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Having Fun with Your Gerbil

By: Talia Starkey

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If your pet gerbil were a human member of your family, he would be your tag-along little brother: the one who's always interested in what you are doing and wants to get his hands in it, too. Gerbils are social and curious creatures by nature. Your pet will keep an eye on you when you're in the room with him and may come up to the cage wall to get a better look at you. An inquisitive gerbil delights in the new toys you give him – fancy store-bought items or homemade ones – and will welcome an occasional change of scenery.

Gerbils Startle Easily

Small and furry though they are, gerbils are not pets you can snuggle up with. Gerbils are a prey species in the wild and their senses are highly developed to detect changes in the nearby environment. They startle easily. They can sense the slightest motion nearby or hear a sound as subtle as an owl's wings flapping through the air. Gerbils react with sudden, jerky movements, and it is quite normal for them to be fast and furiously active for a short period of time and then suddenly drop off into sleep. Many gerbil owners find that observing these comic antics is quite amusing.

Gerbils tend to hop or jump rather than run. They use their strong back legs to dig tunnels, attack their rivals or escape from predators. Your gerbil can leap more than 18 inches horizontally or 6 inches vertically. He can jump forward, backward and sideways and can even change direction in the air.

Fragile Tails

Gerbils use their furry four-inch-long tails for balance when they jump. The tip of a gerbil's tail may be snapped off during a fight or rough play. A tail can also get caught in the spokes of an exercise wheel, so many breeders recommend that you do not give your pet this toy. The severed tail will not grow back but the tail stub should heal relatively easily. Clean the wound with a mild antiseptic to make sure that it does not get infected.

Never pick a gerbil up by his tail or it may break off. Some older pet books recommend that you grab your pet at the base of his tail (closest to his body) and then scoop under the rest of his body to lift him, but this is almost certain to distress your gerbil. Instead, cup your hands around your gerbil, forming a small secure cave inside your fingers. Move slowly, and if your gerbil still seems frightened of you, try rubbing your hands on some of the bedding in his cage before you approach him. The familiar smell of the bedding will disguise your scent. With time, your gerbil will feel comfortable exploring your arms and your pockets and may even decide he likes the view from your shoulder.

Safe Gerbil Toys

You may already have these safe and simple gerbil toys somewhere in your house: Cardboard egg-carton sections, old Kleenex boxes (remove the plastic lining), wooden blocks with holes drilled through them, empty oatmeal bins, toilet paper tubes, glass jars, small ladders and fruit-tree branches. Add these toys to your gerbil cage one or two at a time or put your gerbils in an empty children's swimming pool with a number of these new objects and watch them explore. Always close the doors and windows of the room where you play with your gerbils to cut down on the risk of escape.

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