Gerbils are popular pets that are small in size but BIG IN FUN!
Adopting a couple of these rodents is a fantastic idea — all the people in your family will fall in love with their entertaining and affectionate presence.
Just be aware that taking care of gerbils is a BIG responsibility.
These fluffballs might be tiny and famous for being low-maintenance, but they still require special attention from their devoted owner (a.k.a. you).
Feel like you’re up for this incredibly rewarding task?
Fantastic news; we’re glad to have you on team gerbil.
And as a little thank you present, we’ll teach you everything there’s to know about gerbil care, from habits to health. Rest assured that by the end of this blog post, you’ll feel like a confident gerbil owner!
Let’s jump straight in!
10 Key Facts About Gerbils and Their Behavior
There are some bits and bobs of information all gerbils owners need to know.
There’s no going around it.
Without this knowledge, you might struggle to understand your pets and think they’re a little weird. 🥸
So to avoid any awkward situations, memorize this list of ten points:
- The majority of gerbils come from a species known as the Mongolian gerbil (Meriones Unguiculatus).
- They’re incredibly social animals that can’t live on their own. An ideal group of pet gerbils consists of two to four same-sex littermates
- However, you should house adult gerbils separately if they didn’t grow up together. These miniature pets can get territorial and aggressive if faced with an ‘outsider.’
- Despite this aversion to outsider gerbils, they make for friendly and curious pets.
- Like other rodents, their incisor teeth never stop growing — so always provide plenty of chewing opportunities (chew toys) and keep an eye on their teeth!
- Gerbils are also commonly called jirds.
- Jirds are a desert species that doesn’t drink much fresh water and urinates very little. This evolutionary survival trick has the pleasant side effect of making them nearly stink-free.
- They take sand baths (not water ones) and sit up on their hind legs.
- Gerbils rarely bite, making them a great choice as pets for a family with young children (as long as you supervise playtime)
- Jirds are banned as pets in California and New Zealand due to wildlife and agricultural concerns.
Now that you’re all caught up, you’re ready to learn how to care for gerbils…
Without the risk of getting blindsided!
Housing Your Pet Gerbils
Gerbils need proper housing because they spend most of their lives in their enclosure.
But there’s more to housing than just getting them a boss cage…
And that’s why we divided this section into five subsections — follow along, and you won’t forget anything!
Gerbil Housing Options
The eternal question when it comes to housing gerbils:
Tanks, a wire gerbil cage, or gerbilariums? Which one should you pick?
We vote for gerbilariums as the enclosure of choice because they combine the best of all worlds into a single home.
The bottom part is a glass (or transparent plastic) aquarium that guarantees:
- Protection from drafts, and
- Enough space for a deep layer of bedding material.
The top part is a thinly spaced wired cage that offers:
- Plenty of climbing and playing opportunities,
- Sufficient ventilation, plus
- An easy way to sneak your gerbils the odd treat!
Simply ideal for pet gerbils!
How big should this enclosure be?
Two gerbils need a habitat that’s a minimum of 24″ x 12″ x 12″ (60 x 30 x 30 cm). But if you have more gerbils (or free space in your house), we advise you to go for the largest cage you can find.
Any specific recommendations?
P.S. You can also build your own by using a fish tank and a suitably sized wire cage.
Once you’ve got your gerbil cage, you’ll have to find a place for it. And no, just anywhere won’t do.
Gerbils are picky little fellows with tons of needs, so you have to find a location that meets each requirement on this list:
- Away from direct sunlight, radiators, open doors, or ventilation systems
- Quiet — loud sounds from speakers, TVs, running water, and washing machines can hurt their sensitive ears
- Free from smelly household chemicals
- Private — remember wild gerbils live in hidden burrows!
Now that your gerbilarium is in the perfect place, it’s time to jam-pack it with bedding because being burrowing rodents, gerbils need to be able to tunnel and dig to their heart’s content!
What type of bedding, and how much?
Stick to soft paper bedding or aspen wood shavings, and make a layer that’s at least 5-6″ (13-15 cm) thick.
Toys and Accessories
Gerbils like playing. A LOT!
