Why can’t fish breathe on land? How far can a hamster run on his wheel each night? Why do rabbit cages stink? Azula answers all of your burning pet questions.
Is my bunny, Cookie, a rodent?
I’d be hoppy to answer that, Michela! (Sorry, sorry.) Mice, squirrels, rats, guinea pigs and chipmunks are all rodents, and they all look a lot like bunnies, right? And all of those animals are furry little critters who like to chew on stuff, right? Those were some of the reasons that scientists agreed that rabbits were, in fact, rodents…that is, until 1912.
Then, scientists started to notice that rabbits just weren’t all that much like the other rodents—they only eat plants, they have more teeth than rodents, and their digestive and reproductive systems are super different from rodents’. That’s when rabbits (and hares and pikas) got their own scientific order, Lagomorpha, and became known as lagomorphs.
Now, almost 100 years later, scientists think bunnies are more closely related to horses than to rodents!
Do mice really like cheese?
Jerry (of Tom and Jerry) is a huge cheese fan, Chaeri, but real-life mice don’t love cheddar, Swiss, American or any other type of cheese. There is one thing you might be surprised to learn that mice do love, though: sugar! Scientists found out a few years ago that mice adore sweet snacks. But that doesn’t mean you should share your Halloween candy with a mouse this year, Chaeri. Never feed a pet mouse anything but good, healthy mouse snacks—otherwise your furry friend could get pretty sick!
To learn more about what grub to feed pet mice, check out our guide to mouse care.
Is it normal for bunnies to be stray?
That’s a harey good question, Maddy! It’s perfectly natural for wild bunnies to live free without people. But is it normal for a rabbit to be stray? No way! If you’re saying, “Huh?” read on!
“Stray” means the rabbit is supposed to be a pet, but he got lost or was abandoned. (“Wild” animals are supposed to be just that—wild—and should be left alone!) Some people think their pet bunnies will be OK if they set them free—but they’re wrong.
Pet rabbits are actually different species from wild rabbits, and they need people to take care of them. Wild rabbits are afraid of people, but pet rabbits usually aren’t.
If you think that cute, friendly bunny on your lawn is a lost family pet, tell an adult!
Do you have any information on the Betta fish? My class got one last week.
Absolutely, Leslie—I’m swimming in fish facts! Bettas are awesome, as long as you take good care of them. (They need a two-gallon or bigger bowl, just to get started!) Here are my five favorite things about Betta fish:
1. Betta fish don’t just breathe through their gills—they have something called a “labyrinth organ,” which allows them to breathe fresh air!
2. Betta fish are also called “Siamese fighting fish”—and that’s for a reason. If your fish is male, no tank-mates for him, please! (Females can be kept together, but only if their tank includes hiding places for the nicer ones.)
3. In fact, Betta fish can be so aggressive that they’ll attack a mirror if they see themselves in it!
4. Betta fish are stay-at-home dads! After a female Betta fish lays her eggs, the male Betta fish chases her away so she doesn’t eat them, and then he takes care of them until a few days after they hatch.
5. And finally, speaking of baby Betta fish, when a male fish decides he wants to have babies, he builds a nest for his future kids out of bubbles.
Have fun with your new pal, and take good care of him!
Why are goats’ pupils rectangular?
Very observant, Aline! You have a good eye for, well, eyes! Pupils—the black part in the center of the eye—are holes that can open and shut to control how much light gets in, helping animals adjust to different amounts of brightness. The shape of animals’ pupils is based on their lifestyle. People (and parrots!) have round ones, which are best for seeing in the daytime. Cats have slit pupils, which help them see both at night and in the daytime.
Goats’ rectangular pupils may look weird, but they help them see well both day and night, like cats, and also give them the ability to tell how far away things are. Goats need those things so they can escape predators at any time of day and on any type of land, flat or mountainous.
By the way, goats aren’t alone in having rectangular pupils. Sheep, octopuses and toads have them, too!
Why do gerbils like to run in wheels at night?
That’s a wheely hard question, Yasmin! I had to do some research for this one, and what I found out may surprise you.
