Which Pet Rodents Can Live Alone?


Whenever you consider adopting a new animal into your life, you must take several aspects of its natural life and behaviors into consideration. For example, suppose you’re bringing a rodent into your home. In that case, you’ll need to know whether your chosen pet’s ideal diet, veterinary requirements, and wellness needs such as cage mates, or if they should live alone.

The types of rodents that can live alone include chinchillas, hamsters (specifically, the Syrian and Chinese hamsters), and male mice. Few rodents prefer to keep a cage to themselves since most of these species are highly social in nature. Yet, dedicating quality time to your pocket pet can guarantee that your rodent stays fulfilled, even on their own.

Remember that, even for the previously listed species, rodents can get a bit lonely when living on their own. You’ll need to have a game plan on how to keep your pet entertained and satisfied in their solitary life. See the guide below to learn what to expect and how to prepare for raising a lone rodent. 

Which Rodents Can Live on their Own?

Many rodent species live a social lifestyle. So, whether you find them in the wild or they live in a human’s care, it’s unlikely that you’ll see them without a companion nearby. Still, some domestic rodents can be flexible in their social norms.

Various Pet Rodents

For instance, most official sources will tell new rodent owners that guinea pigs should never live alone. Yet, thousands of people on social media have reported that they’ve owned a single guinea pig without any negative behavioral problems or noticed signs of impaired wellbeing. Although this alternative ownership style requires its own set of rules, it’s not impossible.

If you’re raising a normally social rodent without a cage mate, the primary needs you’ll want to focus on include entertainment and companionship. Spending lots of one-on-one time with your pet will fulfill their need for having company. However, if you’d like to have a rodent that is naturally prepared for living their lives solo, see the information on chinchillas, hamsters, and male mice below. (Source: Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)

Raising a Chinchilla without a Cage Mate

The average chinchilla owner keeps only one pet at a time. If there are more housed in a single cage, the average limit is two, and the rodents are typically mates. The relationship between the two chinchillas is critical to whether you’ll have success in raising them together or face significant issues. Chinchillas should never be housed with the same sex. Otherwise, they are more likely to fight each other.

Chinchilla

For example, veterinary professionals warn that raising two chinchillas in one enclosure can lead to fighting, resulting in injuries or deaths. This is one of the primary reasons why chinchillas are often best kept alone. Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of simple convenience, but of the animal’s safety.

Your lone chinchilla’s cage will need to measure at least 31” x 20” x 31”. They are very active, and the ample space will give the chinchilla lots of room to run and leap around. Chinchilla “acrobatics” are a crucial activity that will help maintain your pet’s wellbeing and ensure they stay entertained throughout the day. They’re also quite shy, so you’ll want to give them a hiding place for when playtime is over.

Chinchilla enclosure

Raising a chinchilla without a cage mate is the best thing you can do for this pet since they naturally live alone in the wild. Other ways you can replicate their wild lifestyles in their domestic homes include adding branches in their cage for climbing, providing a dust bath, and maintaining the cage’s temperature between 64-72֯F. With these guidelines, you are sure to raise a happy, healthy pet. (Source: MedVet)

How and Why to Keep Hamsters Alone

If you’re looking to buy a hamster, know that the standard of raising one of these rodents alone is not a blanket rule. While most hamsters are more likely to thrive in a solitary lifestyle, some types need other rodents’ company to remain happy and sustain normal behaviors. For example, some dwarf hamsters should be kept in a colony, while the more popular Syrian hamster must be housed alone. (Source: The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)

A complete look at the most common types of hamsters and their social needs is below:

Syrian Hamsters

Golden Syrian Hamster

These are, by far, the most popular type of hamster in the country. Whether you attempt to keep two females, two males, or mixed sexes in one cage, they will end up fighting one another. Past research has shown that adults naturally live alone in the wild, so the same conditions should be provided in a domestic home.

