If you have made the decision to bring a small pet into your life the first steps are the most important. First of all, please take the time to read through our care sheets for your chosen pet and be absolutely certain that you can provide the pet with everything they need for the duration of their life span. As they are small, we tend to think of them as quite disposable, but discarded small pets place a huge burden on rescue centres each year and failing to care for them properly can cause considerable suffering.
Once you have made a firm decision about the type of pet to get, you’ll want to think about where that pet will come from. Here we explore your main options.
This is most people’s first instinct when getting a new pet. Or a small pet at least. Most of us would now accept that buying a dog from a pet shop isn’t a good idea and most are aware that many dogs sold in pet shops come from puppy farms. What most don’t realise, however, is that the same is true for small pets. Rodents and rabbits sold in pets shops are bred intensively in commercial businesses which usually also supply food for reptile keepers. The pretty ones go to the pet shops and the less attractive ones end up as food. Small animals are kept in plastic tubs on large racks with just a water bottle, food and sawdust – no toys, no beds, no enrichment, no socialisation. The result is usually sickly, nervous, even traumatised animals. They are sent to the pet shop once weaned and, at the very age where they are developing their personalities, they are stuck under bright lights and have people gawping at them 12 hours a day whilst receiving very little handling to show them that people can be kind. Since most customers are only interested in young animals, those that don’t sell by a certain age are usually returned to the breeding facility where they will either be used for the feeding side of the business or put into the breeding pool, spending their whole lives in those barren, plastic tubs.
In a nutshell, please do not purchase animals from a pet shop. Not only will you be encouraging a trade full of suffering but you will quite possibly end up with an untamed animal with health issues.
By breeder, we refer to an individual who breeds small pets in their home either as a small business or a hobby.
There is a huge variation in this sort of set up ranging from someone who thinks it’s a good way to make a few quid, to those who carefully research and have a good knowledge of genetics to ensure that the animals they breed have good health and temperament. Before purchasing from a breeder, be sure to ask them lots of questions about their breeding plans (how they choose which individuals to breed from and why), make sure you see their set up and meet the parent animals, talk to some of their previous customers to find out about their experiences. A good breeder will have a waiting list, will vet you carefully, will ask you to sign a contract and will want to keep in touch with you to receive updates on the animal. As part of the contract they will agree to take the animal back if you are unable to care for it and offer advice and support if there are any problems. They will breed primarily to improve the health of the species so will be unlikely to breed varieties known to have health problems (e.g. hairless animals). They will likely be a member of a group such as the National Fancy Rat Society or The National Gerbil Society but this in itself does not necessarily indicate a good breeder as these organisations do not generally carry out checks or monitoring or their members. If you’re able to simply hand over money and take the animal away with no checks, you’re unlikely to be gaining much over buying from a pet shop.
You may hear of someone who needs to rehome their pet or see an advert on a free ad site from someone who can no longer keep their animals. Rehoming an animal in this way can feel good – you’re helping an animal in need and potentially preventing it needing to take up space in a rescue centre. However, there are some things to consider.
If you rehome an animal from this situation you may not get as full and reliable a history of the animal’s life and health so far as you would going to a good breeder or rescue. Unless the previous owner has kept detailed records, it’s easy to miscalculate how long they have had the animal or what age it was when originally acquired, leaving you unsure of the age they are now. Some may be economical with the truth in order to rehome the animal quickly and you could end up with an animal with unexpected health or behavioural problems. If something does go wrong, either because the animal is not as “advertised” or because your own circumstances change, you will have no backup as you would from a rescue or breeder, leaving you to have to find the animal’s next home yourself. The other thing to consider is that rehoming from these sites encourages more people to advertise on them. This can either encourage ill planned breeding or can result in animals going to unsuitable homes if offers are not vetted.
Okay, going through a rescue can be a bit of a pain. You’ve decided what you want and you don’t want to have to go round numerous rescues to find the right animal. What if they don’t have any babies, only old animals rejected because they bite or have health issues? And then they ask you lots of questions and even want to do a homecheck! Why go through all that hassle when you can just walk into the pet shop and pick up a baby animal for a few quid?
The sad fact is that, because they are seen as disposable, very many thousands of rodents end up in rescue centres each year. Without those rescue centres, those animals would be released into the wild, put to sleep or given away to potentially unsuitable people, perhaps used as snake food. Rodent rescues struggle for support as they help animals which aren’t seen as very “important”. By adopting from and supporting a rescue, you are helping to ensure that they are there for future animals who need their help.
A good rescue will provide you with a full history of the animal, will have tested their temperament and, where possible, worked to resolve any issues, will work with you to match the right animal to your experience and circumstance and will offer life time back up for the animal meaning that should you ever not be able to take care of them, they can be returned to the rescue and be rehomed safely.
It is very much a myth to think that rescues only have older, damaged animals. As rodents are often missexed, rescues quite often have litters born in their care. The babies will have been handled regularly from an early age and so will be well socialised and friendly.
Not all rescues operate in the same way and even some rescues view rodents as second class citizens compared to cats and dogs. So we recommend ideally looking for a rescue which specialises in rodents, which produces a care sheet giving you advice about their care, which vets their home offers carefully and which asks you to sign an adoption contract which also states that they provide lifetime backup.
Rescuing is the most ethical source for acquiring your new pet and should also mean that you are matched with the right pet for you and given plenty of support and back up.
To help you in finding your new pet, we have gathered together details of UK rescues who usually have rodents looking for new homes. Click on "Find a Rescue" in the menu at the top left of this page to browse our directory.