Burrowing Box: a Tour of current Gerbil set up

AND this is my 50th post!

burrow box set up

I know, I know. Gerbils would probably be happiest with a tank full of substrate to burrow in. The longer and higher the better. But I think as Gerbils also love a change up in their environment to stave off boredom that having a burrow box now and then is good fun. So, I found a sizable and sturdy, thick cardboard box (mine seem to never have an interest in chewing through thick cardboard) and filled it up all the way with substrate and put a piece of driftwood on top so they’d have the “roots” to burrow between and under like in the natural environment and then left the rest of the place low level substrate, place their sand bath in there, and some tunnels and such. On top of that is a gigantic piece of driftwood to climb and perch and use as a ladder to get in and out of their burrowing box.

Well, I wasn’t too surprised but they love it! They have been spending a great deal of time in and out of their burrow box and climbing and jumping off and onto their driftwood “tree” and running about their flat area. And the sand box was an addition a week ago when I changed out their substrate completely and did a clean. They go to the bathroom in that just like my hamsters. So, now I have litter trained Gerbils! They also (like the hamsters) enjoy to groom in the box and do their zen type meditation it seems. Gosh I love these guys!

I also placed a lot of things for them to chew up and gnaw on within their burrowing box and tossed a handful of food for them to forage about inside. Having it so contained (smaller but much deeper burrowing space is much more fun for them so far. Pretty much, I think it’s mainly the idea that Gerbils like to have change to keep it exciting and the newness of this is making them come alive again.

Making these Gerbils happy and playful is always such a high light of my day. They had such dismal beginnings and now I feel like I’m giving them so much.

Let Mercury give you the tour of the sandbox/aka litter box, the food/treat bowl (a terra cotta pot), the overlook (very top of the driftwood), and now entering the burrowing box.

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I tell my husband often – if these guys are so much fun can you imagine “normal” gerbils? Meaning – gerbils who were socialized and had more humane beginnings than these guys? The type who are more tame and hop on your arm and want to explore outside the tank and get to know their people? We’ve come a long way. And I know that by the end of this year we’ll have come and even longer way. Will it get to the point they are so tame they are hitch a ride on my shoulder? I don’t know. Maybe they never will. And that’s okay. If I didn’t have children I’d spend so much free time with them that they probably would have overcome quite more in a shorter period of time. At the same time the activity of my oldest child running about has done it’s job in getting them less skittish of our movement too. Without children I’d be working somewhere else all day.

Strawberry’s Cage Just Got A Little More Exciting.

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Continuing with Strawberry’s special week – his toys came in from Doctors Foster and Smith’s website. The coconut hideaway and the wood and rope ladder. He already has made the coconut his house. What great stuff! And inexpensive too!

Now his cage isn’t so boring looking eh? Here are some pictures of his set up though as you can see from the first photo I rearranged after taking these shots. I turned his coconut around slightly and his ladder leading to it is no longer hanging up but left to dangle down. I realized he much preferred climbing up it. To think these are marketed as bird toys!!! If only these suppliers would get some sense about hamsters, mice, rodents in general – their needs for enrichment and their capabilities!

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I need to put a cap in spending but I detest Silent Spinners and prefer Wodent Wheels and wanted to replace Strawberry’s with a Wodent Wheel Junior (8″). They are so expensive however. They seem built to last though. And even if not – replacement parts are cheap. At least through the man I buy them through who I have linked on my “Recommended” category in links on the left sidebar. A white panel with lavender track is on the way. As well an “Icy Blue” panel and navy blue track for Bob (Penny is getting the Pink and “Icy Blue” wheel he has now as it’s more girlie – as if they care! LOL). I’m putting Penny’s Flying Saucer in the play pen.

Eventually, I might get Wodent Wheels for the Robos – thinking on to the future when I get more Robos who I’ll try to keep housed together. Wheels take up less space than Flying Saucers and with Robos you need to have a one for each – so two Robos get two wheels, two food bowls, etc. Unless I get the Detolf (A dream of mine when / if we get the space) I will have to use my largest bin cage and that won’t fit two of everything without it being super crowded!

I forgot to mention in my last post that I’ve made some changes to the hamster room. In my last post I discussed how Dwarf hams are a bit more diurnal. What even set up that post was the fact I decided to move Strawberry back downstairs to hang with us in the living room all day because we tend to spend our special time with him during the day. It only made sense to have him down there when his ball is kept down there in the kitchen for his ease of rolling about and no fear of flying down the stairs in it! And there is no room in the hamster room to roll around. Even since I rearranged everything completely in the room.

