What are the different types of rodents?
Questions About Gerbils

6 Different Types of Rodents as Pets (with Pictures)

Some pet rodents are cuddly and fluffy, while others are more energetic and playful. They all have different characteristics. Picking the best pet rodent for yourself, or your child, can be difficult.

Pet rodents include gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchillas, mice, and rats. The friendliest rodents are either gerbils or rats, while the most common are hamsters, guinea pigs, and gerbils.

We recommend gerbils as the best rodent pet for child/children. They don’t smell, they’re small, they’re playful, and they’re fluffy. Gerbils are intelligent small pets that can be trained to do tricks.

What Are the Different Types of Rodents?

Rodents are an exceptionally common kind of mammal. In total, there are more than 2,200 species, and more to be discovered that haven’t yet. Only a tiny fraction of these are different types of small pet rodents, because hardly any have been domesticated.

The term ‘rodent’ comes from the Latin rodere, which means ‘to gnaw’. This name and what it describes is what relates rodents to one another. They all have a large, strong set of incisors at the front of their jaws.

These incisors continuously grow longer throughout a rodent’s life. Rodents have to gnaw on solid things like pipes, tree roots, branches, and solid foods to keep them short. If they don’t, they will keep growing until they cause injury.

Small Pet Rodents ListDescription
GerbilA small, social, and friendly pet with fluffy fur and a long tail. They don’t smell as bad as other rodents.
HamsterSmaller than a gerbil and has a rounded body shape. Doesn’t live in pairs, and doesn’t smell nice either.
Guinea PigLarge rodents, at eight to ten inches with a stubby tail. Large, fluffy, and docile.
ChinchillaThis exotic rodent comes from South America. They are much fluffier than any other rodent, which makes them look large. They are a little bigger than squirrels.
MouseSmall pets with distinctive large ears. Wild mice have brown fur, but pet mice have lots of colors and patterns.
RatBigger than other rodents at 10 inches with an 8 inch tail on average. Sleek with short fur. The pet rat is the same species as the most common wild rat.

Most people will mistake a hamster for a gerbil, or a mouse for a rat. And, truth be told, most rodents look quite alike. However, they aren’t all the same.

Gerbil (Gerbillinae)

Gerbils were first kept as pets in the 1960s, before which they had been used as lab animals. This is less time as domesticated pets than other rodents, like mice or rats.

The most common pet gerbil species is the Mongolian gerbil. They live in a desolate, dry grassland called the steppe. The steppe is similar to a desert: it has little water, almost no trees, and little life.

Gerbils have adapted to this environment well. They live in burrows to hide from the cold and open landscape. They live on grains and grass roots, which are the most ubiquitous food there. And they can conserve water to survive, getting most of their hydration from their food, too.

Mongolian gerbils (Meriones) as pets

There are other gerbil species, including:

  • The great gerbil, native to central Asia, further west than Mongolia
  • The fat-tailed gerbil, which comes from North Africa/the northern Sahara Desert
  • The Somali gerbil
  • Przewalski’s gerbil, which is from China
  • The pouched gerbil, from across North Africa
  • Cape short-eared gerbil, from South Africa
  • The Diopdillus, Gerbilliscus, Gerbillurus and Gerbillus genera, which contain many species

Of these, only the fat-tailed gerbil, great gerbil, and the Mongolian gerbil are kept as pets. However, the fat-tailed gerbil is illegal to own in the United States.

Are Gerbils Friendly?

Gerbils are social animals. In the wild, they live in large burrows and big groups. They are monogamous, and the breeding pair is the center of the group. The pair have several litters together The young live with them until they’re old enough to mate and start a group.

This behavior carries on into captivity. Gerbils should be kept in pairs, either same-sex or different sex. They will play with their partners and enjoy spending time with them.

Gerbils also like spending time with their owners. If you are kind and conscientious, your gerbil will enjoy your company. You can pick them up, hold them, and some even allow you to cuddle them.

Are Gerbils Good Pets?

Because of their friendly natures, gerbils make excellent pets for first-time owners and children.

Also, gerbils are better than many other rodents because they don’t smell. They don’t go to the toilet as often. That’s because, in the wild, they have to conserve as much water as possible.

According to Behavior Research Methods & Instrumentation, gerbils use scent glands on their bellies rather than urine to mark territory. This means they’re easier to care for, too, as you don’t have to frequently clean your pet’s tank.

Gerbils can also be taught tricks, unlike many other rodent species. They are clever enough to learn tricks, like rolling over. They can even be taught to recognize voice commands.

Hamsters (Cricetinae)

Hamsters are often a child’s first pet. The golden hamster, also known as the Syrian hamster, is the most popular. These rodents are around five to seven inches long, which is average for a rodent. They only have small stumps where other rodents have long tails.

