Having three children, I was reluctant to agree to the demands for pets in the house too! Eventually, I succumbed to the boys' request for two gerbils a few years ago and am happy to confirm that the gerbils made good first pets, with relatively straightforward care needs and inexpensive maintenance costs (which is a lot more than I could say about my kids!)
My oldest son was so pleased to have gerbils as pets that he wrote the following as a report for his school homework:
"Gerbils come in different colours. Mine is black all over and has a little white patch on his paw. His name is Diamond. My brother’s gerbil was brown with a white belly and white patches on his back. He died at the age of about two month’s old. We don’t really know why he died as we tried to look after him well. We buried my brother’s gerbil, Brownie, in the garden.
We keep our gerbils in a special cage called a Gerbilarium. Gerbils have to have a big cage so they can run about a lot. My gerbil burrows a lot. He has a tunnel in his cage and he buries it and hides inside. He likes to shred up newspaper and makes this into his bed. My gerbil doesn’t always come into my hand but if you open the top hatch, he climbs out on to the top and I can pick him up. They sometimes nibble when you pick them up but it doesn’t hurt. They like chewing on wood and fruity things. They eat apple cores and they like treats. When they are in their ball, they can run about and have lots of exercise. We do that when we clean them out."
As a parent, I find gerbils easy to care for. I buy a specially formulated mix from Pets At Home which meets all of the dietary requirements and just top that up with fresh fruit and seeds. A great first pet, although sadly they can have a limited life span which might be upsetting for some children.
I have a beautiful little male albino gerbil called Marvin he is about 9 months old now and is full of charm and character he looks just like a mini bull terrier with red eyes he is such a looker, after my mice died I really felt our family was incomplete so after a month or so had passed we was in the pet shop buying dog food and I saw this little white head and pink eyes peering out of a little house at me he was in the adoptiion part of the store when we asked why they told us it was because he is albino and that people tend to go for the ones without red eyes so that was it we had the cage at home we adopted him right there, it took him awhile to settle in but once he had he came out of his shell. They tend not to drink alot but will eat plenty Marvins fav treat is nuts, he takes one from our hand every morning.
They are incredibly intelligent animals and love attention, they love to burrow so I really would suggest a glass topped virarium as you will end up with sawdust everywhere, they also require a dust bath as this is how they keep clean and without one will become grubby and have dull fur, Marvin just loves to roll around in his bath and it is so amusing to watch, they are very quick animals so dont let them out unless you are absolutely certain you can get them back again, they are very active and will get bored quickly if not kept occupied make sure you get plenty of chews as they love to gnaw on things avoid placing anything plastic in with your Gerbil they will bite through it (they have incredibly strong teeth) if they swallow the plastic it can be harmful to them, Gerbils are also quite active throughout the day and night unlike hamsters and mice who tend to be most active at night,but they love to be handled if you have small children make sure they dont squeeze them as they are fragile little creatures, I find that they dont smell at all which is amazing and are very clean animals, they are great for all the family and I am so very glad that we saved little Marvin.
Equipped with a loving stare and cute long tail , Seeing a Gerbil makes people fall in love. But Many People dont know anything about these little creatures , so this article is going to try and teach you about Gerbil basics.
How Do Gerbils Live In The Wild ?
In the wild gerbils live in the deserts of Mongolia the habitat is a sandy grassland with little vegetation. The desert lacks rainfall and the temperatures can range enormously between seasons and parts of the day. Gerbils survive mainly in the wild due to their burrowing instincts , the burrows protects them from the extreme temperature drops and rises and will maintain the correct temperature. The Gerbils burrow contains a complex network of tunnels with separate chambers for they're food and they're nest. The Gerbil has evolved to survive on a small amount of water and food ( this is why gerbils don't drink a lot ) There long back legs help them cover large areas of space to search for food , these legs also enable them to get away from predators. Gerbils do not sweat and due to there minimal food and water intake they produce small amounts of waste , therefore being clean animals. Gerbils live in large colonies and are extremely sociable animals ( reccomended to keep them in pairs of the same sex ) They are very territorial and rarely accept outsiders. The Gerbils natural instincts tell them to forage for food and to burrow therefore they will need at least 8 inches of bedding you can bury food around they're tanks to give them something fun to do. Gerbils teeth grow constantly and can be painful if they are to long , this is why you need to provide cardboard and wooden items for them to gnaw on.
How Many Gerbils ?
Gerbils Should Be kept in pairs or groups , they are very sociable creatures and if they live on their own they will become bored and depressed.
Where Should Gerbils Be Housed ?
Tanks are a very popular option because they give the best of both worlds. If you make a mesh and wood lid for the tank like shown in the picture then it provides enough ventilation and a tank can provide adequate digging space for gerbils. A pair of gerbils will need a minimum of 20 gallons ( it is reccomended you keep them in pairs ) Unlike most animals bigger is not always better I reccomend 20-50 Gallons any smaller and they will be bored and may opt to fight to cure that boredom. Any bigger and they may split into different separate colonies and become territorial over ' they're ' space , therefore causing them to fight. New tanks can cost alot so buying second hand on ebay is a great way to keep the costs down. You can pick up 20 gallon tanks for under £20 , often you can find tanks without a lid which will be knocked down in price.
Toppers are a wooden and mesh ( or just mesh ) structure that sit on top of the tank ( hence the name topper ) They are a great way of giving your gerbil more space by expanding upwards. They have a door on one or two sides to provide easy access. Its also a great way to keep all the essential items ( bowls , bottles etc ) above the bedding so they cannot kick the bedding into the bowl. The Topper has a frame which sits inside the tank snuggle so it isn't to loose and isn't to tight , it should come of and go back in with little effort. A quick search of the Internet should provide many articles and guides on how to build a topper. Make sure you use small spaced mesh and untreated wood , also if you use glue make sure it is non toxic , you don't want your little guys getting hurt !
What Bedding ?
Gerbils are natural burrowers so to give them only a inch of bedding will make them frustrated and angry. They should have atleast 5 inches of bedding although my personal minimum is 8 inches. Its amazing watching gerbils dig to make a labyrinth under ground ! Lots of bedding helps them keep occupied and lets them fur-fill theyre instincts. So you may be wondering what bedding do i reccomend ? Well theyre is no correct answer to that question but ill provide you with some information to make your own choice.
Wood Shavings - Wood shavings are probably the least expensive bedding of all you can get huge bags for £15. It looks nice and smells pretty good. Gerbils can get sore noses from shavings so watch out for that. The Shavings are pretty absorbent but not the best absorbing substance. It can also trigger asthma but ive been fine with it , although my asthma is only mild.
CareFresh - Carefresh bedding can be expensive and very dusty and it also makes tunnelling hard for your gerbils. It can set asthma of and probably isn't worth the hastle.
MegaZorb - Megazorb can be hard to source and can be pricey. It has very little dust and is quite absorbent. It is quite ugly to look at and comes in huge sacks so if you have limited storage then it can be a problem.
