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IT is sometimes forgotten that animal cages are designed to be the pet's dormitory.

The manufacturers assume that the animal will spend quite a lot of its time out of the cage,

However, there is much you can do to improve things. If you buy a length of clear plastic tubing the same diameter as the hamster's tunnel at a tropical fish shop or a DIY shop, you could extend its running area as far as you like.

Rabbits benefit from having part of the garden fenced off, to extend their territory, though this is better left until the warmer weather begins.

Rodents Cages

Some of the most popular pets around today include a wide range of rodents. These can vary from the chipmunk a small form of ground squirrel through chinchillas, hamsters, gerbils, mice and rats. All are thoroughly domesticated and available from pet shops in a very wide range of colours and all can be bought complete with cage and numerous accessories.

With a little thought, even the best can be improved upon.

When you see chipmunks offered for sale in something like a small budgie aviary, then you might think that's the way to keep them when you get them home. However, kept in too small a cage they tend to develop cage stereotypes repetitive movements backward and forward, or running round the cage over and over again. This is all symptomatic of a cage which is too small.

Chinchillas, too, benefit from as large a cage as possible. Some of the cages offered for sale are extremely good and are a terrific improvement on those of 10 years ago. But, why not make your own? You can buy some aviary sections, or sheets of flat weld mesh and screw or wire these together to make a large rectangular cage.

This can be fitted with shelves and hung on one wall over some sheets of newspaper. Not only will your pet have plenty of room, but your cage will be unique.

Hamsters and gerbils indicate that a cage is too small by frantically gnawing at the bars. They rub raw an area just back from the nose. However, remember, hamsters are nocturnal, and gerbils diurnal they live their lives by day.

All the basic cages can be improved upon if you invest in the starter Rotastack kit. By adding to this piece by piece, a veritable complex can soon be assembled. This can be very expensive but don't despair. I have found them in car boot sales, and a youngster with a little money can still manage to assemble a large combination if they put their mind to it. Eventually, such a cage almost resembles hamster life as it might be in the wild in all the fundamental essentials.

An alternative way of keeping gerbils is in a naturalistic manner in a large tank. A disused aquarium is ideal. Fill this two-thirds full with sawdust, through which some peat should have been mixed. The gerbils will dig their own maze of tunnels, nesting chambers and food stores, and the peat helps the sawdust to bind together, and prevents the tunnels collapsing. It is a fascinating way to observe these creatures living a near-natural life.

When Sir David Attenborough was filming his series Life On Earth, he spent about a week in Mongolia with his head sunk down an underground tunnel, observing the tiny Russian hamsters at work and play.

Pet owners will have observed much the same thing but a lot more comfortably, in their own homes!