These small, lively pets are inexpensive to keep and interesting to watch. This guide is about caring for gerbils.
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Description: Gerbils are friendly and inquisitive. They make lively, active pets that are easy and relatively inexpensive to keep and interesting to watch. Most domesticated gerbils are Mongolian gerbils. They have large middle ears, which gives them the ability to detect the soft beat of bird wings, their natural predators in the wild, and they have a long tail that acts like a stabilizer when jumping. Gerbils have large dark eyes and come in many colors or combinations of colors.
Size: Gerbils weigh between 2.5 and 3.5 oz. The males are slightly heavier than the females.
Compatibility: Gerbils should be kept in groups as they are highly social animals. They are prolific reproducers and should be kept in groups of the same sex unless you want LOTS of babies.
Appeal: Gerbils are lively, friendly, and relatively clean and odor-free. They are low maintenance and inexpensive to keep. They make better pets than cats and dogs for people with allergies. They are active during the day and evening and rarely bite.
Drawbacks: They are not as keen as some rodents are about being handled and can be hard to catch. They are delicate and can be seriously injured if not handled properly. If not properly housed they can scatter bedding and make a mess. They are also escape artists and will try to chew or gnaw their way out of enclosures.
Diet: Gerbils should be fed a seed mix or pellets that are designed for gerbils. They should not be fed oily seeds like sunflower seeds in large quantities.
Problems & Health Issues: Gerbils are susceptible to epileptic seizures. If given an improper diet, they can suffer from digestive upsets. The tips of their tails are fragile and easily damaged.
Lifespan: Healthy Gerbils can live an average of 4-5 years.
Interesting Facts: Gerbils are prolific breeders and can produce three litters a year of up to 12 young.
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Here are questions related to Caring for Gerbils.
Is it OK to have gerbils even if you have cats?
By JC from Greenvillie, SC
Ditto to mrs.flowerpot! Even when you are diligent, and especially if you have children, the gerbils and hamsters seem to escape their cages once in a while. Some house cats may not intend to kill them, but they could easily "play" them to death, by accident. :-(
What happens if a gerbil turns gray by the time you have had it not even a year?
Daisey is right. Your gerbil may have been more than a few months old when you got it, so if you've had it a year, then yes it's getting old. Like people and other animals, many mammals do turn grey with age.
I have 2 dachshunds. One will be 12 years old ths April. She barely has any of her red coloring left on her. It started turning grey a couple of years ago and now her whole face and all four paws are grey.
My other dog will be 9 this March and he's beginning to turn too around his lips.
So don't worry, just make his life as easy and as happy as you can for the time you have left with him.
Will mother gerbils bury their babies? I'm afraid the pups will suffocate.
Colleen from MI
Whatever you do don't touch them until they are old enough to move to another cage. Once the mother gerbil is done nursing she wont want them around and will try to harm them. When they are old enough to stop nursing move them to another cage immediately. Watch to make sure they are drinking on their own that is how you will know when the time is to change cages.
Can mice and gerbils live together in the same cage?
I had 2 female gerbils of about 6 months old. One of them died suddenly today, with no obvious signs of illness, in fact, she was fine just yesterday evening. I had to move them to a friend's for a couple of days as my heating broke down and I didn't want them to freeze. So I was wondering if the trauma of moving could have been a reason?
The remaining one seems fine. She is the bigger and more dominant of the pair. Will she be OK on her own, or should I try to introduce a companion for her? I have read that females can be very territorial, but if she needs a "friend" I am aware of the split cage method.
Would be grateful of any advice.
By Mitch from UK
I'm sorry your pet gerbil died, Mitch. I know nothing about gerbils but if it is in your surviving gerbils best interest I would certainly get another one. Have you talked to the pet store where you got the girls to ask what they recommend? I've always had pets in pairs, just 'cuz I'm a softy and feel sorry for them if they are alone. Again, I've never had gerbils, but if it's okay for your surviving pet I'd say go for it and find her a roommate! :-)
Today I randomly chose to buy a gerbil. I've had mice in the past so I figured they were similar. After buying Aspen I read a little on gerbils and everything I read said to buy two or more at a time for companionship. I really just want to have one because that way I don't have to clean the cage as much and it's just all around easier. Is having just one okay? or should I go buy another?
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Do all gerbils have to live in pairs or can I have just one gerbil? Please somebody answer ASAP.
By 3Oh!3 from Milwaukie, OR
You can get 1 or 2 Gerbils from the same litter and they will be fine. They can live alone, but I would imagine they would rather have a partner.
You cannot introduce another gerbil to one that you already have because they will fight. (08/10/2009)
I would suggest you be sure you have two gerbils of the same sex, or you might end up with more than you planned on. (08/11/2009)
When my son was young we had 1 gerbil, and we had him for many years, way too long for a gerbil!
So yes, you can get just one. Our gerbil was very happy alone. (08/12/2009)
Gerbils are fine alone. See that they have some toys, chew things, and play with them and they will be good pets. (08/12/2009)
My gerbils are multiplying. I need to separate the boys from the girls. I don't have much money. Any ideas for a homemade gerbil home? I am handy with tools, etc. Thanks!
By Claire from Bristol, NH
My hubby's handy, too, but, through trial-and-error we ended up scouting just an ordinary glass aquarium and putting tough, but small-gauge wire screening on the top. These little guys can and will, chew through almost everything. Wood, plastic (even the high-priced rodent homes that look fairly tough) and cages with thin wire are mostly invitations for gerbils to chew away.
We only have two male gerbils, in a 20 gallon aquarium that we found at a yard sale for ten bucks. It may be cheaper for you to go that way unless you find you can build something as substantial for less cash. (06/29/2010)
I separated the boy gerbils from the girl gerbils. The mother had more pups and proceeded to chase her daughter around the cage and bite her. The daughter from the first litter was not allowed to sleep in the nest box any more either. I moved her to her own cage. Did I do the right thing?
I had heard that the daughter from the first litter would help her mother with the pups. I hope to put another female in with her when the new pups get big enough. I hear this might be a bit tricky though. Any info would be appreciated. Thanks!
By Claire from Bristol, NH
How does a gerbil lose part of a tail? Will it regrow again ?
By Lilian from Ireland
Yes, the tail should regrow. Gerbils can lose part of their tail if they are mishandled, if they get their tail caught is something, in a fight with another gerbil, etc. (08/17/2010)
They usually get tail injuries from being picked up by the tail, in-fighting, or getting stuck in a wheel (open wheels, the type you'd use for hamsters, aren't a good idea. Gerbil wheels are usually plastic, with smooth, closed surface). Check this link, from the American Gerbil Society, it covers a lot of different possible health issues:
Unless the tail continues to bleed or looks infected, what usually happens is that the injured part dries up and falls off. Generally, though, they don't grow back. If the bleeding keeps up and there's redness, swelling or pus, your little one really might have to go to the vet for an amputation and antibiotics. (08/19/2010)