10 Small Animals That Can Make Great Pets

When we think about getting a new pet, sometimes it’s easy to default to traditional dogs and cats. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Both can make for incredibly lovable companions (I’m a cat person myself). But what if you don’t have the room for a dog to play or a cat to roam? What if they’re just not your thing? Or what if you want to get a smaller pet for your child’s first pet?

Fortunately there are many small animals that can make great pets — some that are even surprising. Today let’s look at ten examples. I’ve left out fish and reptiles (although they can make fine pets as well). I did that because there are so many varieties commonly available that they would be worthy of a separate list altogether. Let’s focus instead on some furry little friends and two varieties of small birds that you might want to welcome into your home.

Here are ten examples of small animals that can make great pets.

1. Hamsters

Hamsters are a common first pet for children due to their small size. You can keep their cages almost anywhere, making them ideal to keep in a kid’s room.

Credit: Stephanie (via Flickr)

2. Gerbils

Gerbils are another very small option if you’re interested in a rodent as a pet.

Credit: benmckune (via Flickr)

3. Mice

I don’t particularly think of mice as pets (probably because my brother used to have to buy them as food for his pet snake — something I could never bring myself to watch). But some varieties you find in pet stores are absolutely adorable. Where I live, I’m more used to the field mouse variety.

pet mouse
Credit: Ruud Hein (via Flickr)

4. Rats

I didn’t even realize people kept rats as pets until a few years ago. Since then I’ve known several people who do. And while rats aren’t the pet for me, I’ve heard nothing but good things about keeping them. Apparently they’re very social little creatures, and quite intelligent.

pet rats
Credit: Adria Richards (via Flickr)

5. Guinea Pigs

As far as pet rodents go, guinea pigs are more my speed. Sadly, our pet guinea pig (Gaby) passed away just last week, and we’re too upset at this point to rush out and get another. But I can tell you they make wonderful pets and can be incredibly sweet. They come in both long and short-haired varieties, so be prepared to groom them regularly if you get a long-haired guinea pig (also called a cavie).

guinea pigs
Credit: Daniel Hall (via Flickr)

6. Chinchillas

Chinchillas are some of the cutest small animals I’ve ever had experience with. My brother’s teacher had one as a class pet when we were kids. And we were asked to keep it in our house over one summer break. They’re truly amusing little creatures to watch.

Credit: Arkangel (via Flickr)

7. Rabbits

What’s not to love about cute little bunnies? What some people don’t realize is that rabbits aren’t just outdoor pets to be kept in hutches. They can also make for wonderful indoor companions. They can make a good bit of noise with their thumping though, so be prepared for that. Then again, most animals will make some kind of noise you’ll need to get used to.

pet rabbit
Credit: Jannes Pockele (via Flickr)

8. Ferrets

Ferrets are another somewhat common small animal people keep as pets. I don’t have personal experience with these little cuties, largely because I’ve heard they can be bad biters. If you’re a ferret owner, I’d love to hear if you’ve found that to be the case or not (so leave us a comment). As you can see in the picture below, ferrets can even be taken outside for walks on a leash.

Credit: Hans Splinter (via Flickr)

9. Parakeets

The first of two birds on our list is the parakeet. My grandmother kept parakeets when I was growing up, and my only memory of them is being bitten. They’re one of the most common birds I see when I visit pet stores in the area. And they’re always some of the most beautifully-colored birds around.

Credit: Rich Young (via Flickr)

10. Cockatiels

Cockatiels are another type of small bird that can make great pets. I was never a big fan of pet birds (due to being bit by my grandmother’s parakeet as a kid). But a friend’s cockatiel changed my mind. He’s sweet, funny to listen to and watch, and extremely social. They’re also simply gorgeous animals. If you’re looking for a bird you can teach to talk or sing, but you aren’t ready to commit to a larger parrot, a cockatiel can be a good choice.

Credit: Ruben Charles (via Flickr)

Do you own any of these small animals as pets (or have you in the past)? Leave a comment and tell us about your experiences with them. Would you get the same kind of pet again or not? Let us know why. Or did we miss your favorite small pet? If so, leave a comment and share other great examples and your stories about your favorite little critters.

Written by
Jennifer Mattern
Join the discussion

  • I am thinking of getting parakeets. I know they love music and will sing along with songs. Nice article the only minuses of getting guinea pigs and rats is that they don’t live for a long time.

