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How to Identify and Help Depressed Gerbils

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Cam has kept gerbils for several years and likes to supplement her pets' diets with the occasional healthy treat.

Learn some warning signs of depression in a gerbil and how you can help your furry friend feel better.

Learn some warning signs of depression in a gerbil and how you can help your furry friend feel better.

My Gerbil Is Depressed!

Do you have a gerbil that seems depressed? Depression is not only common among people these days; it can also apply to animals/pets, including gerbils.

Let me first state that having a depressed gerbil does not make you a bad owner. There are easy fixes to lift your gerbil's spirits. If you suspect your gerbil is depressed but are unsure, I will also list some warning signs to look out for.

Is My Gerbil Unhappy? I Can’t Tell

If you are unsure if your gerbil is depressed, then this part is for you. Gerbils are overall social animals; they love to run around and be out and about. Oftentimes, once they're tamed, they love to be handled by people.

However, just because your gerbil doesn't run around their cage, love people, love being held, and enjoy activities like that doesn't mean that your gerbil is depressed. It could mean that the cage is in the wrong place or that your gerbil is not yet tamed or used to you.

Signs of Depression

Here are some signs that your gerbil may be depressed or verging on depression:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Constantly laying down/doesn't move often
  • Not drinking at least once a day
  • Will not care if picked up and held
  • Is limp and doesn't start getting excited/move a lot when held.

It is normal and natural for gerbils to start moving and run around when being held. They are excited; this doesn't always mean they are trying to get away. If they don't move—if your gerbil sits perfectly still or lies down—they are most likely either depressed or sick.

Signs of Sickness

Sickness could include symptoms like:

  • Excessive sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Excessive scratching
  • Lack of appetite
  • Loss of weight
  • Bare patches where there should be fur
  • Small bugs in the fur
  • Not bathing
  • Looking ragged

For things like this, I suggest either Googling your gerbil's symptoms or taking your gerbil to a veterinarian.

What Do I Do?

If you have a depressed gerbil, then a few things should fix the gerbil's depression quite easily, actually! So there's really no need to fret over it.

While I would like to tell you what to do, I can't, because I don't know your gerbils, how you care for them, or what the gerbil's personality is like. However, I can give you some of the most common reasons a gerbil can become depressed and how to fix them.

Gerbils like to be held, like to be in an active environment, and like to have activities for them to participate in! Lack of entertainment is the most common reason for gerbil depression. If the gerbil is in an empty cage, in a closed-off room, or never gets human interaction, the gerbil will often become depressed.

Gerbils, being social animals, love interaction, and they also love to try new things and keep themselves busy. A combo of gerbil toys, paper boxes, paper tubes, human interaction, good placement of the gerbil cage, and being held will help fix this type of depression!

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Easy Toy Choices

For easy gerbil toys, a couple of suggestions are:

  • Paper towel tubes
  • TP tubes
  • Cereal boxes
  • Shredded paper—newspaper, white paper, and brown paper are all fun!

Things like bird perches (for some gerbils), hide-outs, edible logs, chew sticks, and cleaned sticks from outside to climb on are all great toys.

Gerbils with climbing structures.

Gerbils with climbing structures.

Handling Gerbils

Now about handling gerbils: They love it! However, if the gerbil bites, scratches excessively, etc., then the gerbil may not be tamed. Most are not when you get them from a pet store. I can give you some basics on taming a gerbil, but that's another article!

  • Talk to them through the cage.
  • Hold them once a day for 10–15 minutes (with a towel if they bite).
  • Make sure you have good cage placement.

My Gerbil Is Always Hiding, Does That Mean It’s Depressed?

Some gerbils just do not have a very social personality, and they like to hide. This doesn't mean they are depressed. It is most likely the gerbil had a traumatic experience with humans when it was young or some such thing. While I would recommend at least trying the taming process, it doesn't always work, so don't beat yourself up about it.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Tf firefly on July 08, 2020:

This helped me so much

person on May 03, 2020:

My gerbil of two years (Polar) passed away recently of a stroke and left his friend (Pitch) by himself. Pitch recently got scent gland tumors around when Polar passed away and we aren't going to do surgery on them but they have been decreasing in size and inflammation. I thought the tumors were affecting his personality but I read the symptoms of depression in this article and I realize now that Pitch is being affected by Polar's death more than I thought. We aren't going to get anymore gerbils unfortunately but I'm going to keep Pitch entertained. I need to change my gerbil's bedding soon, and i was wondering weather or not i should get rid of my gerbil's sleeping bedding that may smell of Pitch's friend. I know after a while Polar's scent will fade away but im wondering if a lingering scent of the passed away friend will make my gerbil more depressed or not.

lils on April 27, 2020:

my gerbil lost her sister on the 10th of feb this year (my birthday) she seems fine sometimes but she will offtenly just sit on my chest and do nothing but on the other hand sh will also play happily with me and my brother but this has really helped thanks

guy talking to young gerbil owner on April 06, 2020:

The same thing happened to me and now that I read this and played with her every day she seems a whole lot happer

Ger Bil on February 06, 2020:

I was about to get a gerbil but then I read that you should get two, so now I am getting two! And this info helped alot!

young gerbil owner on February 04, 2020:

Hi my gerbil is a new gerbil that i had separated from his male friend(or brother not sure). When i got him he was scared but now, he is not as scared. last night he sat on the top level and wasn't moving. i stroked his back and the had to go to bed. when i woke up he was sitting in the same spot. i then stroked him and he didn't move. about 5 minutes later he ran and burrowed himself under the bedding and didn't come out for the next 10 minutes. i know burrowing is normal but is my gerbil ok? i have tried feeding him food, treats, and new toys but he seems to not eat, drink, or play. i dont know if he is depressed and will ever get better. i play with him 10 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes at 3 o'clock, and 1 hour at about 7. is that enough and will my gerbil be ok!?

Girl on April 28, 2019:

This was very helpful gerbil lost his brother just yesterday and he had been so sad.

girl on November 26, 2018:

i am doing a speach and this was great information

Teenaged girl on November 02, 2016:

Just yesterday my gerbils sister died and my gerbil is not used to not having her sisters company around while I'm at school, she looks depressed. I don't know if these techniques will work, do you have anymore recommendations or tactics I could use

Awesomeness on May 25, 2016:

Omg! Thank you so much! I'm a kid and I put my Gerbil in my mom's room because it was bitting it's hampter wheel (Don't know if that's normal...) anyways, I put her in my mom's room and ever since I put her in there she dug a hole in the hamster bedding and she always hides in there now. I love her so much and it just made me sad to see her so sad too so I looked this up in my free time and you said that the cage could be in the wrong place. SO, I took her back into my room and now she's happier than ever. I guess she's used to my room and I will do anything for her as long as she is happy. Even if that means listening to her bitting her hamster wheel. Thank you so much!

Marlies Vaz Nunes from Amsterdam, the Netherlands on October 01, 2014:

Nice hub, enjoyed it!

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