Gerbils are nocturnal animals—which means that in their natural habitat (the desert) they only come out of their burrows at night to find food, because most of the predators are asleep. Gerbils run in the wheel because they have very a high metabolism, and if they didn't run off all that energy, they could get sick!
P.S. Make sure your gerbil has a wheel to run on—but please get the kind without rungs, as his feet could easily get caught in them.
Do ferrets make good pets?
Ferrets are great, Niaya! They are members of the weasel family, like otters, minks and polecats. Ferrets are really smart and cute, and they’ve been domesticated for over 2,000 years. They do require a lot of attention, though, and are happier to live in pairs than alone, so a ferret is not as easy a pet to care for as, say, a goldfish.
The only bad news is that it is not legal to keep ferrets as pets in some places, including New York City. So if you’re thinking about getting one or two of your very own, please have your parents make sure it’s okay to have a ferret where you live.
I heard that guinea pigs eat their babies’ poop and pee! Is this true?
Hmmm…interesting question, Elaine! I’m really glad I read it after lunch, though!
Seriously, guinea pig moms do not eat their babies’ pee—but you are absolutely right that they eat their babies’ poop. There are two reasons for this. For one, it’s important for a guinea pig’s health. These special soft poop pellets have important vitamins that help a guinea pig digest his food. Second, guinea pig moms eat their babies’ poop because they want to set an example so that the babies learn how to eat their own poop.
So the next time you go to a guinea pig’s house, you’ll know the answer when someone asks, “Hey mom, what’s for dinner?”!!! (Just kidding, of course!)
Can guinea pigs have babies with gerbils?
Interesting question, Arielle—and the answer to it is “No.” The way the animal kingdom works, animals usually only have babies with other members of their own species. It’s true that guinea pigs and gerbils are both mammals and they’re both rodents—but because they aren’t from the same species, they can’t reproduce.
And if we’re talking wild guinea pigs and gerbils, I can give you another reason why they cannot have babies. Guinea pigs come from the mountains and grasslands of South America, while gerbils—sometimes called desert rats—live in Africa, Asia and India. So unless they can catch a direct flight, these two different kinds of animals wouldn’t even be on the same continent!
How long do goldfish live to be?
You may be surprised at the answer to your question, Adriana. If well cared for, goldfish have a lifespan of 10 to 20 years. We’ve even heard of one long-lived lady goldfish, Tish from England, who made it the stately age of 43. Now she’s what we call a “golden oldie!”
P.S. If anyone reading this is thinking about getting a goldfish, good for you! Your first job as a fish parent is to find out as much as you can about taking care of them before you bring your fish home. Check out our Pet Care section to get started.
Why do ferrets stink?
Well, Anika, I definitely won’t be sharing your question, especially the second part, with any of my ferret buddies!
To begin with, all ferrets have special scent glands located just near the base of their tails. When they get really scared or excited, they may release a musky smell that, luckily, quickly goes away. While this does not happen often, ferrets ALSO naturally produce a musky oil throughout their skin. Some people find the smell pretty yucky, and some people don’t mind it at all. (We’re gonna take a wild guess, Anika, that you are one of the people in the first group!)
Why do ferrets grunt?
Like lots of other animals, ferrets have their own special language. These cuties are famous for a unique vocalization that ferret fans call a dook. A dook can sound like a happy grunt, or sometimes a cluck, and is often accompanied by another funny noise that sounds like “hee hee!” If your ferret is making this noise, Aimee, you’re doing something right—a dook means that your friend is very happy!
Why are guinea pigs called guinea pigs?
Well, Heather, that's a great question—considering that guinea pigs are not pigs and do not come from New Guinea! We'll never be 100-percent sure how these little guys got their name, but there are a couple of theories. Some believe the word "guinea" is a variation of Guyana, the place in South America where European explorers first discovered the animals. Others claim that these same explorers shipped the rodents back to Europe and sold them for one guinea. (That's a kind of old coin.)
And what about the PIG part? Supposedly, our clever explorers thought these cuddly companion animals looked like little pigs. (Guess they didn't have contact lenses back then!)
I really like rodents. Can you tell me more about them?
