Which small animal?
February 23, 2005 1:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering giving my daughter a small animal (hamster, gerbil, guinea pig, etc.) for her birthday. Which one is best for her/my needs?

My daughter is turning nine. She stays overnight with me about three nights/week, and I can probably commit to giving the animal supervised exercise two other days/week. I can probably arrange to make sure that someone looks in on it when we're on vacation. I want something that tames easily but that doesn't need extended play time on a daily basis. Is there such a creature? I think she's responsible enough to do a weekly cage cleaning, and if I have to step in sometimes with food and water, that's ok, too.
posted by anapestic to Pets & Animals (52 answers total)
You've just described a Bulldog.
posted by hummus at 1:26 PM on February 23, 2005

Which one does she want?
Maybe you could buy a pair so they could keep each other company while your daughter is not there.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:31 PM on February 23, 2005

Even thought there may be some stigma against them, pet rats are tremendously smart, entertaining, bond quickly with their owner, are remarkably disease-resistant and keep themselves quite clean.
posted by luriete at 1:33 PM on February 23, 2005

I've only ever had hamsters. You don't need to exercise them exactly (put an exercise wheel in it's cage). Handling is more for taming or keeping it tame. Nine is a good age to start being responsible for something like a small pet.

Google hamster equipment and you'll get lots of links for what you need to start with.

Good luck!

On preview: if you get a pair of any rodent-type beastie, make sure they're the same sex or you'll have lots of little rodents. That is, if the parents don't eat them.
posted by deborah at 1:34 PM on February 23, 2005

I knew a girl about her age that loved her pet rats. Not that that's necessarily that helpful—but you oughtn't assume an automatic "yuck!"
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:36 PM on February 23, 2005

Gerbils are also awesome - eat little, poop little, need a cage clean every week or so, and they're fun to watch. That said, all rodents can be nippers if they're not accustomed to humans, so you might have to take time with them too so that when your daughter is around, they're not completely alarmed by her.
posted by agregoli at 1:41 PM on February 23, 2005

I'm a big fan of Degus personally. No more difficult than any other cage pet, but they're social animals so you do need to get them in pairs.
posted by Kellydamnit at 1:41 PM on February 23, 2005

My little brother had a rat for a while, and while it was very nice and friendly, the cage smelled awful. I'm pretty sure he did clean it once in a while, too. Rats are smelly.
posted by bonheur at 1:43 PM on February 23, 2005

A chinchilla!
posted by u.n. owen at 1:44 PM on February 23, 2005

I've always been fond of guinea pigs, since I had several while I grew up. They do need loving attention, especially when young, or they will get scared of people. They work best in male-female (neutered) or female-female pairs, and are sensitive to certain (pine?) nesting materials but otherwise eat lots of the foods you'll have as leftovers (carrot tops etc.). They need vitamin C. If the females haven't been bred young, you can't let them get pregnant later on since their little bones won't have stretched out.

Okay, on to the good stuff. They're cute. They "purr" like tribbles when pet. They look like little bricks with heads, and they dance around when they are happy. They love to play, and won't pee on you after their baby stage. Their poops are hard like a rabbits so they're super easy to clean up afterward. They don't smell (unlike a ferret). They'll squeak cutely when you hold food in front of them.

They can be "taught" to stand on their tiny hind legs or spin around when you hold food up for them. I used to get my piggy to roll over. You can associate a sound (like "din-din") with food so they'll squeek or stand up when you say it. Of course, trick training should be done when young, which is great since this is when you and your daughter will be excited & motivated to do it. They like toys and playgrounds, so you and your daughter can have fun getting and setting up things for them to play with, and their house can be a cool project that she can bring her friends over to admire. Plus, I bet no one else has seen a rodent do tricks!

Have fun with your pet, and the bonding you'll have with your daughter!
posted by lorrer at 1:47 PM on February 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

I am informed (so I could be getting some of this wrong, but I don't think so) that gerbils are desert animals, and as such hardly drink and pee at all. Whereas guinea pigs instantly foul their nests, which must be constantly cleaned. My cruel wife always loves to pet the guinea pigs at the pet store and watch them scream and flee at the slightest touch. I can't imagine enjoying such a pet.

On preview: okay, obviously my sense of guinea pigs is that of a non-owner, so better to trust lorrer.

