Small Pets

Buying a Small Pet: Pet Shop Checklist

Claire Dunling

Deciding on what little furry to bring home can be a tough decision, especially when little species have big characteristics to consider. Anything from life expectancy, their nature and tendencies to what habitat and toys should you provide, this guide to buying a small pet has it covered…

So you are on your way to the pet shop; either willingly or potentially not if your child has played on your patience. Of course, this is probably not the best time to be browsing for the latest furry addition to the family – so, how do you choose what is right for you?


Hamsters seem like the natural choice when buying a pet for your little (human) one; they are low maintenance, friendly and active creatures. However, being nocturnal can result in them becoming irritated if they are woken during the day when they naturally sleep, which can result in a few nibbled fingers if disturbed!

Checking out the breed of your hamster is crucial before bringing home. For instance, dwarf hamsters are sociable and can be kept in same sex pairs, however a Syrian hamster needs to be kept solitary.

Another important factor to consider is their habitat – are the plastic, warren-like cages or ‘exercise balls’ really ethical? While it is good to give your hamster plenty of options to exercise, it’s more important to ensure they are living in a well ventilated cage, with fresh bedding, a wheel, drink dispenser and a few chew toys.

As with all things in life - take your time and think things through. Never purchase a new pet on your first visit. Go see them, go home and think about the space, cost, commitment etc
John Campbell, Head Vet of Pet Drugs Online


Degus are the social butterflies of the rodent family: they love interaction from humans so can become very tame if handled correctly from an early age, but bear in mind they aren’t so keen on being mauled by young children. It is essential that they are kept with fellow Degus as they can get very lonely. Unlike other rodents, Degus are diurnal meaning they’re up and at ’em during the day and sleep throughout the night. When homing your Degu, it’s worth remembering that they love to chew! So it’s wise to avoid wooden or plastic cages and better to opt for metal cage instead.

Another factor to consider when homing a Degu is they require regular ‘dust baths’ – this is a natural part of a Degu’s grooming as it keeps their coats nice and shiny, but it’s also linked closely to their happiness – just watch the excitement of a Degu ‘sand bathing’ and you’ll understand! Owners should provide their Degu’s with a bowl of sand a few times a week and be sure to remove after ‘bath time’ so they don’t use it as a toilet. It’s very important to purchase specific dust from pet shops as this will be finely ground pumice from South America, where Degus and Chinchillas are originally from.

Guinea pig

Guinea pigs make fantastic pets for both children and adults – they are chatty little fellows who will let you know if they’re happy, sad or angry! Similarly to rabbits, guinea pigs are happiest in pairs or groups.

There are many different breeds of guinea pig, some of the more common include Abyssinian, Coronet, Peruvian or White Crested – all breeds vary quite drastically in appearance, but not so much in temperament so it really is down to which one catches your eye!

However, do take into consideration that long haired breeds (Peruvian, especially) will require grooming and frequent haircuts.


Widely considered as our intellectual equals, rats are incredibly social creatures that love to interact with both adults and children. This also raises the question of how many should be kept together? Rats naturally coexist with many family members in the wild and enjoy playing, grooming and learning from one another – solitary rats can become ill and depressed if they don’t receive enough interaction.

Will you be buying a young rat or rehoming an old rat? Taking on a young rat will mean you will be able to create a stronger bond and be able to define their characteristics much more. Checking the sex of your rats is also paramount or ensuring males (bucks) are neutered or spaying female (does) rats should be considered to avoid breeding (and rats breed very quickly)!


Chinchilla’s are quite fickle creatures; on one hand they like peace and quiet, but on the other they love social interaction and much prefer to have a mate to hang with. This sensitive yet sociable animal is also part of the rodent family and is highly intelligent like their relatives. They need a constant stream of attention, stimulation and plenty of room to exercise. If you aren’t happy with the thought of rodent-esque creatures scuttling across floor boards then a Chinchilla is perhaps not for you as they require plenty of time to roam about out of their cages. Another aspect to take into consideration is Chinchilla’s live up to 20 years, so this is one animal you certainly shouldn’t pick up impulsively!

This list is not exhaustive of all elements to consider when homing a small pet – please consult your vet practice if you have any queries or issues with your pet.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!