Rodents make good pets, but there’s one downside: the smell. While rodents themselves should not smell bad, their cages can harbor strong odors, especially if not cleaned regularly. Fortunately, some types of rodents are less smelly than others.
The least stinky rodent pet is a gerbil or chinchilla. They are desert creatures, so they drink very little. Their poops are dry and odorless, and they rarely pee. Provided you remove waste when you see it, the cage shouldn’t smell. The smelliest rodents are hamsters and mice. They pee frequently, so their cages can quickly start to stink.
Unfortunately, no matter what kind of rodent you own, some kind of odor is inevitable. There’s no such thing as a rodent pet that doesn’t smell at all. But by adhering to a good cage-cleaning routine, you can keep most bad rodent smells at bay.
What Causes Pet Rodent Smell?
Rodents have a reputation for being smelly pets. This is mainly because they’re kept in small cages or tanks. Living in an enclosed space means that waste can accumulate more quickly, causing a stench. There are many causes of pet rodent smell:
- Pee. Urine has a strong odor, no matter what species it comes from. Some rodents also mark their territory using their urine
- Poop. Some rodents’ poop smells worse than others, particularly rodents fed on a wet diet
- Bacteria. If the cage isn’t cleaned regularly, bacteria may build up. This can cause an unpleasant smell, and can also make your pet sick
- Spoiled food. Fresh fruits and vegetables in your pet’s cage will quickly go bad if not eaten straight away
- Scent marking. Some rodents have scent glands that emit a musky odor.
- Oils in the fur. Most rodents groom themselves to keep their fur from smelling. But some species, like gerbils, also need access to sand baths.
Your pet rodent may have an unpleasant odor if it is dirty. For example, it may have rolled in its own waste. Certain illnesses can also cause rodents to smell bad. But usually, it’s not the rodent itself that smells – it’s the cage it lives in.
If your pet rodent’s cage isn’t cleaned out regularly and thoroughly, it can cause the whole room to stink. Waste can accumulate quickly, encouraging bacteria growth.
Importantly, not all pet rodents smell the same. Some rodents are cleaner than others, meaning their cages can go longer before they start to stink.
Which Rodents Smell the Least?
Although there are lots of reasons why rodents smell, the biggest culprit is urine (pee). Urine has a potent smell and can quickly cause a rodent’s cage to stink out the room.
Because of this, the biggest factor determining how much a pet rodent smells is how often it urinates. The least smelly rodents are those that come from arid areas. They don’t drink as much water, and therefore don’t pee very often.
Rodents that urinate more frequently have smellier cages that need to be cleaned regularly. The table below lists the most popular rodent pets, and their odor rating.
|Gerbil||1/5 (very little smell)|
|Chinchilla||1/5 (very little smell)|
|Guinea Pig||2/5 (slight smell)|
|Degu||3/5 (moderate smell)|
|Rat||4/5 (strong smell)|
|Hamster||5/5 (strongest smell)|
|Mouse||5/5 (strongest smell)|
Gerbils and chinchillas are the most hygienic rodents to keep as pets. They produce little waste, and their cages require minimal cleaning.
Mice and hamsters, on the other hand, are the smelliest. They pee often, and their urine has a strong, unpleasant odor. Their cages must be deep-cleaned regularly to keep foul aromas at bay.
Do Pet Gerbils Stink?
Gerbils are by far the cleanest rodent pet. They groom themselves regularly, and have odorless fur. Because they originate from the desert, they pee rarely, and their poops are dry. If you use good-quality bedding, your gerbilarium will hardly smell at all.
Gerbils are intelligent rodents, and can also be taught to use a glass or ceramic litter box. This makes removing waste much easier. Simply place substrate and some of your gerbil’s droppings into the box. Your pet will soon learn where the bathroom is.
Along with daily spot-cleaning, replace a small part of your gerbil’s bedding each week. You should also wipe down the cage walls or bars, and any hard accessories like shelves. You shouldn’t need to conduct a full deep-clean more often than once a month.
If your gerbil cage starts to smell, it may be down to the type of enclosure. A glass tank will start to smell before a cage will. This is because tanks don’t have very good ventilation, and they retain moisture more easily.
Do Chinchillas Smell Bad?
Chinchillas are also considered one of the least smelly rodents. They originate from an environment that is almost completely devoid of water. They’ve learned to survive on very little moisture, and don’t pee often. When they do go to the toilet, their waste doesn’t have much of a scent.
Chinchillas also groom themselves every day. Their thick, dense fur repels dirt and dust well. They’ll stay clean as long as they have access to a dust bath, and don’t get wet.
To keep your chinchilla’s cage smelling fresh, sweep it out every day. Remove any visible waste, discarded hay and dirty bedding. If you see any wet spots in the cage, wipe them up with water or diluted white vinegar. Once per week, remove any fleece lining or bedding and replace it.
