Rodent Basics

 

Table of Contents                                                   
Rats, Mice, and Gerbils
Chinchillas
Hamsters
Guinea Pigs

Rats, Mice, and Gerbils

Rats, mice, and gerbils are often confused, especially because they have a lot in common in terms of their care. Rats are largest and have hairless tails. Mice look a lot like tiny rats. Gerbils are medium-sized and have furry tails. All three need cages with adequate ventilation and places to run, climb, and hide. Rats and gerbils usually live 2-3 years, whereas mice have a lifespan of 1-2 years. All three, particularly rats, can be very social and even trainable.

When you handle your pet, be sure to support its body. Don’t dangle your rat, mouse, or gerbil by its tail. While a rat or mouse can briefly be held by its tail as you initially pick it up, a gerbil cannot. Gerbil tails have extremely fragile skin and can be seriously injured if handled improperly.

There are many commercial diets available for rats, mice, and gerbils to ensure that their nutritional needs are met. Block foods encourage natural gnawing behaviors to help them keep their teeth in good shape, but small pellets are also a good option if you provide plenty of other chewing opportunities. Seed mixes are not necessarily the best choice because your pet can pick out only its favorite pieces and end up not eating a balanced diet overall.

Unlike dogs and cats, rats, mice, and gerbils do not receive vaccinations. However, this does not mean that they do not need routine vet check-ups. Regular wellness exams can help you catch a disease before it becomes too serious. Regular exams can also help you and your vet know what is normal for your pet, in order to more easily recognize when something is abnormal. As with any animal, be sure to contact your vet if you suspect your pet may be ill or injured.

 

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Chinchillas

Chinchillas are different from other rodents and require specialized care. They tend to live longer than other rodents, averaging 8-15 years. Chinchillas need large cages with room to run and climb, as well as plenty of things to chew on. Complete and balanced chinchilla foods are readily available to ensure that your chinchilla gets proper nutrition.

A chinchilla’s fur is extremely dense and can trap water. This means that if your chinchilla gets wet, it will stay wet for a long time and may even grow fungus. Chinchillas stay clean using dust baths. They roll around in a special dust that pulls the dirt and oil from their fur. Dust baths should be provided at least 2-3 times per week for 10-20 minutes.

Chinchillas must be handled very carefully. Do not hold your chinchilla by its tail, as it is very fragile and can easily break. Always support your chinchilla’s entire body. A chinchilla handled roughly may use a defense mechanism called fur slip to get away. This is the sudden shedding of a large patch of fur. In the wild, fur slip can be used to escape the bite of a predator. While fur slip is not dangerous, it does mean that your chinchilla will have a bald spot that can take months to completely fill in. Chinchillas are native to regions of high altitude with a cooler climate. It is important that your chinchilla does not become stressed and overheat so an ideal environment temperature would be about 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit with a low humidity percentage.

Unlike dogs and cats, chinchillas do not receive vaccinations. However, this does not mean that they do not need routine vet check-ups. Yearly wellness exams can help you catch a disease before it becomes too serious. Regular exams can also help you and your vet know what is normal for your pet, in order to more easily recognize when something is abnormal. As with any animal, be sure to contact your vet if you suspect your chinchilla may be ill or injured.

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Hamsters

While they may look similar, hamsters are not simply small guinea pigs, nor are they rats without tails. Several species of hamsters are commonly kept as pets, so be sure to look into more specific requirements for your type of hamster. The most common pet hamster is the golden hamster, also known as the Syrian hamster. Hamsters usually have a lifespan of 1-3 years. Most species of hamsters should be housed alone to prevent fighting. The ideal hamster cage varies based on species. For example, dwarf hamsters may be able to squeeze through the bars of a typical wire cage and escape, so a glass or plastic enclosure is preferable. Hamsters love to burrow and will appreciate a deep layer of bedding to dig through and rearrange as they see fit. Many commercial diets are available to provide complete and balanced nutrition for your hamster.

Unlike dogs and cats, hamsters do not receive vaccinations. However, this does not mean that they do not need routine vet check-ups. Regular wellness exams can help you catch a disease before it becomes too serious. Routine exams can also help you and your vet know what is normal for your pet, in order to more easily recognize when something is abnormal. As with any animal, be sure to contact your vet if you suspect your hamster may be ill or injured.

 

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Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs are not large hamsters. They have their own specialized requirements for care. Guinea pigs have an average lifespan of 5-7 years. They are very social animals and are happiest when housed in pairs or groups. Long-haired guinea pigs will need to be brushed to prevent matting. Nail trimming is also essential to keep your guinea pig’s feet in good shape. When you hold your guinea pig, be sure to support its entire body. Because guinea pigs do not climb, it is more important that your guinea pig’s cage be long and wide, rather than tall. Guinea pigs need plenty of space to run and play, as well as places to hide.

Humans and guinea pigs are among the very few animals that cannot produce vitamin C for themselves and must consume adequate levels of it in their diet. As a result, guinea pig diets are not interchangeable with other species. Many commercial foods are available to make sure your guinea pig gets the nutrients it needs. Fresh hay should always be available. Alfalfa hay is a good choice for growing guinea pigs, but should be reserved as a treat for adults. Fully grown guinea pigs should be given grass hay. Timothy hay is one common variety. Guinea pigs also enjoy and benefit from eating fresh vegetables.

Unlike dogs and cats, guinea pigs do not receive vaccinations. However, this does not mean that they do not need routine vet check-ups. Yearly wellness exams can help you catch a disease before it becomes too serious. Regular exams can also help you and your vet know what is normal for your pet, in order to more easily recognize when something is abnormal. As with any animal, be sure to contact your vet if you suspect your guinea pig may be ill or injured.

 

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