Sand - Although sand is the gerbils natural bedding in the wild it isnt pratical or nessecary in captivity. Store Bought sand is very different to the sands of the mongolian desert. The sand can be cold on gerbils and is hard to dig in if it is not damp. It gets smelly pretty quickly and needs to be baked before use . Good quality sand can be expensive however it can be baked and reused a few times
Aspen - Aspen is considered the holy grail of bedding and is my personal preference. It is absorbent , nice smelling and very nice to look at. The gerbils love it and can make great tunnels out of it as it holds very well. It can be expensive but if you buy in bulk then you can make good savings. So if you want my opinion then i reccomend aspen.
What Else should i mix in with my bedding ?
So you may ask , what else should i mix in ? The answer is hay and toilet paper tissue. They hay can be used as nesting material and is a great chew toy. The tissue is shredded up and used as nesting materials your gerbils will often run through the tissue and then tear it up. You can buy hay in bluk for around £10 a big bale and you can pick up 6 toilet paper tubes from a 99p shop.
What Toys Should Gerbils Have ?
So you may see coloured plastic toys in a shop and think ' aw thats cute i will buy it ' STOP , gerbils are chewers and it inevitable that they will chew it , now this is not an issue with cardboard and untreated wood but plastic is dangerous , it can clog in the digestive system and can seriously injure or kill a gerbil so bare that in mind while buying toys.
You can buy your gerbils all fancy toys but all they ever want is cardboard ! So lets have a look at some good ideas.
Cardboard - Cardboard is the cheapest and best toy for gerbils. With toilet paper tubes they can run through it , chew it and even use it to hold up tunnels. Small cardboard boxes can also be stuffed with toilet paper , hay and bedding with treats so that they can dig to find them , they will also demolish the box ! Gerbils can demolish a toilet paper tube in 5 minutes so be sure to ask friends and family to collect for you so you dont run out , the best thing about cardboard is it is free , Result !
Wheels - I only reccomend leaving a wheel in for a hour a day max. If you leave it in to long it will become addictive and the gerbils will need to run on it to get its fix. The wheel should be mesh with small spaces between each square of mesh. The bigger the space the bigger the risk of your gerbils breaking a leg or toe. A good wheel like this can cost from £10-£20.
What Does My Gerbils Behaviour Mean ?
Play Fighting - This shouldnt not be confused with proper fighting , play fighting sorts of dominance in young gerbils without full fighting , play fighting should not draw blood.
Boxing - Gerbils Stand on their hind legs and push eachother , this is boxing. It sorts out dominance without needing to fight.
Kissing - Gerbils kiss when they meet for the first time and sometimes when they meet in the middle of the tank. Gerbils transmit messages such as gender and dominance through theyre saliva , this is perfectly normal.
Hiding Food From Friend - Gerbils will often take a tasty treat from you and run into a hiding place and turn its back to its friend. Its a natural instinct to keep the food safe from other gerbils , its a survival tactic but it can be amusing to watch them try to steal eachothers food.
Scent Marking - Scent marking is whe gerbils drag their stomach along the floor or on new items. This is letting other gerbil clans know that they shouldnt not go there. It is usually done by the dominant gerbil
Storing Food - When cleaning out your tank you may find a storage chamber with your gerbils favourite snacks in it. This is a natural thing for the gerbils to do in the wild , its what helps them get through winter by storing it for a later date.
Licking The Glass of the tank - Gerbils lick the tank when they need to get water or if they havent worked out how to use the bottle , if you see this then check if the water bottle is still working.
Thumping - Gerbils will stamp their feet very quickly in a few short sharp bursts , this is to warn other gerbils that there may be danger.
What Food Should i Feed ?
Gerri Gerbil is a great food because it balances out all the the nutritional needs of a gerbil However ,
I make my own gerbil food because i have local wholesalers where i can make 1.5kg of feed for £4. I make my own mixes because not only is it cheaper for me its better for the gerbils overall health. I personally use all of the below ingredients and try to make sure all of the values are right. If youd like to make your own mix , id enquire about it on the gerbil forum. I start of with a base mix with the right values ( eg gerri gerbil ) i then filter out the corn ( it is a filler and has no nutritonal value ) i then add in all the ingerdients and serve ! i feed 2-3 handfuls every 2-3 days. Gerbils are generally good and wont over eat. Id replace food only once it has all been eaten.
I Personally Use :
For a full list on Ok and Not Ok foods , visit my Gerbil website ( link at the bottom of the page )
Buying Gerbils , The Where The What And The Who.
Before you go to a breeder or a pet shop you should pop down to 2 or 3 local rescues , if there are any gerbils their then they should be your first option. By adopting from a rescue you are helping a worthy cause and the majority of rescues give you reliable advice and will give them a full health check before they go. Before they adopt them out to you they will normally treat them for any illnesses or diseases they may have. The Shelter will normally ask for a minimum donation ( normally around £8 ) However id personally give them more as its going to a good cause.
If there is no gerbils available then your next stop should be a reputable breeder look at the accommodation they are kept in , look below to see the health check and also test the breeder on the information that you have already gained. If they refuse to let you see the accommodation , don't know enough about gerbils or haven't got healthy gerbils then avoid them. If Neither of them options reveal anything then your last option should be the pet shop. Make sure you choose a pet shop that gives you the best advice and advises that you keep them in big tanks. With all three of these options you should health check the gerbils before buying. So how do you health check gerbils ? well lets have a look. ( Health Check From eGerbil , all credit goes to egerbil )
Is the Gerbil's coat smooth and glossy with no patches of hair missing?
Patches of fur missing could indicate problems with mites, infection, or bullying from other Gerbils. Feel under the fur for any tell tale signs such as bites or scabs. Blowing gently against the fur can also show signs of bites and scabs. Providing chinchilla sand once a week for bathing will help keep the coat in good condition.
Are the eyes bright and shiny?
Excessive red coloured discharge from the eyes usually indicates the Gerbil or Jird is stressed for one reason or another, or has an underlying health problem. Excessive discharge may indicate an eye infection and excessive tears may lead to nasal dermatitis. Cataracts can form in older animals and can be recognised as cloudiness in the eye, although cloudiness in the eye can also indicate an injury so should be checked by a vet to obtain a correct diagnosis.
Can you see discharge or missing hairs?
The nose should be clear of discharge and there should be no hair loss around it. Discharge can indicate an infection and hair loss could indicate mites, allergies, infection or excessive grooming.
Are the teeth ok?
Check to see if the teeth are growing straight and are not mis-aligned or overgrown. Because rodent teeth grow continuously all their life, checking the length and alignment of the teeth often is very important. If teeth grow too long the gerbil will starve. The top incisors should meet the bottom incisors but be slightly forward. They should not overlap or grow at different angles.
The gerbil should be able to eat easily, and be able to chew and hold things in its mouth. Providing wood and good gerbil food should maintain a gerbil's teeth for most of its life. Checking the teeth is fairly simple, some gerbils will let you open their mouth to examine them, and less tolerant ones will usually allow you to apply slight pressure to their cheeks, which makes their teeth visible. If you are unsure, ask a vet to check, and if they are ever too long, get your vet to clip them carefully, do not attempt to do so yourself unless you have the proper equipment and have been shown how to do so.
