Some thoughts on selecting and keeping a small caged pet.

When choosing a small pet it is worth putting some thought into what to get depending on your family, particularly the ages of any children. This article is intended to help you make an informed decision. It is however based on my own personal experiences keeping little furyís and should in no way be taken as Ďexpert opinioní. A vet should be more than happy to discuss any more detailed questions you have before you decide. You should read all sections, as much of the information is true for all small furrys.

Hamsters
Gerbils
Rats
Mice
Conclusion

Hamsters

[sandy standing on tube]

A lot of people think hamsters are fairly boring creatures. This is wrong, it is usually because they are bored and donít have much to do! This is not their fault, and it is down to the owner to provide things to keep it occupied. It doesnít help that they are largely nocturnal and so may not be seen much during the day. This I feel makes them less than ideal for young children.

One of the greatest things you can get for a hamster is a terrarium or fish tank and put some sand and it. Connecting it to his existing caging can be fairly easily achieved using a value pack from one of the proprietary cage systems. The hardest part being to cut in a hole in the side of the terrarium without cracking it in the case of Perspex. If some food it is occasionally mixed in with the sand the hamster will have hours a fun searched it out and taking it to store. They also love a good collection of tunnels to run through, one of our hamsters clocking up in excess of eight miles a night which is a hell of lot for a small creature. And of course they do like good wheel to run on. Sandy our first hamster managed to wear the central out of the wheel and I had to rebuild it using a wheel bearing of a motorcycle.

One a major consideration is smell and in this respect the female hamster smells a lot more than the male in my experience.

As far as handling is concerned hamsters are wonderfully handle able if done so from an early age. This should be done, as with all small pets, by scoping them up gently form underneath, because if you grab them from the top it feels to them like a bird is picking them up for lunch and it will quite rightly defend its selfís. They can be most vicious creatures if their of a mind too. Their bites can go deep down to the bone (easily the worst bites I have received were from a hamster) as they have very powerful jaws for a small critter. One thing to remember this is a desert creature and happily hunts and kills scorpions. They do however make exhalent companions if you spend a lot of time with them.

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Gerbils

[Pepper standing up ]

We got gerbils as we fancied having more than one critter in the caging. Syrian hamsters canít be kept together and the little dwarf hamsters which can, would easily escape our set up. Gerbils are very social creatures and should be purchased at least as a pair or more. They bond for life and single ones tend not to live as long. Obviously its better if they are all the same sex or your going to end up with a awful lot of gerbils.

I think they are the cutest of the critters and very amusing to watch. Of course you have to give them something to do and entertain them selves, otherwise, as with any caged critter they will become board and boring. They are very suited to the propriety caging set ups you can get with plastic tunnels. Being compulsive chewers they will slowly nibble away at the caging, so an eye has to be kept open for openings appearing. I have had to reinforce some arias of our setup with aluminum and they have started, and managed to chew some of that. Cardboard is favorite for them and a terrarium filled with cardboard tubes from toilet rolls and other card will supply hours if entertainment for them and you. You really need card without printing on as some ink can be toxic and anything with a glossy finish may have copper in and on the surface.

As far as smell is concerned, I hardly notice any coming from them. They seem to choose a place as a toilet, and that is where most of the cleaning will be needed. With having a reasonably large setup we clean a bit at a time on a rotation cycle, doing it all over about 2 months. The toilet aria though will need doing about once a fortnight or more depending on the size of the group.

One thing to keep an eye on with male gerbils is the cent gland on their bellyís. This can become infected, especially if living in a group of males without females. However your vet should be able to remove it if it becomes infected.

You do have to be careful handling gerbils as if you grab their tails, even accidentally they can shed the skin and part of the tail causing great pain and pretty much knackering any chance of it trusting you. They can also be a bit skittish and combined with the above makes them not best suited for young children.

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Rats

[Rosy sitting on Sabrinaís neck whilst phoning ]

Rats came as a surprise for us. Id never really thought of them as pets but we walked into the pet shop and a very enthusiastic member of staff ushered Sabrina to the back of the shop. "You must meet this wonderfully handle able rat." Well, I thought, thereís going to be some shrieking, as Sabrina was put off enough by the gerbilís tails and a rats is longer with out fur. However by the time I made it to the cages the rat was settled on Sabrinaís neck and making itself at home in her hood. 15 minuets later and she was coming home with us and was named Rosy.

