List of Rodents That Make Good Pets: Which Kind to Choose?

Updated May 4, 2022
Mongolian gerbil playing on red flower

Many people keep rodents as pets, but some have better pet potential than others. Some require more space, care, or even specialized grooming than others. Explore this pet rodents list and decide if one of these fascinating creatures might be the right companion for you.

Gerbils Are Good Pet Rodents

Three gerbils relaxing together

Gerbils are popular pet rodents. There are several types of gerbils, although Mongolian gerbils are among the cutest and the ones most likely to be found in pet stores.

General Appearance

Domesticated gerbils look similar to hamsters, with a few exceptions. They have slightly broader heads, with very small ears, slimmer bodies, and a long tail. Their backs are arched, and they tend to move like mice. Their entire length, including their tails, runs about 8 inches long, on average.

Gerbil Colors

Gerbils have short fur that comes in many colors, including basic colors like:

  • Black
  • Brown
  • Gray
  • Orange
  • White

Gerbils as Pets

Gerbils make decent pets, but they're not ideal for young children. You may prefer just to watch them rather than hold them because they tend to nip, and they must be handled a lot as youngsters to overcome this trait.

Gerbil Personalities

Beyond that, these rodents are very active pets that take several naps throughout the day to recharge their energy. This means you'll see a lot more activity from them during the day than you would from a hamster, which is largely nocturnal. They love to burrow in their litter, and they'll climb anything that is in their habitat. They really need an exercise wheel, and they also love exploring the world from the safety of a hamster ball.

"Gerbils are territorial creatures, and I've never heard that there's really much difference in keeping two males together than two females, except that females may be slightly more inclined to fight occasionally, especially if they were introduced to each other after reaching maturity. What's really important is the introduction. The easiest thing would be to get two at the same time who have already been living together. That way, they already know each other, and you'll be introducing them both into neutral territory." -- Response to reader question from ashley

Miscellaneous Gerbil Facts

  • Gerbils are sociable and prefer to live with members of their own species.
  • This rodent's lifespan averages 2 to 4 years.
  • Picking a gerbil up by its tail can cause injury, so always use safe handling techniques.
  • These rodents are prohibited in California and Hawaii.

Pet Guinea Pigs

Guinea pig (Cavia porcellus)

Guinea pigs and guinea pig-like animals are popular pets due to their calm demeanor and cute faces.

General Guinea Pig Appearance

Guinea pigs, more accurately called cavies, are plump little tailless creatures that weigh approximately 2 pounds when fully grown. They have blunt, aquiline noses and round eyes, and their ears look similar to rose petals.

These cute, domesticated pets can have long or short hair, depending on their breed, and there are 13 guinea pig breeds currently recognized by the American Cavy Breeders Association. Some have hair that grows in rosettes all over their bodies, and there are even curly-haired Guinea pigs called Texels. One of the rarest types of all is the "skinny pig," which is largely naked except for a small amount of fine down. Guinea pigs come in a wide variety of color combinations and patterns.

Guinea Pig Personality

Guinea pigs make excellent pets that rarely, if ever, try to bite. They are very good-natured and social, and they seem to enjoy being cuddled as long as you hold them securely and don't attempt to turn them on their backs. They also learn to recognize their caregivers and will whistle at them in greeting when they approach.

"... go to a local pet store and pick up a guinea pig playpen and let them run around in it for safe exercise. Add a few cardboard boxes with doors cut out to play in." -- Reader comment from amanda

These are active creatures that like to have a lot of space and require roomy, well-ventilated habitats. They have an endearing habit of "pop-corning," which is a joyful little hop and kick combination. To provide some extra enrichment and mental stimulation, you can let them run around in a Guinea pig playpen while you're there to make sure they stay safe.

Miscellaneous Guinea Pig Facts

  • Guinea pigs like to live with others of their species, but they should be of the same sex in order to avoid unwanted litters.
  • This rodent's lifespan averages 5 to 8 years.
  • There is still some debate over whether these animals are truly considered rodents.

Pet Hamsters

Close-Up Of A Hamster

No list of small pets would be complete without hamsters. There are several popular hamster breeds that make cute pets.

General Hamster Appearance

Domesticated Syrian hamsters are most commonly kept as pets. According to the Southern Hamster Club, they are stocky little creatures that measure about 5 inches long on average. They have fairly large eyes for their size, and their ears are erect. They also have very stubby tails.

Syrian hamsters can have long or short hair, and they come in various colors, including:

  • Gold
  • White
  • Cream
  • Cinnamon
  • Sable
  • Black
  • Grey

Hamster Personality

Syrian hamsters make reasonably good pets, but they don't particularly like to be held and are prone to nipping unless they are handled a lot when they're young. Since they're nocturnal, you won't be able to interact with them much during the day, but they do become quite active at night. They love running in exercise wheels and through tunnels, and they are also avid chewers that need plenty of safe chew toys to keep their teeth in good shape.

Miscellaneous Hamster Facts

  • Most Syrian hamsters prefer to live alone rather than with other hamsters.
  • This rodent's lifespan averages 2 to 3 years.
  • Hamsters are prohibited in Hawaii.

Pet Mice

The mice sits in the closet on things

There are numerous pet mice breeds in all colors and sizes.