If you notice your gerbil is losing weight, test if they can successfully nibble a piece of cardboard, and if it has difficulty in doing so, a vet trip is in order.
Healthy gerbil teeth should be coloured yellow and not white
Does the head tilt?
Usually the first sign you will notice that indicates there is something wrong with a gerbil's ear will be a head tilt or spinning in circles. Many ear infections are in the inner ear, nevertheless the ears should always be checked for any visible blockage, mites, infection or cuts from scratching.
Middle ear infections due to staphylococcus can be problematic too and can sometimes be caused by mites. If a Gerbil or Jird is seen excessively shaking its head or yawning, there may be an infection in the middle ear or eustachian tube. Seek the advice of a vet for a correct diadnosis.
Are the nails overgrown?
Gerbil and Jird nails also grow continuously throughout their life and wooden toys or a few clean rocks will help keep their length down. Sometimes for one reason or another, nails become overgrown and need to be trimmed down. Again a vet can do this simple procedure, but if you decide on doing it yourself be careful just to trim them and never cut into the 'quick' of the nail, or the pink medial line where there are blood vessels and nerve endings, as this area is very sensitive to pain. If this should happen it's wise to have a styptic pen or powder on hand to stem any bleeding.
Can you see missing hairs?
Always check the tail to make sure it is fully furred, if fur is missing it can be an indication of mites but it is far more likely to be due to over grooming by the gerbil. This is an indication that the gerbil is bored. Often by simply adding toys and tunnels etc into their environment can alleviate boredom.
Can you see evidence of injury or tumours?
The scent gland is located on a gerbil's abdomen, and is a bald, yellow, oval patch, which the gerbil rub against objects to mark their territory. It should be inspected for cuts caused by marking something sharp, and particularly in males scent gland tumours, which start off small but grow rapidly, and if caught early enough, should be removed via surgery by a competent vet. If it is inoperable, the tumour will need to be cleaned regularly as it will bleed when the gerbil marks its territory. Sometimes the gerbil will also try and bite off the external growth itself and this may cause excessive bleeding.
Is the anus/genital area clean?
Staining around this area on young Gerbils or Jirds could indicate that they have been living in poor dirty conditions or that the Gerbil or Jird may have recently recovered from a bout of diarrhoea.
Is the animal alert, active, and friendly?
Only purchase the animal if it is. A listless animal is often accompanied by an underlying illness. A nippy animal makes both a poor pet and/or poor breeding stock.
The gerbil itself should be observed behaving in its environment. Limping, reluctance to come out or exercise, and hiding away in a corner would indicate the gerbil has an ailment. If you feel your gerbil is unwell and you are unsure of the cause, or if you know the cause and it needs treatment, do not hesitate to bring the gerbil to your vet for the appropriate care, and ask the vet to check the gerbil over.
Are there any deformities?
Kinks in the tail or fixed wrists could indicate close inbreeding or genetic problems within the stock
Taming Your Gerbils
When you first get your gerbils back to your house you will automatically think ' i want to play with my new companions ' Unfortunatly many people get them out straight away and don't realise why they shouldn't. Your gerbils will be stressed by the sudden change in environment and handling them at this point will be extremely uncomfortable for them. Many people presume that they're gerbils are ' evil ' because they bite their new owner within a day of being home. The gerbil is not evil , it just needs time to settle in before big hands are invading their tank. They will need a day or two to settle in before handling , this is the essential first tip.
.Before handling new gerbils thoroughly wash your hands , this is very important , if gerbils can smell food on your hands they may nip you to test if your edible or not !
.Offer them a open palm gerbils are very inquisitive creatures and will more often than not come and explore you. To them you are a big thing that needs investigating , your also a very good climbing frame ! Gerbils normally wont climb up your arm until they trust you.
.Try placing some treats in your hands , gerbils will never normally turn down a tasty snack ( see food section to see what snacks are suitable ) Once you have a gerbil eating out of your hand , they are on the road to trusting you.
. Once your gerbils will eat out of your hand you can try giving them ' elevator lifts ' a elevator lift is slowly lifting a gerbil about 6 inches of the surface of whatever they are on. Wait untill they are fully in your hand then slowly lift them too a height of 6 inches before letting them get of. Slowly increase this height until you are near to the top of your tank.
. Once your gerbils are comfortable with you lifts its time to propley lift them out the tank , keep them close to a surface ( eg your bed , a sofa , a play pen etc ) once there fully on your hand cup your other hand over their lower body , grip it so its not to tight but you have control over the gerbil. Once you are at your ' desired ' destination ( your place of handling eg the sofa ) then over lap hand and slowly let your gerbils explore ! Make sure you have some houses and toys out on the sofa to keep them occupied. They will often come over to you climb up you before running of to carry on playing. Gerbils wont cuddle with you , they're a ' its go play ' kind of pet so they dont hang around for long !If your gerbils fails with one step , then take a step back ! your negotiating on your gerbils terms so respect what they want to do.Happy Taming and youll be best freinds with your gerbils in no time !
Top 10 Gerbil Tips
1 - Remember that gerbils come from a sandy environment , a chinchilla sand bath should be provided once or twice a week to keep their coats shiny and clean. Chinchilla dust should not be used as it can cause breathing problems.
2 - Gerbils are very sociable creatures , they should always be bought in pairs. Females normally do best in pairs and males normally do best in groups of 2-6. Females seem to have dominance problems in groups of 3 or over.
3 - Gerbils will love to have at least one hour free range time a couple of times a week. Seal of any small gaps and cover all cables , gerbils are master chewers ! Also remove any plastic items that could be chewed on. Give them plenty of toys and activity's to do when out of cage to avoid them getting bored.
4 -NEVER Pick a gerbil up by its tail. It will deglove and can cause your gerbil serious damage and pain.
5 - Give gerbils some hay - they love it ! Chewing it and making nests with it ! Freeze all hay for 24 hours to kill of all the mites that may be in their.
6 - Try to find a glass water bottle , this will stop your gerbil from chewing harmful plastic.
7 - Be creative ! Any cardboard or wooden toys ( untreated ) can be made into a gerbil toy !
8 - Use the bath tub as a play ground, you can sit in it and interact with the gerbils !
9 - Look in £ shops. They often have cheap items like toilet roll for your gerbils to have fun with !
10- Ask freinds and family to collect cardboard for you , gerbils can never have to much of the stuff !
I Hope this long guide has helped you , i would very much appreciate it if you could leave me a rating.
If you would like to visit my website you can find it at http://curiougerbils.weebly.com/ it has more detail on gerbils , has lots of pictures and a DIY section.
Thank you , and happy gerbil owning.
One of the most important things to know when deciding on a gerbil as your pet is this- just because they are a relatively cheap animal to buy does not mean their vet bills will be! If you are not prepared to take your pet to the vet because "it's cheaper to just buy a new one if it dies", especially if the pet belongs to a child, then do not bother. Of the five I've kept three of them required vet visits, two of them extensively. Their lifespans are quite short, around 2-3 years, but they are lovely animals to care for. I was fortunate to have one of mine for 4 1/2 years before he eventually sucuumbed to his second stroke!
