How to Choose Which Exotic Rodent to Own

Having exotic rodents can be very interesting, but they need a much higher level of care than normal animals. Since many may be new to the pet trade they are unlikely to be tame enough to handle, and should be considered more as animals to look at and appreciate.

Always start with a same-sex group and buy from a reputable breeder. Exotic rodents can have a very high price tag, and be difficult to find. If you have the time to research them, and the money to build a decent habitat and fund potentially expensive vet bills, then they can be very rewarding.


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    Consider how much space you have. Animals such as kangaroo rats or chipmunks require a huge habitat. If space is limited, pygmy mice in a tank might be a good idea.
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    two joined APD vivariums
    Research what kind of habitat you need.
    Harvest mice and African pygmy dormice for instance need plenty of climbing space and height, an arboreal vivarium is ideal[1]. Multimammate mice can be happy in a wired cage, providing you give them plenty of enrichment. Remember that barred or plastic cages are easy for many rodents to escape from or chew through. Remember some rodents may need a higher temperature than others so you may need to invest in extra heating.
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    Talk to other rodent keepers. There are plenty of exotic rodent forums that can help you find someone with direct experience of the pet you want to try keeping. You may find for instance that your chosen pet is very vocal, or smells a great deal because it scent marks. Finding out this before you own the pet will help you make sure it's a good match for your lifestyle. Exotic rodents can have a long lifespan, so you must be committed to them.
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    Find out where you can buy the things they need. Does your rodent need a particular type of mineral in its diet? What kind of substrate does it need? Megazorb with layers of hay is often a good starting point and many stables will have it as a horse bedding.
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    Make sure you can meet their dietary needs. African pygmy dormice for example need maple syrup as a good substitute for nectar as well as forms of protein and plenty of fruit[2]. Its also about knowing what your animals CANNOT eat. Mediterranean lemmings for instance are sugar intolerant.
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    Remember to make the habitat as natural as possible. Think of the habitats you see when you visit zoos, with plenty of nests to hide in, and wooden branches and hideaways. Remember that you can use some woods from your local wood[3] (providing it has fallen and isn't still attached to the tree) but you MUST place in the oven for at least 20 minutes on 200 degrees before giving it to a rodent. This helps remove any dangerous bacteria or fungi, but does restrict the size of branches you can get.
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    Know the dangers for your chosen rodents. For instance, Pygmy mice can drown in normal water dishes, so you should get something smaller or place some pebbles in so they can climb out. If you choose dormice, you should know how to avoid torpor and what to do if it occurs.
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    Research how many animals you need, and of what gender. Stick with the same gender, you should never breed without having kept the animals as pets first as it can be very complicated. Some rodents are colony animals, like dormice, and should be kept in at least trios and ideally four or more. If kept in only pairs then they will be much shyer and more stressed. Some rodents should never be kept alone.
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    Locate a good exotic vet. These can be very costly, especially with animals that are new to the pet trade.
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    Build the habitat. Always go as large and enriching as you can afford and remember it is much better to concentrate on just one pet or pets, with a fantastic habitat such as this for a dwarf hamster[4]than have several types of pet that only have adequate housing.
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    Buy your animals from a reputable breeder. Once you are sure you've researched them and have the money saved for any potential vet bills its time to get your animals. Like any pet make sure that you go for animals that have clear eyes, a good well groomed coat, and are moving freely. Never go with a breeder that cannot guarantee the gender of your pets - if you ended up with a single female with two males for instance they could potentially fight to the death.
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    Let your new pets settle into their new home. It is important to let your pets get used to their new environment before you intrude, especially if you've had to travel to get them. Remember that some exotics you may never be able to handle.
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    Keep in contact with people that keep the same exotics. Rodent care isn't static, improvements are being made all the time and its important to keep informed and get ideas from other keepers.
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    Keep your cage secure at all times. It can be very difficult to find and trap an escapee.


  • Always start off with the same genders. You should only ever breed after you have good experience of keeping them, and breeding a different rodent does not count. They all have different requirements.
  • Don't feel you have to stick to rodent toys. Parrot rope toys make brilliant climbing for dormice, a safe wooden garden trellis is a good backdrop, and reptile safe wooden logs and drinking bowls can be very useful. Blue tit nesting boxes can also be good for some climbing rodents
  • Don't think of them as pets to handle. Most exotics are better off considered as fun to watch.
  • Just because an animal doesn't die on a particular diet, or in a particular environment doesn't mean its good for them. Make sure you are matching all of their care needs.
  • Cotton pods are a good, fun addition to a rodent cage. It provides essential chewing and allows them to release and spread the bedding around their cage.


  • Pygmy mice can drown in normal water dishes. Make sure you either use something more shallow, or provide a way they can climb out.
  • Match the pet to the habitat - never put a dormouse in a cage that is mostly horizontal, or a lemming in something mostly tall.
  • Don't use sawdust or anything pine or cedar based for substrate, these can cause serious respiratory problems in rodents.
  • Some animals, such as dormice, must have a higher temperature than normal. Otherwise they may go into torpor, which can be very dangerous.
  • If your chosen animal is nocturnal, don't expect to see it all the time and remember overall bright light can be scary to them. Consider investing in a red bulb or similar to observe them at night.

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Categories: Mice and Rats