Great question, Hannah! Rodents are fascinating creatures. Did you know they are the largest family of mammals in the world? In fact, there are more than 2,000 different kinds of rodents, including mice, rats, chipmunks, porcupines, gophers, squirrels, beavers, hamsters, prairie dogs and groundhogs.
Another nifty fact about rodents is that their two front teeth never stop growing! If they didn't always gnaw on hard items, their teeth would grow right into their lower jaws. Ouch! The word rodent actually means "gnawing animal," and that’s exactly what they do.
Plus, not all rodents are small. One big guy called the capybara—he looks like a giant guinea pig—grows to be the size of a dog! And have you ever heard of someone being described as “quiet as a mouse?” The truth is, Hannah, rodents are not quiet at all! They use whistles, clicks, squeals and grunts talk to each other! Rat’s all for now!
Do fish drink water?
No, but we hear they really like chocolate shakes…JUST KIDDING, Dewayani, because that’s a really great question—and the answer is YES, fish do drink water! Some fish drink water in through their gills, and some fish absorb water through their skin.
Fish who live in freshwater need lots of salt because the waters they swim in don’t have any. They absorb a large amount of water through their skin and then let out the excess water, while keeping the salt in their bodies. Fish who live in the ocean have to be careful about taking too much salt into their bodies. So they take in sea water through their gills, which help to remove the salt.
Fish who live in aquariums drink water exactly the same way I've explained here, depending on whether they’re in saltwater or freshwater.
My hamster is mean and bites anyone who gets near him. What can I do?
I’m glad you want to be your pet’s friend, Sarah—and once you know the rules of being a hamster’s BFF, it’ll be easier to get to know your furry pal.
Rule # 1: Pretend there's a hamster-sized "Do Not Disturb" sign hanging up when he's snoozing. You may even see him snack on seeds in his burrow with his sleepy eyes still shut, but don’t touch! Hamsters may nip or bite if they are awoken or handled roughly. That’s ‘cause they’re nocturnal by nature, sleeping by day and playing and eating at night.
Rule #2: Get your new pet used to you—and used to being handled. Start by hand feeding him small treats. When he's comfortable with that, carefully pick him up, holding him securely. Hold him for a short time at first, and then gradually increase your time with him.
Good luck, Sarah! Let us know how it goes.
Is spinach poisonous to hamsters?
Great question, Abbie! It’s totally important to know what you should and should not feed your pets. Spinach is not poisonous to hamsters, but it might cause them to have some gas. Ouch!
And did you know that In addition to hamster mix, you should give your pet some fresh veggies and fruits every day? Carrots, broccoli, bananas and apples are especially good choices. But be sure to chop them up very small, because hamsters have tiny tummies.
Is it illegal to buy or sell turtles?
Get out the measuring tape, Natalie! Here in the United States, it is illegal to sell ANY turtle, baby or adult, whose shell is less than 4 inches long. The person buying the turtle wouldn't get in trouble, though. Only the seller would get in trouble.
The U.S. government made this a law back in 1975 because a lot of children were getting sick from their pet turtles. Turtles and other reptiles can carry a bacteria called salmonella that is passed on to people very easily.
Why turtles who are less than 4 inches? Well, although turtles of all sizes can carry salmonella, the government banned only tiny turtles because it seems that a lot of curious kids were catching the infection by putting their pet turtles in their mouths! Ick! So don’t put any turtles in your mouth, and always make sure to wash your hands after handling a turtle of any size.
How far can a hamster run on his wheel each night?
That’s a wheely hard question, Andrea! I had to do some research for this one, and what I found out may surprise you.
Many hamsters seem to love exercising in their wheels, and it is not uncommon for a single hammy to run 6 miles in one evening. Good thing they don’t have to wear running shoes, though. Just think, hamsters run on all four legs, so you’d have to buy 2 pairs for your pet!
P.S. Got a hamster at home? Make sure he has a wheel to run on—but please get the kind without rungs, as his feet could easily get caught in them.
What do you do with a turtle with a broken shell?
—Room 5, Stuart R. Paddock School
Let me stick my neck out and answer this one, Room 5! If the turtle shell has a minor crack, it will probably heal on its own. But for larger cracks, a turtle must see a veterinarian or turtle expert. Let’s hope he gets a ride, since it sure would take him a long time to walk to the doctor’s office!
