How To Select A Pet Rodent (Which Type Is Best for you?)

Pet rodents are very common. They come in tons of different sizes and colors, and the difficulty levels of their care can vary. Selecting a pet rodent will depend on the space you have available and the level of care difficulty you can handle.

Selecting a rodent is no small task. After all, they are small animals entirely dependent on you to get the care they need. Additionally, if you’re buying a rodent pet for your small child, you need to be prepared to take over most of their care.

Selecting a Rodent

Various Rodents
You’ll have to consider many factors when choosing a pet rodent.

There are many things to consider when choosing a rodent pet. While they’re labeled as beginner pets, that doesn’t mean that they’re all necessarily created equal in terms of care. Though they stay small compared to other pets like dogs or cats, their sizes will vary from rodent to rodent, along with their needs.


Generally speaking, rodents are all pretty small pets. However, the size of the rodent you choose will impact many other choices, like their enclosure, their food needs, and their exercise needs. For example, smaller rodents like fancy mice tend to have more energy than larger rodents, like bunnies.

Smaller rodents are usually a more popular choice for classrooms, offices, or small children. Since they’re so small, they won’t be too hard to take care of, and they’d be easy to transport. Those characteristics are preferred if you’re giving the pet to a student to take home on the weekends. Also, a smaller animal usually means smaller teeth, helping to avoid painful bites.

Cleaning Needs

No matter what kind of rodent pet you select, you’ll be doing some pretty heavy cleaning. Most rodents are fed a diet that consists mainly of vegetables or other plant-based materials, like seeds and timothy hay. A diet like that will lead to a lot of droppings.

Also, rodents often mark their territory with their feces and their urine. Since the entire cage is their territory, it’s safe to assume that they will indeed be marking it a lot. A mouse can produce up to 100 droppings a day.

Any rodent you buy will need to have their enclosure spot cleaned daily. Spot cleaning will include:

  • Removing any soiled bedding
  • Replacing the water
  • Removing any old food and wiping out the food dish

However, your rodent’s enclosure will need to be deep cleaned once weekly, which includes:

  • Removing and replacing all of the bedding
  • Cleaning out the food dish and water bottle (you can use baby wipes, dish detergent, or anti-bacterial soap)
  • Disinfecting the enclosure

Avoiding Potential Diseases

Every pet rodent can carry diseases. These can include leptospirosis, salmonella, or hantavirus, among others. There is no way around this, so if you were hoping to avoid the risk, rodent ownership might not be the best idea for you.

There are ways to avoid transmission of disease, though. These include:

  • Washing your hands after handling the rodent
  • Feeding the rodent before handling it
  • Looking for signs of stress before handling the rodent to avoid bites
  • Not letting the rodent on surfaces where food is prepared
  • Keeping the rodent away from your mouth
  • Regularly removing fecal matter from the enclosure

Color and Fur

Something that many people take into consideration when selecting a rodent is their color. Most rodents are available in a variety of colors, but they will always be more neutral colors. Typically, you’ll find white, black, brown, and grey rodents, though some do have spots of different colors on them. This is true for every rodent, regardless of size or species.

Another thing to think about is their fur. All rodents, except for the naked mole-rat, come with fur. If fur is one of your pet peeves, don’t be discouraged; rodents don’t shed as heavily as other animals like cats or dogs.

If you’re truly concerned about shedding, opt for a smaller rodent pet. Fancy mice and gerbils won’t shed as much, and the hairs will not be as long as those from a bunny or a guinea pig. Regardless of fur length, however, all rodents do feel soft, so you won’t need to worry about whether or not they’ll be soft and fun to hold.


Expenses for rodent care will vary based on the size of the rodent more than anything else. A bigger rodent pet, like a bunny, needs more space, more food, and larger living areas, which results in the need for more bedding.

If you’re on a bit of a budget, it would be best to get a smaller rodent that will require less space and overall less expense on supplies. These can include:

  • Gerbils
  • Mice
  • Robo-hamsters

Who Is the Rodent For?

Rodents are often thought of as the perfect pet for young children because they’re small enough to be held, and they’re very fluffy. Parents will often buy these animals for their children as a lesson in responsibility and (because of their short lifespans) a lesson in the circle of life.

