Choosing a small pet that is right for you!
So you're thinking about getting a pet...
The things you need to know about each animal and which rodent or small animal is right for you as the owner.
The first thing you need to establish is:
- Working hours or schooling hours. Can you dedicate enough time to a pet? e.g. someone who works full time shouldn't have a dog or a rabbit as they will seriously struggle to train and properly care for them.
- Can you afford it? Not just the ongoing price of bedding, shavings, feed but also vet care if your pet should fall sick.
- Do you have other responsibilities? Children, care or other animals? Will the pet be safe in your home, can you give it the care and attention it needs? e.g. if you have small children a larger pet like a dog would be better than a mouse or a rabbit etc but if you have cats then you shouldn't get anything smaller than a rabbit.
Bear in mind that if you are working nights and wish to purchase a hamster then this could be a problem as hamsters are active at night and will go to bed when you get home, you will be sleeping at the same time and will not be able to spend much time together. If however you are sure you can devote the time, money and attention to a pet then keep reading and let's try and find out what's perfect for you, whether you want one pet or multiples we'll find something.
Syrian hamster: The largest type of hamster, should be kept purely alone as they are extremely territorial and aggressive to other animals however you can have more than one hamster provided you keep them in separate cages and don't allow them out together at play time. Life span of 2-3 years they come in a variety of colours and in standard and long hair, long haired ones however do require grooming. Syrian hamsters require a VERY large cage usually around 80cm length of a cage and of good height with multiple levels so bear this in mind when thinking about one. Remember those silly tunnels and 'fun' ones made by Rotastak etc are dangerous and badly ventilated. They will take some time and after proper handling they will become tame to you, they are most active at night and should be given a few days to settle in before you try to handle them.
Dwarf hamster/ Roborovski. Russian: Most males can be kept in pairs or small groups, females should never be kept together as they will fight and a male and female will fight and breed (check with your pet store for more information on their recommendations) these are escape artists, they are slightly more difficult to handle and they are much smaller than Syrian hamsters. They require lots of handling and tame slower, they are fast and can easily escape through standard bar cages they are safest kept in deep hamster tanks (see your pet store for info) They life on average 2-2.5 years and are most active at night, should be given time to settle in. I will say they are a little more difficult than Syrians, not suitable for children and need a patient owner. (no Rotastak cages) Good colour variety.
Mouse/mice: Females can be kept together even in groups without issue, males should only be kept alone as they are extremely vicious to one another. A male and female can be kept together however they will breed and females have been known to violently attack males. They are easy to handle but EXTREMELY fragile, they are active both during the day, morning and at night, most in the morning and mid-night. They live on Average 1-5 years and depending on the mouse it varies drastically. They are very tiny, less than a quarter of the size of a Syrian hamster and still smaller than the dwarf, they are prone to cancerous tumours by nature and are COMPLETELY and utterly unsuitable for children under the age of a sensible 12 year old. They are the cheapest to care for and can live in a versatile amount of cages (no Rotastak) Lots of colour variety.
Gerbils: They live on average 2-4 years and their cages/gerbilariums can be very expensive. Their cage requires lots of floor space and very narrow bars or a deep large tank. They are quite fragile but not so as mice and are smaller than a Syrian hamster when fully grown but larger than the dwarf. They have less variety in colour. They can be difficult to handle at first but will tame alright, escape artists but make decent pets when tame. They are most active at night or in the evening but sometimes throughout the day too. They are not particularly suitable for children as they are fast and fragile. Can be kept in groups (see pet store for info) NO Rotastak.
Rats: The largest of the lot so far, rats can grow larger than Guinea pigs in some cases and live on average 2-4 years however they (like mice) tend to be prone to cancer depending on genetic background etc. Females can be kept together but they require enormous cages and so far are the most expensive pet. They are easier to handle, a little more robust pet and suitable for sensible, mature children. Active times include evening, day, morning and night as it varies the same with mice. They tame quite quickly. Males should be kept alone to prevent nasty fighting.
Guinea pigs: Can be kept indoors or outdoors, they are fragile pets both physically and they can become shocked and die easily so beware if you have other animals or small children running around. They live usually around 2-6 years but it can vary. If kept indoors in a cage they require an exceedingly large one, they can be kept in pairs (see pet shop for info) and if bought from a pet shop they are INDOOR pets only and should not be put straight outside as the change in conditions can and will kill them (it can take even a few days- a week or two for them to die) They need an extended safe run where they will be protected in the garden or in your safely enclosed home area for them and can work out expensive to keep their cages. They can become easy to handle after some time.
Rabbits: Fragile, skittish and expensive. These so far require A LOT of care, time and attention. Dwarf rabbits live on average 7-12 years, standard lop and mini lop about the same, giant rabbits live up to the age of 5 years and rex rabbits live up to the age of 5. To give a general life span for a standard rabbit it can easily be from 6-14 years so be prepared to have them for a good long time. A neutered (fixed) male and a female can be kept together happily as long as they are introduced properly and carefully over the period of around a week if they haven't been bought from the same place, rescue places will have them pre sorted for you. Rabbits bought from an indoor home or store should not be put outside (like with guinea pigs, see above) they can tame up very well and their diet drastically changes their moods and personality, the right diet=happy bunny. Avoid greens and carrots as they are actually very bad for them. Rabbits are prone to a lethal health problem called fly strike (see pet store or online for information) Rabbits need a large DOUBLE hutch even as a single bunny, they are warren animals and live in numbers so lone bunnies can get very lonely, never keep two same sex together especially females as they will fight. Rabbits are prone to shock and can die from fright or shock, they also have very frail bones and brittle spines so unsuitable for children under the age of 12.
Chinchillas: Live up to 15 years, they require a large chinchilla cage which works out expensive. They are relatively quiet pets that have a mixed activity schedule. Males can be neutered and kept with females however males can gain a ring of fur around their penis which cuts off the blood circulation and can kill them so if you choose a male then be sure to check carefully for this. They tame quiet easily and require a quiet home with an owner that can dedicate plenty of time to them. They are indoor pets only and also enjoy playing in bathing sand. These are suited to most pet owners who wish to have a long term pet that doesn't cost the Earth.
Sugar Glidars: rarely sold or heard of as pets, they require an extreme condition setting and are active at night. They are not particularly tame pets and are very expensive to buy, their habitat will take up an enormous amount of space. They are usually kept alone but can sometimes be kept together (see pet store or breeder) in some parts of the world I believe they are illegal and should not be kept as pets. They are demanding, fragile and completely unsuitable for children they are strictly a sensible teen or adults pet. Can live to a similar age to Chinchillas.
So now I have been over the various small animal pets of choice it is now down to you to write down the pros and cons of which you are interested in. By law in the UK you must be 16 to buy a pet but the majority of stores e.g. Pets at home are the legal age of 18 and ALWAYS require ID to buy a pet. Make sure you have permission if you need it and you can both afford and provide a good, loving home for your pet. Having an animal is a HUGE responsibility whether they have a short life span or a very long one you need to be sure you can give them everything they need and your home is suitable for them. If you have cats avoid small pets especially rodents as rodents can die of fright.
When purchasing a cage the largest you can afford is best, you can alternatively (for SOME pets) make your own via a bin cage but this may be difficult for first time owners or those whom are not handy people.
Please do not think you can handle a pet, turn around and a few weeks later decide you have to give it away to someone or something because you can't afford, don't have time etc to keep it this is very hard on the confused animal especially when young so make sure you are 100% when getting a pet.