What pet should we get? Like a rat but lives longer
January 18, 2014 5:56 PM   Subscribe

We loved our little ratty but he died after a couple years and we don't want to go through that again in a couple more years. Any ideas for another pet that shares a lot of a rat's good features but lives longer? Things we like about rats: social, loving, cute, nice to pet and cuddle, playful, fine home alone for a couple days, stays in a cage. The pet doesn't have to stay in a cage, but it should be fine home alone all day in an apartment with no yard, and it shouldn't require too much cleanup. We're considering a cat but I'm mildly allergic, so I'd prefer something else. We plan to get a dog if we move somewhere with a yard eventually.
posted by Gravel to Pets & Animals (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:10 PM on January 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

A degu is basically a long-lived rat that does well as a pet. The downsides I'm aware of are that Wikipedia mentions three states consider them an invasive species, and they are prone to tail breaks.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:10 PM on January 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ferrets really are not fine home alone for a couple of days, unless you can have a sitter come in and stay with them so that they get at least a couple of hours of playtime out of their cage every day. I've had ferrets for years and years, FWIW, and they would be unhappy that way.
posted by dilettante at 6:19 PM on January 18, 2014

I'd recommend a guinea pig over a ferret, but get them young - they're weaned at 10-14 days, and do NOT get one from a pet store. [Because 1) you have no idea how old they are, and 2) you have no idea how they've been handled.] A piggy you get at the just-weaned age is MUCH easier to ensure that it'll be snuggly and friendly.

If you decide seriously consider a ferret, try to find someone who has a friendly one as a pet that you can visit with a bit - they're not for everyone, and a lot of people end up reselling or giving them away. I know of one pair that's on it's 4th or 5th owners - we were some who declined. It just isn't a good fit for us to take on someone else's problem pet(s).
posted by stormyteal at 6:20 PM on January 18, 2014

Oh, and for guinea pigs - the size of the cage can make a huge difference in how playful and energetic they are. And though they can be plenty social, they're a little less likely to be terribly unhappy if you need to go away for a few days and just have someone feed them.
posted by stormyteal at 6:24 PM on January 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ferrets are great, I owned a pair for many years. But, as said above, they would be fine in a cage during the day but not for more than that. And, only get one if you can also get another. They are very social and need company. Buying two would allow them to have company during the day.

When I had to travel for work I boarded them at my vet. The assistants who worked there loved them and took them out to play all day. No extra charge.
posted by beowulf573 at 6:24 PM on January 18, 2014

Counterpoint to ferrets: a former roommate had two, and they were friendly, totally adorable and he seemed to take good care of them, but despite that, they:

-smelled horrendous, the whole house reeked, and the smell lingered for months after he left
-chewed everything that could be chewed. EVERYTHING. So many things ruined.
-peed/shat everywhere when loose (and were really unhappy when caged)

So...just make sure you know what you're getting into before committing. Probably many ferrets are better behaved, but ours were a nightmare.

I'd suggest rabbits (not super playful though) or maybe a cat (or maybe small dog) breed that is less allergenic. Small dogs are fine without a yard if you can commit to walking them regularly, and there are a lot of breeds that are better for allergies.
posted by randomnity at 7:07 PM on January 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with guinea pigs! We guinea-pig-sat recently for some friends going out of town, and what a sweet, mostly trouble-free little animal. They're fun to watch, they don't get all freaked out by people, and they're not hard at all to clean up after, rodent-wise.
posted by mittens at 7:15 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

A CAT. Please ADOPT do NOT buy a pet. The shelter will be full of animals looking for a home.
posted by Greenlight2b at 7:18 PM on January 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

You might find that your cat allergies are okay after a few weeks of living with a specific cat. Mine tend to take about six weeks and then I'm fine. (With that cat: it doesn't carry over to cats in general). Can you pet-sit or foster a cat for a bit to see if that is okay for you?
posted by lollusc at 7:21 PM on January 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you ever lived with a cat? My husband used to be mildly allergic before he moved in with me and my cats--now he has no allergy symptoms unless he gets scratched.
posted by chaiminda at 7:21 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I had a roommate with chinchillas, I found out they can live for 15 years! They're supposedly not really social, but these were.
posted by Comet Bug at 7:23 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd get a couple hamsters if I were desperate for a pet, but probably just wait until I could get a dog. Maybe get some goldfish.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:37 PM on January 18, 2014

