Gerbils

Gerbils originally come from eastern Mongolia. The Mongolian Gerbil (one of many species of Gerbil) is the most common domesticated variety. Gerbils first became popular as pets after 1954, when a small number of them were brought to the United States for scientific testing.

Considered to be a small-sized rodent, Gerbils tend to be very active and social animals. This animal has high energy requirements, but low care needs. The habitat chosen will require frequent cleaning and it must be placed in an area that maintains a moderate temperature. Gerbils are good with other pets and with children, which makes them quite suitable for a family home.

Gerbils

Information about Gerbils

  • Average size: 6 to 12 inches
  • Average Weight: 2 – 3 ounces
  • Coat Colors: Brown, black, gray, buff, white
  • Grooming Needs: Low
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Good tolerance to Heat and Cold: No
  • Good Pet: Yes
  • Safe with Children: Yes
  • Good with Other Gerbils: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable for First-Time pet Owners: Yes
  • Training: They learn simple tricks, but they require patience and consistency
  • Exercise Needs: High
  • Weight Gain: lack of exercise and fatty diet can cause obesity
  • Health Concerns: They tend to have eye and nose sores, diarrhea, heat stroke, and seizures 
  • Allergies: strong scents cause allergies to Gerbils
  • Average Life Span: 2 – 3 years
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Physical Appearance of Gerbils

Gerbils are small rodents that only get to a maximum weight of about 3 ounces in adulthood. The male Gerbils are larger in size than the female ones. Gerbils can either be gray, black, brown, white or spotted in color.

Temperament of Gerbils

Gerbils are gentle pets that rarely show aggressive behavior. The pets are friendly and, after some time with their owners, can enjoy human contact. Gerbils are active and very curious, which is evident in the way they approach anything placed in their cage ready to explore.

It’s important to note that Gerbils are social and enjoy living in groups of two or more. Gerbils can only live together if introduced to each other when they’re less than 10 weeks old, after that it becomes difficult. Gerbils may show aggressive behavior toward a new Gerbil introduced into the cage and may even kill the new member.

All Gerbils have a gland around the abdomen, which is oval and has an orange-tan color. The gland enlarges at adulthood and in male Gerbils, it produces an oily secretion. The males use the secretion to mark their territory by rubbing their abdomen on objects in the cage.

Training and Handling Gerbils

Gerbils are timid at first and may not be open to handling. The best way to get your Gerbil to enjoy handling is by first giving it time to get used to you. Start by placing your hand inside its cage and staying still for the Gerbil to sniff and crawl around your hand. Repeat the process until you feel the Gerbil isn’t scared of you.

Gerbils have very fragile tails that can easily pluck from the base leaving a bony structure that eventually falls off. Avoid holding them by the tail to prevent injuries.

The best way to hold a Gerbil is by placing one hand right behind the forelegs. Then gently cap the Gerbil in your hand without squeezing it. The other hand should support the pet from behind being careful not to injure the tail.

Once you’ve created a bond with your Gerbil and have learned how to handle it, you are then able to train it to perform tricks. Gerbils are intelligent pets that can learn with practice and patience. A Gerbil can learn to sit on your shoulder and even slide down to your hand. The pet can also learn to take simple commands like “sit.”

To train your Gerbil, try to make the training sessions consistent, fun, and short because they are not able to concentrate for long. To reinforce the commands, offer healthy treats to encourage your pet when they execute a trick. Some good treats include carrot, pumpkin, or sunflower seed.

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Their Compatibility with Children

Gerbils are good pets for kids because they are playful and kids can have a lot of fun watching them play. Gerbils are also easy to care for and rarely get sick with a proper diet and a good clean cage.

 Kids can have fun feeding Gerbils using their hands because they don’t bite or scratch. Anyone handling Gerbils should wash their hands after handling or feeding them by hand. Some disease causing organisms like Salmonella found in Gerbils can pass on to human beings.