Dwarf Hamsters

There are 3 main types of “true” dwarf hamsters. These types do best in social lifestyles, whether they are housed with only one other cage mate or live in large family groups. These types include the following:

  • Winter white hamster (AKA Siberian hamster)
Winter White Hamster
  • Russian dwarf hamster
Russian Dwarf Hamster
  • Roborovski hamsters
Roborovski hamster

Chinese Hamsters (aka “rat-tailed hamsters”)

Chinese hamster

Although they are often considered to be part of the dwarf hamster family, these are in a league of their own since they are not “true” dwarves. You might get lucky with an individual that gets along with other Chinese hamster cage mates, but in general, these are “only child” pets.

No matter what type of hamster you choose, please avoid housing two different species in the same cage. Although they can all be collectively referred two as “hamsters,” they do not all share the same behaviors and social preferences, as demonstrated above. Forcing two or more distinct types to share living space can be disastrous for their safety and wellbeing.

Housing Male Mice in Individual Cages

Note that your lone mouse must be a male when choosing to house mice individually. Males display different territorial behaviors and patterns than females and are more likely to engage in aggressive interactions that can either injure or kill their cage mate. So, raising your male mouse on his own is the best way you can ensure his safety and happiness as he grows.

Two mice fighting

Although recent research leans more on observing laboratory mice’s wellbeing, casual owners can still apply the scientists’ knowledge to home care. One of the most important things to know when preparing your mouse’s housing is that mice housed in communities will construct dominance hierarchies. To do so, the mice must fight.

Certain types of mice can be more aggressive than others, meaning that there is a higher risk of death or severe injury when kept together. Plus, introducing unacquainted adult mice to one another is a recipe for disaster. They have not been allowed to get to know one another throughout their lives and will defend their territory from the “intruder.”

Understand that, although it is a matter of safety, housing of male mice alone is not a hard-and-fast rule. The only male mice that could potentially live together are siblings. This is because the two mice grew up with one another and had the opportunity to acclimate to each other’s behaviors over time. If your mice have not had the opportunity to interact from a young age, it’s best to keep them separate.

Entertaining Your Solitary Rodent

A rodent that lives on its own will need ample quality time with you. Spending time with your rodent is the best way to ensure that it does not fall into detrimental behavioral patterns, especially those that interfere with their health and safety (e.g., pulling out fur, not eating or drinking, etc.). Although your solo pet may prefer to live on its own, they still require some level of interaction to be happy.

Below you’ll find some of the best activities you can do with your rodent (according to the species) to keep them happy while living alone:

Chinchillas– Let your chinchilla out of their cage now and then to give them free rein to run around the house (when it’s safe).
– Add lots of fun enrichment toys to their cage.
– Toys for climbing are a plus!
– Strengthen your bond by holding and cuddling with your chinchilla
Syrian and Chinese Hamsters – Sitting on the couch and letting your hamster climb on you and the furniture is a great way to spend quality time
– Give your hammy an exercise wheel
– An enclosed run-about ball is a fun way to let them explore the house safely
Mice – Add an exercise wheel to their cage or put one out in a safe area for them to run around on
– Give your mouse some climbing ropes
– Train your mouse to do agility tricks

These activities are sure to keep your rodent entertained and develop a strong bond between you two. Of course, the above list doesn’t represent everything you can do with your rodent. Some people even venture to bring their little buddies outdoors (safely) to get some fresh air and vitamin D. No matter which pastime you choose, just make sure to be consistent and safe, and you’ll have a happy pet.

Is Human Companionship Enough for Rodents?

If you choose to own any of the 3 species listed above, you may be tempted to feel guilty for keeping them alone. Not only is solitude natural for these animals (of course, there are exceptions, even in these species), but they can readily adapt to human companionship. In fact, many of them grow to prefer a human friend.

You can ensure that your relationship with your rodent is positive and healthy by engaging in the following bonding and trust-building activities:

  • Brushing your little buddy with an old toothbrush
  • Handfeeding them treats
  • Cuddling and allowing your rodent to climb on your shoulders, torso, or rest in your hands

Having quality time with your pocket pet for at least 30 minutes a day is best for their wellbeing. However, if you truly want your human companionship to be enough for your rodent, you’ll need more time, according to you and your little friend’s comfort levels.

