Welcome to the tenth in a new series of Animal Tales from the Bermuda S.P.C.A., which have kindly been sponsored by our good friends at Noah’s Ark.


The thought of keeping a pet rat is a repellent thought to many people who conjure up images of these rodents as filthy, disease-spreading creatures.

But, as with many other misunderstood animals, the reality of the matter is often different to our ingrained perception.

The most common pet rodents are hamsters, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils and rats.

But if you or your children are contemplating buying a rodent for a pet, which is best suited to you?

On the plus side, of course, is their small size and the corresponding cost for food and maintenance.

You can obviously keep several rodents in a cage and feed them for a lot less than it takes to house and feed one medium-sized dog.

Let’s look at some of your options.

Hamsters

These popular pets live on average between two and three years and they reach about six inches in body length. Nocturnal and quite active, they ­prefer a largish cage — at least 12 x 18 x 12ins high. 

Hamsters generally ­benefit from being handled (gently) from a young age.

Bear in mind that the Syrian or Golden hamster is a solitary creature and therefore one should be kept alone in its cage.

Dwarf hamsters, how­ever, can be kept as a pair.

Gerbils

They live on average between two and three years (sometimes longer), and their body length is about four inches.

Unlike hamsters, gerbils are very social animals, so consider keeping two or more females (or alternatively two or more males) in the same cage. The minimum cage size should be 12 x 24 x 12ins high.

While common Mongolian gerbils are not specifically classified as nocturnal rodents, they can be quite active at night.

Gerbils are best obtained while they are young.

They tend to be very curious and can become fairly tame.

A word of caution, however, you should never pick up a gerbil by its tail.

Mice

The smallest of the group, with an average body length of three inches, they commonly live between one and three years and are easy to keep.

Mice are also social creatures, so consider keeping a couple of females in the same cage (competing males tend to fight).

The minimum cage size should be 12 x 18 x 18ins high. Mice can become quite tame if handled ­regularly but out of the five rodents listed here they are not the best choice for human interaction.

Rats

They generally live between two and four years and, contrary to expectations, they make nice pets.

Rats are very social so it is best to keep a pair of the same sex together in a ­single cage.

On average they grow up to eight inches in body length.

They are easy to raise and with regular handling they become very tame.

Rats enjoy human ­companionship but they also need time outside their cages for social interaction and exercise.

Nocturnal and intelligent, they have been compared favourably with dogs in their ability to bond and interact with people. 

Two or more rats sharing together need a large cage — 24 x 36 x 12ins high. 

They love to climb, so consider including a ­ladder and other exercise equipment in their cage. 

A word of caution — avoid cages with wire floors and wire exercise wheels.

The former can cause your pet rats to suffer from foot problems and the ­latter can cause them to injure themselves.

Guinea pigs

These are the largest of the common pets listed here and usually have a body length of about 10 inches, but no tail to speak of. 

They also live the longest, with an average life span of between five to seven years, sometimes longer. 

Guinea pigs have a ­gentle temperament, which makes them a popular pet. 

Active both day and night, they are social by nature, so you should ­consider keeping a pair of the same sex together. 

They need quite a large enclosure — at least four square feet of floor space —and they also have a more demanding diet than the other pets listed here.

It should also be noted that a common requirement for all of these pets is that you keep their cages out of direct sunlight and away from draughts. 

 

Thirteen years ago the saga of the Tamworth Two brought welcome relief to the otherwise depressing news of the day.

It concerned two five-month old Tamworth pigs that escaped from a truck on their way to an abattoir in southern England. 

After eluding capture, they squeezed through a fence, swam across a river, and literally disappeared.

They were on the run for more than a week, during which time they regularly raided people’s gardens for food before returning to the woods to hide out. 

The press soon dubbed the elusive sister and brother Butch and Sundance after the infamous American outlaws. 

Media attention spread far and wide, all the way to Japan, and even the NBC TV network picked up the story. After their capture their owner still insisted on sending the pair for slaughter. That is, until the U.K.’s Daily Mail news-paper stepped in and offered to buy them in exchange for exclusive rights to their story. 

Their owner relented and the siblings were duly trotted off to the Rare Breeds Centre in Kent.

Earlier this month, Butch (the sow) became seriously ill and sadly she had to be put to sleep.

If there is a lesson here, it is simply this — you have to take your opportunities in life.

By making a break for freedom, Butch lived 25 times longer than if she had remained in the truck.

Talk about saving your own bacon!