Side Effects of Vaccinations May Include: Gerbils

At the end of May, there was a mumps scare in my office, and I used that as an excuse to finally go start my vaccinations. My parents deny their usefulness out of ignorance that is almost certainly excusable in their case, so I’d never been vaccinated at all before. After my deconversion, I knew I would want to be vaccinated eventually, especially as I’ve never had chicken pox and really don’t want to face that as an adult.

How does this have anything to do with gerbils? Let me back up a bit.

The first thing you need to know is that my boyfriend likes mice. By the time he finished college and moved in with me, I was pretty desperate to have some sort of pet, but I lived in a shitty apartment and didn’t want to put a cat through the stress of moving, possibly multiple times, or pay an outrageous pet fee. (I would never consider getting a dog just to get a pet, although I plan to have at least one dog at some point in the future.) I also don’t really care to have fish; I see them as decoration that you have to feed, not pets. We didn’t really have room for ferrets or rabbits, which left “pocket pets”.

Anyway, he likes mice, so that’s what we decided to get. We picked out a very tiny black and white splotchy mouse and a brown one, got all the cage stuff and took them home. I named the black and white one Lady Squeakums (forget what I said before about being an adult) and we never picked out a name for brown.

About two weeks later, I came home from work to find Lady Squeakums dead in a corner of their cage. My boyfriend, with his greater knowledge and experience of mice, said she was probably just old when we got her; there’s no real way to tell mouse ages.

Mice, like many small pets, are herd animals; you really aren’t supposed to keep just one alone. So, not long after, we went back to the pet store and I picked out a black mouse. They also had a tiny black baby bunny and I loved it, but I don’t have room… and I digress. We had to get another cage, bottle, and wheel, because you have to quarantine new pet mice for a while in case they are sick.

Eventually, we got brown and black in the same cage, but it turned out the black mousey is a bully. We had to separate them, and that worked fine for about a year. Around Memorial Day, though, brown wasn’t doing very well, and a couple of days later I found her dead when I came home.

I grew up with pet cats, and even though the kittens would often not make it to adulthood, cats are much longer lived than mice. So it was with some shock that I was experiencing how quickly mice die with the best care we could provide, and I was a bit frustrated with it. I wanted to try a hardier pet.

In this state of mind, I went for my vaccinations. Afterwards, I had to stay at the clinic for a time, to make sure I didn’t have a bad reaction, or at least that I could receive immediate care if I did. As I’d never had shots before, I had no way of knowing whether I might be allergic. When I’d stayed the time required, I still desired to be cautious, so I went to a pet store in the same shopping center before braving the half hour drive home.

There, I fell in love with gerbils. One mommy gerbil had some tiny babies, and they were just absolutely adorable. So, that weekend, I went back with my boyfriend, and I picked out a little gray gerbil and one of his brown brothers. My boyfriend picked out a very tiny gray mouse for the empty cage, so we had to buy a gerbil cage and all the fixings. We then went home, and read up on how to take care of gerbils after setting them up in their cage. We had to go back out to another pet store to find things we hadn’t known we needed! (Note: this is literally the worst way to get a new pet. You should know how to care for an animal before taking on the responsibility of it.)

Sadly, just two weeks later, the brown gerbil took ill and died. I think he had some sort of respiratory illness, as he’d been breathing with a clicking noise for a couple of days before I realized he was so skinny he must not have eaten for at least a day. Because I was ignorant of gerbils, it was too late to do anything. Granted, I have since read a book on gerbils, and it did not mention that symptom, so maybe I should not blame myself.

The next day, I decided that the best therapy would be to get a new gerbil right away, so I picked out another brown one. We decided to try to introduce the two to each other, so we built a wire mesh divider for the cage. They could see, but hopefully not hurt, each other. In the process of building this, I managed to stab my thumb with a screwdriver.

It was all in vain. The gray gerbil wanted to murder this new guy, and managed to cut off one of his toes through the mesh before we realized we’d be stupid not to separate them. Luckily, we already had the spare cage in case this very thing happened. Since then, they’ve both been quite happy, although the brown one likes to jump from my hand to the floor and run around like a crazy. I hope someday I’ll have the time and disposable income to breed gerbils, because I love taking care of them.

Another pro tip: do not handle gerbils when you have a sunburn on your arms. They will crawl on it and their claws will be extremely painful.

Why do I bring all of this up now? I mostly just wanted to talk about it, but the timing is somewhat relevant. The gray mousey died yesterday, probably from lice, and I need to go for more shots today.

And hamsters keep looking cuter and cuter.

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