Many people hear the word “rodent” and run a mile, either figuratively or literally, but rodents are indisputably popular as pets with many animal enthusiasts, both young and old alike. The term “rodent” is a catch-all phrase to encompass a wide range of small four legged furry animals, both the pest kind and the pet kind! Popular pet rodents include hamsters, gerbils, rats and mice as well as guinea pigs, and more exotic pets such as degus and chinchillas.
Each species of rodents has unique individual care requirements and differing needs to take into account when seeking to keep them as pets. In this informative guide for the potential rodent owner, we will offer an introduction to keeping small rodents such as rats, mice, hamsters and gerbils, plus some information on how to decide in the first instance if a small rodent is a good choice of pet for you, and how to buy and transport them home.
Each different species of small rodent has different care needs, and rodents can be kept in various different ways. So the answer to the question “is a small rodent the right pet for me?” is as individual as your eventual choice of animal will be. You will need to spend some time finding out about the specific care requirements of your chosen pet in order to ascertain if they suit your lifestyle and accommodation. When considering whether or not you are able to take on ownership of any pet, however, you should ask yourself some important questions first.
You should make sure that you fully understand what is involved in caring for a rodent of any kind before you move forwards.
Small rodents are relatively inexpensive to buy, with rats, mice, hamsters and gerbils often costing less than £10 per animal. Show quality pets may cost rather more, but as a general rule, small rodents are relatively cheap to purchase, and on an ongoing basis, do not require a significant financial outlay on a day to day basis after you have provided for their accommodation and the cost of setting up their home. You must also have a contingency fund available to cover the cost of any veterinary treatments that your pet rodents may require, and be able to provide everything that they need on an ongoing basis, such as food, bedding, and any additional toys and equipment that is required along the way.
Rodents are a relatively low maintenance pet compared to larger animals such as dogs and cats, but nevertheless they do require some time spent every day caring for them, handling them and attending to their cage and feeding. You will need to remove droppings and any uneaten food from the cage on a daily basis, as well as spending some time playing with and handling your pets and checking them over to make sure that they are well and healthy.
You will also need to dedicate some time every week to giving your pet’s cages a thorough clean out, and changing the bedding and disinfecting the cage and supplies.
In the wild, rodents are scavengers and will get the bulk of their diet from grazing and picking up scraps of food. Different rodents eat different types of food, and so it is important to research the specific species of rodent that you are considering buying to ensure that you adequately provide for all of their dietary requirements.
Pre-packaged complete food mixes are available for all varieties of small rodents to provide the bulk of their diet, and some rodents may also benefit from supplemental feeding of fresh fruit and vegetables as well. Rats can be fed treats such as egg and chicken, whereas these foodstuffs are not suitable or appropriate for gerbils and hamsters, so again, research is important at every stage of the decision making process when considering getting a new pet and establishing how to care for them.
The normal longevity of rodents varies between different species, from two to three years to over five years, depending on the animal and its breed.
The healthy rodent should be bright, alert and show signs of activity over the course of the day or night; some rodents such as hamsters are nocturnal, and so may sleep large parts of the day away! All rodents should have a soft and shiny coat, with no scabs, sores or sensitive patches. Their legs and paws should be smooth and uninjured, and they should be able to move freely. The eyes should be bright with no discharge, as should the nose. Your rodent should breathe quietly and not regurgitate their food or have any problems with eating and drinking. The stools should be solid and dark in colour; diarrhoea or loose stools, a condition sometimes known as ‘wet tail’ are a sign of ill health that may be serious.
Due to their diminutive size, surgical intervention for some health problems may not be appropriate for rodents, and there is a limit as to what can be done for a sick or injured rodent due to this. However, rats, mice, gerbils and hamsters do sometimes require emergency veterinary treatment or ongoing maintenance, such as tooth trimming, and so you should register your small pets with the vet in the same way that you would any other animal, large or small.