Also, if you decide to get another rat, you might be able to investigate breeders to find ones who have longer-lived varieties. Most pet rats die of cancer, which I have heard is partly because they are relatively recent off-shoots or cross-breeds with lab rats, which were often selected for susceptibility to cancer. That might be an urban myth, of course, but I had friends in Europe who got their rats specifically from breeders who had bred for longevity for generations of rats directly from a wild line, with no cross-breeding into lab strains, and they claimed their rats lived on average two years longer than normal pet rats.

You can also maximise rat life span by involving vets early and often, and by neutering them. Most rat owners don't because that seems like a ridiculous effort and expense for such a small cheap pet, but if you care about the rat's health and lifespan, I believe it helps a lot.
posted by lollusc at 7:38 PM on January 18, 2014

I've been in your position before, and like you I will never get another rat again because the heartbreak was too much.

My next pet after my rat died was a cat, and I've never regretted the choice. I would disagree with those above who are suggesting a guinea pig. Before my rat I had a guinea pig, and while they are nice enough, they lack the intelligence and spunk rats have.
posted by helloknitty at 7:42 PM on January 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

My daughter got a rabbit and while I was not expecting much, this guy has turned into quite the pet. Happy to hang out in his cage most of the day, comes out and runs around and is very social for a few hours then retires to under the coffee table when he is done (or goes back into his cage on his own). The type is a Jersey Wooly. Super friendly and a quick learner.
posted by mikepop at 8:09 PM on January 18, 2014

How about a rabbit?

House rabbits live 10-12 years if you take care of them properly, and they will happily live in a cage if you let them out for occasional exercise. They are social and friendly and just all-around great and I'm sure there a ton near you waiting to be adopted!

I wouldn't leave mine home alone for a "couple of days" but other than that it seems like a perfect choice.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:11 PM on January 18, 2014

I had rats as a kid and know exactly what you mean. I also had a rabbit, and he lived for over 10 years and was great so I was coming in to suggest that too.

Things to consider about rabbits:
1. Behavior/intelligence varies significantly by breed so do a little research first. Some rabbits (giant lop!) are so smart you can literally potty train them.
2. They chew, a lot. I know rats do too but with rabbits it's more like living with a young puppy or a goat. Be careful what you leave out.
posted by cali at 8:16 PM on January 18, 2014

Mini Lops are wonderful. We had two that suddenly became ten and so then everyone on the cul-de-sac got a bunny. They used to jump in the tub with me when I was little. We had bunny races and named them after characters in Watership Down. Bigwig was a very serious ten-pounder who could give a cat a good fight and jump right over a dog and slap it on the ass on the way down. We had two toy poodles and a duck we found in a shopping mall fountain and a squirrel that fell out of it's nest and the rabbits were fine with all of that.

My mom says they didn't chew inside. Playful and they never crapped outside the litter box.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:48 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ferrets STINK. Cats are the best, just take a Zyrtec or whatevs.
posted by duvatney at 8:54 PM on January 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

We've had a minilop we rescued about 10 years ago. He.can live in a cage, but we let.him run around the.ground floor of the.house. he will pee outside his litter box'm on occasion.He can be left alone (aside from feeding him a few times a day.
posted by coldhotel at 9:03 PM on January 18, 2014

Guinea pigs can be very sweet and friendly, they make cooing noises when they're happy and though they are not noisy neither are they silent like rabbits. But they don't do well without fairly constant company; left alone much they pine and get sad.