So, back to that. I spend my time with the Syrians at night when everyone is in bed but me. I also watch the Robos in action while in the play pen playing with Bob and Penny (separately of course). I have cleaned the room – shavings galore! But also rearranged the entire room. Moved cages. Moved the stands the cages were on. Etc. In doing this I’ve expanded the pen area in which I sit within – to be drastically spacier. It includes letting them free range under the shelves and around the back of Penny’s cage.

The other play pen remains the same size but I’m about to begin making more platforms for it. To make it more exciting and to make more out of the height of the walls. If only I could get more alert time and I’d get to work with craft sticks.

Dwarfs more Day Time Friendly

As many dwarf ham owners realize pretty quickly (especially in comparison of other species they may have simultaneously (Syrians, Roborovskis) you have a more day time oriented hamster. Oh, still super nocturnal but of all my hamsters, Strawberry, a hybrid dwarf (a breeding of the Winter White and the Campbells) is the one most ready to get out for some day time romp and stomp.

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Every valiant knight has a noble hamster at his side!

And some ball time! He is my only hamster who enjoys a ball. Contrary to what the pet store people will try to tell you – the tiny tiny ball they sell? No. That isn’t going to be satisfactory for a dwarf. A Rob0 hamster, yes. But a dwarf needs the bigger ball while a big Syrian (perhaps not a smaller Syrian) will need a Rat sized ball which is HUGE.

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I keep extra Duck tape on the side of the ball because I’m paranoid about the door to it popping open. So, I keep a piece over it and a spare on the side. I also keep a timer on 15 minutes to remind me that he is in fact still in the ball (as a mom to a small boy and a baby boy your mind wanders believe me!) and that he needs a break to have food and water before going back in or calling it a day! Usually, he’s finished after 15 minutes.

Probably not all dwarf hamsters are so raring to go in the day time at some point. But many owners of them I’ve spoken with have agreed that compared to their Syrians, their dwarf is a hamster they can play with during the day. Strawberry is the only hamster I have that isn’t angry about being awoken from his sleep. I life the house and he awakes immediately and excited for my hand. He’s such a special hamster. (I end up saying that about each one don’t I?)

No such thing as a kid’s pet.

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It’s really healthy to have pets in a household. Not only has recent research shown that children raised with animals have fewer allergies and overall seem to get sick less often but also they have the chance to learn to respect all creatures great and small. To nurture. To be responsible for another life. To have a creature that “listens” and to hold and cuddle or pet when they feel all those feelings that children can have and not express. Animals enrich our lives. There is no mistake about that. They are a vital part of our civilization. On a smaller scale our families.

Many people think of hamsters as throw-away pets. Or just simply children’s pets. Truth is most hamsters don’t awake much at all until after a child’s bedtime. So they make pretty poor children’s pets. They are more fragile. Less interested in being held or played with. Though they are loving in their own unique hamster way one doesn’t seek a hamster as a pet expecting it to be like a dog. My son is rough and tumble. And not to sound contrary but one would think a a pet more suited for him would beĀ  a large dog. That may be true. But really there is no such thing as a children’s pet. Be it a big dog they can wrestle. Nor is it a hamster just because a kid can do very little with it for it to survive therefore it’s “easy” for them.

So, despite a hamster being in my opinion – like any other animal – being an adult’s responsibility first and foremost… And a hamster being more like an insomniac adults’ pet at that – I still thought that for a 2-year-old and now 3-year-old – a hamster would still serve a great purpose for my son’s upbringing as well bring me hours and days and hopefully a few years joy. With proper supervision I felt that a hamster would be appropriate for a “family pet”. I was delighted with how gentle my wild son becomes with hamsters. How eager he is to hold them and how delicate he does it. How delighted he is with them. Yes, he’s 3 and he of course has no responsibilities over them. Clearly, they are more my pets. But what is key here is that my son is watching me. More than you would think. And he’s absorbing the respect and care and love I put into the rodents.

As he gets older he’ll probably ask for pets of his own. I’ve planted a seed. Despite his age – while he’s still a child any pet I agree on will be first and foremost MY responsibility while teaching him responsibility as well. I’ll be expecting him to first take care of things while keeping a close eye on the follow through.

I think children who grow up learning to respect and be gentle and love animals are growing up to be good-hearted adults. And be that animal a dog or cat or horse or hamster – they all deserve that respect. They are all God’s living creatures – great or small – a child’s pet is really an adults pet. Or should be. And that means that all pets are to have spacious, clean, stress free environments, healthy foods, veterinarian care and love. It’s not “Just” a hamster anymore than it’s “Just” a dog.

We strive as parents to do the best by our children by the lessons we not just teach them but model for them. These little hamsters and gerbils are a big part of that.

