Simple Guide: From Acquiring To Caring For Gerbils

Gerbils are also known as meriones or jirds. The two most common gerbils housed as pets are the Mongolian gerbils and the fat-tailed gerbils. It is important to note that a Gerbil is illegal in some countries and states. Therefore, find out before trying to get one. It is illegal in New Zealand, California and Hawaii. If it is illegal and you try to still acquire it, it would be considered crime and  you will not find any vet to care for him or her. Below you will see an informative simple guide on caring for gerbils.

fat tail gerbil


Mongolian gerbil

Gerbil Lifespan

Gerbils will live for 2-4 years, some push to 6 years WITH PROPER CARE!!!!

Where do I get a Gerbil?
Where Can I Get Gerbils?
  1. From A Trusted/ Reputable Pet Store.
  2. Reputable Gerbil breeders.
  3. Reliable Adoption Agencies/ Rescues.

It is up to you, but Breeders are recommended. Why?

The minimum recommended age to acquire a young gerbil is 5 to 6 weeks old. You can always get an older one if you want.

Can a Gerbil Live Alone or Does He or She Require a Companion?

A gerbil needs to have a friend or he or she may get bored and lonely. Please get at least 2.

If you do not want to get baby gerbils, get two of the same sex.

Gerbils Are Suitable for Children Aged?

Gerbils are fragile animals and this will greatly depend on how your child handles things. 10+ years is recommended.

Handling Gerbils
DO’s And Don’ts

Do not try to grab your gerbils. Let them hop into your hands or try and scoop them. Remember they dart fast and you want to try and scoop them at a safe place like in their cage, not a high place where they can fall. You can give treats as you try and make them hop into your hands. Once they are comfortable with your hands you can pet them gently. Do not squeeze them. Hold them gently. Do not pick them by their tails!! They usually snap and do not grow back.

Is A Gerbil Nocturnal?

No. Fat Tailed and Mongolian Gerbils are diurnal and will be active during the day. However, they will take some short naps, which should not be interrupted.

Gerbil Housing
Gerbil Cage Types To Choose From

Each gerbil requires 5-10 gallons of space. Remember it is important to have at least 2 gerbils as they are social animals.

Minimum gallons necessary for 2 gerbils is a tank that is 10 to 20 gallons.

This is the rule of thumb:

  • 13-16 gallons= 2 gerbils
  • 17-20 gallons= 3 gerbils
  • 25 gallons=4 gerbils
  • 30 gallons= 5 gerbils

If you give too much space for too few gerbils, you will have territorial issues. For example, DO NOT get a 60-gallon tank for only 3 gerbils.

Most owners have housed their gerbils in tanks. You can have wire cages but you will always be cleaning bedding from the floor and risking your gerbil escape.

Here are our recommendations based on owners and experts’ opinions.  It is up to you which one works for you as they are all good for your gerbil.

#1. Detolf IKEA glass Cabinetyou will need to tip this on the side and take out the shelves. You will also need to get a lid that must be meshed to prevent chances of your gerbil escaping or some predator getting into the cage. The mesh also allows for proper ventilation. See how to set up your new IKEA cage.

Assembling IKEA Detolf Hamster Cage

IKEA Detolf Hamster Cage View

 

#2. 10+ gallons LONG glass tanks (consider the length more than height)- You will need DIY a meshed lid or you can purchase the Zilla Fresh Air Screen Cover (make sure the measurements of this cover match your aquarium measurements). You can also place gift wrap on the back outside of the tank to get colorful cage backgrounds. Same case applies to the Detolf IKEA. See image of glass tank.

gerbil glass tank aquarium setup Image credits go to melodie

 

#3. Home Tank Topper

You will need to get a 10, 15 or 20-gallon glass aquarium tank. Instead of having a meshed lid, you will have a meshed or wire topper cage top. See what we mean.

