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Keeping Your Pocket Pet Healthy

By: Talia Starkey

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A healthy pocket pet has a stable and stress-free life. His well-balanced meals appear at regular intervals, he has clean bedding and predictable living arrangements, and he follows an established exercise regimen. Few humans organize their own lives quite so well. But as a responsible pet owner it is important to keep these things in mind. Your pocket pet's health may depend on it.

Gerbil

Gerbils have a very strong instinct to dig or burrow, so you should be sure to give your pet lots of bedding. Wood shavings or ground-up corn cobs work well. Don't try to make your gerbil's nest for him - he will choose a corner of the cage on his own, and then will drag any additional bedding he wants over to the nest site. If you want to include a wheel in your gerbil enclosure, be sure to get a plastic wheel that doesn't have any spokes. An adult gerbil's tail is almost as long as his body, and it can easily be caught between the bars on a standard hamster wheel.

Gerbils are desert creatures that don't need much water. But make sure your gerbil has a full water bottle available to him anyway and change the water often to keep it fresh. A good gerbil treat is a couple of pieces of air-popped popcorn. Avoid microwave varieties that are coated with unhealthy salt and oils.

Hamster

More than any other pocket pet, hamsters love to eat fresh veggies and fruits, like broccoli and apples. But their habit of hoarding food in secret piles in their nests catches up with them quickly if they try to hide items that may spoil. The molds that grow on fresh food can be harmful to your pet. Watch your hamster eat the fresh food and grains you set out for him. If he hides the fresh stuff instead of eating it right away, be sure to remove that food from his nest at the end of the day.

Hamsters are nocturnal creatures. Their wild relatives may run up to five miles every night gathering food. Your domestic hamster also needs a lot of exercise, and if you buy a stationary wheel for his cage he will likely run for hours each night. Take care not to disturb your hamster too often during the middle of the day. You'll break up his sleeping time, and you may find that he is ill-tempered and grouchy.

Rat

Your rat likes to get his mouth on everything within reach. He's an omnivore always on the lookout for snacks, but he also needs to file down his always-growing teeth by gnawing on hard objects. If your rat has been doing a lot of chewing, he may wear down his front teeth or even break one. Don't be alarmed. A rat's teeth can grow up to 5 inches each year, so just make sure he gets soft foods while his broken tooth grows out to its normal length. Conversely, if you have an older rat, you may find that he doesn't wear down his teeth enough. A veterinarian with clippers can quickly remedy this problem.

Always keep an eye on your rat if you allow him to exercise outside of the cage. Rats are inquisitive explorers that use their long tails to balance when they climb. But a fall from a high point can be dangerous. He could suffer broken bones or internal injuries that could prove fatal.

Home Sweet Home

Your pocket pet probably lives in one of the family rooms or bedrooms in your home. Try to make sure that the temperature in that room stays relatively constant (somewhere around 70 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for most rodents). Place the cage in a spot where your pets can have a little quiet while they rest and be sure to avoid drafts or direct sunlight.

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