Thinking About Getting A Small Rodent? Here’s What You Need To Know

Having a pet, no matter the size comes with a level of care and education. Whilst ‘pocket pets’ such as gerbils, hamsters, mice, and rats are thought of as easy to care for cute creatures, that are especially popular with children, these intelligent pets come with their own health needs and complexities to ensure they stay happy and well. This blog looks at how to care for your small rodent, read on for our tips.

Gerbils

Diet:

Gerbils are omnivores, meaning their diet should be made up of both plants and meat such as seeds, plants and insects.

In order to ensure your gerbil is getting the correct nutrition, providing them with a diet made up of commercial gerbil food, small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables, and healthy treats such as cooked eggs, mealworms or chickpeas is necessary.

When picking a commercial food brand, opt for a pelleted one, rather than a muesli mix as these have limited fibre and high sugar content.

Creating a Safe Place:

Gerbils have fur on the soles of their feet and prefer to burrow rather than climb, therefore a gerbilarium or a fish tank (with a mesh lid) are more desirable enclosures for them than wired cages.

Gerbal enclosures should stay in a comfortable, dry, and quiet environment where they can rest. Gebilariums should be kept away from draughts, and radiators with an ideal temperature range between 20-24 degrees.

A good rule of thumb is to provide at least 5 gallons of space per gerbil so keep this in mind when selecting your gerbilarium or fish tank.

Socialising:

Gerbils are active and sociable animals, that are happiest when in a same-sex pair or same-sex small group.

Gerbils are also known to be sociable with their owner when handled from a young age. However, due to their high energy, they can be difficult to hold so always ensure you are in an enclosed space when handling your pet gerbil.

Exercise:

Gerbils love to dig and burrow and therefore they should be provided with an enclosure that allows them to. Gerbil enclosures should have enough bedding for them to completely burrow themselves, along with toys such as cardboard tubes (or toilet rolls) and boxes for mental stimulation.

Health and Welfare:

Whilst gerbils are generally considered healthy creatures, they can stress easily due to environmental changes. Other common health issues with gerbils include teeth issues (their teeth continuously grow so giving them things to gnaw on such as wooden blocks can help this), seizures (signs of a seizure are twitching, dropped ears, and drooling), and allergies (gerbils skin can react to oils in wood such as fresh pine and cedar, opt for paper-based bedding rather than sawdust).

Hamsters

Diet:

Hamsters appreciate a varied diet made up of everyday hamster food, small amounts of root vegetables and low acidic fruit. In the wild, hamsters are omnivores and live off a mix of plants and insects. When possible, provide your hamster with protein-packed treats like mealworms.

The best treats for hamsters are foods that are similar to what they might eat in the wild. Fresh vegetables are good, and examples include carrots, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, romaine lettuce, spinach, peas and other greens. Fresh fruits such as apples, pears, bananas, grapes and most berries can be given in limitation. But remember never to give any citrus fruits like oranges, limes, lemons or grapefruit. Only give very small amounts at a time.

Creating a Safe Place:

Hamsters need a safe home where they can explore and feel comfortable. Tubes, tunnels, and bedding that they can burrow in can help keep them stimulated and happy.

Hamsters get stressed by loud noises and are nocturnal so should ideally be kept in a spot away from loud noises, and drafts.

Socialising:

Not all hamsters are sociable. Whilst some species like Syrian hamsters prefer to be alone, other species such as Russian dwarfs enjoy living in groups, before buying your hamster, it’s best to check the species so you can create an environment best suited to them.

Exercise:

To make sure your hamster gets enough exercise, we suggest providing them with an enclosed area with treats and toys which they can explore. However, be sure to keep an eye on them whenever they are out of their cage as hamsters are masters at escaping!

Avoid using hamster exercising balls as they often offer more stress to your hamster than fun. Hamster balls can result in stress, shock, over-exhaustion, as well as injuries and potential infections from faeces build up.