    • That’s true. I know guinea pigs tend to live 4-8 years. I’ve heard rats often live only around two (although I could swear a friend’s rats have lived quite a bit longer than that). So guinea pigs it seems would have a little more longevity. But if you get as attached to the little critters as I do, it can certainly be heartbreaking. Ours was at least 4. We don’t know her exact age because the person my fiance got her from got her when she was already an adult. So we figure 4.5 – 6 years. And even though 4-8 is the official range, I’ve read that the average is more like 5.5 years.

      On the other hand, that could make these (and hamsters) better pets for kids’ first pets because there’s less of a commitment involved (meaning parents won’t end up taking care of the kid’s dog for 10+ years), and they might be good options for people in college who can’t be sure what their own plans will be in just a few years.

    • We’ve had a few guinea pigs now. We have one that is almost 6 years old now. But the other two we’ve had have only lasted about 2 years. My one daughter has had the 2 guinea pigs to my older daughters ONE guinea pig. We’re not sure what happened to either guinea pig to make them die. We’re hoping the one we’ve had for almost six years now lasts a couple more for my daughter. I know she’d be crushed if anything happened to her guinea pig, Angel. We had mice that haven’t lasted long. Not even 2 years on the mice. And turtles are just a pain because you have to constantly clean their bowls if you don’t have a pump to do it for you.

    • Actually, guinea pigs live 5-10 years, much longer than the lifespan of a rat (2-3 years)

    • One more cute small pet. Hedgehogs. Seems they are wildly popular and reasonably priced at around 175.00 I was going to get on a baby waiting list until I read they only live 3-5 years. That is just not long enough. So I’m still looking Anyone know how to get an otter? They appear very social and loving to their keeper mommy’s and daddy’s. Any warnings about them?

  • Ferrets are great pets , but not for everyone. You can’t let them free-roam your home, and have several serious health issues that can manifest themselves throughout their life span. Large cages, or ‘ferret-proof’ living areas are the recommended way to keep these very playful,but mischievousness, and adorable little weasels.

    Biting? Ferrets are nothing more than a product of their environment, care, and treatment. if you treat them badly or just leave them locked up with no human, caring inter-action you’ll end up with a sullen and antagonistic ferret. They thrive on and love social inter-action with people and even other pets with proper supervision. Ferrets also do so much better with another ferret as a buddy and cage mate. A bit of social sorting out always takes place at first but as soon as that’s sorted out they quickly become inseparable.

    Take the time to learn what you are getting into before committing to a ferret as a pet. Look into adopting from a local ‘ferret shelter’ as their are many that can use a good home dumped from those not realizing what they were getting into. Look to these online in your area.

    I’ve had ferrets for many many years and they are a wonderful pet with proper knowledge of their keeping and care.

    • Thanks Alan. Ferrets are definitely one of the small pet options I’m least familiar with when it comes to personal experience. I’m sure those thinking of adopting one will appreciate your tips and background. 🙂 As for them playing with other pets, are there specific pets you would (or wouldn’t) recommend having if you also have ferrets?

  • I’ve had ferrets as pets… some were ferocious biters, some not so much. The only thing that was universal was the smell. Ferrets tend to really stink and I would not try to give one a bath.

    • Thanks for sharing your history with them. I was going to ask Alan if he had tips on dealing with the smell, but it looks like he beat me to it and already did. 🙂

  • Bathing ferrets is actually a really bad idea. The only time we ever bathed a ferret was if they got into something that needed to be washed off their coats. Frequent bathing causes their skin to over produce the oils that permeate their skin and coats. It has a musky odor that in small doses isn’t bad, but can quickly become overwhelming. I recommend a change of bedding every couple of days. We would buy the cheap wool blankets that could be found at many discount stores, usually 3′ x 6′, cut these in half to 3′ x 3′. Wool is very good at absorbing that musky oil, and we’ve had as many as 12 ferrets under roof with no odor detectable. We would also use ‘stove pellets’ (processed de-oiled pine used in horse stalls), as litter for their litter boxes. Great for absorbing that source of odor.

    We have dogs, and our dogs have been raised around our ferrets. Big dogs need watching only because bigger dogs don’t realize that they are bigger, but all our pups love to play with our ferrets. we know folks with cats, and ferrets and have no issues with those. Rodent varieties are probably not a good to have around ferrets as these are actually a ferrets natural prey, and as long as ferrets have been domesticated they still are weasels at heart though lovable ones.