Gerbils are not a suitable pet for a young child. If frightened or defensive they will not hesitate to bite. Older children or teenagers may find a lot of joy comes from keeping a gerbil however. They are low maintenence, requiring cleaning out every week or two, and fresh food and water every day. Other than that, they are fun because you just need to interact with them!
Gerbils are best kept in pairs. They are very social animals, and if you do have just one you must be sure to give it lots of love and attention. They are best kept as either two males or two females. Any more than that can be risky, and they may fight (especially females). A male and a female will, obviously, breed a lot! A male and more than one female or vice versa can also be risky.
If you are looking for a low maintenence pet that still brings you joy, look no further than a gerbil.
Having owned and bred gerbils over the years, I highly recommend them as my pet of choice. Lively, intelligent, and (relatively) easy to keep, they will repay any investment you make. From my own experience, I would recommend keeping them in a large glass tank rather than a cage or Rotastak. This is partly for safety: a tank is more stable and can't be knocked over, while the spaces between the bars of a cage may allow a cat etc to get their paw inside. Additionally, as gerbils gnaw, if they are kept behind bars they will constantly gnaw at them and wear away the fur of their skin. Furthermore, depending on the floor covering you use inside the tank, i.e wood shavings, peat etc, the gerbils may be able to express their natural behaviour and burrow. Material for bedding should also be provided (make sure it is non-scented or it can irritate their eyes)
A good all round dry mix from the pet shop will keep your gerbils in good health, topped up with a small amount of fresh fruit and veg (always check to make sure nothing would be harmful). You may also find that your gerbils enjoy live food (crickets and mealworms). This would form a large part of their diet in the wild, but domesticated gerbils are not always keen (I had one who used to run and hide at the sight of a mealworm!). Give it a try and see what they make of it. Fresh water should also, always, always, be available.
Your gerbils should be kept at a good room temperature (neither too hot or cold). One thing to watch with a glass tank is that it doesn't get too hot in the summer. Most importantly, as intelligent and inquisitive rodents, they should be provided with lots of things to play with - these don't have to be expensive - apple or other fruit tree branches provide opportunities to explore and also wear down their ever growing teeth. Cardboard boxes and toilet tubes are also always appreciated. It is most important that solid objects, such as branches or pieces of (untreated) wood are provided as, if the teeth are not worn down, they may start to irritate the mouth of the animal and eventually restrict its eating.
Gerbils are social and should always be kept in pairs. That said, males and females, unless one or other is treated, will breed, and prolifically. Two females will probably get along, but new introductions should be made with great caution. Two males will almost never co-habit comfortably unless they are litter mates, and sometimes not even then.
If you are considering breeding, the most important consideration is where the babies will go to when ready to leave their mum i.e a reputable pet shop, individual homes etc. You should always be prepared to check that your baby gerbils will be well looked after, and you should also provide information on care ,and follow up support if necessary. If in doubt, do not keep a male and female together. If you do decide to go ahead, check with reputable sources regarding supplements for the mother during pregnancy. You will also have to decide whether or not to leave the father in with the family after the birth. I always did, and found both parents worked admirably well as a team as long as they were not disturbed in the first few days after birth.
*This review also appears on Ciao, where I am tallulahbang*
The world of small animal care is not one that I am usually wont to write about, but I'll confess that I am slightly bored at work as one of my kids hasn't turned up. What I should be doing is either completing my mileage forms or making resources for a later date (mileage forms, though, are one of the most yawnsome tasks known to man and I'm really not as good at mental arithmetic as I should be, meaning the form I submitted last month had me travelling 2,210,000 miles in 22 days. It's been suggested that I lie low for a while before submitting another mileage form or risk incurring the wrath of a man called Nigel. And, well, it never does to rile accountants, does it? They're vicious beasties when provoked. I could make resources, but I'd only have to bugger about with felt tip pens, Pritt Stick and glitter. And I'd probably have to summon up some enthusiasm, also, which is asking a bit much of a primary school special needs teacher, I think). I could, I suppose, revert to the time honoured skiving device of playing Countdown on my phone but Carol Vorderman is every bit as irksome in the miniature digitalised format as she is on television. Review writing it is, then.
So, gerbils. A bit of a departure from my usual reviews, but what the hell? Just because it's been twenty years since I last owned any doesn't mean I'm not uniquely qualified to write up my experiences in a vaguely entertaining way.
They're about the same size as your average fieldmouse and mostly come in the same colour - brown with black trim (there is, no doubt, a breed standard colour descriptor for this. When you start researching breed standards in gerbils, though, you kind of have to bid farewell to normal society and resign yourself to a life of shuffling down the street, singing to yourself and eating out of bins). You can also get Albino ones, which are quite pretty, I suppose, if you have a red and white colour-scheme and need your pet to match that. No doubt there's a range of other colour versions available but visiting a gerbil website might blow my carefully constructed 'I'm doing real work on the laptop' cover. Their tails are about the same length as their body and are covered in short fur. It's not that sparse, stubbly hair that rats have which really freaks some people out, so no need to worry on that account. Quite cute, all in all, if you're a fan of little rodent-type animals. If the very thought of mice scares the bejeesus out of you, though, these really aren't the pet for you as they are broadly similar in appearance.
Gerbils are active wee beasties, so a medium-sized cage (with no greater than a 1cm gap between the bars) with a couple of levels, and ladders or similar for them to climb are essential. Large houses consisting of interlocking plastic tubes and rooms can be bought in larger pet shops. These look really cool and I kind of wish my house was built on the same principles, but they can be quite tricky to keep clean and can make catching the gerbil difficult. Gerbils can also be kept in empty aquarium tanks which means the bedding can be piled deeper, giving them the opportunity to dig and burrow. That sounds like it'd be all interesting to watch, in the manner of a David Attenborough documentary, but the reality is that unless you're prepared to supply them with a mixture of sand and earth similar to their natural habitat, gerbils won't be arsed to burrow and will instead look at the sawdust you've thoughtfully given them with the sorrowful expression of cowboy builders who are only too happy to blame their materials for the utterly lamentable job they've just done on your conservatory. Your gerbil's home should be located somewhere quiet and cool (particularly if you're using an aquarium tank) and out of draughts. It's also best kept out of the way of Irish mothers with Hoovers as my mine once happened to rest the Hoover hose against the cage while she went off to turn the oven on, which resulted in Alfred Burnt the Cakes the Gerbil getting sucked to and pinioned against the side of the cage until her return. Slightly softer material is necessary for them to make a bed in. It's entirely possible that the gerbils I had had grown used to never having the finer things in life, but they always favoured long strips of newspaper to shop-bought bedding material.
