Domestic mice and rats make great pets when space is limited.

If dogs and cats are not
allowed, try a ‘pocket pet’

When people think of introducing a pet into their lives, most think of cats and dogs. There are other animals, smaller alternatives that make wonderful companions as well. Domesticated rodents like rats and mice are called "pocket pets," but please don't put them in your pocket -- it's just a catchy way of referring to their small size.

These pets are great choices for individuals who have a limited amount of space or those who live in a place that is not cat- or dog-friendly. People without the time to care for cats and dogs might find pocket pets less demanding but still able to provide the love and companionship they are looking for.

Living conditions

Pet rats and mice require a large stainless steel, hard plastic or glass cage that will resist chewing and biting. Its length should be longer than its height, and the cage should be secure because most rodents are wily and inquisitive, making them crafty escape artists. Aquariums do not provide the proper amount of ventilation for small mammals. A well-protected cage will prevent other pets in the home from getting inside.

Place the cage out of direct sunlight and away from drafty spots inside your home. Since rats and mice are nocturnal, the cage should be located in a spot that is fairly quiet during the day when they would typically be sleeping.

The cage should be lined with shredded paper, recycled paper litter (without ink) or nonresinous wood shavings, which the rats and mice will use as bedding material. Do not use cat litter or cedar chips as they can be an irritant to rodents.

Rats and mice enjoy climbing and will love cage accessories like ladders, ropes, hammocks, platforms and cardboard tube tunnels. Add a block of untreated wood for chewing. Choose rope and wood toys instead of plastic -- any toys designed for rats, ferrets or parrots should be tough, yet safe, for entertaining your rodent.

Clean out the cage with hot, soapy water three times a week to ensure a healthy living environment and to deter infections and illnesses. Before replacing the pets inside the cage, make sure it is completely dry with fresh, new bedding.

Food and nutrition

Choose commercial food pellets that are nutritionally balanced for your miniature pet. An occasional treat of grains or seeds can supplement the rodent's daily feedings, but be careful not to give treats in excess. Treats like cheese, seeds and nuts can contain too much fat and be unhealthy for them, and chocolate is toxic. Mice usually like grain products, and rats enjoy both vegetable and meat products.

Place pellets in an elevated bin in the cage so they will not be spoiled by excrement. When buying food pellets for small mammals, remember that pellets lose their nutritional value in about three to five months. Buy only what you will use in a couple of months, and check the packaging date to ensure that the food has not had a long shelf life at the store.

Don't forget a fresh supply of water, too. It should be available and easily accessible to the rodents. In general, do not change watering devices -- from a dish to a sipper bottle or vice versa -- because small mammals might have difficulty adjusting to a new method. Make a note of how their water was presented prior to coming home with you, then continue to use the same watering device.

Caring for your little ones

Healthy rats can live up to three or four years; mice, from one to three years. When adding a new pocket pet to your pack, keep new animals away from older ones during the first month. Infectious illnesses or diseases might arise during these initial few weeks. Once this quarantine period is over, the pets can be placed in the same cage. Two males or two females will usually get along well with each other.

Regular visits to the veterinarian every six to 12 months are recommended because it is difficult to determine whether rats and mice are sick. These visits are a good time for your pet's doctor to check for proper weight and illness indications. Another problem a veterinarian can spot is the uneven growth of front teeth. Rats and mice have incisors that continually grow and are worn down during eating or gnawing on chew toys. Sometimes gum disease or trauma causes the teeth to be misaligned.

Socializing and fun

Playing with your pets is a great way to give them exercise and stimulation. If your rodent is shy, playtime is an excellent way to acquaint them with people. Be very attentive to your pocket pets when playing with them outside their cage. It is easy to startle them unintentionally. Once they are out of your sight, it could be difficult to find them. They can easily hide in furniture or tiny spaces.

Make sure to pet-proof your home to prevent your pet from escaping. It could also be fatal for them if they chew electrical cords or encounter household pesticides or other chemicals. Escaped pocket pets can also become the prey of other pets.

Pick a pair

Domestic rates and mice are perfect for people looking for the same kind of love and affection offered in larger animals but in a more diminutive package. Take two of the same sex so they can keep each other company. The Hawaiian Humane Society sometimes has rats and mice available for adoption. Look for the cages on the lanai near the adoptions counter.

These small mammals might be ideally suited for families with children. Soon, Mickey Mouse, Speedy Gonzales, Fievel, Mighty Mouse, Stuart Little and Ben won't be the only rats and mice kids adore.

Hawaiian Humane Society

"Pet Ohana" runs the first and third Fridays of the month. The Hawaiian Humane Society is a nonprofit agency dedicated to preventing cruelty to animals. They are at 2700 Waialae Ave. Call 946-2187.

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