Caring for your new gerbils isn’t as tough as you may think, although gerbils have special needs of their own.
A couple weeks ago, we talked about habitats, bedding and the importance of using the right water bottle. Now that you have your gerbil’s habitat ready, it’s time to talk about gerbil care.
Before bringing your gerbil home, ask questions about her current habits, from eating and sleeping to playtime preferences and more. This helps you keep things familiar for your gerbil as she makes the transition to her forever home.
Food and Feeding
Many retailers sell pre-mixed gerbil food containing the minerals, protein, vitamins and bulk that your furry buddy needs. There are instructions on the brand packaging to follow regarding how much to feed your gerbil, but pay attention to her appearance over time as well. Gerbils — like people — love their fatty foods.
“Do not overfeed your gerbils,” warns Donna Anastasi, author of Gerbils: The Complete Guide to Gerbil Care. “They may regulate the total amount of food they eat, but not the kind of food. In fact, if they’re being overfed they will search for and eat the high-fat goodies and leave the uneaten high-protein, low-fat pellets and grains.”
Gerbils don’t need a food dish — just place their food directly on their bedding and allow them to forage. Just remember to discard the food if it gets old or when you clean their habitat. If a dish is preferred, use one that’s heavy and, ideally, ceramic so your gerbil can’t gnaw it to pieces or tip it over.
Gerbils also enjoy snacks, such as:
- Sunflower and pumpkin seeds (not too many, though — these are high in fat)
- Apple pieces (no seeds, please — they contain cyanide)
Remember to check the habitat daily and remove any uneaten portions of fruit or vegetables so they don’t rot.
Toys and Play
Gerbils are crazy about playing. You can purchase gerbil toys at a pet store or online, but you can also just use some items from around the house. Your gerbil will love toilet paper tubes — she’ll spend hours running through it and gnawing it to pieces.
If you’re handy, build your own gerbil playground with holes and tunnels, but be sure to use untreated wood. Your gerbils will gnaw on the wood, so expect it to look “well loved” relatively quickly.
Handle With Care
When you first bring your gerbil home, she’ll be scared. After all, it’s a new environment filled with unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recommends covering her habitat with a light cloth for the first few days to allow her to adjust gradually. Discourage people from picking her up and handling her. After the first few days, offer her a treat from your hand. Progress slowly to giving her little pats, then to picking her up. Every gerbil is different, so progress will vary.
Gerbils are also social animals. Once she acclimates to you, your gerbil will like being near you. She’ll also do better with other gerbils as playmates. If you’re worried about babies, get 2 gerbils of the same gender.
Children should be monitored closely when they interact with gerbils — often, they don’t realize that gerbils are fragile and, as Anastasi says, “A gerbil may be treated as an action figure rather than a living being. However, unlike GI Joe, GI Gerbil will battle back under duress. And repeated rough handling may cause your gerbil to develop a nipping habit.”
Adults may also mishandle your gerbil, so take precautions to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Check out this awesome maze built for a curious little gerbil:
Gerbils and the Law
Gerbils are actually still considered an exotic pet and currently illegal to have in Hawaii and California due to concerns about agriculture and the ecosystem should they escape. “If you plan on vacationing in either one of these sunny spots…leave your gerbils at home,” says Anastasi.
Research your state and county to make sure gerbils are allowed. And research local veterinarians as well to find one with gerbil experience.
Many gerbils can be found in your local shelters, so be sure to check there first before visiting a pet store — which often overbreed animals to fill their “stock.”
If you’re looking for a pet who is funny, smart, engaging and fun, then a gerbil just might be perfect for you.
Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of our 2-part series on caring for gerbils. You can read Part 1 here.