Hamsters Mice Rabbits
You might find yourself in the following scenario: The kids are constantly begging for a pet. Dogs are too large, birds are too noisy, you are allergic to cats, and reptiles scare your significant other. You suggest fish, but the kids insist on something furry that they can hold. You decide to compromise and agree to get a ‘pocket pet’. But which one should you choose? Which one is best with children? What about care, housing and nutrition? Below is a comparison of the most popular small pets in the pet industry today.
Hamsters are one of the most popular pets because they are small, adorable and do not have the long tail like mice and rats. The hamster is a nocturnal animal, which means it is most active at night. They are solitary rodents with a lifespan of 2 to 3 years. They come in many types, such the Teddy bear and Chinese, with the most common being the Golden (or Syrian) type. Housing two or more adult hamsters together will always result in fights, regardless of sex.
Contrary to their name, ‘pocket pets’ should not really be kept in your pockets. Housing is an important consideration because their little cage is essentially their entire world. The environment that you provide for them greatly influences their behaviour and well-being. Temperatures at about 21 degrees Celcius is ideal (i.e. normal room temperature for humans). It is best to place the hamster’s cage in an area that is free of drafts. Although they cannot tolerate cold, they also cannot tolerate temperatures above 32 degrees Celcius. Keep in mind hamsters will hibernate if temperatures drop below 10 degrees Celcius.
Ideally, the cage should be made of metal so it cannot be chewed, but suitable cages can also be made of plastic. The cage should include a running wheel that allows the hamster to exercise freely and a nesting area with cotton or other soft bedding material. Hamsters also enjoy exploring tubes which can be made of plastic or toilet paper rolls. Remember to purchase a cage with good latches to keep openings securely locked, because hamsters make good escape artists. At least once per week, all old bedding should be removed and replaced with fresh material.
Hamsters are omnivorous, which mean they eat both meat and vegetables. Pre-mixed hamster food can be purchased at any pet store and often consists of various seeds, corns, oats, wheat, and pellets. Hamsters enjoy fresh vegetables, but they must be given in moderation. Variety in the hamster’s diet is important. Do not feed your hamster chocolate or other excessively sweet or salty foods. Ensure fresh water is available at all times. Having the water in a drip bottle that can be attached to the side of the cage is best to keep the water from getting contaminated with food or shavings. Hamsters often store food in their cheek pouches for eating at a later time.
Despite their popularity, hamsters may not make the best pets for young children. They have a tendency to bite more than other small rodents and are less interactive. When compared with other small rodents, they are more difficult to train and do not have a tendency to form close bonds with their owners.
The guinea pig’s name does not originate from its geographic origin or its ancestry. The domestic guinea pig comes from the wild guinea pigs of South America, which live in herds. Like the hamster, the guinea pig is considered a small rodent. There are several varieties of guinea pigs. They come in short-haired, rough-haired and long-haired varieties in a wide assortment of colours. The long-haired variety requires a lot of grooming, like a dog or a cat. Even the short-haired variety will benefit from daily grooming with a toothbrush. Guinea pigs usually do not require bathing and it is best not to do it because they can get very cold. If a bath is essential, wash with warm water and keep the animal warm and out of drafts until it is completely dry. Guinea pigs live for 4 to 6 years. The general care is the same as for the hamster.
The cage should be no smaller than 1 meter in length by 50 cm in width by 30 cm in height. Unlike hamsters, guinea pigs are sociable animals and a number of females and one male can be kept together without fear of fighting. Two males, however, will generally fight, particularly if there are females present. The size of cage depends on how many guinea pigs you wish to keep. You should keep chewing wood and roughage (such as hay) available to prevent overgrowth of their teeth because the teeth are continuously growing.
Guinea pigs are strict herbivores, meaning they only eat vegetables. They are very susceptible to vitamin C deficiency, so proper feeding is important. They can be fed guinea pig pellets, timothy hay, or alfalfa. Supplement daily with green leafy vegetables such as kale, lettuce, or carrots for vitamin C. If you purchase pellets, check the milling date on the bag. It should not be greater than 3 months ago because pelleted foods will loose their vitamins as they sit on the shelves.
