Foraging Can Help Make Exotic Pets Happier

Gerbil in a tunnel
Rodents like gerbils, hamsters and mice are great at learning how to maneuver obstacle courses to find food at the end.

Rodent Revelry

Pet rodents such as hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats and guinea pigs also enjoy foraging. Like birds, they enjoy chewing dry treats out of cardboard or paper wrappers. They also love to burrow through boxes of shredded paper and fabric to look for treats. Plus, they are terrific at learning to run through obstacle courses made from cardboard boxes, tubes, and baskets to reach food rewards at the end — although be sure your pet cannot escape or get trapped in your “maze.” On warm days, they can be offered small pieces of frozen vegetables and fruits in shallow pans filled with water or pans covered with sheets of paper that they can dig through to find their treats. In addition, small rodents love to hunt and gather, so providing them with piles of hay, bits of shredded paper and small pieces of soft, untreated wood gives them an endless supply of material from which they can build nests and hiding places.

Reptile Rapture

Believe it or not, reptiles, too, enjoy foraging. Many herbivorous (vegetable/fruit-eating) reptiles, such as iguanas and many tortoises, or omnivorous reptiles, such as bearded dragons and water turtles, love to eat leaves or other vegetation when it is hung above them, as if the material were growing from trees. Insect-eating reptiles (tortoises and bearded dragons) like to dig through piles of vegetation to go after mealworms, and even turtles have fun pulling pieces of vegetables and pelleted food from plastic dog toys (try hard, perforated Kong balls). Vegetation can also dangle from leather strings that are floated on the water surface in their tanks or affixed inside their tanks with stainless steel clips, so that the material hangs above them.

In general, most vegetation is fine for rodents or reptiles, but be sure to consult your veterinarian first before offering any vegetation, hay or wood to your pet. For example, garlic, onions and many household and outdoor plants can be toxic. Any soft, untreated wood pieces given as foraging items should be large enough that the animal cannot get the item into its mouth where it could be ingested accidentally.

Foraging: It’s Fun!

When you think about it, we all love to forage. Isn’t visiting the buffet at a restaurant to sample small amounts of several types of food more fun than eating just one or two things served to you at the dinner table? Don’t we all love to smack a piñata at a party to reach the candy inside? Just like us, our pets are curious and need stimulation, and they love the reward of a tasty edible treat. So why not challenge your pet’s body, as well as his mind, and provide him with a foraging toy? He’ll be entertained while interacting with it, and you’ll be entertained watching him do it.

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