Which Small Mammal is the Right Pet for You?

Filed Under: Pocket Pets, Gerbils, Guinea Pigs, Hamsters, Mice, Rats

Which small mammal will make the right pet for you? Here’s a short rundown of their specifications.


Golden hamsters live 2-3 years and grow to about 6 inches in length. As solitary animals, they should be kept alone in their cages. Hamsters are active pets and require large cages; a minimum size would be 12 x 12 x 18 inches, but a larger cage is recommended. Be sure to get the prerequisite hamster wheel to help them burn off some of their extensive energy.

If handled from a young age hamsters acquire an agreeable temperament, but if not acclimated to handling, they can be skittish and may bite. Hamsters are nocturnal animals and can be quite grumpy if disturbed during the day.

Hamsters are popular pets because they do prefer to live alone, but if you’d like a whole crew of hams, dwarf hamsters tend to be more social.


Gerbils live 2-3 years and grow to about 4 inches, with a furry tail nearly as long—but they don’t appreciate being picked up by their tails. Active and social pets, gerbils are happier in pairs or groups, as long as those groups are same-sex (unless you’d like a lot of gerbils!)

Often when adult gerbils are placed in cages together, they don’t get along. It’s easier to get very young gerbils, or ones that were littermates.

For a small group of gerbils, a 12 x 12 x 24 inch cage is a standard size, although as with hamsters, more space is always a good thing. Gerbils are tame, social and respond well to handling.


Mice are extremely easy to keep. They live 1-3 years and grow to only about 3 inches, with a long hairless tail. They are also very social; females make very successful groups, but males in a group may fight.

Small cages are fine for pairs of mice, about the same size as for a single hamster (12 x 12 x 18), but if you have a larger group, a larger cage is necessary. Although mice can adapt to human handling, they are so small and fast that, when being skittish, they can very easily get out of your hands and possibly become lost. They have become popular pets, though, because they are quite active and fun to watch.


Rats live 2-4 years and grow to about 8 inches, with a hairless tail nearly as long. Rats make great pets: they are intelligent, curious, and enjoy interacting with humans. Their large size makes them quite easy to handle. Rats work very well in same-sex pairs.
A large cage is required for these large rodents: 24 x 36 inches is great for a pair. Playtime outside of their cage is a necessary for rats. They love social interaction and need the exercise. You will need to pay more attention time to rats than other rodents, but in return you’ll form a terrific bond with an intelligent pet.

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs live 5-7 years, grow to about 10 inches long and, when adult, weight 2-3 pounds. Large, gentle and fluffy, they’re popular pets for families and form lasting bonds with their owners. Guineas are social and work well in same-sex pairs.

4 square feet of floor space is a minimum size for a pair of guineas, but they’ll still need exercise and playtime outside of their cages. You can make a larger cage yourself, if you wish, since—due to their size—it’s much more difficult for them to escape.

Guineas require fresh hay, vegetables and water every day. Generally their diets are supplemented with vitamin C. Check with your veterinarian to see what other supplements may be required for your guinea.

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