Small Furry Pets Guide

With their curious personalities and fluffy faces, what's not to love about small furry pets? Rabbits and guinea pigs are among the most popular thanks to their cuddly natures. Alternatively, you might like a pet mouse, gerbil or hamster you and the family will enjoy watching for hours. One thing to be aware of: there's more to small mammal care than just buying a cage and some bedding. Read our starter guide to help you decide if you could give a small furry pet a forever home and learn how to care for your furry friends.

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Before welcoming a small furry pet into your home…

When thinking about what small animals make good pets, you should check whether your future furry friend needs company of its own kind. Mice, chinchillas, rabbits, guinea pigs and rats are typically social creatures, and rats especially need a lot of interaction. Rabbits shouldn’t be kept alone and often prefer a companion of their own kind. They don’t generally get along with guinea pigs. While most dwarf hamsters enjoy living in a group, Syrian hamsters are actually solitary and are usually best kept alone. If you’re keeping your small pets in pairs, it’s often practical to get two of the same sex to avoid accidental babies.

Before buying a small furry pet

How long do small furry animals live as pets?

Mice, gerbils and hamsters usually live between one-and-a-half and three years, while rats usually reach two or three, but can live up to four years. Rabbits and guinea pigs involve a long-term commitment of six to eight years, while a chinchilla can live for around 15 years.

Feeding your small furry pets
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Feeding your small furry pets

Many small furry pets can get a healthy diet from shop-bought pellets or food mixes. Remember, you shouldn’t feed hamster food to a rat, or rabbit food to a gerbil – the recipes are specially formulated for each species.

What do hamsters and mice eat?

Mice, hamsters, rats and gerbils usually eat pellets and small amounts of fruit and veg. You can scatter these around their cage to encourage natural foraging. Some foods – like grapes, raisins and rhubarb – can be poisonous to mice, hamsters and other rodents, and mice also can’t process lettuce. It’s also worth remembering that some small furry pets, like rats and mice, actually need to eat their fresh faeces to gain the nutrients from it – so you shouldn’t clean it up as soon as they poop.

What do gerbils eat?

Gerbils enjoy variety, so you may want to feed them fruits like pear, melon and apple and vegetables like cucumber, carrot, pumpkin and fennel.

What do rats eat?

Rats are omnivores, so they munch on fruit, veggies, cooked egg, grains and seeds. You should give your rats their food in open ceramic rather than metal bowls, as the metal ones create an ultrasound noise that they don’t like. Using an open bowl also enables them to carry the food and eat it wherever they want.

What do rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas eat?

Guinea pigs, rabbits and chinchillas all like to eat hay and pellets, and rabbits and guinea pigs also enjoy fresh grass (never lawnmower clippings, as fermented products aren’t good for them). Chinchillas can have small amounts of dried fruit, vegetables, herbs and plantain as treats. Guinea pigs and rabbits like washed, leafy green veg on a daily basis.

Habitats and cages

Habitats and cages

Most small furries would be prey animals in the wild, so their instinct is to seek shelter and you should build this into their home. They also may not like being picked up from above – to them it’s almost like your hands are big birds swooping down (scary, right?). Each small furry pet has different requirements, so it’s worth bearing in mind that you shouldn’t simply reuse an old hamster cage to house a new rat, for example.

What essentials do you need for a pet rabbit or guinea pig?

Guinea pigs and rabbits need plenty of outdoor space and a rabbit run that’s high enough for them to stand on their hind legs. Ideally, it should be connected to a sheltered or indoor space so they can take cover if needed. Rabbits generally also like toys and access to fresh grass. Their sleeping hutch should be large enough, warm enough and have plenty of bedding.

Can guinea pigs live outside?

Guinea pigs and rabbits could be indoors or outdoors in the right sort of hutch. You don’t want them to get too hot inside, so a garage might be a suitable solution – but always check in with your vet about appropriate temperatures.

What makes a good rat cage?

Wondering how much space rats need? The answer depends on how many furry friends you’re keeping, but multi-level cages with plenty of climbing and activities are a practical choice. They should have plenty of rummaging material, soft bedding and also some material they can shred. Many rats love to sleep in a rat hammock. You’ll find they also enjoy a mixture of gnawing toys, mazes and tunnels to keep them entertained.

What do I need for a hamster cage?

Hamsters generally prefer a cage that’s longer than it is tall. They also love plenty of material to rummage, shred and burrow in.

Do gerbils need a wheel?

While it’s not essential, gerbils can enjoy a wheel. It should be a solid design, not one with rungs, so they don’t injure themselves.

How often should you clean a mouse, rat or rodent cage?

Most small furry rodents’ cages should be cleaned about once a week. For a rabbit or guinea pig hutch, you should also clean the toilet corner of the cage every day or so. This is as simple as sweeping away the droppings and damp bits and replacing bedding or floor covering. Every month, it’s recommended to do a deep clean of your pet homes. You can keep a little bit of clean bedding from their cage pre-clean and put this back in the fresh cage, so they can smell something familiar.

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Temperament and behaviours

As most small furry rodents are naturally outgoing, they can make loving pets. On the whole, they like attention, company and playing. They’re especially curious too.

Handling rabbits and guinea pigs

Rabbits and guinea pigs keep the same sleep schedules as us (well, perhaps not as busy or well-planned), while other small furries are largely nocturnal. Guinea pigs are usually the more easy-going of the two, and may sit on your lap patiently. Rabbits usually like to have all four feet on the ground, but they do generally love playing with toys and being groomed – they’ll spend hours in your company. However, rabbits may not be good pets for children, as they can be nervous by nature and are rarely cuddly. 

Handling rodents

Rats enjoy being handled and especially sitting on your shoulder or lap. In general, mice and gerbils are more skittish and trickier to handle, but they are fun to watch, especially when they’re burrowing. Hamsters are also nocturnal, easily stressed by loud noises and have a reputation for biting. However, this is often due to their poor eyesight and because they don’t like being disturbed from sleep – biting is their natural defence. If hamsters are handled frequently from a young age, they’re much less likely to bite. But beware – they’re also notorious escape artists.

Health concerns
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Health concerns

Small furry pets don’t usually need intense veterinary care, but you should always book in if you notice a sudden change in behaviour or condition. Repetitive behaviours and chewing at fur are bad signs as they may be caused by stress, boredom or underlying issues. All small furries can suffer if their teeth or claws get too long, so it’s best to provide gnawing material and some rough surfaces to keep claws down. Guinea pigs and rabbits should have a vet’s appointment scheduled at least annually and they’ll need treating for parasites, as well as vaccinating against conditions such as Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus.

Convinced a small furry companion is just right for you? Take a look at our selection of small furries searching for a loving forever home on Gumtree.

In 2023, Gumtree joined forces with the Rabbit Welfare Associate Fund to support the charity’s rabbit breeding and sales amnesty. During the amnesty, you will not be able to rehome pets on Gumtree, in order to help alleviate the pressures that increased demand for rabbits around Easter causes for rehoming centres. You can read more about this here.