Company for a piggie doesn't have to be human (or another guinea pig even: ours bonded with our cockatiel, and they made each other happy and were most relaxed when together) but don't get one if it doesn't get to run around with a friend. If you get two, be careful because a pair is very prolific!
posted by anadem at 9:15 PM on January 18, 2014

Sphinx breed cats are so affectionate and smart, and less allergy irritating than other breeds. Some find them ugly, but if you warmed up to a rat, you might find them cute.
posted by Jandoe at 9:24 PM on January 18, 2014

Guinea pigs are herd animals, don't just get one! They are much, much happier and will live longer in a group plus they are adorable en masse when they get excited. They do tend to get in trouble, get injured and die very easily though, be warned. They are also very prone to stress, getting stuck in small spaces, falls, spinal injuries, pneumonia and a few other things. The fact that they exist in the wild never ceases to amaze me.

Rabbits: we have had two. One was a giant rabbit and he was awesome. One was a mini and that jackass ate every cable in the house several times plus everything else he could get his teeth on. Very expensive free pet.
posted by fshgrl at 9:37 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Guinea Pigs a re lovely pets, they live for an average of 5 years. Always get one from a reputable breeder. Use the search term Cavy as well as guine pig, as a lot of breeders call them cavies as a shortened form of their scientific name. Contrary to what someone said above guinea pigs should NOT be weaned at 10 to 14 days. That is far too early, they should be weaned at 3 to 4 weeks old. Ideally four, however the young boys can get sexually mature enough to knock their mother up. So if they're showing signs then they should be taken away and put with a friendly older boar.

Guinea pigs are very social creatures so you MUST have at least a pair. If you want more always have an even number. They do need a decent amount of space, the wooden cages sold in pet shops are too small. The ferplast 1M x 70cm cage is ideal for my two. It's high enough for them to jump in. The door to the cage has been taken off, the cage is on the floor and the boys never jump out so are happy enough with the cage. In fact if you put them on the floor out of it they jump straight back in.

Mine afre fed just once a day. They're great with this as they save some for throughout the day (plus they get so much that there's more than enough to last them). Guinea pigs are similar to humans in that they can't manufacture vitamin C, they have to get it from their diet. So vegetables every day, things like carrots, celery, spinach, kale, chard, thyme, parsley, tomatos, etc. They also need to have hay every day as large quantities of fibre are essential to their health.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 2:18 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Degus. We've had 2 boys for a year and absolutely love them. They're very smart, friendly and sociable, and were exactly what we were looking for. They do chew a bit when let out, so it's good to keep cables out of reach, and keep them off the furniture, but other than that they've been no problem at all.
posted by Chairboy at 3:10 AM on January 19, 2014

Our humane society does behavior evaluations on rabbits that are up for adoption, and posts their findings. Apparently there are 6 generally-accepted rabbit personality styles (IANARabbitExpert, obviously, just reporting what I've seen). This list looks pretty close to what they use. Anyway, the point is to help people adopt a bunny that matches what they're looking for. Perhaps you will find that your local shelter does something similar, if you decide that a rabbit might be right for you.
posted by vytae at 4:15 AM on January 19, 2014

Honestly, as an owner of 2 dogs and 2 cats (and many assorted pets over the years), no pet is better than a pet cat. Many people I know who are mildly allergic to cats lose that allergy upon actually living with them. Do you have any friends that might let you borrow their cat for 5-7 days just so you can see how you might actually do with it?
posted by sickinthehead at 5:47 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love all pets, but I've had a special soft spot for cats my whole life. However, during college I couldn't have a cat, so I had rats. I wouldn't keep rats again because it was too heartbreaking when they got sick and died after only 2.5 years - I know how you feel!! They were wonderful little creatures and I enjoyed them so much. As soon as I graduated my husband and I got a cat (and then a second cat), even though we were both allergic. I had symptoms and took antihistamines and a nasal spray for the first month that I had my cats, and then my allergies disappeared. I'm still allergic to some cats, but not mine, not even a tiny bit. The same is true of my husband. We LOVE our cats.

