The chinchilla has been bred in captivity for almost 80 years and have a luxurious thick coat with over 2000 hairs per square inch. Chinchillas rarely bite, but they are easily frightened and can move very rapidly. they are superb climbers and jump effortlessly. They are also champion gnawers so wooden hutches are not suitable, relatively expensive wire mesh cages are required and these should be 2m x 2m x 1m, so a lot of space is needed to keep them.
They can survive freezing temperatures, but it is also possible for them to succumb to heatstroke in a warm centrally heated room.
It is vital that a chinchilla's diet is carefully controlled. They need a low protein diet and while they like raisins as a treat, these should be limited to two per day.
Dust baths of silver sand for 15 mins each day are essential to keep their beautiful coat in good condition and rough handling can result in areas of the coat being lost, leaving the skin clean and smooth.
A word of warning, chinchillas can live for up to 18 years and are consequently a big commitment.
Gerbils can be described as the ideal pet rodent. They have simple dietary requirements and require little maintenance.
They are curious characters and are active and interesting to watch. Unlike rats and mice gerbils have fully furred tails, ears and foot pads.
There is very little odour associated with these animals since due to their adaptation to the desert environment they only secrete drops of urine each day. Unlike other rodent species gerbils are not specifically nocturnal and are active during the day.
Gerbils are generally healthy, being susceptible to very few natural infections. When unwell they tend to present with very similar symptoms regardless of the inciting cause, namely a rough hair coat with ocular discharge and cold, lethargic, inappetent and dehydrated.
Guinea pigs are clean, docile, easily handled and quiet pets. They don't like climbing and rarely jump and, unlike most rodents, their response to danger is to freeze or run, rather than to bite, so they are popular with vets.
There are 4 main types: the English, with a short fine coat; the Abyssinian, which has rosettes of rough wiry hair; and the Peruvian, whose very long coat makes it more suitable as a show animal, rather than a pet. A wide range of coat colours can be found.
Rabbit hutches are perfectly adequate for guinea pigs and they can spend time happily outdoors in the summer, if protected from cats. They can withstand a wide range of temperature and it has to be pretty hot to cause heatstroke.
There are plenty of readily available commercial diets and these need only be supplemented with hay and a little green food. Sudden changes in diet may be upsetting and they need daily vitamin C. They can be messy eaters and may need a little adult supervision, but it is possible for them to be well looked after by a relatively young caring child.
There are twenty-five different types of hamster and they all prefer to live on their own in cool, humid burrows so cages should have tubes and be multi-chambered. They are not at all sociable to each other and will fight readily. They hibernate at temperatures below 5 centigrade but can suffer heat stroke above 25 centigrade. They often spend most of the day sleeping and can be very cranky if woken up. They are most active at night, so buy a quiet wheel for them to exercise on if you want to get some sleep! They can run up to five miles a day.
Medical problems are relatively rare. The common cold and flu viruses of humans can infect hamsters and cause a fatal pneumonia. An intestinal condition called “wet tail” can also cause death. Feeding chocolate can be fatal to hamsters.
Rats and Mice
Mice and rats make good pets for children and adults alike. They are entertaining to watch, fairly cheap and easy to look after, take up little space and are very docile when used to human contact.
Mice are often more active than rats but rats generally develop more personality.
Healthy mice and rats spend their time keeping their coats clean and shiny. As they become ill, their coats become ruffled and unkempt and they lose weight, generally becoming unthrifty. Their activity gradually decreases until they become reluctant to move and finally assume a characteristic posture: hunched back, ruffled fur, lowered head, eyes closed. Breathing becomes rapid and obvious. All of these signs are clear indications of illness and veterinary attention should be sought.