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News :: Environment
02 Sep 2006
Info on how to care for my favorite pet
Scientific name: Meriones unguiculatus
Size: These busy little rodents are about four inches long, with a tail of the same length. But unlike mice, who have naked tails, gerbils have fur on theirs! (Gerbils are like mice and rats, however, in that they're all rodents.)
Lifespan: Usually from three to five years.
In the wild, their color is brownish-gray, to blend in with the desert environment they live in. Pet gerbils are also available in a variety of colors, including white, albino and black.
Your pet gerbil will get really lonely if he's on his own, so it's a good idea to get at least two. If you introduce them when they're young, they'll be great friends--that's why it's good to choose gerbils from the same litter. When adults who don't know each other are introduced, they may fight. And please keep males and females separated, or they will have babies.
Food: You can buy a food formulated specially for gerbils at the pet supply store. The mixture contains seeds, grains and pellets. Every day you'll need to supplement your pets' food with small pieces of fresh fruit and vegetables, such as apples, carrots and cucumber.
Drink: Don't forget to fill 'er up! Fresh, clean water should be available to your gerbils at all times. Use an upside-down bottle with a drip tube, and change it daily.
You may notice that your pets go for the yummy, high-fat sunflower seeds first. They will eventually eat the other super-nutritious high-protein seeds, so please take care not to give them extra sunflower seeds--or your gerbils could start packing on extra weight.
Housing: A ten-gallon aquarium with a wire-mesh top is a good home for a pair of gerbils. Plastic habitats with connecting tubes are okay, but your hamsters will probably scratch the tubes and sides of the habitat, so it'll be harder to see them. Avoid cages with bars, as the gerbils will kick out the bedding as they dig.
Yes, they will dig--line the cage with extra bedding of aspen or hardwood shavings and you'll see just how much! Add some hay or shredded paper towels so they can make a cozy nest. They love to tunnel, too, so be sure to provide your gerbils with cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper. Larger, more sturdy tubes--made of PVC, for example--also will serve this purpose.
All gerbils need a place for sleeping and resting. Use a medium-size flower pot or other sturdy container; don't use anything made of soft plastic or cardboard, or your gerbils will chew it to bits.
Place a smooth, clean stone or rock in your gerbils' cage. This will serve as a lookout for your pets, who are curious (more like nosy!) by nature and like to see what's going on.
Gerbils are pretty frisky, so you gotta keep yours busy to keep 'em happy. First, they'll need an exercise wheel. Make sure it's the kind without any openings. Otherwise, their tails might get caught.
Exercise: You should also let your gerbils exercise outside their cage every day--preferably in a screened-off play area. Think of it as a gym class! You'll have to supervise, of course. That means making sure your pets don't get lost in the area or chew on electrical wires. Make sure they have all the necessary cool gerbil toys--flower pots, boxes and cardboard tubes for exploring, and rocks and ladders for climbing and crawling. Keep in mind that gerbils can't see very well, so watch yours carefully so they don't fall off tables or chairs.
Handling: Gerbils seldom bite, but you'll still need to get your new pets used to you--and used to being handled. Start by feeding them small treats. When they're comfortable with that, you can pick each one up by scooping him into your hand. Do not pick up a gerbil by the tail, as this can cause an injury.
Your gerbils' teeth will grow continuously, so they'll need to chew--a lot--to keep their choppers sharpened to wear them down as they grow. Make sure they have a piece of log or wood that hasn't been painted or treated with chemicals for this purpose.
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