Like all small, caged, animals gerbils will need to be cleaned out regularly. Partly because it'd be cruel not to but mainly because they smell horrendous if you don't. The best way to do this is to catch the gerbil (see the section on handling. Honestly, I'm surprising myself with how thorough I'm being. I hope you appreciate this) and put it in a cardboard travelling box. Put on rubber gloves (unless you actually like the idea of having gerbil wee and poo on your hands. If so, probably best you sit quietly and think about what you've just owned up to) scoop all the old sawdust and bedding material out and bin it. Wash the inside of the cage/tank with a mild soap solution and rinse thoroughly. Wash any toys, food bowls, water bottles etc that have been inside the cage and also rinse. When everything's dry put in a fresh layer of sawdust (about 3 inches is ample) give fresh food and water and put your gerbil back in and watch them go a bit nuts as they run around trying to make everything just like it was before you stuck your hand in their house and messed up their cosy domestic arrangements. I always used to like this part, as it's a bit like playing God, if you were a bit of a rubbish god who only had control over gerbils.
--NB. If you are pregnant, asthmatic or prone to eczema, probably best to get someone else to clean the gerbils out for you, as sawdust will aggravate the latter two conditions and the wee and poo probably won't do the first condition any favours.--
Gerbils are pretty cheap to feed and they'll quite happily munch away on a bag of gerbil mix that can be bought in any pet shop. If you really want to spoil your gerbil, though (what an odd notion that is, 'spoiling' a gerbil), give them some fresh chopped up fruit and veg. Pretty much anything goes (although too much citrus fruit may cause diarrhoea), and whatever hasn't been scoffed in an hour or so hasn't passed muster. Your little gerbilly friend will need fresh food and water every day. Any food that hasn't been eaten by the end of the day should be thrown out as it can make the gerbil sick. A small earthenware dish is suitable for food and a bottle that clips on to the cage is best for water.
Gerbils are inquisitive and high-energy, so you need to provide them with plenty to do or they'll go quietly insane, turn evil and start plotting to take over the world. The best bet here is to buy either a free-standing exercise wheel or one that clips to the inside of the gage. Solid plastic ones, rather than wire, are best as there is a risk of the gerbil trapping a paw inside the wire ones and somersaulting haplessly through the air sans foot to land in a bloody heap on the far side of the cage (that sounds horrendous, but if it happened in gymnastics it'd certainly make the Olympics more watchable). A range of toys and plastic tunnels can be bought from pet shops for the gerbils to explore, but old u-bend pipes are a cheaper (if slightly pikey option) alternative; they just need to be thoroughly washed and doused in sterilising fluid before being given to the gerbils.
Little clear plastic exercise balls are also available which allow the gerbil to run over greater distances outside their cage/tank (that's the theory, anyway. What actually happens is that they run for about half a metre and then spend twenty minutes smacking repeatedly into the same chair leg, which is oddly amusing in its own way). These should have small air vents and slot together snugly enough to withstand minor impacts; if not they may spring open and allow the gerbil to escape into the wide blue yonder of your home. Unsurprisingly, this happened to us. As a family, we weren't very particular about hoovering so Ethelred the Unready the Gerbil survived quite happily off crumbs for a week or so until I caught him. By that stage, though, he had gone pretty much completely feral and was in the process of building a log cabin compound underneath the fridge, stocking up on ammunition and fresh water and wearing t-shirts proclaiming 'Live Free or Die!' (alright, I made that last bit up. You could tell that's what it would have been doing if it had opposable thumbs, though)
If you get your gerbil from a good pet shop they should live for 2 to 3 years. Get them from somewhere where they are bred intensively and life expectancy could be considerably shorter. Basically, they live *exactly* the right length of time for your child to become really, really attached to them and then they die, to be found cold and frozen in position the next morning by a previously happy and anguish-free eight year old who will always remember this as their first introduction to the harsh and unforgiving master that is death (unless they've had a grandparent die, or something. In that case, that'll probably be the bigger trauma).
In evolutionary terms, gerbils really didn't get lucky. They're exactly the right size for most larger predatory animals to regard them as a tasty hors d'oeuvre and their method of defence when frightened is to drum their feet repeatedly and then freeze exactly where they were when the thing that scared them spotted them, making them the takeaway option of the prey world. For the ones that are pets, though, the greater concern is that their teeth never stop growing; a bit like that buck-toothed kid that everyone remembers from primary school, if that buck-toothed kid were on a diet of pure calcium and steroids. Anyway, if left unchecked gerbils' teeth will eventually grow so long that they cut into their lower jaw and prevent them from eating and drinking. Therefore, they need material to gnaw upon. Cardboard toilet roll and kitchen roll tubes are ideal as are balsa wood shapes that can be bought in pet shops. Beyond this, there are a number of ailments that can affect gerbils, but most are caused by poor cage hygiene, inappropriate diet or allowing the animal to become too hot or too cold. Most small animal vets will be happy to see your animal if it becomes sick and will prescribe effective medication, but, realistically, anything of a more serious nature is going to result in it being put down. Gerbils are so weeny that major surgery is impractical as well as faintly laughable. Be wary if your vet does offer to operate as I once worked for a vet who would do just that, take the money for the operation and then drown the animal and claim the operation had just been too much for the animal's system to take.
As a rule, gerbils are less aggressive than hamsters and generally will not nip unless frightened or unaccustomed to being handled. When you first get your young gerbil it's a sound idea to let them become used to your hand as this will make it much easier to handle them and catch them. It is much, much harder to get them comfortable with being handled when they are fully mature (after 10 weeks). Initially, place your hand in the cage for 5 or so minutes at a time and allow the gerbils to scamper over you. To catch them either close cupped hands around them and lift them, or gently but firmly grasp the base of their tail between forefinger and thumb and place them either in your hand or in a carrying box. Always catch them by the base of the tail, rather than the tip as this can cause the gerbil injury and/or allow them to turn and bite. Once in your hand they can be stroked gently (with younger children it's best to supervise this closely, unless you're training up a latter day Lennie). As the gerbils become more familiar with being caught and handled you can allow them to scamper across your arms and shoulders, always making sure they can't fall or escape.
They're never going to be as interesting as cats or dogs, but gerbils are quite engaging, in their own way. They are diurnal, unlike hamsters and so can be kept in a child's bedroom. They are bright, lively and curious and do eventually come to recognise their owners.
As Harry Nilsson once sang, one is indeed the loneliest number and gerbils kept on their own will be miserable. Generally, they're quite happy in same sex groups and will play, chase each other and sleep cuddled up in a big heap. A larger colony will be more interesting to watch, as long as common sense prevails: a few to a medium/large sized cage is plenty. Try to cram twenty in there and you'll end up with the rodent version of Rumble in the Jungle), Occasionally two individuals will take an instant dislike to each other and fight in which case they have to be separated as it is unlikely they will ever get on. Males and females can be kept together but be aware that they will breed prolifically and have the morals of a Tennessee resident when it comes to abstaining from carnal knowledge of their own family members.
If you do decide to breed gerbils it is wise to keep a very close eye on them and remove the babies as soon as they are weaned (at about 5 or 6 weeks). The first gerbil I ever bred (Rufus the Red the Gerbil. Yes, technically it's a male name but I had a theme going) had latent psychotic tendencies anyway, but motherhood seemed to accelerate them resulting in me coming home from school one day to find a suspiciously empty cage, a pile of bloody skeletons and a very fat mommy gerbil slumped in the corner, rubbing her tummy and belching. This was a bit of an aberration, though, and as long as the mother has plenty of room in her cage and you aren't handling the babies too often infanticide should be reasonably rare.
