In this article there are 10 important things you need to know about gerbils before adopting one, so nothing will come as a surprise after you bring one, or more than one gerbil home. If all of the information below sounds like gerbils will fit into your lifestyle just fine, then go ahead and browse our gerbil adoption section and see if you can find the perfect pet for you.
You should always have more than one gerbil in a cage. They absolutely love having a cage-mate to interact with, when gerbils are kept on their own they can become very lonely and suffer some health problems because of it.
Ideally you want to adopt two gerbils of the same sex that already know each other. Introducing new gerbils can result in fighting over territory, and obviously mixes males and females can lead to unwanted litters.
They enjoy human interaction too, this is one of the traits that make them good pets for children. As long as the child understands how to safely handle them, they will enjoy the attention they get. The more you socialise with them at a young age, the more tame they will be as pets.
Gerbils live between 3-5 years on average. As with any pets there are a lot of things you can do to maximise their lifespan and ensure they live a healthy, happy life. Keeping them in clean and safe conditions, providing good food and water, and making sure they are not put in stressful situations should be your main priorities.
If you think, or notice your gerbil is ill, or have any concerns about its health you should take it to a vet and have it checked out. Treating any health issues that arise quickly will certainly increase the life expectancy of a gerbil.
Regarding space, the general rule is the more space the better. Gerbils like to have plenty of room to move around, and a good depth of bedding to burrow into. Within their cage there should be areas for each gerbil to nest in and sleep, plenty of space to play in, and an area for the food and water bottle to be placed.
When adding bedding to their cage you have to avoid cedar and pine products. These materials can cause some serious health problems for gerbils, including serious liver and respiratory issues. Straw or other rough bedding materials are not recommended either as the sharp edges can prove hazardous.
Bedding designed for gerbils include wood, paper, and corncob. These are safe and fun for the gerbils to burrow around in.
Gerbils will happily live in the usual selection of rodent cages. You can choose between metal cages, plastic, and glass. If you are unsure of the pros and cons of all the cage types, this has been explained in great detail in other articles in the rodent care section of this site.
The glass tank is the best option for gerbils. With a well ventilated lid it provides a safe environment, and allows good visibility to watch the gerbil.
It is inexpensive and easy to provide a good quality food mix that is specifically formulated for gerbils. This will make up the bulk of their diet and keep them healthy, some treats and other foods can be given from time to time.
You always need to have fresh water available, but you will notice that gerbils do not drink much. This is nothing to be alarmed about, they come from arid, dry areas and can operate without drinking much.
A gerbil can be easily tamed, you just need some patients and care when handling them. You must never try to pick up a gerbil by its tail, or hold its tail for any reason. Gerbils will shed their tail if they feel threatened or if some stress is placed on it. While this does not have any serious health implications for the gerbil, it is not a nice experience and for obvious reasons should be avoided.
The best way to hold and carry a gerbil is cupped in the palm of your hand. They are prone to jumping and running off without warning, so never hold a gerbil high off the ground without suitable support. You can grab them by the scruff of their neck if you are trying to prevent the gerbil from escaping. This will not hurt them, but may make them struggle even harder.
Gerbils’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lives, so they need durable materials to gnaw on to keep them trimmed. One of the best chew toys you can give them is a cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper, and the best thing about this for you being you are recycling something for free. A longer lasting option is a block of untreated wood, they can chew on this for weeks, or even months depending on the size.
If you do not provide chewing options you risk two problems; firstly the health of your gerbil, and secondly they will chew on anything they can find. This may include the bars of their cage, their food bowl, or anything else in their cage.
While everyone hopes their pet never requires medical attention, it is best to be prepared for any health issues. Health problems can spring up quickly, and the quicker they are treated the greater chance of a full recovery.
Gerbils are prone to tumours, the more so the older they get. Not every veterinarian practice will be equipped or specialised to treat gerbils. You should do the research to find a practice near you that treats gerbils before you need it.
In their natural environment in the wild, gerbils burrow a lot. They burrow for safety, to build warm nests, and to store food. If you can give them the opportunity to burrow in their cage they will be a lot happier for it, this means providing a deep layer of bedding.
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