Health and Welfare:

Like guinea pigs and rabbits, a hamster’s teeth never stop growing, and therefore they should be provided with wooden chews and teething blocks to allow them to naturally grind them.



Rats

Diet:

Like hamsters, rats are omnivores and benefit from a fresh, healthy and balanced diet made up of rat pellets, fresh fruit, meat and veg such as;

  • Fruit: apples, cherries, grapes, bananas, strawberries and other berries, melons, plums

  • Vegetables: broccoli, potatoes, peas, carrot, cooked sweet potato, kale, parsley, bok choy, squash, sweet corn

  • Cooked liver and other very lean cooked meats

  • Egg

  • Whole wheat pasta and bread

  • Cooked beans (including soy)

  • Yoghurt (especially with live cultures)

  • Brown rice

  • Unsweetened breakfast cereals

  • Mealworms

  • Small dog biscuits

  • Special treats (given only occasionally): whole nuts in the shell (almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts), sunflower seeds (high in fat), carob chips

  • Leftovers from your meals are OK in moderation.


Rats need essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals from their diet. Avoid harmful food such as citrus fruits, human junk food and chocolate.

Creating a Safe Place:

Suitable enclosures for your rat(s) should provide them with the space to climb, stretch and explore. Avoid wired floor cages as these can cause foot injuries. All rat enclosures should have a comfortable bedding area, and be away from direct sunlight. Because rats have sensitive smells, it is best to also keep enclosures away from areas with strong artificial smells (such as candles, or smoke). Hammocks are perfect for rats as they love to have housing and bedding that has both an entry and an exit.

Socialising:

Rats are social creatures and need the company of another rat. Rats also enjoy human interactions and love the warmth and contact of their owner.

Exercise:

As well as having a large enclosure in which they can explore, rats should also be exercised outside of the cage for at least an hour daily. When outside the cage, be sure to supervise them and keep them away from hazards.

Health and Welfare:

Rats need checking regularly to ensure they are healthy. Pet rats have a variety of common problems including tumours, breathing difficulties, obesity and overgrown teeth.

Rats also suffer from being in an environment they do not like. If you notice your rat is doing repetitive movements (such as chewing cage bars), developing bald patches (from excessive grooming), or appearing overweight, it may be a sign that they are bored and not enriched.

Rats are also prone to respiratory problems, there should be no discharge from the eyes or nose, if you notice any discharge or your rat sneezing excessively it is best to get them checked by a vet.

Mice

Diet:

Contrary to popular belief, mice do not need cheese in their diet! Instead opt to feed your mouse commercial mouse food with occasional treats such as sunflower seeds, carrots, broccoli, pear or apple. Always avoid fatty foods, sugary treats (raisins), or acidic fruit.

Creating a Safe Place:

Mice enjoy enclosures that are wired (with a plastic tray floor) so they have the option to climb. Fish tanks can also be used if they have a wire lid and ventilation holes, however, deep aquariums should be avoided as they limit airflow.

Typically two mice need a cage with at least 80cm x 50cm of floor space and a height of 50cm.

Socialising:

Although they're fairly quick and skittish, mice can become sociable with their career when handled regularly. They also enjoy socialisation with other mice. Females often do well in same-sex pairs or small groups, however, males should only be kept together if they are from the same litter as they have a tendency to fight. Having said this, males that have been neutered also get along well in all-female groups.


Mice kept alone can become very lonely and even self-harm through over-grooming or biting themselves.

Exercise:

Aforementioned, mice enjoy climbing and therefore need an enclosure to replicate this. If you have opted for a tank enclosure, ensure there are ropes, ladders, or other climbing apparatus for them.

Mice also enjoy tunnelling and can be exercised outside the enclosure using tunnels, plastic tubes or even in a filled cardboard box - be sure to keep an eye on them though as mice are notorious escape artists!