And since you won’t be able to spend all day horsing around with them, you have to get your gerbils lots of cool accessories for their habitat.
These are ten things that a gerbil needs:
By the way, next to each item, we’ve included a concrete product recommendation. Either order this one online or drop by your local pet stores and look for something similar.
- A sturdy (and quiet) exercise wheel
- A ceramic food bowl
- A water bottle with a metal nozzle
- A fun ramp
- Wooden chew toys
- Toys for your pets
- A wooden nest box
- A cute bathtub
- Bathing sand for small animals
- Cardboard tubes and tunnels
By now (if you’ve been following along), your gerbils have a crib worthy of MTV!
All that’s left is to keep it clean.
To be both time-efficient and hygienic, we suggest washing gerbils’ tanks and cages once a week.
You should empty the enclosure, wash it with some soapy water, disinfect it with a cage cleaner, and finally refill it with tons of fresh bedding.
Your gerbils themselves won’t need washing; just offer them a friendly sand (or dust) bath multiple times a week.
Feeding Your Gerbils
Like most pets, you need to provide your gerbils with a healthy diet.
And that means you need to know exactly what to feed them.
Their well-being counts on it because gerbils will eat anything they can find, good for them or not!
The lion’s share of your pets’ diet (75-80%) should be dry gerbil food.
Pellets (better for fussy eaters) or seed mixes will provide them with all the essential nutrients they need and mimic their diet in the wild.
Feed them this dry food twice a day, mornings and evenings, and remove uneaten food.
The remaining 20-25% of their diet should consist of fresh vegetables and a few treats. These foods will add needed variety, moisture, and nutrients while also encouraging foraging.
You can serve vegetables (like carrots, leafy greens, and broccoli) daily, and treats (like fresh fruits, sunflower seeds, cheese, and pumpkin seeds) in small amounts every couple of days. Fresh food helps to keep your gerbil healthy.
Just always watch out for tummy issues (i.e., diarrhea), as these are sure-fire signs that you’re giving your gerbils too much fresh food!
And remember to give them constant access to fresh clean water — your Mongolian gerbils might originate from the desert, but it’s best to keep them hydrated with a full water bottle.
Handling Pet Gerbils
Let’s start with the positive:
Gerbils like being held, and they’re great with children too!
And now the negative:
Each gerbil needs to be tamed before you can handle them.
But don’t worry, it isn’t hard!
You just have to win your gerbil’s trust by slowing and steadily letting them know that you’re not a predator or a threat.
It’s pretty easy if you’re patient and you offer them delicious treats as a sign of your good intentions. Once they eat from your hands, you can go ahead and gently pick them up. At this point, they’ll be content to be caressed and handled, particularly if the treats keep coming. Its easier to start taming process with young gerbils.
Important handling information:
Never pick up a gerbil by its tail as it could break and fall off!
Keeping Your Gerbils Healthy
More good news:
Gerbils are hardy animals, and they usually stay healthy all by themselves.
But it’s still a good idea to take them for regular health checks and to make a mental note of these common gerbil health issues:
- Diarrhea and other digestive issues
- Sudden weight loss and refusal to eat
- Difficulties breathing or sneezing
- Injuries like cuts and broken bones
- Parasites (i.e., fleas and lice)
- Overgrown teeth and nails
If you notice any of these, take them straight to the veterinarian!
Life Expectancy of a Pet Gerbil
Gerbils only tend to live between 2 and 4 years.
That’s way too little in our books, so don’t waste any of the time you have together!
But if you’re fortunate, your pets could make it to a whopping eight years old like Sahara.
Final Thoughts on Gerbil Care
Gerbils are incredible animals, easily one of the most underrated pets known to man.
They supply endless hours of fun to anyone they come across (no matter how grumpy), and sooner rather than later, you’ll consider them to be family!
Just make sure to properly prep your home for their arrival by filling your shopping cart with gerbil goodies. You’ll need a gerbilarium, quality bedding, nutritious food, yummy treats, and tons of gerbil toys and accessories.
Your little guys will thank you for the extra care by being playful, cuddly, and relatively low-maintenance.