If you are looking for a pet, small rodents might be for you. This article takes a look at several of them and their care requirements.
Syrian or Golden Hamsters
They live on average about 2-3 years and adults are about 6 inches in length. They are solitary animals that should be kept one to a cage. A basic minimum cage size is 12”x 18”x 12”H, but since hamsters are quite active, the bigger the better. Syrian hamsters that are handled from a young age usually have an agreeable temperament, but if they are not handled much, they can be defensive and can deliver a painful bite. They are also nocturnal and can be difficult to wake or act grumpy if woken during the day. Overall hamsters are widely available and make good pets, with the advantage that they can be kept single. Also, several species of dwarf hamster are becoming more widely available. These are smaller than Syrian hamsters and are often more social, at least with others of their species. Some have a reputation as biters, that depends a bit on the species and how much they are handled.
Most gerbils live an average of 2-3 years, although up to 5 years is possible. They have a body length of about 4 inches, with a furry tail that is almost as long as the body (never pick a gerbil up by that tail). Gerbils are very active and social so are happier as a pair or group. Get all males or all females to prevent prolific breeding. Introducing adults is difficult, though, so it is best to acquire a pair, or more, that are littermates or quite young. A recommended minimum cage size for a pair or small group of gerbils is 12”x 24”x 12”H, although more space would be better. With regular handling, gerbils can become quite tame, and are interesting to watch as they play and interact with their cage-mates.
Fancy mice live 1-3 years on average and are quite easy to keep. They are only about 3 inches long, with a long hairless tail. They are also social, and females do well in pairs or small groups, males tend to fight if kept with other males. They need a relatively small cage, minimum 12”x18”x 12”H. Mice can become quite tame if handled regularly but are small, fast and can be skittish so are not the best candidates for human interaction. However, they are low maintenance and quite active and playful, so they are entertaining to watch.
A rat lives an average of 2-4 years and makes a nice pet. They are very social, and it is best to keep a same sex pair (male or female). Since they are larger, with a body length of about 8 inches (and a hairless tail about the same), they are to easy to handle. With regular handling they become very tame and enjoy human companionship, and they rarely bite. They need time outside of the cage for social interaction and exercise and can even be taught simple tricks (they have even been compared to dogs in their ability to bond and interact with people). They do need a large cage; it should be tall with at least 24”x 36” of floor space is recommended. Due to their social nature, they need more time and attention than many of the other small rodents, but make rewarding pets.
These are long lived, with an average lifespan of 5-7 years (up to 10 reported). At an adult size of about 10 inches long and 2-3 pounds, they are also the largest of the commonly found pet rodents. Their size and gentle temperament have made guinea pigs popular pets, especially for families. They rarely bite, even when stressed. They are social so do best kept in pairs (same sex), and they need a larger cage than is typically found in the guinea pig section at the pet store. A suggested minimum is 4 square feet of floor space for a pair – and this is only if daily exercise outside of the cage is available. Larger cages can be easily created with household materials to create a wonderful habitat since guinea pigs are not escape artists like the other rodents. They have slightly more demanding diets, needing a fresh supply of hay and veggies as well as adequate amounts of vitamin C. While they need more space and attention than some other rodent pets, they make rewarding pets and enjoy a longer expected life span.
They typically live about 15 years, but 18-22 years is not uncommon. Body length is about 10-14 inches, and the tail is another 5-6 inches. With gentle handling from a young age most chinchillas will become quite tame and bond closely with their owners, although sometimes they do not like to be held or cuddled. They are very active and playful. Chinchillas can be kept singly, and usually will do fine as same sex pairs especially if they are litter mates or introduced at a young age. Chinchillas are largely nocturnal so will be most active at night. Sometimes they are called crepuscular, meaning their activity peaks at dawn and dusk. In any case, they should be kept in a fairly quiet area during the day. They prefer a consistent routine for handling and feeding times and may be stressed out by changes to their routine. Since they are so active and playful, chinchillas need a roomy cage for exercise as well as daily playtime. Chinchillas require a lot of roughage, and the diet should mainly be made up of a good quality grass hay along with pellets made for chinchillas. Chinchilla cages must be large, and multi-level cages with platforms, ramps, and perches are ideal. Be gentle and consistent to gain the trust of a chinchilla.
Provided by Creatures Corner reader Sandra Bechtel