2020 marks the Year of the Rat according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar. Due to this, Malaysian pet stores are seeing an increase in the sale of small pets such as hamsters and guinea pigs.
People are buying lots of pet rodents without fully realizing that the pets will outlast Chinese New Year.
We don’t want to put a price on love, but to properly take care of a pet comes with commitment, financially and emotionally.
Here’s a very brief breakdown of how much your pet will cost you, if you’re looking for cute companions to join you this year.
They’re round, they’re cute, and they stuff food in their mouths. Plus, they’re small, so they should be easy to care for… right?
Average hamster lifespan: 2.5-3 years
Cage: RM75 or more
Bedding: RM40 (1 month)
Food: RM20 (1 month)
Exercise wheel: RM20
Note: Glass cages are not recommended in Malaysian weather as it can often get too hot and stuffy without proper ventilation.
Your hamster should have fresh feed and clean water everyday. Hamsters also need lots of exercise. They need a hamster wheel or to be let out of their cage for at least an hour a day.
The bedding will need to be changed weekly or it will smell and grow mould. Since hamsters also like to smuggle food away, you can find stashes of hamster feed in corners of its cage that may have gone bad. Hamsters poop a lot more than you’d expect.
Things To Watch Out For
Hamsters should not be left without supervision for more than 3 days. This means that if you want to go on holiday, there should be someone who can keep an eye on your pet.
If you neglect your hamster for a long time (often by 2-3 weeks), they can actually become untamed and start being aggressive. If this happens, you will need to retame the hamster.
Hamsters also need to file their teeth regularly, and will therefore chew on anything and everything- even if they have chew toys. If unsupervised, they will chew on electrical cables, which could electrocute themselves; to their own cages, which could cause digestive issues. Hamster teeth is also incredibly sharp, and can very easily draw blood.
They are prone to environmental stress: they must be in a place that is airy but not drafty and won’t have large, sudden temperature changes. Their bodies are small and fragile, and can suffer broken bones if squeezed too tightly or dropped from a height. Loud noises can give them heart attacks too!
Average indoor guinea pig lifespan: 4-8 years
Cage: RM200 or more
Timothy Hay (as bedding and food): RM60 (1 month)
Guinea pig feed: RM40 (1 month)
The guinea pig has to be fed twice a day. They will also overeat when given the chance, so it’s best to monitor their daily intake. They need an unlimited supply of timothy hay as empty stomachs can lead to gastrointestinal stasis, which often proves to be fatal.
Guinea pigs tend to leave smelly poop, so make sure you clear the poop out daily so it wouldn’t get caught in their fur. You will also need to brush your pet to remove excess fur that can cause a buildup of odours.
Your guinea pig needs exercise and mental stimulation. The smaller its cage, the more important it is to give it daily floor time to explore and stretch its legs. Even if you get a large cage, free roaming opportunities are crucial.
Their bedding and cage has to be cleaned weekly and it can start to smell bad quickly. Their smell is proportional to how much you take care of them and their cage.
Once every two to three months:
Guinea pigs have grease glands that secrete oils that get stuck in their fur and start to become smelly. That’s why they need a bath once every two to three months, just to make sure they are clean and comfortable.
Things To Watch Out For
Guinea pigs are social creatures and will often need a friend. However, make sure to get them a friend of the same sex, otherwise you might find yourself with many, many little babies.
They also are not able to produce their own Vitamin C, so they need a small serving of citrus fruits such as oranges about once a week.
Guinea pigs are also surprisingly noisy and make a variety of different sounds. They squeak, chortle, rumble, coo, and grunt.
You also cannot leave them alone for more than a day. They need a constant supply of fresh hay, food, and water. Guinea pigs may try to get out of their cage and get hurt. If you want to go on holiday, you will need to send them to be boarded.
Unsupervised guinea pigs will chew on things such as cables, which can electrocute them or tear up their intestines. They easily get stuck in tight spaces such as behind fridges, inside furniture, or in between shelves. Rescuing them can prove to be traumatic for both of you.
Average pet rat lifespan: 2-3 years
Cage & Nest: RM200 and up
Rat food: RM40 (1 month)
Toys: RM200 and up
Rats need playtime out of their cage to run around. Pet rats need lots of mental stimulation with toys, friends, and attention from you, otherwise they are more likely to chew up everything they can bite- including themselves.
Their nesting boxes should be cleaned every one or two days, because these sleeping holes are often filled with softer absorbent materials that start to smell quickly.
Their bedding and cage should cleaned thoroughly once a week. Everything, including the floors, walls, toys, and tray should be washed with warm, soapy water and rinsed very well.
Things To Watch Out For
Rats are social creatures and will need friends. This means that you will have to get two rats, though the effort to care for two is about the same as caring for one.
You will also need to rat-proof your house to keep them from chewing wires. Like other pets, chewed cables can electrocute them or tear up their intestines.
Pet rats will often also chew through plastic, wood, and even cloth.
If you think you can love your pet past the initial cute phase, then go for it! But if you don’t think you’re ready for years of daily commitment, perhaps you can consider the many cute stuffed toy rats instead.
Anne is an advocate of sustainable living and the circular economy, and has managed to mum-nag the team into using reusable containers to tapau food. She is also a proud parent of 4 cats and 1 rabbit.