In a pet shop you can usually find a section for small rodents, even if it’s a small shop. Usually, you can also buy the rodents there, but I hope that will stop. That you, for example go to a shelter to buy a rodent and that they’ll help you to find one that matches you. They also take the time to find out if you match and give advice on how to care for them.
Rodents are often bought, because they’re cute. They’re cheaper than other (bigger) animals (birds, dogs, cats, horses etc.) and in theory you can still stroke them. I say in theory, because rabbits for example, are usually not fond of cuddling. Of course, you might be able to ‘tame’ some of them, but it’s not in their nature. They are often frightened if they’re picked up and cuddled. That’s the first thing to keep in mind, especially if you’ve children.
You also need to think of a good place to put your rodent, inside or outside the house? Will it be able to walk around freely in the house? If it will, is it safe (no cables, can’t get outside, can’t get stuck etc.)? You probably get a cage as well. I’m still surprised to see that the supplies pet shops have, are often not according to the regulations/advice. They are often too small and sometimes even dangerous. Cages are rather expensive in shops, so people buy a small one. But even a Russian dwarf hamster needs a larger cage than you think. Maybe you can look on the internet for a good cage that’s cheaper, or go to a thrift store. Make sure that you know the minimum sizes and keep in mind that that’s often not enough if the pet has to stay inside all the time. This also accounts for bird cages (birds should be able to fly around. Check if the bird could maybe fly in your room) and aquariums.
There are a lot of different foods you can buy for your rodent, often species specific. So hamster food for a hamster, rabbit food for a rabbit etc. Usually the foods are all good, because of strict regulation. Make sure that the food isn’t too fat or contains too much sugar, especially when you buy sweets for your rodent! It’s better to give them something natural, than for example yoghurt drops.
The food depends on your budget and if your rodent has special needs (maybe it has an illness?). I’ve had rodents who would be very picky and only eat one specific thing that they liked the most and leave the rest in their bowl. If they do that, they don’t get all the nutrients they need. A solution is to buy ‘pallets’, which are all the same and contain everything.
Often, a water bottle is preferable over a water bowl. A water bowl can flip and can make everything messy. Your pet can also poo in it’s water, but usually doesn’t want to drink from it anymore then. You don’t want your pet to fall inside it either. Make sure that the bottle is large enough. I always buy one size up. It’s surprising how much an animal actually needs to drink (often we don’t notice that). Make sure that the water and bottle are clean and that it’s never empty. They always need acces to water.
[Photo of a metal hamster wheel which is open so the paws can get through the bars]
Unsafe ‘open’ wheel
Some toys for your rodent can be really nice. They need to be able to enjoy themselves a little. For most rodents a friend (of the same species) is necessary as well, keep this in mind, since you’ll also need a bigger cage. People often put a rabbit alone or put it together with a guinea pig. Rabbits shouldn’t be alone, but it’s not the same to be together with a guinea pig. They speak a different language and won’t understand each other. So it’s almost if they’re still alone and they usually won’t have body contact with each other.
You don’t have to buy toys in the pet shop. With a little creativity you can make a lot of them by yourself. Make sure that the products are safe. It’s a rodent, so it will chew -> no poisonous stuff.
For hamsters and rats a wheel is popular. It doesn’t take up a lot of space, but it gives them a lot of exercise. My dad had this theory that hamsters in the wild, secretly had this place filled with hamsterwheels. Because they always know how it works and love it, even if they haven’t seen one before. However, they can be very dangerous as well. Never buy a wheel that’s open! They can break their paws or tails. And please don’t say that it doesn’t matter because the tail will grow back… That’s the response I often get from people, when I kindly point out that they have a dangerous wheel. I think it’s absurd…
A closed one is so much safer, I totally don’t understand why pet shops still (are allowed to) sell the dangerous ones. Also make sure that the wheel is big enough, you don’t want your pet to scratch open his back to the ‘pin’ in the middle.
[Photo of a green plastic wheel without holes or gaps. And a big orange Syrian hamster a.k.a. Golden hamster running in it.]
A safe ‘closed’ wheel.
Lastly, I want to discuss the hamster ball. A hamster ball doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But you need to keep a few rules in mind.
1. The hamster shouldn’t be in the ball for longer than 15 minutes each time and a max of 1 hour a day. You can’t use a hamster ball as a substitute for a cage. I always led my hamsters decide by themselves if they wanted to go inside the ball (open the cage door and put the ball in front of it, so they could walk in it or not).
2. If the hamster is in the ball, keep watch over it. Don’t leave it alone. They can get stuck (they don’t realize they’re suddenly a lot bigger). It’s possible to have a dog and also a hamster in a hamster ball, but you need to train the dog for that (don’t touch the ball and the hamster always goes first). It’s funny to watch your hamster run/roll around, so it shouldn’t be a problem to stay around. Usually they get at high speed.
3. The size. Pet shops still sell hamster balls that are too small. That way the hamster is forced to keep running and then the hamster ball isn’t fun for them. The hamster needs to be able to sit down in the hamster ball, and the ball will stay on it’s spot. Then you roughly know it’s big enough. My advice: buy the biggest one you can find. A hamster ball can’t be too big. I had one that was officially for ferrets and my dwarf hamster loved it. For a ferret the ball would have been too small anyway. If the pet shop only has small ones and you’re unsure, don’t buy it. You can buy a large one somewhere else, or on the internet.
[Photo of a very large hamster ball and a small one].
A large hamster ball and one that’s too small.
I hope these tips will help you. Having a pet can be very enjoyable. For now I have to stop, because this blogpost is already very long. I still have many more tips, so more blogposts will probably follow 😉