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A Gerbil Escapes in a House with Four Cats - How Could He Possibly Survive?

Updated on January 1, 2015
Flake the gerbil.
Flake the gerbil.

Abandoned gerbil saved from rescue centre

The tiny white gerbil, poking his pink nose up against the glass display case which he called home, was just too adorable to ignore.

I had gone to the pet store to buy food for my tropical fish and terrapins and couldn't resist taking a peek at their adoption animals. A corner of the store was devoted to rehoming abandoned and unwanted pets, mainly rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs and a variety of small rodents.

I had already rescued a guinea pig and a hamster and had no intention of taking in any more, as I didn't have a suitable cage and had a house full of animals already.

But the moment I spotted the gerbil, whose name was Flake, according to the card on the wall next to his pen, I wanted to take him home and give him a better life.

He had a little bed, food and water in his cage, but no toys nor even a wheel on which to run. He looked so bored that when he saw me peering in at him, he ran to the front and started trying to climb the glass to reach me, his little front legs waving about as they slipped on the glass, looking like he was doing some crazy kind of dance.

Without a second thought, I signed up the adoption form, bought a cage and took him home with me.

Flake was a friendly little soul who soon settled in to my busy and noisy house.
Flake was a friendly little soul who soon settled in to my busy and noisy house.

Gerbil had a lovely life in his new luxury home

From the outset, Flake was a friendly little soul, who didn't mind being handled, came to the front of his cage looking for treats and would quite happily sit on my hand or in my lap.

I found his favourite treat was sunflower seeds and as soon as he saw me, he would run to the bars and stand on his hind legs, demanding food. I always obliged and knew when he'd had his fill, as he would wander off and go back to bed.

He lived in a wonderful, three-storey cage, with a little house, wooden logs, food and water on the ground floor, his wheel and treats on the first floor and another little house (in which he slept) plus more food and water on the second floor, so he didn't have to trail all the way down two flights of stairs if he got out of bed and fancied a snack!

I used to give him little cardboard boxes full of hay all the time, as he would play in them, or sleep in them, for a while, but then took great delight in chewing them to pieces and making fresh bedding from the shredded boxes.

Of course, his favourite pastime was running on his wheel, which he did at all times of day and night, for hours on end. Never before had I seen a tiny creature gain so much pleasure from such a simple activity!

Flake the gerbil comes to say hello!

Flake with his favourite toy, his wheel, where he ran non-stop for many hours, every day and night.
Flake with his favourite toy, his wheel, where he ran non-stop for many hours, every day and night.

A gerbil who was unafraid of dogs!

Perhaps the best thing was that he had nerves of steel when it came to the hustle and bustle of my house. As with all my small animals, he lived in the bedroom, away from the dogs and cats on the whole.

However, the dogs went in there from time to time - particularly Happy Buster and Squeaker, who were obsessed with the little cages - but even if they barked, Flake was unafraid and didn't even break off what he was doing.

Happy Buster in particular had a fascination with all the rodents and would sit quietly looking at their cages for hours. Flake would go up to the bars, sniff the dog's nose and stare back.

Happy Buster (pictured with George the guinea pig) is strangely fascinated by his smaller house-mates.
Happy Buster (pictured with George the guinea pig) is strangely fascinated by his smaller house-mates.

The cats were kept away from the small rodents

I was understandably more cautious when it came to my cats, of course.

Pepper, the oldest, was rescued as a stray and had lived wild for six months, so was no stranger to catching wild mice and bringing them home.

Pepper (in the rear of the photo) and Harley were largely kept away from the bedroom which housed all the rodents.
Pepper (in the rear of the photo) and Harley were largely kept away from the bedroom which housed all the rodents.

Harley was the same and had often brought home mice and even rats. To this day, I still care for three of the mice, who are alive and well and living in separate cages in my house!

So even though my little rodents were protected by their cages, I tried to keep the cats away from them, fearing their sharp claws could cause injury through the bars.

Also, I wished to avoid any trauma for Flake and his other little house-mates.

So the bedroom on the whole was a no-go area for most of the cats.

My efforts were largely successful, having only one scare when my youngest cat, Salt, once sneaked into a bedroom and I found her sitting on top of my dwarf hamster Titch's cage. Thankfully, there was no harm done.

Titch was hiding in the bedding and peeping out and Salt had been unable to gain access to his home.

Flake the gerbil scatters food everywhere as he digs!

My horror when Flake the gerbil escaped from his cage!

Flake's happy life went incident-free for about two years. I didn't really know how old he was. The rescue centre had estimated he was about six months old when I took him, but they didn't know for sure.

However, he was still very active, perky and lively and still spent hours running on his wheel.

In the early evening, after feeding all the dogs their dinner, I was in the habit of going to sit on the bed for an hour to watch television, Usually, I left the bedroom door open at that point, so the dogs could sit with me.

Suddenly, I became aware of the fact that Flake wasn't out running on his wheel, which was highly unusual. I thought I'd better check in his bed to make sure he was okay.