My brother also had gerbils, which he elected to keep in an aquarium tank covered with a sheet of plastic with holes drilled in it for ventilation. History does not record whether it was the thought of sharing a room with my brother, or an inherent tendency to depression that tipped them over the edge, but his ones possessed a dogged determination to end it all not seen since Sylvia Plath. To that end they began to launch themselves repeatedly, head first, at the aquarium cover, resulting in a long-lasting series of dull thuds until eventually their suicide bids succeeded. One slightly smaller gerbil couldn't quite jump high enough to wallop the cover and was found a day or so after her compadres had departed the mortal coil, slumped in her water bowl, seemingly having drowned herself. To be honest, I'm not sure whether that little anecdote tells you more about gerbils or my brother. Rest assured, though, that apart from that maverick cannibalistic one mine were all fine and showed no self-destructive tendencies.
Good grief, who knew it was possible to write this much about gerbils? Or that I'd manage to reference Harry Nilsson, King Ethelred the Unready and Sylvia Plath while doing it? On this occasion, I think I've surpassed myself. Normal services will resume shortly. Probably.
To most people, gerbils are a really cute pet, with their long tails, oversized feet and inquistive faces. But still many prefer hamsters. Having had both, are gerbils a good pet and are they better than hamsters?
The positives with gerbils are numerous. They are really interesting and fun to watch, as they run around their cages and create intricate burrows. Buy a glass tank cage with large amounts of sawdust to create the best gerbil home. They're great entertainment and are up in daytime more than hamsters.
However, in my experience, gerbils are a real pain to handle. Overly fidgety and really quick, they are awkard to hold and difficult to catch. Maybe with a lot of effort this may not be the case, but to the casual gerbil tamer this isn't easy. Hamsters are generally easy to handle, and my dwarf hamsters love a cuddle or two every few hours.
Apart from this, the two differ very rarely. Gerbils may use a little more bedding, but food, water and cleaning needs are the same.
So I would recommend both pets, but gerbils as a pet to more respectfully observe and hamsters as more of "hands on" pet.
Perenially sat in the hamsters shadow, the gerbil is often overlooked as a pet. However, they are brilliant little creatures, that in my opinion, are better pets than their larger counterparts.
Smaller and more agile than hamsters, they have two large back feet, and two hand like front feet. They are cheap to keep, needing a small amount of food and water every day, and only need changing every month or so.
They are very receptive to handling, and as long as you handle them regularly, they will behave just like hamsters, inquisitive, but knowing their limits. They will not bite if well cared for.They are so good thato once one of them got out of their tank and after a search of the room was found back in it's tank.
Mine lived for about 3 years, which I belive is around the average.
Lovely animals to keep as pets, and most imortantly, they are not nnocturnal (well they are on 2 or so hour cycles), which means that you don't have to wake them up in the day if you want to play with them
If your child is pestering you for a pet, I would recommend gerbils.
These are sociable, inquisitive cheeky and comical little creatures. Its best to get two of the same sex together to stop them from being lonely. Get two from the same litter so they do not fight and always get them at the same time if you get one and then go back and get another the first one will be cage territorial and may fight to the death with the newcomer.
You can usually buy them from pet shops and they are about £7-8 each. Make sure you have a cage with several levels on so they can get plenty of exercise in there also try and avoid cages with lots of plastic items i.e. steps and ladders as they will chew these to pieces in no time.
Unlike hamsters which are only active at night gerbils are on the go constantly in short bursts of activity so can be kept in bedrooms (hamsters would keep you awake all night!).
Get an exercise ball as they love rolling around in there - I put mine in there when I clean them out they take turns deciding which direction to go.
They need clean warm bedding and pre-prepared food which is available at most supermarkets and pet shops and fresh water every day. They also love empty toilet roll cores to chew and keep their teeth in trim. Gerbils teeth are constantly growing so you need something else like a mineral block for them to gnaw on.
Clean the cage every week they are basically quite clean animals and tend to do their business in corners of the cage away from food and bed areas but they may pong a bit after a week. Newspaper can be used to line the cage bottom so soak up any moisture. You can use shredded paper for their bedding but I use special bedding from pet shops which is basically shredded tissue or you can shred kitchen roll and it has the same effect.
They need hardly any looking after just a bit of attention now and then and if there are two of them they usually keep each other entertained having little mini boxing or wrestling matches which are really funny to watch!
They also like to cuddle up together at night which is cute.
They always keep me amused with their antics they are really nosey and will always come out when you are about to see what's happening. You can give them treats like sunflower seeds and they will usually come onto your hand to get them. Not too many sunflower seeds though as they will get too fat. They love lettuce and other veg but again not too much of these or they get a runny bum!
Overall gerbils are the most entertaining small animal and are easy to take care of the only down-side being they live for a maximum of 5-6 years and you may just get too attached to the little critter.
----------------WHAT EXACTLY ARE GERBILS?-------------
Gerbils are in fact classified as desert rats, they are originally from Mongolia and in the wild, live in tunnels and chambers under the ground with their family. They look similar to hamsters but have much longer tails, which helps them steady themselves when they are crawling around and standing on their hind legs. However unlike hamsters, they aren't 'nocturnal' and instead tend to sleep for a few hours, active for a couple of hours, sleep for a few hours, active for a couple of hours...and so on...
There are over 20 different colours of gerbil coat as can be seen on the website below:
I personally have a black one and a kind of goldeny brown (known as Golden Agouti) which I think are both really cute, but of course the other colours are too- the great thing about the different coloured coats also is that if you have children, they can choose their own gerbil and tell them apart from each other easily.
----------GERBILS AS PETS--------
In my opinion, gerbils are one of the best pets you can get- especially for children.
This is because they are very low maintenance and therefore fairly low cost and although it sounds very harsh, they only live for about 3-4 years maximum so are not a long term commitment!
Because they are in fact desert rats, they have actually adapted their kidneys as a species so that they produce the least amount of waste possible (in layman's terms- they don't pee a lot!) which is great because it means that you do not have to clean their tank out loads- as long as you replace the old or dirty sawdust from the top of the cage, you shouldn't have to completely clean the tank more than once a fortnight.
Gerbils are very entertaining and interesting to watch, they burrow and build tunnels through their bedding which you can see through a glass cage and they like to chew and shred bits of cardboard and things like that- (think of it as a second purpose investment as a paper shredder for important documents!!) They are also naturally inquisitive, and once they are settled in, they will happily be picked up and handled by children which is also a great benefit!
----------LOOKING AFTER YOUR GERBILS-----------
Admittedly, it is very easy to spend a small fortune on equipment for your gerbil, but personally I think that you could also easily save quite a bit and get a bit of bargain!
