Your gerbil is an enthusiastic eater, and his next meal may be the highlight of his day. With high metabolic requirements, gerbils find themselves chewing through 10 percent of their body weight in food every 24 hours. By maintaining a well-balanced diet, you will increase your critter's chance of leading a long and healthy life. His diet should consist mostly of grains and other carbohydrates, and fresh water should always be available.
Most experts recommend that you restrict the amount of sweet and oily foods that you give your gerbil. While your pet may like potato chips and cupcake crumbs, these foods distract him from the nutritious items he needs to stay healthy.
You should feed your domestic gerbil dry food pellets that are vitamin fortified and made from ground seeds and grass. It's best not to buy pellets in bulk because their nutritive value decreases within 3 to 5 months. Buy only what you can use in 3 months and check the date that the food was milled so you know you aren't buying old food. It's best to feed pellets from an elevated or overhead bin in his cage to prevent fecal contamination of food, although your little hoarder will make his own stashes of midnight snacks throughout the cage and house if allowed.
Although commercial gerbil mixes are available, you can make your own by stirring a little canary and parakeet food into your basic food pellets. Remove most of the sunflower seeds from this mix because they are fattening for your gerbil; consider these seeds treats for special occasions. If you place a dog bone in the cage, your gerbil will always have something nutritious to chew on. Try to give him at least one piece of fresh vegetable a day.
Your gerbil is an omnivore, so he likes to have a little animal protein every once in a while. You can buy special pet store feeder crickets and give your gerbil two or three of these insects every month. Don't just feed him crickets from your yard – they may have been exposed to pesticides or chemicals.
Gerbils are desert animals with very efficient kidneys. While in the wild they drink no standing water and rely on the fluids in the plants they eat; in captivity you have to provide them with plenty of fresh water.
Fresh water should be available to your pet at all times. A sipper bottle is the best way to supply water to your pet because it won't become contaminated with food and feces. It's best for your water bottle to be emptied and refilled with fresh water daily and then run through the dishwasher once per week.
Sunflower seeds and pieces of fruit or vegetables are great treats for your pocket pet but they must be fed in VERY SMALL amounts.
Pet store snacks made specifically for pets are fine also. But remember: Your pet is relatively sedentary compared to his relatives in the wild. Keep the amount of junk food down to a minimum.
Your gerbil has front teeth that are constantly growing, so he must chew and gnaw in order to keep them worn down. Keep chew sticks from the pet store or pieces of fruit-tree branches or bark in your pet's cage to help keep his teeth healthy. If you choose sticks from trees in your yard, make sure they come from non-poisonous trees. Cherry, cedar and oleander are just a few that ARE toxic.
A Rule of Thumb
With time and experimentation, you will learn how much food your small rodent needs. Try to give only as much as he can eat on the day you feed him, plus a little extra for the next morning. His own exercise patterns and dietary requirements will determine the specific amount of food he needs, but bear in mind that he will likely overstuff himself if given the opportunity. Always remove any leftover scraps of fresh fruits or vegetables from the cage, as the mold that they grow may be toxic to your animal.