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"I can has cuteness?" - hamster/gerbil/etc questions

Kate of LokysKate of Lokys Registered User
edited June 2008 in Help / Advice Forum
Last September, I bought myself a betta to keep me company in residence. He's a good little fish, and still doing remarkably well in his spacious 3 gallon filtered tank - I just added a pair of zebra snails to keep it clean for him, there was a bit of algae buildup, but Alliefish himself is fine and fit and will probably keep swimming around for another 6-12 months.

But there's one big problem with fish: you can't cuddle them. Not if you want them to live, anyway. This September I'll be heading off to a different university to get my Master's degree, and I'll be staying in an apartment instead of a shared suite in residence, and that means I'll probably end up in a place that allows pets.

As much as I would love an adorable little kitty cat, my life just doesn't allow that degree of committment right now. So, I am contemplating a small animal of some sort. Something in the hamster/gerbil/rabbit/guinea pig line. I have never had such a pet, so I have several questions about them.

1. What species is the most affectionate? I don't want a cute soft furry thing that just sits in its cage all day, I want to be able to play with it and pet it and call it George without it biting me or hyperventilating from the stress of contact. Also, I understand we're talking about brain sizes measured in cubic millimeters here, but it would be nice if my pet recognized me and interacted with me, and maybe learned some tricks. Significant bonus points to any species I could train to ride around on my shoulder.

2. What about lifespans, and general hardiness? I don't want to get all attached to some bright-eyed and bushy-tailed critter only to have it die two weeks after bringing it home, but at the same time, if I wanted something that would be with me for 15 years, I'd just get a cat.

3. Where should I buy my future pet from? Is there a significant difference between a $20 pet store hamster and one given away for free by some pet owner in town whose supposedly male creature just gave birth? I would prefer a younger creature so I could try to head off the development of bad habits - how old are the ones sold in stores? Or if I went with an animal from a recent litter, how old would it need to be before it could be taken away from its mother?

4. Accessories! How big a cage would I need for each species, and what should I look for in the way of toys? I've seen those Habitrail cages and add-ons in pet stores, and I think I could furnish a small apartment for about the same cost as a full cage/tunnel/maze/observatory/detachable wheel setup. How much room and how many toys do they really need? I know with bettas, most pet stores recommend the tiny little plastic 1/2 gallon (or even smaller) tanks, while anyone on a dedicated betta message board will accuse you of rampant animal abuse if you house your 2" long fish in anything less than a 10 gallon heated tank with full biochemical filtration and a rock-solid nitrogen cycle. My Alliefish, however, is perfectly happy in the middle ground between the two. Are small animals the same way, or is bigger actually better for them? Also, is there any reason to buy new stuff, or would something used do the job just fine? (I'd be careful to wash anything used thoroughly, of course).

5. What about travel? Does anybody know how easy it is to cross the Canada-US border with small animals? I've checked the relevant governmental websites, and they look pretty straightforward.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency DOES NOT permit the importation of:
a) Prairie dogs, Gambian pouch rats, or squirrels from any country; or
b) any rodents from Africa.
Rodents, other than those identified in a) and b) above, can be imported into Canada without an import permit, health certificate, or inspection(1).

Rabbits, Guinea pigs, hamsters, ferrets, and other pet rodents:
There are no CDC or USFWS restrictions or requirements on these animals if brought in as pets.

So, it sounds like I could just load the cage into the back seat of my car and drive right across. Anyone have any experiences to the contrary? And do rodents handle travel reasonably well, or do they get all freaked out by it? Our dogs are wonderful travelers, they just curl up in the back and sleep during the drives to and from Florida during the winter, but I was wondering if a smaller animal would get rattled by the noise and vibration over long distances.

6. Anything else I should know about small animals in general? Given the information provided above, what species would be the best for me, out of the more common ones? As much as I'd love something neat like a ferret or chinchilla, they're a bit out of my price range - I think I'm limited to hamsters (regular or dwarf, and what's the difference?), gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, and rats. And the latter might be a bit iffy - my mother is terrified of them, and they might be harder to get across the border. (When asked "Anything to declare?", compare "Just my adorable pet hamster, neatly secured in his cute bright plastic cage with completely adequate ventilation, food, and water!" to "Well, there's this rat... careful, he bites").

Educate me about pet rodents!

