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Caring for Small Animals: Hamsters, Mice, Rats, & Chinchillas

Updated on April 24, 2008

Small animals as pets

When referring to small animals as pets, it tends to represent any small mammal pet, such as hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets, chinchillas, degus, etc.

Small animals are great apartment pets, and pets for those people who don't have the time for a dog or cat, but want a pet to come home to at night. (Although they do require some attention.)

You can really make a small animal a part of your family, especially if you can't have a dog or a cat. I've known families who have had hamsters because they lived in an apartment. They would watch TV with the pet hamster, everyone hanging out on mom and dad's bed. Whenever the hamster got loose, they always found him in the parent's room.

Small animals make great pets for young children. It teaches them responsibility or caring for another life, but they still need a mature adult to help over see the care. For the most part, if you get your child really interested, they'll do all the work for you. For example, my little cousin has a pet guinea pig named Sugar. Sugar and my cousin watch TV together, play video games, color, do crafts and homework together. They are truly a pair. She cares for the guinea pig all by herself, monitoring the feeding and the vitamin drops in the water.

When trying to decide upon the best small animal pet for your family, make sure to do all your research first.


Hamsters are probably one of the more popular small animal pets. Because they are relatively small, they take up less space, which is appealing to most parents, but many people don't really know what they're getting into when they bring home that cute teddy bear hamster or pair of Siberian dwarf hamsters.

Hamsters are usually pretty robust creatures, but they are susceptible to several common disorders and health concerns. Because they are so small, you want to keep a close eye on your hamster so to notice any signs of a health concern as early as possible, as once it sets in, it may be too late.

Wet tail is probably the most common health concern in regards to hamsters. Without treatment from a vet or a simple bottle of Dri-Tail, the likelihood of your pet making it through it slim. Make sure that you understand the symptoms so that you can spot them right away.

Fancy Mice

Although fancy mice and fancy rats look similar, they really have nothing in common. You definitely can't consider mice a miniature rat. Fancy mice will play on you, but not with you. They don't tend to interact with you as much as pet rats do. Plus, fancy mice need a lot more socialization to reduce the risk of biting, than rats. There are really so many differences between the two pets, you really need to understand them all before jumping into purchasing a pet mouse.

Fancy Rats

Rats are probably one of the most social small animal pets. They are, also, least likely to bit. Rat love attention, so you want to make sure to get at least two rats from the start, otherwise just one rat may get bored and destructive, plus he'll be lonely. Yes, they really do get lonely. Plus, when you have more than one rat, you really get to enjoy them and their cute ratty behaviors; they'll even give you more attention than just one rat alone because the other rat doesn't want the first to have you all to himself, so he will play with you, which makes the first want to play even more.

Although, they are fairly small creatures, rats need a decent sized enclosure. They need toys to play with and things to climb on, so in order to give them that, you have to purchase a larger cage. They love climbing on the walls and all over the ramps and ledges.

Rats are very intelligent creatures, and enjoy various toys in and out of their cage. Make sure that you are aware of items that your pet rat will enjoy. Also, consider some of the fun games that you can play with him.

Because rats are very smart creatures, they are easy to train. With the right amount of patient you can have your pet rat sitting and coming to you. It's actually a pretty simple process that takes just a little time and know-how.

Rats are usually really healthy animals, but they can suffer from a few common illness, usually relating to their respiratory system. You want to make sure to catch any illness before it gets too late, so make sure that you are familiar with common signs and symptoms.

It's a common misconception that you can feed rats anything and everything. I mean they eat the garbage right... Wrong... There are some foods you want to avoid, and some that you may want to add to your pet's diet. Find out the safe and healthy treats that you can give your pet rat(s).

Again remember that there are some foods that you want to avoid giving your pet rat(s), so make sure that you know which foods those are. Find out a simple homemade diet that you can supplement with regular rat blocks.

These are fun recipes that you and your pet rat(s) will enjoy. They are healthy treats that you can cook up for you and share with yoreu pet.

You should never let treats become more than 10% of your pets diet, so even when you make healthy, homemade treats you want to make sure to ration them out. Make sure that your pet rat(s) main diet is a healthy rat block.


Chinchillas may seem like a cute pet while you're checking out all the animals at the pet store, but they're not the best pet for everyone. They are more of an exotic pet than your average hamster, guinea pig, rabbit, or rat. Make sure to do all the research you possible can before you bring home a pair of chinchillas.

Chinchillas a not the most robust pet, but they are pretty robust and healthy. The problem with chinchillas is that they have 1) very sensitive respiratory systems and 2) extremely fragile skeletal systems. You can't spray aerosols around them, and you certainly can't squeeze them in your arms. Be prepared to watch your chinchilla extra close because when an illness sets in, and you begin to notice signs and symptoms, it's probably too late.

Like any pet, you want to have a first aid kit available for your chinchillas. Although, you cannot cure or fully treat an ailment with a simple first aid kit, you can make your chinchilla comfortable until the next day when the vet is open. Being that you've invested your time, money, and heart into this little creature, make sure that you understand diagnosis techniques and alternative medicines.