Our experience with your requirements:
-social: YES
-loving: EXTREMELY
-cute: TO THE MAX
-nice to pet and cuddle: OH YES
-fine home alone for a couple days: NO, we never leave our cats for more than 24 hours. We've developed a great cat-sitting swap with a neighbor and this hasn't been a problem for us in 4.5 years. Some cats are fine alone for longer, but ours are extremely active, agile, and mischievous and they will definitely find trouble if left alone for too long.

Oh, and obviously they don't stay in a cage, and we don't have a yard (they are indoor city cats), but we do have a small screened porch so they can experience the outdoors :)
posted by Cygnet at 8:27 AM on January 19, 2014

Nthing the possibility of a cat that wont kill you with allergies. I'm mildly to deathly allergic to pretty much everything, including some cats and dogs, but our Annie is very very very low allergenic, and almost never bothers me. She's a short hair. My friends have cornish rexes... great but the one who loves to head-rub can give me hives because its so much direct rubbing into the skin.

In general, I find neutered male cats more friendly and cuddly.
posted by Jacen at 8:34 AM on January 19, 2014

I think you should do a trial run with a cat too. Shelters are constantly looking for folks to foster their overflow, and I am sure they'd be thrilled to let you do a trial run, especially if you explain the situation.

Also, there is actually a fair amount you can do to cut down on allergens with a cat. Vacuum & clean the litterbox regularly, don't let the cat in your bed, and wipe down kitty with a damp cloth on occasion.
posted by susanvance at 10:02 AM on January 19, 2014

The potential problem with a cat test-run: If you have this cat in your home for a week and you ARE badly allergic to it, congrats! Now your home is full of allergens! Good luck!

I had guinea pigs for years as a kid, and then again as an adult. They are pretty darn great. They are smart, personable, fun. They talk to you, with a variety of noises, they'll DEFINITELY let you know if they are upset about something, and they're totally content to just chill on a lap while watching tv. My last pair lived for 7 years.
posted by HermitDog at 10:09 AM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing the cat suggestion. Every cat is different, with a unique personality - one might be a cuddly lap cat, while another might be positively dog-like in its playfulness. My friend adopted a sleek, solid black cat from the shelter named Teddy. Teddy loves his tiny stuffed mouse toy and plays "fetch" with it just like a dog. The first time I visited her after she adopted Teddy, he came over to me and dropped his mouse at my feet. "Nice Teddy, you're a pretty boy," I stroked him. He made some mewling sounds and my friend told me "He wants you to throw it." I tossed the mouse a few feet away and Teddy dashed off, pounced on it, and then brought it back to me. We played at this for a solid half hour.

On the other end of the spectrum was our Tweak, a kitten Mr. Adams and I had since she was born in 1999 (we'd been fostering a pregnant female cat, she had a litter of two and one kitten died a few days later. Tweak was the other.) Mr. Adams has always insisted that he's not a "cat person," so of course that meant that Tweak attached herself to him immediately. Mr. Adams eventually adapted to *her* routine - when she was ready for her afternoon nap, she'd sit at his feet while he worked at his desk and look up at him expectantly. He'd stand up, and then she'd stand on her hind legs and place her front paws on his knees, like a toddler asking to be carried. Mr. Adams duly took her to bed and the two napped together - she'd start off on his chest, head snuggled under his beard, and then slowly stretch and slide off and lay by his side. Tweak crossed the Rainbow Bridge just two weeks ago, and Mr. Adams misses her terribly, her death has really hit him hard.

Mr. Adams and I have to travel occasionally for business, and for overnight or two-day trips, Tweak was fine being left alone with the radio on and plenty of food and fresh water. For longer trips, we'd have a friend stop by every two days to clean the litter box, refresh her food and give her a bit of attention.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:41 AM on January 19, 2014

Not a ferret. They are much higher-maintenance than rats, or even cats. I love them, but they smell (not bad in my opinion, but it's musky and noticeable), need a ferret friend, need to be out of their cage and actively played with/supervised for at least an hour a day, and will pee/poop in the corners of your house while they're out so you need to hover over them with a cleanup kit during playtime. They are adorable little bastards and make wonderful pets for the right person, but despite looking vaguely rat-like the ownership experience is not at all the same.

