Why a Cute Critter from the Rodent Family Could Be Your Ideal Pet
By Jennifer L. Fouts
Do you adore the sight of adorable hamsters, gerbils, rabbits or chinchillas in a pet store?
They have certainly found their way into cartoons, stories, and cute greeting cards. Rabbit lore brings to mind the literary work of Beatrix Potter, especially the one about the fuzzy little miscreant Peter who sneaked into a farmer’s garden and had a feast before getting chased down. They are a farmer’s foe, but pet rabbits are a different story. They are equally sought out as pets as are hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and rats-all members of the rodent family.
Do you still maintain the notion that pet hamsters are more of a “starter pet”, given to children who are angling for a dog, but the parents want to make sure he is up to the job of caretaking, so he is allowed a smaller type of pet needing less upkeep or attention. I’ve seen more than enough classified ads with people looking to rehome a gerbil or guinea pig because the kids have gone off to college and the dorm they will be moving into does not allow pets.
That’s a real shame. As a rule, small rodents generally do not live as long as cats and dogs, but they do have some lifespan in them, for them to end up being left behind. If you are all grown-up and subscribe to the mindset that pet rodents are “just for kids” you will miss out on the fun and enriching experience of rodent ownership.
Lots of devoted pet enthusiasts of all ages own and enjoy the company of a small furry pet mammal. There are many shows, ownership clubs and competitions to attest to this.
As someone who once owned pet hamsters and a white rat, I can tell you a good bit about their habitat needs. Now while hamsters and gerbils will be content to live in a cage that is well-ventilated and plentiful with fun activities like tunnels and mazes, rabbits need a much bigger home than that. As a matter of fact, rabbit habitats are called “hutches” not “cages”. There needs to be plenty of romping room. However, the structure of a rabbit habitat is very similar to that of their smaller cousins.
The construction of the home must be made with certain durability in mind: Rodents are notorious chewers. Most small rodent homes are made out of durable plastic or wire construction. Rabbit homes are made 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’s point one very important.
Rodents are also herbivorous, meaning that they subsist on a diet of veggies and fruits. Nuts and seeds also should supplement their diets. There are a few baddies here and there that you do not want to give to your pet. Onions should not be given to hamsters and romaine lettuce is a much better bet than iceberg due to its greater nutritional content. If we are talking about raw standards such as broccoli, carrots, kale, or cauliflower, you can’t go wrong; but fruit should be offered gradually into their diets so as to not cause the potential for diarrhea. They also need plenty of good, fresh water, that must come from a hanging cage type of bottle, not the kind of water dish given to your cat or dog.
Rodents also need soft bedding. Cedar chips are commonly used; although I switched to a brand of bedding from a pet store that supposedly had much better odour control. Odour control is definitely a must: these furry friends of yours will do some major pooping!
That is one reason many pet experts do NOT recommend glass aquarium tanks sporting a screened lid as is common with reptile habitats as good homes for mice, gerbils, and hamsters-ventilation is very important. They also need a “hideaway” they can scurry away to for safety when they feel threatened, as rodents have many enemies in the wild-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 accompany a small critter’s needs. Hamsters, mice, and gerbils can live up to five years, guinea pigs, chinchillas and rabbits may easily make it to 10 years; however, these are just averages. Now, on to the question of having more than one- rodents like having a buddy around, so two can 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 pointers above and never underestimate their importance, you should be well on your way to successful furry small pet ownership. Have fun and don’t forget you can always find other critter owners to interact with on discussion groups to share ideas, new information, or even participate in a club or contest!