To my horror, as I approached his cage, which was on top of a chest of draws next to Titch the dwarf hamster's home, I realised the door was open and there was no sign of him.

Neighbours: Flake the gerbil on the left and Titch the dwarf hamster.
Neighbours: Flake the gerbil on the left and Titch the dwarf hamster.

A frantic house search failed to find my gerbil!

I cannot describe the panic that ensued when I realised Flake wasn't in his cage. Even worse, I was trying to remember when I had last accessed his cage and thought it was the previous night, when I had filled up his food bowl.

I had no idea whether I had forgotten to shut the door, or whether one of the dogs, perhaps Happy Buster, had nosed it and it had sprung open. But in the worst case scenario, it had been open for almost 24 hours and he could be anywhere.

Immediately, I shut all the dogs out of the bedroom and began shouting, "Flake!" hoping to see his little pink nose peering out from behind a cupboard. But there was no sign of him and I was scared that one of the cats had been in and snatched him while the bedroom door was ajar.

I did a complete house search for him, looking under all the furniture and in cupboards and even in the dirty washing basket. But he seemed to have well and truly vanished.

Flake the gerbil comes to investigate my camera!
Flake the gerbil comes to investigate my camera!

At this point, I felt totally distraught as I faced the reality that it may be too late and that Flake may have already been devoured or simply killed by one of the cats.

I cannot explain the emotions running through my brain.

I felt mainly that I had let him down because I had rescued him and promised on the adoption form that I would keep him safe from harm, feed him and look after his veterinary needs.

Losing him out of his cage in a house full of cats (and dogs) represented a major failing on my part and I felt dreadful.

I genuinely believed I would never see him again. He was such a little ray of sunshine, I couldn't imagine life without him.

Gerbil found in an unlikely hiding place!

Then, my friend, with whom I shared a house, had a brainwave and for some reason started looking behind the shoe-rack in the bedroom.

It wasn't too far from Flake's cage, although he would have had to climb about four feet from the top of the chest of drawers to reach it.

Amazingly, Flake was found - he was actually inside a shoe, hiding in the toe!

As my friend gently moved the pile of shoes and trainers, Flake popped out, nose and whiskers twitching furiously. Thank God he was alive and obviously had the presence of mind to keep out of the cats' and dogs' way!

We scooped him up - almost crying with relief - and popped him back in his cage.

Flake: Found in a shoe and returned to the safety of his cage.
Flake: Found in a shoe and returned to the safety of his cage.

Gerbil had injured leg and tail

Sadly, we noticed that he had not escaped totally unscathed after his ordeal.

His tail had blood in the centre and I didn't know whether this was due to a close shave with one of the cats, or whether he had caught it somewhere.

Also, even worse, he was dragging his right back leg and appeared unable to move it.

Flake the gerbil with his injured tail soon after his escape bid

My tiny pet may have broken his leg

The following morning, I rang and arranged to take Flake to the vet's, as I feared his leg might be broken and was also worried his tail could become infected.

The vet was unable to ascertain whether the tail had been bitten, or trapped somewhere. It was also impossible to tell whether the leg was broken or merely sprained, as only an X-ray could have determined the extent of the damage.

But even if it was broken, he was too small for any kind of surgery.

So the vet gave him a course of antibiotics, which were in liquid form to dilute in his water bottle, advising to see how he progressed and if he gained the use of his leg again.

Flake made a good recovery from his injuries and was soon back to his old self.
Flake made a good recovery from his injuries and was soon back to his old self.

Gerbil's injured leg and tail healed over time!

Over the next couple of weeks, Flake recovered well after his ordeal. Unfortunately, the damaged part of his tail dropped off altogether and for the rest of his life, he had only half a tail, although this did not seem to bother him in any way.

Gradually, he began using his injured leg again. At first, he was struggling to climb up and down the ladders that linked the floors of his cage, so I made sure his favourite bed, plus food and water, were all readily available on the ground floor, so he didn't have to move around much.

Over time, he gained almost full use of his leg back and was soon running up and down the ladders - and climbing up the bars - as if nothing had happened.

However, I did have to make one small adaptation to his den - I bought him a new wheel. The old one was metal and I noticed he was struggling to run on it, as his injured leg wasn't strong enough to keep it in motion. So I bought him a blue, plastic wheel and he was then able to enjoy his favourite pastime again.

Gerbil lived to the old age of four-and-a-half years!

Flake survived to be four-and-a-half years old (maybe older, as this was an estimate based on how old the rescue centre believed he was when I took him in). He had a wonderful, happy and healthy life and never escaped again.

However, his disappearance led me to the verge of paranoia when it came to checking that all my animals were safely shut in their cages before bedtime.

I found myself checking all the doors and catches at least five times before I could settle down!

It also taught me that even the tiniest of animals can recover from quite serious injuries and go on to lead a happy and full life, so never give up on your little ones.

They can be very rewarding and give so much pleasure, asking for little in return except food, shelter and a little of your time.

In memory of Flake, my little buddy (2009-2013).
In memory of Flake, my little buddy (2009-2013).

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