These desert dwellers are native to several parts of the world. The gerbil type most commonly kept as a pet is the Mongolian Gerbil. Gerbils are available in a wide variety of colors but often have white fur on their belly. They generally grow to about four inches in body length and with a tail approximately four inches as well. Lifespan for a pet gerbil is typically 3-4 years.
Gerbils are active, clever animals and friendly by nature. When accustomed to handling and handled properly, gerbils are gentle critters and seldom bite. Gerbils are best suited for older children who have learned proper handling techniques and can assist parents with some of the regular care responsibilities. Unlike hamsters, Mongolian gerbils are mostly active during the day. Gerbils are also very social and it’s a good idea to get at least two of them. Introducing them at a young age or choosing two young littermates provides the best chance they will get along.
Common signs that something may be wrong with your gerbil include sneezing, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and diarrhea. Gerbils are also susceptible to external parasites, including fleas and lice. If you notice any of the previous symptoms or parasites, contact a veterinarian promptly.
Most gerbils do well on a good commercial gerbil pellet-seed mix. Look for one with a protein content of about 12 percent, a fat content between 6-8 percent and a seed mix made up of pellets, grains, seeds, and dried vegetables. If your mix happens to include sunflower seeds, you may notice the gerbils pick them out first to eat and leave the other ingredients behind. Sunflower seeds are tasty and high in fat for gerbils. Resist the urge to add more food. Your gerbils will eventually eat the remaining seeds.
A small, bite size amount of fresh vegetables is recommended daily. Carrots, leaf lettuces, broccoli, and peas are healthy choices. Small bites of fruit can also be offered every other day. Appropriate fruits include: mango, pineapple, kiwi, apple, and banana. Introduce new foods gradually and remember to clean up any uneaten food before it spoils. Do not give your gerbil cabbage, onions, uncooked beans, chocolate, candy, or junk food.
Clean, fresh water should be available at all times. Use an inverted bottle with a drinking tube that can be attached to the cage. Change the water daily.
Gerbils should be kept indoors in a wire cage or a 10 gallon aquarium that has a wire mesh cover.
Provide different levels for your gerbils to climb on and investigate. If you are using an aquarium, a simple homemade wooden platform with a ramp will do. Gerbils are escape artists, so make sure the wire mesh cover is secure but not blocked from receiving adequate ventilation. Keep the cage away from direct sunlight, drafts, and other pets such as dogs and cats.
The inside of the enclosure should be lined with absorbent bedding. Bedding such as Carefresh (made from soft white cellulose fiber) or aspen shavings are appropriate choices. Avoid pine or cedar shavings – the fumes and oils from these woods are harmful to gerbils. Remove soiled bedding, droppings, and stale food daily. Thoroughly clean the cage with warm, soapy water once a week.
Gerbils love to play! Exercise wheels (solid, no rungs), cardboard tubes, PVC pipes, and plastic igloos provide them with opportunities to run, climb, hide, and tunnel. Gerbils need to chew to keep their teeth from overgrowing. An untreated piece of hardwood, a twig or even a hard plain dog biscuit is an appropriate chew toy. Avoid anything made of soft plastic. Your local pet supply store will also have chew toys made just for gerbils.
Gerbils like a cave-like place to rest and sleep such as a small box, igloo or flower pot.
To get your gerbil used to being handled, start by hand feeding your gerbil small treats. When they seem comfortable with taking treats, pick them up by scooping them into your hand. Never pick up a gerbil by the tail, as this can cause injury to them. Once the gerbils are successfully hand-tamed, you can start allowing them supervised romps outside of their cage for short periods of time. Make sure the exercise area has been checked for dangers and can be secured so they can’t escape. Gerbils have a very acute sense of smell and hearing, but their eyesight is not very good. Take extra care to make sure they don’t fall or hurt themselves when exercising outside of the cage.