Health and Welfare:

Although mice have a short lifespan, they are fairly robust animals. However, issues can arise as they get older. Things to look out for include: mammary tumours (if you feel lumps behind their neck or legs it’s best to get them checked by your vet), self-harming (as mentioned earlier mice can self-harm when lonely or stressed, seek medical help if you suspect an issue), and respiratory problems (due to bacterial or viral infections).

Guinea Pigs

Diet:

Guinea pigs are herbivores and therefore need a diet that consists of good quality hay, grass when in season, non-selective pelleted guinea pig food and fresh vegetables. Guinea pigs need hay to help aid digestion and it is a really important part of their diet. Hand-pulled grass in the summer or allowing exercise on a lawned area is also beneficial to dental and gut health but avoid giving them lawnmower clippings as this could make them seriously ill. Guinea pigs also need a diet rich in Vitamin C.

Guinea pigs can have a variety of fruit, herbs and vegetables. Carrots should be fed in limited amounts as it is actually quite high in sugar, iceberg lettuce should be avoided. Some foods to consider are -

  • Bell Pepper

  • Celeriac

  • Parsley

  • Coriander

  • Spring greens

  • Savoy cabbage or dark cabbage

  • Romaine lettuce

  • Cucumber (small amounts as can cause bloating)

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Chicory

  • Broadleaf plantain

  • Kale

  • Corn on the cob

  • Melon husks (great in the summer)

  • Kohlrabi

  • Spinach

  • Sweet potato

  • Butternut squash and pumpkins (great for Halloween)

  • Turnips

  • Tomatoes

  • Grapes and apple in limitation

Hay should always be available and there are lots of different varieties such as meadow hay, timothy hay, mountain hay, barley oat hay, readigrass.

Creating a Safe Place:

Guinea pigs can be kept either inside or out. If you opt to keep your guinea pig outside, you will need to ensure they have a safe (predator-proof) enclosure in a safe and quiet area. Wooden-hutches, sheds or wendy houses (around 10 feet in total) often make good homes. All guinea pigs enclosures should have a separate sleeping area as well as an exercise ‘run’.

Because guinea pigs are vulnerable to extreme temperatures - both hot and cold - we suggest moving them inside in the colder months or providing extra shelter, bedding or pet-friendly heat mats.

A suitable guinea pig enclosure should have a living area, food, hay, water bottles, tunnels, shelters and an exercise run.

Guinea pigs should not be housed with rabbits as rabbits commonly carry bacteria that cause respiratory disease in Guinea Pigs, a rabbit can also easily injure a guinea pig unintentionally.

Socialising:

Guinea pigs are very social animals and therefore may get lonely if kept alone. We suggest keeping them in pairs when possible. When getting two or more guinea pigs it is really important that they have plenty of space more than one water bottle, feeding bowl and housing that are spaced out to prevent one guinea pig from stopping another pig from getting access to these areas.

Exercise:

Both indoor and outdoor guinea pigs should have the opportunity to run and explore. An outside run should be no less than 24 square feet. Guinea pigs are active up to 20 hours a day and only sleep in short intervals so having a lot of places to explore and exercise is necessary.

Health and Welfare:

Guinea pigs need brushing and grooming often. To keep your guinea pig healthy and clean, be sure to daily spot clean their enclosure and carry out a deep clean once per week.

Guinea pigs have a grease gland by their bottom, just over their hips, this needs to be kept clean especially over the summer months when it can attract flies.

As guinea pigs are prone to eye problems and therefore it is important to use dust-free bedding and soft hay in their enclosure. A healthy guinea pig should look alert with bright eyes and a good coat.

It’s important to note before purchasing a small rodent, that most veterinary practices class them as exotic animals, so could charge you more for a visit or turn you away.

Taking care of a pet, no matter how small, can be hard. That’s why we are Roundwoods are here to help you along the journey. To ask for more advice, give us a call on: 020 8459 4729.


Order Dr Hannah Parkin's Amazing Guide To Caring For Your New Puppy.
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