We first brought two beautiful, cute, white baby gerbils home from the pet shop 3 ½ years ago. It took us a few days to name them, but once we worked out how to tell them apart, and discovered their personalities it was easy. The one that was fuller in the face, who was also the one who went out collecting the food and building the nest, became Samwise (also known affectionately as Fat Sam), and the one with the pointier nose, who just lazed around and got waited on became Frodo.
They’ve brought us a lot of laughter and company over the years, and they’ve really been part of the family. The lifespan of a gerbil is usually about 2 years, so as the 2nd anniversary of us getting them drew nearer we started preparing ourselves. But our two boys weren’t ready to leave us. They didn’t even start slowing down. Two years came and went and our little boys were still as fit and active as they had been in their younger days.
But then one day we noticed that they had both had lumps on their tummies, which were bleeding. We took them to the vets who said maybe it was an infection, maybe it was cancer – because the gerbils were so small he didn’t want to give them the trauma of an operation if it could be avoided, so he decided to treat for an infection first, and they had a course of antibiotics and steroid cream. The steroid cream was hard enough to administer – they hated having it done and wriggled and squirmed – but that was a cinch compared to trying to give them oral antibiotics. The vet had hopefully suggested that as gerbils love chewing things, we would just have to put the syringe near their mouths, wait for them to chew on it and then squirt the medication in. Ha ha! What a sense of humour he had. It must have smelt dreadful because everytime we held the syringe anywhere near them they turned their head away. As we soon discovered if a gerbil doesn’t want to open its mouth, there is nothing you can do to persuade it otherwise. After about 6 ½ hours of trying we asked the vet if we could mix the antibiotics into their water. They both picked up energy wise, but the lumps were growing, which meant it must be cancer. We didn’t want to put them through an operation at their advanced age, so we just decided to stop treatment and give them the best life we could for the time we had left.
They were still as nosy and cheeky as ever, and we started to feel that our little troopers were going to live forever. But then Frodo suddenly took a turn for the worse and died aged about 3 years and 3 months.
We thought Sam might pine and follow him soon after, but he quickly got used to being on his own. We moved his cage into our office to make sure he didn’t get lonely during the day downstairs by himself, and he has carried on giving us a lot of pleasure. We love him, and I think he loves us back – or maybe he just loves the sunflower seeds and peanuts we give him as treats. He’s been doing really well, but a few days ago we noticed that he was finding it harder to get around his cage. We discussed the possibility that it might be time to let him go, but he still didn’t seem to be in pain, he still had a good appetite, and he still came running whenever he heard a noise to see if it meant peanuts were coming his way!
Yesterday he had a fall. He was trying to jump from the bottom of his cage to the top, got his front paws up, but didn’t have the strength in his back paws to make it. I think we knew in our hearts then. We moved his food and water down to the bottom level so that he didn’t have to climb and said we’d keep a close eye on him. This evening he fell over just trying to walk on the flat. His back legs seem to have given up completely and he’s struggling to pull himself along with just his front legs. He’s still eating and drinking plenty, and still nosing for treats so we don’t think he’s unhappy – but we don’t know for sure. I wish we could ask him what he wants, but we have to just make the decision for him. It’s breaking our hearts, but we think that his quality of life is probably not as good as we would want for him, so we have phoned the vets and arranged to take him in first thing tomorrow morning. I hope we’ve made the right decision.
He’s about 3 years and 6 months – and that’s a grand old age for a gerbil.