three guinea pigs

Hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils and rodents: which small pet is right for me?

If you’re above a certain age, chances are growing up with a gerbil, hamster or guinea pig was your first experience of owning a pet. And small animals still make an excellent, affordable introduction to the fun, joy and responsibility of pet ownership.

But which small pet is right for you? We take a look at the options, and help you choose the perfect small animal pet for your family.

Before we start…

Of course, there’s no need to limit your choice to small creatures of the furry variety – you may prefer fish, birds or reptiles. But if your heart’s set on a small furry pet, we’ll help you narrow down your choice.

Keeping guinea pigs as pets: what you need to know

Guinea pigs are gentle and fun by nature, which makes them good companions for children and adults. They can live for up to seven years, so be sure you’re ready for a medium-term commitment if you decide to buy a guinea pig. 

Keeping hamsters as pets: what you need to know

Cute, active and fun, hamsters can make a great first pet. But their nocturnal nature means they’re often asleep during the day, and awake at bedtime – which may make them unsuitable for young children. 

Various breeds of hamster are available, ranging from dwarf hamsters – which are sociable animals, and therefore better in pairs – to solitary Syrian hamsters, which prefer their own company. 

Keeping gerbils as pets: what you need to know

Burrowing animals by nature, gerbils can be great fun to watch. Their quick, agile nature can make them hard for young children to hold – and the more squeamish may be put off by their worm-like tails! 

Keeping rats as pets: what you need to know

Rats are super sociable animals that love attention, and therefore they can make a rewarding pet for children and adults who have plenty of time on their hands. 

Rats need more space than gerbils, hamsters or mice, and prefer to be kept in a cage with different levels, to keep them interested.

Keeping mice as pets: what you need to know

Mice are sociable, friendly creatures that are great fun to watch as they explore their cage, run through tunnels and climb rope, but their speed and agility can make them difficult for small children to hold. 

Keeping chinchillas as pets: what you need to know

Chinchillas are intelligent, responsive, nocturnal creatures that can make lively and interesting pets. Unlike most small animals, they can live a surprisingly long lifespan, of around 15 years, so be prepared for a long-term commitment before you invest. 

Chinchillas need a companion, a large cage and a dust bath – which makes them the most space-hungry of the small pet options covered here. They’re not the best choice for neat freaks, as they tend to make a lot of mess when they dust bathe! 

Keeping rabbits as pets: what you need to know

If you’re considering buying a rabbit as a pet, our article Rabbits as pets: is a pet rabbit right for me? tells you everything you need to know, and will help you make your decision.

Need help choosing a small pet?

For expert advice on choosing and caring for small animal pets, get in touch with your local vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.