Small animals have a great deal in common, but also some significant differences. Learn more about each of the animals below before deciding which type of pet is right for you.
Gerbils are bold and curious animals that are not strictly nocturnal (their day is divided into varying cycles of sleep and play). Some species of gerbils can be quite tame and make good pets.
Hamsters live alone and are active during the night (nocturnal). Generally gentle, hamsters can be quick and can nip if awakened or startled. They may not be the best choice for small children.
Rabbits are naturally curious and social animals and can be kept in apartments and homes (they can be taught to use the litter box). Many rabbits do not like to be held and cuddled and may not be a good choice for small children. They require a dedicated owner who is prepared to meet their needs but can also be a quiet, enjoyable pet.
You or someone you know has probably owned a guinea pig at some point. They are very popular pets and for good reason: they’re calm, friendly and seem to enjoy interaction with their owners. They make ideal first pets for older children because they are easy to care for and rarely bite. They don’t require much space, so a guinea pig can live happily in a child’s bedroom or a small apartment for an average life span of five to six years. Guinea pigs enjoy the opportunity to run outside the cage and even enjoy being outside. If you do venture outdoors, keep a keen eye on your pet for safety sake.
Compared with guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits, rats don’t have the same reputation for being cute and lovable. The fact is, though, domesticated rats are clean, docile, cuddly and can be easily trained when treated with care. In general, rats don’t bite unless they are frightened, and their larger size makes them better pets for small children than hamsters or mice. Though they get a bad name from their feral brothers, rats are actually intelligent and social animals that enjoy the company of other rats and humans. They are nocturnal—meaning they sleep all day and are active at night—but many will adjust to their owner’s schedule.
Like rats, the idea of owning a house mouse can be a tough sell; in fact, the common mouse is very adaptable, highly curious and can thrive in almost any environment. If handled correctly, they can become very tame and make great pets. They are nocturnal and cab be easily frightened by loud noises.