Rodents are one of the easiest pets to care for and are a perfect option for families that are not ready for the responsibilities of a dog or cat, or who have limited space in their home. Handling a pet rodent should be reserved for older kids and adults, as rough activity from a young child or dropping the pet can cause serious trauma or injury. Most pet rodents require a wood chew or a mineral salt stone to prevent teeth from becoming overgrown, and many also enjoy tubes to crawl through and chew toys. If you are considering a pet rodent and already have other pets, be advised that reptiles, ferrets, cats, and dogs are potential predators of rodents and should remain supervised when in their presence.
The following species-specific facts offer a little insight into owning various species of pet rodents:
- Gerbils – Gerbils are very social pets that need companionship with other gerbils. Having a few same-sex gerbils within a single enclosure is good for their health. When regularly handled, gerbils can become very tame and make a perfect companion. Their average lifespan ranges from 2 to 3 years.
- Guinea Pigs – Guinea pigs are also social and benefit from having a same-sex friend within the same enclosure. Guinea pigs are known for their gentility and very rarely bite, even when anxious or frightened. Guinea pigs are quite skittish and should be kept in a quiet area of your home. Because of their backs, guinea pigs cannot run in a wheel or ball and can injure themselves if attempted. Their average lifespan is around 5 to 7 years.
- Hamsters – Hamsters are a pet best left observed. They are known to be fairly aggressive and can often bite. Multiple hamsters cannot be placed in the same enclosure, as they will fight to the death. As nocturnal animals, hamsters remain very active at night which could keep an owner awake if they are kept in the same room. Typically, hamsters live for 2 to 3 years.
- Mice – Like hamsters, mice are better left watched rather than handled. They are very timid, often shying away from human interaction and are very quick and skittish, allowing them to easily escape when held. Mice are one of the easiest pets to own because they have minimal space needs and do not require attention. They do, however, enjoy companionship with other mice, so purchasing multiple can keep your pet happy. A pet mouse will usually live for 1 to 3 years.
- Rats – Rats enjoy the company of other rats as well as attention from their owners; they very rarely bite. Rats also have the capacity to be litter-box trained and can be taught to perform simple tricks. A rat’s lifespan is between 2 to 4 years.
Rodents need to be housed in an escape-proof enclosure, preferably with a solid floor to prevent foot injuries. The floor of an enclosure should be covered with bedding material made of shredded paper or newspaper, fabric, or aspen shavings. Do not use pine or cedar bedding for rodents as they can cause health issues. Also, do not place rodents in glass enclosures, because they heat too quickly and can cause sudden death.
What do rodents eat?
- Species-specific pellets
- Hay and greens
- Supplements (when necessary)
When introducing a new food, be sure to gradually incorporate it into your rodent’s diet. Abrupt changes could cause gastrointestinal pain. Also, be sure to keep a constant water supply using a sipper bottle on the side of the cage. Please remember that seed diets are not recommended and can lead to malnutrition and starvation.
How to handle a rodent
Pet owners get bit most often when trying to pick-up or handle their rodent. Properly lifting a rodent can prevent pain and allows your pet to be more relaxed thus less likely to bite. Pick up your rodent by gently squeezing around their body along the ribcage area just below the neck, or pick them up by gently scooping underneath them with two hands. Avoid pulling up on the skin above their necks and do not pull their tails; both are very painful and could cause an animal to get frightened or angry and bite. Additionally, guinea pigs prefer to be held close to your body as it makes them feel sheltered and secure. Without holding them close, they may wriggle away or squeal with nervousness.