Gerbil Glam & Fears

Gerbils Jan 2013

So, my gerbils have become super active. They have overcome so many fears and are now normal gerbils I think. I loved them at first sight because my heart went out to them when they were in miserable conditions. And now day by day it grows stronger. I’m so attached. I worry sometimes that my husband could get an overseas assignment in a year. It’s always possible with the military. If he did there is no where overseas that would accept U.S.A rodents – pets or otherwise – into their country. Not even to quarantine. The thought that I would be forced to choose between moving with my husband to a foreign land (or Hawaii – American land but still consider ‘overseas’ in Military and strict on rodents) or my pets. And even if I could bring them all – there is a limit to how many pets you may bring. I have a dog, two gerbils, and five hamsters. Who do I pick? Seriously. But of course I think our chances are slim. There is a chance …but somehow I just don’t foresee it. At least I pray not. I have no desire to live in a foreign country and call me crazy but I have no desire to live in Hawaii either. Now, UK …that would be AWESOME … but he’s Army and it’s mainly Airforce who get stationed there. I digress …it’s a worry I have. Because there is no other reason I would have to give them up that I can see. No other reason I would. And the thought of being forced to give them up …all of them …hammys and gerbils …makes me SICK to my stomach!!!

So, they were playful in their tank and making my son and myself giggle. I decided to snap shots of them and how their habitat is looking. They really work around the roots and logs of the wood in there as well the wooden bendy arches and cardboard tubes that I had in there. Everything is made into a burrow. Photos don’t do justice. In person, up close is the only way to see how truly amazing it looks in there. Like a hobbit house!! I wish I could shrink my self so I could venture into their labyrinth.

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Updates & Hammy Hauls

My last post about my Robo brothers I was attempting to reintroduce them. I did the split cage method where I put a wall between them so they could smell each other but be safe from scraps. I then would switch their sides every day so they would get used to each others scent until they smelled the same. I then lifted the wall after a little over a week and the went right at it. What is so strange is how they did this. It was quiet. It looked like a lot of sniffing of each other. But then I saw the blood! OMG!

I felt sick to my stomach. Luckily in just seconds Snow backed off and I was able to scoop him up quickly and put him in a safe place. I situated them in separate bin cages again and from there for a good week they seemed both shaken. I left them alone mostly but did check in on them while adding food to their bowls – to make sure they were fine. When I returned over Christmas (my husband had been caring for them) they were back to normal and I’ve added more toys and driftwood to their cages and started giving them some new treats (Yogies!). These treats they love so much they began to take it from my fingers. Snow and Patch have taken to crawling up the mesh sides when I open the top.

Okay, what has happened to these guys? They entered the 6 month mark I believe – not sure as they are pet shop hams – and I think they are NOW settling down with me. Suddenly becoming “tame” …I didn’t get these guys expecting to tame them. Just to not be afraid of me. To be used to me. And they always have been pretty oblivious to my hand and such. Never afraid – just indifferent. But lately something has come over them both! And I love it! Wild little things. Maybe – as it did with Bob – driftwood has brought the Tarzan out of them! It’s making me really see the beauty and benefit in making a natural looking habitat for hamsters. Perhaps, it’s just coincidence but it seems to really make them happy.

This is the same story with the Gerbils. As I’ve written before – they were kept in the back store room of Petsmart and never out front. So they were absolutely terrified of people. Which isn’t normal for gerbils in general. I treated them as if they were abuse cases. Not trying to rush it. Just trying to get them used to our movement around the house (so they wouldn’t run and hide everytime we walked up to their tank etc) and only feed them by hand – pretty much forcing them to trust my hand as the bringer of good treats (I’d leave the rest of their food under my hand on the substrate but the good stuff (seeds etc) in my palm. This worked in getting them to trust my hand. Also, making a show of putting treats in there such as the Yogies (also a Gerb fav) and different types of hays and new things for them to chew on. I stopped attempted to pick them up. All of this was well and good but still not really aiding great results. Until I got the 40 gallon tank. Put them in there with deep layers of substrate and large pieces of driftwood.

Now they are like different gerbils. They are bolder. More active. They don’t run and hide even when my 3 year old pokes the glass and screeches “Look at the Gerbils mommy!” (Since he’s used to them hiding and not just standing there staring right back at him).

I cannot tell you how this has melted my heart. To see them trust us. Dropping my expectations to ever hold them and just giving them the best possible habitat possible has really paid off. Just having them not run from us …to stare right back at us as if watching us as much as we watch them – is more than I could ask for at this point. I fell in love with them when I saw them in that tiny, pathetic plastic box taken from the back of the pet store. Unconditionally. So, seeing them really grow in this way has really touched me. They are now at the level a normal pet store gerbil would be when first brought home. Curious. Interested. But still not about to let you handle them …for these gerbils that is a giant leap to be at least to that stage. It gives me hope that in a few more months maybe they’ll be climbing up my arm. But even if not …well, they have it good and I enjoy them as I do the Robos – for entertainment like a favorite TV Show.

