How Long Do Gerbils Live?

Last Updated : November 23, 2021
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As pet owners, it’s hard to think about our furry little friends passing away. But we will always outlive our pets and gerbils are no exception. If you’re considering adopting a gerbil, what do you need to know about Gerbil Lifespan? 

Gerbil Lifespans

close up of a gerbil being held

As small rodents, gerbils have one of the shortest lifespans of exotic mammals kept as pets. On average, they live between 2 and 5 years, although some gerbils may live up to 8 years. 

Gerbil lifespans depend primarily on three things:

  1. Breed
  2. Care
  3. Diseases

Some breeds of gerbils are genetically predisposed to live longer. The fat-tailed gerbil tends to live longer than the Mongolian gerbil. How well you care for your gerbil will also factor into its lifespan. You can read more about how to care for your gerbil to extend its life expectancy below. If your gerbil suffers from any common genetic diseases such as seizures or cancer, these could shorten its life as well. 

How Long Do Mongolian Gerbils Live?

Mongolian gerbils tend to live between 2 and 5 years.

These gerbils grow to between 4 and 5 inches long, with a tail of 3 or 4 inches. They weigh between 2 and 4.5 ounces, with male gerbils usually weighing more than females. Mongolian gerbils used to be used in laboratories for science experiments into the 20th century, but they aren’t as common in science these days. This breed of gerbil didn’t become a common house pet in the U.S. until after 1954, when they were first imported. They became popular in the U.K. a decade later, when they were introduced there as well. 

Common health issues among Mongolian gerbils that may contribute to a shorter lifespan include:

  • Trauma
  • Epilepsy
  • Neglect
  • Tumors
  • Tail sloughing
  • Tyzzer’s disease
  • Inner ear problems 

How Long Do Fat-Tailed Gerbils Live?

Fat-tailed gerbils live between 5 and 8 years.

Fat-tailed gerbils and Mongolian gerbils are the two main breeds that you can adopt as pets in the U.S. and the U.K. Both come in a variety of color combinations. You can tell the two breeds apart by their tails. Fat-tailed gerbils have long, thick tails without any hair. Mongolian gerbils have long, slender tails covered in hair.

While Mongolian gerbils hail from Mongolia, fat-tailed gerbils come from the Sahara desert, in countries such as Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Although fat-tailed gerbils are becoming a popular pet, they aren’t as easy to find in pet shops or animal shelters.

Some problems that may pose a risk to the fat-tailed gerbil’s lifespan are:

  • Catching a cold
  • Dehydration
  • Hyperthermia
  • Improper diet
  • Stress

Because these gerbils were introduced as domestic pets later than Mongolian gerbils, less is known about their health problems. While fat-tailed gerbils may live longer, your vet may have less experience treating it.

Close up of gerbil

How Long Do Female Gerbils Live?

There’s no significant difference between male and female gerbil lifespans. The difference between a male gerbil and a female gerbil could be as little as one week.

One interesting fact about male and female gerbil longevity is that more Mongolian female gerbils survive to weaning age than male gerbils. A 1983 study published in the journal Laboratory Animals found that about 4 percent more female gerbils lived to weaning than male gerbils. Since you can’t adopt a gerbil until after they’ve been weaned anyway, this fact won’t affect the lifespan of your pet gerbil. You may find it useful if you want to become a gerbil breeder, however. 

How Long Do Gerbils Live in Captivity?

Mongolian gerbils in captivity live almost 15 times longer than gerbils in the wild. A Mongolian gerbil can live between 2 and 5 years as a pet but in the wild, they usually live between 3 and 4 months. Why are lifespans of wild gerbils so much shorter than those in captivity? Gerbils in the wild face more threats, such as predators or environmental changes. When they don’t come up against these kinds of dangers, wild Mongolian gerbils can live up to 2 years.

In captivity, fat-tailed gerbils live between 5 and 8 years. There’s less research on fat-tailed gerbils than on Mongolian ones, so it’s not known exactly what the average lifespan of a wild fat-tailed gerbil is. Although, researchers estimate that it’s highly likely that a wild fat-tailed gerbil doesn’t live as long as one in captivity.

