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Caring for Your Gerbil

Posted by Joe Morton on

Cute Gerbil

What a fun small pet!  Gerbils are delightful little creatures. They're friendly, social, and easy to care for, and their antics can entertain for hours.

This is a basic outline on how to care for your gerbil. Further reading, either in books or online, is recommended for a complete guide.

Want to meet some in person? Come down to Pets on Broadway and we'll do the introductions!

Habitat/Housing

  • Two gerbils: 10+ gallon aquarium
  • Three gerbils: 15+ gallon aquarium
  • Four or five gerbils: 20+ gallon aquarium

An aquarium habitat with a screen top and clips is ideal. The bigger the better. Gerbils love to dig! In their natural desert habitat they create complex interconnected tunnels and burrows that provide shelter, protection from predators, food storage, and a secure place to raise their young. Gerbils are such persistent gnawers that they can destroy a plastic habitat.

Other necessary items:

Grey and white gerbil


Bedding

Processed paper products (such as Carefresh), wood shavings (aspen is ideal, pine is questionable, never cedar), or shredded paper.

Maintenance

Remove soiled bedding and stale food daily. Change bedding weekly or more often as needed. Clean enclosure with distilled vinegar and water (50/50), hydrogen peroxide, or pet-safe cleaning products.

 

Diet 

Fortified Rodent Blocks and Pellets

A complete fortified rodent block and pelleted diet are the healthier options. If a mix containing a variety of seeds, nuts and dried fruits is offered, be sure your gerbil does not choose only the pieces that they prefer and not eat the healthier bits.

 

 

Veggies

A few times a week in very small amounts to prevent diarrhea. Bell peppers, carrots, corn, cucumber, green beans, endive, lettuce (dark varieties, small amount) parsley, peas and boiled potatoes, zucchini.

Gerbil in bedding

Fruit

Apple (seedless), bananas, berries, currants, raisins, pears, grapes (seedless), mandarin, watermelon.

Gerbils will like almost any fruits, though they usually don't eat citrus fruits, because they are too sour. Herbs from the garden can also be given such as dandelion, clover, grass, etc.

Hay is also very good because it contains lots of fiber and makes an excellent nesting and gnawing material.

Treats

Treats are a great way to bond with your gerbil. Treats should only be offered in very small amounts a few times per week.

Gerbils enjoy fruits and vegetable as a treat. Also nuts, sun flower seeds, pumpkin seeds, whole grain bread, cheese, hard boiled egg, mealworms and dog biscuits. 

DANGEROUS FOODS TO AVOID:

Apple seeds, cabbage, chocolate, candies, chips and junk food, alcohol, potatoes (raw), raw kidney beans, eggplant, avocado, raw rhubarb, tomato leaves, cherry pits, peach pits & leaves, apricot pits, lemon and lime, jams and jellies, pickles. 

Signs of a Healthy Gerbil

Cute Gerbil Closeup

  • Smooth, glossy coat with no patches of hair missing
  • Nostrils free of discharge and no signs of sneezing, wheezing or labored breathing
  • Teeth and claws that are even and not overgrown
  • Firm body weight without being obese or too thin
  • No abnormal lumps or scabs
  • Bright and shiny eyes
  • Alert and active temperament
  • Teeth should be yellow in color and growing straight, not misaligned 

Red Flags

  • Lethargic, longer sleeping periods
  • Weight loss
  • Unusual aggression
  • Low or loss of appetite
  • Odd posture
  • Dirty fur
  • Faster or slower breathing
  • Epileptic fits

Gerbils are most commonly infected by Tyzzer’s disease, which has symptoms of lethargy, ruffled fur, poor appetite and hunched posture. Other common problems are diarrhea, tumors, ear problems and respiratory problems.

A bloody nose indicates allergies which are common in gerbils. This is not really a disease and its treatment is simple. Symptoms: The gerbil will begin to rub its nose often and a red liquid that looks like blood will be visible. Porphyrin is secreted from a gland and can look like blood when discharged from the nose (it also can be seen from the eyes). Due to the rubbing there may be hair loss in this area. The gerbil will sleep more then usual.

Head tilting or spinning in circles can indicate ear infections which can come from blockage, mites, infections or cuts from scratching. These same symptoms could also indicate a stroke.

A lot of references can be found online that cover gerbil health issues, and books are available for purchase in our store. 

More Things to Know

Baby Gerbils Together

Scientific name: Gerbillinae
Origin: Regions of Mongolia, South Siberia, North China, Manchuria and Sin-Kiang
Lifespan: 2 - 4 years
Size: 6 - 12” including tail

  • Gerbils must be kept in a pair or more. Loneliness makes them apprehensive and possibly aggressive. It is best to obtain young littermates of the same sex.
  • Females, however, do best in no more than a pair as they tend to be the more dominant gender.
  • Gerbils are chewers. In fact, their health depends on it. As with all rodents, their teeth must be ground down regularly as their front teeth grow continuously. In the wild a gerbil’s teeth will be naturally ground down by the foods they eat. In captivity a gerbil’s food may not do an adequate job and they chew on objects in the cage or even the cage itself. Aquariums are the best choice as a cage for this reason.
  • Gerbils are primarily nocturnal but will have many sleep/play cycles throughout the day and night.
  • “Thumping” is an interesting gerbil behavior. They will pound both hind legs on the ground when they are excited or stressed. Young gerbils tend to thump even when not stressed. If you have multiple gerbils, they will all join in on thumping behavior.
  • Their principal movement is hopping, rather than running.
  • Its whole body, including the tail, is covered with fur throughout, which helps it from getting sunburned. Never pick a gerbil up by its tail as the skin may come off. Always scoop it up from beneath.
  • Gerbils like dust baths! Provide a glass or ceramic dish with a small amount of chinchilla dust a few times a week. They should not be given a water bath.
  • Gerbils have well adapted kidneys, which produces minimum waste and conserves more fluid. This makes it a clean rodent, with little odor.
  • All gerbils have a scent gland in the middle of their tummy. This is long, thin and yellow in color. It is sometimes mistaken for a wound or tumor. When a gerbil rubs his stomach on cage accessories, he is marking his territory.
  • They often sleep on top of each other and can unconsciously groom each other in their half-sleep.

Questions?

There are many online resources that cover gerbil care and health. The information provided in this article is meant to be a fun and helpful outline of the animal and its care requirements. By no means is it a comprehensive or exhaustive list.

Always be sure to do your own research and consult an expert, such as a veterinarian, before making any decisions about your pet’s health.