One important aspect of keeping a pet rodent is that their cage needs to be cleaned one to two times a week to keep ammonia levels down. Also, keeping the cage clean will help decrease the incidence of a respiratory disease.
"Rodents are animals and therefore require care," said Hoppes. "All pet rodents need a clean large cage, chew toys, ladders, plastic or PVC pipe, and daily interaction. Beddings such as paper, aspen, or walnut shavings are best, while corncob, pine, and cedar shavings should be avoided."
Rodents need fresh water and food constantly. Guinea pigs and chinchillas have a special need for timothy hay since they have continuously growing cheek teeth. This hay helps keep the teeth from overgrowing. Additionally, guinea pigs need vitamin C daily. All rodents can have a small amount of fruits and vegetables for treats.
Chinchillas also need daily dust baths, and they and guinea pigs are very sensitive to heat and humidity. Both are susceptible to heatstroke in temperatures as low as 80-85 degrees, especially if the humidity is higher than 40 percent.
"Pet rodents do not need vaccinations," said Hoppes. "There are few diseases to be concerned with, and while salmonella infection has been documented, it is rare. Rat bite fever, caused by a bacterial infection, may occur after a rat bite. This can be prevented by immediately disinfecting any bite wound from a rat."
While diseases are uncommon in rodents, rats are prone to mammary tumors and hamsters often have diarrhea (wet tail). Many rodents are also prone to respiratory disease.
It is important to keep pet rats away from wild ones and to wash your hands after handling any small mammal. Guinea pigs and chinchillas are susceptible to ring worm so any hair loss or patchy areas on the skin should be seen by a veterinarian for treatment immediately.