Books about ferrets and degus

Books about guinea pigs and rabbits


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    • profile image

      Person942458 7 years ago

      I want a rat so bad but when ask my mom she makesca face and says they are disgusting!!!! So frustrating!!

    • profile image

      Mickey765434 7 years ago

      I love rats, I have done so much research about them, but my mom thinks that they are gross and not clean, which they are VERY clean... im being respinsible and im not begging her a lot about it... :( but rats are amazing!!! So smart :P

    • profile image

      jakeo 7 years ago

      I am down to 5 rats one of mine passed away. Rats are the best small pet i have had out of hamsters (teddy and dwarf), gerbils, and mice.They are like a puppy really. The down part is that they do not live long. But really its worth ur money.I even bath my rats.I think im getting 3 dumbo rats this weekend wish me luck.

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 7 years ago from Georgia

      You can use toilet paper rolls and such for toys, but for the most part sometimes it is just safer to buy products that are commercially made for small animals. Just save up your money until you can afford a proper cage and equipment.

    • profile image

      dalia b. 7 years ago

      hi, i am going to get a rat in a few weeks and i am on a budget. could you reccomend some homemade stuff i could make so i dont have to buy as much stuff?? thnx so much, whitney50

    • profile image

      holly101 8 years ago

      i have three rats andf one is preganeanther name is pip and the other girl is called pantolamn and then the boy is topaz and im goin to have a fourth and im gunna call it pigwidgen i think what you tell us is great and the information is awsome and ive like writin down everything thankyou HOLLY

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      Some chinchillas are just like that. Just spend time with her. Some just don't like as much people interaction as others.

    • profile image

      Rachie 8 years ago

      I have two chinchillas, Mango and Pea. Mango is the sweetest little chin, but Pea is mean and bites me, sprays me, but is nice to Mango. What can I do to make Pea nicer to people?

    • profile image

      Emma248 8 years ago

      Rats r tha best pet iv eva had when they do tricks,lick ma eye lashes,snuggle through ma clothes and my rats were 4rm a breeder and r really tame!!!NEVER GET JUST 1 RAT BCOS THEY WILL GET LONELY

    • Cindy Letchworth profile image

      Cindy Letchworth 9 years ago from Midwest, U.S.A.

      Little animals are the best. Good info here.

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      what do you mean by relatives? do you mean like different breeds like there are different breeds of dogs? not really- you will find in history there were two different ones sort of. They were essentially the same species but with different appearances due to local differences, but for the most part, they were bred together in order to have them captive. If you mean like different species but sort of related like say chimps and apes- then no unless you want to count the degus, but they really have nothing in common with chinchillas except for same native location.

    • profile image

      tthj 9 years ago

      do chinchillas have relatives? i went everywere on the internet. i cant find anything. i need your help.

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      Either way you need two of them. Two males or two females. Both can be territorial. The only difference is that females will spray when frightened, threatened, or when protecting their territory. Most pet stores sell males only, unless you are going to get them from a breeder, which is a better choice.

    • profile image

      Hannah 9 years ago

      my parents are unsure about getting me a chinchilla. i want a boy because they say their less territorial or somthing like that...what do you think? male or female??

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      Chinchillas are not cuddley pets. You typically cannot sit and watch TV with a chinchilla. You really should get your chinchilla a friend, they do better in pairs.

    • profile image

      Gloria 9 years ago

      I bought my first chinchilla about a month ago, and she is 5 months now. I can hold her and she lets me pet her, but I was wondering if it would be possible to continue to tame her to the point where I can cuddle and hold her for a long period of time without her bouncing away.

      Thank you :)

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      Nibbling what? You, the cage, what exactly? If it's the cage or the cage accessories, there's nothing you can do. If it's you, then handle him more. YOu may consider a friend for him. Chinchillas are VERY social creatures and can get very lonely alone. Just remember to quarantine for 30 days and then slowly introduce them.

    • profile image

      jason 9 years ago

      how can i stop my chinchilla (gizmo) 2 stop nibbling

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      Chinchillas can be great pets but they are very fragile.

    • Angela Harris profile image

      Angela Harris 9 years ago from Around the USA

      I've had most of these at one point or another, except for mice, rats, and chinchillas. I would really like to have a chinchilla.

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      vreccc, you can get dri-tail at most pet stores. Petco doesn't sell it but Petland and Petsmart does. I would definitely go grab a bottle. THe vet will give you baytril, I believe, but dri-tail works just the same and it's cheaper.

      Ravyn, rats are great pets. I'd recommend them over all other small animal pets.

    • RavynSteel profile image

      RavynSteel 9 years ago from North Wales

      Rats make the most wonderful pets. I have two (used to have 6 but four died), and they're so cute and cuddly! they love snuggling up in my hair and snuffling into my ear (or sneezing, as one of them does constantly!).

    • vreccc profile image

      vreccc 9 years ago from Concord, NH


      my hamster has wet tail. can i buy the dri tail at a pet store, or should I take him to the vet? My wife and I are a little worried because we have waited a whole day. The reason I waited was because the wetness was also on his lower back. I didn't think it would be wet there so I just thought he got wet from water. But it is still there today so I'm a little worried.

      What would you suggest I do?