Why Are There So Few Rodents that Can Live Alone?

Most domestic rodents are social creatures. In fact, they are some of scientists’ favorite animals to observe when studying social interactions in animals of the same species.

Correct way to hold a rat

Since the ‘70s and ‘80s, when the field of “behavioral ecology” emerged, rodents quickly rose as the go-to species group for researchers to gain a deeper understanding of evolutionary and individual behaviors in social settings.

These social behaviors are critical to most rodents’ lives in the wild, so naturally, they remain in the genes of domestic descendants. Some of the most significant facets of rodents’ social behavior include (Source: Journal of Mammalogy):

  • Chemical communication:
    • Olfactory communication (giving and receiving information through smells)
    • Recognizing family members through scents from various glands
  • Philopatry
    • The instinct to return to the territories they were born in
  • Parental care

These interactions and relationships are crucial to rodents’ survival in the wild. Without chemical communication between conspecifics (rodents of the same species), they risk crossing into another colony’s territory and competing for resources or fighting for their lives. In the absence of philopatry or parental care, they may be abandoned and die. This is why many remain social even in human care.

What Happens if a Rodent is Housed Alone?

As mentioned above, some rodent species that can live alone don’t always prefer to do so. It is for this reason that the idea of raising a rodent alone is so hotly debated. Rodents are individuals just as we humans are, so not all will meet the general expectations that divide them into “solitary” vs. “social” animals. Chinchillas and male mice are the best examples of this.

When two chinchillas or male mice are raised in the same cage from a young age, they are likely to grow up getting along just fine. However, attempting to introduce them when they are mature is best avoided, as this can be quite dangerous.

If you do choose to keep a chinchilla, Syrian or Chinese hamster, or male mouse without a cage mate, you’ll need to know what signs to look for to recognize when your rodent is getting too lonely. Behavioral signs of loneliness, anxiety, or depression to watch out for include :

  • Loss of interest in sweet snacks
    • When tested in laboratory settings, scientists have noted that a healthy mouse will choose a sucrose (sugar) solution instead of plain water when given the option. However, a depressed mouse will opt for the water. This is because they can no longer experience the “reward” of a sugary treat.
  • Sudden rise in interest in inanimate materials – this is a sign of anti-social behavior. For example, your rodent pet is more interested in spending time with inanimate objects than other living things, including you.
  • More frightened of new experiences and spaces
  • Stronger preference for dark areas in their enclosure, and may hide away more often

Which Rodent Species Shouldn’t Live Together?

While it’s important to know which types of rodents can live alone, it’s also crucial to understand when you should avoid pairing certain species in the same cage. Fortunately, it’s easy to remember which species to avoid mixing, because the same rule should be applied to them all: Never mix two different rodent species together in the same cage.

The behavioral and size differences are far too drastic for different types of rodents to live safely in a shared enclosure. For example, many people have been tempted to put their gerbils in the same cage as a mouse. Although they’re both quite small, similar body size is not enough to ensure their collective safety.

Because the species cannot recognize each other, they are likely to become quite aggressive toward their new cage mates. Continuing with the gerbils and mice example: Although these two are very similar in size, gerbils are slightly larger, and can be stronger than mice. Thus, their territorial behavior is likely to result in severe injuries for the mouse cage mates.

Gerbils are also resistant to certain illnesses that mice are not. So, if your gerbil were a carrier of a specific disease, it may not show any signs before passing it off to your mouse, which could ultimately die of the infection. Although this example is specific to these two species, these are general warnings that can apply to many different combinations of domestic rodent roommates.

In Conclusion

Rodents are some of the best pocket pets to introduce into your or your family’s life. However, many of these little furry friends are unable to live in solitude and require the company of another rodent of their kind. If you can’t afford (or don’t want) to look after two or more rodents, you may want to look into purchasing the following species:

  • Chinchillas
  • Hamsters (Syrian or Chinese hamsters, specifically)
  • Male mice

These specific types of rodents do very well on their own. With the proper time and attention, you can ensure that they never get lonely, and can lead a fulfilling life as the only rodent pet in your life.

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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