Pygymy hedgehogs look like the most incredibly cute little animals (from what I see on a Google image search). I did read that a lot of them have salmonella. Personally, I think a small child should have a disgusting, human-disease-ridden pet, to give their immune system a good workout rather than have them grow up allergic to everything, but IANAD.
posted by Aknaton at 1:50 PM on February 23, 2005

Yeah, pet stores do not spend any time with the piggies, and do leave them out to be fondled and pursued by people, so they are quite skiddish. Careful which pig you pick out, and of course check the shelters - there might be perfectly nice adult or even baby pigs there, less likely to have a disease than at a pet store too, and that goes for any animal. Plus, with any shelter animal, you and your daughter can "rescue" them together and start out with a nice warm feeling.
posted by lorrer at 1:57 PM on February 23, 2005

Rats are great pets. I've had several. They are pretty smart little buggers though and need daily play and exercise or they get bored and a little neurotic. They are also excellent escape artists (they can jump higher than you would think), so keep that in mind if you decide on one. The rats I had were unfailingly sweet and easy to tame. And not to discount bonheur's comment but I never found rats to be any smellier than gerbils or hamsters.
posted by LeeJay at 2:04 PM on February 23, 2005

An octopus is supposed to be a rather amusing pet, and will recognize its owner. They are very good at escaping their tanks and even raiding other fishtanks for food (i.e. the fish), then heading home.

I suppose it's not what most little girls hope for under the Christmas tree...
posted by Aknaton at 2:15 PM on February 23, 2005

Definitely a rat. In my experience, they are much sweeter than hamsters and gerbils.
posted by amarynth at 2:16 PM on February 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

How about a rabbit? They're incredibly cute and can be sweet as hell. I've never had one as a pet, but one of my best friends did and she thought it was the most amazing animal. Very cat-like without so much attitude.

I wouldn't recommend a chinchilla only because they're nocturnal animals and that takes a lot of the fun out of having one. Unless, of course, you take great joy in destroying their natural sleep cycles.
posted by glyphlet at 2:19 PM on February 23, 2005

Please allow me to toss in an additional vote for pet rats. They are truly wonderful pets -- just make sure that you buy a pair. Any space big enough for one rat is big enough for two, and they are very social animals. One rat will get depressed if it doesn't get play time every day. Two rats will be ok if you ignore them for a couple days -- although certainly the more socializing they get, the more friendly they are.

Please note: rats are NOT SMELLY unless they are forced to live in a filthy cage. They clean themselves more often than cats, for godsake!

They make great pets for kids because they're so hardy and smart, and thanks to their lifespan (2 years or so -- longer than gerbils or hamsters) they provide a nice "circle of life" lesson that kids can wrap their heads around. Baby rat to grown up rat in 6 months, then a year later, old creaky rat, and six months later a little lesson in grief.

Lots more info:
Rats Make Good Pets, Not Just Science Projects
The General Care of Pet Rats and Mice
UCB Parents Advice about Pets - Pet Rats & Mice

PS: As for rabbits, they're a lot more work than rats, and they live up to 15 years!
posted by arielmeadow at 2:21 PM on February 23, 2005

My mother released my gerbils from both our home and, given that we lived out in the middle of nowhere, their lives via swift dispatch by an predatory bird. She told me it was accidental, but some thirty-odd years later she is amused to tell me it was, in fact, quite purposeful.

My poor little gerbils!
posted by five fresh fish at 2:22 PM on February 23, 2005

@aknaton - that is the opposite of my experience - I currently have two, and had lots when I was a kid. With good bedding (combination of wood chips and Carefresh, you can go a week between changing bedding.

I have had hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs, and for me, guinea pigs rule. And I mean rule. They don't call guinea pig owners slaves for nothing. That pig will soon have you doing whatever it wants. When it squeaks at you, you WILL get it food. When it stands up against the side of its cage when you come home from work, you WILL have to run over and pet it. Pretty soon you will be buying it birthday presents, and going to special stores to get the freshest dandelions you can find. Guinea pigs love dandelions.

To me a guinea pig is more like having a dog than a rodent. It requires daily cuddling, and seems (to me) to form an emotional bond with people. They are very social animals and the interaction between guinea pigs is fascinating to watch. They have beautiful coats, noses like bunnies, and will often lick you gently for several minutes.