    • Thanks for all the information Alan! The bathing background is really interesting because it seems counter-intuitive. We often just assume a pet needs to be bathed. And thanks for the tips on using wool to help absorb and mitigate the smell. 🙂

    • hi i wanted to know if taking care of a ferret was like taking care of a hamster or taking care of a rabbit. Because i know a hamster is really easy to take care of and rabbits are more difficult to take care of. Like rabbits or more like a dog where you can’t even leave them home when you go on vocation.

      • Absolutely not. If your planning on giving your ferret a long, happy life then they require a lot of care.
        If you don’t want them to smell, you will need to the feed them raw/whole prey. It takes me about an hour a week to prepare there meat.
        They also require about 4-5 hours ATLEAST a day.
        Depending on the cage you have. (if you have the ferret nation it will be very easy)
        Ferrets require a lot of work, and shouldn’t be pets for anyone under 16 OR a very responsible owner that has many pets during there life time.

  • Seriously?..
    1. Hamsters – smelly rodents..
    2. Gerbils – fast smelly rodents..
    3. Mice – like Gerbils but with shorter legs..
    4. Rats – like Mice but bigger..
    5. Guinea Pigs – like Rats only slower, less hairy and no tail..
    6. Chinchillas – like well-dressed Guinea Pigs with a tail..
    7. Rabbits – like Chinchillas but with long ears and shorter tails..
    8. Ferrets – like long skinny Rabbits with shorter ears, longer tails, and tiny hands..
    9. Parakeets – like flying rodents with feathers instead of fur and louder..
    10. Cockatiels – like Parakeets but bigger..

    • Seriously? Troll much?

      Look, it’s simple. If you don’t want one of these pets, don’t get one. They’re better off with people who appreciate them anyway. There are plenty of other pet options out there for other folks.

    • I was thinking the same thing. You left out fish and reptiles and I thought great. A litle variety. Instead, all we saw was rodents and a couple birds.

    • I’ve had a hamster, and this is my second one. surprisingly they do NOT stink, you just have to clean it’s cage once a week. I’ve had great experiences with hamsters, and they are manageable to keep!

  • Someone gave me a Cockatiel years back. It was a female and she was absolutely delightful. My only experience with birds had been raising wild baby birds and releasing them when grown. All “tame” birds struck me as boring in comparison. I was wrong. Darby was friendly to everyone and often was “at liberty” in the house, although she had a very large cage. She played on the computer keyboard, she turned pages in a book, she asked for affection and returned it. My husband, a veterinarian, said that he had no idea that cockatiels were such good pets. She traveled (in her smaller cage) to my sons school pretty regularly for show and tell. She always tolerated the other children quite well. I would have to guess her age at about 7 or 8 when she passed away. We still miss her and talk about her often. It would be good to read up on them before buying one, but anyone who has ever owned a bird would very much enjoy them. Less loud than parrots and less demanding, but just as interactive.

    • I’ve never been a bird person, but was equally surprised by how affectionate and social cockatiels can be when I met my friend’s bird. I never thought about birds having so much of an outward personality until then. But they do. 🙂

        • While I can understand a fascination for a great dame…….I would be worried if she started to bark, also, Nagaraja.

          • I visited with our vet this past weekend and actually discussed large dog breeds with her (we want a large dog in a few months). We need a breed that will work well with our cats and future children. The vet said that great danes are actually one of the best options if you’re looking for a sweet larger breed. She said the biggest problem is that they have hip issues (but that’s true of many large dogs). And she said to be prepared for a short lifespan with a dog that large (8 years is what she mentioned). As for their barking, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Any dog will bark. Large dogs will often have deep barks that can sound a bit scary. But then again, that’s why they can be great for protection — even if they’re not aggressive.

  • Great Danes are mostly very well behaved dogs. (we are getting away from the “small animals as pets topic”, arent we?) My husband and I have had two of them. Yes, they grow VERY fast, and you may find some skeletal and joint issues if you are not careful about diet. They are subject to “bloat” as are some other large breeds, and that can kill them. Yes, they have hip issues which are part of poor breeding practices. They need a LOT of excercise and room to move. These dont make great inside pets. They drool, like mastiffs. Their tails sweep everything off low tables. They shed. While usually they are “gentle giants”, every so often one is quite aggressive. They dont live long, true, about 7-8 years. If you live in the country and have no near neighbors as we did, the dog is healthy and happy. If they are confined to a back yard, be prepared for clean ups on the level of picking up after a Shetland pony. They eat a lot and they poop a lot. You need to start behavior training early and you need to stick with it. They dont pick up on training with the speed of a shepard or a Lab. They are clowns and they get along quite well with horses and livestock and cats and kids if they are raised around them. When they coined the phrase— “eats like a horse”……they were talking about Great Danes.