When compared to hamsters, guinea pigs are more interactive and can learn to recognize family members. They may make squeaky noises to express themselves and they love attention. They are docile, gentle animals that rarely bite or scratch, making it a very ideal pet for small children.
Mice and Rats
The mouse is a small rodent weighting about 30 to 40 grams. They are usually more active at night and are determined escape artists. Mice are social animals so they can be housed with other mice, as long as the cage is large enough to prevent fighting over space and resources. Rats are larger than mice (350 to 500 grams) and are social, inquisitive and intelligent creatures that generally do not bite. They can even be trained to find their way through mazes for food treats.
Their lifespan is between 1.5 to 2.5 years. Like hamsters, they are omnivorous and should be fed a balanced pelleted diet, with no more than 10% being snacks. Rolled oats, plain Cheerios, bread, dandelion leaves, carrots, peas, and other fresh raw vegetables are make suitable snacks. Mice also need something hard to chew on, such as a piece of wood. They should have access to fresh water at all times.
Mice and rats should be housed in a cage made of hard-to-chew material such as metal or plastic. A running wheel and tubes make their environment more interesting and provide good exercise. Like hamsters, mice enjoy having a place to nest. Many types of bedding may be used, such as sawdust, wood shavings, peat moss, and granulated clay. However, cedar or pine shavings should not be used in the cages because they are too strong smelling and may cause coughing or respiratory disease. As with other small rodents, their environment should be kept at room temperature (around 21 degrees Celcius).
Mice have a higher likelihood of biting than rats and are generally not recommended for children because they are very fast. Rats, however, are less likely to bite and make intelligent and interactive pets that are ideal for young children.
Rabbits are timid animals that are gentle and tame. They can grow attached to their owners and can also be housetrained to use a litter box if confined to a small area. Like other small pets, many varieties have been developed, with the most popular being the albino. The dwarf rabbit lives up to 12 years, with the larger breeds living between 5 to 8 years.
Rabbits should be kept in a cage made of metal or plastic, measuring at least 1 meter by 2 meters by 0.3 meters in height. Avoid cages with wire mesh at the bottom because rabbits have no footpads, so sores can develop on the feet from standing on the wire mesh all the time. Bedding is not necessary except in the nesting box, where you can place hay or wood shavings. Do not use wool, cotton or other fabrics for bedding because they can be ingested. Rabbit enclosures can be placed outdoors, as long as the rabbit has a covered area that protects it from excessive sun/rain/cold. Although rabbits can tolerate fairly wide fluctuations in temperature, their preferred range is between 10 an 18 degrees Celcius. Cages should be cleaned at least once per week.
Rabbits are herbivores, meaning they eat only vegetables. They can be fed a balanced pelleted diet, but must be supplemented with roughage such as timothy hay to wear their teeth down and prevent overgrowth. Alfalfa should be avoided because it is too high in calcium and too low in fibre. Water should be available at all times in the form of a water bottle with a nipple attached. Normal rabbit urine has a chalky white appearance due to the high calcium content in their urine.
Rabbits can be groomed like dogs or cats. Brush with a soft hair brush. Claws and teeth may need to be trimmed regularly. You can bring the rabbit to the veterinarian to do it or he/she can show you how to do it yourself.
Rabbits are gentle creatures that rarely bite. They can also be playful and will learn to recognize family members. They make good pets for young children. It is important to remember, however, that due to their longer lifespan (compared to other small pets), having a rabbit is a long-term commitment.
One common finding in the yard during the summer months is wild rabbits and their babies. If babies are found without a mother, it is best to leave them alone because their mother will return. She is likely just out foraging for food. It is not recommended to bring the wild baby rabbits in the house because they have learned to be very fearful of humans and will not make good pets, especially for young children.
By Amy Cheung – Pets.ca writer