best small pets for college students
Care Guide Questions About Gerbils

10 Easy Pets To Take Care of In College

Going to college can be an ordeal. During this stressful time, many people turn to pets for comfort. Indeed, animals can be a great source of fun and companionship. That makes it a great idea to get a college-friendly pet. It’s just a matter of knowing what pets are good for college dorms.

The best college pets are small and low-maintenance. Popular choices include birds, fish, reptiles, and rodents. You’ll find that snakes, turtles, lizards, fish, and hermit crabs are the most hands-off. If you want more interactive pets, you can choose gerbils and hamsters, as they require very little space but like cuddling. For the most interactive, you can be sure chinchillas, cockatiels, and hedgehogs will keep you spry.

All of these choices have small enclosures, uncomplicated diets, and don’t mind some time alone. However, make sure to consider the pet’s needs before getting it. Some will need more attention than others, in exchange for more love and affection. Others prefer alone time, so you can enjoy their company without as much interaction. You should also check your college campus’ rules about keeping pets before you proceed.

Why Bring Pets to College?

Although it’s very rewarding, college is a stressful, time-consuming venture. Many people are worried about taking care of a pet while juggling classes. However, there are real advantages to bringing a pet to college.

can you bring small pets to college?

Many studies show that pets are great for our health, including one study published in Animals. Here, it was found that dogs and their owners experience a surge in oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, whenever they interact. This can boost your mood, improve productivity, and make each day a little better. So, with exam weeks, a pet can help with:

  • Affection. Pets can offer you love, whether it’s by sitting in your lap while you write essays or welcoming you back to the dorm after class.
  • Reduced feelings of isolation. This is especially true for people new to college that haven’t made friends yet.
  • Stress relief. You can cuddle, pet, play, or watch your pet during your free time or during breaks. 
  • Encouragement to take breaks. Overworking won’t help your education, and pets need care. This encourages you to get a breath of fresh air and enjoy your pet’s company.
  • Help with anxiety and depression. The figures for anxiety and depression in college students are supposedly on the rise. The right small pet can help to soothe and comfort you.

The key, then, is to choose the right pet for your college dorm.

10 Small Pets For College Dorms

Of course, not every dorm will allow cats or dogs. You certainly can’t bring your beloved miniature horse either. Instead, the best pets for college are small creatures. They must also be:

  • Quiet
  • Easy to clean after
  • Low-maintenance, so they don’t interfere with your other responsibilities
  • Able to stay in a dorm-friendly enclosure when you’re not there
  • Approved and allowed by most college dorms.

What animals meet these requirements, but still make great pets?

Fish

Fish are silent but colorful creatures, making them a top favorite for college dorms. For their owners, they can:

  • Brighten up a living area
  • Provide entertainment with their colors and swimming patterns
  • Give you a sense of companionship
  • Provide a great distraction when you take breaks

Aside from the personal advantages, there are technical reasons to choose a fish.

  • If you keep only one or two, their aquarium will be rather small.
  • If well-maintained, their tank leaves no damage or messes for dorms to worry about.
  • The fish won’t make noise to disturb any roommates.
  • Even no-pet campuses usually make exceptions for fish. They just have to be kept in an appropriately small fish tank.
  • Fish are cheap. The set-up of a basic aquarium can cost under $20 in some cases.

Best Fish for College

Whether you’re well-versed in fish-keeping or a beginner, it’s recommended to start small. That’s because:

  • Dorms have limited space.
  • Larger aquariums can be messy if not properly cared for.
  • You should allow for changes in your schedule. If you have time for complicated fish now, you may not later in the semester.

With that in mind, the best fish for college students include:

  • Tetras. These should be kept in a school of 5 or more.
  • Guppies. These must be in a school of 3 or more.
  • Gold fish. These can be kept individually.
  • Betta fish. Males should be kept alone, while females can be 4-5 in a tank.

Just steer clear of closed system aquariums. They’re marketed as perfect for college students. However, keeping an aquarium like this is not only ineffective, but it can be inhumane. By their very design, these systems cannot keep aquariums properly clean. They will result in injury and death to your fish.

Gerbils

If you want a more interactive pet, gerbils are ideal. These small rodents are great for children, but those advantages extend to student life as well. That’s because gerbils are:

  • Small. Their enclosure may require some start-up investment. However, given their small size, a gerbil cage will easily fit on a shelf.
  • Low maintenance. With a companion, they’ll happily entertain themselves for days at a time.
  • Non-aggressive. With enough enrichment, your gerbil will be calm and affectionate.
  • Cleaner than most pets. With their thorough cleaning habits, you won’t find your dorm gaining a rodent smell.
  • Don’t mind cuddles. Do you want a friend to hold as you pull an all-nighter? Then gerbils are happy to cuddle up on your chest or neck.

However, gerbils cannot live in wire-mesh cages. You must get the right enclosure and an appropriate amount of toys. Otherwise, you may find them growing frustrated and eager to escape. Because of their small size, if they do, that can be life-threatening for them on a campus.

small pets for college dorms

Hermit Crabs

Do you want more activity than a fish, but less than a gerbil? Then a hermit crab will be perfect. These creatures live inside aquariums, which minimizes the space they need and the mess they make. Perfecting the tank conditions may be time-consuming, however.

