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Environmental Enrichment for Pet Rodents

Environmental enrichment isn't simply fun or interesting; it
is a vital part of your care for your pet, and important to
the animal's health and well-being. Environment enrichment
can mean a number of different things, but what it boils
down to is your providing a captive animal with things that
keep it busy and allow it to exercise its instinctive
behaviors. This usually involved trying to simulate some
part of the animal's native environment.

So for most rodents, environmental enrichment includes
things such as opportunities to forage for food, tunnel and
dig, run and gnaw. Here are some things that experienced
rodent keepers have recommended to help you give your pet
rodents the best quality of life possible in captivity.

The first and most common environmental enrichment item,
(hereafter called a toy,) is an exercise wheel of some kind.
Most rodent keepers buy these commercially, and there is a
wide range of styles and sizes available in the pet trade.
Some things you must consider when you choose which wheel to
purchase are dependent on the habits of your particular
rodent species. For example, if your rodent species is known
for much gnawing, don't buy a plastic wheel from which your
pet can gnaw off pieces and possibly swallow shards of
plastic that may sicken or kill it. And if your rodent
species has a long tail, be careful to buy a wheel that is
designed to prevent long tails from being caught in the
holes or gearing and injured. If in doubt, ask an
experienced keeper of your particular species or at least
the pet supply shop owner.

Another item that can be homemade but is more often
purchased is a cage with built-in toys such as tunnel
systems and climbing ladders. The "Habitrail" is a popular
brand sold in the United States. Again, make sure the toy is
suitable for your rodent species, i.e. is it large enough?
Or will your rodent chew its way out in a short time?

A visit to your local pet shop will show you a wide range of
toys that may be suitable for your pet, but it is even more
fun to work out how to make new toys for your rodent pets
yourself. Many household items don't even require
alteration, such as toilet paper and paper towel rolls.
These make instant tunnels, hideouts and fuel for gnawing
for small rodents with no work on your part at all. For
larger rodents you might provide ceramic pipe pieces, clay
flower pots, and the like.
Environmental enrichment isn't simply fun or interesting; it
is a vital part of your care for your pet, and important to
the animal's health and well-being.

Some easily made toys for Rodents:

* Antlers and Cuttlebones - All rodents need to gnaw, and
all rodents in captivity need adequate amounts of Calcium.
You can help meet both needs in your pet rodents by simply
providing them with naturally shed antlers or cuttlebone
sold for birds.

* Hammock - Bandanas, a leg of an old pair of jeans, or
other soft fabric pieces that are hung up as hammocks will
provide lookout and napping spots for your pets.

* Exploration Tub - Fill an extra food dish with twigs,
pebbles, marbles, leaves and a few nuts. Your pets will love
exploring the collection and will probably gnaw the twigs
and leaves into nesting material. Some rodents will also
enjoy hoarding the pebbles and marbles.

* Spinning Treat Log - Find two to four inch thick pieces of
branch from a non-toxic tree. Unsprayed fruit trees are
excellent. Cut four to six inch long pieces and drill
several holes in the sides. Then cut pieces of PVC pipe the
same length, and string the branch pieces with the pipe
alternately on a cord. Hide small snacks in the branch holes
and hang the string up in the cage where your pets can reach
it. Your rodents will get exercise and entertainment from
trying to get at the snacks as the pieces spin on the cord.

* Foraging Board - Get a small piece of artificial grass and
attach it securely to a board or log. Then stick small
snacks into the artificial grass. Depending on your rodent
species, you can hand the board or simply lay it on a shelf
or the cage bottom so that your pets can find their food
naturally, by foraging. You can also do something similar by
putting straw or substrate and snack bits into a paper roll
for your pets to find.

* Hunting Maze - Get a good sized clean cardboard box and
create a maze by using notched pieces of cardboard. Be
careful not to use any materials that might be bad for your
pets, such as tapes. Once the maze is built, sprinkle
substrate throughout the maze, and add small food bits
scattered here and there.

Now give your pet a challenge and enrich its environment.
You'll enrich your own at the same time with all the fun
you'll have watching your pet's antics as it enjoys the

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