Your pet gerbil.Gerbils are friendly and inquisitive animals. A happy healthy gerbil can live between 3-5 years. The best form of home is a gerbilarium, typically made of (plexi) glass with a lid containing ventilation holes and tightly shut to make it escape-proof but also a large deep based cage will suffice. In the wild, gerbils will feed on a vegetarian diet (seed, grains, roots) supplemented with insects. Avoid high levels of fat (peanuts) in their diet as this can lead to obesity and a high cholesterol level.
They are naturally inquisitive and very active animals and a thick layer of sawdust and peat or other substrate is needed for burrowing and digging tunnels. Gerbils can be handled, but only when done correctly, (see below on tips on how to handle your gerbil), otherwise you could damage or scare your gerbil.
History: In the wild, Mongolian gerbils live in the desert where there is little vegetation, low rainfall and temperatures that fluctuate enormously between summer and winter, and day and night. The survival of gerbils is down to their burrowing instincts. Burrowing allows them to protect themselves from the extremes in temperature as, under the soil, temperatures remain constant.
Gerbil burrows in the wild are a complex network of tunnels, with nests and food storage chambers which allow the gerbil to stay underground for long periods of time. The gerbil species has evolved to need only limited food and water. Their long hind legs allow them to cover large distances in a harsh habitat in order to collect food. In addition, their bodies require little water as they do not sweat and they re-absorb their liquid intake producing highly concentrated urine and dry faeces. The Latin name for gerbils is “Meriones Unguiculatus” which means “clawed warrior”.
Breeds: Gerbils have only been domesticated for the last 30 years so there has not yet been an opportunity for extensive development of coloured varieties. The Golden Agouti is the most common gerbil found in pet shops and is a sandy colour with a dark stripe down the spine and tail. Other varieties include Albino, Black, Cinnamon, White Spot, Dark Tailed White, Dove and Argenté.
Looking After Your Gerbil
Gerbils may be kept in a wire cage with a solid plastic base, but the best option is to construct a “gerbilarium” (an aquarium with a well ventilated cover). Never keep them in a wooden hutch as they will gnaw their way out. A good cage will be two tiered and have at least two compartments – one for the day and one to nest and hide in at night. As gerbils are kept in pairs or groups the cage can never be too large. Cages must be cleaned out regularly to eliminate odours, germs and bacteria. Natural barley straw is ideal warm bedding for your Gerbil.
They need to be kept indoors and careful thought must be given to where your gerbils’ cage will be kept. The temperature in the room should be constant, away from direct sunlight and draughts, and out of reach of any other pets. Gerbils love to have a dust bath, so there must be also be room for this. Place some fine grained absorbent sand into a box or bowl, and let your gerbils roll around and flip over.
They will thoroughly enjoy themselves and the sand will help to keep their coats healthy by removing excess oils. Supreme Charlie Chinchilla Bathing Sand is ideal for this. Building sand is too hard and will damage their fur and irritate the skin. Pop into Scampers for the Supreme range of bedding and cleaning products.
Feeding Your Gerbil
In their natural habitat, gerbils eat a selection of wind blown seeds, grain and grasses. Gerbils are often mistaken as herbivores, but they are omnivores and do need good quality protein in their diet to keep them healthy. Ensure there is fresh drinking water available at all times. They also have continuously-growing teeth so they need to gnaw to help wear down their teeth. Gerbils are natural foragers so their daily allowance should be split into two portions, one in the morning and one in the evening. To limit the likelihood of selective feeding, ensure that the first portion is finished before feeding the second. Fresh water should always be available. Their diets should provide just the right amount of protein, whilst remaining low in fat. Always check the recommended daily allowances (on the front of the pack) are supplied by any food you buy. See the Supreme Gerri Gerbil food in store at Scampers now.
Treating Your Gerbil
Your gerbil will love a treat, and as long as they are good for them, there is no reason why you shouldn't feed one or two occasionally. Try hiding some in their home to encourage them to forage, for example Root n' Fruit Nibbles with carrot, apple and raisins which they love, and which are good for their constantly growing teeth. See Scampers range of the Supreme Treats.