What Is the Oldest Gerbil Ever?

According to the 2014 Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest living gerbil was a Mongolian gerbil named Sahara, who lived for 8 years and 4 months. Although Sahara lived 3 years past the standard life span for a Mongolian gerbil, you shouldn’t expect your pet to live this long.

Can You Extend Your Pet Gerbil’s Life Expectancy?

While you can’t increase your pet gerbil’s life expectancy beyond the average for its breed, you can ensure your pet lives to the full length of its average lifespan. By taking your gerbil for regular vet visits, feeding it the proper diet, and helping it get plenty of exercise, you can have a Mongolian gerbil that lives 5 years instead of 2 and a fat-tailed gerbil that lives 8 years instead of 5.

Gerbil Health

Gerbils are prone to certain diseases. By knowing which are the most common, you can try to limit the possibility your gerbil will contract these ailments. 

Visits to the vet

If you’re ever unsure about your gerbil’s health, seek a vet’s advice. Your vet should be experienced in treating small, exotic mammals. You shouldn’t wait until your gerbil is having health issues to see the vet, however. Regular checkups are important for catching diseases or problems you haven’t noticed. 

Common diseases

Health problems can range from minor issues to serious illnesses you can’t do anything about. Some of the more common problems that you can either avoid or easily have your gerbil treated for include:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Dental issues
  • Tail loss
  • Skin problems

Infections

Gerbils can get infections from soiled bedding, pinworms, tapeworms, and other vectors. The most common bacterial, parasitic, and fungal infections in gerbils are:

  • Nasal dermatitis: “Sore nose” results from increased Harderian gland secretion which irritates the skin around the gerbil’s nose and may be caused by excess humidity.
  • Tyzzer disease: Fatal bacterial infection most likely caused by infected bedding
  • Tapeworms and pinworms: Gerbils can be infected with pinworms, though usually show no symptoms if they are. A tapeworm infection may result in dehydration and diarrhea.

Genetic illnesses

More serious, genetic diseases in gerbils include cancer and seizures. Gerbils can develop cancer that they may have inherited. The most frequent types of cancers in gerbils are skin cancer, cancer of the ovaries, or cancer of the ventral scent gland.

Seizures are also common in gerbils. Gerbils may get seizures from hearing loud noises or becoming stressed. You know your gerbil is having a seizure if it’s trembling severely. There isn’t much you can do for your gerbil when it’s having a seizure. To prevent seizures, try to avoid exposing your gerbil to loud noises or putting it in stressful situations. Typically, the frequency of seizures will decrease as your gerbil gets older.

Caring for a Gerbil to Extend Its Lifespan

By caring for your gerbil properly, you can reduce the chances it will have some of the above health problems, and extend its life to the full life expectancy. 

Diet

Diet is a huge factor when it comes to prolonging your gerbil’s life. A gerbil should have a well-balanced mix of dry pellets, grains, nuts, and seeds. They can occasionally eat fruit as well. The dry mix or pellets should make up the majority of your gerbil’s diet, but some fresh vegetables and fruit are essential too. 

Habitat

Gerbils should be housed in a tank with plenty of space to dig, build nests, burrow, and exercise. They’re prone to overheating so their habitat should be kept at a stable temperature. Gerbils are social creatures so they like to live with another gerbil or two in the same tank. Without this interaction, they could become lonely and depressed. 

A gerbil’s cage also should be cleaned once a week, and any damp or smelly bedding should be replaced right away. 

Enrichment and toys

Toys will keep your gerbil from getting bored and give them some exercise. Chew toys are the best because they help wear down your gerbil’s teeth. Plus, if you don’t give them a toy to chew on, gerbils will chew anything else they can find!

Gerbil Lifespans

No pet gerbil is likely to live past eight years; small rodents don’t live very long. Diseases and health problems can also shorten the lifespan of your gerbil. You can manage the risks of your gerbil contracting these diseases by taking proper care of them. Good diet, housing, companionship, exercise, and regular vet visits will help keep your gerbil in top shape!

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