Monday, December 17, 2007

Gerbils Are Fun, Friendly Small Pets

I was in Petco the other day taking a look at the white mice, hamsters, rats, guinea pigs, and gerbils. It brought to mind the time my daughter won a gerbil in a second grade science fair. It was a little, black gerbil my daughter named, Blacky.

My sons had hamsters and white mice as pets in the past, so I figured it was basically the same type of care for the gerbil. What I wasn't expecting was the personality Blacky had. He was very friendly, while the hamsters we had owned always bit. Blacky lived for five years, and never once bit anyone.

He also seemed to be very intelligent. He would sit on his haunches, reaching two paws outside the cage, beckoning for sunflower seeds. My daughter would hand him a seed, he would take it and carefully eat it while turning it over in his paws. When he finished the seed, he would reach out for another one. He never grabbed, or seemed frightened of us at all.

Another of Blacky's talents was house construction. We would put fluff in the cage, so he could build a nest to snuggle into, and each night he would reconstruct his home. It always had multiple doors, or windows (I'm not sure which they were supposed to be). When someone came into the room, he would pop his head out of one of the windows to take a peek. The next night, he would rebuild his home in a different design. These were intricate house designs, not just piles of fluff! I think he was a 'gerbil architect'.

Blacky would allow my daughter to hold him in her hand, or carry him in her pocket. He would also sit on her shoulder while she did her homework. He did occasionally jump down, or get out of the cage, but he would never run off like my son's hamsters used to. Blacky would not even leave my daughter's bedroom, although the door was open. When he was tired of being loose, he would stand on his back legs and look at my daughter until she picked him up and put him back in his cage.

It was a sad day when Blacky passed away, but he certainly taught me a lot about gerbils that I never knew before. I would never hesitate to give a gerbil as a pet, knowing how gentle Blacky was. I believe if you take care of a gerbil's needs, giving him a roomy cage, nesting material, an adequate water bottle, sunflower seed treats, as well as a well balanced gerbil food, and treat him gently, he will be a wonderful pet. We also used to put a gnawing bone in his cage to prevent his teeth from growing too long. Some pet stores recommend getting two gerbils, since they are social animals, but Blacky was fine alone; maybe that was just him.

Pet stores also carry entire critter habitats that come with running wheels, tubes to climb through and water bottles. They come in a variety of sizes. Children like these habitats for the little animals because they are very colorful and can be expanded. We just used a basic cage, and Blacky seemed happy. I would recommend a gerbil to anyone trying to decide on a small pet.

Here's a cute video of gerbils I found on YouTube:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Keep Pets Safe during the Holidays

"Tis the season to be jolly!" We all want to feel that way during the holidays, including your pet. Whether you own a dog, cat, bird, or ferret, make sure you pet proof your home during all the holiday festivities. You would be surprised the things your pet can get into when the house is decorated and all kinds of special foods are prepared.

Last Christmas, I thought my 11 year old beagle, Hunter, was old enough not to really have to worry about him during Christmas dinner. After all, he had been around for 10 Christmas's before this without an incident. My whole family was all seated around the dining room table for Christmas dinner when there was a crash and scuffling from the kitchen. I jumped up and on the floor was the pecan pie I had baked the day before. My beagle had already gulped down half the pie, whipped cream and all. By the time I reached him, the whole pie was gone! This all happened within about 30 seconds.

Well, Hunter looked at me with his big brown eyes, whipped cream on the bottom of his floppy ears, and I couldn't get angry with him, after all, it was Christmas. About 10 minutes later, his belly was bloated and he vomited the entire pie back up again. It was not too appealing to the rest of the family trying to eat Christmas dinner. Hunter was miserable for the rest of the day, just lying on his bed with a look of despair in his eyes.

This is only one example of what a pet can get into during the holidays. Fortunately, his stomach misery only lasted a day, but there are many other dangers to watch for when decorating and preparing for the holidays.

Cats love sleeping under Christmas trees, and sometimes climbing them. Make sure your tree is secure, unable to fall over on top of your pet. You will also want to be careful of glass ornaments, as they can shatter easily and your pet could cut a paw or even eat the shards of glass. This is especially likely if you make homemade cookie ornaments. Your dog can't tell the difference between a dog biscuit and a cookie ornament hanging on your tree. One lunge at the tree after a cookie ornament, and chaos will break loose.

Also, be careful of feeding your pet leftovers. If you do, double-check for turkey skewers and small bones. Either one of these things could lodge in your pet's stomach or intestines causing life threatening conditions.

These are only a few of the many hazards the holidays can present to your pet. If you are careful, and pet proof your home, all of you will have a happy holiday. Happy Holidays to all of you and your precious pets.