New Cage Topper for Gerbils

 

 

 

 

 

For different sizes depending on the gallon tank you have, check here:

It is good to NOTE that SOME gerbils chew on wires and can damage them. If you have gerbils that excessively chew on wires, avoid having thin wire tops. Choose thicker wired topper cages.

#4. Extra Large Gerbilariums (Savic Habitat Xl Navy Blue Gerbil Cage 70 X 37 X 52 Cm)

This one is equivalent to about 19.16 US Gallons Suitable for 2-3 gerbils. See video of this cage.

Gerbil Cage Tour

 

 

 

Gerbil Bedding
Caring For Gerbils (recommended bedding material)

What Bedding Should I Avoid That Is Considered unhealthy for my Gerbil?

Cedar, pine, scented materials, fluffy materials (cotton or wool), newspaper, corn cob and cat litter. Avoid these. Remember you need to keep your gerbil healthy.

THE BEST BEDDING for Your Gerbil Includes:

Note that you can combine two or more types of bedding however you feel comfortable. It is recommended. It gets to help you save money and gives your gerbil different materials to burrow and make tunnels with.

 

#1. Fitch Paper Pet Bedding (healthy for your gerbil. It is soft, hides smell, it is super cheap and is very absorbent)

#2. Boxo Comfort Small Animal Bedding

#3. FiberCore Eco-Bedding Natural

#4.  Timothy Hay (DO NOT use this alone mix with other bedding. Your gerbils can chew on these and they help in building support for their tunnels in the bedding).

#5. Toilet paper (for nesting material)

#6. Dust Extracted Aspen Bedding.

#7. Snowflake Woodshavings Natural Pet Bedding (This one is dust extracted and good for your gerbils)

#8. Carefresh Crinkles

 

Gerbils LOVE burrowing, therefore, 1/3 of the cage or half the cage deep bedding is okay. That is 6-12” of bedding. Don’t worry about the bedding being too much, and seeing as if it will be expensive, it is usually changed out after 4 or 6 weeks or when needed.

In the litter pan you can use:
Gerbil Cage Accessories
Sand Bath

Gerbils like sand baths. They will even use it as a toilet.

What sand should you use?

Do Not get Chinchilla Bathing sand. It is too fine and will cause respiratory problems.

Examples of good sand to use are:

  • Carib Sea ACS00930 Aragamax Sand for Aquarium (follow the instructions at the back of the bag)
  • Quikrete Play Sand Bag (This is specially graded sand that has been washed, and screened for use in children’s sandboxes. To make sure it is 100% safe for your hamster put it in your oven for about 30 minutes in the highest heat setting or 200 setting for 45 minutes)
What container should you use?

Thick Glass Container or Ceramic Container works well. Do not leave the sand bath in the cage as it will be used as a toilet. Examples are the:

Kitchen Rolls or Toilet Roll Tubes- These you can just get in your house.

Climbing Toys- Get some wooden hammocks and ropes. Some good examples are:

Gerbil Tunnels and Gerbil Hideouts/ Hideaways

You can get bamboo tunnel/ PVC plumbing tees and elbows. Good examples are:

Water BottleGood recommendations are:

Exercise wheel about 8+”This is good for your gerbil exercise. However, your gerbil may never use it. Some good recommendations are:

Wood chews/ chew toys

Gerbils love chewing on almost everything. Examples of good chew things include:

 

Food Dish –A ceramic one is needed to avoid being tipped over. Good examples are:

 

Litter pans/ boxes/ trays

Good examples are:

 

Avoid too much plastic

Gerbil Feeding
Caring For Gerbils (Feeding Your Gerbils: What, How and When)

You can either feed your gerbils in a food dish/bowl, scatter your gerbils’ food or hide it so that they forage.

It is recommended to have all these; have a food dish and also scatter and hide food. Place the food dish/bowl on a platform NOT on the bedding to prevent burying of food.

What do you feed your gerbil?

#1. Clean Fresh water that should be available for your gerbils 24/7. You should make sure the water bottle is not leaking or is not blocked daily.