  • ive had ferrets for over 15 years… they are permanant 2 year olds… you only get biters if they havnt been handled alot.. and you can train them out of it … there great with cats… and kids, there hyper and playfull .. and love to play attack feet

  • I have had everything on the list except ferrets. My mice were some of the sweetest pets I’ve ever had. Right now my fiance and I have 2 chinchillas. One standard and one sapphire. They are by far, the best rodents I’ve ever had. They don’t smell, their poop comes out dry and they are highly intelligent. They also know tricks. But they will live 15 years so they’re a huge commitment. They also require exercise and dusty baths regularly. But the love they give is totally worth it!

  • I want a feret but have two cats and a dog, i could keep it in my room and look after it but there may be a chance that my cats and sometimes my dog might come in sometimes ?

  • I had birds as a child. My cockatile was a very sweet bird that would chill with me and whistle many tunes. While my green cheeked conure was a active, cuddly, full of life bird. The conure loved to lay on its back in my hands or nestle in my hair on my shoulder. It may suprise some people that birds can be friendly pets that can bond close to you. If you do decide to get a bird either adopt, buy one from a breeder or someone that has a adjusted adult bird. They are a commitment. There downside is they are messy eaters and can be noisy. Me and my sister had rabbits as a child too. They were nice. When I worked at a groomers there was a coworker that had a couple of ferrets. I liked them and part of me wanted a ferret in my young years but I will most likely refraim from ever owning ferrets. My only bad pet exprience was with the hamsters that were given to my dad when I was a real small child. They were mean little fur balls that never wanted to be held and excellent escape artist. They ended up being given to a teacher.

    • Arwen — Thanks for the additional background on owning birds. 🙂 And I’m sorry you had a bad experience with hamsters. Why did you decide against ferrets, btw?

      • My coworkers ferrets were pretty nice and enjoyed petting them. But looking at myself and knowing I set things down on the coffee table, etc I know my socks and car keys will go missing (from what I understand they have a habit of taking off with stuff). I have read about their ability to get into tight coners. I heard bathing them alot drys their skin out and makes their odor worse. However, the maine reason I decided against trying feret ownership is because I read they can suffer alot of health issues and rack up vet bills. I am a easy going person so I could ferret proof my home, get in the habit of putting things out of reach, accept the smell. But the vet bills are a reality check. Dogs and birds can rack up vet bills but from my understanding a ferret can rack up even more of a bill. In the end I do not feel experienced enough to take any ferret as pets. I am sure there are nice hamsters but I am sure I am not the only person with bad chilgood exxperiences with hamsters.

        • I have that same issue with my puppy. I’m still trying to puppy-proof our house, and she still manages to find things I never would have thought to move. 🙂 Having something smaller that could get into even more would be tricky. I’m just thankful my cats leave things alone. They just want to sleep and bask in the sun. 🙂 As for vet bills, those sure can get expensive even with traditional pets. I’d hate to think how high they might go with more exotic pets.

  • I’ve have a rat currently, his name’s Gus and he’s amazing. Rats are really smart. Gus knows his name and will come to it. He’s friendly with others but he loves his mama most (me). Rats tend to bond with one person more then the others. I’ve had a set of ferrets too. Their fun to watch and play with. Mine never would bite to be mean, it was a play nibble. Ferrets don’t use their full bite unless they feel their in danger. My ferrets loved to go outside on their lesh to play in the grass. I have no complanits about ferrets or rats 🙂

    • It’s interesting to hear how much people love their pet rats. They’re not for me, but I’m glad so many are in loving homes. 🙂

  • I just want to give a bit of advice to u all. Birds are the most delightful creatures and i had my own gorgeous experiences with my parrot. But i just advice u, only keep a bird when u have space for it to fly. Even if u give it the whole house to roam in, it will not be enough. All birds NEED to have space to FLY. My own parrot who lived with me for 3 years flew away just for his love of flight (which is natural) and his now probably dead in the harsh world in the city where i live. Birds make loving and delightful pets but my advice to you, keep a bird only when you can train it to fly and always return back to you safely. They love their freedom too much and don’t know the dangers awaiting them in the world. I hope my these comments help to avoid any heartbreaks that can happen.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your bird. 🙁 I don’t know much about training birds, but if it’s possible to train them to always return to you, that certainly sounds like sensible advice to me.