Something to keep in mind - guinea pigs live a long time. I think in the neighbourood of 6 - 10 years. So it is a commitment you are making. The fact that they purr like tribbles when petted keeps you coming back for more.
posted by SNACKeR at 2:39 PM on February 23, 2005 [2 favorites]

I'd vote gerbils for you. You need a low-maintenance pet, and guinea pigs are not all that low-maintenance. Hamsters are cute, and not too involved, but they're sort of run-of-the-mill. I had 7 gerbils growing up, a few different sets, and they were very entertaining. They're like the Marx brothers of the rodent world. They're kind of wired and high-energy, so they put on some good antics. They don't mind being handled. Occasionally they nip, but nothing serious.

The downsides: like hamsters, they have to constantly chew stuff (wood blocks, etc). This can get noisy.

Also, they run around at all hours of the night and day. They'll run on their wheel at 3 AM and such. That'll be fine if they're not in your room.
posted by Miko at 2:39 PM on February 23, 2005

I have three female rats that are great pets. I recently gave away three offspring to a friend's daughter who was the same age and was under the same situation. She absolutely adores them. It is worth noting that male and female rats are quite different. Males tend to be more sedate (better for small children) but they are larger and much smellier. Female rats can be more high strung, but they are much smaller and smell better.

posted by kscottz at 3:10 PM on February 23, 2005

And if all else fails, guinea pigs make Peruvian eating.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:12 PM on February 23, 2005

don't know if he was kidding, but i second u.n. owen's call for a chinchilla. link, link

rats are ok but they die which sucks all around. chins are great because they:
- live for many many years
- don't shed any hair
- don't smell
- don't need constant attention but are crazy playful

my 11 yr old loves ours ('milla the chinchilla').

p.s. i don't know for sure but they may be expensive to purchase, milla was a gift good luck
posted by jmccw at 3:23 PM on February 23, 2005

If you want a low-maintenance pet that you can more or less ignore when you're daughter is not around DO NOT get a rabbit. Rabbits are not "cage pets." They may sleep in a cage, but you can't keep a bunny in a cage all the time. They need LOTS of exercise and attention and proper diet and they will chew apart everything you love, twice, and they are generally fragile, health-wise.

If a rabbit seems like a good idea, read through the articles and FAQs on the House Rabbit Society homepage. Then go get some gerbils instead.

Also, no ferrets. They reek. And bite.

Just so this isn't totally negative, I've had gerbils and mice as pets. The mice were pretty stinky but the gerbils were okay. I don't recall them being very tame, though.
posted by jennyb at 3:44 PM on February 23, 2005

I got my 5-year-old a Russian tortoise and it's a wonderful pet. Super low maintainance, vegetarian, petable and won't die in two years of old age like a gerbil. Then again, Sweetie the tortoise may outlive me, so if my daughter gets bored with her when she's 40...

I found that the smell of rodents -- rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, rats -- all stink to me, no matter how much I change the bedding. You may want to see if you can stand the smell.
posted by Gucky at 3:51 PM on February 23, 2005

No all ferrets bite, the ones I had did not and most of the ones I've met have not. The smell can be minimized by the removal of their scent glands at young age and frequent bathing.

However, as much as I love ferrets, they may be a bit too much work for a nine year old. Not having kids I can't judge, but they require a great deal of attention and affection.
posted by beowulf573 at 3:59 PM on February 23, 2005

Forgot to include, I've had several friends with pet rats and all thought they were great pets. I'd say look at rats ahead of gerbils.

And no, ferrets are not rats. :-)

A friend keeps hissing cockroaches, interesting but not very cuddly.
posted by beowulf573 at 4:01 PM on February 23, 2005

Pets, I've 'em all. Or most, anyway. Never had a chinchilla or a ferret (but I've known some in my time). Here are my observations:

Mice are pretty bright, really cute and require almost no external excercise. Most are friendly, and they're only below gerbils on the cleanliness scale. But they get massive tumors and die after about two years, and it makes you sad.

