Just like all small pets, hamsters and gerbils need food, water and a habitat to live in. But those are not the only essential components to the health and happiness of these small pets. Exercise and the opportunity to use their instincts are nearly as important as shelter and water for these pets. Fortunately, manufacturers are producing all the essentials that pet owners need to sustain, stimulate and entertain their small animals.
Get Them Moving
Among the most popular and useful exercise products is the classic exercise wheel. Placing one in a pet’s cage is a great way to give it the exercise it needs. Exercise balls are also a fun way for hamster and gerbil owners to watch their pets exercise outside of their cages.
It is even better if the chance to exercise also satisfies the instinctive needs of these pets. Both hamsters and gerbils are burrowing animals, and therefore, they enjoy traveling through tubes, which mimic the tunnels they dig through in the wild. Tunnels encourage these rodents to travel from place to place in their habitat, giving them exercise. Another instinct associated with burrowing is digging, an activity hamsters and gerbils can experience given the right type of bedding.
Absorption Corp offers several bedding products that allow small rodents to dig, including Crinkles Paper Bedding and Hide ‘n Seek Nestables, each of which comes in three different color combinations. Jim Gorrell, brand manager, says, “CareFRESH brand premium small animal bedding is not only formulated to control odor and to absorb two and a half times its volume, but it also helps small burrowing animals like hamsters and gerbils feel safe, secure and warm, and provides mental and physical stimulation by exercising their natural instinctive behavior.”
American Pet Diner also offers bedding that is suitable for digging. “Our Green Dreamzzz bedding has been tested in different situations from retail to educational, and the testers absolutely loved it for hamsters. It quickly dries out, which helps with odor control,” says Lisa Marshall, president and CEO. “Put it in deep, and the animals love to dig in it. It makes a great source of enrichment that allows them to play, burrow, rest and hide.”
Green Dreamzzz is eco-friendly, made from recycled paper from unused phone books and colored with edible vegetable inks.
Chew, Chew, Chew
Another instinct that hamsters and gerbils long to satisfy is chewing. Retailers—as well as pet owners—should not underestimate the importance of this activity in these animals’ lives. As Dave Hitsman, director of Ware Manufacturing Inc., says, rodents “truly chew for a living.”
“Their natural food sources—seeds and nuts—need strong teeth to access the tasty morsel inside,” he adds. “So, chewing is an inherent behavior, but it’s so much more than that. It is an activity that entertains small pets, and occupies their time with a positive behavior. It is an outlet for excess energy, overcomes boredom and helps eliminate destructive behaviors, like cage chewing. The chewing process actually releases endorphins, which have a positive effect on pets, so it’s good for small pets and makes them happy and healthy.”
Chew toys and treats, Hitsman explains, are essential for small pets, as they help these animals satisfy that need to chew. He also recommends that retailers sell a variety of chew treats and chew dispensers to each customer to ensure that their pets have plenty of chew opportunities.
“At Ware, we sell every kind of chew possible because we are committed to improving the quality of chewing for our little furry friends,” he says. “We offer a broad selection of all-natural chews like willow and apple wood sticks, loofa and pine cones. We sell mineral chews that provide nutritional supplements and come in colors and shapes that kids and critters love, like cupcakes, lollipops, candy shapes and more. We sell chew toys with wheels and rattles that entertain pets with a game of toss and chew to pass the time. We sell all sizes and shapes of brightly colored wood chews that are safe and non-toxic with vegetable based dyes.”
Another positive, Hitsman adds, is the fact that chew toys have no calories, offering only fun and rewarding stimulation for small animals.
A More Substantial Chew
No-calorie chew toys may be great for mental and physical stimulation, but all hamsters and gerbils require proper nutrition as well. The market offers a variety of options to keep these pets satiated and healthy.
Absorption Corp produces the CareFRESH Complete Menu diet for hamsters and gerbils, a mix of whole grains, seeds, fruits and vegetables. It is also free of nuts, making it an excellent option for pets, children and parents who may be allergic.
Sometimes, however, small pets may just need a little treat. American Pet Diner produces a line of healthy treats suitable for hamsters and gerbils. “Our Smaks treats are wholesome and natural, and include unique ingredients that add extra health benefits,” Marshall says. “If you’re going to give your pet a treat, we believe it should have health benefits. Our Smaks include prebiotic inulin and brewer’s yeast to help keep the intestinal flora healthy, yucca extract to help with habitat odor and flaxmeal, which provides omega-3 essential fatty acids.”
The company’s Cookie Smaks come in five flavors: Berry, made with blueberries and strawberries; Apple Honey; Pumpkin; Tropical Fruit; and Veggie Light, with parsley and cilantro, which is lower in calories. “We also sell two-ounce ceramic crocks in four super fun colors for small pets: light blue, lavender, pink and green,” adds Marshall.
Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and, her most recent book, The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.