  • Their habitat should be monitored for changes in temperature and humidity.
  • You’ll need to invest in thermometers and hygrometers.
  • Their substrate may be expensive, as it needs to be treated for bacteria.
  • You must provide a tank that’s large enough and deep enough for crabs to burrow.  

Even still, hermit crabs make great college pets.

  • Once their tank is established, you can keep several of them in one enclosure.
  • They display complex molting, shell-changing, and foraging behavior. This can be fascinating to watch.
  • Hermit crabs aren’t picky and will eat most foods. You won’t pay out large amounts in finicky diets.
  • Crabs are extremely low maintenance. With enough companions, they’ll be content to run their own society as you study.
  • Hermit crab tanks only need to have their tanks cleaned once a week. Their substrate should be cleaned out three times a year.

That’s definitely a win for the busy college student.

Turtle

Turtles are more interactive than hermit crabs, but also require additional maintenance. Are you a student that wants a pet they can better connect with? Then it can be a good trade-off.

  • Turtles can be let out of their tanks to walk around the dorm.
  • A well-socialized turtle won’t be startled by petting or being held.
  • Turtles are hardy creatures, so caring for them is less of a learning curve.
  • Certain turtle species are more active, willing to hunt for food, or interact with their owners.
  • Turtles come in every size. If you want a larger one to pet, there are medium-sized options that can fit your dorm. If you want tiny turtles, you can keep several in one tank.

Of course, each turtle has different needs. If you want a beginner-friendly start, then consider:

  • The western painted turtle
  • The common musk turtle
  • Mud turtles
  • The red eared slider

Red-eared sliders are considered the friendliest of all turtle species. They’re more active and can be sourced from more pet stores. Their habitats do require the same maintenance as fish tanks. However, with a turtle’s durability, you have more opportunities to adjust your habitat to the correct parameters. There are other downsides to consider, though:

  • Many turtle species need a specialized diet.
  • If your pet ever needs medical attention, you’ll need to call a vet who specializes in exotic pets.
  • Turtles have very long lifespans. That’s upwards of 30 years for the red eared slider. This can be wonderful for some, but too much responsibility for others.

Hamsters

As an upgrade in size and temperament from gerbils, we have hamsters. These are great starter pets for children and delightful college pets. This is credit to their small size and their uncomplicated cage or enclosure. They don’t require a specialized diet, and you’ll find them happy to entertain themselves if you’re busy.

However, they are very interactive pets. They should be given plenty of tunnels or toys. A hamster will tolerate your absence for a day or so, but will then grow lonely. That’s good news for students who want a friend to cuddle or play with as they do homework. They’re also very affectionate once properly socialized.

Even better, they can be toilet trained. Hamsters will naturally pick a corner of their cage to do their business. All you have to do is place a container with substrate in that spot, and no more picking up poop.

Unlike most of the pets on this list, hamsters have a short life span. At 2-3 years, this can be a problem for some pet owners, but important for college students. You may want a pet for the duration of one degree, but not through the decades.

Lizard

Reptiles have their own aesthetic that can add life to any dorm room. For college students, you’ll find that lizards:

  • Don’t require a lot of maintenance. They live in tanks, require basic substrate, and eat infrequently.
  • Don’t have special diets. Depending on the species, your lizard may be content with leafy greens and frozen bugs or pellets. If you want to provide a treat, crickets or other live prey can be found at most pet stores.
  • Don’t need much space. Larger tanks are always better, but a 10-gallon tank will suit most lizards.
  • Don’t need much cleaning. These are naturally clean animals that won’t need baths or scrubbing. If the tank is properly maintained, they can be odorless.

What Are The Best Lizards for College Dorms?

One of the most popular lizard species is the bearded dragon. All bearded dragons have a ’beard’ located on the underside of the throat. Along with their spiny scales and coloration, these species truly resemble mythical creatures – just much smaller.

While a fan favorite, they do require the careful attention of an experienced lizard owner. For beginners, you can instead consider the:

  • Leopard gecko
  • Fat tailed gecko
  • Crested gecko.

These geckos are more interactive, hardier, and less picky with food. Much smaller than bearded dragons, they may also fit students who have limited space.

Chinchilla

For a more exotic flare (and a love of cuddling), you can pick the chinchilla. Chinchillas make great college dorm pets because they’re:

  • Small. They often fit in the palm of your hand
  • Require a small habitat. So long as they’re able to explore outside it at regular intervals, they won’t mind a shelf-sized enclosure.
  • Love to play with their human owners. You’ll find your chinchilla cuddling around your neck, scurrying up your clothes, and playing at your fingers.
  • Come in many colors. In fact, chinchillas have more than 30 different color variations. While the exotic colors are more expensive, you aren’t limited to a few basic shades.  
  • Self-cleaning. Chinchillas don’t need water baths. Instead, they will dust themselves, if given the right ash or sand.

Chinchillas do have downsides that can scare off students, however.

