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Surprising pets for families

From chickens to pigs to bearded dragons, here’s the skinny on how to expand your in-home menagerie
HedgehogsHow big? ½–1¼ poundsLifespan 8–12 yearsPrice $50–$350, depending on coloringDo they get along with kids? Yes, if socialized when young. They ball up and poke out their quills when startled, so they’re best for older kids.Diet and care These omnivores eat hedgehog food, plus occasional treats of live crickets and mealworms. They need a warm habitat of 75–80 degrees (usually achieved with an in-cage heat lamp).Special notes “They get along with other hedgehogs but not with other animals,” says Erica Mede, a vet tech at Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital, “because they’re a prey species.”Find out more
ChickensHow big? 3–6 poundsLifespan 3–5 yearsPrice Baby chicks cost about $3 each. The big investment? Housing: “You can build your own for under $100,” says Jeff Park resident Linda Nellett, who trains urban chicken keepers. Prefab houses can cost as much as two grand.Do they get along with kids? Yes. “If they’re handled a lot when young, they’re much more patient [as adult hens] with being cuddled.”Diet and care Chicken feed is as cheap as $18 for a 50-pound bag, which should last a half-dozen hens for a month. They also enjoy kitchen scraps.Special notes Like pigs, chickens are legal in Chicago as pets but not for slaughter. Find restrictions for individual suburbs at the website below. Roosters are noisy, so most people opt for hens (making neighbors happy). Also, beware of predators like raccoons. “Everybody likes chicken dinner,” Nellett says.Find out more
Bearded dragonsHow big? 12–16 inches, including tailLifespan 10–16 yearsPrice $50–$200, depending on coloringDo they get along with kids? Absolutely. “They’re one of the most sociable lizards. Many seem to like to be with their humans. If they can sit on you, they’re happy campers,” Mede says.Diet and care These omnivores eat fruits, leafy greens and insects, which need to be dusted with calcium powder for a balanced diet. “They can’t synthesize their own calcium,” Mede says, “so you’ll need a special lightbulb to help them convert vitamin D3 into calcium.”Special notes Breeders call them pogonas, after lizards’ scientific name, Pogona vitticeps.Find out more
Potbelly pigsHow big? 60–150 poundsLifespan 10–20 yearsPrice $400–$800 from a reputable breederDo they get along with kids? Yes, as long as the pig joins the family last. “Pigs don’t like to be usurped,” says Nancy Shepherd, Missouri-based pig breeder and educator. It takes work, but pigs and dogs can be trained to cohabitate, she adds.Diet and care “A full-grown pig eats just two cups of piggy chow a day. That’s not much,” Shepherd says. “It’s natural for them to root, so they really do need a safe outdoor space. Grass grazing is good.” Contrary to assumption, they don’t smell, but they need activities to match their intelligence, which is akin to that of a five-year-old child.Special notes Spaying or neutering is a must. If possible, see what the parents look like around age three to learn how big your pig could grow.Find out more
Sugar glidersHow big? 6–7 inches and about 4 ounces (roughly the size of a gerbil)Lifespan 6–12 yearsPrice $175–$250Do they get along with kids? Not generally with those under ten. They get frightened easily, bite hard and move fast.Diet and care They require a specialized diet prepared in a blender: fruit, eggs, yogurt and/or oats. Many owners make big batches and freeze portions in ice-cube trays.Special notes Prepare to spend a couple of hours a day with your nocturnal marsupial. “They need extra attention,” Mede says, or they get distressed. Another solution: “Get more than one sugar glider. Most people have three or four. Nobody wants to deal with a self-mutilating sugar glider.”Find out more
By Web Behrens |

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