In 2010, Tiz A Miniature Horse Farm in Barnstead, New Hampshire, made headlines nationwide when it became the birthplace of the world’s smallest stallion, Einstein. The six-pound, fourteen-inch-tall foal beat out the previous world-record holder, a dwarf horse named Thumbelina, by three pounds to secure his title. Since then, we’ve all been ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the pint-size pinto while watching the farm’s YouTube video of him trotting around his new digs.
Einstein is no doubt eating up his fifteen minutes, but when the frenzy over him subsides, there’s a whole host of other miniature animals clamoring for your attention—and possibly a bed in your family room (or at least your backyard). Lose the lapdog—these downsized four-legged friends prove that good things come in small packages.
Weighing only nine ounces at birth (and yielding perhaps half a strip of bacon on their best day), micro-pigs have become more and more popular as house pets ever since Victoria Beckham reportedly bought two of them for her husband, soccer phenom David, for Christmas in 2009. Their small size belies their big price tag—the piglets can fetch $1,200 a pop—but their long life span (nineteen years, on average) makes them a sound investment for people with porcine propensities. They’re also known for being loving, intelligent, and nonallergenic, but be warned: they don’t stay small forever. They won’t achieve the same proportions as their full-size counterparts, but adult micro-pigs can weigh up to fifty pounds and be a foot tall—in other words, not exactly the best bedfellows.
With a mature weight of only three pounds—about half of which comprises their oversize ears—fennec foxes are mostly wild but, if trained carefully, have the potential to become domesticated and behaviorally similar to dogs: they can learn to fetch, walk on a leash, use a litter box, and come when called. Quick-moving and extremely active, fennecs thrive on constant exercise (always in an enclosed area, as they’re prone to escaping) but also love basking in the sun. These sociable creatures are friendly to their owners and strangers alike, but their boisterous nature may prove too much for other house pets to handle. If you’re in the market for one of these mischievous animals, be prepared to commit to a rigorous training and socialization regimen.
Miniature donkeys are renowned as desirable pets for children, physically disabled people, and the elderly, thanks to their robust health, their communicative nature, their loving personality, and the strong attachments they form with their owners. They also require very little space: up to ten donkeys can live on one acre of land. These animals generally stand between thirty-one and thirty-eight inches tall and, when cared for properly, have a life span of twenty-five to a whopping forty years. A word of caution: miniature donkeys are native to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia and are reputedly difficult—though not impossible—to import into the United States because of Department of Agriculture quarantine restrictions.
Photo: 2il org via Wikicommons
Originally from Africa, pygmy goats began appearing in the United States in the 1950s. Easy to raise, affectionate, and playful, the goats make appealing companions for everyone from suburban families to 4-H members. Kids start off at only two to four pounds; full-grown goats can weigh ten times that much but typically don’t exceed seventeen inches in height. As agreeable as they are, pygmy goats do have some special needs: they’re very social creatures, so if you’re considering buying one, make it two; they hate the rain, so you’ll need to provide them with a well-sealed outdoor sleeping enclosure; and they’re very vocal, so alert your neighbors to your intentions before you bring these animals home.
Also called barking deer, Muntjac deer are the oldest known deer, dating back to prehistoric times and originating in southern Asia and China. Two smaller species in this family, the Leaf Muntjac and the Reeves Muntjac, have been bred in the United States since the late 1990s; the Leaf deer weigh ten to twenty pounds, the Reeves twenty to twenty-five pounds. Once Muntjacs acclimate to their surroundings, they make loyal, fun-loving pets who run and play tag with their owners, as well as follow them around the house and give them kisses. They can live inside or outside or as indoor-outdoor pets (install a doggy door in your home and let them have the run of your property) and can be litter-trained within one day, just like kittens. If you decide to allow your Muntjac deer to roam freely, be aware that these agile animals can jump very high—most Leaf Muntjacs can clear five feet and can easily climb stairs—so take precautions to deer-proof your home, just as you’d secure it for your young child.
As adorable as these diminutive animals are, don’t lose sight of the fact that acquiring one as a house pet requires significant foresight and research. In addition to reading up on your prospective companion’s special dietary, shelter, and training requirements, be sure to familiarize yourself with the legal ramifications of housing such a unique pet in your particular geographical location, as well as any federal guidelines regarding importing the animal into the United States, if applicable. If you’re in the clear on those fronts, move on to tracking down a veterinarian in your area who’s knowledgeable about your pet’s specific health needs and able to treat any ailments that befall the animal. By putting in the extra effort on the front end, you can have your very own Einstein for years to come.