Important Factors to Consider
Rabbits and rodents can be interesting and even friendly pets. These smaller pets are often particularly good for apartment-dwellers, since they are more often allowed by the management and can be cared for without needing to be taken outside.
As with any other choice of a pet, there are many factors to consider when deciding which of these animals to bring into your life.
What will you, as the pet owner, expect from this pet? Some pets in this class are particularly responsive to owners' attention. Others are interesting to observe but tend to get scared and bite if handled. Will this pet live outside or inside, or a combination of the two? Can it run free sometimes, or should it primarily live in a cage? How much time and attention can it be given? Is odor a problem?
Rabbits and Guinea Pigs
These animals are not related but are similar in size and needs. Both need easily-cleaned cages and are best fed pelleted food with an occasional fruit treat or bit of unsprayed greens or carrots. Neither, contrary to popular thought, should be fed large
amounts of greens or any kind of cabbage at all. Rabbits can be litter-box trained. Neither type of pet should be left out unattended as they tend to nibble on electric wires, house plants, and other dangerous things. Guinea pigs tend to be more responsive to humans; most rabbits are a bit nervous and must be handled carefully. Both are sensitive to extreme heat and chilly breezes.
Hamsters and Gerbils
Again, these small rodents are alike in some ways and not in others. Neither seems to enjoy human friendship much, but they're fun to watch as they live their lives in well-designed cages. Hansters enjoy mazes of tunnels and wheels to run on. Gerbils do too but they love to chew and will soon escape from a plastic tunnel maze unless it's sontained in a cage. Gerbils are desert animals, drink little water, and therefore are less odor-producing than hamsters, whose cages must be cleaned more often. Both like to escape and are fairly hard to catch.
Rats and Mice
With handling, both these types of pets can be tamed and even taught to do tricks. Mice, because of their size, tend to be more nervous and are harder to catch if they get away from their cage. Both of them will eat any type of food at all and can eat pelleted food supplemented by tidbits from the table. It's a good idea, if buying more than one, to buy the same sex so you don't have babies to dispose of, though usually a local pet shop will readily take them. It's not uncommon for a rat to enjoy riding on its owner's shoulder. Mice and rats both need escape-proof cages cleaned regularly or they are unpleasant housemates.
Owners of these lovely small pets need to be especially conscientious about hand washing after handling the animals or cleaning their cages. Unfortunately, they are more likely than other pets to carry a variety of bacteria on their fur, but with a little caution about this, they can be enjoyable furry friends for years.