Strawberry! Well, I decided that it was time to remove his shelf because he didn’t care for it. He used to when I first brought him home. He was into higher levels and sleeping in houses. But since putting him in the Gabbia Tamburino Natura with very deep deep layer of substrate I have seen a change in him. He was spending no time “upstairs” and instead was building elaborate tunnels in the substrate. Instead of all the Critter Trail tubes I was using that I kept having to take out (because he peed so MUCH inside them it would stink so fast) he’s doing a more natural tunneling and all the happier for it. But when I put a big piece of driftwood in his cage I noticed one night he was climbing all over it like a mountain goat. (Driftwood is a huge hit and definitely a theme I have going on here). So, I have disliked how all the hams and gerbils have so much going on for their habitats but Strawberry was left with just a wheel and wood so I ordered a few things I think he’s going to enjoy and I’m very excited about it.

A fellow Hammy friend pointed me in the direction of a quilter on Etsy who for the love of rodents – makes beautiful quilted hammocks. I purchased this one from her and it’s being mailed out tomorrow!

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And a wooden and rope ladder and Coconut hideout (different than Bob’s but just as cool) from Doctor Foster and Smith.

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I got the small ladder which after seeing a picture of it in action in a friend’s bin cage I now know is more than enough in length.

I think it’s a nice addition of enrichment for Strawberry.

The Syrians, Bob and Penny, are enjoying my ever expanding DIY play pen. The foam board was getting expensive so I am expanding with cardboard from the boxes coming to my door with online orders. Used cardboard like that from boxes is beat up and more vulnerable to being chewed through for escape but as I only have them in their pens when I’m right there watching them (they are always in separate pens/places of course) it’s not a concern. I enjoy that time with them free ranging. Since Penny came into our lives, Bob is so much more active and inquisitive. He’s friendlier. It’s like Penny – the unattainable goal – has given him something to live for. The endless quest to mate! Oh Bob – he believes with every fiber of his being he’ll reach her one day. NO WAY – not on my watch!

So, life with the hams is great. I just wish I had more time. By the time I do it is getting pretty late and even with my insomnia I can only spend but so much time. But I know all my critters are very happy and healthy and I certainly love the feeling of looking forward to something that is just for me.

To think I got my first ham, Strawberry, just for my 2 year old’s first pet. Wow. At that point had you told me I’d have 5 hamsters and 2 gerbils I would have laughed at the absurdity!

Another hammy friend is parting with some shelving for me to put in Bob’s Kevin and Penny’s Mamble cages to give them more levels. What is great is one is pink and the other red!! The last order of business and I hope that I can finally stop spending so much on these critters – is I need a Wodent Wheel for Penny. I took the ratty Comfort Wheel out because it was just becoming slightly small for her. She sticks her head out as she runs even though she’s not really arching. And I just love Wodent Wheels. The 11 inch is just so great. Now if only I could make up my mind about color combinations of the panels and track! It’s ridiculous I’m mulling over something that has nothing to do with the function of it! But I am a visual person and I just love to LOVE accessories!

Marshmellow’s Story

I’m on a roll tonight. 2nd post in the hour! I have much to catch up on here.

One which is very important to me is the story of Marshmellow, a local abuse case.

As some may know I am a military spouse. I live on a military base here in Maryland. That normally isn’t important to this story except that I found out about Marshmellow (and making a friend in the process) by a Facebook group for pet owners of this base. The lady posted her devoted hamster page on Facebook there and I have followed since. And after we all get over our colds we’ll be meeting Marshmellow as well the kind lady who took her in and has spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on her care and recovery. She hopes her Facebook page devoted to Marshmellow will bring more awareness of animal abuse and the need to educate our children by example and otherwise of how to properly and kindly treat our animals.

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The story in a nutshell – a child intentionally dropped the classroom hamster from where she held her at full arms length above her head. The drop broke Marshmellow’s hip/leg. The teacher quickly found someone to rescue her and that is when my new friend stepped up. She is nursing the feisty snowball colored Syrian back to full health but it’s a slow process much hampered by her desire to go go go as hamsters are designed to do.

In healing Marshmellow has to be kept in a small nursing cage and not have a wheel. Recently she was taken off the pain medication. There will be another vet visit to see how the bone is healing. Let us hope it heals and won’t have to be amputated. Though I hear stories of 3 legged hamsters who manage well enough.

If you would like to follow her recovery from Facebook here is Marshmellows Story.