The Gambia Pouched rat is a large rodent that originated in sub-Saharan Africa. The United States has banned the importation of pouched gophers from The Gambia. However, some states still allow them to be used as pets if purchased from American breeders. Unlike domestic gophers, which many people know as pets, these rodents, like a hamster, have cheek pouches that they use to find food. And when these animals are bred in captivity for the pet trade, they are not always easy to tame.
As pets, Gambia pouched gophers need to be handled a lot every day from a young age to stay tame. They also need a large enclosure in which to roam. In addition, their diet is somewhat complicated as there is no commercial food designed specifically for them. Overall, this rodent is a high-maintenance pet whose owner must be well-informed and dedicated.
Overview of the species
GENERAL NAME: Gambian pouched.
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Cricetomys gambianus.
ADULT SIZE: 28 to 36 inches long, with an average weight of 2 to 3 pounds.
LIFETIME: An average of 7 years.
Behavior and temperament of the Gambian pouched rat.
The temperament of Gambian pouched rats varies, and some are easier to tame than others. As pets, some rats will remain moody and perhaps aggressive as adults, despite all your efforts to socialize them. With regular handling, however, most will become friendly and docile. They are very intelligent and playful animals. Some even like to be petted on their bellies.
When they are young, Gambian pouched rats often go through a biting phase during play, and you must gently train them to break this habit. Firmly say “no” or “ouch” and stop playing if it occurs again. It also happens that they grab you with their mouths – without biting, just holding on – and try to push you away if they disagree with something. Respect this type of communication, but say “no” or “ouch” if the holding is painful. While some like to be held and cuddled, others squirm to avoid being manipulated but remain friendly overall. Most tend to form strong bonds with those who engage with them.
These rats are social animals and can be kept in pairs or small groups. This is especially the case just before sexual maturity, but with time and patience they often calm down. Nevertheless, two males should not be housed together or fighting may occur. Two females can usually coexist well, especially if they are raised together from an early age. And sterilized males and females can live together as well. Also, keep these rodents away from other pets in the household, as they may hurt each other.
Expect to spend a lot of time each day caring for your pet, socializing, feeding, and keeping their habitat clean. These rodents are nocturnal, so your encounters with them will likely have to take place in the evening. In addition, some pet owners are not prepared for the destructive abilities of Gambian pouched rats. Like other rodents, they need to gnaw. And with their large teeth, they can do a lot of damage by quickly chewing up your property if they are not supervised when outside their cage. Fortunately, they are pretty quiet pets overall, even if they do chirp a few times.
Gambian pouched rats stretch from nose to tail tip for about 28 to 36 inches. They weigh an average of 2 to 3 pounds.
Gambian pouched rats need a large and stable enclosure. Generally, the cage should be as large as you can afford. As a minimum, it can be about 1.5 meters long, 1.5 meters wide, and 1.5 meters high.
The best materials for cages are powder-coated metal or stainless steel, as these rodents can easily gnaw wood or plastic. A multi-level cage with ramps and platforms is ideal, like a ferret or chinchilla’s cage. Avoid cages with a wire floor or shelves, as this can injure their feet.
Add a nesting box and a variety of wooden toys for chewing to the enclosure. Large wooden toys for parrots often do the trick. Some chew toys for dogs can also be beneficial. Plastic toys are dangerous, however, as your rodent could get loose from them and swallow a piece. A running wheel is also a good idea. The wheel should have a solid metal surface and a diameter of at least 15 inches.
Special substrate requirements
Add a few inches of aspen wood shavings, colorless paper, or material made of cellulose to the bottom of the enclosure for bedding. Do not use cedar or pine, as their oils can be dangerous to rodents.2 Also, provide paper towels or tissue (without dyes or fragrances) for your rat to use as nesting material.
If your cage doesn’t have a floor to hold the litter, you can add a urine guard – a metal or plastic strip that runs around the outside of the bottom of the cage. This will also prevent waste from falling out of the cage, as rodents usually choose a corner as a bathroom.
