Petcare: Gerbils

Gerbil facts:

  • Gerbils belong to the Rodentia family and are omnivorous - omnivores mainly eat seeds, grains, grasses and insects.
  • Gerbils are diurnal spending most of the day active and sleeping at night.
  • Gerbils front legs are shorter and used for burrowing and holding their food.
  • Gerbils are natural foragers.
  • Gerbils don’t like living on their own.
  • Gerbils build extensive networks of tunnels enabling them to hide and breed underground.
  • Gerbils' tails are around the same length as the gerbil's body.
  • Gerbils use their long tail to help them balance when standing on their hind legs.

Feeding your gerbil:

Feeding the correct food to your gerbil is essential for maintaining good health. Your gerbil should be fed a good quality gerbil mix. A tasty crunchy blend of cereals, seeds, vegetables, nuts, fruit and mealworms is ideal as encourages natural foraging and contains animal & vegetable protein as eaten in the wild. This should be supplemented with very small quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables. Do not feed them too much fresh food as this can lead to stomach upsets. Gerbils like pumpkin seeds for a treat. Sunflower seeds are tasty too, but they’re very fattening so should be fed in moderation.

Introducing your gerbil to new foods:

Your gerbil's diet should never be changed suddenly. Abrupt changes in your rabbit’s diet could trigger digestive upsets, especially in baby gerbils or gerbil's that are stressed (for example if they have moved to a new home). If you want to change their diet, it is recommended that this change takes place gradually over a 10 day period. This can be done by mixing small quantities of the new food in with their existing food, while reducing their existing food proportionally until the food is fully changed over.

Fresh greens, fruit & water:

Gerbils require fresh fruit and vegetables as part of their diet but in small quantities only to avoid an upset stomach. They like apples, carrots, broccoli, sprouts and cauliflower. Lettuce can be given occasionally, but only in very small amounts. Do not feed potatoes, rhubarb or tomato leaves, as these are poisonous to gerbils.

Also ensure your gerbils have a constant supply of fresh water. This should be provided in a water bottle fixed inside the tank, as water bowls will be tipped over and buried.

Housing, bedding & exercise:

Gerbils are natural burrowing animals so their home has to accommodate this. Gerbil homes are available from all good pet shops and are called gerbilariums. They are designed to simulate the natural environment of a gerbil, they have a deep glass or plastic base allowing them to burrow, a cage top with ladders and tunnels leading between the two to allow them climb and play. This ensures that your gerbil has all the exercise required, as well as a living environment to keep them healthy and happy.

Ensure their house is kept in a dry, cool, draught free location and well ventilated. You should not keep their house next to a radiator or fire as they may overheat.

Bedding for gerbils should be clean, dry and absorbent and dust free. Gerbils need deep litter to enable them to burrow into and dust free wood shavings are ideal for this. All pet bedding needs changing regularly to ensure your pet has a dry, clean environment to live and sleep in.
 

Handling & grooming:

Sociable animals, Gerbils will be happier in groups or pairs. Gerbils should never be kept with other small animals. Your new gerbil will need a couple of days to settle down before you begin to handle him.

Talk to them and put your hand in the cage to allow them to smell you. When you do handle them, make sure they are awake and then pick them up slowly by cupping both hands around them gently but firmly. They may escape from your hands so do not hold them high in the air in case they fall. It is best to handle them while you are close to the floor or a table top. Never pick them up by their tail as the skin may strip off. Once they are settled in regular, gentle handling and contact can prevent timid or aggressive behaviour. Do not pick them up while they are asleep this may startle them.
Gerbils need to groom themselves 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.

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