“Pocket pets” are exotic animals, such as prairie dogs, flying squirrels, spiny mice, and hedgehogs, whose popularity as fad pets has skyrocketed in recent years. Although their small size may make them look cute and cuddly, “pocket pets” are wild animals who have very special husbandry requirements. They suffer from the stress of being confined to small cages, are generally fed an improper diet, and are often forced to have an unnaturally high number of litters. Trauma and injuries result when these animals are handled improperly and dropped. “Pocket pets” frequently wind up in climates that they are not suited for and are tossed aside when a new fad arises. They can also be dangerous and carry the risk of disease.
If pet shops selling “pocket pets” are engaged in “de minimis” (small-scale) activities, they’re exempt from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s federal licensing requirements. The exemption includes exhibitors with eight or fewer “pet” animals, small exotic or wild mammals, and domesticated farm-type animals. This means that even the shoddiest animal dealers can operate without fear of violating the federal Animal Welfare Act.