Rodents are small mammals that with large front teeth used for gnawing. Their teeth grow throughout the animal's life and are kept from getting too long by chewing.
Hamsters, gerbils, rats and mice are members of the rodent family and are all very common household pets.
Below is some general care information for rodents. For more detailed information, please consult a care book, the suggested websites or talk with your veterinarian.
How to care for your rodent
A general rule for all rodent habitats is the bigger the better. Hamsters, gerbils and mice do well in aquariums with plenty of materials to burrow in. Guinea pigs need lots of horizontal space to explore, while rats love to climb, so vertical cages with ropes and ladders are best.
Your habitat should be lined with either wood shavings (we recommend only aspen - cedar and pine have potential health risks) or an alternate substrate like CareFresh or recycled newspaper pellets.
All rodents need a nesting box or hide-a-way where they can retreat to and rest. You can either build one yourself or buy one at a pet supply store.
Rodent pee has a very strong odour so you will have to clean out toilet areas every second day and give the entire cage a clean once every week. Most will use one corner or area as a toilet area.
Keep your rodent busy by providing an interesting habitat. Gerbils and hamsters like to burrow so fill a 10 gallon or larger aquarium with wood shavings or CareFresh and add toilet paper and paper towel tubes for them to chew and/or run through. Plastic tubes, pieces of cardboard, cardboard egg cartons and anything else that is safe and fun for your rodent can also be added.
||This is a pretty good rat cage. The cardboard insert from carpet rolls makes a great tunnel to climb and run through.
|| A pair of gerbils in a 30 gallon tank filled with CareFresh and losts of cardboard and tunneling items.
||A good example of a hamster habitat that includes Carefresh that allows her to dig and burrow, an exercise wheel, a plastic water bottle, a food dish, a multilevel cardboard house that allows her to retreat, rest and climb, and tubes to explore!
Food and Water
Diet will vary depending on the rodent that you adopt. Your local pet supply store will carry a variety of pre-packaged dry foods for your rodent.
Hamsters, mice, gerbils and rats are omnivores and require protein in their diet. Pre-packaged diets contain ingredients that will provide them with the amounts of protein they need to keep healthy. Fresh veggies and fruits can be given in small amounts to hamsters, mice, gerbils and rats but only as a treat. Rodents are hoarders and will take food their nesting area. Make sure to remove any uneaten fresh food the next day so it doesn't spoil inside of their habitats.
Fresh Timothy Hay can also be added to their daily diet.
Clean water is most easily dispensed from sipper bottles, but be sure the tip is low enough to be reached by the smallest and weakest animal in the cage. Sanitize the water bottle once a week in a dishwasher or wash in hot soapy water and rinse well.
Signs that your habitat does not provide enough stimulation:
- bar chewing or repetitive chewing in their habitat
- racing back and forth in one spot
- digging in one spot
- over grooming - fur may be stripped right off and skin is left exposed and raw
These are not natural rodent behaviours. If your rodent demonstrates these any of the above you need to enrich their environment.
- more space for exercise
- exercise time outside of the habitat
- for hamsters and gerbils - more material to dig and burrow in
- for rats, more vertical space for rats to climb - add ladders, hammocks, and ropes
It is uncommon for one of these pets to be vicious, but they will bite when handled too quickly or roughly. To pet a rodent, slowly pick it up by cradling or cupping your hands, then place the animal on a flat surface with a bit of food. Gently stroke the back. Repeat this every day, as often as you can, and soon you will have a little friend that trusts you.
Diarrhea, lumps, bumps and broken legs are common medical problems for rodents. Broken bones are often sustained from falls so it is best to handle your animal while sitting down. Diarrhea is a very serious condition in rodents, you will need to contact your vet right away. Your veterinarian should also be consulted if you animal suffers from these or any other problems, such as hair loss, excessive water drinking or not eating.
Please do not breed your animals. BC SPCA shelters regularly receive unwanted pet rodents. If you would like another animal visit your shelter and give one a home. If you have a pregnant animal consult a pet care book or your veterinarian to make sure you are giving correct care.
||A normal life span for hamster is two to three years. The two most common breeds of hamsters are Syrian (aka Teddy Bear or Golden hamsters) and Russian Dwarf. Syrian hamsters are solitary animals. Do not house more than one hamster per cage, even if they are the same sex and were raised together since birth.
Dwarf hamsters are much more social and can be housed in pairs with a mate the same sex provided that they were raised together at birth. Keep a close eye on them, over time their aggression towards each other may increase and you may need to separate them. Do not keep males and females together in one cage as they either mate or will fight - often to the death. At temperatures below 15° C hamsters may get very lethargic. Slightly cooler temperatures could send your hamster into a form of hibernation. Your hamster may appear to be comatose or dead, yet merely be in a deep sleep.
Hamsters are also very good escape artists. If your hamster runs away set up a hamster trap. You will need a deep bucket, something that will form a ramp (you can tape two rulers together side by side), some food and a towel. Set up a ramp lending to the bucket. Place small pieces of treats up the ramp and leave a towel and a pile of food in the bucket - the hamster should follow the trail and then fall in the bucket in search of more food. In the morning, your hamster should be waiting for you!
||Gerbils have a life span of three to four years. These animals are social creatures who like to live in groups. Keep pairs of males or females that have been raised together since birth. They are very clean, natural desert animals and their pee is a lot less stinky compared to other rodents. Gerbils are also known as Mongolian desert mice.
||Rats live 3 to 4 years. Rats are very intelligent and require a stimulating environment to explore and play in. They are very social and can be kept in pairs of the same sex.
For more complete animal care guidelines purchase a book from your pet store or borrow one from your public library.