10 Best Small Rodents to Keep as Pets

Illustration of types of pet rodents

The Spruce / Vin Ganapathy

There is a range of small rodents commonly kept as pets. Some are fairly easy to tame and enjoy human interaction while others are more timid. Several tend to be more active at night, which might not fit with some people's lifestyle. Still, they are fairly low-maintenance pets if you provide them with the appropriate housing, exercise, and diet. If you're looking for a small, furry companion, here are 10 of the best small rodents to choose from.

Tip

Many pet rodents are fairly fragile animals. Teach anyone who might be handling your pet, especially small children, to be extra gentle.

  1. Syrian Hamster

    Also known as golden or teddy bear hamsters, Syrian hamsters live around two to three years. They are typically solitary animals that need their own housing. Hamsters handled from a young age usually have an agreeable temperament. But they are nocturnal and can be grumpy if woken during the day.

    Species Overview

    Length: 5 to 7 inches

    Weight: 5 ounces

    Physical Characteristics: Golden brown coat; lighter belly; mutations cause variations in color, pattern, and hair length

  2. Dwarf Hamster

    Some dwarf hamsters can be social with other hamsters of their own species and can be housed in same-sex pairs or small groups. They can live up to three years. Although dwarf hamsters have a reputation for being a little nippy, most are easy to handle with a gentle touch.

    Species Overview

    Length: 2 inches

    Weight: 1 ounce

    Physical Characteristics: Gray-brown fur; dark stripe down center of back; white belly; many color mutations (Campbell’s dwarf Russian hamster)

  3. Chinese Hamster

    Although they aren't true dwarf hamsters, Chinese hamsters still are quite small. They're less common pets than other hamster varieties. Because they're so small and quick, they might be a challenge for some people to handle. They require a cage with bars they cannot squeeze through (or a glass aquarium).

    Species Overview

    Length: 3 to 4 inches

    Weight: 1 ounce

    Physical Characteristics: Dark brown back; black line along spine; ivory belly

  4. Mongolian Gerbil

    Gerbils are very active and social animals, and they are happy in a same-sex pair or small group. It is best to acquire them when they are young for easier bonding. With regular handling, gerbils can become quite tame. But their high energy level can make them difficult to hold.

    Species Overview

    Length: 4 inches

    Weight: 2 ounces

    Physical Characteristics: Mix of gray, gold, and black fur; off-white belly; long, furry tail

  5. Fancy Mouse

    Although they're quick and skittish, mice can become quite tame if handled regularly. Many learn to take food from their caretaker's hand. They live one to three years on average. As social animals, females often do well in same-sex pairs or small groups, but males tend to fight other males.

    Species Overview

    Length: 5 to 7 inches (including tail)

    Weight: 1 to 2 ounces

    Physical Characteristics: Black, brown, white, gray, gold, roan, ginger, or multi-toned fur; long tail

  6. Common Rat

    Rats live an average of two to four years. They are very social, so it's best to keep a same-sex pair. With regular handling, they can become very tame and enjoy human companionship. They need out-of-cage time for social interaction and exercise and can even be taught some simple tricks.

    Species Overview

    Length: 9 to 11 inches

    Weight: 12 to 23 ounces

    Physical Characteristics: Color varieties of black, white, brown, gold, and more; prominent whiskers; long, hairless tail

  7. Guinea Pig

    Guinea pigs have an average lifespan of five to seven years. They're typically easy to handle and rarely bite, even when stressed. As social animals, they do well when kept in same-sex pairs. They have somewhat demanding diets, requiring fresh hay and veggies, as well as adequate amounts of vitamin C.

    Species Overview

    Length: 8 to 10 inches

    Weight: 25 to 42 ounces

    Physical Characteristics: Stout body; no tail; large head; colors include black, tan, cream, brown, and white

  8. Chinchilla

    Similar to rabbits in appearance, chinchillas are active and playful animals. They are largely nocturnal and prefer a quiet spot during the day. They don’t tend to like being held, as they would rather be moving and exploring. But many still can learn to enjoy the company of their caretakers. 

    Species Overview

    Length: 10 to 14 inches

    Weight: 15 to 25 ounces

    Physical Characteristics: Short limbs; bushy tails; thick fur; colors include black, gray, white, and beige

  9. African Dormouse

    The African dormouse is a tiny, squirrel-like rodent that’s highly entertaining to watch. But because they are so quick and agile, they need a very secure habitat to prevent them from escaping. They require a roomy enclosure, such as a 20-gallon tank, with ropes and other items they can climb.

    Species Overview

    Length: 3 to 4 inches

    Weight: 1 to 2 ounces

    Physical Characteristics: Long, bushy tail; large eyes; rounded ears; colors include gray, brown, tan, and red

  10. Common Degu

Native to Chile, degus are quite social animals that live in communities of up to 100 in the wild. They do well housed in same-sex pairs or small groups in captivity. These rodents are easily tamed when handled from a young age, and some even enjoy cuddling with their caretakers. 

Species Overview

Length: 9 to 12 inches

Weight: 6 to 11 ounces

Physical Characteristics: Round, squat body; yellow-brown fur on back; tan belly; long, thin tail