Gerbils are not hardy animals and cannot live outside. Ideal housing for a pair of gerbils is a terraria approximately 40cm wide x 75cm wide x 40cm high with a tightly fitting lid. Wire cages tend to be unsuitable because gerbils like to burrow, which sends bedding flying. The cage should ideally be placed out of the sun and sheltered from draughts.
Gerbils will need a thick layer of bedding; either wood shavings or dried peat moss so that they can tunnel are ideal. Do not use fluffy bedding as this can wrap around their legs. The cage should be completely stripped out and scrubbed once a week.
Gerbils are omnivores and require some animal protein in their diet. The easiest way to do this is with a complete food specifically for gerbils, which provides all the nutrients in the correct amounts and proportions. Water must be accessible at all times and bottles are often easier to keep clean, however gerbils do appreciate being given a bowl of water occasionally so they can splash about and wash.
Dental problems are a major health issue for gerbils. Gerbils need to eat fibre to wear down their continuously growing teeth. If teeth don’t get worn down enough this can cause drooling and lack of appetite. Your vet will be able to advise you on your pet’s teeth.
Neutering gerbils is not something that many vets will do due to their short lifespan and size. To prevent an unwanted population explosion keep them in single sex pairs or groups.
Gerbils are very social animals and as such their body language is a very good barometer of how they are feeling! Gerbils love to gnaw and if your gerbil stops gnawing then it is good sign that there is something wrong and you should take him to a vet.
Regular exercise is important to keep your pet fit and prevent boredom, which could lead to behavioural problems. Items for the cage, such as boxes and tubes are fun for both you and your pet.
Gerbils will groom both themselves and others, as it’s a social activity. You can also groom your gerbil with a brush or comb, if needed. You should also check a gerbil’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth, bottom and claws daily.
Before attempting to handle your gerbil, let him become accustomed to you by feeding out of your hand and stroking him. Once he’s happy doing this, gently scoop him up with both hands. It is best once you have picked him up to hold him against you or keep him on your lap. Gerbils are very lively and can jump great distances, so be careful when you handle your pet. Never pick up a gerbil by his tail.
Gerbils should be kept in social groups, as living as a pair or group of three allows them to interact and perform normal social behaviours. Make sure that they are single sex groups, otherwise you could end up with a family and adult gerbils that haven’t grown up together may fight.
Regular health checks
Your vet can carry out a ‘nose to tail’ MOT but you can play a role too by following the guidelines below to keep an eye on your gerbil’s health, help him to stay in tip top condition and live a long and healthy life:
- Look out for changes in your gerbil’s food consumption, drinking and toilet habits. Does he have less energy or is he slower in getting up or jumping? Monitor your gerbil’s faeces for colour and consistency
- Rub your hands over your gerbil’s body including his head, legs and feet to check for any lumps or bumps or anything stuck in his claws. Check your gerbil’s coat quality and whether any dandruff or hair loss is evident. Is your gerbil scratching, chewing or biting excessively?
- Check your pet’s nose, eyes and ears for any abnormalities or discharge. Your gerbil’s nose should be moist, the corners of his eyes should be free of discharge and his ears should be clean
- Regularly examine your gerbil’s mouth for signs of disease and overgrown teeth
- Monitor your gerbil’s body condition by running your hands over his ribs and backbone. If he is losing weight or is overweight, it’s advisable to take him to the vet