Guinea pigs and rabbits I'm less sure about. I've never owned one so you should probably defer to other users here, but the ones I've met have been nothing like as affectionate and inquisitive as rats (which I have owned). Perhaps that's just down to poor owner technique or poor choice of source (I'm pretty sure the ones I met came from pet stores, and this was back in the day when pet stores were even worse than they are now) but I personally never found them to be half as interesting and fun as rats. Rats seem to have a default outlook of curiosity toward everything, whereas rabbits and guinea pigs seem to assume that anything large and/or new is scary and dangerous. I'm sure that can be greatly alleviated through proper socialization, but the underlying mindset is very different -- in the wild they have very different survival strategies, and I think that shows in their behavior.

Honestly, I'm siding with the cat people on this one. Find a less-allergenic breed, something with short or no hair. Feed it high-quality food (I'm a fan of Orijen) so that it will have healthy skin and fur and will shed less. Keep it out of your bedroom so that you have a cat-free space, and provide it with a nice little cranny somewhere else with a couple of old shirts (my cat's favorite sleeping surface) so that it will spend most of its lounging-around time off the furniture. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, and replace the filter every month or so. Keep it up to date on its flea meds, even if it's indoor-only, to reduce scratching. If your allergy is only mild as you say, that and maybe an occasional Claritin should keep you from being bothered. If you need to, you can get an air filter which will help more, and you can make a habit of brushing the cat regularly so that loose fur and skin can be contained and disposed of.

Cats are great. They are cute, affectionate, playful, inquisitive, and have lots of personality. They usually live about 15 years, give or take a few. They are low-maintenance -- other than food, water, litterbox cleaning, and some snuggles and playing (which the cat will find ways to work into your daily schedule, believe me) they don't need much. They do not require supervision. Cats make excellent pets for people who don't have a lot of free time or space. Highly recommended.
posted by Scientist at 11:44 AM on January 19, 2014

If you decide to look more seriously into a rabbit, then you absolutely must read Bunny Basics.

If you cannot tolerate hay, then you absolutely 100% cannot get a rabbit because they eat so much hay. Rabbits also have really expensive vet care, and they need a lot more direct daily care than cats.

I adore our rabbits, but I tend to err on the side of talking people out of adopting them until they really know what having a rabbit entails. Rabbits are the 3rd most abandoned animal after cats and dogs.

And bunny proofing can be a bitch --- it's a lot harder than baby proofing (I know. We've done that too!)
posted by zizzle at 12:01 PM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

With all deference to the pro-feline faction in here, the pet you want is totally a parrot. Specifically, a medium-sized "starter parrot" like a conure or a quaker parakeet, and one that's been hand-raised (readily available from breeders; stay away from pet stores), so it's properly socialized toward people.

Hand-raised parrots have tons of personality, are smart, funny and trainable, love interacting with you, and generally do like petting (head only, though) and snuggling. They are relatively hypo-allergenic, do fine in a cage alone for a couple of days (no litterbox worries, no need to have someone over to feed them daily), and ease of cleanup can't be beat. I did the opposite pet trajectory (small parrot-->rats) and found the experience to be incredibly similar, except for the annoying smelly-pee thing that rats have going on.

The only possible downside to consider would be noise-- the breeder or the internets should be an ample source of species-by-species data on that front.
posted by Bardolph at 6:14 PM on January 19, 2014

I just want to add something about the guinea pigs, my sister in law just bought four babies, one for each child. She was assured they were all female - and they were, except two came to her already pregnant unbeknownst to her. They gave birth two days ago and now she was nine extra babies to get rid of. (If you live in Australia she would loooove to give you as many as you want!) So just something to keep in mind about guinea pigs!
posted by Jubey at 6:31 PM on January 19, 2014

I love rabbits, but they're not ideal pets for everyone. zizzle is 100% correct about everything.
posted by Arrrgyle at 5:58 AM on January 22, 2014

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