Hurrah for rodents! But which small pet is right for you?
Small pets can make wonderful companions, but before you take the plunge into the fascinating world of small furries, it’s essential to think about how the relationship is going to work. For example – do you want a pet that enjoys being handled? Do you want a pet that’s awake during the day? Do you want a pet who’ll enjoy learning tricks? Find out as much as you can – including what nutritional, environmental, enrichment and companionship requirements need to be met – and you’ll be well on the way to creating the perfect small pet partnership.
What’s more, if you’re thinking of getting small pets for your children, it’s essential to be aware that you’ll be primarily responsible for their welfare. Animal charity Blue Cross advises: “Most people think that all small pets are great for children, but it isn’t always the case. Some pets, including hamsters and chinchillas, are nocturnal, which means that when the kids want to play, their pets are snoozing happily and won’t appreciate being disturbed. Pets like gerbils and mice are quick and agile so it’s difficult for children to handle them without squeezing too hard.” So, while it’s great for children to be involved in caring for a pet, it’s essential that they are always supervised and shown how to behave around animals.
Ready to make your selection? Here’s some essential info to help you out:
When they’re awake, hamsters are extremely active pets who need lots of things to do to occupy their curious and intelligent minds such as wheels, toys and shredded paper. However, their nocturnal habits can be disappointing for children as they’re ready to explore and play when it’s bedtime. If they are disturbed from sleep, hamsters may nip, and their poor eyesight means they’re easily startled by sudden movements. Contrary to popular belief, it’s only the larger Syrian hamster who prefers a solitary life – dwarf hamsters like company and prefer to be kept in same sex pairs or groups.
Find out more about hamsters here >>
Chatty cavies make super companions for adults and children. Once you get to know them it’s easy to tell when they’re happy, sad, excited or cross thanks to their varied vocabulary. These gentle creatures need shelter from all extremes of weather and a run where they can graze freely, safe from predators. Extremely social, it’s essential that they have the company of their own kind.
Find out more about guinea pigs here >>
Small animals such as guinea pigs and gerbils, are classed as ‘exotic’ pets. As such, they take a lot of looking after in order to live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. It’s essential that you avoid impulse buying and do plenty of research so you provide your new furry friend with the right accommodation, nutrition, enrichment and, in most cases, company of their own kind.
Burrowers by nature, gerbils are great fun to watch as they spend hours digging, simply for the sheer joy of it. They are best housed in a special gerbilarium with solid glass walls and a secure wire-mesh top. Because they’re quick and agile, young children can find it quite difficult to hold them without squeezing too hard, so they may be better to watch than handle. In the wild, gerbils live in extended families of one breeding pair and their offspring of several generations. Pet gerbils need at least one companion and are happiest in same-sex pairs or small groups.
Find out more about gerbils here >>
Rats are extremely smart and absolutely love social interaction, which is why they can make great pets for both adults and children. In fact, they get very depressed if don’t get attention. Fastidiously clean, pet rats love to hang out with each other and their human family. Some devotees even refer to pet rats as ‘pocket dogs’, thanks to their ability to learn tricks and show loyalty and affection. They even laugh when you tickle them – although unless you have ultrasonic ears you won’t be able the hear them!
Find out more about rats here >>
Why not consider getting rescue pets? Charities such as Blue Cross, RSPCA and Wood Green have all sorts of small animals looking for happy new homes. They’ll also match you with the most suitable pets for your situation and lifestyle and provide you with lots of helpful advice.
Pet mice are usually friendly and rarely bite but, because they’re so small and quick, it can be difficult for small children to hold them. These tiny explorers are fascinating to watch as they shimmy up ropes and speed through tunnels. These compact pets, who love to explore, gnaw and have a cosy space to nap in, have a surprisingly long list of requirements when it comes to helping them lead their best mouse life.
Find out more about mice here >>
Chinchillas are nocturnal animals who need a very large cage that features tunnels, ropes, platforms, nesting areas and a dust bath filled with chinchilla sand. These soft-coated fluffballs are enthusiastic dust bathers and enjoy making plenty of mess. These endearing rodents, who can live to around 15 years, need to share their life with a chinchilla companion – either a female with a neutered male, or littermates of the same sex. Chinchillas also need daily exercise time out of their cage – they can jump six feet in the air from a standing start – and may even enjoy being taught some basic tricks to earn a treat.
Find out more about chinchillas here >>
Degus are diurnal which means, unlike many small pets, they’re active during the day. They love human interaction and enjoy living in busy, active homes. Degus, which can live between five to nine years, need plenty of space to exercise and it’s best to keep them in wire cages with lots of levels and ramps. Because degus love to dig, a digging box filled with organic soil and sand will go down well and a treat ball and selection of toys will help to keep them busy. Like chinchillas, degus also need a sand bath to keep their coat in top condition. These small rodents are very sociable creatures so they should never be kept alone.
Find out more about degus here >>
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Sources: bluecross.org.uk, rspca.org.uk, pets.webmd.com