Keeping rodents as pets

Children up and down the country have been introduced to the wonderful world of pets thanks to rodents. These small furry creatures can make great pets without taking up too much of your space or your time but if you are unsure which is the best for your household, here's what you need to know.

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The wonder of seeing a hamster fill his cheeks with food has kept many a child entertained and, given calm and gentle handling, they make good pets. As solitary animals they should never be kept in pairs or groups. Remember, hamsters are nocturnal - therefore they can be grumpy if woken during the day, and make a surprising amount of noise at night. Hamsters live for an average of two to three years.

These sociable rodents should be kept in pairs or groups, ideally from a young age. They are fast, fun and make for an entertaining pet. With regular handling, they can become tame and friendly. They live on average for two to three years.

The tiniest of pet rodents, mice are low maintenance, playful and fun to watch as they interact with each other. Though they are sociable animals, it is best to keep females together as males can fight when they reach adulthood. They are not necessarily the best rodent for young children who want to cuddle their pet as they can be jumpy and extremely quick. Mice live for anywhere from one to three years.

They may not have enjoyed the best reputation but rats actually make great pets for children and adults alike. They enjoy interacting with both humans and their own species and a same sex pair (and a good-sized cage to run around in) is recommended. With regular handling they are easily tamed, rarely bite, and can even learn tricks. Combined with their larger size, that makes them the perfect pet for children. Rats live an average of two to four years.

Guinea pigs
These gentle animals live for an average of five to seven years and are popular pets thanks to their sweet nature and bite-free personalities. As with most rodents, they will need handling from an early age as they can be nervous, and they should be kept in pairs as they are sociable. Guinea pigs also require more space than smaller rodent species but make endearing and friendly pets.

These fabulously fluffy animals can make fantastic pets once they have bonded with their owner, but consistent, calm handling is a must if you are to gain their trust. Though they can happily live in same sex pairs if introduced at a young age, chinchillas are equally at home on their own. Like hamsters, chinchillas are nocturnal and need a quiet place in which to chill during the day. A large cage is essential for these active, playful creatures and bear in mind that they live on average for 15 years.

Caring for your rodent
Though rodents are ideal if you are lacking space or don't have the time to devote to a dog or cat, they still require lots of care and attention including clean, fresh water and a healthy, balanced diet. Most pet shops now offer complete foods specifically designed for each type of rodent but treats such as nuts and fresh vegetables will always go down well. Since it is important that their teeth are kept in good condition, chew sticks from the pet shop are also advised.

Guinea pigs also require a constant supply of hay and slowly introducing fresh leafy green veg or even fruit into their diet will help them to stay healthy as they are unable to manufacture vitamin C and therefore rely on diet to obtain it.

While rodents don't need the run of the house to stay healthy, buying the biggest cage you can will ensure that they have enough room to stay active and well. A secured outside run is a great idea for guinea pigs as they will enjoy the fresh grass, but do ensure that there is shelter from the sun and always bring them in at night in case of foxes. Most will enjoy climbing, running through tunnels and many will happily spend hours in a wheel so do include toys and the like to keep them entertained.

A cosy bed where they can sleep and hide is a must and always make sure your pet's cage is secure - small furries are adept at escaping and will be extremely hard to track down if they make a break for it.

The cage should also be cleaned regularly - once a week at least and more frequently if you notice an odour - and soiled bedding and sawdust should be replaced with fresh each time.

Overall, rodents make for relatively low maintenance pets requiring very little space - and given the proper care and gentle handling, they will undoubtedly provide the whole family with hours of entertainment.

Remember, all animals can be unpredictable, so teach your child how to handle them correctly and supervise little ones to help reduce the chances of them being bitten.

What was your first pet? Leave your comments below...