Gerbils can be fun little pets to have and are a great choice if you are looking for a pet that is caged, and that also shares the same sleeping patterns as you. They are fun to watch and interact with, are sociable, intelligent, love to tunnel, and have an overall jolly nature.
Basic Biology of a Gerbil
Gerbils can live for up to 4 years, sometimes longer, as opposed to a hamster, which tends to live for up 2.5 years. Comparing the two, the gerbil is like the polar opposite of the hamster. Hamsters thrive living on their own and are active at night, whereas a gerbil is active during the day and likes to live in groups.
In fact, gerbils really don’t like being left on their own. They crave company and tend to thrive more when housed in groups of the same sex. You can have male and female gerbils living together but don’t be surprised when you suddenly find yourself with more gerbils than cages. Gerbils tend to breed once they have hot 3 months old and will produce a litter every 24 days, with around 4 to 10 babies each time.
Gerbils are very clean little animals, and this is down to having kidneys that are quite efficient when it comes to water conservation, thanks to their desert heritage. Gerbils tend not to drink too much, but make sure they always have fresh water. Because they don’t drink much, they produce dry waste, which benefits the owner who has to clean the cage.
Fun Facts of Gerbil Life
- The male of the species will play a role where it comes to raising their young, making them excellent Dads.
- Gerbils love digging and are really good tunnelers.
- Gerbils have longer back legs than front legs, making them known as the kangaroo of rodents.
- Gerbils don’t have cheek pouches to store food as hamsters do.
- A wild gerbil will hoard and store up to 1.5 kilograms of food,
The Gerbil Home
Gerbils are kept in large tanks or aquariums that have a wire mesh cage covering it. This is referred to as a gerbilarium. It’s important to make sure you have a wire lid that is secure because gerbils make great little jumpers due to their longer back legs and can escape.
Because they love to tunnel, dig and jump, you need to make sure their home gives them plenty of space to play in. The recommended gerbilarium size to house 2 gerbils is between 40 to 75 centimeters with a height of 30 centimeters.
A glass-walled cage is preferred over a wire cage because gerbils will make a mess when tunnelling, and you don’t want that falling out of the cage and all over the floor. There is a drawback to having a glass tank, and that is a lack of good ventilation.
This is why you need a wire lid to allow airflow in the cage. It’s also important that you keep the tank well out of direct sunlight because temperatures can quickly rise to dangerous levels for gerbils.
Tunnelling and Bedding
Since gerbils are desert creatures, in the wild, they escape the high temperatures by burrowing, something they are quite good at. They can dig a tunnel up to 3 meters in length, with a number of entrances, exits, and side chambers. It’s not that easy to replicate this in a gerbilarium, however, having bedding that offers a deep layer can help. You’ll want to look for things like Timothy hay, peat, or soil.
Creating an area for nesting is also important, and shredded paper makes the best material for a cozy bed. While fluffy materials seem like a good choice, its best to avoid using this for bedding because the thin fibers can get tangled around the gerbils’ limbs, causing some serious harm. Some may opt for a nesting box, but gerbils are chewers, so wood or plastic boxes won’t last very long. A good alternative that is secure and indestructible as a clay pot.
As I mentioned earlier, gerbils are very clean animals, like many of the desert-dwelling animals. Gerbils in the wild keep themselves tidy using dust baths, so make sure they have something similar in their cage, such as a container that is wide and flat. You can add chinchilla sand to this, giving your rodent friend something, they can roll around in to help keep their coats conditioned and clean.
Gerbils in the wild have a diet of herbage, seeds, leaves, grasses, and bulbs. You can get pelleted mixes that will mimic some of these staples and combine it with fresh fruit and vegetables. There are some foods that you cannot give gerbils, as they will make them ill. “No Go” foods are rhubarb, potatoes, raisins, grapes, and tomato leaves. Good choices to feed them are carrots, apples, melon, broccoli, pumpkin, cucumber, oranges, fennel, and cauliflower.
The best feeding bowls for your gerbil are ceramic ones because they have less of a tendency to tip over due to their weight. Feeding time can be somewhat competitive if you have more than one gerbil.
To keep the peace at feeding time you can scatter food over their bedding. This lets them forage, something they enjoy, and they will bury their food, something that is normal for gerbils. You will have to check that food hasn’t gone moldy though and throw out any that is.
Keeping Your Gerbil Healthy
Gerbils generally tend to be healthy creatures given they are provided with the best conditions to thrive. One of their biggest issues is their teeth. A gerbil’s teeth are continuously growing, so to keep them in good health and at the right length, make sure they have chew toys made of wood or orchard wood to help their incisors get to the right length and stay that way. If you give them wood, be sure it’s from a pesticide-free tree.
With any pet that you own always make sure to regularly check in on them throughout the day. It’s important to get used to your gerbils’ routine so you can note any changes in behavior, such as becoming more withdrawn or that they stopped eating. If your gerbil exhibits signs of illness or has a change in routine as I mentioned above, have them checked out by your veterinarian.