Firstly you obviously need a tank/cage for your gerbil, this is the main bit of expense as you really shouldn't (even though some pet assistants may tell you you can) buy a hamster style cage with plastic parts or thin metal bars. This is because of the nature of gerbils! They simply LOVE to chew and if you are not careful, they will quickly chew out of their housing and they are pretty hard to find again once they have got out! So you really need a sturdy, preferably glass tank- in some pet shops you can find yourself paying up to £80 for such an item.
However, in my case, I managed to buy an old, fairly large, fish tank from my local recycling centre and my dad just made sure that there was no gaps or places that a gerbil could climb out and it cost me less than £10! You could also look around at boot sales as my friend managed to get a second hand 'gerbilarium' as they are known for £15 which had hardly been used, so keep your eye out for these bargains!
You then fill your gerbil tank about 3/4 full with sawdust, shredded paper (not newspaper as the ink of the pages can be harmful for the gerbils if they chew/digest it) and other gerbil bedding which can be purchased from any good pet shop. The gerbils will then create their own environment by burrowing and creating areas for sleeping/eating etc.
A bowl will need to be provided for food and either a water dispenser style feeding point or another bowl needs to be provided for their water- although I have heard stories of gerbils that have managed to drown in the water bowl so personally I prefer the idea of the water dispenser. It is important that gerbils are given proper gerbil food rather than just hamster food or something similar because they are actually quite different animals and need different things in their diet.
As far as other amenities such as toys go, you really really don't need to buy lots of expensive and specialised gerbil toys. In my gerbil tank, I have a wooden house that I did buy from a pet shop, but I also have several cardboard loo/kitchen roll tubes which they love to wriggle through, I also have a couple of large stones so they can wear their claws down a little and a brick tube that I found in my garden!
-----------------BUYING YOUR GERBILS-----------------------
Make sure that you check your gerbils out properly when you buy them, and make sure that you are getting them from a respectable seller who has raised them well.
You should check that they are alert and able to move around easily, make sure that their coat is glossy and healthy and just quickly check that they do not have any obvious problems which are visible such as discharge from the ears or nose, or weeping from the eyes.
Also, as gerbils are very social animals- it is pretty much essential that you buy them in at least pairs, or you may prefer to buy three or more. Also, it is important that they are from the same litter and have been living in the same tank because gerbils can often fight if they do not recognise each other's smell or think they are from a different litter. If you do get gerbils from different sources or litters, you will need to keep them in separate cages- my friend found this out when she mixed two gerbils from seperate litters and they fought so badly that one of them was actually killed from their injuries which is very upsetting :(
------------------ SUMMARY -------------------
So basically, gerbils are great pets and they will bring endless enjoyment and fun to those that look after them. The only disadvantages I can see of having these pets is that it is easy to spend far too much on the tank and other equipment and when you first get them they may be quite jumpy and take a while to get use to you- so handling regularly is essential!
WHAT IS A GERBIL?
Im sorry if you think this is stating the obvious but i was recently very suprised at the amount of people who do not know what a gerbil actually is. Gerbils are members of the rodent family, they resemble a mouse although they are slightly larger in size. Most full grown gerbils will be around 4 inches in body length and then their long smooth tail can be up to the same length again.
I started off with four gerbils but they bred and i ended up with 14! They are great little pets though, great fun to watch then dig and play, they are also generally friendly which makes them a good pet for children. Gerbils love to play so creating little assault courses for them is always fun and allowing them access to an old fishtank full of peat is facinating as you can watch them dig their tunnels and running through them (warning - this can be a bit messy though!)
HOW TO CARE FOR GERBILS
Although they need the obvious care and attention gerbils are not too difficult to look after but they do need regular cleaning out the same as any pet.
Gerbils can get very lonely and depressed if on their own so you should always get at least two and let them live together. Gerbils can be kept in a hamster style cage although this doesnt allow them too dig and can often result in a lot of mess around the cage! The best environment for a gerbil is somewhere they can dig so a large glass tank is ideal although you will need to make a suitable lid as gerbils are little escape artists!! (my own escaped on several occasions to explore the house and eat the sleeves of my parents record collection as well as the contents of the fruit bowl!!!).
Gerbils need feeding daily (you can buy gerbil food from every pet shop) and given fresh water daily. The size of the cage and the number of gerbils living in it will determine how often they will need cleaning out but they should be done at least once a week to keep them clean and healthy.
If you want to breed gerbils you should think long and hard about it first. gerbils breed very quickly and will have a lot of babies so unless you have enough tanks or cages to keep them in or people that want them then its best to be very careful about keeping the males and females apart. Initially we put the two tanks next to each other so that the male gerbils could see the female gerbils and interact with them through the glass. This worked well but on one of th males organised escapes they ventured into the females tank and well you can guess what happened!
SUITABILITY FOR CHILDREN
Gerbils are great to watch and if you carefully handle them daily they will become quite friendly. As with all pets, children under the age of 13 should not be expected to be the sole carer of their gerbils as the initial enthusiasm for feeding, cleaning and playing with the gerbils will soon fade and many children of that age are not capable of that kind of responsibility. Although if there are children in the house they could really enjoy creating little obsticle courses for the gerbils etc.
The only real problem i had with my gerbils was that they kept breeding as it is hard to separate males from females successfully! Other than that we really enjoyed the company of our little pets as they were very active and facinating to watch.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
It is also important to consider what you would do with your gerbils if you went on holiday as you need to make sure there is someone that is willing and capable of caring for your gerbils properly while you are away.
As with any pets you should only consider getting gerbils if you have the time and motivation to care for them. Although you can get them used to being handled they are a pet which it is more enjoyable just to sit and watch them on their little adventures. So if you have read this and feel like gerbils would really appeal to you then yes i would definately recommend them.
Gerbils are wonderful pets - if you like rodents!
They are generally very friendly and easy to tame; if you spend a little time with them every day letting them come to your hand and having a sniff, they will soon be sitting in your hand if not running up your arm and onto your shoulder!
Gerbils are much less bitey than hamsters, and less smelly than rats. They are not nocturnal so they provide entertainment during the day and don't make too much noise at night!
Pet gerbils are best kept in tanks (or gerbilariums) where you can fill them with a deep layer of sawdust that they can dig tunnels into. Anything plastic will soon be chewed through, and anything wire will also be chewed and can then cause injury to their mouths.
Gerbils are very social and prefer to live in pairs or groups. I had groups of 6-8 siblings per tank and they were able to groom each other and sleep together. Boys can live together and don't fight any more than girls together.
They are fast breeders, and although the dads are attentive fathers and take their turn babysitting the nest while mum has a break for food, they will also mate immediately after birth so will need to be separated for a day or two initially. (Some vets will castrate gerbils so parents can live as a pair, but not every vet would be willing!)
Most of all gerbils love to chew, and should always have something suitable to gnaw - loo roll middles are ideal, but any cardboard will do (and reduces waste!).
They run fast, and they can shed their tails if picked up by anywhere except the very base of the tail, so not brilliant for very young children, but lovely pets for 7+ children and adults!