Unfortunately, small children aren’t always responsible pet owners. If you’re going to buy one for your child, you need to be prepared to step in to help with the cleaning and the overall maintenance. Opt for something you would like to have. If you know you’re going to have a hard time touching a rat or a mouse, go for something that you think is “cuter.”


Rodents are pretty mild-mannered creatures in general, once they get to know you. However, they are prey animals, so their instinct will be to run and defend themselves when they feel threatened. Often, that means that you might get bitten.

A rodent is easy to tame and easy to train, regardless of their species. As long as you don’t approach them too quickly or squeeze them tightly, you should have no problem with anger issues once you and your new friend are on good terms.

Some of them do like to be held more than others, though. If you’re looking for the type of pet that’s going to want to cuddle, your safest bets are:

  • Hamsters
  • Rats
  • Guinea pigs
  • Bunnies

Types of Rodent Pets

While there are some universal care instructions for rodent pets, each rodent species has certain special traits that may make them more appealing for your home.

Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs are a relatively common pet to keep. Originating from South America, these animals are said to have been domesticated for food at around 2000 BC. While it is still common to eat them in several South American countries, it has become even more common to keep them as pets.

Guinea pigs are known for their bright and playful personalities. They’re on the larger side of the rodent family, getting to about ten inches in length and up to 2.5 pounds when they’re full-grown. Their size makes them good for little hands while also making it harder for them to get lost if they escape.

Guinea pigs also live longer than a lot of other rodents; their lifespan ranges from 4-8 years. Overall, if you’re looking for a pet that you can cuddle, a guinea pig would be a great pet for you. You can even train them to do tricks, like rolling over or coming when called. Guinea pigs can also be kept together.

Guinea pigs are herbivores and should be fed a diet of mostly timothy hay or pellets. However, you can give them a variety of fruits and veggies as a treat, including:

  • Cucumber
  • Carrots
  • Green peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Banana


Hamster eating

Hamsters are an incredibly common pet, especially in classrooms. They’re pretty small, and they’re fun to watch, whether you’re watching them run on a wheel or roll around in a ball. Hamsters are an excellent introductory rodent pet. They’re very friendly and typically don’t need too much adjustment time before you can start bonding with them after you get them.

Hamsters are not quick to bite. Rather, they’re quick to urinate when they’re scared. When you begin to hold them after you get them, be sure to either cover yourself or be prepared to change your clothes. Once they get to know you, though, this will usually subside.

The lifespan of a hamster is typically very short, between one and three years. Given their playful personalities, they will quickly become a family favorite. When you buy a hamster, you’re also committing to a short lifespan. A hamster is not a pet for the faint of heart. Hamsters should also not be kept together, especially when they’re male.

Hamsters tend towards being herbivores when kept as pets. In the wild, they are omnivores and will eat insects alongside seeds and grass. It is tempting and easy to give hamsters commercially pre-made pellets. However, it is best to give them a variety of fresh foods daily, such as:

  • Leafy greens (romaine lettuce, dandelion greens, carrot tops)
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • Cucumbers
  • Bell peppers

Do Different Hamsters Have Different Needs?

There are a few different types of hamsters. Typically, you’ll find that the most common types found in pet stores are Syrian and dwarf hamsters (also often called Robo-hamsters). The only real difference between the two is that dwarf hamsters are smaller. They have the same diets, but Syrian hamsters will need a larger enclosure.

Since dwarf hamsters are smaller, they will be able to run faster than their larger counterparts. They will be harder to catch, so if you’re planning on getting the pet for a child, you might want to choose something bigger and easier to spot. Like Syrian hamsters, Robo-hamsters should also not be kept together.


Mice sharing a drink

Mice are one of the smallest rodent pets. They’re tiny and soft. Unlike hamsters, mice have full-length tails. That will add an extra layer of concern, especially when buying a mouse for a child. Their tails are incredibly sensitive, so you should never grab a mouse by the tail, nor should you pull on it. Mice have short lifespans, around a year and a half to two years.

Mice are also known to be escape artists. They do not have collarbones, so they’re able to squeeze themselves through smaller spaces more easily than a larger rodent, like a hamster. When keeping a mouse, the bars on their enclosure should be no more than 1/4 of an inch apart. Any larger and your mouse may be able to squeeze through.

In addition to being escape artists, mice are fast. If you drop them and get started, they will run, and they will be very hard to catch. When holding a mouse, it’s best to hold them over something like a storage bin, so they will fall in there instead of onto the floor to take off.

