Updated 3 December 2001: added link to Small&Furries.


Experiences, observations and knowledge


Rodents are a blessing and a curse on mankind. On the one hand they form a vital link in the food chain for larger animals, both mammalian and reptilian. Without the abundance of mice and rats, some animals would undoubtedly turn their unwelcome attentions onto more domestic creatures. On the other they cause huge damage to standing crops, stored food and any structure that they can gnaw through, as well as leaving their excreta in places of food storage. The very word "rodent" is derived from the Latin rodere, "to gnaw", and indeed most can be distinguished by two long incisors in the front of their mouths. It seems no coincidence that the worship or cults of snakes and cats arose in Egypt and India, the two ancient societies that had most to fear from the depredations of rodents.

Rodents are also a fantastically successful order. Like the lizards, they have spread out across the world and radiated into practically every part of the globe except the poles. Indeed, they have been around in one form or another since the demise of the larger, mammal-like reptiles between the Permian and Triassic eras. It was rodent-like creatures that kept the mammal torch burning during the formidable Age of the Dinosaurs, whereas cats, dogs and rabbits are comparative newcomers. Finally, the primates are supposedly descended from rodents, an interesting path that leads from small shrew-like beings to man himself.

It seems an interesting aspect of man's personality that the creatures he often fears or despises he nevertheless sometimes takes as a companion, and rats in particular have become well-established as pets as well as vermin. The vast majority of rodent pets (ie rats and mice) seem to have started out from laboratory livestock, which possibly explains the susceptibility of rats to tumours. Apart from one or two specialised types (eg chipmunks, sugar gliders) it should be stressed that most rodent pets are not simply taken from the wild but are rather bred in captivity, making them more suitable for domestic life. By taking a rodent from the wild as a pet you risk bringing in parasites and possible disease, as well as disrupting a complex chain of events in nature (eg you may be depriving a litter of babies of their mother). Apart from granting a stay of execution to a wild rodent otherwise sentenced to death, I can really see no reason for taking wild rodents when there are so many available so cheaply.

The following is a non-exhaustive guide, and a brief one, to keeping some rodents. If you only have one or two mammalian pets, these are often the ones to go for.

Guinea Pigs

Classification of Rodents - a guide to the families, subfamilies and species of rodents worldwide.


Rodents of the World, David Alderton: One of the "..... of the World" series (see Lizard and Snake bibliographies for other examples), this is a good layman's guide to the entire order of rodents, from the brown rat to the giant South American capybaras. Not necessarily so helpful if you want information on keeping a certain species, but then in a book covering so many species you wouldn't really expect detailed care data. Even if you don't keep rodents, this is still a fascinating read.

The Handbook of Rodents in Captivity, Chris Henwood, Ian Henry Publications Ltd, 1985: A rather old-fashioned and simply laid out book (old fonts, black-and-white photographs) that in fact is a very useful guide to virtually every rodent you will ever see offered as a pet or captive subject. General advice is given (housing, food) and then a concise description of the needs and habits (including breeding) of each species. Highly recommended if you can find a copy: I found one in the local library. Chris Henwood also wrote a very good guide to chipmunks.


Small&Furries is one of the best UK rodent sites I have so far encountered. Run by Matthew Wright, it covers a wide variety of species including the less frequently encountered, and there is even "chat" on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 20.00. Recommended.

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