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Small Animals Quick Guide, Which Would You Choose?

Small Animals Quick Guide, Which Would You Choose?

Small animals: Which one?

There is no doubt small animals make a fantastic first pet, children find them fun and interesting and even adults melt under their cute looks and behaviour. They are relatively easy to look after and endlessly reward their owners with hours of fun and endless affection, which is what makes them so popular. However, how do you choose what type of small animal is right for you? Ultimately research and contact will be the best way to answer this for yourself, but to help you along the way, here is our quick guide to the most popular types.


Being small and fluffy as well as having many various coat markings, hamsters are one of the most popular small animal groups. They are often chosen as first pets for children and make playful companions.

Character: Curious and adventurous, fairly intelligent. With the right handling are fairly tame and calm creatures, although will bite if scared or upset. Hamsters are nocturnal and live inside.

Housing: Solid bottomed cage, with either bars or ventilated plastic. Sawdust and paper shreds are used for bedding. Due to their intelligent and active nature they must also have toys in the cage. Must be escape proof. Syrians should be housed alone, although some other species will live together.

Food: Hamsters are omnivorous so can eat a wide range of treats, although they are healthiest when on a staple of dried hamster mix.

Life span: One to three years.


Being larger than the hamster and somewhat more active rats make great and entertaining animals. Although not for everyone, their behaviour and large variety of colours makes them very popular.

Character: Highly intelligent, very curious and active. Less likely to bite, but will if annoyed. Can become very tame and can become great companionable pets.

Housing: Large wire cage with at least two levels to allow for exercise. Needs to be solid bottomed and escape proof. Rats are nocturnal and live inside. Can live together if put in single sex groups from an early age.

Food: Omnivorous, they eat a huge range of foods. They do best on a staple of dried rat mix with a variety of treats.

Life span: Two to four years.

Guinea pigs:

Being a larger size, these small animals make great pets as some people find them easier to handle. They are very responsive to their owners and will vocalise during feeding time or when their owners are near, this trait along with their cute looks are some of the reason they are so popular as pets.

Character: Very sociable, clever and active. They can be nervous but with the right handling become extremely tame and will more than often freeze rather than bite.

Housing: They should be housed in a hutch or large cage space, with access to an outdoors run in the summer. In the winter they need to be housed indoors, either in a large cage space or hutch. The cage doesn’t need to be tall as they don’t jump around but they need to have a lot of floor space, as they are active creatures. Soft bedding such as woodshavings or straw should be used. Can be housed with littermates or single sex groups. Must not be housed with rabbits.

Food: Herbivorous, they require a lot of fibrous foods to maintain health. It is best to feed a dry mix specially for guinea pigs and supplement with hay, vegetables and other treats to help wear down teeth.

Life span: Five to eight years.


With so many breeds and so many different breed characteristics rabbits make truly fascinating pets. It is clear why they are so popular, with their defined personalities and interesting behaviours.

Character: Playful, loving and active. Social but this needs to be maintained to stop them from becoming shy. Companionable if handled well.

Housing: A large hutch, with access to a run in the summer. Rabbits should be taken indoors during the winter. Can be allowed to free roam indoors if done so from a young age and it being safe to do so. The hutch needs to be thoroughly cleaned to avoid fly strike. Can be housed together, space permitting and a male and a female can be placed provided they are neutered. Can also place two does together. Should never be housed with guinea pigs.

Food: Frequent feeding of either a dry mix or a nugget mix formulated for rabbits. This should be supplemented with treats and hay to help wear down the teeth.

Life span: Five to ten years.


Lively and entertaining, these little critters are a fun pet that makes a fun difference from other small animals. Highly active they will fascinate many owners.

Character: Friendly, inquisitive and social. Very active animals.

Housing: A ‘Plexi’ glass tank known as a gerbilarium is best used as this will allow sufficient ventilation and ensure there are no unwanted escapes! Thick layers of sawdust should be used in the lower half to allow burrowing and digging tunnels. Should be housed with littermates (to prevent fighting) in same sex pairs. They will happily live with mixed sex groups but litters will occur. You should not house them alone.

Food: A dry mix of gerbil food should be a staple, along with various treats. Their diet needs to be carefully handled as they can be susceptible to high fat intake which can cause health issues.

Life span: Three to five years.


Small and cute as well as tame mice make great pets although are probably more suited to older children and adults due to their smaller size.

Character: Happy, playful and active although can be timid or shy at first.

Housing: Solid floored cages, especially built for mice, either with smaller metal bars or plastic sides that they cannot gnaw. A secure lid and soft bedding, much like a hamster is needed. They also require hiding places in order to feel secure. Can be kept in single sex groups or pairs. Males, however, will dispute over territory and produce a musky odour.

Food: Omnivorous, they should be fed a wide variety of treats alongside a staple of dried mouse food. You need to be careful with fat and sugar levels.

Life span: One to three years.


Large fluffy and extremely active, chinchillas are good pets if you have the space, they are good for older children and will be loved by all. Their sweet natures nad sociable habits mean they are fascinating creatures.

Character: Very fast and lively characters with a sweet and inquisitive side. Can be slightly timid but usually warm up to their owners quickly.

Housing: Chinchillas need very large cages as they will jump, run and dart around them. A specialised chinchilla cage is best as they have removable trays at the bottom for frequent cleaning. There doesn’t need to be any substrate as they mainly climb but toys, platforms and things to keep them amused are always appreciated. A sand bath that is changed daily should also be available. You can keep chinchillas in pairs or polygamous groups of two to three females to one male.

Food: Chinchillas are true herbivores and as such have delicate digestion, therefore a special chinchilla dry food or pellet should be given. Treats should also accompany this but should be marked safe for chinchillas to avoid giving too much sugar or protein. Hay should also always be available, as they need a lot of fibre and also need to wear down their teeth.

Life span: Ten to twenty years.


Lively, social and vocal they love human interaction so make great pets. Perhaps more suited to the more experienced keeper, due to the level of care they require. They do however have a low record of disease, which means they can be very straightforward in their health.

Character: Social, lively, good natured and very curious.

Housing: Their cage needs to be large, focusing on height as they love to climb, much like chinchillas they don’t need bedding although aspen would be appreciated. They also need a sand bath and plenty of toys to keep their active minds busy. They cannot be kept singularly as they are highly social and will not do well with human interaction alone, they need at least one cage mate and will rarely fight. They are active during the day.

Food: True herbivores, they need plenty of hay for their digestive systems. Although degus are becoming more popular, foods for them are not as easily available. Instead you should aim to feed a diet suitable for chinchillas, making sure it is nugget form to stop selective feeding. You also need to avoid sugary foods and treats, as they can get diabetes more easily than other small animals.

Life span: Five to eight years.


Ferrets are lively and very intelligent, they are active creatures with more complex needs than any of the other small animals and are probably best suited to someone with more experience of pet ownership.

Character: inquisitive, intelligent, active and independent.

Housing: Best put in large wire cages, with multiple levels to allow adequate exercise. They can also be kept in large outdoors enclosures if space permits as well as freely in the house as they can be litter trained. They are social and will prefer living with at least one other ferret, although large groups and un-neutered companions may fight so it is best to keep neutered males and females. They also need plenty of toys or opportunity to use their active minds.

Food: Ferrets are carnivores, so they have largely different diets to any of the other small animals here. They can be fed on a high quality kibble to provide all the protein and fat, some ferret owners will also provide treats such as thawed chicks, tinned meat and raw meats.

Life span: Five to eleven years.