Mice Can Have Treats, Too

Mice are omnivorous, unlike bunnies and hamsters. They will eat a variety of foods, including:

  • Mealworms
  • Insects
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Pumpkin and sunflower seeds

They can also eat several different foods as very occasional treats. If you’re looking for a once-a-month type of treat, you can give them:

  • A Cheerio
  • Uncooked pasta
  • A little piece of cooked chicken
  • Peanut butter

Concerns in Fancy Mice

Fancy Mice
Fancy Mice | Image Credit: Maggie Laigaie

If you’re considering getting fancy mice, you should be aware that they should not be kept together. As they get older, they become more territorial and aggressive. However, they also will breed when a male and a female are kept together.

A fancy mouse can have up to 8 pups in one litter. Their gestation period is less than a month, and they can become pregnant again as soon as 24 hours after their litter is born. So, unless you’re fully equipped to deal with a small army of fancy mice or fancy mice that continuously fight, it’s best to keep them alone.


Pet Rat

Rats and fancy mice are a lot alike in terms of looks and size. However, rats are a little bit bigger, so they eat more and produce more waste. Also, rats have a lifespan of around two years. Rats are also very flexible; like fancy mice, they don’t have collarbones.

A rat can squeeze through any hole that is the size of its head or larger. If you’re going to keep rats, it’s a wise idea to apply the same 1/4th of an inch rule for the bars on their cage that you would apply for fancy mice, just to be safe. Rats are also great jumpers. Regardless of whether your rat is about to jump, you should never grab their tail.

If you are easily startled, or you know you have shaky hands, then a rat is not for you. If you drop your rat, they are capable of getting away in an instant. Rats are also incredibly intelligent, so it won’t be hard for them to figure out how to hide and subsequently survive independently.

Rats are notorious for eating everything they see. However, like any animal, your rat does need to have a balanced diet. That could include foods like:

  • A small amount of lean, cooked meats
  • Broccoli
  • Apple
  • Cooked sweet potato
  • Pieces of whole wheat pasta
  • Cubes of hay


Gerbil Close Up

Gerbils have a very similar personality to hamsters. They’re cute, small, and very playful. They love to run on wheels and cuddle in your hands. Additionally, gerbils have a longer lifespan of about three and a half years. They have significantly long tails, though, so they will not be the best option for a child with inquisitive pulling fingers.

However, if you’re looking for the perfect cross between the playful hamster and the smaller fancy mouse, then a gerbil is the perfect pet for you. Gerbils consume less and require a smaller enclosure because of their smaller size, but they will still let you cuddle with them when you want to. They also do have collarbones, so it’ll be harder for them to escape.

Gerbils are notorious nesters. Their teeth continuously grow, so they gnaw on softwoods and shred strips of paper to keep them trimmed down. If you leave a gerbil on your table, be wary of anything left on it as it could face the wrath of the gerbil’s intimidating teeth. Like fancy mice and hamsters, gerbils should be kept alone to prevent aggression or excessive breeding.

Which Type of Rodent Is Best for You?

There are several different types of rodents, and they typically are sorted by their specific needs. However, rodents do have distinct personality traits, depending on the species you’re choosing. When choosing a rodent, pick one with care needs you can meet and personalities that mesh well with your preference.

Playful Rodents

Hamster in Wheel

Playful rodents are going to be some of the best for children, especially in classroom settings. They’ll be fun to observe as they run on their wheel or climb around through the tubes in their enclosure.

Playful rodents will also usually be okay with being held and passed around from person to person. They look to bond with whoever they can. They’ll also respond well to treats and can even be taught to do tricks, like sit up, come when called, and other basic conditioning practices.

Some of the most playful rodent species include:

  • Dwarf hamsters
  • Syrian hamsters
  • Bunnies

Caveats to Playful Rodents

There are a few caveats to owning playful rodents, though. They will need to play often, and they require a lot of attention to stay happy. If you’re getting one for a classroom or a workplace, someone will likely need to take it home at night. A household that includes a playful rodent needs to be a household that is completely comfortable handling it.

Generally, rodents are nocturnal, meaning most of their playtime will be at night. Try to dedicate at least an hour a night to handling and playing with your rodent. If you want to try to train them to do tricks, you should spend about 30 minutes a night trying to do so. Any more than that and the rodent will lose focus.

