10 Unique Exotic Rodents People Keep as Pets

When most people think of pet rodents they think of small animals like mice, rats, guinea pigs and hamsters. These animals are immensely popular as pets because of their relatively small space requirements, shorter lifespan, and cheap purchase price. Rodents are, however, an extremely diverse group of species. Some rodents can become far larger than the general public tends to be aware of. Other rodents are covered in quills while some hop around bipedally like kangaroos. Here is a list of some unique rodents that some people keep as pets. These animals are not legal in all states so it is extremely important to do your research before seriously considering acquiring exotic rodents.

  1. Capybara

    “Capybara” by Karoly Lorentey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Species Name: Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
    Diet: Herbivorous, grasses, vegetables, fruit
    Availability: Relatively common
    Care level: Fair

    The capybara is the largest rodent in the world, reaching the height of a medium-sized dog, and you can put a harness on them and take them for a walk like one. They are also semi-aquatic, so they will readily dive into your pool or other water source that is required for their care. This massive rodent is actually a close relative of the guinea pig. Due to their size, the average person might find their needs in captivity to be demanding, but if you can provide a place for them to swim and a large enough enclosure (some people let them free-roam indoors as well, but being rodents, their chewing can become very destructive), they can be considered to have relatively simple care.

  2. African Crested Porcupine

    “African crested Porcupine {Hystrix cristata}” by Drew Avery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Species Name: Hystrix cristata
    Diet: Herbivorous, roots, bulbs and leaves
    Availability: Common
    Care level: Easy

    This beautiful species of porcupine is one of the largest rodents in the world, and they breed readily in captivity. Compared to other exotics, including other porcupines, they tend to be less expensive. This large rodent should be kept in an outdoor enclosure, making their husbandry pretty simple if the owner can maintain this type of housing. While their quills are long and might look intimidating, these porcupines can be petted ‘along the grain’ without injuring your hand. The quills do not have barbs like the North American porcupine, which are also kept as pets in the U.S. where native animals are not illegal.

  3. Paca

    Marie Hale CC By 2.0 Via Flickr

    Species Name: Cuniculus sp.
    Diet: Herbivorous, Fruit, leaves, vegetables
    Availability: Very Rare
    Care level: Unknown

    This species is rarely offered for sale and they seemed to have been available more often in the past.  They are a large, semi-aquatic rodent with striking spotted patterns on their back.

  4. Springhare

    Berniedup  (CC BY-SA 2.0) Via Flickr

    Species Name: Pedetes capensis
    Diet: Herbivorous, Grasses, tubers, roots
    Availability: Very Rare
    Care level: Intermediate

    These rodents were once more common until the embargo on African rodents took place, stopping their importation. As springhares are extremely difficult to breed in captivity, their presence in the pet trade was dependent on the now banned imports, so  the species disappeared in the American private sector. One breeder has recently imported a few breeding pairs. These rodents are active and space-demanding, having the shape and locomotive traits of wallabies. 

  5. Agouti

    “Agouti” by Brian Gratwicke is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Species Name: Dasyprocta leporine (red-rumped)
    Diet: Fruits, leaves, roots
    Availability: Occasionally available
    Care level:  Unknown

    Agoutis are also guinea pig relatives and are like smaller capybara without being semi-aquatic. They have long legs and come from South America like many other rodents on this list. They have a very long potential lifespan for a rodent, up to 20 years.

  6. Patagoninan Mara

    rayand CC by 2.0 Via Flickr

    Species Name: Dolichotis patagonum
    Diet: Herbivorous, Hay, vegetables
    Availability: Common
    Care level:  Easy

    This unique but relatively inexpensive and common rodent resembles many animals including a deer, rabbit, and even a dog. This near-threatened species is large and can hop great distances of up to 6 feet in a single bound. They are easy to care for as pets but should be housed outdoors unless a room can be dedicated to them. They also like to burrow, so outdoor housing should have a barrier underground.

    This species is monogamous and very social. It is recommended, just like with guinea pigs of which they are closely related, to keep more than one (some people house them with other cavid species).

  7. Prehensile Tail Porcupine

    “prehensile tailed porcupine” by Jean is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Species Name: Coendou prehensilis
    Diet: Vegetables, leaves, fruits
    Availability: Occasionally available
    Care level:  Medium

    The Brazilian porcupine is an arboreal species of porcupine that has a fascinating look and a prehensile tail like most monkeys.  They are somewhat slow-moving and solitary; therefore they can be housed alone in a tall enclosure fitted with braches and other climbing apparatuses. Like many porcupine species, they have a scent said to resemble human body odor.

  8. Prevost Squirrel

    “Prevost's squirrel” by Tambako the Jaguar is licensed under (CC BY-ND 2.0)

    Species Name: Callosciurus prevostii
    Diet: Fruit, nuts, seeds
    Availability: Rare
    Care level:  Medium

    Many squirrel species are kept as pets, but this tri-colored Asian rodent has striking fur markings. They are rather similar to the squirrels you see in your backyard in that they are high energy and inquisitive. They can be very friendly to humans but they must constantly have something to do to be happy in captivity. They’ll need a larger cage relative to their size and beware, their nails are extremely sharp. 

  9. Bushy-tailed jird

    Bushy-tailed jird (Sekeetamys calurus). CC-BY-SA Vera Buhl.

    Species Name: Sekeetamys calurus
    Diet: Omnivorous, commercial rodent food, vegetables, seeds
    Availability: Rare (U.S.)
    Care level:  Easy

    Due to the 2005 African rodent embargo, these once relatively common rodents disappeared in U.S. captivity and are mostly found in Europe, although they are occasionally available. They look like gerbils or mice with a bushy tail like a squirrel. Their care is very similar to that of domesticated Mongolian gerbils. They require a cage of about 4 feet in length and substrate to burrow in, as well as sand. 

  10. Siberian chipmunk

    “Siberian chipmunk” by Marie Hale is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Species Name: Eutamias sibiricus
    Diet: Omnivorous, commercial rodent food, vegetables, seeds, fruits
    Availability: Common
    Care level:  Medium

    These chipmunks resemble the ones we see in our backyard but they hail from Siberia. They are typically the only chipmunks that can be legally owned in most states, which tend to regulate native animals. They are unique smaller rodents in that they are diurnal like other rodents in the squirrel family. Also like squirrels, they’ll need a larger wire cage due to their high activity level.