Syrian hamsters live in warm places, like sand dunes, especially on the edge of deserts. They can be found wild in several regions, including Europe (e.g. Greece and Romania), as well as northern China.

hamsters as pets

You can tell them apart from other rodents by their lack of a long tail. They also keep their food in small pouches in their cheeks, which can bulge out a lot. Other domesticated rodents don’t do this.

There are three species of dwarf hamsters, which are even smaller than regular hamsters.

Are Hamsters Friendly?

Some hamsters are friendly, while others are less so. They will bite if they don’t like you. You can spot the signs that a hamster isn’t happy, and should put your pet down if you notice them. However, some hamsters won’t bite even if they don’t like you.

It all depends on how you raise your pet. If you keep your pet from when it’s young, and raise it well, it will like you. But if you mistreat it when it’s young, it will learn to dislike you.

Are Hamsters Good Pets?

Hamsters make good pets, but only for the right owners. While they do have a reputation as a starter pet for children, that’s not the case. So many hamsters are abandoned or left to shelters each year because families can’t take care of them properly.

Guinea Pig (Cavia Porcellus)

The guinea pig is a rodent in a different family to gerbils and hamsters. Also known as the cavy, the guinea pig isn’t native to Guinea. Nobody knows why they’re called that, but the name has stuck.

While Guinea is a large island north of Australia, the guinea pig is from South America, like the chinchilla. They are popular worldwide, and were kept far longer ago than other rodent pets.

They were domesticated as early as 5000 BC for food, and may have been kept as pets even then. According to the BBC, they’re still farmed today.

guinea pigs as pets

The guinea pig is larger than the other rodents. They have large heads relative to their bodies, stout necks, and round rears. Like the hamster, the guinea pig doesn’t have a tail. But the two species can still easily be told apart because of the guinea pig’s size.

Its face shape is also different. The guinea pig’s face is large and rounded, without a nose that sticks out. Their feet are small and their legs are short, so much so that you may not even see them under your pet’s body.

Are Guinea Pigs Friendly?

Guinea pigs are friendly with people. But even better is that they’re docile. This means that when you want to handle one, it won’t cause trouble and get nervous. When kept well, guinea pigs seem to understand that you won’t harm them.

This makes them excellent pets to cuddle and play with. Their docile nature means that they don’t bite and scratch even when unhappy. Coupled with the guinea pig’s soft fur, this makes them an excellent choice for cuddling and holding.

Are Guinea Pigs Good Pets?

Guinea pigs make good first pets because of their docile, gentle nature. They are a joy to spend time with, and won’t bite at the first sign of sudden movement. That’s why they’re so good for children.

Besides that, guinea pigs are easy to care for. They require basic enclosures, the kind you can find in any pet store. This enclosure should be lined with paper-based bedding, but they don’t need a lot. The guinea pig itself needs hay, water, and a mix of fresh and pelleted food.

This is as simple as it gets when caring for a pet. They’re cheap, too, as their diet isn’t particular and their needs aren’t many. Guinea pigs are definitely one of the better rodent pets.

Chinchilla (Chinchilla Lanigera)

Chinchillas live at high elevations in South America, particularly in the Andes. There are two species of chinchilla: Chinchilla chinchilla and Chinchilla lanigera.

The former is almost extinct in the wild. It has a larger, fluffier body and a shorter tail. Its ears are smaller and further down the head. The latter is still found in the wild, but are becoming rarer.

What sets chinchillas apart is their fur. The chinchilla’s fur is the densest of all mammals that live on land, and you can see that if you look at one. Chinchillas look like big, puffed-up pillows that would be comfy for you to rest your head on. Their fur is extremely soft to touch.

Chinchillas as pets

The reason why their fur is so fine and soft is biological. Chinchillas grow 60 hairs on average from each follicle. If you look at the hair on your own skin, you’ll see that only one, two or three come from each follicle.

Unfortunately, this means that chinchillas are bred for the fur industry. Their fur has been used for clothing since at least the 1500s. Poaching of wild chinchillas means that one species is already extinct, and the other two nearly so.

Are Chinchillas Friendly?

Chinchillas are friendly enough. They respond well to human kindness when raised from their earliest ages. They are fun to cuddle, too, but this can cause conflict if you want to handle them too much.

The main issue with chinchillas is that they are nervous creatures. They are easily startled by loud noises and sudden movements. This is the case with all rodents, but most so with chinchillas. So, they may never fully trust you.

Are Chinchillas Good Pets?

Chinchillas aren’t the easiest pets to care for. Because of their thick fur, chinchillas need regular dust baths. All rodents need dust or sand baths, but chinchillas need to take them more frequently.

The chinchilla’s coat can act against it in other ways. Because its coat is so thick, the chinchilla can easily overheat. It needs an enclosure that keeps it at the right temperature.

