There are over 2,000 species of rodents in the world, so it's not surprising that some of them have become pets. They are small and require minimal care, making them a good choice as a family pet. Common types of pet rodents include gerbils, mice, rats, guinea pigs and hamsters, while chinchillas and degus are less conventional. Rabbits are not considered to be rodents.
The most common pet hamster is the Syrian hamster, which is about 6 inches long. Syrians live 2 to 3 years, while dwarf hamsters such as Siberian, Roborovsky's Djungarian and Chinese are smaller, living only 1 to 2 years. Hamsters are nocturnal and may be quite noisy at night. Since hamsters sleep during the day, they may nip when awakened during the day. Children under six should not handle these fragile animals.
Rats and Mice
Mice and rats are in the same rodent family, Muridae. Mice typically live 18 to 24 months, while rats live a bit longer, up to 36 months. Proper nutrition will increase the lifespan of rats and mice as they are prone to obesity. Mice are slightly more nervous than rats, though both can be enjoyable pets. Rats rarely bite and may bond closely to the owner.
The typical pet gerbil originated from Mongolia. These very busy little rodents grow to about 4 inches, with a tail the same length. They enjoy the company of other gerbils, so it's a good idea to purchase them in pairs or groups. Gerbils love to play in their cage during the day and seldom bite when handled. These pets are recommended for older children who know how to handle small rodents carefully.
Guinea pigs are the largest common rodent kept as pets. They are social and do well in same-sex pairs. These rodents are good pets for all ages of children and can be easily handled due to their bigger size. They live 5 to 10 years and can be quite vocal. Guinea pigs need larger cages than other rodents with a minimum of four square feet per animal. Additionally, guinea pigs should get fresh fruits, vegetables and grass hay daily in addition to their commercial guinea pig food.
Chinchillas are very active and acrobatic animals. Since they are nocturnal, most activity occurs at night. They should have a large cage with at least 4 by 4 by 3 feet of space. Chinchillas will climb and dart quickly, both horizontally and vertically. These soft little rodents will also need to have dust baths with 2 to 4 inches of commercial chinchilla dust. Most chinchillas love to cuddle and rarely bite.
A variety of unusual pet rodents exists. Degus look like a large gerbils and need branches or rocks for climbing. Other exotic pet rodents include prairie dogs, flying squirrels, spiny mice and capybara. A capybara can grow as big as a large dog. Another exotic pet, the sugar glider, appears to be a rodent but is not a rodent at all. It is a marsupial in the opossum family.
- The Natural History Collections of The University of Edinburgh: Rodents
- American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Hamster Care
- The Natural History Collections of The University of Edinburgh: Mouse-Like Rodents
- Merck Veterinary Manual: Mice and Rats as Pets
- American Veterinary Medical Association: Selecting a Pet Rodent
- American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Gerbil Care
- Animal Planet: Other Pets--10 Popular Small Pets
- American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Guinea Pig
- Animal Health Clinic: Chinchilla Care
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Based in Michigan, Keri Gardner has been writing scientific journal articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in such journals as "Disability and Rehabilitation" and "Journal of Orthopaedic Research." She holds a Master of Science in comparative medicine and integrative biology from Michigan State University.