I'm here to tell you about voting. Imagine you're locked in a huge underground nightclub filled with sinners, whores, freaks and unnameable things that rape pit bulls for fun. And you ain't allowed out until you all vote on what you're going to do tonight [. . .] So you vote for television, and everyone else, as far as your eye can see, votes to fuck you with switchblades. That's voting. You're welcome.
Kate of Lokys on


  • starmanbrandstarmanbrand Registered User regular
    edited June 2008
    Just so you know, having a small rodent is not like. a free pet ticket. It's still a lot of work. That said? I vote for Guinea pigs. They get like. rat-big so they are large enough to cuddle and play around with. Hamsters and gerbils are usually a bit small for that.

    1.) They can sit on your shoulder and will crawl all over ya, just be careful when you first start doing it so they don't fall. I have never heard of a guinea pig learning tricks, but who needs tricks when you can get those plastic rodent balls for them to roll around in. They will recognize you, as well.

    2.) Google says life span average is about five and a half years.

    3.) A lot of people find it extremely difficult to tell gender of guinea pigs. My friend actually had two male guinea pigs. Turned out one was female. The wiki says ti woudl be best to get a young one so you oculd raise it to lovelovelove you and not bite or scratch.

    4.) Guinea pigs love nesting, so they would need that. Seems they need a fairly large living area. This may be a concern if you are going to live somewhere exceptionally small.

    5.) No idea, but if that is what the legislation says it should probably be easy.

    6.) Ferrets and Chinchillas would be harder to take care of than a cat, so you are making the right choice. I love guinea pigs and think they are much better buddies than other things (Except maybe they are tied with rats but that is another deal entirely.) Big enough to hold and love without feeling like you are going to destroy it and they make awesome noises.

    Also you may want to look into getting more than one. The level of care remains about the same but the interaction for them when you are not around will be important.

    starmanbrand on
  • FantasyrogueFantasyrogue Registered User regular
    edited June 2008
    All I know about is gerbils, as I used to have two.

    First things first, gerbils must be kept in atleast a pair (buy them as a pair, introducing gerbils over a certain age to eachother is asking for trouble). They're group animals and don't generally like being alone. However, they don't tend to crave attention from humans like, say, a rat would. They can be handled, it kinda depends on how well socialized they are and how crazy in the head. One of mine didn't mind being picked up, the other spent it's entire life thinking my fingers were food one was meant to nibble on. They're suckers for sunflower seeds (which are fatty, so like snackfood, give in moderation) and will eat out of your hand or sit on your hand if you bribe them with these.

    Gerbils are active throughout the day and night, they're not nocturnal (like hamsters). They'll sleep for a few hours every couple of hours and spend the rest of the time scurrying about, trying to dig holes, that kind of thing. They love and need to chew on things. I used to give them the leftover cardboard rolls from toilet paper rolls and they'd tear through one of these in less than half a day (and then take the bits of cardboard and paper back to their nest). Give them cardboard things and wooden (untreated) things for climbing and chewing and playing with (they need some mental stimulation). For bedding, avoid cedar and pine, the oils inside can cause allergies and respiratory issues. Nesting material can be as simple as some unscented white tissues shred to strips. Because of their chewing habits it tends to be a bit easier to keep them in a glass tank (internet suggests about 10 gallon) instead of a plastic cage (though you can keep them in those plastic things with the tunnels, just make sure there's protection against heavy duty chewing). Make sure it has a secure lid (especially if the tank has lots of levels for the gerbils to climb on) cause they can jump out if they want to.

    They're really curious creatures and will come and see what's happening if you're pottering about in front of the tank/cage and they're very active but they're not especially cuddly and snuggly. Internet says the lifespan is about 2-4/5 years, mine lived to be about 4. Also, do not pick them up by their tails! They will hate you for it and in some cases the tail might tear loose. If there's one of those hamster wheels in the cage, make sure it's closed so the tail/feet don't get caught between the bars.

    Travel. I don't know what the experts say. I used to travel with mine in a little plastic travel cage dealie and it never bothered them as long as it had a hiding place in it (they'd spend the entire trip hiding out in the little house).

    Age. These sites (which are full of, what looks like useful, gerbil information but I've skimread so I can't vouch for their overall sanity or anything) suggest 6 weeks at the earliest. Pet store gerbil ages can vary depending on how quickly they sell them and how well they care for them. I got mine at a pet store and I've regretted it for the 4 years they lived, they were great fun to have but one was sickly it's entire life and the other just wasn't right in the head. Also, one was pregnant when I bought it! That just mostly says something about that particular pet store though (which was terrible).

    (Very) long story short. I really loved my gerbils as they're fun to watch. If you want something to hold and cuddle though I think some of the other types of rodents might be more what you're looking for.

