Caring for Small Pets


When I was 9 or 10, Santa brought me a hamster for Christmas. He had a nice wire cage, a wheel to run on, and plenty of toys too.  When I was older, I had a gerbil named Cali.  Cali was spoiled with paper towel rolls to chew through, lots of tubes to run in, and daily vegetable treats.

Caring for small pets is a big responsibility.

Caring for small pets is a big responsibility.

So if anyone in your family got a new gerbil, hamster or other small pet for Christmas, here are 10 tips for taking care of it.

1. Know your pet.  Some hamsters need to live alone (Syrian hamsters) while others, like Dwarf hamsters and gerbils, like to be social.

2. Place your cage accordingly.  Make sure your pet’s cage is away from drafts and direct sunlight. A wire cage or 10 gallon aquarium with a wire top is a good choice for an enclosure.

3. Choose proper absorbent bedding. While cedar chips smell nice to us, their smells can adversely affect small pets.  Better options are aspen shavings or timothy hay. Make sure to include lots of bedding as gerbils and hamsters like to dig and burrow.

4. Watch the teeth! The teeth of hamsters and gerbils grow continuously, so having good chew toys available is a must!  They will even chew on soft plastic tubing if they don’t have any other options. Your local pet store will have plenty of options for you to choose from.

5. Provide toys for play.  Gerbils and hamsters love to play.  Having a solid wheel to run on, tubes to hide in and other toys to chew on or play with ensures that your pet is happy and healthy. In a pinch paper towel cardboard rolls work great!

6. Feed me! A good hamster or gerbil food blend will work just fine for your new pet.  But it’s good to also offer it a variety of fresh veggies throughout the week.  Carrots, leaf lettuce and broccoli are all good choices.  Make sure to remove any leftover bits of food before they spoil. Please don’t feed your pet any of the following: cabbage, potatoes, onions, uncooked beans, chocolate, candy or junk food.

7. Handle with care. Get your pet used to you by feeding it treats from your outstretched hand.  Soon you should be able to pick up your pet and play with it.  You may even be able to let it run around free from time to time. Never pick a gerbil or hamster up by its tail.

8. Make sure to clean your pet’s cage weekly and change its water at least every other day.

9. Watch for signs of sickness.  Sneezing, difficulty breathing, or extreme fatigue are all signs that something might be wrong with your pet. If you notice any of these make sure to take it to the vet immediately!

10.  Keep your pet happy! Engage with it, provide it with toys and treats, and make sure your pet has a clean and healthy home.  All of these things will ensure that your pet lives a long and happy life.