Do you love seeing adorable hamsters, gerbils, rabbits or chinchillas in a pet store? They have certainly found their way into cartoons, stories, and cute greeting cards. The rabbit lore is reminiscent of Beatrix Potter’s literary work, especially that of the furry little scoundrel Peter who snuck into a farmer’s garden and had a feast before being chased away. They are enemies of farmers, but domestic rabbits are a different story. They are equally sought after as pets as are hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and rats, all members of the rodent family.
Are you still holding to the idea that house hamsters are more of a “starter pet”, given to kids looking for a dog, but parents want to make sure it’s up to the job of caring for it, so is a smaller dog allowed? type of pet that needs less maintenance or attention. I’ve seen more than enough classified ads with people looking to relocate a gerbil or guinea pig because the kids are off to college and the dorm they’re moving into doesn’t allow pets. That is a real shame. As a general rule, small rodents usually don’t live as long as cats and dogs, but they do have some life in them, so they end up being left behind. If you’re an adult and subscribe to the mindset that pet rodents are “just for kids,” you’ll miss out on the fun and enriching experience of owning rodents. Many devoted pet enthusiasts of all ages own and enjoy the company of a small furry pet mammal. There are plenty of shows, property clubs, and pageants to attest to this.
As someone who once owned hamsters and a white rat, I can tell you a bit about their habitat needs. Now, while hamsters and gerbils will be content to live in a well-ventilated cage filled with fun activities like tunnels and mazes, rabbits need a much bigger home than that. In fact, rabbit habitats are called “sheds” and not “cages.” There has to be a lot of room to break. However, the structure of a rabbit’s habitat is very similar to its smaller cousins. The construction of the house must be done with a certain durability in mind: Rodents are notorious chewers. Most small rodent houses are made of strong plastic or wire. Rabbit houses are made in the same way. Hamsters chew on cardboard (think toilet paper tubes, which I always kept for them) and rabbits need a steady diet of wood due to the nature of their ever-growing incisor teeth. That is a very important point.
Rodents are also herbivores, meaning they subsist on a diet of fruits and vegetables. Nuts and seeds should also supplement their diets. There are a few bad ones here and there that you don’t want to give your pet. Onions should not be given to hamsters and romaine lettuce is a much better bet than iceberg due to its higher nutritional content. If we’re talking raw standards like broccoli, carrots, kale, or cauliflower, you can’t go wrong; but the fruit should be offered gradually in their diets so as not to cause diarrhea. They also need plenty of good, fresh water, which should come from a hanging cage-type bottle, not the kind of water dish you give your cat or dog.
Rodents also need soft bedding. Cedar chips are commonly used; though I switched to a brand of pet store bedding that was supposed to control odors much better. Odor control is definitely a must – these furry friends will make a big poop! That’s one of the reasons many pet experts DO NOT recommend glass aquarium tanks with a screened lid, as is common in reptile habitats, as good homes for mice, gerbils and hamsters – ventilation is very important . They also need a “hiding place” that they can sneak to for safety when threatened, as rodents have many enemies in nature; it is part of their natural instinct to hide from perceived danger.
The smaller the pet, the shorter its lifespan may be, so ask yourself if you can prioritize your time to keep up with a small critter’s needs. Hamsters, mice and gerbils can live up to five years, guinea pigs, chinchillas and rabbits can easily reach 10 years; however, these are just averages. Now on to the question of having more than one, rodents like to have a friend around, so two may be better than one, ideally of the same gender, mind you, or they will breed (like crazy!) So if you can keep in mind the main points above and never underestimate their importance, you should be well on your way to success as a small furry pet owner. Have fun and don’t forget that you can always find other creature owners to interact with in discussion groups to share ideas, new information or even enter a club or contest.