Gerbils require proteins and fats.

Too much protein can be harmful and may lead to skin lesions, kidney stones and liver damage. Low protein can cause slow growth in young gerbils.

Too much fat can lead to obesity, stroke, sterility in females and also heart disease.

How much of each is just right?
Gerbil Age Fat Protein Fiber
0-6 months (young gerbil) 8-9% 15-18% 10-15%
6-24 months (young adult gerbil) 6-7% 12-15% 8-10%
2-6 years (Adult gerbil) 3-5% 10-12% 8-10%

 

#2. Feeding commercially bought food.

Commercial food to avoid

  • Food that has many crackers, biscuits or wafers
  • Gerbil Food that does not contain the required levels of fat and protein
  • Food that has too much millet. Some proportional millet is okay
  • Gerbil Food that has chemical preservatives and dyes (calcium propionate, yellow 5, yellow 6, Sulphur dioxide, titanium dioxide, red 40, blue 1 and blue 3)
  • Food that contains too much sunflower seeds or corn
  • Feeding rodent pellets or blocks alone without mixing with any other food may not be that good for your gerbils, they will become skinny.
Commercial food that is good
  • Food that has the required levels of fat and protein
  • A fresh bag that has not been lying on the shelf for long
  • Calcium should be present, if not give dry dog biscuit
  • Generally, food that is the opposite of the above foods to avoid
What are some of the feeds we found having met these requirements?
#3. Feeding Homemade food

Homemade food preparation requires you to be well informed as you will need to make the right proportion calculations.

It requires that you know the right ingredients and where to get each. We found a good site that gives good information on this. Read more here.

#4. Fruits and Vegetables

Give 1 or 2 times a week.

Slice to the size of a single bite.

If your gerbil does not finish the fruits or vegetables maybe in an hour, remove them from the cage to avoid being stale.

What FRUITS are good for your gerbils?

Apples (without seeds), banana, honey dew, peach, watermelon (red part only), strawberry, plum, papaya, blueberry, kiwi, grapes, mango, pear, raspberry and apricot among others.

What FRUITS are bad for your gerbils?

Grapefruit (this is different from grapes), oranges (they are acidic and can cause diarrhea), watermelon rinds, apple seeds, citrus peels, avocado among others.

What Vegetables are good for your gerbils?

Carrot, green bell pepper, peas, sweet potato, squash, fennel, cooked potato, green beans, corn, cucumber, parsley, sage, red bell pepper among others.

What Vegetables are bad for your gerbils?

Raw potatoes, iceberg lettuce, tomato leaves, any type of onions, shallots, hemlock, ivy, yew, nightshade, yucca, clematis, poinsettia, oleander, rhubarb, cabbage, laurel, kidney beans, garlic, chives, leeks, dandelion, daffodil, clover, buttercups, hydrangea, laburnum and coltsfoot, soy beans among others.

Do Not also give:

Any dairy products, chocolate, uncooked eggs, uncooked rice and toffee.

#5. Treats

You can give some occasional treats such as:

  • Sun flower seeds or pumpkin seeds or dog biscuit
  • Nuts (unroasted or unsalted)-cashews, chestnuts, brazil nuts, almonds, beechnuts, pecans, peanuts, hazel nuts, walnuts, pistachios and acorns among others.
  • Some dried fruits that is not treated with syrup or sugar
  • Mealworms
  • Crickets
Others include:
What is the correct daily feeding schedule for your gerbil?

There is no correct way to feed your gerbils. You will learn what works for them as you watch them. However, you can start by feeding them once a day, either in the morning or the evening and you can regulate the feeding as you see fit.

1 tablespoon per gerbil in the food bowl. Scatter a pinch of their mix and hide some pellets where you see fit. You can also follow the feeding instructions at the back of your commercial food bag.

Do not refill the food bowl until it is empty as gerbils are picky feeders. They will choose their favorite and leave their least favorite. Also, check the cage well before feeding again for hidden food.

