Caring for Gerbils Responsibly
Gerbils need to be adopted in pairs or groups, since they become very stressed when housed alone. They will usually sleep in piles and have a fabulous time playing together. Since they are burrowing animals, they require at least 3″ of substrate (litter) to be happy. Beware of litters that contain pine or cedar since they emit phenols that can cause lung ailments. Our fosters like aspen or recycled-paper litter like carefresh. A few clean paperboard boxes and tubes give them materials to build complex houses and to keep teeth worn down. Wood toys are very nice, but may not last long since they love to chew. PVC pipes offer a more permanent option. Offer a sand bath to keep their coats shiny. A stainless steel pet bowl can be a great, durable container for them to bathe in. Just fill halfway with chinchilla sand. They will roll and kick and have a blast. A wheel helps keep gerbils well exercised. To prevent burying, hang it from the lid of the cage. Cleaning is easy for gerbils. They do not eliminate often so cages can often go a couple of weeks between cleanings. Just keep an eye (and nose!) on the cage’s condition between cleanings. To clean, empty the cage and clean thoroughly with mild soap and water, rinsing well. Offer your gerbils the largest cage you can manage and they will be very happy. Adding lots of toys and boxes keeps their minds busy so they won’t become stressed.
Though many companies sell the same food for hamsters and gerbils. Gerbils need a diet lower in fat and tend to become obese on many hamster foods. We like to use a brand called Gerri Gerbil made by Supreme Pet Foods, though there are other good gerbil foods out there too. If you must use a hamster mix, choose the one that’s lowest in fat. Nutritional info can be found on the back of the package. Lots of good commercial treats are available and they love dry cereal or crunchy treats like unsalted pretzels on occasion. Clean water is, of course, of vital importance and needs to be offered in a water bottle with a metal tip to prevent chewing.
Gerbils are fun and fascinating animals, but they do not, in general enjoy much handling. They enjoy playing outside their cages in hamster exercise balls, but be extremely cautious if you let them out to roam without a ball. They are very fast and intelligent and their major interest is “search and destroy”. Listen carefully and your gerbils will “talk” to you. Happy gerbils often “sing”, making noises like small birds chirping!