Talk to the Animals

Zoologist and animal behaviour expert, Sally Hibbard, is interested in the relationship between people and their pets. She’s a fan of frogs, scared of spiders and can be seen spotting stick insects.

Talk to the Animals: Top five alternative pets

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When most of us think about pets it's cats and dogs that top the list. Sally Hibbard sheds some light on five alternative animals worth considering.
Adorable alternative pets. Photo / Thinkstock
Adorable alternative pets. Photo / Thinkstock

Time and space are usually the stumbling blocks to rounding out the family with the traditional puppy or kitten. Busy work and family lives are not always conducive to daily dog walks or the level of companionship needed by our 'high maintenance' canine friends.

Small living spaces can be a challenge, as illustrated by an apartment dwelling friend who recently told me with great disgust about stepping in the cat's newly installed litter tray in the wee small hours.

Still, it's nice to bring an element of the natural world into the home that's a bit more interactive than a house plant.

So let's look beyond the ordinary and consider pets that are less demanding on time and space while still providing animal companionship and keep us in touch with nature. These unconventional pets may not be the type to curl up on your lap at night but they do have a lot going for them.

Bearded dragon lizards

Though not exactly cuddly, these Australian reptiles are happy to be handled and will respond to their owners. Growing to 60cm, their enclosure needs to be around a metre long. They require specialised lighting and heating but once you are all set up they are inexpensive and relatively easy-care pets. Plus, no one else's dinner party guests will be able to hand feed mealworms to the resident dragon.

Chinchillas

A pair of young chinchillas.
Photo / Thinkstock
A pair of young chinchillas. Photo / Thinkstock

Cousins of the guinea pig, chinchillas are outrageously cute. They are little round balls of fluff, rather like a large and very fat mouse. Even the most hardened rodent phobic is not immune to the charms of these bouncing squirrel-like creatures. Chinchillas require a tall cage around a metre high with wooden platforms and hidey-holes. They sleep during the day but will keep you entertained from early evening, bouncing around and rolling in a special dust bath. Despite their cute and cuddly appearance they are not fans of being held so are not recommended for children.

Birds

Birds are great company, providing a happy background of chattering and chirping. This does evolve into a less relaxing squawk in larger birds however, so do a sound check first. Cockatiels are my first choice for companion birds. These medium sized members of the cockatoo family may be purchased hand tame and are great talkers. A large cage or indoor aviary complete with assorted branches and a changing line-up of toys will keep them happy. Cockatiels are social birds, so if you are pressed for time, buy two.

Tropical Fish

Angelfish could be a part of your tropical tank.
Photo / Thinkstock
Angelfish could be a part of your tropical tank. Photo / Thinkstock

A nicely landscaped aquarium can be like your very own mini Amazon. Despite popular opinion, tropical fish are easy to care for with the right heating, filtration and lighting. There is a stunning array of colourful species available from all over the world as well as exotic plants as a backdrop. Replacing a portion of the water each week will ensure your Amazon River doesn't turn into a sludgy swamp.

Frogs

Frogs have huge entertainment value while pursuing flies around their enclosure, not to mention being the ultimate in 'green' pest control. An aquarium with land and water areas planted with ferns and other water loving greenery makes an attractive feature and the whole family will be mesmerised at feeding time.

Finally...

There are many other unusual pets available but do your research before rushing in as specialised care and equipment may be required. Some reptiles and birds may actually live longer than you, making future planning necessary. Of course all these pets still require daily care and maintenance, though none of them will particularly care if it's on the run. They won't drive the neighbours mad if you're late home from work and there won't be any unpleasant surprises waiting for you when you get home.

Do you have a pet that might be considered unusual? Are there other pet topics you'd like Sally to explore? Share them with us in the comment section below.

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