The majority of college students, especially freshmen, often realize that when living by themselves in a cramped dorm room, things like cooking and cleaning up after themselves become an unimaginably tiresome struggle. Thus, rarely does the word “pet” ever factor into the complicated equation of a collegial life. As if the teeter-totter of trying to keep their own selves fed and alive wasn’t already stressful enough, students with pets are faced with the charge of having to keep another being fed and alive as well. The sobering responsibility of life may perhaps be one of the biggest responsibilities anyone can ever have.
However, there are definite benefits to having a pet in college. The sense of accountability for another life may encourage students to follow a strict schedule in order to keep up with all of their obligations, boosting their work ethic and time-management skills. Furthermore, the companionship that another living being can provide during the cold, lonely weeks of midterms and finals is priceless and invaluable, encouraging positivity, optimism and overall mental wellness.
Bearing all this in mind, below is a compilation of the top four best pets that college students can easily take care of in their dorms — just make sure your dorm allows it before taking the leap.
1. Dwarf Hamsters
Growing to be no larger than 3.5 to 4 inches, a dwarf hamster is the perfect pet to keep in a small dorm room. All a dwarf hamster needs is a sturdy cage, preferably made of plastic, glass or metal with a solid, escape-proof cage, which would only need to be cleaned and disinfected once a week. Make sure not to place the cage in direct sunlight or in a drafty area.
A further bonus is that hamsters generally maintain a very high level of cleanliness, and thus rarely require baths from their owners. If necessary, they can be spot-cleaned with a wet cloth or an unscented baby wipe. They can also entertain themselves for hours on an exercise wheel, so you don’t need to worry guiltily during class about whether your dwarf hamster is feeling lonely. It is thought that hamsters enjoy running as a way to satisfy their natural instincts to explore which they are unable to do effectively in a cage.
Dwarf hamsters mostly munch on high-quality hamster lab blocks and limited amounts of grains, vegetables, fruits and Timothy hay. Fresh food and water should always be available to the hamster as well. However, note that chocolate, caffeine or alcohol must never be fed, as they can lead to serious medical conditions.
With four different breeds, each having a unique, distinctive personality, there is a dwarf hamster to complement even the quirkiest owner. The Campbells are quite curious and easy-going, while the Chinese are often shy and love to tunnel into their bedding. There are also the Winter Whites, which are more vocal and love to exercise, as well as the Robos, which are awake during the day more than the other dwarf hamster breeds, which are nocturnal.
It is said, however, that these nocturnal dwarf hamsters can actually adjust to their owners’ schedules. Amazing!
The easiest way to take care of a fish would be in a fishbowl. It is important to note that while keeping fish in a bowl may certainly be easy, it does not provide an adequate habitat for most aquarium fish to thrive in. To debunk a common perception, a goldfish should never be placed in a bowl due to their relatively large sizes and amounts of waste production. It can create a toxic environment that may result in ill health and stunted growth. Most goldfish should not be kept in tanks with a volume under 20 gallons, and some even recommend placing them in large ponds once they have reached maturity.
While a filtered cold-water tank or a heated tank would be the most ideal habitat. Most college students find that they are often unable to afford the necessary equipment, which can range from anywhere between $40 to $400.
Good news, though. According to Pet Helpful, there are several species of fish that can do quite well in a bowl as long they are properly cared for.
Paradise fish: These can withstand a wide range of water conditions, and as they live in cooler climates in the wild, they are able to tolerate unheated fish bowls effectively. They will also accept almost any type of fish food, but for optimal health, high-protein foods are recommended.
Wild-Type Feeder Guppies: These are one of the easiest tropical fish available for beginning fish owners. These beautiful, hardy fish come in an astounding variety of stunning colors. They are also able to do well in small bowls, as they can quickly adapt to cramped spaces and changing temperatures.
Zebra Danios: Depending on the number and variety of Danios in the fishbowl, an appropriate filtration system will be needed. A heater is not required, although fluctuations in water temperature are not recommended.
Whichever fish you choose to keep, avoid the temptation to overfeed, even if you may be going away for the weekend. It is much, much better for a healthy fish in an appropriate environment to go two days with no food rather than being overfed. Overfeeding can result in excessive waste and exponential bacterial growth, leading to toxic, unsuitable water conditions which may kill your fish.
In an interview with PetMD, Dr. Stewart Colby, DVM and founder of Windward Animal Hospital in Johns Creek, Georgia, stated, “Although turtle-care isn’t too difficult, it is essential that their environment be well maintained.”
For instance, it is recommended that owners purchase the largest aquarium possible. As turtles live on both land and water in the wild, they also require both water and land habitats in their enclosed aquariums, with ample room to simulate natural exploration.
Dr. Colby also advised installing a strong filtration system and frequently changing the aquarium water. If proper hygiene is not strictly enforced, turtles can develop a large range of ailments and diseases, from vitamin deficiencies to parasites to salmonella, a potentially deadly disease that can be transmitted to humans as well.
Unlike fish, however, water temperature for turtles is not as big of an issue as long as they are kept indoors, with access to sunlight or a heat lamp to bask under. The vitamin D from the sunlight is also a key component in helping turtles to properly develop their shells.
Finally, turtles only need to be fed about four to five times a week, except in the case of a young water turtle, which will need to be fed every day. So if you’re ever running late and don’t have enough time to feed your turtle its diet of insect, fish and dark leafy greens. There is no need to worry! You can just wake up earlier the next day and feed it then.
With proper care, many small pet turtles can easily live up to an astonishing 60 to 100 years, so make sure to pick a college (and potential lifetime) companion that you know you will get along with well!
4. Hermit Crabs
As hermit crabs are social animals, it is recommended that a buyer purchase at least three crabs. Any kind of tank, whether it be a fish tank or a tortoise terrarium, that can hold in humidity while letting in fresh air, can be made into a proper home for the hermit crabs. A 10 to 20 gallon tank should be used for two to four small hermit crabs, while a 20 to 40 gallon tank should be used for a dozen.
Because hermit crabs can only breathe through hardened gills, it is imperative that the tank humidity never drops down below 75% relative humidity. It is recommended that owners purchase a humidity gauge to properly maintain the humidity, as well as several sponges or natural mosses to increase humidity when appropriate. Considering that hermit crabs are tropical creatures, the tank should also be maintained at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit as well.
The bottom of the tank should have a layer of only sugar-sized arrogate sand or compressed coconut fiber. The layer should be three to five times the height of your largest hermit crab, to ensure safe burrowing. It only needs to be changed once every six months or so, but it is a good idea to do monthly checks for any suspicious mold or ant infestations, and to spot clean, if needed.
Please be patient with your hermit crabs after purchasing them! They can be quite shy and nervous, especially after moving to a new environment, and may go through a period of de-stressing that can last anywhere from a few days to two months. During this period, do not disturb or attempt to hold them, but simply ensure that they are getting fresh food and water regularly. If this is not done properly, they may succumb to what is known as Post Purchase Stress, which can be lethal.
However, once you notice that your crabs no longer shrink into their shells when you come near their tank, wait a few more days, and finally, finally, you may gently begin to hold your hermit crabs.
So what do you think? Will you consider taking on one of these four animals as a college companion?
Whatever your choice of pet may be, always remember that with the proper attention, compassion and devotion, the relationship between you and your pet will never fail to thrive and strengthen. It will grow into something that you'll have trouble putting into words, but will always know and will always feel, someplace deep in your heart.
Could it be, shall we say, love? This just may be the start of something beautiful.
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