Pocket Gophers As Pets (Do They Make Good Companions?)

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Have you been charmed by a gopher digging around your yard? Pocket gophers, or simply gophers are cute rodents who love digging. They are found in North and Central America, in places where loose soil and plants they can eat are present.

If you are interested in keeping these small creatures as pets, there might be some things you are curious about. Is it legal to own gophers as pets? Is it even possible to tame them as pets? If so, how do you take care of them?

In this article, we, here at Floofmania, will discuss all you need to know about gophers as pets, so keep reading!

Are Pocket Gophers Legal As Pets? 

A pocket gopher emerging from its hole.

Each state in the United States of America has different regulations on exotic animals like gophers as pets. There are states like Massachusetts and Oregon that allow owning gophers, as long as you have a permit. In Wisconsin and Wyoming, it is even legal to own these rodents without having to secure a permit. 

On the other hand, there are places like Arizona and Kansas, that prohibit keeping these animals in captivity altogether. 

So, if you are planning to keep pocket gophers as pets, it’s better to check with your local government.

Can You Tame A Pocket Gopher? Can It Get Along With Humans?

It is possible to tame a pocket gopher. However, it is not an easy process. As gophers are wild animals, they are not usually domesticated. Hence, there is not much information available about taming and keeping gophers except for scientific purposes. 

Remember that most domesticated animals have been bred for centuries to be tame and suitable for pets. Unfortunately, breeding pocket gophers to be kept as pets is not a common practice.

However, there are some researches and journal articles done about gophers that require capturing and keeping these furry animals in enclosures for observation. On these occasions, humans feed and take care of the gopher. Their methods can be used in taking care of gophers as pets.

There are a few recorded instances where gophers seem to have put trust in people and interacted with them quite peacefully, even letting strangers feed them. This fascinating situation also happens occasionally in the wild as seen in the video below.

Are Pet Gophers Easy To Care For?

Pet gophers are not easy to take care of. There are many things to consider. Starting with the gophers’ digging behavior, having a proper place and enclosure that caters to its needs is already a challenge. The diseases these rodents can carry which can cause harm to both you and the gopher is another concern.

Does It Need An Outdoor Enclosure? 

Having an outdoor enclosure is not necessary for a pet gopher. They can still survive in indoor settings with proper specifications.

Here’s a video of a pocket gopher enjoying an indoor enclosure.

Those who have kept gophers in captivity for research put them in indoor enclosures without encountering many problems. Most of the gophers were able to survive and live healthily. However, a few specifications must be met to ensure that the gophers can continue with their daily activities and maintain optimal health.

A large cage with space for tunnels and chambers is best. Gophers are fossorial animals which means that digging in their nature and an essential part of their lives. 

These furballs dig to build their homes underground. Their homes consist of tunnels and chambers. Each chamber is used for different purposes, with specific areas assigned for nesting, storage of food, eating, and taking care of their business. Yes, they have comfortable rooms.

Digging also helps them find their favorite food. They burrow underground to find roots and bulbs that are of their liking.

Everything they need to live is found and done underground. So, if you try to put them in a cage with nowhere to dig, they will probably not be happy. 

Do Pocket Gophers Need Much Care From A Vet?

As with other animals, gophers might need care from the vet if they contract a disease or a parasite. This is common for gophers, especially when they come from the wild. 

These diseases and parasites, which will be discussed later, are of great concern as they can be detrimental to the gopher’s health. Some of these can also be transmitted to humans and other animals.

Routine check-ups and vaccination can also be beneficial. However, as gophers are not common pets, it will not be easy to find veterinarians trained to handle these wild animals. Not many have the expertise to perform such procedures for pocket gophers.

Do Pocket Gophers Need Company?

Gophers do not need companions in their enclosure. They are solitary and territorial creatures who live alone in the wild. They do not share their burrows with other gophers unless they are tending to their pups or it is time to find a mate.

Gophers are aggressive creatures. If you try to have your gopher make friends with another of its kind (especially of the same sex), you might see a wrestling match in their cage. That might not end well. These rodents will do their best to defend their territory.

