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How to Take Care of Your Gerbils: Diet, Cages, and Handling

Gerbils are small rodents that love to play. Make sure you learn how to properly care for these wonderful pets.

Gerbils are small rodents that love to play. Make sure you learn how to properly care for these wonderful pets.

Facts About Gerbils

Gerbils are members of the rodent family, but unlike hamsters, they require a different type of care. Many people choose hamsters because they are easy to take care of and don't require much maintenance. Gerbils are also great starter pets for kids, but it is important to know the facts about gerbils and how to take care of them.

Unlike hamsters, gerbils are smaller and usually require a companion when purchasing. If you just get one gerbil, odds are it will not live a very happy life. It is important for them to have another gerbil to play with and bond with. In addition, gerbils like to burrow. Hamsters tend to lay and explore on the surface of bedding, whereas gerbils tend to burrow in the bedding and often create little tunnels.

This is partially due to the fact that gerbils, also known as "desert rats," are accustomed to hot temperatures and climates where they would burrow in the sand. That's why it is crucial to make sure you get the proper supplies for your little friends. This article outlines some important things to do to take care of your gerbils and give them the best life possible.

Different Cage Setups

Typically, a hamster cage will work just fine for gerbils as well, however, it is important to note that in the future you might consider a larger cage. Since gerbils like to burrow and create tunnels, they tend to need more space. In addition, they are very active creatures and require a certain amount of exercise. If you do decide to go with a hamster cage to start out, avoid small plastic cages with tubing. Gerbils work better with wired cages that are a little more spacious so they have room to dig.

If you are considering getting a bigger habitat for your pets, consider an aquarium. There are many suggestions online, but the best one I have seen is a set up where on the bottom they have a 10-gallon tank filled with bedding, and then they have attached the wired cage to the top for the gerbils' house and food and treats. This gives them ample space to dig tunnels at the bottom of the habitat, and also room to climb and eat and enjoy treats at the top of their habitat. Again, starting out with a smaller cage is fine, but consider the benefits of giving your little ones more space to explore, exercise, and have fun.

Dietary Requirements and Feeding

Gerbils need a specific kind of food that you can find at pet stores. A lot of times, the food will say feed for gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, and chinchillas on it. The majority of their food includes small seeds and pieces of fruit. You can also get awesome treats for your gerbil, which they love!

I have found little "donut" treats made for gerbils that are like little cookies with yogurt and "sprinkles" on them that my gerbils just love! And they are made from natural ingredients and safe for them to eat. It's always important to give your gerbils a treat every once in a while, as it gives you time to bond with them and they will enjoy the snack! In addition, gerbils will need a water bottle, which is the same kind you see attached to hamster cages. Although I have noticed my gerbils don't drink up water very quickly, you should be checking their water every day to make sure they have enough.

Gerbils like tunnels and houses. Make sure they are made of wood or some other safe material for them to chew on since they like to chew and gnaw on things a lot! Plastic is not safe for these little creatures!

Gerbils like tunnels and houses. Make sure they are made of wood or some other safe material for them to chew on since they like to chew and gnaw on things a lot! Plastic is not safe for these little creatures!

Cleaning Your Gerbil's Cage

Because gerbils are natural burrowing creatures, they also tend to bury their food even if you put it in a bowl, and they pretty much poop wherever in their cage, so it's important for you to clean their cage at least on a weekly basis. When cleaning, remove your gerbils and put them in a safe space, such as a box with bedding in it, while you clean out the cage.

My advice is to have someone else in the room to watch the gerbils as you clean the cage, because they are very curious creatures and will find ways to climb out of the box and run around the room if you aren't careful! When you clean the cage, simply remove the top and dump the bedding into the trash. If you feel you need to wipe down the bottom of the cage, do so with a wet washcloth or paper towel, with just water. No cleaning products as this would be harmful to your pets!

As far as bedding goes, I have found the best bedding to be a mixture of hemp bedding and some timothy hay. They burrow well in the hemp, and they love chewing on the timothy hay. They do make bedding made from paper, but I would advise you to find something more natural like hemp or wood-based bedding for your pets.

Once you have dumped out the old bedding, pour the new bedding into the bottom of the cage. Make sure when you put it in that you don't press down the bedding hard or pack it in too much. Loose bedding is the best for them, and they will tend to move it around as they see fit once you put it back in the cage. Also, make sure you give them enough bedding. Since gerbils bury their food and like to burrow, it's important to give them a fair amount of bedding, more say, than you would give to a hamster, so they have space to burrow and explore in their bedding.