Rats are the smartest small animal you can get (maybe the smartest pet in general). They are affectionate and recognize individual family members like a dog does. Interaction with a rat is rewarding! That said, they need a decent amount of outside-the-cage exercise, foul ther cage rather quickly and live as long as a mouse does and tend to get tumors like their smaller cousins. And some people are afraid of them.

Gerbils are gentle and sweet, but hyper. They like to run around and that's about it. They don't need a ton of exercise (if you give them a wheel) and are the cleanest small animal. They live about three years.

Hamsters are irritable and sleep all day. They're my least favorite. But they're less dirty than a rat (but soil more quickly than mice or gerbils), and it's amusing for a while to give it treats and watch it stuff its cheeks. They don't need a lot of outside exercise if you provide a wheel. My girlfriend had a hamster that lived to be almost five (his name was Fillipe and he was purchased at the old Boston Downtown Crossing Woolworth's), but the two I had died (of massive tumors) before I had them for three.

Guinea Pigs are stupid. Most of them are scared of you. They might need outside exercise (might because some of them will just hide when taken out of their cage and not exercise) and they soil faster than almost anything else. They don't do much except make noise and (usually) hide. But little girls think that they're cute and they live 6-8 years. The odd one will have an outgoing personality and those are fantastic pets. But don't count on getting one like that unless it's an adult and you can tell.

Rabbits are cute-- every little girl loves them. But they're dumb, need a lot of exercise and and will destroy any corner, edge or electrical wire they can find. I have a rabbit right now and I love, love, love her. But they're reasonably messy (even if you toilet train them, which is usually easy, they crap a lot and their pee stinks). So they're a little stinky (though easy to clean), really random and funny, but need a lot of exercise to be healthy and they're destructive. They can live up to ten years, which is awesome if you want that kind of commitment. But you must have it neutered , or else the females will be grumpy/territorial and the males will spray and hump everything. They also eat their poop (in nature, too-- it takes two passes), and that skeeves some folks.

I don't anything about ferrets or chinchillas except that they need regular vet visits, more exercise than you've indicated that you want to commit to, and they stink, stink, stink like musk. And ferrets steal stuff and hide it, which is both funny and problematic. And the chinchilla I knew was at least as destructive as a bunny.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:11 PM on February 23, 2005

My vote is also for guinea pigs. As children, we started off with hamsters, but later found their constant desire for escape to be rather depressing. Guinea pigs will live contentedly without making a break for it every 5 seconds, and are big enough to be cuddled properly rather than just being held in a please-don't-bite-me way.

Rabbits would come second, but I generally find that their hind legs can be scarily strong, and if a rabbit wants to jump out of someone's arms and to freedom, it will.

Ergo: get a guinea pig.
posted by Lotto at 4:18 PM on February 23, 2005

Here's another vote against rabbits. To treat them humanely, you need to give them a lot more attention and space then any of the other pets being mentioned. [If you're still so inclined, here's an ASPCA page on rabbits. And a link to the "top ten reasons that rabbits are abandoned.] If you want a rabbit, you can get one at almost any animal shelter, particularly after Easter when people start realizing they don't stay bunnies forever.

And if this (new pet thing) isn't something that your daughter asked for (or that you have some indication that she would like), are you really sure it's a good idea?
posted by WestCoaster at 4:19 PM on February 23, 2005

A snake. Really!

You can't get more low-maintenance than that. They need about one meal a week, if you can handle taking mice out of the freezer. They don't require exercise or regular attention, and can be left for a week or more while on vacation with no ill effects. Total maintenance time is about 15 minutes per week in my experience (and I have quite a bit of that). They're much less work than any fish or small mammal.

If you pick the right kind -- two words: corn snake -- it can be quite tame and handleable, too. And your daughter will be very popular with her friends.
posted by mcwetboy at 4:20 PM on February 23, 2005


This site gives quite a bit of detail on 22 small mammals.

For instance: Hedgehogs

"Size: 6-8 inches

Lifespan: 4-8 years

Varieties: Salt & pepper, chocolate, apricot, albino

Health: Hedgehogs may get diabetes or skin problems.

(hedgehogs) Hedgehogs and generally solitary.

(other animals) Hedgehogs do not bite and most animals (aside from some breeds of dogs) won't bite or paw them or will do so *once,* so they do okay with other animals in general. Hedgehogs are insectivores, so may prey on very small animals like mice or hermit crabs, and a ferret or terrier may attack them.