An adult should also teach kids how to hold a Gerbil because they could hurt their fragile tails or squeeze them too hard, injuring internal organs. An adult should always carry out the cleaning of the cage or replacing the bedding to avoid mistakes.

Gerbils

Best Habitat for Gerbils

In this section, we’ll discuss how you can create a happy home for your pet.

Size

The minimum size cage or tank used to house your Gerbil should measure 18 inches by 30 inches and a height of 12 inches. If you’re buying a tank, these measurements are equivalent to a 15 gallon tank. If you place a Gerbil in a very small space, it tends to become aggressive.

Tank/Cage

If you decide to use a cage to house your pet, there should be a tray that extends beyond the area of the cage. Gerbils are known to be messy pets that often throw the bedding and food out of the habitat. If you have a tank, you don’t have to deal with spillage messes. While tanks don’t let them make a mess of your floor, they are more challenging to clean in comparison to wire cages.

It’s also worth noting that Gerbils are sensitive to extreme heat or cold. The cage should be placed away from direct sunlight or strong wind. Gerbils do well if environmental temperatures remain at an optimal level of between 65 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bedding

The habitat should have about 2 inches of bedding or substrate because Gerbils enjoy burrowing and forming nests on the substrate. The best bedding for a Gerbil is recycled paper, wood shavings, or corncob. Never place pine or cedar bedding because it has a strong scent that can cause respiratory irritations to your pet.

Nesting boxes

Gerbils enjoy forming nests and hiding in them and offering them nesting materials would make them happy. Nesting materials such as toilet paper make great nesting boxes for your Gerbil. Make sure that the toilet paper you use isn’t scented to protect your pet from having respiratory problems.

How to Maintain a Gerbil’s Habitat

Don’t overdo the cleaning of your Gerbil cage because they can become stressed when their cage doesn’t smell or feel like home. Generally Gerbils are clean pets that rarely urinate. You should not have any problems with bad odors. 

Replace bedding materials once a week. Only clean the cage or tank whenever necessary or tackle the dirty areas without deep cleaning the cage.

Clean the water bottle every day to avoid contamination and also make sure to remove any food leftovers from the cage.

Exercise Requirements for a Gerbil

Gerbils should have plenty of exercises every day to reduce boredom and to also lower the risk of becoming overweight. Place some toys in the cage of your Gerbil, but make sure they are safe. Gerbils are notorious for sticking their heads into anything hollow inside the cage. The hollow toys should be large enough such that your Gerbil doesn’t get stuck inside. 

Hiding Materials

Gerbils enjoy playing, burrowing and hiding most of the time. The best hides for your Gerbil are the hollow log. You can find the hollow logs at the snake section in the pet store. Toilet paper cores are also good choices but make sure to replace them often because the Gerbils will shred them. Clay pots placed on the sides can also provide safe hiding places for your pet.

Health Issues

A healthy Gerbil is active, has clean yellow teeth, bright eyes, shiny fur, eats well, and has a clean, dry bottom. Gerbils are healthy pets that rarely become ill. Here are some of the most common diseases that affect Gerbils.

Heat stroke

Gerbils are affected by very hot temperatures that makes them pant for breath, become lethargic, and in extreme cases become unconscious. Immediately if you notice these signs, move the entire Gerbil cage and place it in a cool place. 

After the Gerbil shows signs of recovery, check  the location of its cage and if it’s too hot, find another cool place for the cage.  Also make sure that any other Gerbils were not affected by the heat.

Fits/Seizures

Usually, the Gerbil starts twitching from its limbs, the ears fall back, and they may also drool. A Gerbil going through a fit is scary to watch especially for the caregivers.

Some Gerbils may suffer fits when exposed to stressful situations, change of environment, or excess handling. Not all Gerbils experience fits but the younger ones are more prone to the condition. 

When you notice signs of a possible fit, immediately stop handling the Gerbil. It also helps if you place it in a quiet room without any distractions. The Gerbil gets back to normal after a few minutes and only in rare cases will death occur.