A veterinarian’s turtle shell repair kit includes shell patches and special glues. But don’t try to glue a shell yourself if you find a turtle in trouble—the shell can get infected if it is not repaired properly.
So what happens when the turtle heals? Time for a shell-ebration, of course!
My brother’s goat just had babies. They have blue eyes. Is that unusual?
Congrats, Natalie, on submitting our first-ever question about goats! That sure came out of the blue!
Just like many baby mammals (and you humans, too!), goats are often born with blue eyes. This happens because when they are born, the melanin—the pigment that gives them their eye, hair and skin color— hasn't fully developed yet. As a baby goat gets older, his eyes may gradually change color. But some goats, like people, actually keep their baby blues as adults!
Why do rabbit cages stink?
Hmmm…because some people stink at cleaning out their rabbits’ cages?
I’m glad you asked this question, Cameron, because it gives me a chance to tell everyone who visits ASPCA Animaland something really important. If you have a rabbit, guinea pig, mouse, bird or other little critter who lives in cage, please keep your pet’s home clean!
By nature, rabbits are very neat. But when they pee, it has a very strong smell—and that smell will get stronger and stronger if the cage is not properly cleaned. Not only does it smell bad, but these fumes can make a rabbit very sick. It’s important to clean a rabbit’s litter box every single day, and to sweep and scrub down the entire cage once or twice a week.
To learn more, read our rabbit care tips.
Can bunnies eat the same thing as people?
Well, unless your family eats hay for breakfast, lunch AND dinner, you may not want to invite any bunnies over to eat, Jacquelyn!
Grass hay is the most important and biggest part of a rabbit’s diet, and he needs to eat a ton of it every day to keep his intestinal tract healthy. Pet buns should also have high-quality rabbit pellets. Not sure you’d want to snack on those either!
But rabbits DO eat some people food (or should we say people do eat some rabbit food?). They love chowing down on leafy greens like dark leaf lettuces, collard greens and turnip greens.
So, how about this? After you and your bunny share a carrot top, you can both wash it down with some cool, fresh water. YUM!
Here’s some more info on what rabbits eat.
What’s the difference between a rabbit and a hare?
Wow, Nicky, school just started and you’re already giving me a HOP quiz!
Luckily I’ve done my homework, so I know the answer. Sometimes you can tell a rabbit from a hare just by looking. Although they belong to the same scientific family, hares have longer, stronger legs and bigger ears than rabbits. Hares are born with fur and full vision. Rabbits are born blind and naked.
Their homes are different, too. Rabbits burrow, hopping around in underground towns called warrens. Hares, on the other hand, live alone in simple nests they scratch and scrape in the ground.
P.S. I don’t mean to make things really HARE-y, but jackrabbits, even though they’re called rabbits, are actually hares!
How do spiders make their thread? Do they ever run out?
Not to worry—spiders can always get more thread 24/7 on the World Wide WEB!
You know that was a (bad) joke, but these are great questions, Rachel. A spider’s thread is called silk. The silk starts out as liquid, deep in a spider’s abdomen. The liquid presses through holes, called spinnerets, in the back of the spider. As soon as the liquid hits the air, it becomes solid and is ready to be stretched and woven into webs or cocoons.
A spider spins different kinds of silk in order to make different things. She’ll spin sticky silk to make webs. The stickiness helps to catch insects for the spider to eat. Spiders also spin a stronger, non-sticky silk to make paths for themselves to walk over so they don’t get caught in their own webs.
A spider produces all of the silk she needs for her entire life. Since the silk is made from protein, sometimes a spider will eat a part of her web and re-use the protein in order to make more silk.
Wow, how awesome is that? Does this have your head spinning or what?
Why can’t fish breathe on land?
What a FINtastic question, Sophia! You probably know that fish breathe through fancy slits called gills. Fish gills are very delicate. When a fish is in water, the gills float open in order to take in oxygen.
But when a fish is taken out of the water, his gills collapse heavily—kind of like the way your hair sticks to your head when your hair gets wet. When a fish’s gills collapse shut, no oxygen can get in.