    Fantasyrogue on
  • JansonJanson Registered User regular
    edited June 2008
    Guinea-pigs are fantastic little creatures; very stupid, quite tame, and are pretty hardy. They make the cutest noises. I'd definitely plump for a guinea-pig or rat.


    Guinea-pigs really, really need company. Never have a guinea-pig on its own.
    Don't put a guinea-pig in a plastic ball. Their spines can't handle them. However, they're less likely to chew your cords and wires than, say, a rabbit, so you could probably let them run round the room.
    Guinea-pigs are like us in that they don't produce their own vitamin C so they need lots of it. Fresh green veg/dandelions, etc.
    Guinea-pigs also make really good lawn-mowers, and need plenty of space in which to run round. If you have grass and it is edible by guinea-pigs (I know sometimes that grass in the US is treated) then get a spacious run and you're set.

    Janson on
  • ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited June 2008
    I've a friend who loves her pet rats. They're quite the fun things to play with too.
    I don't know a whole lot about them, but I'd certainly consider them.

    Improvolone on
    Voice actor for hire. My time is free if your project is!
  • RainbulimicRainbulimic Registered User
    edited June 2008
    Personally, I think you might want a rat. I've never had one but a little bit of research [and a few stories told to me by ratty owners] shows them to be quite intelligent and they can ride around on your shoulders etc, depending on how young you get them and how you treat them.

    I've own a hamster and a guinea pig.
    My hamster was quite a biter and refused to be touched up until a point where my aunt just grabbed her and took her out of the cage. After that she was pretty happy to be handled. But hamsters are not cuddly. They're fun to have crawl about on your hand, they'll recognise you as their food source and they're happy to run around in a big plastic ball, which is fun to watch.
    I managed to train my hamster to run to the front to the cage whenever I got a click noise. That was quite cute.
    I think it all depends on the personality of the hamster you get though. Avoid Russian Dwarf hamsters, they're little bastards. Heh.

    My guinea pig was nice and cuddly, but it was a little more of an outdoor animal. We kept it in a hutch in the garden and let it into a cage run on the grass during the day if it wasn't raining. They're a little more attention seeking then hamsters though. They call out with a highpitch whine when they want some love or food or whatever ;)

    Rainbulimic on
  • corcorigancorcorigan Registered User regular
    edited June 2008
    Rats are good. They don't live too long and are smart enough to feel like your cuddling and attention are actually making an impact. I always feel like I'm wasting my time with a hamster, they never appreciate it. Rats do tend to end up a little smelly though.

    I've always wanted a pet octopus personally.

    corcorigan on
    Ad Astra Per Aspera
  • TachTach Registered User regular
    edited June 2008
    I'd suggest a rat as well. I had some when I was a kid, and now my wife and I have a few. Try looking at some at a pet store, and see what you think.

    But if you're serious about getting one, I'd suggest a breeder, as the rats you'd get from them are more friendly, and healthier in general.

    My wife could offer a huge amount of advice, as since her first one, she's become a near expert.

    Tach on
  • CimmeriiCimmerii SpaceOperaGhost Registered User regular
    edited June 2008
    Also suggesting a rat for you, I don't know that much about their specific care, but a few friends I have love their pet rats, and they are quite intelligent. They do recommend getting them at a young age, so they 'grow up' with you and are familiar with your scent and movement.

    Cimmerii on
    *Internally Screaming*
  • Fig-DFig-D Registered User regular
    edited June 2008
    I love rabbits. I've owned several, rescued a few, and generally know a bit about their care. Having said that, you just plain don't have the room for a rabbit. They need to run around and exercise, and they can't really get that while cooped up in an apartment. Some rabbits might be okay in an apartment with a cage, but if you want to see some ideal rabbit habitats then do a Google Image Search for "rabbit hutch." That's just their living area, ideally you would also have some sort of protected run or trail for them. I have about a 10 X 8 area of my yard fenced off with chicken wire for my rabbit (sometimes rabbits) to give you an idea.

    Fig-D on
    SteamID - Fig-D :: PSN - Fig-D
  • ruzkinruzkin Registered User regular
    edited June 2008
    Having owned rats, hamsters, cats and puppies, I can honestly say that the upkeep for each is about the same (except for dogs, which need walks).