Rats are the most wonderful pets, they are intelligent and will answer to their names and will use a litter tray (or corner of caging) and can be trusted in most cases not to wonder far if allowed to roam freely. They also love being cuddled in the crook of your arm, making a contented chuntering sound with there teeth similar to a cat purring.

Being active day and night, very easy to handle as well as robust, they are very suitable for small children. Rats are incredibly gentle and may grab a finger but lightly if curios but have never hurt me or drawn blood.

They can smell a bit but if you keep their toilet aria cleaned regularly, and clean them out completely once a month it seems to stay under control.

Its worth pointing out at this stage that there is a valuable lesson to learn when dealing with animals. Its that with all animals, if they grab you with their mouths or bat a paw at you (in the case of cats for example) you should keep a still as possible as pulling away can cause scratching and if it thinks your trying to get away it may grab harder. Remember we are a lot bigger than them so itís understandable that they may feel threatened and act in self defense instinctively. Its not their fault if they hurt you, always go gently.

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Mice

[Mazy in Sabrinas Hand]

I have always loved mice. I had a couple when I was young. Well I say a couple; it started with what we thought were 2 male mice from different pet shops. One brown mouse and a champagne colored one. But after 2 weeks the champagne one was getting very fat and we realized that Jimmy was a Jimima. Shortly thereafter we had a total of 11 mice. These were quickly separated in to male and female, as apparently they can breed from 3 weeks. We did this several times to make sure they were separated properly as it is very hard to be sure with something only the size of a thumb nail.

As it happens, it turns out 2 male mice would have fought each other if not together from birth in the same litter so it wouldnít have worked out anyway.

Mice can tend to smell a bit. It was the first thing you noticed when you walked in our house even with regular cleaning. If this is a problem the female donít smell nearly as much as the male. And of course cleaning regularly helps to.

Like rats they active both day and night and are very Handel able once you have hold of them The base of the tail can be held firmly but gently to stop them leaping of your hand if skittish. As with all small animals, mice can be seriously hurt if not killed by a fall from hand height.

They love the plastic tunneling, caging and a terrarium full of cardboard. You have to be sure the caging is tight as it were, as a mouse can squeeze through incredibly small gaps if they want to.

Mice have come a long was since my child hood, with almost wild mice. I now have a very posh mouse with a delightful orange belly. She was in the pet shop for weeks and I kept going in every week to handle her and well eventually it was inevitable that she came home with me.

Occasionally they can get microscopic mites that irritate their earís. It is generally only noticed by them itching their ears till they bleed. I had this on one of mine when I was a child and also Mazy who I have now got them resonantly, but a vet can easily treat it if caught early with a microscopic drop of something to the infested aria. You should handle your pet, whatever you have once a week so as to check for any illness or injuryís.

Incidentally, we also had 4 cats at the same time, but thankfully they never met apart from 1 time when a cat came out of the room where the mice where and we noticed a cage was open. We found One very scared mouse huddling between a couple of picture frames but thankfully none the worst for the experience.

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[Honey cage setup. ]

Conclusion

So there you have it, my thoughts on choosing a caged pet. It is very important that whatever you have as pets, that you recognize your duty of care for them. A Rat may live for 5 years and will need attention regularly as do all pets. The age of the person who is the main care giver must be taken into consideration. It is Also worth checking out a vet who has experience with small furyís. If you notice something wrong with one, you must get it to a vet quickly. With them being so small it doesnít take much time for it to become life threatening and you donít want to be hunting round in an emergency. Obviously you have to be careful with their caging and handling that they canít hurt themselves by jumping or falling too far, especially if you have a rat roaming freely. Also most rodents teeth grow continually so they need to chew a lot or the teeth can cause considerable pain and discomfort, they may occasionally need trimming if they start interfering with mouth use or eating. Once again, a good reason for handling at least once a week. A vet should be able to trim them with no problem. Whatever you choose, given time regular and attention they are all very rewarding.

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[Initials monogram  A R T]

This page added..29/09/09