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Pet Naked Mole-Rats: Unique Pet or Terrible Idea?

Naked mole-rats are the type of animal that is so ugly they are cute. Their big teeth and tiny, wrinkly bodies make them comically adorable. 

Despite their small size, naked mole-rats are not easy to keep. They are highly complex animals with intricate needs—both physical and social.

Let’s discuss this species’ suitability as domestic pets, the rules, requirements, and current captive care.

Can You Have a Naked Mole-Rat as a Pet?

The legalities of owning a naked mole-rat differ in varying states and countries. Some states have no rules on the ownership of exotic animals, and you can legally own a naked mole-rat if you can source one. Many others ban import and ownership exotic animals such as the naked mole-rat.

The naked mole-rat species is of “least concern” in conservation status[1]. This means they have no protection from endangered animal laws in their East African habitats.

They are not commonly traded in the pet trade due to the limitations of sourcing and caring for them. Finding a naked mole-rat in the wild is rare, as they live deep in underground burrows.

Laws around owning an exotic animal significantly differ between states and countries. Multiple U.S. states allow unrestricted ownership of any species, with others requiring permits. 

Island states such as Hawaii and Guam forbid importing and owning exotic animals as releases or escapes could severely threaten local ecosystems and biodiversity.[2]

naked mole rat pet
Image Source

Why Naked Mole-Rats Don’t Make Good Pets

Naked mole-rats do not make good pets. They avoid human interaction, don’t like being touched, and can bite humans. Keeping them as pets involves expensive enclosures, equipment, and specialized knowledge.

‘Pet’ refers to a tame or domestic animal that humans keep for companionship. While naked mole-rats can successfully reside in captivity, they are not pets. Naked mole-rats exist purely as wild animals and have no history of bonding or interacting with humans.

Naked mole-rats won’t make good pets for three main reasons:

  • They are not affectionate
  • They need special equipment and environments
  • They require a lot of care

1. They Are Not Affectionate

Naked mole-rats live in eusocial colonies. Their social behavior centers around this colony. They have zero interest in human interaction, and any interaction causes stress. Handling can result in biting. Their large teeth can cause damage to human hands.

They don’t like human touch as unfamiliar scents interfere with chemical interactions within the colony. Scent communication is essential to their social behavior, so their enclosures stink and are not suitable for a home environment.

2. They Need Special Equipment And Environments

Since naked mole-rats live exclusively underground, they need a captive environment that exactly replicates these conditions. Enclosures contain many separate chambers and tunnels, taking up lots of space and money.

The space needed is more than you would imagine. As eusocial animals, naked mole-rats live in colonies of up to 300 individuals.[3] Ten individuals are the bare minimum population size to assure welfare.

These creatures are especially sensitive to sound and vibration, proper insulation and sealing keep the space comfortable. This process is difficult and expensive.

3. They Require a Lot of Care

Colonies of naked mole-rats in zoo facilities have full-time zookeepers that care for them. 

It takes a large amount of time and energy to keep their habitat as natural as possible. Cleaning, feeding, and enriching in a controlled environment is vital.

Much of this care needs precise knowledge to undertake successfully, which many regular pet owners don’t have.

naked mole rat digging
Image Source

Challenges When Keeping Pet Naked Mole-Rats

Keeping naked mole-rats as pets brings many challenges. These include meeting their basic requirements, controlling their environment perfectly, and maintaining their population.

Naked mole-rats are found in multiple zoo facilities across the world. Caring for them is a highly specialized full-time job for the zookeepers. In captivity, they are helpful for research, education, and guest display.

Naked mole-rats aren’t popular pets simply because every aspect of their care is challenging. The most notable challenges faced are:

  • Social management
  • Population control
  • Environmental conditions

Social Management

Their social structure is different from all other domestic animals. They are one of two eusocial mammal species with the same social structure as ants and bees. Eusociality in captivity needs delicate management to control.

Fighting between ranks could result in deaths if mole-rats do not have a separate place to disperse to, like in the wild.

Population Control

A major challenge in keeping naked mole-rats is controlling the population. The Queen can have a litter every 80 days with stable food sources[4]. With litters of 3-28 individuals, owners quickly run out of space and resources to care for the population.

Baby Naked Mole-Rats
Image Source

Environmental Conditions

Naked mole-rats look strange due to perfectly adapting to their environment. The captive environment should match their wild home to maintain their natural behaviors and positive welfare.

This includes constant control of temperature, humidity, and oxygen level. These parameters need expert knowledge and expensive equipment to achieve.

Containing naked mole-rats in a captive environment is also problematic. Zoos primarily use PVC piping or acrylic lined with soil as tunnels. But the mole-rat’s powerful teeth can chew through this material, so regular repairs are vital to ensuring security.

How Do You Take Care of a Naked Mole-Rat?

Naked mole-rats have demanding care requirements in captivity. They need a specialized environment that is secure and has controlled temperature and humidity. A diet of specific fruit and vegetables that closely aligns with their natural diet is necessary.

Taking care of a naked mole-rat is no easy task. Firstly, they should never live alone. Large groups ensure they can engage in their eusocial behaviors. Care should take these social balances into consideration.

Only water is used for cleaning their enclosure as chemical cleaners can interfere with scent communication. Cleaning the latrine chamber is infrequent to not disrupt feces and urine scent.

During complete cleaning of enclosures, transferring feces and dirty bedding minimizes stress. The stress of an entire change to the environment can increase mortality.[5]

Naked mole-rats need an adequate diet to sustain their metabolism. The distribution of food is throughout chambers and tunnels to facilitate foraging behavior.

Wild diet:

  • Plant storage organs e.g., roots and tubers
  • Feces 
  • Bones

Captive diet:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Yams
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Carrots
  • Apple

Related: What Do Naked Mole-Rats Eat?

Naked Mole-Rat eating
Image Source

The environment is as close to their wild habitat as possible. Parameters should stay stable seasonally as subterranean habitats experience minimal variation.

Temperature30–32℃ or 86–89.6℉ [6]
Light cycle12:12
Tunnel diameter1.5in or 4cm
BeddingPaper, cardboard, untreated wood shavings

Final Thoughts

Keeping naked mole-rats as pets put their lives and welfare at risk. This fantastic species is not domestic, and caring for them as a pet requires special enclosures and expert knowledge.

If you want a small, hairless rodent in your home, consider a hairless rat! This domesticated rat can give you companionship with much less work, money, and time with a similar look to the mole-rat.

About Sophie Herlihy (Zoologist)

Sophie Herlihy, a trained zoologist, is a lover of true misfit animals. With a specialty in insects, birds, and rodents, she helps the Misfit Animals craft factual and valuable informational pieces on various animals.

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