Gerbils are friendly, affectionate, and curious rodents. The most common type of gerbil is the Mongolian gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus). They are native to the desert regions of Mongolia and northeastern China. Gerbils are non-aggressive creatures that rarely bite. With a life span of 3 to 4 years, they make excellent pets for youngsters interested in minimal commitment.
When choosing a gerbil, always pick one with the clearest eyes, the cleanest hair coat, and the most outgoing personality. Always pick a gerbil up by the nape of the neck, never by the tail, as the skin can easily slough off.
It is currently illegal to own a gerbil in the state of California.
There are several options when choosing a house for your gerbil:
- Hamster cages
- Tube habitats
- Metal cages
The floor of the cage should be solid, and a wire roof should always be in place. A gerbil can escape with as little as 1 centimeter of space, so be sure the lid is secure. There should be at least 10 inches of space between your gerbil and the top of its cage.
Gerbils require plenty of bedding, at least 3 inches, as they love to dig. The bedding should be an absorbent, non-abrasive, clean material such as hardwood shavings, shredded paper, or shredded paper towels. Sand, corncob litter, and cat litter should never be used in your gerbils’ cage. These materials can cause ulceration on the gerbils face due to burrowing and digging. Your gerbil’s bedding should be changed and the cage should be rinsed with hot water and detergent at least every 2 weeks, and droppings should be removed daily.
Gerbils are very social animals. They should always be housed in groups of at least two. They enjoy grooming each other, and have communal sleeping habits. They cannot be housed with mice or hamsters, as they will fight. And, unless you intend to have lots of gerbils, it is a good idea to have same sex groups housed togethers. Gerbils can be very prolific.
Your gerbils’ cage should be kept in a room where the temperature is kept at a steady 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. A rapid change in temperature can cause respiratory disease. They should also be kept out of direct sunlight.
Gerbils are herbivores. In the wild, they live on a diet of seeds, fruits, and vegetables. They should be fed a diet that is between 16 percent and 22 percent protein. Pellets should be the main staple of your gerbils’ diet. Gerbil pellets, hamster pellets, or any pellet diet for rodents will be suitable. These are available in most pet stores.
Your gerbils’ diet can be supplemented with dry oatmeal, raisins, peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and fresh vegetables. Sunflower seeds are very high in fat and should be limited. The pellets should be fed in a chew-proof food bowl.
Young gerbils begin to eat at around 15 days of age. They should be offered the same diet as adults, except softened with water. It’s a good idea to feed your gerbils several meals, as opposed to a lot of food at once. Gerbils have a tendency to overeat and can bloat. Bloat is life threatening, but can easily be avoided.
Always have fresh water available and adding a commercial vitamin will keep your pet healthy. Gerbils consume about 1 teaspoon of water per day, but may drink less if supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables. Sipper bottles are a great way to supply plenty of water and are available at most pet stores. Just make sure that the water supply is accessible. Water supply should be changed daily, and the bottle should be cleaned.
Exercise and Play
Gerbils are very active and love to play. They need plenty of entertainment and exercise to keep them healthy and alert.
Every gerbil should have a metal exercise wheel to keep him mentally and physically fit. Gerbils have both day and night activity cycles, but tend to be most active at night, so it’s a good idea to get a good quality exercise wheel that won’t make a lot of noise.
Wooden toys and clean, natural branches will help keep your gerbils’ ever growing incisors short. A new toy every day is ideal. Cardboard boxes and paper towel rolls are excellent inexpensive toys, and make great hiding places. Gerbils also love to climb; platforms and branches in the cage make for great fun.
Grooming and Medical Concerns
As a result of desert living, gerbils have special cells that store water. Because of this, they produce very little urine; therefore, they are virtually odorless. They groom themselves; no bathing is required. Daily removal of soiled bedding and discarded food is recommended.
The agouti, or brown mixed, hair coat is the most common, although other colors are available. Your gerbils’ hair coat should be clean, not oily or flaky. His or her eyes should be clear with a black or red color. If the hair coat is oily or flaky, you may want to evaluate your pets’ diet. Some health problems in gerbils are due to diet and husbandry problems.
Between 20 percent and 50 percent of all pet gerbils have the seizure disorder epilepsy. This is thought to be genetic. These gerbils should not be bred.