Rodents - Housing

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Care & Wellness

What type of cage does my pet rodent require?

Any cage used to house a pet rodent must be easy to clean, as poor husbandry and hygiene will lead quickly to a sick animal. It is most convenient to house small pet rodents in a glass aquarium (minimum 10 gallon tank depending on the animal) with a well-ventilated, lockable, escape-proof wire or screen top. Cages with a plastic bottom, wire sides and a secure top are available specifically for pet rodents (and are especially useful for pet guinea pigs). The bigger the cage, the better, as rodents need room to exercise and explore. Wooden cages are rodents-housing-1not suitable as rodents love to chew and can really destroy or escape from their homes. ALL PET RODENTS ARE ESCAPE ARTISTS. Letting a pet rodent have unsupervised free run of the house is dangerous and must be DISCOURAGED, due to the potential for injury and death to the pet, as well as the potential for destruction of furniture, electrical wires, and other household objects by the pet. They can be handled outside of the cage if care is used (supervise young children). The environmental temperature should be kept between 65 o and 85 o F (18 o - 29 oC); warmer temperatures predispose pet rodents, especially guinea pigs, to heat stroke.

My pet seems lonely. Can I house more than one rodent in each cage?

While it is most common to have a single or occasionally a pair of animals, several generalities can be made regarding group housing:

1. If a male and female are housed together, especially if they were paired at an early age and they are not neutered, mating will occur.

2. Never house opposite species in the same cage (i.e., a rat and a mouse).

3. Some species should not be housed in the same area (such as rabbits and guinea pigs), as one species may carry an infectious organism that could be fatal to the other species.

4. If a pet rodent has been housed alone, it is best not to introduce a new cage mate, as fighting is likely to occur.

Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs can be housed together. Sometimes they fight a little when they are first put together, but with some supervision to avoid serious injury they will usually establish their own pecking order. Humans have no control over whether they will like each other, or who will be the "boss". Introduce them in a neutral territory, such as a fresh, clean cage that belongs to neither. Separate them it the fighting is fierce (do not get hurt yourself) so they do not injure each other and try again later. It may take a couple of days for them to "work it out". Sometimes guinea pigs will continue to squeak at one another intermittently and appear to be aggressive. Do not worry; they are just re-establishing the pecking order.


Hamsters are best housed individually. Sexually mature females are aggressive both to other females and to males.


Male mice are usually housed alone. Female mice rarely fight and are often housed together. Newly assembled male groups, new males entering established territories, and mice previously housed alone are more likely to fight.


Unlike mice, rats rarely fight and can be harmoniously housed in groups. Occasionally, females who have just given birth may fight with other females.


Gerbils are territorial. Animals introduced before puberty will often live together peacefully if given enough space. Adult gerbils are usually housed individually; adults introduced for the first time will fight, often to the death. Females are more aggressive than males in regards to fighting.A monogamous pair can be formed if the male and female are bonded before 8 weeks of age. As a rule, once bonded, the pair should not be separated.

Does my pet rodent need bedding in his cage?

Hard wood shavings, such as pine and aspen (do not use cedar as it can be irritating), are usually provided for bedding material. Shredded paper, recycled paper, or towels are also fine. Avoid sawdust, corncobs, sand, cat litter or dirt.

"A major cause of respiratory disease in pet rodents is poor environmental ventilation, which allows ammonia from the urine to build up and irritate the pet's airways."

The cage should be cleaned and the bedding changed as often as it gets dirty, but at least weekly. A major cause of respiratory disease in pet rodents is poor environmental ventilation, which allows ammonia from the urine to build up and irritate the pet's airways. A frequently cleaned, well-ventilated environment is important in controlling respiratory infections. Any toys should be cleaned weekly as well.

Can I give our pet any toys?

rodents-housing-2Regarding cage toys, these can provide psychological stimulation as well as exercise for the pet rodents. Tubes and mazes are popular, as are exercise wheels. "Open track" or wire exercise wheels can be dangerous. Pet rodents, especially hamsters, can easily become injured by getting a foot trapped in the wheel. Leg fractures are challenging to fix and amputation may be required to treat hamsters with severe foot injuries (humane euthanasia may also be an option with these injuries). While not every animal with an exercise wheel will be injured, it is a risk best avoided. The safest wheel is composed of plastic and has no openings in the track ("solid track") where a foot can be caught. Guinea pigs will not usually use a wheel. Pocket pets often use their wheel at night so you may want to get one that does not squeak!

"Giving them a continuous supply of... your junk mail will provide hours and hours of entertainment for you and your pet."

Gerbils, in particular, love to chew paper and giving them a continuous supply of paper towel tubes, Kleenex boxes, cereal boxes or your junk mail will provide hours and hours of entertainment for you and your pet.

What else do I need in the cage?

Since rodents like to burrow, it is recommended to provide some type of hiding place for them in the cage. Round, hollow objects can be purchased at the pet stores, but cardboard boxes or paper towel cardboard rolls are a great, inexpensive option. With paper towel or toilet paper rolls, expect the pet will probably chew these up rather quickly (especially gerbils), so they will need to be replaced frequently. A small sand box (for dust baths) can be provided to gerbils in much the same way as for a chinchilla

Is there anything else I need to know?

Pet rodents are very sensitive to heat stroke. It is critical to keep their environmental temperature at or below 85o F (29 o C), and make sure their "house" is well ventilated.

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