Gerbils are active, curious rodents that have been kept as pets in the US since the 1960s. Their small size, friendly temperament, and easy maintenance make them an ideal pet for anyone willing to earn their trust. Add to this their size and minimal odor, and it is easy to see why they are popular pets.
Gerbils are social animals and they prefer to be kept in groups. Usually, gerbils can coexist peacefully with gerbils of any others provided they have been housed together since they were about six weeks old. Gerbil communities are female dominant, and females are more aggressive. Two females who have never bred can live peacefully together, but no more than two. Males are easy going, and you can keep four to six of them together in a colony provided there are no females present anywhere else in the vicinity (including in the same household).
When you purchase your pets, we recommend that you choose two gerbils from the same tank where they already "know" each other. If you choose to keep a male and female together, expect a new litter of babies every four to six weeks for up to 18 months. That Pet Place cannot guarantee the sex of any animal of any age because young rodents are so difficult to sex, nor do we guarantee that the gerbils you purchase will cohabit peacefully, even if chosen from the same tank.
Creating a Gerbil Habitat
There are a variety of housing options on the market for gerbils: wire cages
, plastic cages
with a complex systems of tubes or a basic glass tank with a screen lid. We recommend a 10 gallon glass tank with a metal screen lid
(secured by clips) for two gerbils. Gerbils may chew through the plastic bottom of a wire cage or the plastic habitat.
Gerbils need a few inches of small pet bedding
to dig in and to absorb waste. Do not use cedar chips or corncob. Natural oils in Cedar can cause respiratory complications, and corncob may be accidentally ingested. Better choices include aspen bedding or Carefresh bedding.
Provide water in a hang-on water bottle
. A standard ceramic food dish
is recommended, as plastic dishes will be chewed and possibly ingested.
Wild gerbils live underground, and captive gerbils do not feel safe without some sort of refuge. A basic wood hiding place
is vital to help them feel safe and secure. Provide other chewable items in the cage, such as wooden chews
or cardboard tubes
and edible toys
to satisfy their natural urge to chew and to keep their teeth worn to a comfortable length.
We recommend a metal exercise wheel
to make your habitat complete. Plastic wheels may be chewed. Find a metal wheel that can accommodate your pet’s long tail to avoid injuries.
Feeding Your Gerbil
Gerbils do best on a varied diet. Gerbil food
should be used as the staple of the diet, but other things can be added to make sure the animals are receiving the optimal nutrition. Feed a basic diet of rodent blocks for the first two weeks, until your animal has adjusted to their new home. You may also offer seed mix periodically during this time.
After the first two weeks, you can offer small amounts of dried fruit, veggies, and seed blends as a small portion of the daily diet. Low fat premium dog food can be given to supplement the diet with animal proteins. Whole wheat bread that has been left out overnight, whole grain pasta, and even fresh, hard fruits and vegetables (like carrots, apples and pears without the seeds) make good treats, but should only be offered occasionally.
Gerbils are a low-maintenance pet, but they still need regular care. They need fresh food and water daily, preferably in bowls and bottles that are washed frequently. The cage itself should be emptied of bedding once per week, and any wooden toys replaced if they are well-chewed. Wash the cage with a mild solution of bleach and allow it to sit for about 20 minutes before rinsing until the smell of bleach is gone, then allow it to dry and refill it with fresh bedding.
Gerbils do not need to be groomed. Some gerbils enjoy a dust bath
, using a dust similar to chinchilla dust
, to maintain their coat. This can be provided a few times a week in a ceramic container. Remove the dust bath after the gerbil is finished.
The most common problem with young rodents is wet-tail (diarrhea), a condition caused by the stress of a new environment, especially if the environment is not kept clean. For this reason, to minimize stress on the animals, we highly recommend that all young rodents be kept on the basic bland diet of rodent blocks for at least two weeks after purchase. Wet tail is a serious ailment, and it can be fatal, even with proper treatment. Any animal who shows signs of wet-tail should be given Pedialyte and a wet-tail medication
in their water bottle, and uncooked oatmeal to eat. This will normally improve their condition within a short amount of time, but if no improvement is noted, a veterinarian should be consulted.
The gerbil's long tail is used for balance and as a distraction for predators in the wild. Like rats and mice, gerbils have fragile tails and should not be lifted by them. If the tail is injured, it can break off and will not grow back.
In a new environment, your new pet may be rather nervous. Use caution when holding or handling your pet as they may try to jump out of your hands. Handle your pet in a seated position to minimize the chance of a fall. Any small mammal that has suffered a fall should see a vet as soon as possible, as not all injuries are externally visible.
A Few Important Notes
Check on your pet daily to be certain it is healthy. All animals should have a veterinarian check-up soon after you bring them home. If you observe any symptoms or signs that your pet may be ill, treat immediately or see a vet as soon as possible.
Be aware that rodents may not prefer to be handled like some other pets. As they mature, they often become less tolerant of being handled. Young children should be supervised by parents at all times when interacting with their pet. Not only are these animals fragile, but they can, if frightened, bite or scratch. Parents are encouraged to handle the animals first to get them used to contact and to teach children the proper way to hold or carry their pet.
New pets should never be given free access to any room until they are used to their surroundings. Gerbils can better explore from the safety of transparent small pet exercise ball
, which allows them the freedom to go where they want without getting lost or injured. Limit "ball time" to no more than 30 minutes.
Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any animal. This habit will help to prevent the spread of germs, and help to prevent accidental bites by washing away smells that may entice them (like if you recently handled food or treats).
When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life as your companion.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our small animal department at 717-299-5691 ext. 1274 or [email protected]