Small rodents can make great pets, as they are easy to care for, friendly, and easy to tame, and in general, they enjoy human interaction. This is an especially great choice for children, as they require minimal care, space, and housing. Often referred to as “pocket pets”, small rodents also have a relatively short lifespan and are thus not a massive commitment.
While their small size and cage living may seem like an easier option for pets, they still require daily care and attention to stay happy and healthy. This makes them a great option for children, as it’s a perfect opportunity to teach them about responsibility.
If you’re looking for a small, low-maintenance rodent pet to add to your family, check out this list of small rodents & the eight most popular options.
The 8 Great Small Rodents Pets
1. African Dormouse
Also commonly known as the “micro-squirrel”, the African dormouse shares many features with both mice and squirrels. These small rodents is native to Southern Africa in a variety of habitats and are extremely agile climbers. They are known for being nimble, active, and fast animals, which can make them difficult to handle for inexperienced owners. They need a large enclosure with plenty of climbing space and typically live up to 6 years in captivity.
They are nocturnal rodents and are thus more active in the early morning and are sensitive to light, so they need to be kept away from large windows or bright lighting. The African dormouse is a highly social creature that needs to live in groups or at least in pairs.
Chinchillas are native to South America and can live for up to 15 years in captivity. They are a popular choice of a small rodent pet, as they are easily tamed and playful and active animals. They are nocturnal animals and thus should only be handled in the early morning or late evening, and they need to be covered in the day from any bright light source. They are active creatures that will need a large enclosure to run around in, as well as regular interaction with their owner.
Chinchillas are known for their luxurious fur, large rounded ears, and long fluffy tail. They are popular pets among children, but their active and agile nature can make them difficult to handle for younger kids.
3. Common Degu
The common degu is native to Chile and is the close cousin of both the guinea pig and chinchilla. Until recently, these small rodents were seldom found in pet shops but have slowly been gaining popularity as a pocket pet. Even so, some regions in the United States, including California and Utah, consider the degu as an invasive species, and they are illegal to own as pets.
They have been gaining popularity as pets due to their friendly personalities, their diurnal habits (awake during the day and sleeping at night), and their ease of training. They should ideally be kept in pairs or more and can live for 5–8 years in captivity with proper care.
4. Common Rat
The common rat is one of the most overlooked small rodent pets, but they are actually easy to care for and exceedingly tamable. They are typically calm, easy-to-care-for rodents that enjoy being handled, and are not prone to biting or nipping. Rats are unique rodents in that you can quickly form a close bond with them. They are highly intelligent and able to learn tricks and navigate mazes and puzzles easily. Most pet rats are a species called the Norway rat, also known as the brown rat or street rat.
Rats are social creatures that are best kept in pairs or groups and are nocturnal and thus more active at night. That being said, females can go into heat around once a week after they reach puberty, making these rodents exceedingly fast breeders. They are short-lived animals, with a typical lifespan of only 18–36 months.
Gerbils are a popular rodent pet, especially among children, as they are easy to care for and don’t require much interaction from humans. That being said, they are social creatures that do not do well living a solitary life and are best kept in pairs or groups. They have a fairly short lifespan of about 2 years and are not a huge time investment as a pet. They are active animals that need a large cage to run around in and preferably a wheel to keep them healthy, and while they are generally fine with being handled, their active nature can make them difficult to hold for smaller children.
Gerbils are a great choice of rodent as a pet, as they are easy to care for, curious, and friendly animals that will provide you with hours of entertainment.
6. Guinea Pig
Native to South America, guinea pigs are another popular rodent pet. They are a great choice of small pet, as they are healthy and hardy animals and easy to care for and have varied personalities among individuals that make each guinea pig unique. Some guinea pigs are shy and withdrawn, while others are dominant and outgoing. A unique trait among guineas is that they purr just like cats when they’re happy, along with several other adorable vocalizations.
Guineas are highly social rodents that are far happier when living together with other guinea pigs. They are also fairly active animals that need a sizable cage with loads of running space to stay happy, healthy, and fit. Guineas have a longer lifespan than other similar rodents and can live for up to 7 years.
Hamsters are a classic small pet that is a popular choice for young children. This is because they are easy to care for and easily trainable. However, hamsters are known to be fairly nippy, and females in particular are prone to biting at times. Hamsters come in several different varieties—19 species in all—and some are tiny, like the dwarf hamster, while species like the Syrian hamster can get fairly large. You will need to house these species accordingly and provide them with both adequate space and a exercise wheel and chew toys.
Hamsters typically live for around 3 years in captivity, and while most species of hamster, like dwarf hamsters, are social and enjoy the company of others, some species, like the Syrian hamster, prefer to live alone.
Last but not least is the common mouse, a sweet and highly entertaining pocket pet. They are easy to care for but not as prone to being handled as larger rodents like rats, as they are fairly skittish. A domesticated mouse that is kept as a pet is generally referred to as a “fancy mouse”, and they are often selectively bred for coloration and size. They can vary widely in size, from as small as 7 inches up to 12 inches.
A healthy mouse in captivity can easily live for up to 30 months, but they typically live for 18–24 months. They are nocturnal and mostly active at night, and although they are social animals, they are also fine to live alone, especially males.
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Featured Image Credit: CC0 Public Domain, Pxfuel