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How to Care for Hamsters, Guinea Pigs and Rats
The terms “rodent” and “pet” may not go hand in hand for everyone, but hamsters, guinea pigs, rats and other small critters have a long history of domestication, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Just like your more traditional dogs and cats, rodents can be affectionate and are even trainable. However, there are also unique factors to take into consideration before bringing one into your family.
For starters, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises against having a rodent as a pet if you’re pregnant, have a weakened immune system or have kids 5 years of age or younger. Cleanliness is crucial, both before and after handling these lovable creatures. This guide will help you learn more about these unique pets and how to best prepare yourself to meet their particular needs.
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Table of Contents
- Caring for the Health of Your Hamster, Guinea Pig or Rat
- What to Feed Your Pet
- Pros and Cons of Owning a Hamster, Guinea Pig or Rat
- Economic Factors That Come With Hamster, Guinea Pig or Rat Ownership
Caring for the Health of Your Hamster, Guinea Pig or Rat
So, you’ve made the decision to bring a hamster, guinea pig or rat into your home — what now?
For starters, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re signing up for before you buy or adopt your new friend. When it comes to lifespan, those of rodents vary greatly, with hamsters living one to two years and rats living two to three years. Guinea pigs, on the other hand, live five to seven years, on average. They also require regular cleaning — even more so than dogs and cats — to keep both your pet and the rest of your family healthy.
One thing that will not be necessary once you’ve selected your pet is vaccination, as rodents are not susceptible to the same diseases you’d typically vaccinate against with a more traditional pet. You should still bring your pet to a veterinarian, ideally one with specific experience with these types of animals, in the days after acquiring one. Medicinally, the focus should lie in keeping yourself and your home clean to avoid the spread of contamination that can be common with household rodents.
Along the same topic, the CDC advises that you wash your hands immediately after touching or feeding a rodent or cleaning its cage. You should also keep rodents away from your face and refrain from eating or drinking while playing with your pet. Rodents, their toys and their enclosures should be kept away from the kitchen or other places where food is made or eaten. Cleaning of rodent habitats should be done outside, when possible.
What to Feed Your Hamster, Guinea Pig or Rat
When it comes to feeding pet rodents, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, as each unique creature comes with its own unique diet. One thing that should always be readily available, however, is water. This is most often given through sipper tubes and should be changed daily.
With respect to the food itself, it’s best to talk to your vet about the most ideal option. Most pet rodents do well with a quality pelleted food (sometimes known as “rodent chow), which can be found in any pet store. This should be made available throughout the day, as rodents are unlikely to finish an entire bowl in one sitting, like a dog might. While seeds or nuts are sometimes offered as a treat, it’s best to stay away, as the high fat content and low calcium found in those foods can be bad for a rodent’s long-term health. Small amounts of fruits and vegetables are also acceptable as treats on an occasional basis.
Guinea pigs will require a slightly modified version of this diet. Guinea pigs do not produce their own vitamin C, so you’ll want to make sure you’re buying guinea pig-specific pellets when feeding these animals. If your veterinarian feels your guinea pig may be developing a vitamin C deficiency, he or she may also recommend a vitamin C supplement or fresh green vegetables to help with the issue.
It’s also important that guinea pigs have access to timothy hay in their enclosures, as guinea pigs’ teeth are constantly growing and gnawing on the hay helps prevent overgrowth.
Pros and Cons of Owning a Hamster, Guinea Pig or Rat
Hamsters, guinea pigs and rats make great pets, but like any animal, proper research should be done to determine whether they will be a good fit in your house. To help you with that, here’s a list of pros and cons that will give you a better sense of which decision is right for you and your family.
- Hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, rats and other rodents are typically friendly creatures, with fun personalities.
- They are inexpensive to purchase and are generally cheaper to maintain and provide for over the course of their respective lifespans.
- Though they are not recommended for the youngest of children, domesticated rodents are a great way to teach older children about the responsibility of owning a pet.
- While there is some regular upkeep that needs to be done with these animals, they are relatively low-maintenance, as compared with other pets.
- Hamsters, guinea pigs and rats are not ideal for pregnant women or families with small children.
- They require extensive, regular cleaning — and so do their living spaces.
- They spend most of their time in enclosures and are not recommended for families that want to leave their pet out during the day.
- The lifespan of a domestic rodent is shorter than most pets, with some living just a couple years or less, on average.
- Hamsters and other rodents are nocturnal and can be a distraction at night.
- Though biting is not common, it does happen, particularly with mice and hamsters.
Economic Factors that Come With Hamster, Guinea Pig or Rat Ownership
Though the animals themselves run cheaper than some more common pets, rodents do not come without expenses, both up front and over the course of their lifetimes. By the time you’ve purchased a cage, bedding, food, a water bottle, chew toys, hiding spots and other accessories, you could easily have a bill in the hundreds. Both food and bedding will constantly need to be replenished in order to keep your pet happy and healthy.
Typically, these types of pets don’t need to see the vet as often as others, particularly because there are no vaccines to keep updated. However, annual checkups should also be factored in when budgeting for this new addition to your household. Due to the relatively short lifespans of hamsters, guinea pigs and rats, it’s uncommon to invest in any major medical care in the event of illness or injury. If that’s a cost you’re willing to take on, you need to be prepared to pay what could be a hefty bill.
Finally, if you’re renting, you will also want to consider whether your home or apartment complex allows these animals, and whether “pet rent” may need to be paid each month to keep things on the up-and-up. And as with any animal, they’ll need to be cared for when you can’t be home, so consider the cost of a pet-sitter when you’re on vacation.
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