How to Take Care of Gerbils
Gerbils are popular pets, ideal for a child’s first pet and great companions for all ages. But what care do gerbils need to thrive and have happy, healthy lives?
Gerbils are small mammals related to mice, rats, and other rodents. There are more than 100 species of these desert-dwelling mammals, with different gerbils found throughout Asia, Africa, and India. While their size varies, most gerbils are 6-12 inches long, with half that length taken up by their tails.
These are social animals, and gerbils tend to be most active during the day as well as during the twilight periods of morning and evening. They are not aggressive and rarely bite unless they are threatened, and their desert evolution means they use water very efficiently and produce very little waste or odor. With proper care, gerbils generally live 3-5 years.
Gerbils have been popular as pets in the United States since they were first introduced in the late 1950s. It is important to note, however, that it is illegal to keep pet gerbils in California, since they are classified as invasive and can threaten the local agriculture and ecosystem.
Gerbils are relatively easygoing in their care needs, but proper care is essential to keep these pets healthy and happy. While they may look similar to mice, rats, hamsters, and other small pets, gerbils do have some special needs to ensure their homes and habitats are gerbil-friendly.
Housing – Gerbils need a large cage or tank with a mesh top for good air circulation with plenty of room to explore and play. The tank should be positioned away from drafts and direct sunlight that could create temperature fluctuations, and should be in a room with an average temperature between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bedding – These rodents love to burrow, dig, and explore, and they need bedding at least 2-4 inches deep to give them adequate space to play. Avoid cedar or pine shavings as those bedding options can be toxic to gerbils. Instead, corn cob or aspen bedding is best. Shredded paper towel or tissue paper is also ideal for gerbils to make cozy nests.
Shelter – In addition to deep bedding, a dedicated shelter will help gerbils feel comfortable and safe. An igloo, clay pot, or cardboard box can be suitable, but avoid plastic designs these rodents can easily chew through. A wide mouth glass jar tipped on its side and nestled into the bedding can be an easy and effective shelter for happy gerbils.
Food – Gerbils can get thorough nutrition from a specialized gerbil mix or pellets, but adding small amounts of vegetables (daily) and fruits (2-3 times per week) can provide additional vitamins and minerals to keep them healthy. Peas, broccoli, carrots, apples, strawberries, bananas, and sunflower seeds are all good choices to offer gerbils.
Water – While these mammals evolved in deserts with little water, as pets they do need access to fresh, clean water. A hanging water bottle with a drinking tube is the best way to give gerbils water, and will ensure the water stays clean even as the animals play, dig, and burrow nearby.
Accessories – A few toys can make a gerbil’s home more exciting and stimulating. Cardboard tunnels and bridges are great choices, and a tall rock will serve as a fun lookout point. Hard twig chew toys can help keep gerbils’ teeth in good shape, and an exercise ring (solid, without rungs) can be sure they get a great workout.
Cleaning – A gerbil’s habitat should be kept clean, with old food and soiled bedding removed daily. The food dish should also be cleaned daily, and the whole tank and water bottle should be thoroughly cleaned each week. Gerbils can be provided with a dust bath for their own cleaning needs, or gently wiped with a soft, damp cloth if they are dirty.
Handling – Gerbils should be handled gently and with great care as they get used to their new owners. Young children should always be supervised when handling gerbils, and these animals should never be picked up by their tails or limbs. Taking gerbils out of their cages for occasional supervised play can give them great exercise and mental stimulation.
- Veterinary Care – A veterinarian who specializes in small animals is best for gerbils, and these pets should have annual checkups to stay healthy. If a gerbil exhibits any signs of illness, including diarrhea, breathing difficulties, sudden lethargy, or appetite changes, they should see a veterinarian right away.
Gerbils can be fun pets, and understanding more about them can help you give your gerbils proper care for long, healthy, happy lives.