Gerbils also like to bury themselves in the bedding and even sleep under their bedding a lot, so ensure they have enough bedding in their cage to do so! Restock their food, treats, and water, reassemble the cage, and then add your pets back into their new, clean home. They will appreciate the time you put into making their space clean and comfortable for them! I know from personal experience that my gerbils get super excited once I put them back in their cage, as I also try to give them new treats and toys to play with every week when I clean out their cage!

Gerbils tend to burrow and also cuddle together in their bedding. They dig ditches and tunnels in the bedding so it is important to have enough bedding for them to play in.

Gerbils tend to burrow and also cuddle together in their bedding. They dig ditches and tunnels in the bedding so it is important to have enough bedding for them to play in.

Creating a Friendly, Fun Space

In addition to burrowing, gerbils also love to chew on everything! This means you should choose safe, non-toxic items for them to nibble on that they will enjoy. Typically, pet stores sell small wood blocks made specifically for gerbils to gnaw on, but it is also important to make sure everything in their cage is non-toxic and safe.

You will find at many pet stores that they make plastic igloos for their little houses, but I've found that to be an issue personally as my gerbils tend to chew and eat anything I put in their cage, and you certainly don't want your little ones to be eating plastic! I have opted for a safer option by giving my gerbils a wooden house that they can gnaw on but also enjoy. I also found a nice timothy hay bowl to place their food in that they can also chew if they wish.

As stated previously, gerbils also require exercise. That's why it is important for them to have toys and things to play with. A lot of pet stores will recommend the wheel, but from experience, I can tell you that personally that my gerbils don't really like using the exercise wheel. They prefer burrowing and making tunnels in the bedding as well as playing with tubes and balls.

Some pet stores make some cool balls out of twine and wood that gerbils can roll around and chew through, but I have also used paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls for tubes for them to play in. Make sure also that you keep your gerbil's space in a warm place, as they are accustomed to warmer temperatures. How you decide to set up their home and their play space is up to you, but keep in mind these tips.

Handling Your Gerbils

Gerbils are very curious creatures and are a lot faster than hamsters, but they are also very timid creatures. You usually have to ease into handling them and you don't want to make them too scared. When getting your gerbils out of the cage, don't just grab them harshly but try cupping them into your hands gently to move them from the cage to a play box when cleaning.

If you want to play with your gerbils and handle them, doing so after cleaning their cage and before putting them back in is a good time to do so. I try to do this once a week to gain their trust. When you first get your gerbils, you might not want to do this too much as they need time to get used to their home. The best way to start though is by sticking your hand in their cage and letting them sniff and nibble on your fingers. This will get them adjusted to your scent and who you are.

If you can also put treats in the palm of your hand and let them come and eat treats out of your hand, they will see that you are not there to harm them and gain their trust. Eventually, they will climb into the palm of your hand and it will make it a lot easier to move them from cage to play box. Once your gerbils are comfortable with you, you can handle them. I recommend laying down and letting them climb on top of you so you can watch them closely. Pet them to reassure them that they are safe with you and that you are not there to harm them.

Be careful when bringing them out of the cage, though, because they are curious creatures and will run around if you are not careful to keep them close within your reach. If you are not comfortable doing this, consider making a "playpen" for your gerbils where they have a sort of fence barricade. You can put toilet paper tubes and other toys in the playpen and watch as they play. I suggest doing this for a few minutes every week to give them time to play outside of their cage. Your gerbils will be much happier if they are getting more exercise and play!

Take Care of Your Little Ones

Gerbils are cute pets and generally easy to take care of, but they also require a lot of responsibility. It is important for you to carefully consider this before getting your gerbils, and also make sure that you have all of the supplies you need to give your little ones a happy life before purchasing them. It might be a good idea to get the cage, bedding, and supplies before purchasing the animals and setting up the cage. Find a good space in your home for your gerbils and then bring them to their new home!

Gerbils are great pets and are exciting to watch, so make sure you take care of them well! Taking care of these amazing animals is very rewarding and fun. So once you have everything set up, enjoy spending time with your gerbils and watching them play! As long as you put in the time to properly take care of these precious animals, you will enjoy having these critters in your home!

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.

© 2019 Anne Marie Carr


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 13, 2019:

They are cute little critters and we once took care of some while our neighbors were on vacation. We have only had dogs and cats as pets.