On the plus side, chinchillas are naturally resistant to parasites, like fleas and mites. Their fur is too thick for them to reach the skin easily, feed and reproduce.

Chinchillas aren’t a good starter pet.

Mouse (Mus Musculus)

A mouse that is a pet is known as a ‘fancy mouse’. This term comes from older English, where the term ‘fancy’ refers to a hobby of some kind (in this case, the hobby of keeping small animals).

Mice are small compared to the other pets. They only reach seven inches from their noses to the tips of their tails. However, show mice (bred like show dogs to have a quality) can reach twice the size.

Mice are small, and come in many different colors. The color of wild mice is brown, but you can find black, white, piebald and striped mice as pets.

mice as pets

Are Mice Friendly?

Mice are as friendly as their owners are to them as pets. If you raise your mouse in a gentle way, it will be gentle and kind in return. If you handle it too frequently, grip it too hard, move it around in the air, or are cruel in some other way, it won’t like you.

Are Mice Good Pets?

Mice are easy to care for. They need a commercial rodent mix and a water bottle, plus a little fresh fruit and vegetable on occasion. They need only a basic wire cage with a plastic floor, or a glass or plastic tank.

Bedding is necessary to absorb urine and feces. This must be cleaned occasionally. Paper bedding is recommended. Aside from that, mice don’t have any requirements apart from socialization with their own kind. So, they’re as easy to care for.

The only issue with mice is how frequently they go to the toilet. Mice drink lots of water, both for their health, and because they use it to scent mark. Mice claim territory by urinating all over it.

You must clean your pet’s cage frequently to stop this smell from building up. Compared to gerbils, which only go to the toilet infrequently. Gerbils scent mark with bald scent glands on their stomachs instead. These scents are also less obvious than those of mice.

Rats (Rattus)

Most people’s first impression of rats is bad. They’re called vermin, and are associated with disease and dirtiness. This reputation is a little unfair, because rats have learned to live in human-inhabited areas. It’s not the rat’s fault that alleyways and sewers are dirty.

Either way, the rats kept as pets aren’t the same as those that run around sewers and streets. Domesticated rats are known as fancy rats, and are both physically and psychologically different from wild rats.

Are Rats Friendly?

Rats have personalities, and some are more friendly than others. But recent studies suggest that they may be capable of empathy, or can at least recognize another animal’s pain or frustration.

According to the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, rats will free other rats that are trapped in a restraint tube. They will do so even if there isn’t any reward for doing so, e.g. food.

The authors of this paper, which reviewed the study in question, stated that this result may have occurred because rats are social rather than empathetic. But whatever the case, this underlines how rats are social and, perhaps, friendly.

Rats as pets

This is certainly what owners report. Rat owners have said consistently for years that their pets have an unfair reputation. Rats are gentle and enjoy spending time with people. The only issue is if they encounter somebody who doesn’t like rats.

Are Rats Good Pets?

Rats make fine pets, despite the reputation of the species as a whole. They don’t carry the same diseases and parasites as wild rats, for example. They don’t experience the same diseases as wild rats, and are more trusting of people. You shouldn’t keep rats and gerbils together.

The only issue with rats is their smell. Rats have a strong odor which is immediately recognizable as their own. This odor can be partially overcome through regular cleaning. But the rat itself will have a strong odor in its fur which can’t entirely be gotten rid of.

Which Are the Friendliest Pet Rodents?

The most cuddly rodents are chinchillas, because they have such thick and soft fur. However, they aren’t the friendliest. That’s because they are nervous and easily scared, so they may not like people.

Rats and gerbils are less easily frightened. Gerbils are good at running and hiding when they’re scared, so they seem to be more secure with people. They know that if they feel threatened, they can scamper off quickly to their hiding places.

Rats have an unfair reputation as vicious, mean creatures. Domesticated rats are friendly and gentle. So, if you want a friendly pet rodent, pick either a rat or a gerbil.

What Pet Rodent Should I Get?

The act of picking a pet is a highly personal thing. You may want something different from what someone else wants. So, some people want a loyal pet, others a friendly pet, and others still a pet that’s exceptionally easy to care for.

You must decide what you want from your pet before you go about getting one. Then you can get the pet that best suits you. You have to do this because if you don’t, neither you nor your pet will be fully happy. You may even end up giving it away.

Here’s a brief table of which pet you should get, depending on what you want:

CuddliestChinchillas or Guinea Pigs
FriendliestGerbils or Rats
Ease of CareGuinea Pigs and Mice
OdorGerbils
Best for ChildrenGerbils or Hamsters

If you’re not sure, go to a pet store. Talk to the staff there and have a look around. Ask if you can hold any of the rodents they offer as pets. This will help you decide which one you might want.