Personality: If held often, hedgehogs will not roll into a ball. They enjoy exploring things and are generally slow and laid back. If frightened, a hedgehog will roll into a ball and make puffing noises.

Minimum Space:
(lxwxh) 12"x24"x12"

Food: Commercial hedgehog diet or cat food with occasional meal worms or crickets as treats. (Preferably not live, or they can hurt your hedgehog.)
Cleanliness: Hedgehogs have messy droppings, but they can be litterbox trained, which will ease the cleaning some. They don't have a body odor but aren't great at keeping themselves clean either.
Other: Hedgehogs may run (well walk/waddle) in a wheel, but make sure you get a large one. They need a box or capped pipe to sleep in.

For Children? Maybe. Although they don't usually bite and are easy to care for, children may not like to pet or hold their hedgehog or be bored with its laid back personality. If not held often, a hedgehog will roll into a ball when touched, which may irritate a child.

Helpful Site: Hedgehog Central"
posted by Feisty at 4:34 PM on February 23, 2005

I vote for rats, as they're a million times better than gerbils or hamsters. They're slightly bigger (more to cuddle), are more responsive to people, and they really are much more intelligent. They "talk" by making little ratty noises, and respond to you if you make them too. I had one female that was actually trustworthy enough to wander my room - she even came when I called her.
Cautions though - Please never ever use pine shavings, as the oils are very bad for their wee respiratory systems. (Carefresh is the best.) And please check for any allergies beforehand. Rodent allergies aren't at all like cat / dog allergies. I have always had cats and dogs, but became allergic to my rats. Violently, sadly. To this day I lament the fact that I can't ever have a rat again. They really are the best little pets.
Basically though, I vote you let your daughter pick. Maybe get some books from the pet store or better yet the library, have her check the pros and cons of each, and let her make the choice. If this is about responsibility, why not let her make the choice?
posted by sarahmelah at 4:57 PM on February 23, 2005

Sugar Gliders seem really neat but they require a tremendous amount of care and close contact with their owners.
posted by luriete at 5:08 PM on February 23, 2005

We had a hamster. It lived to escape, which seems typical of the breed. Once, it found an opening into the wall of the three-story apartment building we lived in. It did eventually come back out, but it was not a sure thing. And that did not stop its escape attempts, which included almost constant chewing on the steel wire of its cage. It was pretty smelly, especially considering its size, and the cheek-stuffing trick produced some serious halitosis.

Later, we had a guinea pig. Very affectionate, but timid. They are hard-wired to fear birds, so they hate being under open sky, and will go under something when they can, even indoors. Not smelly, except when he had gas. All in all, much better than the hamster.

Never had a rat, or a gerbil, or a chinchilla, or a rabbit.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:18 PM on February 23, 2005

Chinchillas are completely crazy.

You have never seen a rodent puff dash about as fast as that jittery jumping animal.

They do better in pairs.

And, they have the softest, densest fur in the world, so no skin creatures.

They are insane.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 5:23 PM on February 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

My strongest advice: Take her to the pet store and chose something together. The suprise won't be there, but it has the makings of a very fun afternoon and will help her feel a greater sense of ownership and responsibility for the creature chosen. The best advice is to make sure it is something you don't mind helping significantly to take care of, since nine isn't quite old enough to be the sole care-giver for any animal.

That said: I would say do not get a rabbit. My housemate has two, and while they are certainly cuddly and like being held, they require daily attention and are noisy. They thump, dig, chew, kick, bite on their water bottles, rearrange their "personal" belongings in their cage and are generally messy. One of the rabbits we have loves to gnaw on the bars of her cage like corn on the cob ("tatter-tatter-tatter-tatter BING!"). This is beyond her many chew toys and the excessive amount of attention she recieves. If your daughter were older and around more often, rabbits could be wonderful. However, as such I wouldn't reccomend them, unless you are up for handling them a lot yourself (especially when they are young and need socializing).

