Caring for a Pet Rodent: Rat, Hamster, Mouse, Chinchilla, Gerbil & Guinea Pigs

Published on December 18, 2018 by

Child with pet rodent (hamster).

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) highlights a number of reasons why rodents are popular pet choices for Americans, including cuteness, sociability, portability and low initial cost. Rodents are part of a class of pets often referred to as “pocket pets.” Pocket pets are a great option for pet ownership for those living in small spaces.

But as the AVMA points out, pocket pets like rodents require just as much care, despite their size. Different rodent species may need different types of care, making some species more suitable as pets than others for certain individuals and families.  Learn what types of care, supplies, food, enrichment and veterinary care the most popular rodent pets can require.

Veterinary Exam Cost

The benefits of keeping a pet rodent healthy and happy benefits both the pet and the owner. The benefits of pet ownership are well documented. These benefits can include lower stress, better mood, improved health and longevity, improved social opportunities and increased happiness. Yet, as the old saying goes, those who can’t afford veterinary care for a pet should reconsider having a pet. Veterinary exams can make the difference in keeping a pet rodent happy and healthy in an environment.

Pet rodents can and do need preventative vet care and treatment. The cost range for a “well pet” veterinary visit can be between $25 and $75. Expect a bill of around $150 to see a veterinary specialist and a range of $50 to $100 for neutering and spaying services.

Pet Rodent Cages

Outside of veterinary care, many pet owners report the greatest cost when caring for a pet rodent is spent on cages and equipment. The number of pets sharing a space is also a factor in cage cost and habitat setup. Some small mammals can only live with one companion. Other pet rodents must be kept separated to avoid injuries. The more pets sharing a space, the larger that space must be.

The pet’s cage must be escape-proof, provide adequate ventilation, placed out of the way of drafts or direct sunlight. The cage must also be able to maintain a temperature range conducive to the pet species’ overall health and well-being. For many pet rodents, temperature is a matter of life and death.

Pet Rodent Habitat

Habitat setup is vital for a positive captive environment. Pet rodents are small prey-type mammals with a very high drive and need to hide, burrow and nest. Some, but not all, small mammals enjoy climbing. All pet rodents need a safe space to hide and rest.

It is vital to research the needs of the specific species and then the specific breed within that species. For example, Syrian (golden or teddy bear) hamsters, the largest and most popular pet hamster breed, must be kept alone to avoid fights. Contrast that with the Roborovski hamster, the smallest breed of hamster. This breed is quite social and needs another of its kind to thrive.

Typical habitat needs regardless of species or breed include absorbent safe bedding, water bottle, food dishes, ladders or ramps and platforms, enclosed hiding areas and a place to bathe (if the species requires it). Expect to spend anywhere from $100 to $200+ for the initial cage and habitat setup expenses. Then expect to spend a smaller amount – $10 to $20 depending on number of pets and cage size – monthly for cage supplies.

Food & Water

Regardless of species or breed, all small mammal pets must have access to clean, fresh water at all times. The best way to offer water is in a water bottle for sanitation and hygiene reasons.

Small mammal pets tend to be herbivores, but some pet rodents will consume protein in the form of insects or other small creatures such as lizards or pinkie mice. Researching the dietary requirements of the exact species will ensure balanced daily nutrition. Typical staples can include different types of dried hay, fresh greens, fresh fruits, nuts or seeds, grains, eggs and bugs.

Pet Rodent Treats

Every pet likes treats. Offering treats is a great way to bond with a pet. In a wild setting, a small mammal might eat a favorite food and supplement as needed with other foods without experiencing obesity. But in captivity, too many treats may lead to gastrointestinal and health issues for your pet.

This is especially true with very small pets such as rats, mice, chinchillas, gerbils, hamsters and guinea pigs. These pocket pets can gain weight if not fed a carefully controlled diet. Treats can be confusing for many new pet rodent owners because of cultural myths that show rats eating cheese or rabbits consuming a lot of carrots. Yet, these foods are not the healthiest and certainly would not be plentiful in a wild setting.

Treats provide a bit of extra nourishment as well as variety, excitement and enjoyment. Diced fresh fruits and veggies, a bit of cooked egg or meat protein, nuts and seeds, dried or live insects and similar non-processed healthy foods can be great treats when offered in a regular rotation.

It is important to keep portion sizes reasonable for the pet, which is where many pet owners struggle. The portion size might look small in a person’s eyes but might represent an all-you-can-eat buffet to a pet rodent.

Vitamins & Supplements

For small pets eating  healthy, complete diets, vitamins and supplements are not always necessary. Speak with your pet’s veterinarian or vet technician to determine types and dosages. Some small mammals do need dietary adjustments or additions during pregnancy and nursing. The animal’s veterinarian or vet technician is the best resource for guidance here.

Toys & Enrichment

All pets need toys and enrichment. Many pocket pets like to burrow, dig, nest, scavenge, run, climb, and chew. Researching the species is the best way to choose appropriate toys. One vital need all small mammal pets have is for appropriate chewing toys to keep their growing incisors (front teeth) filed down.

Human Companionship

Some small mammals enjoy human handling and respond well to it. Yet, others are either too high-strung or too tiny to tolerate handling well. Escape is always a factor as well when choosing to remove a small, quick pet rodent from the cage. The best method for enjoying a pet rodent is to provide an escape-proof area outside the main cage or habitat for daily play time and exercise.

Did learning about how to care for a pet rodent interest you? Ready to start a program to become a veterinary technician? With an associate degree in veterinary technology, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to start an entry-level career as a veterinary technician. Broadview University has been part of the community for more than 40 years, so we’ve developed connections that can help move your career forward. After completing our accredited degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Passing the VTNE allows you to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), a designation that will give you a competitive advantage when you enter the job market.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician and working in veterinary technology.



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