Caring For Mice, Hamsters, and Gerbils
Small rodents are popular pets because they are generally relatively easy to care for.
Specific behavior depends on the species. Gerbils are hardy, active animals that can be territorial; therefore, they are best caged singly. They should never be picked up by their tails, as the tail skin can slough easily. They drink very small quantities of water.
Hamsters tend to be less active and are easier to hold than gerbils; however, they can jump, are nocturnal (active at night), and may bite, if awakened suddenly. They should be caged singly. Hamsters tend to develop stress-related diseases, such as gastrointestinal problems, more easily than some other small rodents. They need to be kept relatively cool. They do not tolerate hot, humid conditions. At very low temperatures, they go into a deep, hibernating sleep. Hamsters generally like to exercise on wheels and may escape their cages by chewing through plastic. All small rodents' incisor teeth grow continuously and should be provided with safe, wooden toys on which to chew.
Mice are fairly disease-resistant, quick moving, nocturnal animals. They do not bite as much as some of the other small rodents. Male mice may fight, but females may be housed together.
Generally, commercially available formulated diets (block or pellet form) are recommended. feeding all seed diets or seed-pellet combinations are not recommended, as most small rodents will select out the high fat seed and ignore the more nutritious pellets, leading to obesity, vitamin/mineral deficiency, and other nutritional problems, such as osteoporosis. Small amounts of fresh vegetables and fruit may also be offered daily. Gradual introduction of any new food is essential in order to prevent starvation.
Small rodents may be housed in plastic or wire cages. If wire is used, the cage bottom should have a plastic tray that slides out easily for cleaning. Plastic cages must be well ventilated. Bedding should be made from newspaper, paper towels, or recycled paper products. Wood shavings and corncob are not recommended because they may be dusty, allergenic, and difficult to keep clean.
Food may be offered in small, heavy, shallow dishes; overhead hoppers affixed to cage walls also may be used to prevent food hoarding and food contamination with feces. Water should be given in small sipper bottles hung inside the cage. Care should be taken to ensure the sipper tubes don't get blocked with air bubbles or debris and that bottles don't empty out from leaking.
Many small rodents, especially hamsters, love to run on exercise wheels. Longhaired hamsters' coats should be trimmed short to avoid injury from getting caught in the wheels. Also, wheels should not have sharp edges. Small rodents often enjoy rolling around inside plastic spherical exercise balls; however, they should be kept away from stairways and small children when in the balls. Plastic mazes and tunnels can also be fun for small rodents. These pets must be taken out of their cages daily and handled to socialize them and to provide environmental stimulation.
Veterinary Examinations and Healthcare:
All small rodents should be examined by a veterinarian initially after purchase and annually thereafter to ensure they are healthy. They should receive a complete physical examination and a fecal analysis to check for parasites. Diet and husbandry requirements should be reviewed.
Adapted from C. Bihun, L. Bauch. Small Rodents: Basic Anatomy, Physiology, Husbandry, and Clinical techniques. In K.E. Quesenberry, J.W. Carpenter (eds.) Ferrets, Rabbits, and rodents: Clinical medicine and Surgery, 2nd Edition, 2004.
This information is not a replacement for a veterinary consultation.
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