If you want something that is truly forgiving of temporary neglect while still being responsive to its owners, I would say a leopard gecko, hands down. They are hardy little guys, very clean, actually seem to like being handled (they feel very neat too), and have the greatest little dinosaur faces. Can your daughter stand to feed bugs to a lizard is the only question! If you do chose to go that route, I would say lots of reading, and try to find an adult rather than a baby, less chance of heartbreak on everything from the skin pattern (it changes as they mature) to health. Best of luck!
posted by nelleish at 5:46 PM on February 23, 2005

Rabbits would come second, but I generally find that their hind legs can be scarily strong, and if a rabbit wants to jump out of someone's arms and to freedom, it will.

And being fragile, as I mentioned, and generally being ground loving critters (my two buns hated being picked up. If you sat still on the floor, they might hop on your lap, but that's all you got), when a rabbit kicks his way out of your arms to his freedom, he's often kicking his way to broken bones, too.

You need to be a special kind of person who will put a lot of time and effort into a cute little furry that might find you rather tiresome and enjoy giving you a nip more than giving you sniff if you want to be a good rabbit owner.

I only keep emphasizing this because rabbits are absolutely precious and adorable and it's easy to look into their big brown eyes and want to take them home with you, or look into your daughter's bright eyes when she falls in love with a bunny, and cave in but you've said you don't want a lot of commitment and rabbits take A LOT of commitment.

(I love the buns. I hate when people get rabbits (or any pets, really) that they are not properly ready and able to care for.)

Oh, I'd also caution against any "exotic pet" that spent any part of it's life stuffed in a crate with many of its dead brethren being transported from its homeland to your local pet store. And snakes are low maintenance but they require some serious equipment if you want to give them a truly comfortable home.
posted by jennyb at 6:02 PM on February 23, 2005

I also vote for rats. I currently have two as an adult and I also kept them as a youth. One rat of my pair is currently scrambling all over my desk because I'm typing and she knows I can't completely babysit her while I do so. A moment ago she was alternating between perching on either sholder or my head. Quite rapidly, I should add. I need to take her for a walk. (Literally. I go up on the roof of my apartment building and let her roam in a few safe areas under a watchful eye. She'll run off about 1/8th of a mile in short runs, bouncing happily along, sniffing everything, pausing occasionally to just look at stuff around her or the sky, and then she'll want a nap.)

Do not use pine or cedar wood shavings as bedding. Use the recycled paper pulp stuff. Not only is the wood shavings bad for rat lungs, the paper pulp stuff lasts longer and smells less.

Rats are insanely smart. Excruciatingly smart. Troublesome smart. This is good, becuase they're trainable and highly entertaining, but bad because they get bored easily. They need about an hour of play and contact time a day. Rats do get neurotic, and even depressed. (This really shouldn't be a surprise, because their brains (and bodies) are quite human-like, which is why they're used in science so much.)

Rats will get nippy if they're not feeling well. A nippy, biting rat is an unhappy or unhealthy rat, or a rat that hasn't been handled enough.

I also take my rats on outings occasionally. The calmer of the pair is perfectly content snuggled up in the collar of my jacket on car rides, short shopping trips and the like, usually keeping her snout and eyes just outside of the collar to watch everything going on around her. I can tell she digs it, she's just happier after that kind of attention and stimuli.

See the Rat and Mouse Club of America for more excellent info.
posted by loquacious at 6:23 PM on February 23, 2005

Rats, rats, rats! I've had several and miss them terribly, since the last rats died around the time I realized I was horribly allergic to them. Apparently it's fairly common for people to develop rat allergies over time, so that's another consideration. And of course, what everyone else has said about short lifespans, giant tumors, freakish intelligence and Houdini-esque tendencies, etc.

(My absolute favorite rat was a fearless three-legged girl who thought she was people. She lived to jump off of high things...which ultimately cut her naturally short lifespan a little shorter, unfortunately. Poor li'l Stumplet.)
posted by Vervain at 6:30 PM on February 23, 2005

My wife and I live with 6 rabbits, and they are wonderful, intelligent creatures. Rabbits quickly learn to find and use their litter box, they develop quick relationships with humans, and they are cute as hell.

With that said, I think rabbits should be pets for adults with very few exceptions. As others have mentioned, rabbits are very social animals. If you are going to get a rabbit as a pet, you should really get two so that they can keep each other company when you are not around. They are speedy animals, and should have open areas to run. They are messy, if only because their very favorite thing to eat is hay. We give our rabbits lots of things to chew on, and they still seem to be able to find the most expensive cord or book that we happen to leave laying around.