  • I have a wonderful pet named Harley Davidson..he is a sweet, loveable, talkable cockatiel that has had me for a human for 23 years.. When I uncover him in the morning he greets me with” good morning”. “what are you doing?” , “it’s a pretty bird morning” and” Harley is a pretty baby bird”. My ex-husband had a terrible foul word vocabulary, but my sweet Harley didn’t pick up that language…so I know he has a sweet soul.. He’s promised a home, should he live longer than me..so I am happy. He has made many travels with me when I worked for Bechtel..he has been a constant friend in my life.

  • i have 3 ferrets and they make wonderfull pets!!! they will run all alround and sometime run after you! mine give kisses and jumps on my shoulders!

  • I’ve had several Ferrets as pets. They are wonderful and at times, incredibly funny to watch. I’ve read here and there about them being biters. All pets have “bad manners” (puppies, kittens bite) and have to be trained not to do them. With my ferrets, while they where young, I put Bitter Apple on my hands before playing with them. It didn’t take them long to realize that fingers and hands tasted terrible, so they never bit anyone.

  • I’ve had a ferret named Snoopy and he did have a bit of a musky smell but other than that he was an awesome pet. They are super intelligent and have great personalities. It was also hilarious to watch people literally turn their heads as I walked him down the sidewalk near my house. I’ve also had a panda hamster named Bandit who was super lively and very using to watch too. I was thinking about getting a bird for a next pet but I’m not sure which kind?

  • I’ve owned hamsters chinchillas rabbits rats and one small pet that should be added to that list, degus. By far my ratties are my favorite small pet, they are easily tamed, clever, clean and fun to play with. I have two rats at the minute who on command will give paw, spin and stand! You should look into degus also, if I didn’t have my ratties I’d have degus, such funny little characters!!

  • Get a rat. They are sweet, funny, they don’t bite, they are really smart, and they are loving. They love attention and they each have their own personality. They are easy to take care of and once you look past the fact that they are a rat, they are adorable. They’ll respond to their names and they will respond to you. And they’ll love you just as much as you love them. They are really good pets.

  • i do not like the animals listed above but i own an African pygmy hedgehog and thay are the sweetest little thing ever to set foot on earth!

  • I had ferrets before.They where cool my mom used to take them to the bus stop and we had them on a leash.We had to give them away sadly 🙁
    They loved being outside their cage.

  • I have had gunia pigs and hamsters my entire childhood as I was not allowed to gave cats or dogs. It wasn’t until I had gotten a pet rat that I realized how great of a pet they were. The hamsters and gunia pigs always seemed to bite, where as my rats never did. They were playful, cuddly (yes that’s what I said) and never boring. They only live to be around two years old, but this was the best pet I’ve ever had. I have had a budgie bird, a turtle, hermit crabs, a cat and two dogs when I moved out on my own, and a bunny. I’d still go with a rat any day.

  • Before you make an article about pets you haven’t owned before, you should do some correct research about them, especially ferrets. Most owners don’t know how to do this magical thing called ‘training’ with there animals and give them bad raps about them being bitters.

  • I’ve had guinea pigs for a few months now, and they have very distinct personalities. One, (“Ivy”) is the sweetest little pet. the other, (“Holly”) has some issues with biting and is hesitant about being held(i.e., running away.) Overall guinea pigs are good pets for children over 9 or families with children.

  • I have a guinea pig and I think you made a very good note about them if anybody has a guinea how long can they live?

  • I never thought birds were pets but something captured in a cage. I offered to look after a woman’s cockatiel while she went on a trip to visit with an ill daughter as she had no one else to take the bird. Rosie the cockatiel, has changed my mind. She does not sing really, whistles, but loves being held, having her neck scratched. She could easily fly as she does not have any feathers clipped, but no has has never taken off, chooses to be with me and shows a lot of attention. If you pay attention, the do communicate a fair number of things. I said I would never never ever have a bird as a pet, now I do not want to give Rosie the cockatiel up. She is just so living.

  • Oh I love rats 🙂
    I have 6 of them. I prefer them over DOGS even.
    I wish people understood that rats are probably the best pet you could EVER own.
    I wont own a hamster again and I wouldn’t get a HAMSTER as a pet for a kid.
    After owning rats, I’m definitely more cautious of little, bitey hamsters and such