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Ask The Behaviorist
Small mammmals: Dr. Kathy Quesenberry answering questions
Please be aware that the following suggestions are
general advice and are not intended to be a
substitute for taking your pet to a veterinarian.
Posted February 9, 1998 | previous set | next set


Question:

I have a wonderful ferret, who has always had the run of the house. I have encountered two problems I need help with. He paws at the water dish, causing water to spill all over, and will dig up the carpeting under a closed door. What to do?

(name witheld by request)



Response from Dr. Quesenberry:

Many ferrets love to play with or tip over their water dish and it's a game for these fun-loving animals. I would suggest simply changing to a sipper bottle. Trying to train him not to play with the bowl would be an exercise in futility.

Digging at the carpet is also a form of entertainment and an extension of his natural behavior. Ferrets are notorious for their burrowing behavior and will even dig up into the undersides of couch cushions. You could try providing him with a box with shredded paper or a bunch of small towels near the door to divert his behavior, yet still allowing him to "burrow." Alternatively, install some sort of door guard at the base of the door to prevent him from being able to reach the carpet. Be very careful about what he has access to; gastrointestinal foreign bodies are common in ferrets. They will ingest anything, but rubber toys, pieces of carpet, even rubber pieces of shoe soles are common.



Question:

Pet: African Pigmy Hedgehog. Sex: Not sure, but think it is female. Question: Had the pet for 10 months now. Only once in this time has this happened. There was blood on the side of its glass cage. Inspection of the animal showed no visible signs of injury. Its running wheel had been out of the cage for several days. Not sure if this is related, but mentioned. No change in diet. Not sure where the blood came from. But has not recorder.

(name witheld by request)



Response from Dr. Quesenberry:

If you only saw blood one time, chances are the problem is resolved. Most likely, the hedgehog pulled a nail or scratched itself. If you see blood again, however, you should have the hedgehog checked by a veterinarian. Hedgehogs can have problems with their teeth or mouth, which may not be apparent to the owner. Also, bleeding is often associated with skin lesions or urinary problems, which require veterinary attention.



Question:

I have had four pet rats and all of them have preferred sleeping above the ground level of their cage. The first two used to sleep as high up as they could get and my current two boys sleep on the middle shelf of their cage out of preference. Other rat owners have reported the same thing. I am wondering why do they do this? My guess is that it's a throwback to wild behaviour that has some sort of protective function - can they hear and smell predators better from a raised position? Is it protection against flooding or other natural hazard? I would be interested to know if you have any other theories.

(name witheld by request)



Response from Dr. Quesenberry:

I don't have any other theories for you regarding the sleeping behavior of your rats. However, I don't know a lot about natural social behavior of rats. I'm sure you could find some information about this at your library. One paper you could try to locate is: Brain, P.F. "Understanding the behaviours of feral species may facilitate design of optimal living conditions for common laboratory rodents." In Animal Technology 43: 99 p. 105, 1992.



Question:

I have a pair of sugar gliders. No one seems to know at what age they are sexually mature. Several books all have varying ages, as did my vet. Can you give me a definitive answer? Also, how do I know if the female is ready to mate?

(name witheld by request)



Response from Dr. Quesenberry:

The sources I have state that male sugar gliders are sexually mature at 12 to 14 months and females mature at 7 to 12 months. I don't know that you will notice sexual receptivity in the female; these are colony animals that will mate year-round provided they receive a good diet.



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