What should you expect from your pet gerbil?

Gerbils tend to be friendly, clean, quiet and curious pets. They rarely bite and can be easily handled. They have low odor and little waste production. Their small size reduces concerns about space requirements. With proper care, gerbils rarely exhibit problems in captivity.

Because gerbils are very quick movers and tend to jump, they should be supported on the palm of the hand with the base of the tail held close to their body. The handler should avoid grasping the tip of the tail because the skin may pull off the tail. The gerbil may be restrained by scruffing the skin at the nape of the neck or by using a washcloth or other small cloth in which to hold it.

What do gerbils do all day?

Like all rodents, gerbils need to have safe materials for gnawing that will help wear down the continually growing incisor teeth. Wooden blocks for this purpose are readily available at most pet stores. An exercise wheel with solid flooring provides an outlet for energy, and exercise balls allow the gerbil to explore in a safe plastic ball. Gerbils like to build nests out of nesting material, especially in the cooler winter months. A common characteristic of pet gerbils is their propensity to dig incessantly with their forepaws in the corner of the cage. They also thump with their hind legs.

What should you feed your gerbil?

Commercial pellet diets are available for gerbils. Alternatively, commercial seed mixes with a variety of seeds (minimal to no sunflower seeds) may be fed with fresh vegetables (cabbage, kale, broccoli, carrots, beets) and soaked seeds or sprouts. Alfalfa hay should be available for grazing and is a good calcium source for nursing females. Excessive consumption of sunflower seeds and other high fat foods will lead to obesity and other health problems.

Fresh, clean drinking water should always be available. A sipper tube or small water bottle mounted on the outside of the cage with the drinking spout on the inside is ideal to prevent chewing on the bottle itself.

How should you house your gerbil?

Plexiglas enclosures designed for small rodents make adequate houses for gerbils; however, a regular cleaning schedule must be maintained. Solid flooring is preferable to wire flooring. A clean, dry, absorbent and nonabrasive bedding of at least 2 cm ( a little over 1/4 inch) deep is recommended. Providing 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark is a good schedule for lighting.

Housing for your gerbil should:
  • Allow for 36 square inches per gerbil as a minimum size.
  • Provide a minimum of 180 square inches for a breeding pair.
  • Have cage sides at least 6 inches high.
  • Be escape free.
  • Contain a hiding place or hide box.
  • Include a water bottle, even though they are desert animals and drink less than other rodents.

How can you keep your gerbil healthy, happy and safe?
  • Prompt veterinary care should be sought for any sign of illness.
  • Gerbils require a minimum of attention. Thirty minutes a day should be adequate, although they remain tame with frequent handling.
  • Fresh food and water should be available at all times
  • The cage must be thoroughly cleaned at least weekly.
  • Provide safe items for chewing, such as toilet paper tubes, ceramic toys, pesticide-free and nontoxic tree branches and bark.
  • Provide suitable materials for nesting, such as tissue paper, cotton balls, and/or paper torn in strips.

Things you must keep away from your gerbil:
  • Electrical cords it can chew on
  • Children (who might drop or step on the gerbil)
  • Other pets (cats, dogs, ferrets are natural predators)
  • Toxic substances that it might eat
  • Inappropriate items that it may gnaw on
  • Avenues for escape or getting lost
  • Exposure to direct sunlight (which may cause overheating)
  • Cedar nesting materials
  • Plastic toys that can be broken apart and consumed