The Right Pet for You?
Gerbils are bright and inquisitive, and fun to observe, but they need your commitment and regular attention. Before getting any pet, you should think very hard about whether you can provide everything it needs, including love.
What do Gerbils need?
- Companionship - to be with other gerbils.
- Daily feeding on a diet of mixed grain and washed fruit and vegetables, with occasional sunflower seeds and peanuts.
- A constant supply of fresh, clean drinking water in a drip feed bottle with a metal spout.
- A large home called a gerbilarium (like a big aquarium tank with a wire mesh cover) that is kept indoors in a warm place, out of direct sunlight.
- Plenty of burrowing material (damp peat mixed with potting compost and chopped straw or hay) and clean white kitchen paper or soft hay for bedding.
- Toys to play with, like cardboard tubes and wooden cotton reels.
- The gerbilarium to be tidied every day and thoroughly cleaned out every three months.
- A softwood gnawing block to wear down long teeth.
- Some quiet time every day to allow them to rest.
- To be taken to a veterinary surgeon if they are ill or injured.
- To be looked after when you are away on holiday.
Gerbils live for three years.
In the wild, gerbils live in groups called colonies, and it is unkind to keep one gerbil on its own. Either male or female gerbils from the same litter can live happily together, but adult gerbils that don't know each other are likely to fight. Gerbils are very active and have a strong need to burrow, scratch and dig, so their housing needs to cater for this. They are active by day and night, with about a three-hour cycle of activity and rest.
Encourage the gerbil to walk on to your outstretched hand, limiting its movement with your other hand over its back. Gerbils are very lively and are inclined to jump, so great care and caution is needed. They may become upset by too much handling. Never pick up a gerbil by its tail.
The DSPCA strongly advises that you do not breed from your gerbils as it is very difficult to find good homes for the young. The best way to ensure that gerbils do not breed is simply to keep males and females apart. A female gerbil has an average of five to seven litters during her life, with up to eight young in each litter.
If the gerbilarium is left in direct sunlight, gerbils can suffer heat exhaustion. They should recover if moved to a cool dark room and left alone, but the situation is easily avoided. A sore nose and eyes can be caused by gnawing wire or burrowing in dusty conditions. Make sure gerbils' accommodation is clean and suitable for their needs. Gerbils may suffer from overgrown teeth if there is a lack of material to chew on. Your veterinary surgeon may have to cut them back.
Poor handling or a minor accident can cause a tail injury. The thinner part of the gerbil's long tail is easily injured and great care should be taken when handling and when choosing toys for the gerbilarium. The most serious disease to affect gerbils is called Tyzzer's Disease. Symptoms include tiredness, lack of appetite and diarrhoea. This disease can be fatal, so you should seek veterinary advice straight away. If you have any concerns about your gerbils' health, ask your veterinary surgeon for advice.
Remember - a pet needs your time and interest for the rest of its life.