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Diarrhea

Cases of diarrhea in Gerbils should get treated fast because the parasites that cause the illness such as Salmonella can pass on to human beings. A sick Gerbil will have sticky and smelly poop stuck on their bottom. They may also lack an appetite, which may eventually lead to weight loss. 

Quarantine the sick Gerbil away from the rest of the Gerbils. Thoroughly clean the cage, bowls, and replace bedding. It’s also advisable to treat the other Gerbils with antibiotics to prevent recurrent outbreaks of diarrhea. Consult with your vet to see what they decide is the best treatment.

Sore Nose and Eyes

Sore nose is a common illness among Gerbils because they can get irritations from strongly scented substances. The primary culprit to causing nose allergies is cedar based bedding. 

Using wired cages may also lead to illness. A Gerbil in a cage often tries to chew on the wires and rubs its fur on the wires. The hairs left on the wires then get blown to their noses causing irritations. 

Another cause of Sore nose is a bacteria called Staphylococcus Bacilli. A sick Gerbil has red mucus flowing from its nose. Gerbil mucus is red in normal cases so this isn’t blood by any chance.

Sore eyes on the other hand are caused by having sawdust as a substrate in your pet’s habitat. The sawdust is dangerous because it reacts with the membranes of your Gerbil’s eyes.

Gerbils

Grooming Tips for your Gerbil

Gerbils are clean rodents that don’t require a lot of grooming. Brushing their coat once a week is a great way to keep them clean while at the same time bonding with your pet. Use a soft toothbrush or a brush meant for Gerbils so that you don’t hurt their skin.

Bathing

Don’t bathe your Gerbil using water because their skins are sensitive and could easily lose the essential oils. Gerbils enjoy having sand baths. It is a good idea to put a bowl of sand in the cage. The sand should be fine and meant for Gerbils or Hamsters because rough sand particles could hurt them.

Nail clipping

Gerbils are great at burrowing which naturally trims their nails. Once in a while it’s a good idea to check the nails and trim them using nail clippers if it becomes necessary.  As you clip the nails, make sure not to clip too close to the blood vessels to avoid bleeding.

Tooth Trimming

During chewing, the Gerbils can trim their teeth naturally. In some rare cases, the teeth may overgrow and may require a professional to trim them. Visit your veterinarian when you notice the teeth of your Gerbil have overgrown.

Feeding Gerbils

Water is an essential part of the Gerbil’s diet.The best way to give water to your pet is by using a water bottle, preferably with a metal sipper. Always check the bottle to make sure it doesn’t have any blockage or leakages.

In the wild, Gerbils eat grass, leaves, and seeds. To mimic the natural diet of a Gerbil, feed them commercial pellets or seed mixes. The good thing about the pellets or seed mixes is that they’re usually well balanced in nutritional value. The commercial pellets and seed mixes should make up the largest part of your pet’s diet.

When buying the seed mixes, avoid those with a lot of sunflower seeds because they have high fat content. Fatty seeds can quickly make your Gerbil obese. As an alternative, you can give pumpkin seeds because they are healthy and nutritious.

Gerbils also enjoy fruits such as oranges, melons, pears, and apples. Occasionally adding to the diet fresh leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, cabbage, and kales is also a great way to keep your Gerbils healthy.

Once in a while, give your Gerbil a treat of small quantities of yogurt, cheese, or some cooked egg. 

Naturally, Gerbils love to store food for later which is perfectly normal because in the wild there are periods of abundance and periods of scarcity. When you clean their cage look around for any hidden food. Once it goes stale, it could upset your Gerbil’s tummy.

rodent food

Related Questions:

How often do Gerbils require sand baths?

Gerbils need sand baths to keep their coats shiny and free from parasites. Sand baths are necessary at least once a week to keep your pet healthy. After the bath, take the bowl of sand from the cage to prevent spillage.

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