Because they’re nocturnal, they will move around tons while you may be trying to sleep. This nighttime activity is something to consider if you have babies or light sleepers in the room where your rodent will reside.

Another potential downside to owning a playful rodent is the food intake they require. Even though the most playful rodent species are usually pretty small, they’re running around and burning many calories. That means you’ll need to be able to spend a pretty penny on food and treats to keep them satisfied.

Easy to Care for Rodents

Holding a rabbit

A rodent that one may consider easy to care for is one that doesn’t require a ton of attention. These animals can entertain themselves with the things in their cage, rather than needing hours of your attention. If you want an easy rodent, you’re probably going to end up with more of a “look” pet rather than a “touch” pet.

The best place for an easy rodent is probably with someone who works and can devote some time, but not tons, to their care. They don’t rely on you for happiness, but it definitely won’t hurt to devote at least half an hour a night to their care. Just because they don’t need a lot of interaction doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them some!

The best activities to do with these rodents are to feed them treats and occasionally give them some pets, just so that they’re used to your touch. The easiest rodents usually include:

  • Fancy mice
  • Rats
  • Bunnies

Intelligent Rodents

Rat with books

As a whole, rodents are a very intelligent family. However, one species, in particular, stands out: the rat. Rats fall into both the easy to care for and intelligent categories because they need a lot of mental stimulation, but not always from you. If you know you won’t have a lot of time to play each night, you can stick puzzle toys and even puzzle feeders into their cages.

Intelligent rodents like rats are amusing to watch. These would be great for someone with curious children as well as a classroom setting, especially for science. Rats are often used for experiments, so it may be fun to incorporate them into your lessons.

Rats are a perfect middle ground between fancy mice and hamsters. They do love to cuddle; they’ll sit in your pockets, on your shoulder, or in your lap. However, they will also be content to be in their cage, as long as they have toys to keep them busy.

Overall, rats are:

  • Good for most situations
  • Easy to train
  • Cuddly
  • intelligent

Keeping Rodents Together

Rodents are typically a solitary family of creatures. It’s alright to keep them together when they’re young, but they need to be separated once they get older. They will fight over resources, territory, and simply because of aggression. Keeping a female with a male will result in babies, so that is never recommended. Male rodents, especially, should never be kept together, regardless of species.

If you find yourself in a position where your rodents have had babies, they also need to be separated immediately. Otherwise, it is a possibility that the larger ones will eat the babies. While it may be considered the circle of life, it’s not something you’re likely going to want to watch.

Are There Hypoallergenic Rodents?

Rodents are all furry, regardless of species, unless you find yourself a naked mole-rat. They do shed, which may aggravate your allergies, and they do produce dander. There are no species of rodent that is hypoallergenic. If you’re concerned about getting a rodent with your allergies, you may prefer to try methods such as:

  • Consulting with your PCP about allergy shots
  • Taking over the counter allergy medication
  • Opting for a different pet, like a reptile or fish, that is hypoallergenic

The Drawbacks of Rodent Ownership

Rodent ownership is fun, but there certainly are some issues across every rodent species. For example, rodents all have relatively short lifespans, typically of no longer than four years. They also do have distinct personalities, so it will be excruciating to say goodbye when the time comes sooner rather than later. 

Another issue common in every species is a dealbreaker for many: the smell. No matter how often you clean them, rodent cages are going to smell bad. They are constantly urinating or defecating, so no matter how many times you spot clean daily, they won’t smell clean for long. Keeping several rodents in one room is fine, but the room will need to be well ventilated.

They’re also all pretty skilled at escaping. Bunnies can jump, mice and rats don’t have collarbones, and hamsters are really good climbers. If your enclosure isn’t completely secured, they are going to find a way out. So, if your house has several hiding spots, rodent ownership may not be a great idea for you.


Rodents make great family and classroom pets. With so many varieties to choose from, it can be hard to make the right choice. When you’re trying to decide, it’s crucial to remember that you are not only committing to owning a rodent; you’re committing to caring for it. They count on you for survival, so mistakes can be detrimental.

Lee Cameron

When I was younger, I had guinea pigs and hamsters as pets. There was limited information back then as to how to take care of rodents, and indeed information on the various types of rodents that could be kept as pets. In this website, I hope to make it an easy, one-stop information portal on raising rodents!

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