Lots of people considering animal adoption tend to focus only on dogs and cats. But, on our frequent visits to the MSPCA’s Animal Adoption Centers, Comet and I often peek in on those sometimes forgotten wee-critters, the small mammals, including the rodents. Make no mistake--even though they are all diminutive in size, these endearing little animals are all very different in temperament and basic needs. Some are docile and require quiet spaces, while others have big personalities and lots of energy. It can be love at first sight with any of these animals, but it is essential to do your homework before deciding which type of animal best fits your lifestyle.
Guinea pigs, also called cavies, are frequent guests at most shelters. Native to South America, these great beauties usually weigh a couple of pounds and have a lifespan of five to seven years. They can have short, long, or tufted hair, and can be groomed with a soft brush. As they are highly social and curious animals, they appreciate the company of a friend. Keeping females together is common, as is shared housing with a rabbit. Like with most rodents, it is important to keep genders separated so that they will not reproduce (and reproduce)! They like to be gently handled and are smart enough to be litter box trained. Guinea pigs need a spacious solid-bottom cage with tubes and boxes for playing, hiding, and sleeping. Additionally, they require safe, supervised time outside of the cage each day for exercise. As herbivores, they eat very specific foods that are most nutritious for them and require a good amount of vitamin C. They have great hearing, an excellent sense of smell, and are capable of making many different vocalizations, including grunting, purring, and whistling. My favorite thing about guinea pigs is that they “squeak” when excited! Guinea pigs make great pets for families who want to take on the responsibility of a small animal who requires relatively easy care.
Hamsters are enchanting little omnivores originally hailing from Syria. At six inches long, they are a lot smaller than guinea pigs and have a very short tail and cheek pouches for storing food. They are most commonly solitary animals and need to be housed alone. They need a wheel in their cage for exercise, and tubes and tunnels in which to crawl. Because they tend to be relatively shy, they require early socialization and special care when being handled. Hamsters are nocturnal and need their beauty rest during the day. Like many nocturnal animals, they have poor eyesight but a great sense of smell and acute hearing. They can become upset when bothered during the day and may even nip. Since they are sensitive to noise and can be a bit feisty at times, they are not necessarily the best pets for young children. They can live to be about three years old and make good companions for people who are up at night or who don’t mind falling asleep to a little marathoner spinning his cage wheel.
Gerbils are found world-wide, but the most common variety found in the U.S. originally came from Mongolia. They are sweet, active, and very social—and they are happiest living with another gerbil friend of the same gender. Gerbils are petite little hoarding animals, about four inches long with a four inch tail. Also called “desert rats,” as they originated in the desert, they still love to dig, burrow, and make tunnels. Gerbils are notorious chewers and escape artists who need to be kept in special housing to keep them safe and happy. Healthy gerbils can live to be four years old. They can be a good choice for families with older children, as these diminutive and lively rodents need skillful hands to care for them. And did I mention that these little omnivores only need their cages cleaned weekly?!
Mice are delightful, curious animals that can make fabulous companion pets. Mostly herbivorous, they are even smaller than gerbils, measuring approximately three inches long and weighing under one ounce. And like gerbils, mice, too, have to be given special housing to accommodate their small size, ability to jump, and tendency to gnaw. They like to be with other mice; multiple females can be housed together if they are successfully introduced and socialized when they are young. Mice have amazing senses of hearing and smell (some say better than dogs!), but are sensitive to bright light. Because they are delicate little beings, they need extra special attention when handling. They require relatively easy care, and a healthy domestic pet mouse can live to be two to three years old.
Rats are amazing animals. Get those scary movies and stories out of your head---they’ve not done rats (or you) any favors. These animals are super intelligent and very friendly. Most domestic rats are about seven to ten inches long and have a “naked” tail about the same length. Because they are very social, they should keep company with at least one other friend of the same gender. Their cage needs daily cleaning and should have safe materials for them to build nests, as well as a variety of toys to keep their little minds humming and to prevent boredom. Be prepared to provide these little guys with a safe area to exercise outside of their cage, as they have a lot of energy. And they are somewhat nocturnal, making them a bit more active in the evening. They mostly eat nutritious rat food pellets with some added fresh fruit and vegetables, and they have a bit of a sweet tooth. Healthy pet rats usually live about two and a half to three years and can boast highly-developed senses of hearing and smell. As they enjoy being stroked and held, rats make an ideal pet for families wanting a small pet who will return their affections.
Other less common rodents sometimes come into the Adoption Center, and you may think about adopting. Although they may share common basic needs with other rodents like water, veterinary care, and love, each type of rodent has a specific diet, habitat requirement, and social need. As with any other animal you might consider, it is essential that you educate yourself as much as possible as to what you will need to do to keep your animal happy and healthy all of his or her life.