Clean the cage thoroughly every week. Change all the bedding and scrub the surfaces with water and mild soap. Also, perform spot cleaning throughout the week by removing soiled bedding.
What does a Gambian pouched rat eat and drink?
Gambian pouched rats are omnivores in the wild, eating plants and animals, including various plants, insects, and small mammals. As pets, they require a varied diet that includes a commercial mix of rat cereal, fresh fruits, and vegetables, nuts and seeds, insects (crickets and mealworms), cooked lean meat, and eggs. Ask your veterinarian about the right amount and type of food for your pet’s size, age, and activity level.
It is usually better to feed perishable foods in the evening when rats wake up and are hungry so they consume them quickly. Other foods such as grains and seeds can be left in a small bowl in the compartment for your rodent to graze on. Remove any food that has not been eaten within 24 hours. A small ceramic bowl or a stainless steel bowl attached to the side of the enclosure is the best feeding option. Your rat will be able to turn over lightweight bowls and gnaw on anything plastic.
Also, keep in mind that Gambian gophers will fill their cheeks with food and often store it in another part of the enclosure for a later meal. Therefore, watch the cage for uneaten food that is hidden in the bedding and spoils.
Your rat should always have access to fresh water. A water bottle attached to the side of the enclosure is ideal for keeping the water clean. However, also keep a bowl of water in the enclosure until you are sure your rat is consistently drinking from the bottle.
Common Health Problems
Gambian pouched rats are generally healthy, hardy animals, although they are susceptible to some common rodent diseases1, including:
- Respiratory tract infections: unsanitary conditions can often cause respiratory illness. Symptoms include a runny nose, wheezing, and open-mouthed breathing.
- Digestive problems: Diarrhea due to bacterial or parasitic infections is common in rodents.
- Tumors: Older rodents are prone to various types of tumors.
- Overgrown teeth: Rodents’ teeth are constantly growing and must be worn down by their food and the materials they chew. Overgrown teeth can interfere with feeding and often need to be trimmed by a veterinarian.
Not all veterinarians are experienced in treating Gambian pouched rats. So before you get a pet, make sure there is a veterinarian near you who will accept it as a patient.
Training your Gambian pouched rat
Training the litter
Like other rodents, Gambian pouched rats tend to choose a specific spot – often a corner of their enclosure – to relieve themselves. Some owners place a litter box there for easy cleaning. It may be helpful to use a different type of litter for the litter box so that your rat can distinguish it from the rest of the pen. If your rat prefers another area, place the litter box there.
In time, the rat should accept the litter box as his toilet. If you catch your rat using the litter box, offer him a treat immediately to reinforce his behavior. Clean the litter box every other day, as a rat can avoid a dirty litter box.
Exercise is very important for Gambian pouched rats to keep them mentally stimulated and physically fit, which helps prevent health problems such as obesity. They should be taken out of their cage for at least a few hours each day to play and socialize under supervision. Make sure they have toys inside and outside the cage that encourage them to exercise.
Gambian pouched rats regularly clean themselves. They don’t usually need to be bathed, but every once in a while, you should help them remove dirt from their coats by gently rubbing the area with a damp cloth.
The main regular costs for a Gambian pouched rat are its food and bedding. Count on an average cost of $20 to $50 per month, depending on the varieties you choose and the size of your enclosure. You’ll also need to replace chew toys and other worn items regularly, which costs about $10 to $20. Finally, you also need to budget for the cost of routine veterinary examinations and emergency treatments.
Advantages and disadvantages of keeping a Gambian pouched rat as a pet
Gambian pouched rats are interesting, intelligent, and playful pets. In addition, they are relatively quiet and do not take up much space. Feeding them, however, can be complicated, as there is no commercial food specially prepared for them. Moreover, they need a lot of attention to stay tame.