And cages? A rabbit should not live in a cage, ever. If you can't rabbit-proof the room that your bunny is going to live in, you shouldn't get a rabbit. A couple of the rabbits we brought into our house spent the first couple of years of their life on a wire floor in a cage, and their feet will never completely heal.

The best reason why you shouldn't give your child a rabbit? All 6 of our rabbits were former children's pets that a child got tired of at some point. One of them was found in a taped up cardboard box in a mall parking lot. This was 6 weeks after Easter. Another was found shivering, on the brink of starvation, hiding under a car in an auto dealer's lot.
posted by ensign_ricky at 6:35 PM on February 23, 2005

This is all great advice, and I appreciate it. I'm guessing that when you say "rat" here you mean what they call a "fancy rat" in the local pet stores. I'll have to see how my daughter feels about that, so this may be a project that takes some time. Also, I've only visited a couple of area pet stores so far, but neither of them had much in the way of selection. I guess that if I can live with one animal, I can probably live with two, if it keeps them happier.
posted by anapestic at 6:48 PM on February 23, 2005

Hey Vervain, not to hijack the thread, but I'm in the same situation (horrible terrible developed rat allergy that is). I miss keeping them too - was wondering if you knew of any small furries which aren't as allergenic? I've searched and searched in vain for any info, just wondering if you knew anything further? Thanks!!
posted by sarahmelah at 6:53 PM on February 23, 2005

Thanks for all the advice in this thread everybody (even if it wasn't intended for me). I think I might get myself a pair of rats after my next move...
posted by onalark at 7:07 PM on February 23, 2005

I know I already cast my vote for rats, but I couldn't resist linking these cute photos of a friend's four-year-old daughter playing with her rats.

posted by arielmeadow at 7:44 PM on February 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'd also caution against any "exotic pet" that spent any part of it's life stuffed in a crate with many of its dead brethren being transported from its homeland to your local pet store.

I just wanted to respond to this, because I wholly agree and it something you should definately be careful of, regardless of the type of pet you chose. I wanted to comment that given the recent popularity of leopard geckos, and their ease of care, an overwhelming majority of them sold in stores now are locally (as in, your state) bred and raised. My housemate's was adopted as a retired stud, straight from a classmate.

I'm not sure what the status is in the rodent world (and it sounds like rats are first-rate critters! Cute photos!!), but places like puppy mills are horrendous, produce thousands of unhealthy animals for profit, and are domestically located. Should you ever desire a puppy, or a rabbit for that matter, please consider your local humane society before the pet store.
posted by nelleish at 8:45 PM on February 23, 2005

Last answer from me, I promise!

In the case of rats, it's typically best to get them from an independent breeder (known as a "rattery" -- no joke!) instead of a pet store. Sadly, many pet store rats are bred as "feeders" for snakes and other reptiles, so they aren't as healthy or well cared for as those bred as pets by a rattery. Some rattery rats are even show quality!
posted by arielmeadow at 10:15 PM on February 23, 2005

Hey rat guys - I once knew this lady who had a rat. It would ride her shoulders for hours a day, and when it had to pee or poop, she actually had it trained to just do its business right off the side of her. Is this common?

I'm also told male rats are (proportionally) quite noticably well hung.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:18 PM on February 23, 2005

It's psychologically unhealthy to compare your genitalia with those of other species, TOCT. And, besides, "hung like a rat" doesn't really get the girls, y'know.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:45 PM on February 23, 2005

My pet rat story. Stinky was the most intelligent animal I've ever know, outside of H.Sapiens. She would roam my girlfriend's apartment for hours, and would come from however far away when you called her.

The place had hardwood floors, and Stinky learned to play "fetch yourself"... She would run into the palm of my hand, I'd throw her down the hall so she'd skid and slip and slide the ten metres or so, thumping into the wall at the end. Then she'd eagerly run back to my hand for the next ride...
posted by Meatbomb at 2:43 AM on February 24, 2005

I've seen rats autofellate before. it was very...interesting.
posted by u.n. owen at 7:40 AM on February 24, 2005

I'd like to do that.

But the rat probably wouldn't let me.

⟨rim shot⟩
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:30 AM on February 25, 2005

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