Looking after your gerbil
Gerbils are interesting animals and owning and caring for them can be very rewarding.
However, they also have specialist needs and are therefore a big commitment in terms of care. There are various species but the Mongolian gerbil is commonly kept as a pet. Gerbils may live for up to four years although some may live longer. Here a few questions and answers which might help you.
What’s the best way to handle a gerbil?
Gerbils should be carefully handled from a young age so that they become used to being handled and aren’t scared by it . This will reduce the chances of their biting someone.
Always be gentle. Both hands should be used as a scoop and the gerbil should be held low over a flat surface. Even a small fall can cause serious injury. Never grab the tip of the tail, as this can cause the tail’s skin to fall away.
Do my gerbils need toys?
As well as plenty of exercise, gerbils need things in their cage that they can climb on and explore. They should have an exercise wheel but make sure it doesn’t have spaces between the rungs, as their legs can get trapped and broken between the gaps. They also need suitable toys such as cardboard rolls and boxes, as well as those made specifically for small pets. Ladders, plastic tubes, seesaws and untreated apple-tree branches are all available to buy.
A gnawing block should be provided because this helps your gerbils wear their teeth down.
Scatter some of your gerbils’ food around the cage and hide some in tubes to encourage interest and activity.
How can I let my gerbils dig?
Digging is important normal behaviour for gerbils and they can do this by being housed in a gerbilarium with appropriate burrowing material such as potting compost.
Do gerbils need a dust bath?
Gerbils should be provided with a dust bath. Chinchilla sand (available from pet shops) is appropriate. Gerbils, like other desert species, dust bathe to keep their coats in good condition.
Where should I put their home?
Make sure you house your gerbils away from items in the home which can generate ultrasound, such as television sets, computer screens, vacuum cleaners or sources of running water. They are particularly sensitive to sound.
Make sure your gerbilarium is kept clean. Do not allow the bedding material to become damp or smelly. Clean once a week or fortnight as required.
What do they eat?
Make sure that you provide a good quality, balanced diet especially for gerbils, containing all the nutrients and minerals your gerbils need. This may be a compound pelleted ration or a mixture of different seeds; commercial rations are formulated to meet their biological needs. Follow the manufacturer’s guidance for how much to feed.
Scattering the food directly on the surface of the bedding helps prevent squabbling and is also enriching to the animals by giving them foraging opportunities.
For variety, fruit (pear, melon, apple, oranges) and vegetables (cucumber, carrot, pumpkin and fennel) can be used to supplement your gerbils ration. Do not give your pets’ grapes or rhubarb as these are poisonous to rodents.
Avoid giving excessive amounts of certain seeds (e.g. sunflower) as they are fatty and can cause obesity. Pumpkin seeds are a healthier treat.
Do they like company?
Gerbils should never be kept alone and are happiest in same-sex pairs or small groups.
Do not house unfamiliar adult gerbils next to one another. Even though they are in separate gerbilariums, they can find this stressful.