Gerbils like to keep themselves busy and, when allowed, spend the majority of their time running around, digging tunnels and investigating their surroundings. Provide plenty of substrate so they can 'hide' underground.
It only takes a few items to create an exciting playground for your pet. Gerbils explore around the edge (and hiding places) first, rather than the middle of the area or run. Place objects like tubes, tunnels, untreated wicker baskets and boxes in the run for them to play with. A thick layer of sawdust, wood shavings or other substrate is needed for burrowing and digging tunnels. Gerbils will chew on available natural wood and this will help keep their teeth in trim. By hiding food and the occasional treat in different areas of the animals’ cage, your gerbils will be forced to forage for their food – this will keep them occupied for many happy hours and prevent boredom. Check out the ‘Furry Fun’ accessories range from Supreme Petfoods available at Scampers.
Handling Your Gerbil
Always approach calmly and, once you are sure your pet is awake, slowly place a closed fist in front of it and allow it to approach. If your gerbil is confident and appears interested, slowly unclench your fist and open your hand. It may well crawl on to the palm of your hand or you can gently scoop it up. If it appears hesitant, you could gently hold the base of its tail, near its body, and lift up, placing its feet on the palm of your other hand (never grab hold of the end of its tail as gerbils can shed the skin to escape, and will be frightened next time you approach).
Gerbils in the wild live in large colonies. They are sociable animals and can be truly unhappy if kept in solitude. There should be no problems keeping gerbils together if the following rules are followed. It is best to acquire littermates in order to avoid fighting. Pairs or groups of males or females will be fine if they are from the same litter. They may accept a gerbil from a different litter, but they may fight. Females and males will be happy together but will result in litters.
Dental Problems – As with all rodents, gerbil’s teeth continue to grow throughout their life. Should your gerbil be injured and a tooth become misaligned, the opposite tooth will grow as it has nothing opposing it on which to grind. Gerbils require fibre in their diet and gnawing ensures their teeth are evenly worn, preventing overgrowth. Overgrown teeth can cause a number of problems including abscesses and inability to eat. Ensure there is sufficient fibre in the diet or feed "gnaw" treats.
Diarrhoea – Diarrhoea can have several causes including bacteria, parasites and neoplasia. The most common bacterial enteritis is Tyzzer's disease (see later in this section). Other causes are Salmonella and E. Coli bacteria or coccidiosis or pin- and tapeworms. Take your gerbil to the vet immediately as loss of fluid through diarrhoea can be life threatening.
Colds – Gerbils can catch colds from humans so, if you have a cold, you should keep the handling of your gerbil and its food to the minimum. Your gerbil will have a runny nose and sneeze if he has a cold and should be kept in a warm room. Isolate the affected gerbil from the rest of the group as colds can spread through colonies. Take him to the vet if the condition has not cleared in two to three days, or if you have any concerns at all.
Tyzzer’s Disease – This is a very serious condition and your gerbil will have diarrhoea, look tired and weak and will lose his appetite. Weanlings are especially sensitive to this disease. Take your gerbil to the vet immediately if your gerbil has these symptoms, as this disease is often fatal. Good hygiene in the gerbilarium and using good quality bedding such as natural barley Straw or CareFresh and burrowing material will help prevent this disease. Always consult a vet if you have ANY reason for concern.
Supreme Petfoods, promoting the Well-Being of small animals.
Extra Bits about your gerbil:
Latin name: Meriones Unguiculatus
Life span: 3-5 years
Litter size: 3-10 pups
Birth weight: 1-3gms
Eyes open: 17 days
Gestation period: 24-26 days
Average weight: Male 60gms Female 50gms
Sexual maturity: Male & Female 10-12 weeks
Weaning age: 21-24 days
Diet: Omnivorous (average 5-10 grams per day)