What Can I Feed My Pet Gopher?

Gophers are categorized as herbivores which means their primary diet consists of plants. But to some extent, they can also be considered omnivores as they occasionally eat insects and meat when their primary food is unavailable.

You can feed your pet gopher the same food it eats in the wild. That would be vegetation like the following:

  • Potatoes
  • Turnips
  • Carrots
  • Pumpkins
  • Lettuce
  • Dandelions
  • Alfalfa
  • Roses

Moreover, gophers are not fond of plants with strong scents like herbs and onions. So, be careful in choosing what to feed them.

Gophers are known to have a good sense of smell. They are sensitive to scents. As they live mostly underground where it is dark and difficult to see, gophers use their noses to navigate through their burrows. Their excellent sense of smell compensates for their poor eyesight.

Do Pocket Gophers Live Longer In Captivity Than In The Wild?

Gophers can live longer in captivity than in the wild. In the wild, the average lifespan of a male pocket gopher is 1.5 years, while females live longer at about 3 years. Some individuals may also live up to 5 years. But in captivity, they can live up to 6 years which is more than double their average lifetime in the wild! 

Being a gopher is not easy. Their survivability in the wild is affected by many factors. In their natural habitat, gophers are exposed to various parasites and disease-causing bacteria and viruses.

Destruction of their habitat or starvation is also a problem. Gophers likewise, face the dangers of being hunted by predators.

Predators of gophers are the following:

  • Snakes
  • Hawks
  • Coyotes
  • Bobcats
  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Badgers

In captivity, with controlled and proper conditions, they can live longer as there are no predators who can hunt them. There is also less exposure to diseases.

A Few Reasons You Might Not Want A Gopher As A Pet

To help you decide whether keeping a gopher as a pet is what you want to do, here are a few reasons you might not want to keep them. 

Gophers are Prone to Parasites and Diseases

Pocket gophers usually carry parasites because of their living conditions. The most common parasites found on gophers are louse, mites, and fleas. As they are furry and spend a lot of time underground, it’s not surprising that these rodents catch such nasty parasites.

They can also carry viruses, bacteria, and diseases which can be transmitted to humans and other animals. One example is the hantavirus which causes Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome. This disease affects the respiratory system of humans and can be fatal.

Gophers like most rodents can also carry bacteria that cause leptospirosis. This is a disease acquired from contact with the animal’s urine or feces and can cause humans fever and vomiting. So, it is probably better to just let them live on their own.

Caring For Gophers Demands Intensive Labor

Taking care of gophers is not an easy task. As they are not typically domesticated animals, their behaviors and needs can be unpredictable. Their needs are unique compared to common pets. 

Their habitat, first of all, must suit their burrowing behavior. This means having a large enclosure that can fit their need to make tunnel systems, and having a large cage also means more work in cleaning it! They are also not very happy with you messing with their burrows to clean it so, good luck with that!

Of course, leaving it unsanitary would cause you more problems as the gopher might get sick. That would also quickly make its enclosure stink pretty bad.

Gophers Have A Bad Odor

Gophers don’t smell pleasant. Of course, almost all animals smell kind of funky, but gophers might be a little more smelly than others. 

Think about how they naturally behave. Digging and staying underground won’t make anyone smell good. Not to mention, they also relieve themselves in the soil they live in.

They also store food underground. Sometimes, the food they store rots and spoils. If you have left food on the table overnight on a hot summer, you’ll know how that goes.

Gophers Have Short Lifespans

As mentioned above, pocket gophers have short lifespans. They live fewer years than a human and even fewer than the usual pets like cats and dogs. If you become very attached to your pet gopher, you might end up with heartbreak sooner rather than later.

Alternatives To Gophers As Pets

If you’ve concluded that gophers aren’t your cup of tea, you might want to consider getting another kind of pet. There are several animals similar to the gopher commonly domesticated and are easier to care for. 

Here’s a list of gopher-like pets you might want to consider.

  • Hamster
  • Guinea pig
  • Chinchilla 
  • African Pygmy Mouse
  • Hedgehog
  • Mongolian Gerbil

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