General Appearance

Mice are one of the smallest rodents kept as pets, but their size varies according to breed. Some are as small as 4 inches long from nose to tail, while some show mice are bred to grow 6 inches or more.

These rodents have prominent, rounded eyes, tulip-shaped ears, and long tails. They come in a wide range of colors, and their eye color ranges from dark to red, depending on the color of their fur, which should be glossy regardless of its color.

Personality of Pet Mice

Mice make fair pets, and they are very entertaining to watch. However, they are not naturally fond of being handled. According to the Rat & Mouse Club of America, domesticated mice are very cautious around humans, and it can take as long as three weeks of close, regular contact to gain their trust. Once they trust you, they'll readily step onto your hand without nipping.

Mice, like hamsters, are nocturnal, so you'll see the most activity from them at night. They are very active and love to have places to climb and safe items to chew.

Miscellaneous Mice Facts

  • Females can live happily together, but males tend to fight unless they are introduced to each other before they are 5 weeks old.
  • Females can reproduce as young as 6 weeks old.
  • This rodent's lifespan averages 1 to 2 years.

Pet Rats

Rat in winter beanie

Rats are intelligent pet rodents with cute faces and long tails.

General Rat Appearance

Rats look quite similar to mice, although they are typically much larger. The average rat grows about 10 inches long from its nose to the base of its tail, and the ridged tail usually adds another 7 inches to the total length of the animal.

A rat's coat should be glossy, and it comes in a wide variety of colors, including black and various shades of grey, brown, and beige, to name a few. The fur also comes in various patterns, including merle, Himalayan, Siamese, and Burmese. There are also hairless rats, which require special care to protect their skin and keep them warm.

"We had gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats when my kids were growing up. I have to say that the rats, who entered the house as snake food but were rescued by my daughter, were the most successful in terms of interacting with my children." -- Reader comment from janmaus

Rat Personality

Domesticated rats can make wonderful pets if they receive a lot of socialization. According to the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Associations, these rodents are extremely intelligent, curious, and active. They can learn to perform different behaviors if you take the time to train them. Males and females can make equally good pets, although the males do become a bit more laid back when mature.

Although rats are basically nocturnal by nature, but they can adjust to spend more time with you when you're available to play with them. Just make sure they have toys that satisfy their urges to exercise and chew, so they can keep themselves occupied when you can be with them.

Miscellaneous Rat Facts

  • Grinding their teeth can be a sign of contentment.
  • Some say a clean rat's scent is similar to sandalwood.
  • This rodent's lifespan averages 2 to 3 years.
  • Alaska only allows albino rats to be kept as pets, and Anchorage and the Pribilof Islands ban pet rats completely.

Pet Chinchillas

Chinchilla in the hands

With their soft fur, bushy tails, and adorable ears, chinchillas are cute and fun pets on the rodent family list.

General Chinchilla Appearance

Chinchillas are very attractive rodents that have lush coats and furry tails. Their eyes are large and round, and their large, erect ears operate as their cooling system. They are similar in size to a Guinea pig, and typically reach about 10 inches in length, with about an additional 5 inches worth of tail. They are mainly colored grey or beige with a darker coat on top and a lighter shade beneath.

Chinchilla Personality

Domesticated chinchillas can make good pets for adults and older children who understand these animals need to be handled gently. Chins are easily stressed if there is too much noise and activity around their living space. Most chins find it difficult to tolerate loud noises, so the noise level should be kept to a minimum as much as possible. This doesn't mean you have to keep your home as silent as a library, but do use common sense and avoid yelling, blasting the TV or radio, etc.

According to the Chinchilla Club, chins are crepuscular, and they tend to be most active around dawn, and then again around dusk. They do need daily time out of their cage, but keep a close eye on them because they love to chew.

Taming a Chinchilla

Taming a chinchilla is a matter of gaining the animal's trust, and this takes a good deal of time and patience. Tame chins can be fairly affectionate and will readily come to you when you open the cage door. However, they do like to nibble things in order to check them out, and this can include your fingers. Tamed chins learn to nibble gently, so frequent handling is necessary for them to get used to their caregivers.

Miscellaneous Chinchilla Facts

  • Female chinchillas are dominant over males.
  • Chins need social interaction and prefer to live with another member of their species.
  • This rodent's lifespan averages about 10 years, but some chins live more than 20 years when given exceptional care.
  • Chinchillas need to take special baths in "dust," or volcanic ash, to keep their fur and skin healthy.
"What about a degu? They make awesome pets... I just adopted a adult pair that were skittish (run at the sight of me) and only a week (later) they're letting my rub their chin, pet their whole body and everything and never been bitten." -- Reader comment from acorablackknight

Make Sure Your Pet Rodents Are Legal

Not all pet rodents are equally welcome across the United States. California and Hawaii, in particular, exclude some pet rodents in order to protect their natural wild animal populations and environments. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you can buy a particular rodent at a major local pet store, it is probably legal to keep the animal where you live. However, it's always safest to check with your local Department of Natural Resources to make sure you aren't going to break any laws. Doing this before you purchase or adopt a rodent can save you the heartache of having to give the animal up later on.

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List of Rodents That Make Good Pets: Which Kind to Choose?