    Changing a hamster cage or gerbil bedding takes just as long as changing a cats litter tray, and if you put in the effort to scoop out the cat's poop once every day into a plastic bag then you only need to change the litter once a week. Cats are very affectionate but are fine when left on their own as well so long as you leave some toys around. They're also cheap to feed - my cat eats half a can of catfood a day. Buy in bulk, and each can is 70c.

    So hey, don't rule out a fluffy kitten just yet.

    ruzkin on
  • Kate of LokysKate of Lokys Registered User
    edited June 2008
    Believe me, I'd love to have a cat if I could; my mother bought the first family cat before I was even born, and we've had at least one underfoot ever since. But a cat just wouldn't fit into my life right now. I wouldn't feel right leaving one locked up alone in a little apartment all day while I was at class - I know plenty of people do it, and I know their cats are just fine, but I want to wait until I have the space, time, and money to take care of a cat properly. (Their food may be cheap, but vaccinations, spaying/neutering, and regular checkups add up). Also, my personal experience has suggested that cats do *not* enjoy car trips, which is kind of a problem since my boyfriend lives 14 hours away and I drive down to see him four times a year. Nor could I ask my parents to look after a cat for me, since they already have one well-established huntress queen and two yappy little dogs.

    So, for now, I want something smaller, with lower space requirements.

    Guinea pigs sound pretty neat, but I don't think I'd have the space for one. The recommended cage size is 36" by 30" at a minimum - that wouldn't even fit in my car, and in a one-room apartment it would take up more surface area than my entire computer setup.

    It looks like my best options are gerbils or rats - two of either species, of the same gender. They seem to have pretty similar traits and care requirements, though rats seem to be more popular.

    How would I go about finding a reputable rat breeder, and how much should I expect to pay for a pair of young males from the same litter?

    Kate of Lokys on
    I'm here to tell you about voting. Imagine you're locked in a huge underground nightclub filled with sinners, whores, freaks and unnameable things that rape pit bulls for fun. And you ain't allowed out until you all vote on what you're going to do tonight [. . .] So you vote for television, and everyone else, as far as your eye can see, votes to fuck you with switchblades. That's voting. You're welcome.
  • oldsakoldsak Registered User regular
    edited June 2008
    My siblings used to have a hamster. He didn't really care for them and he would occasionally bite them when they tried to handle him. He never bit me, but I handled him daily and would usually feed him a piece of fruit or something when I came home from school. Hamsters are cute and amusing to play with, cuddly might be a stretch though.

    Have you considered a bird? We used to own a cockatiel and she was great fun. They're not too big. No more trouble than a hamster or gerbil to clean their cages. They whistle and sing away to keep you company. They're usually more than happy to hang out perched on your shoulder or whatever. They're quite soft to the touch and love being petted.

    oldsak on
  • Bliss 101Bliss 101 Registered User regular
    edited June 2008
    I have experience of hamsters, rats and gerbils, and of those three rats are by far the most social, in the sense that they seem to enjoy human company rather than just seeing us as some kind of giant food and comfort dispensers. Hamsters are at the other end of the spectrum, as they're loners and some individuals can get really stressed if their privacy is intruded. Hamsters are also difficult to train out of their nocturnal habits (rats will adapt to your schedule pretty well since they actually want to be awake when you're around).

    One thing you should consider, though: rats don't live very long. Depending on how old they are when you get them, be prepared to say goodbye withing a couple of years. Hamsters and gerbils can live longer, but they're more boring. But you can extend the lifespan of rodents by a year or so by feeding them correctly:

    - Low calorie, high-fiber food.
    - Some seafood (for rats; hamsters and gerbils are pretty much herbivores) like the occasional shrimp or whatever.
    - Plenty of antioxidants in the diet.

    Male rats will bond with you more than females, but females are generally more active and playful.

    edit: also, if possible, I'd recommend getting a cage that's like 50% bigger than what is "recommended" for however many (you must get at least two if you get them) rats you get. They are very active and curious animals, but if they don't have stuff to do they become lazy and fat. Letting them out of the cage to explore a bit once in a while is a good idea too.

    And don't get one of those cages with wire floors. Those floors are uncomfortable and bad for the health of pretty much all animals, since their feet aren't designed for walking on such surfaces.

    And don't give them shreds of magazines or newspapers, even though they might prefer to use those for their nest: paper dust and ink is bad for rats.

    edit2: one more thing about the size and shape of cages. For rats, go for a cage with multiple floors, climbing ropes, hiding places etc. Generally stuff that intelligent, playful animals would like. If I were to get rats again, I'd buy or build one really tall cage with nothing inside, and construct the entire interior myself. It is possible to make a cage that looks somewhat nice instead of being just a big box of metal. Be aware that rats can chew through pretty much anything softer than metal, but they won't chew their way through, say, plastic unless they're really unhappy with their cage.