You will need to deep-clean and disinfect your chinchilla’s cage every once in a while. But as with gerbils, this doesn’t have to be done very often. Once a month should be more than sufficient to stop an odor from building up.
Do Guinea Pigs Smell?
Guinea pigs regularly groom themselves and, in general, are quite tidy. They pee more often than chinchillas and gerbils, but they prefer to go in the same spot each time, making cleanup easy.
Guinea pigs poop all over the place, but because of their diet (mostly hay), their droppings don’t smell. And as guinea pigs live in huge pens, it’s easy to spot where they’ve gone to the toilet, and tidy it up. Guinea pig pens are also typically well-ventilated, meaning the smell doesn’t build up as quickly.
Most guinea pig enclosures have few or no ledges, shelves, or multiple levels. This means their pee soaks into the bedding immediately, helping to reduce odor. But you will need to scoop out any soiled bedding at least daily. The enclosure will need a full clean and scrub-out every 1-2 weeks.
Do Degus Stink?
Degus looks almost like a cross between gerbils and chinchillas. But although they’re rodents, they aren’t closely related to either animal. They are a completely unique species with their own special traits, dietary requirements, and behaviors.
In the wild, degus inhabit the Andes mountains in Chile. Their environment isn’t as dry or arid as that of the wild gerbil. Because of this, they drink more water, and pee more often.
Degu urine is smellier than guinea pig pee, but isn’t quite as strong as rat pee. Fresh degu pee doesn’t smell right away. It has to sit for a while before it starts to smell, giving you ample chance to clean it up in time.
Like rats and mice, degus mark the boundaries of their territory using urine, rather than a scent gland. Degus also use their poop to mark their territories, too. Fortunately, their poop is almost odorless.
Although degus are smart, they aren’t easily toilet trained. They’ll urinate and defecate all over their enclosures, though some degus may choose a specific corner for peeing. You’ll need to spot-clean the enclosure daily, and deep-clean it roughly once per week.
Are Rats Smelly Pets?
Rats are the most intelligent rodents, and make excellent pets. However, their cages can be quite smelly, especially if you keep more than one rat together. Although rats aren’t as big as guinea pigs or chinchillas, their pee and poop have a much stronger smell. Rat pee will start to smell straight away, unlike degu urine.
Rats also use urine to mark their territory. As well as peeing normally, they’ll also squirt small amounts of pee around their cage every so often. A rat cage must be thoroughly cleaned out at least once per week, if not twice, for this reason.
The main benefit of keeping rats, however, is how trainable they are. Because they are such quick learners, rats can easily be toilet trained. You can use a plastic litter tray and organic, paper-based cat litter. You can also place a small rock in the litter tray, which your rats will happily scent-mark. This will discourage them from scent-marking the rest of their cage.
Rats learn in the same way as gerbils, but they pick up new skills much faster. Once your rat is toilet trained, the cage won’t smell anywhere near as much. All you’ll need to do is empty and clean out the litter tray every day.
How Bad Do Hamsters Smell?
Hamsters are one of the most popular pet rodents. People often compare them to gerbils, because they’re a similar size. However, one huge difference is their smell.
Interestingly, hamsters originate from dry areas. But they drink more water than gerbils, so they pee more. Hamster urine also has a much stronger scent than gerbils. A hamster’s cage can start to smell quickly, even after a deep clean.
There are several different breeds of hamsters, including Syrians (golden hamsters) and dwarf breeds. Syrian hamsters are significantly larger than the dwarf breeds, so they pee the most. The scent is comparable to rat urine.
But do rats smell as bad as hamsters? Not quite, and this is largely to do with their toilet habits. Hamsters tend to pee in or on plastic tubing, tunnels, platforms, and running wheels. This can make a hamster cage smell much worse, as the pee won’t be absorbed by bedding. Their cages are also typically smaller than rat cages, concentrating the smell.
You can toilet train a hamster, though it’s more difficult than training a rat. And even then, you’ll still need to thoroughly clean your hamster’s cage once or twice per week.
Are Mice Smelly Pets?
Mice are the smallest rodents you can keep as pets. An adult pet mouse may only reach 4 inches in length (excluding the tail), and weigh 20 to 40 grams. Because they’re so tiny, you may imagine that mice don’t smell much.
However, you’d be wrong. Mice are one of the worst-smelling pet rodents. They come from temperate areas of the world and, consequently, they drink and pee a lot. Mouse urine has a strong ammonia-like smell which can easily penetrate the whole room.
Mouse pee smells about as bad as hamster pee. However, unlike a hamster, it’s almost impossible to toilet train a mouse. They’re also kept in smaller cages. This results in a stronger smell.
It’s hard work to keep a mouse cage smelling clean. You’ll need to use odor-absorbing bedding and completely replace it frequently. At this time, the entire cage must be cleaned and disinfected, along with all its accessories.
Even then, you’ll probably notice your mouse cage starting to smell again within a couple of days. Remove soiled bedding whenever you see it, and keep the cage (and room) well ventilated.