When it comes to breathing, though, it’s not just the gills doing the work. For a fish to get enough oxygen, water needs to flow in through a fish’s mouth and out through his gills. So, a fish really does need to have his entire body in the water in order to breathe—no doggie paddling allowed!
I want a rat or mouse when I’m older, but I do not want to clean the cage. What do I do?
Hmmm…interesting question, Rachel. This requires an interesting answer! First, let’s imagine the smelliest things in the world. You know…rotten eggs, dirty socks that have been sitting in your gym locker all year, really stinky cheese, poop, farts…you get the idea! Now imagine a room full of all of those things…but you’re not allowed to leave that room! Kinda hard to breathe, right? That’s what it might be like for a rat or mouse to live in a cage that’s never cleaned.
If you decide to have a mouse or a rat as a pet when you live on your own, you will have to be responsible for her health. That means feeding your pet, making sure she has fresh water every day and yes, cleaning her cage as well. If you don’t, the cage will smell and that will be no fun for you—or your pet. The fumes from your pet’s pee will become really strong if the bedding isn’t cleaned, and can make your pet sick when she breathes them in.
You can read more about Rat Care and Mouse Care in our Pet Care section.
Can a tarantula kill a human?
Bet you’ve been dying to ask me that question, Matthew! The answer is good news. While a tarantula’s venom is poisonous to his prey, his bite will not kill humans. The bite area will feel sore, but the pain usually isn’t much worse than a bee sting.
The other good news is that tarantulas only bite humans when they feel threatened. Much more annoying are the itchy hairs on their body that shed all over you and leave you scratching for days!
If you just can’t get enough arthropod action, visit the American Tarantula Society Headquarters.
Why do my gerbils chew the paper on their cage floor?
Catherine, do you mean to tell me that you don’t eat your carpet?! (Bad joke! JUST KIDDING!)
To answer your question, gerbils are feisty little critters with a major gnawing habit. They’ll chew most things you give them. So why do they chew their paper? Because it’s there! Gerbils chew through plastic toys superfast, too, so you may not want to shell out the bucks for plastic toys that’ll be shredded to bits in record time.
If you want to give your pets a fun (and really cheap) treat, give them the cardboard tubes that come with rolls of paper towels or toilet paper and watch them live it up (or, in this case, chew it up).
By the way, you’ve probably outgrown your old wooden blocks by now, so you might want to donate a couple to your gerbils to help keep their teeth in tip-top shape. Just make sure they’re unpainted and untreated, or they could hurt your little guys.
What do rabbits do when they’re happy?
You mean when they’re not having a bad hare day?
Sorry, Anthea, I couldn’t help myself—but I was just waiting for somebunny to ask a question about rabbits!
Rabbits kept as pets do some really cool things to let us know they’re feeling happy. There are so many I had to write a list:
- Tooth-clicking. This is similar to purring in cats, and rabbits often do it when they’re being petted or stroked.
- Playing. Bunnies love to push and toss their toys in the air. Sounds like fun to me!
- Licking. This is a sign of deep affection—if your bunny licks you, she likes you.
- Dancing. Yup, that’s right—when a rabbit is really happy, he may look like he’s auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance. Bunny choreography includes dashing, leaping, kicking, head shaking, body gyrating and executing 180-degree turns in mid-air. Watch out, Russell and Jakob!
Read more about making your pet rabbit happy and healthy here.
Why do animals have to have noses?
That’s easy! All the better to smell you with, my dear!
Uh oh, I promised I wouldn’t make so many jokes in 2010. Seriously, we animals rely on our noses to survive. That’s why we can detect odors so much better than you humans can. For example, a bloodhound’s nose is a million times more sensitive than a person’s. Animals use this important sense to track prey or avoid predators, and to find and follow trails.
Would you be able to smell the difference between two tiny ants? I’d be impressed if you could! But ants are able to. Ants can recognize members of their own colonies by smell, and they can also tell the scent of an intruder.
And believe it or not, male proboscis monkeys have enormous noses to attract the ladies! The bigger the nose, the louder they can honk—and honking drives female proboscis monkeys wild!
Boy, I can talk about noses all day. I really love noses! Thanks for the question, Korey. And remember, when you don’t know something, it’s always best to ask someone who nose!