Which rodent pet is right for you?
If you're looking for a small pet that doesn't need as much maintenance as a cat or dog, then a rodent may be a good animal for you. It's obvious why many families choose a rodent for their first household pet: they tend to be low-maintenance, don't require too much space and will not demand a huge commitment, as their life spans are generally pretty short. If you've decided to adopt a rodent into your household, begin to narrow down your choices based on your particular lifestyle and what qualities you appreciate in a pet. After that, a little research will go a long way to finding the ideal animal for your home and family.
Popular Rodent Pets
There are many rodent species, but not all make good pets. You'll need to consider size, behavior, activity level and longevity when looking for the perfect pet, and some traits aren't as obvious as others. For instance, pet mice and pet hamsters may seem similar, but they can have very different habits. It's better to know what you're getting into rather than to find out the hard way!
Obviously, non-domesticated rodents make poor pets, and you're really putting your safety on the line if you decide to bring a wild squirrel or opossum into your home. On the other hand, several rodent species have been bred for an even temperament and social demeanor, and those are the ones that will be the most entertaining and fulfilling. If you're choosing a rodent for your child's first pet, it's important to know which ones will cooperate with a kid's curiosity, and which are best left at the pet store.
Choosing Between Pet Rats, Hamsters and Gerbils
Rodents are great pets for a variety of reasons, but for many, it's their size and energy that's most appealing. If you're looking for something very small and fuzzy, hamsters may just fit the bill: there are a variety of breeds, but most are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and they generally prefer to live alone in their cage. Hamsters are nocturnal, so they tend to be fairly active -- which may translate into fairly noisy -- during the night. But as long as you handle them often and with care form early on, they'll typically have a good temperament.
Rats can live a year or two longer than hamsters, and they are often much more social. Their agreeable nature combined with their size make them easy to handle, which in turn makes them a good pet choice for younger kids and adults alike. But like rabbits, rats need time outside their cage for exercise and social interaction, so expect to devote more time and attention to a pet rat than another pet rodent.
As for gerbils, they live about as long as hamsters (two to three years, on average) but are closer in size to rats. Also like rats, gerbils are social rather than solitary creatures, so it's better to keep a pair taken from the same litter rather than opt for a single gerbil. Gerbils are curious critters, so they can be pretty entertaining to watch. As long as you handle them gently, they tend to be tame and are not inclined to bite. If you're looking for a rodent pet that you can bond with, but are not able to devote as much time as a rat would require, a gerbil may be your best bet.