Gerbils as pets
Gerbils are very intelligent, entertaining animals that love to play. They are active both during the day and at night. They are very social and dependent on other gerbils to feel safe, keep warm, and for friendship. They are social animals, therefore keeping them in pairs (or larger groups) is always recommended. Gerbils are easy to care for, take up very little room, so having a couple of pet gerbils in your home can be very fun and enjoyable.
The basic requirements for keeping gerbils is similar to that of any small pet. They need a good sized cage for housing, toys to keep them occupied, a healthy diet, access to health care and a bit of time each day for you to play with them, clean and feed them.
The best combination of gerbils to keep together is either two females or two males. Keeping any more than that can work out fine, but you must expect the occasional fights and disputes. Male and females kept together will breed very quickly so expect lots of young (pups). One way to prevent this is to have the male castrated (gelded). Gerbils can live for up to 4 years if kept well and are healthy.
When you buy gerbils, always give them a couple of days to get used to the new surroundings at home before handling them. Speak to them quietly to get them used to the sound of your voice. Offer them a treat and wait for them to climb onto your hands voluntarily, or gently scoop them up. Never pick up a gerbil by it’s tail, because the tail can become detached. Remember, gerbils can run very fast so always handle them above a table to prevent injuries. Children should always be supervised when handling gerbils, but once they are used to you, they’ll enjoy being handled and will come to you and eat from your hand.
Housing for gerbils:
Gerbils needs a proper home where they can be safe, secure, and happy. The home needs places for your gerbils to sleep, eat, play, and run around. Gerbils are chewers so the cage needs to be secure enough to prevent an accidental escape. The gerbils home should be kept out of direct sunlight and away from draughty areas and extreme temperatures. Here are some housing options:
A wire cage that is around 30cm x 60cm is big enough for two gerbils. With wire cages you want to make sure the bars are spaced close enough together so that a gerbil can’t squeeze through and escape!
A 40 litre, or larger, glass tank also makes a good home for a pair of gerbils. The tank needs a wire mesh cover to prevent escape and possible injury from other pets. Glass tanks have the added benefit of preventing your pet from kicking bedding out of the cage and creating a mess.
Tube cages are expandable with lots of tunnels, toys, and tubes. The number of ways to create exciting areas for your gerbils to explore is almost limitless.
Remember, the more gerbils you keep, the bigger their housing enclosure will need to be.
Gerbils need a few inches of bedding on the bottom of the cage. They use the bedding to burrow, dig, and build nests. The bedding also aids in absorbing smells. There are a variety of commercial bedding materials available. Those made from recycled paper and wood are good. Pine or cedar should be avoided since they can be harmful to small pets.
Providing a couple of small nesting boxes or areas to hide in the cage is very important for gerbils. Shredded paper in the cage can be use as the ideal nesting material.
Gerbils love the stimulation of playing with toys. Tunnels and tubes for playing and exploring make great toys. Play areas with sloping ramps and a climbing branch provide stimulation, and a solid exercise wheel can be very popular. Gerbils love cardboard for chewing. Paper towel and toilet paper rolls work very well for this purpose. It is also important to provide wooden toys or treats for gerbils to chew to keep their teeth short.
A commercial food mix is excellent for a gerbil’s primary food. Most should have all the nutritional requirements for a healthy pet. Oats, millet, wheat, cereal, and dry pasta make a wonderful addition to a gerbil’s diet. Live mealworms, crickets, nuts, seeds and timothy hay and/or alfalfa can also be given as a food to gerbils. They are also an additional source of protein which is lacking in some pet foods.
Treats should only be a small part of your gerbil’s diet. There are a wide variety of commercial treats available that will be greatly enjoyed by gerbils. Fresh fruits and vegetables can also be given as treats. Gerbil’s like carrots, celery, peas, cucumbers, grapes, apples, pears, cooked potato, raisins and bananas. Avoid spinach, lettuce and citrus fruits since some can be harmful to gerbils. Make sure all fruits and vegetables are washed before feeding them to your gerbil and only feed small portions. Too much fruit containing a lot of water can sometimes cause diarrhoea.
Food should be always fresh and there should be a clean, fresh supply of drinking water always available. Gerbils evolved in very dry conditions, but still need a constant supply of water to prevent dehydration.
Each week you should wash the food bowl and water bottle and supply fresh water daily. Every couple weeks, or as needed, you should also wash other parts of the cage that smell with water and a pet safe disinfectant. Be sure to dry everything before putting items back in the cage. Over cleaning the cage can create stress for gerbils, so only clean the entire cage when necessary.
Signs that your gerbil might be unwell:
Getting to know your gerbils and their normal behaviour will make it much easier to tell when they are not feeling well. As a guide, a sick gerbil may show one or even all of the following symptoms:
Looking hunched up
Diarrhoea or constipation
Unusual lumps or swellings
If your gerbils are showing any of these signs, it is always best to get a Vet to check them as soon as possible. As with other small mammals, gerbils can get respiratory disease, diarrhoea, over-grown teeth, broken teeth, skin problems and cancers, and these all need treatment. Broken limbs and tails are also problems seen with gerbils. If you have any concerns, always ask your Vet for advice. Quick treatment is very important.
Gerbils are usually very healthy with few health problems. A safe and secure cage, proper diet, and careful handling help ensure a pet’s safety and well being. Always wash your hands before and after handling your gerbils too!
What you need when keeping pet gerbils:
Gnawing sticks or chews
Complete diet food
Ceramic food bowl
Water bowl or bottle