Choosing A New Pet

By Carol Lawton
From the January/February 1999 Rat & Mouse Gazette

You dash into the local pet store to pick up a box of yogurt drops for all of those wonderful little whiskered faces at home. As you cruise down the aisle you see it, there, up ahead, the tanks full of babies. You swore when you walked into the store that you wouldn't look, but you feel compelled to check on their welfare. As you reach in to pet them, while doing a health check of course, one scurries up your arm and kisses your cheek. That's it, he's going home with you. As you settle him into his new home, you see a few spots, then you notice that he's scratching more than he should. You were so absorbed by him that you didn't even think to check for mites.

This time you're going to do it the right way. But, two days after purchasing your beautiful, five week old babies from a well known breeder you find yourself rushing them to the vet. All are obviously suffering from a respiratory infection and one can barely breathe. Fortunately, you have a fabulous vet and with good medication and lots of care they pull through and thrive. You find yourself angry with this person and feel terribly betrayed.

Far too many of us have experienced something like this. Through inexperience or just emotional attachment we've wound up with horror stories. So, where do we go to find our pets? If not from a pet store and not from a breeder, where do we go? How do we find them and who do we trust? Our choices seem limited.


Most of us, at some time, have fallen for a fuzzy face in a feeder tank at the local pet store. Once they kiss you, they have you. But, there are many things to consider when purchasing from a pet store. There is a much higher risk of respiratory infection, exposure to SDA, infestation of mites, and if it is a female over 6 weeks she could very possibly be pregnant. How do you deal with these risks? You could try staying out of pet stores but that doesn't work for most of us. So, the next best defense is to anticipate problems. You might want to avoid purchasing females over six weeks, you should closely examine him and his cage mates looking for any signs of respiratory distress or mites. And, if you do bring one home with you, isolate him completely from the rest of your population for at least two weeks to avoid spreading anything he may have been exposed to. There are many wonderful "feeder tank" success stories so don't be completely put off, just be extremely careful.


Most people think of breeders and assume that they are the best source for babies. We assume they know their animals well and their animals get the very best care possible. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. There are as many different kinds of breeders as there are different kinds of people. Many are very deserving of your trust, but there are those to whom this is just a business. You need to arm yourself with information and ask plenty of questions.

A good way to start is by talking with people who have acquired animals from this breeder. Ask if they were healthy and if they experienced any serious problems later in life. If you get positive results from several sources, then talk directly to the breeder. Determine in advance whether or not you find it acceptable to support someone who sells feeder animals or breeds primarily for show quality. Try to find out why they choose to breed, where they sell their animals, how many animals they currently have, and how they got started. This should give you a good start in determining what kind of person this is and their reasons for breeding. If the breeder seems evasive, prefers not to answer your questions, or doesn't want you to visit their facility, you will probably want to find a different breeder.

When visiting the breeder’s facility, check the overall condition of the animals, ask to handle both parents of the animal you are considering and, within reason, some of their other animals. Do not be afraid to closely examine animals, this is the only way to be certain that it is healthy and has been well cared for. When choosing your pet, you should look for those who are very active, alert, and a good size for their age. They should have bright eyes, a full, clean, healthy coat, no odor, and be extremely social. Always listen closely for squeaking, chattering, and sneezing, these are signs of possible respiratory problems. Do not be afraid to say no.


Other options you might consider include individuals who have bred their very special pets, and rescued animals. Your local RMCA chapter should be helpful in locating these. When considering taking an animal from an individual look for the same qualities you would look for if you were purchasing from a breeder. Talk to the individual at length, ask about the background of the parent animals and try to get a feel for how they care for their pets. If you are not comfortable or feel uneasy with the people then you will probably want to pass on the animals they are offering. You may not find the variety of choices through individuals that you would find through a breeder, but if the animals come from a good, caring home where only a few animals are kept, the chances of exposure to disease or parasites is greatly diminished.


Offering a permanent home to a rescued animal is one of the most satisfying ways to bring home a pet. They have typically been kept in caring, loving foster homes and have had some help with becoming more social. These animals have been abused, neglected, or abandoned and will occasionally require special care or handling. However, watching these special animals thrive on gentleness and love brings its own special joy.


Any time you bring in a new animal, isolate him from the rest of your pets for at least two weeks to avoid spreading any disease or parasites. Whatever the source of your new pet may be, don't be afraid to ask questions, don't be afraid to say no, and always remember that your first obligation is to those already in your care.