With the exception of gerbils, rodents are not particularly clean animals; they make nests, they are not choosy about where they go to the toilet, and they tend to scatter their food around. It is especially important due to this to make sure that you clean your rodent’s cage out every day, and make provision for a more thorough clean out at least once a week
Rodents are small, delicate creatures, so careful and thoughtful handling is essential to keep them safe. Rodents of all types may also nip or bite if upset or scared, and so it is important to tackle their handling safely to avoid injury to either you or your pet. Always support the body of your pet, and never pick them up by the head or tail. Avoid grabbing at them, and always move slowly and carefully. Take plenty of time to tame your rodents, and in time, you may be able to encourage them to step onto your hand. Rodents can be very fidgety and lively, and are unlikely to simply be happy to sit still in your hand or lap; they are likely to enjoy climbing all over you and exploring everything around them, so make sure that they cannot fall and injure themselves.
Rodents will also very much enjoy exploring the room that they live in when you let them out of their cage, and so you will need to rodent-proof this room carefully to make sure that your pet stays safe and is unable to escape. This includes blocking off the area under the door, making sure that there are no gaps or hidey holes your pet may escape into, and ensuring that any electrical cables are well out of your rodent’s reach, as they love to chew! If you are unfortunate enough to lose your pet rodent in your home, this guide can help you to find and retrieve them!
This depends greatly not only on the size of the cage itself, but on the species of rodent you are thinking about. Never mix species in the same cage; for instance, you should not try to keep a gerbil and a mouse together. Some rodents such as mice are social creatures, and greatly enjoy the company of their own kind, and do not thrive if kept alone. Others such as some species of hamsters do not get on with other hamsters, and will need a whole cage all to themselves.
Again, research is key; find out what is needed before you set out to buy. It is also important to remember that male and female rodents kept together will breed prolifically; and also that some same-sex combinations of rodents may be prone to fighting.
You will need to ensure that you can keep your rodent’s cage and all of their equipment in a suitable place, that it is not too hot nor too cold, and is away from direct light or sources of heat and any drafts. A basic shopping list of the equipment that you will need to buy before getting your first rodents might include:
Depending on the species of rodent that you buy, your shopping list may be rather longer, or require species-specific alternatives or additions; buying a good complete guide to the pet in question is a good idea in order to complete your species-specific research before buying.
The most obvious place that comes to mind when you think about where to buy small furry pets is pet shops, and indeed most pet shops will stock a range of different species of small rodents for sale. But did you know that you can also buy and adopt small rodents from private owners, specialist breeders and even rescue organisations such as the RSPCA and local animal welfare charities?
While buying a rodent from a pet shop often means that you can choose your pet, buy them and bring them home all on the same day and without having to wait, there is a lot to recommend considering buying or adopting a rodent from a private seller or breeder, or taking on a rescued pet.
Choosing a pet from a pet shop means that you will be unable to find out the provenance and history of your pet, and if they have any health problems or history of ill health. You may not even be able to ascertain accurately the sex of the pet that you are buying with any certainty! Buying or adopting a rodent from a private seller or a pet shelter usually means that you will be able to get plenty of advice and support both before and possibly after you take your pet home. Plus, you will be able to take more time over your decision and have more opportunity to shop around and find the pet that is absolutely perfect for you. Check out some of the small rodents for sale and for adoption across the UK here on Pets4Homes.
Small rodents are relatively easy to find for sale, and readily available to buy and take home on the day. Remember to check your potential pet over for any signs of ill health when making your selection, be sure that you can ascertain the sex of the pet in question, and do not take home any pet that seems too small or young or is sickly.
Find out as much information as you can about the pet from the seller, such as their history, if they are used to being handled and what they are used to eating, so that you can make the transition to your home as smooth as possible.
Always get a receipt for your purchase, and find out if you have any comeback if you have any problems with your new pet, or if they prove to be sick or not as described after purchase.
This guide alone should not be considered as enough to fully prepare you to own your first pet rodent; you will need to undertake some species-specific research as well first. Buying a good species-specific guide book to learn more about your potential future pet is a good idea, plus here are some links to further advice articles on caring for and choosing different types of small rodents written by Pets4Homes animal experts:
Keeping pet mice
A guide to keeping hamsters
Keeping pet rats
Common rat health problems
Caring for a pet hamster
What you can expect from pet gerbils
Top tips for gerbil health