What you can expect from a Gerbil

What you can expect from a Gerbil

Gerbils are very social animals and because of this they are fairly easily tamed. In the wild they live in large groups and enjoy regular inter-action with each other. It is this that determines how we should keep them in captivity and no breeder or retailer will recommend that you keep a gerbil singly - this would be cruel and akin to keeping a human in solitary confinement.

For obvious reasons though it is not good to just let any old set of gerbils loose together... unless you're happy with a colony taking the house over that is. But same sex gerbils will live well together. They are very affectionate to each other and will play chase and wrestle as well as the quieter activities of grooming and sleeping. When they sleep together they do this in a happy heap of tangled fur and limbs.

In the main a gerbil is not as timid as their smaller hamster cousins and is much less inclined to bite or nip, which makes them a more suitable pet, for younger members of the family in particular.

Another thing in the gerbil's favour is that it is diurnal - meaning it is unlikely to wake you in the night! Gerbils are great at playing and enjoy lots of activity. If you provide them with plenty of tubes and tunnels (this can be as simple as a cardboard tube from a spent kitchen role) they will make full use of them and spend hours hiding and exploring.

Gerbils learn tricks: by tempting your gerbil with a sunflower seed or other small treat he will learn to climb onto your hand. It may take a few days for him to become confident enough to do this but be patient and it will happen. From there you will be able to cup him gently and bring him out of the cage and into a larger play area. Never pick a gerbil up or attempt to catch him by his tail as this can cause considerable distress.

One of the ways that gerbils communicate is by thumping their hind legs on the ground. It is surprising how much noise the can make for such a small animal. It is most often done to express, excitement or fear and alarm. Once one gerbil starts often the others will join in. Always check to make sure that they are fine when this happens and that they are not feeling threatened by another pet such as a cat - cats are great at looking innocent aren't they, when in truth they are really wondering about which way they could prise those poor gerbils out of their cage. And the gerbils, being prey animals in the wild, will know this without any shadow of a doubt.

In the main gerbils will live for about three years. It has been documented that some reach an even riper old age but don't expect that to be the case for your gerbil. Gerbils are by and large healthy animals and shouldn't need much in the way of veterinary attention. However if they do show signs of becoming ill seek expert advice immediately. Their high metabolic rate will make them prone to becoming seriously ill more quickly than one might ordinarily expect.


Gerbils are not a highly demanding pet. However there are a few things they would appreciate from you to make their lives happy and comfortable.

  • A sand bath once a week not only makes the gerbil happy but keeps his coat healthy and clean - buy chinchilla sand from any good pet supplies. Do not leave the sand bath in situ as they will use it as a toilet area.
  • A 6 inch layer of bedding/substrate for them to dig and burrow. Top this with a layer of hay. Do not use cedar or pine shavings as this can cause respiratory problems. There are several suitable alternatives on the market.
  • A clean home. Tidy the gerbil home daily, removing old and uneaten food. Clean thoroughly once a week. Gerbils are by nature clean animals and would automatically move on from a dirty or unsuitable burrow in the wild.
  • A nest box where they can sleep undisturbed and feel safe. Like us they enjoy time out.
  • Toys - provide wood for chewing and also for climbing on. Make ramps, place stable rocks to emulate a natural environment, use ladders and platforms for them to explore and view the world from different heights and thus give them different viewpoints. Change the scenery about occasionally for added interest.
  • A varied diet will always be appreciated. No one thing will give them all they need. Use a little of everything, seed mixes, pellets and a block. Avoid too many sunflower seeds as these are high in fat and are best used as treats. Small amounts of fruit and vegetables are good too. Scatter feeding rather than using a bowl will encourage their natural instincts to forage and also provide an activity to help stop boredom.
  • Non- plastic toys which are easily chewed through and can be ingested.
  • Fresh clean water served from a bottle with a good metal spout.
  • Being kept in a room at about 65 -68 degrees F. That's 20 -25 degrees C.

Always keep your gerbils in a place where they can see plenty of what is going on but not that much that they aren't able to get some peace and quiet. Give them a little attention at least twice a day and don't rely on them having other gerbil company. Keep them away from windows or other places where they may become over heated - talk to other gerbil owners, read articles, books and information and make it your business to learn as much as you can about this great little character and you'll find it'll help you enjoy them all the better.



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