Posted: May 17, 2010, 2:40 p.m. EDT
Q: I have three gerbils living together in a 20-gallon long tank setup. None of them ever run on the wheel that I have in their cage. They mostly use it to burrow under. Is there a way to teach them to use a wheel, if it would be beneficial to their health?
A: The best type of wheel for gerbils is an 8-inch diameter, wire mesh (not slatted or plastic) wheel. A gerbil's tail could get caught in an old-style slatted wheel, and gerbils will chew a plastic wheel to bits. Some gerbils like a wheel and others don’t.
The best way to get gerbils to run on a wheel is to offer a wheel when they are young, at about 5 weeks old. Wire it to the mesh lid of their tank so it hangs a few inches above the litter. Gerbils like the challenge of jumping and climbing on a wheel, and once inside may run on it. Try wiring the wheel so it holds still until they get used to sitting in it, then unwire it so it moves and they can run in it.
A final tip is that gerbils learn from watching gerbils in other tanks. If you ever go away and have someone with wheel-aholic gerbils babysit yours, you might come back to see your gerbils happily running in their wheel!
If your gerbils never take to the wheel, give them other things for exercise. Some examples are: a metal climbing structure or a branch from the reptile section of the pet store, deep litter to dig and burrow in, a dust bath to roll in, timothy hay, unscented toilet tissue, a PVC pipe as a tunnel, and plenty of cardboard boxes and tubes to gnaw up.
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