karanikas, owner of Tropical Fish World in Gaithersburg.

Karanikas says a seahorse typically costs about $50; colored ones can go for as much as $100. Seahorses need company, so buy at least two. Tank and equipment can run $200 to $300.

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Soft Touch

The chinchilla was first exported from Chile to the United States in 1923 for its coat, and its soft fur has helped make it a popular pet.

Ruth Hanessian, president of Animal Exchange in Rockville, says that many owners keep these rabbit-size, nocturnal animals in cages but let them out to run around because they’re inquisitive and active.

Chinchillas eat about a tablespoon of pellets daily. In addition to their regular food, Hanessian usually treats them to three raisins a day: “I have the kids who come into the store guess how many bites it will take the chinchillas to finish a raisin, because they can make a meal out of them.”

Chinchillas range in price from $75 to $150 and live 12 to 20 years. It’s best to buy one that has been handled from birth—that makes it easier for the chinchilla to adjust to its new home and likelier that it’ll be friendly.

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Feathered Friends

If you’re looking for easy care and maintenance, think about a bird. “You don’t have to walk birds,” Hanessian says. “You just pick up the newspaper at the bottom of their cage and throw it away.” You can feed them table food, though not avocados, which are deadly.

Most birds are active during the day but quiet at night, and many members of the parrot family can learn how to talk.

For an active and playful bird, Hanessian recommends a white-bellied caique, a small bird that enjoys playing with toys while lying on its back. It costs $1,200 but can live 40 to 50 years.

For those preferring a bird that isn’t as loud, Hanessian recommends a finch. Buy them in pairs because they’re very social and won’t do well in a cage alone.

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From the Tropics

Chameleons are a treat for the eye and are active creatures. But owners should be willing to invest time and money. The price of a tropical lizard starts at about $90, and a cage, lighting, and food can set you back as much as $1,000 in the first year.

Their water must drip into the cage, and they eat live insects that must be fattened up with vitamin-rich food.

Chameleons have a life span of five to eight years. They breed about three times annually, and the females lay eggs. They don’t always pass the eggs, however, so they may need to be spayed. “Spaying chameleons shouldn’t be a preventative measure like with cats and dogs—only if it’s necessary,” says Dr. Meredith Davis at Eastern Exotic Veterinary Center in Fairfax.

The veiled chameleon, panther chameleon, and Jackson’s chameleon are the most common breeds people own.

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This article is part of Washingtonian's Pets Guide package. Click here to read more about pet experts, dog walkers, groomers, and more.