A lot of people get their kids hamsters, mice or gerbils as pets. And the thing is, most of these small fuzzies only live 1-3 years. Here’s 10 Things to Know to make those good years for your fuzzy pal:
- Most pet stores will send your small fuzzy home in a cardboard box. We live 7 minutes from our pet store and the hampy we got yesterday almost chewed her way out of the box by the time we got home!
- A good cage is one that snaps securely shut. Most cages for small fuzzies have plastic bubble-like end caps that are easy to forget to snap into place after cage cleaning and easy targets for your fuzzy to chew. Habitrail Ovo cages snap shut securely and the end caps are less prone to being chewed completely, though, having said that, we did have one hampy that chewed its way out! Habitrail Ovo cages can be as big as you want to make them, because the inter-connecting tubes fit snuggly together, allowing your hampy different cubbies for pooping, for peeing, for storing food, and for sleeping. These cages are also very easy to clean.
- Even with a Habitrail OVO cage, it’s still possible for a hamster, mouse or gerbil to escape, because all it takes is for someone to forget to re-latch a latch or not connect one piece well to another. As a result, it’s critical to keep your little fuzzy in a room that will keep it contained if it escapes from its cage. Our hamsters are secured in a spare bedroom; when two escaped the day after we cleaned all the cages, we found both on the floor behind a storage container, alive and well.
- Hamsters, mice and gerbils are all chewers to varying degrees. After our gerbils chewed their way out of their cage (and we got a new cage because they’d done such a good job destroying their first one!), we began feeding them our junk mail. All three were like professional shredders. Other small critters prefer apple twigs and chew sticks that you can get from pet stores.
- Hamsters, mice and gerbils need access to food and water 24 hours a day because they have very high metabolic rates.
- Hamsters, mice and gerbils are very fragile. Put cages on short storage containers, shelves or dressers so that if your pet escapes, the distance from the cage to the floor is less than a foot onto carpeting. Also make sure that if people handle your small pet, put the cage and the people that want to hold the pet on the floor so that if your fuzzy pal happens to fall, it won’t get hurt.
- Most hamsters, mice and gerbils don’t bite, but if one does—and no matter how hard you try–its bite will make you jerk your hand away, which may send the little fuzzy flying. When you first get your small pet and until you are used to handling it, put the cage and yourself on the floor.
- Hamsters, mice and gerbils can run over 5 miles a night on an exercise wheel, so be sure your cage has an exercise wheel suitable to the size of your pet. For variety, you might allow your pal to run inside a ball for 30 minutes, but be sure he rolls around in a safe environment, free from stairs or other dangers should it escape from the ball.
- In chapter 5 of Something Furry Underfoot, my Tip #28: It is important (although not easy) to know a boy gerbil from a girl gerbil. The same is true of hamsters, gerbils and mice. One boy and girl together almost always equals babies, so be sure to check and double-check the sexes of your hampies at the pet store. The basic rule of thumb: if the holes are the same distant apart, then they’re the same sex. If they’re not the same distant apart, one is a boy, the other is a girl. And if you’re wrong—or unlucky like we were when we bought a hamster we didn’t know was already pregnant—you’ll have babies to deal with.
- Boy hamsters, gerbils and mice usually need their own cages. Every set of boy hamsters, mice and gerbils we had needed to be separated and put into a separate cage. Female siblings may get along—we have twins that have been together over a year—but always be ready to separate your small pets.
- As your hamster, gerbil or mouse ages, it may not be able to open and chew some seeds (like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds). I give my older hamsters small pieces of grapes and tomatoes and pepitas (the inside, edible part of a pumpkin seed) which are softer than other seeds.
- Wet tail is a disease that’s not uncommon in larger (sometimes called Syrian) hamsters. A hamster with “wet tail” has a wet tail due to having diarrhea caused by a bacterial infection. There are several online sites that provide ideas on how to deal with wet tail, including here. Sadly, most hamsters—including 3 of ours—do not recover from wet tail. Ask the pet store or breeder you get your Syrian hamster from if there’s any history of wet tail.