Do Gerbils Smell?

No. Gerbils are very clean animals. However, after a while if you do not clean their cage, it will definitely give out an odor.

Can Gerbils Be Trained?

Yes, they can be potty trained. Their sand bath helps a lot as that is where they will do all their peeing and pooping. Remember to clean this out daily or when needed.

Cleaning Gerbil Cage
Caring For Gerbils (cleaning their cage)

If you do not like doing plenty of cleaning this is the pet for you. Regular simple cleaning can be done, but you can change out bedding after 4-6 weeks or when you realize it is too filthy.

Spot cleaning- should be done daily as you are feeding. What is involved:

  • Check if their sand bath is messy and change it out
  • Check if their water bottle is leaking or is clogged
  • Generally, check if the cage is tidy

Thorough cleaning- This should be done monthly, bi-monthly or when needed. What is involved:

  • Removing your gerbils and placing them in a travel cage.
  • Taking out accessories to wipe down
  • Removing dirtied substrate, you can put back some of it that is not too soiled to make the gerbil feel not so new to the environment
  • Wiping down cage with warm water and vinegar solution 50/50 and making sure everything is dry before returning
See some cleaning videos

Cleaning my gerbils cage out

Cleaning the gerbils cage

Monthly Gerbil Tank Cleaning Routine!

 

Travelling with Your Gerbil

Before thinking of travelling with your gerbils, think of getting a pet sitter or letting a family member or friend take care of him or her.

If you are moving house or going to the vet, then here is what you need to do:

Get a good gerbil travel cage minding the spacing of the bars. Good recommendations are:

For Short Distance and Time Trips:
For Long Distance and Time Trips:

 

Inside the carrier

  • Place bedding and carry extra just in case you need to change it.
  • For food, you can put in some commercial food. Carry some extra food and water as your return can be delayed.
  • Put in apple slices or carrots, these will be a source of water (water bottles leak as you move). You can carry a water bottle but only put it up when you stop moving to prevent soaking the travel cage.
  • Throw in some toilet rolls. Remember not to carry heavy things in your carrier that may injure your gerbils during the travel if the travel cage sways or jumps as you turn or drive on a rough road.

If you are going on holiday get a friend or family member to look after your gerbils or hire a pet sitter.

If you usually frequent to a relative’s place for a couple of days and you do not want to leave your gerbils behind, you will require to have another gerbil cage over there.

Gerbil Health and Vet
What should you look out for when getting or caring for your gerbils?)

Perform health checks (once or twice a week)

  • Eyes, ears and nose– look for any discharge, crusty eyes and running nose or eyes. Also, inspect the inside part of their ears to make sure they are clean. Their eyes should be clear and bright.
  • Respiratory health– Check how your gerbils are breathing. You should not see any wheezing or heaving. A healthy gerbil will breath lightly, barely noticeable. Most of these respiratory problems are caused by the wrong type of bedding.
  • Mouth– You should not see any drooling. You should also not notice any foul odor from their mouths. Look out for a swollen mouth and difficulty in eating. Check if there are any broken, missing teeth or very long teeth.
  • Fur- They should not have hair loss nor bald patches.
  • Behaviors– Gerbils are usually active and exploratory. If you notice any form of inactivity or lethargy for quite some time know there is a problem. Take him or her to a vet. Be on the lookout for loss of appetite. Check also if your gerbil is limping. Other problems include tilting of the head, paralysis, agitation, seizures, jerking and circling.
  • Weight– Check your gerbils’ weight weekly to make sure it is not dropping rapidly.
  • Body- Feel around their small body for lumps.
  • Feet-You should look out for inflammation and sores. They rarely get these.
  • Anal and genital area- These areas should not be bloody; neither should they have any discharge. Check for abnormal droppings in the cage.
Vet

Try and get a gerbil savvy vet not just a random one. (See a vet once or twice a year or when you notice something wrong with your gerbil)

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