    For gerbils, you need large floor area. They jump and run a lot. So instead of a tall cage, you need a wide one.

    Hamsters actually get stressed if their cage is too large or spacious. They want small, enclosed spaces where they feel safe.

    It kind of makes sense when you consider where these animals naturally live. Rats are active, adaptive foragers that live in varying environments where they may have to regularly dig, climb, swim etc. Gerbils run around in desert-ish regions. Hamsters are almost blind, solitary dwellers of little holes in the ground.

    Also, mouse wheels can be dangerous, plus they make your pets look stupid, so I'd avoid them. Just make sure they get enough exercise some other way.

    Bliss 101 on
  • mimizumimizu Registered User
    edited June 2008
    1) Rat. Domestic rat. They fucking love you.
    2) 2-4 years
    3) from a breeder is preferable, but they are expensive. A young one in a clean pet store is ok. I got my rat from one of my mom's friends, whos kid was allergic.
    4) A nice sized bird cage, try to keep the spacing under 2/3 inch, you can remove the wire grate. 250 square inches is a good minimum. Some nice addons are : hammok, carboard tube, bird perches, a litter box (once they're trained, it makes your litter bill a lot smaller), and some small locks (They can open those little food doors birdcages have).
    5) no idea (sorry!)
    6) probly want to change your comparison there, rats are FAR less likely to bite :wink:

    Here's a picture of my rat's cage


    EDIT: I woke her up with the camara's flash XD

    mimizu on
  • TrowizillaTrowizilla Registered User regular
    edited June 2008
    Rats are pretty awesome.

    However! Please, please, please don't get a pet if you're not ready to afford some substantial vet bills. Rats in particular are prone to tumors and respiratory infections, and vet bills for them can easily run into hundreds of dollars a year. Plus, they do need regular checkups, just like cats.

    Plus, they're very social, so you should make sure you spend a fair amount of time every day with them. In fact, they're so social that it's pretty close to abuse to just have one, as it's nearly impossible for one human to give them the amount of attention they need; two is the minimum, and three is better. They need lots of space and a diet almost as varied as a human's: fruits and veggies, bits of protein, and most of them like yogurt bites.

    Oh, and don't put anything you care about within reach of their cage, because they will chew on it.

    Trowizilla on
  • mimizumimizu Registered User
    edited June 2008
    We acutuly have 2 rats in the house, but... they don't realy like eachother.They'll tolarate eachother for about 15 minutes before they really start fighting, not just domination fighting either. All the pets in our house are in fear of eachother, so they tend to stay appart. You'll notice my rat's cage is full of branches and crap, since she is young, fit, and active. My brother's rat (named Rat, of all things) is a year and a half older, freaking HUGE (bigger than a big male), and lathargic, so her cage is a ferret cage with a few large platforms. Also, my brother's rat is the only pet we have that wasn't free. Our cat (Yoda) is from my sister (she had a baby), my rat (Moska Vladimer Usbensky the I, the impaler, esquire) is from a family with unknown allergies, and our dog (Toad) is one of my sister's friend's dog's pups (she 14 now). We used to have a scoripan, but s/he died.

    mimizu on
  • DavaDava Registered User regular
    edited June 2008
    I've had eight gerbils over the years, and if you want something to cuddle, I wouldn't recommend them. They are QUICK, like lightning fast, and they're prone to nipping. You're also never really sure how they will socialize. I've had three males who lived together happily, but I also had a couple males who wouldn't. And I had two females who lived together for about five months, and then they tried to kill each other. And they're a ton of work. They'll keep you up at night chewing on their cage, and they mark everything in sight with musk. They're really cute, and they make cool drumming noises when startled, but they are not for the casual pet owner.

    There's several breeds of hamsters, and they vary quite a bit. Syrians tend to be friendly, but there are always exceptions. My current hamster is a rescue animal. We found her in the dumpster at the store where I work when she was a baby. Lucky hamster! You'd think she'd be ill-tempered after that, but she's amazingly sweet and playful.

    My hamster can has a blog

    The only bad thing about hamsters is they're nocturnal, so you don't see them much unless you stay up really late.

    I have friends who keep guinea pigs, and they're very affectionate. I also have a friend with a hedgehog, and he's the coolest thing ever. Very smart, although the cuddliness is questionable.

    Dava on
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