  • Expensive. As an exotic pet, you may have difficulty finding one, especially for under a few hundred dollars.
  • Throw dust. The dusting process means you never have to bath a chinchilla. However, it does mean they might cover your shelf or desk with ash or sand.
  • Require attention. If kept in pairs, you’ll need a larger enclosure with lots of toys. If kept alone, you’ll need to regularly take out the chinchilla, play with it for long periods of time, and avoid ignoring it.

Chinchillas make the best pets for those who want a small, cute, and very affectionate pet. If you’re willing to make the investment of time and money, it’ll reciprocate.  

Snakes

Much like other reptiles (such as lizards), snakes are very low maintenance. If you want a less active pet than a gecko, but with that reptile aesthetic, snakes are perfect.

  • Don’t need strict feeding times. Some species only need to be fed twice a week, once every 3 to 5 days. That’s great for college students who often travel home, or who have exam weeks.
  • Diets are uncomplicated. Your snake will likely appreciate frozen mice, which are easy to find at pet stores. If you want to view an exciting hunt, you can also treat them with live prey.
  • Don’t need attention. Unlike most animals, snakes are fine if left alone for long periods of time. Snakes do not like physical contact, and it’s best to handle your snake 1 to 3 times a week.
  • Quiet. If you have roommates, then take comfort. Snakes rarely make noise, even during the night when they’re active.

What Are The Best Snakes for College Students?

A common choice for snake owners is the ball python. This species is docile and doesn’t have special needs. However, that may be an extreme choice for beginners. Pythons are sensitive to stress, which can lead to lashing out, being picky at food, and even losing appetite. For new snake owners, consider:

  • Corn snakes
  • The rosy boa
  • The Kenyan sand boa.

These are smaller than most snakes, and have even temperaments. They also have very basic food and housing requirements.

Hedgehog

Like the chinchilla, hedgehogs are exotic pets with a reputation for cuteness. They’re best known for rolling into a spikey ball when startled. Owners may be fascinated by how they scurry, roll, or swim. Hedgehogs make great low-maintenance pet for busy students, since they:

  • Need a basic enclosure. A basic cage, some toys, a shelter, and a running wheel will do great.
  • Don’t need much companionship. You don’t need to buy several hedgies to make them happy.
  • Don’t have complicated diets. Most will be happy with pellets and frozen bugs.
  • Can gain exercise within their cage. With a good running wheel, hedgehogs will stay healthy and happy. They don’t need to be taken out or allowed to run free too often.
  • Affectionate. Hedgehogs are difficult to socialize and require semi-frequent handling from their owners. When properly raised, however, they’re known to cuddle and play small games.
  • Clean. Like chinchillas, hedgehogs will bathe in a dust bath.

Of all species, the African pygmy hedgehog is the most common as a pet. It’s the smallest, offers the most even temperament, and is more easily sourced from pet stores. Just beware that this species tends to be shy. So, if you want an interactive pet, that’s great. If you don’t have the time to play with it consistently, you may need a different animal.

Birds

If you don’t have much floor space, why not get a pet that can fly? All good habitats are large, but bird cages go upwards, instead of to the sides.

Birds are highly intelligent creatures. They can be trained to solve problems, and even mimic. As a matter of fact, birds may be able to compete with human intelligence.

can you take a bird to college?

A study published in Scientific Reports measured the visual memory of African grey parrots, and compared it to children and Harvard students. The result? The parrot scored better than the children, and scored just as well, if not better, than the students.

Birds are great for those who want a social pet. From small finches to big parrots, they enjoy attention and play.

What Are The Best Birds For College Students?

Good beginner species include:

  • Canaries
  • Cockatiels
  • Finches

These species tend to be small, warm up quickly to their owners, and are also easy to take care of. While parrots can be more exciting and interactive, many college dorms won’t allow them. They also need a lot of dedicated time, which a student may not have.

Instead, canaries and finches are very self-contained pets. If given enrichment in their cage, they’ll happily sing and flutter around for your entertainment.

For cockatiels, you can train them to sit on your finger or shoulder, mimic words, or play games. Just beware that cockatiels offer the most personality, but can be loud if not properly trained.

Can You Bring Small Pets To College?

As a rule of thumb, most colleges do not allow pets on campus. It’s not that colleges hate pets. Rather, they must comply with health and safety regulations. As any responsible pet owner knows, animals may carry diseases if not cared for properly. Different colleges will have different policies. Be sure to ask about the rules of your particular dorm.

  • Most colleges do not allow cats and dogs.
  • Dorms are more lenient about small animals, like fish and hamsters.
  • Some colleges only allow animals on certain housing facilities.
  • Other colleges even partner with local shelters to allow students to shelter pets.

Of course, picking a college based on its pet policy isn’t the most responsible choice. If your campus doesn’t allow pets, you can get around this by:

  • Renting a house with friends
  • Finding an off-campus apartment that allows pets

If off-campus living isn’t possible, you can still bring pets into your life. Perhaps your campus will allow the family dog on a visit, so long as it’s on a leash. Volunteering at shelters is always a good choice, for both you and the shelter.

When choosing a pet for college, start small and simple. You’re not just getting a companion – but a friend. You should ensure its needs are met and that it’s well-cared for.