Information About Rodents For Potential Rodent Owners

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.

Is a small rodent the right pet for you?

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.

  • Can you afford to buy and keep the pet in question and provide financially for all of their needs?
  • Do you have enough time to look after the animal properly?
  • Are all of your family happy about your decision to have a rodent in the house?
  • Are you allowed to keep pets if you live in rented accommodation, and might having a pet make it harder for you to find a property to rent in the future?
  • If your family grew or changed with a new child or partner or if you split up from your partner, how might this affect your ability to care for your pet?
  • Are you prepared to deal with the potential mess and smell of keeping caged animals in your home, and are you ready to take on all of the cleaning and care that they need?

You should make sure that you fully understand what is involved in caring for a rodent of any kind before you move forwards.

How much does it cost to buy and keep rodents?

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.

What kind of time commitment is needed to buy and care for rodents?

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.

What do small rodents eat?

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.

Health and wellness

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

Handling small rodents and playing with them safely

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!

How many rodents can be kept in one cage?

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.

What kind of equipment do you need to keep rodents?

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:

  • A suitable cage or rota-stack housing system
  • A separate nesting box or bedroom unit that can be attached to or placed into the enclosure
  • An appropriate material for the floor of the cage that is suitable for the pets in question, such as wood shavings or paper (this may vary between species)
  • Bedding and nesting material
  • An appropriate complete food
  • Food bowls and a water bottle
  • A mineral stone and vitamin supplements
  • A bottle brush and other cleaning equipment for the water bottle, food bowls and cage
  • Tubes to play in, and safe, appropriate toys
  • Treats, and suitable materials to gnaw on
  • Toys for play outside of the cage, such as a rolling ball that your rodents can exercise in
  • A separate small unit to place your rodents in when cleaning the cage, if you cannot close off individual sections
  • A small rodent-safe carrying box to transport your pets home and in case you later need to move them or take them to the vet

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.

Where to buy rodents

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.

How to buy rodents

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.

How to transport your new pet home and settle them in

  • Make sure that you have all of the equipment ready and set up in your home to receive your new small rodent; do not attempt to buy everything from scratch on the same day as you collect your pet.
  • Ensure that you have a suitable carrying box to get your new rodent from the place of purchase to your home safely and securely, and that it is adequately ventilated and padded with bedding.
  • Place your pet gently and carefully into the container and ensure that it is properly secured before setting off.
  • Drive home carefully with the container secured in order to offer your pet the best chance of protection in case of any accidents on the road.
  • When you get home, if possible, place the travel container into the cage and open it, securing the main cage and allowing your pet to come out and explore his new home in his own time.
  • Make sure that fresh water and food are available to your pet, and ensure that you do not make any sudden changes to the food that your pet is used to eating, particularly during the first few days after bringing them home.
  • During your pet’s first couple of days with you, do not handle them unduly or attempt to play with them; let them get used to their new home gradually and give them time to settle in.
  • Keep a careful eye on your pet’s health and condition, particularly during their first couple of weeks with you.
  • If you are adding a new rodent to an existing cage of pets, quarantine the newcomer for at least two weeks before adding them to check for any signs of ill health, and manage the introduction gradually while being alert to any signs of bullying or fighting.
  • Register your new pet with your vet in the normal way as soon as possible after buying them; you might also wish to consider taking your pet along to the vet or to a veterinary nurse clinic for an initial health check, and so that you can ask any questions you may have about their care and wellbeing.

Further reading

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


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