Gerbils make good family pets. They’re easy to care for and with lots of attention they can become very tame. Gerbils are built to withstand desert conditions and so produce little waste, naturally conserving as much water and nutrition as possible. This makes them a popular, clean and odourless pet. They’re curious, active and entertaining and are ideal pets for older children. Gerbils live for two to four years.
All pet owners have a responsibility to look after and care for their pets. If you’re about having gerbils as pets, learn as you can about how to care for beforehand. You should take your and household into account when deciding whether you can offer them a good home. This leaflet explains gerbils’ basic needs so you can decide if they’re right for you...
Gerbils are very sociable and are used to living in colonies. A gerbil living on its own may become depressed causing behavioural problems and in some cases, poor health. Therefore, they should be kept in single-sex pairs or groups. Buy your gerbils at the same time – they will probably be happier as they’ll be used to living together from a young age. If you introduce a new gerbil that is over 10 weeks old they’re highly likely to fight.
Gerbils can live in most hamster cages but make sure you choose one that provides enough space for your pets. Position the cage away from radiators and draughts. Cages wholly constructed of plastic with ventilation areas are ideal as you can provide a deep layer of woodshavings for your gerbils to tunnel in.
Modular units are a good choice as they can be extended - additional rooms and tunnels are great because they imitate a gerbil’s natural habitat. Make sure that the cage has a house or hideaway hole so your gerbils feel secure while they’re sleeping..
If you want to keep your gerbils in a modular unit, make sure you use anti-gnaw rings in the tunnels – gerbils are enthusiastic chewers!
Alternatively, you can recreate the natural burrows they’d have in the wild by housing your gerbils in a gerbilarium. Fill the tank section with bedding material such as fine peat or soil - your gerbils will soon create a series of tunnels that you’ll be able to see through the glass. Sprinkle water on the peat or soil occasionally.
You should provide lots of toys and tubes for your pets to play with and chew on to keep them entertained. If you put a wheel in their cage make sure it’s suitable for gerbils as they can catch their tails in wheels with open bars.
Add some stones to the tank so your gerbils can use them for tunnel support.
Your pets will require a good quality gerbil mix such as Pets at Home muesli. Whilst in our care we feed Pets at Home food to gerbils and recommend that you continue to do so when you take your new pets home. This will help to prevent stomach upsets caused by changing their food. If you do wish to change your gerbils’ diet, introduce new food slowly over a period of about 10 days, phasing out the old food completely.
You can supplement your pets’ diet with very small quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables such as apple and carrot. Do not feed them too much fresh food as this can lead to stomach upsets. Vitamin supplements and mineral stones can be added to your pets’ diet to keep them in optimum health.
Pumpkin seeds make great gerbil treats. Sunflower seeds are tasty too, but they're very fattening and too many can cause stomach upsets and obesity.
Gerbils can develop stomach upsets and diarrhoea if their diet contains too much carbohydrate or fat and not enough roughage.
Your gerbils’ lives can be enriched by providing toys and stimulating natural behaviour. For example, hiding treats around their cage keeps them amused and imitates natural feeding. Hideaway holes like houses and tubes allow them to hide their food just as they would in the wild. Gerbils love to chew so wooden blocks or toys are always welcome! Keeping gerbils in pairs brings them happiness and companionship.
When you first take your gerbils home, give them a day or two to get used to their new surroundings without being disturbed. You should then start talking quietly to them so that they get used to your voice. The next step is to introduce your hand into their cage and perhaps offer a treat. Your pet may climb onto your hand but if not, pick it up slowly by cupping both hands around it gently but firmly.
Never pick a gerbil up by its tail, it can be very painful.
It’s important that you handle your gerbils regularly to develop their confidence and maintain your relationship with them. Handle your gerbils over a table or close to the floor in case they wriggle and fall out of your hands and remember that young children should be closely supervised when handling them. Once they’re used to you, they’ll enjoy being handled and will come to you and eat from your hand.
Gerbils are extremely clean so their home requires less cleaning than that of other small pets. Your gerbils’ cage should be cleaned thoroughly once a week using a pet-safe disinfectant. If you keep your pets in a gerbilarium, clean it thoroughly every two or three weeks with a pet-safe disinfectant and change the peat or soil. But if they’re using one area of their home as a toilet it will need to be cleaned more often.
A healthy diet and hygienic conditions will help to keep your gerbils in good health but there are a number of potential problems that you should be aware of.
A healthy gerbil will be active, playful and inquisitive with soft, shiny fur, bright eyes and a clean nose. Signs of illness include lethargy, ruffled fur, mucus around the eyes or nose and loss of appetite. A gerbil’s teeth should not be visible when its mouth is closed and there should be a fine covering of fur over its ears.
As with all rodents, gerbils’ teeth grow constantly so it’s important to provide them with wooden toys, mineral stones or treats to gnaw on.
Gerbils can develop sores around the nose or mouth from burrowing in rough cage material or rubbing against cage bars if they’re bored. If this happens, try changing the cage material and provide toys and exercise equipment such as chew toys and tunnels. If your pet shows signs of being unwell contact your vet immediately.
Gnawing toys are an essential part of your pets’ dental routine and should always be available as they help to prevent overgrown teeth.
Vitamins and supplements
Vitamins can be added to your pets’ food or water. Probiotic supplements can help to maintain healthy digestion and relieve stress. Getting used to their new surroundings can be stressful for your gerbils so consider buying probiotic supplements when you take them home.
Gerbils need to groom regularly to keep their coats clean and healthy. Providing a small amount of chinchilla sand in a dish will encourage your pets to groom themselves..
Clean out your gerbils’ cage once a week using a pet-safe disinfectant or every two or three weeks if you keep your pets in a gerbilarium.
Cleaning and hygiene
Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after cleaning, feeding or handling your pet. Also wash after contact with any of their equipment. Always supervise children to ensure they do not put their pet, (or objects that the pet has been in contact with) near their mouths. Ensure children wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling their pet. Do not kiss your pet
- Hamster cage or gerbilarium
- House or bedroom
- Woodshavings, wood-based litter
- or fine peat
- Pet bedding
- Pets at Home gerbil food
- Food bowl
- Water bottle
- Mineral stone
- Vitamin supplement
- Bottle brush
- Tubes and wooden toys
- Gnawing sticks or chews
- Gerbil treats
- Cage disinfectant
- Book on gerbils