Do Male or Female Rodents Smell More?
A rodent’s species has the biggest impact on how much it smells. A mouse’s cage will almost always smell worse than a gerbil’s cage, for example.
However, the animal’s sex can also have an effect. In general, male rodents smell worse than females. This is all down to how male rodents mark their territory.
Both male and female rodents are territorial. However, males are more likely to scent-mark their cages. This leaves a pheromone trail that other rodents can use to identify who lives there.
Most rodents mark their territory using their urine. Mice, for example, will leave small amounts of urine around the perimeter of their enclosure. According to Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, the urine’s scent contains information about the health, age, and sex of the mouse that left it.
Male mice have stronger-smelling urine than females, and scent-mark more often. This means that if you keep male mice, you’ll have to clean their cage more often. The same goes for rats, who scent-mark using urine in the same way.
Male gerbils are also smellier than females. However, rather than using urine, gerbils scent-mark using a special gland on their bellies. The substance released from this gland has a musky smell.
According to Behavioral Neuroscience, male gerbils scent-mark 2 to 3 times more than females. Their scent glands are also larger.
Interestingly, the opposite is true of hamsters. Female Syrian hamsters usually smell much worse than males. When they’re in heat, they can emit a musky odor comparable to burnt plastic or rubber.
Are There Any Rodent Pets That Don’t Smell?
There’s no such thing as a pet rodent that does not smell. All rodents have to go to the toilet occasionally, and poop and pee always leave an odor. Some rodents poop and pee more often than others, which is why certain rodents smell worse.
Different rodents require different levels of care. For example, hamster cages must be cleaned more often than gerbil cages to prevent odor buildup. But no matter what kind of rodent you own, you’ll need to clean its cage regularly.
Bacteria can accumulate in any rodent cage. Even the least smelly rodents, like gerbils, can smell if you don’t clean them out often enough.
That being said, your rodent’s cage shouldn’t smell bad if you practice good hygiene. If your rodent’s cage stinks, this may indicate one of the following:
- You aren’t cleaning the cage often enough
- You aren’t cleaning the cage properly. You’re missing certain areas, not scrubbing thoroughly, using the wrong soap, or not replacing chew toys regularly
- Your rodent’s cage is overcrowded causing odor to build up quickly
- Your pet is sick. Illness can cause a rodent’s pee and poop to smell worse
The more rodents you keep together, the more often you’ll need to clean the cage. And certain other factors, such as which substrate you use, can also have an impact on smell. Even your rodent’s diet can have an effect.
How to Minimize Pet Rodent Smell
No matter what pet rodent you have, it’s important to keep its cage clean. For example, although gerbils are clean animals, their cages can still stink if not looked after. There are many ways you can keep your rodent’s cage clean, and stop it from smelling.
- Keep fewer animals in one cage. The more rodents you have, the more quickly odor and bacteria will start to build up
- Ensure your rodent’s cage is well-ventilated
- Train your pet rodent to go to the toilet in the same place each time. This will make waste easier to locate and remove
- Spot-clean your pet rodent’s enclosure. Every morning and evening, remove any visible waste, leftover food, and soiled or wet bedding
- Research different types of substrates for your pet, and choose one that is good at controlling odors
- Frequently replace or wash your pet’s bedding
- Regularly scrub out the cage and everything inside (toys, ledges, hides, wheel, etc) using a pet-safe disinfectant
- Only feed your rodent fresh foods (e.g. fruits and vegetables) outside of the cage. This will prevent food that spoils easily from getting buried in substrate, and going bad
All rodent cages should be spot-cleaned at least daily. But how often you should conduct a thorough clean of the cage depends on which type of rodent you have.
For example, gerbil cages only need to be deep-cleaned once every 3-4 weeks. But a mouse cage must be cleaned out and disinfected around once a week. Use your nose as your guide.
Can You Give a Rodent a Bath?
Occasionally, you may notice that your pet rodent smells bad when you pet or handle it. This may be because of a buildup of sebum in its fur. This is an oily substance released by glands in the skin called sebaceous glands.
Some rodents have more active sebaceous glands than others. This can happen in humans, too. According to Dermato-Endocrinology, increased sebum excretion can contribute to acne as well as oily skin.
Rodents usually do a great job of keeping their fur oil-free through self-grooming. But some rodents aren’t fond of grooming themselves, and this may result in smelly, greasy-looking fur.
If your rodent smells, you may wonder whether you can bathe it. This depends on which species of rodent you have.
Gerbils, chinchillas, hamsters, and degus should never be bathed in water. For these species, water baths can be dangerous and cause health problems. They can, however, take a dust bath in a bowl of pet-safe sand.
Guinea pigs, rats, and mice don’t use dust baths. If they get dirty, you can bathe them in warm water, or wipe their fur clean with a damp cloth. This shouldn’t be done more often than once a month, as it can be stressful.