To be honest I have never really been interested in gerbils. Never really knew what they were to be honest, that was until i got married to an animal obsessed man!! :-p
We bought two gerbils last year, Gary and Jerry, a little white one and a grey one. They were already adults when we bought them so I'm afraid I can't comment on them as babies.
We first bought them a hamster cage which the pet shop actually recommended, it was a cage with tubes and was made completely of plasic with lots of corners etc, and within a week, they had chewed through most of it and we had to get them a new cage!!!!
They will literally chew through a piece of plastic within an hour, so you really have to get them an aquarium type tank rather than a cage, and a metal bowl for their food. They also love to dig, so you need to put alot of sawdust in their cage which needs to be deep enough for them to dig little tunnels.
A great cage which we have got the gerbils (though expensive) is the Gerbilarium, which is £50 from pets at home, its specifically made for Gerbils, and has a tank bottom with a specially adapted tunnel and them a cage top with climbing platforms. all made of metal. Although expensive it is a great cage, big enough for two gerbils, maybe 3 or 4 depending on their size.
Now one thing I will say is DO NOT PICK THEM UP BY THEIR TAIL, we were told again by the pet shop, that they could be picked up by the tail if they wouldn't come to you, but, when we got them home, one scarpered from my husbands hand and he grabbed its tail, but was left with a furry piece in his hand where the skin and the fur had come off the end of his tail!
He now has a half tail (nicknamed gary half tail!!!) it didn't hurt him and he wasn't damaged apart from having a half tail, its a natural instinct in the wild incase a bird of prey grabs them by the tail as with animals like Gecko's and Degu's. Spo if you're told its safe, don't listen!!!!!!!!
All in all, the gerbils are a great pet, they're quiet, they don't eat or drink that much at all, they don't smell and don't need cleaning out much at all.
The only thing is they do make a mess whilst digging, they throw their sawdust everywhere!!!!
But all in all, they're a great little pet, best kept in pairs, with a sibling who they were born with and who they've grown up with, never put a new one in the cage with the old ones!!! They'll tear it to shreds!!
Ok, so someone convinced me it was a good idea to get these critters when I was 15 and I still have them! So I thought i'd tell you how I came about having 3 of them.
I'd set my eyes on two of them, a grey one and a brown one. I'd been watching them for days. So after getting all the equipment ready we went to buy them. It all went well and we put them in the cage. Later that afternoon we realised something was wrong with the grey one's leg - he had a club foot. After phoning Pets and Home and talking about the options they told us to bring him back and they'd swap him for another one. So we did, they assured us he wouldn't be put down. So we returned with a white gerbil. That afternoon my Dad started making remarks about the 'disabled' gerbil that we'd 'abandoned'. He started calling him Tim after that character Tiny Tim with the bad leg. He made us feel so guilty that we phoned pets at home again and asked if we could have him back, they agreed and let us have him for free.
I now have 3 gerbils living in a cage with disabled access :D
<< What Are Gerbils? >>
Gerbils are members of the rodent family, originating in Mongolia, and some parts of China. They are also known as Desert Rats, and are one of the most popular pets with children as they are fun to look after and rarely bite, unless frightened. Compared to hamsters, gerbils in my opinion are little angels!
They grow to around 15cm in length, with their tail usually around two thirds as long as the body. They come in many colours, sandy, grey, black, white, brown, and many a mixture of all the colours! They are desert animals, therefor don't drink alot of water, and don't urinate alot so they are not smelly animals at all. They are very clean little creatures who groom themselves, and each other many times a day. My 3 Gerbils used to sit in a line grooming each other, and was quite comical to watch. They are intelligent too, and it is possible to train them to come to you on command, or learn their own names. They usually live anything from 2 to 4 years. I'm quite proud of the fact that 2 of my 3 lived for 6 years so I must of done something right! Many people mistake gerbils for rats and don't know the difference, but they are different in so many ways.
<< Get The Equipment First >>
It is easier to get the cage/tank and all the equipment you need before you go and buy any gerbils. Most gerbils from pet shops, and rescues are given to you in a cardboard box of some kind with air holes in. Gerbils gnaw on everything and I gaurentee they will have chewed the box and be out within an hour! This is the reason for getting everything ready beforehand. Being in a small confined box also stresses the animal, so you want to make it as stress free as possible and the less time they are in there the better. For everything, expect to pay around £150. After the initial spend, keeping them is fairly cheap.
~ Choosing a cage ~
Gerbils can live in Hamster cages, provided they are big hamster cages. One thing to look out for is the plastic hamster cages as Gerbils will chew these and possibly escape, so cages such as Rotastack are not recommended, nor are cages with bars on the floor, as this can make their feet deformed, not grow properly and can cause some nasty injuries.
The best type of habitat for a gerbil is a tank. You can use a fish tank, and make a suitable lid yourself (wood and chicken wire do the job nicely), but you must make sure there is plenty of air space and that the lid is secure. Gerbils can jump so not having a lid is not an option. You can buy ready made "Gerbilariums" from most pet shops, Pets At Home do a good one for around £50. I had one of these, and it lasted me for 6 years, and only got thrown away after my gerbils had died of old age. Tanks are better for them as they love to burrow. You can fill the tank around a third full of woodshavings and watch them make their own tunnels, burrows, nests, and food treasure caves! This is as close to what they would do in the wild as you can get.
Be careful where you put your tank too, gerbils don't like the cold, so no draughty places, and certainly not on top of the fridge/freezer! Gerbils also don't like blazing heat, and can sometimes have a fit if they get too warm. They are desert animals, so can naturally cope with heat, but in the wild they would burrow underground away from the blazing sun, where it is naturally cooler. In a cage or tank they cannot do this. I used to have my gerbil tank just to the left of a window, which caught some sun, but not a great deal, and no matter what time of day it was half of the tank would always be in the shade.
~ What Else Will You Need? ~
A Water bottle - you can buy bottles that hang from the mesh on the roof of a tank as opposed to having a water bowl. Gerbils tend to be clumsy animals and will only knock it over. They also tend to bury anything of their own, so will just fill the water bowl with wood shavings or bedding anyway. Gerbils dont drink a great deal of water, but they do need fresh water changing daily.
A Food bowl - Preferably a pottery one, as a plastic one will get chewed into bits before you know it. They pottery ones are also heavier and so less chance of them getting knocked over.
Woodshavings - For a tank, fill the wood shavings about 1/3 full to give the gerbils chance to burrow.
Bedding - You can use bed bedding from pet shops, cheaper to use in shredded paper, provided the ink on the paper is animal friendly. They will chew the bedding and carry it in their mouths and could get ink poisoning. I just used plain paper and shredded that only. Gerbils will hardly ever settle for where you put their bedding. They will make their own and carry it to where they want their bed to be, they are choosy little creatures!
Toys and chews - Gerbils naturally chew everything and anything. Their front teeth never stop growing all throughout their lives so if they dont "file" them down on something they become overgrown, leading to them being unable to eat and prone to nasty oral infections. Strong wooden chews are available from all pet shops, and generally last a long time. My gerbils used to go crazy when I put a new chew toy in for them, jumping around like crazy for about 5 minutes in excitement! You can also use, as an extra, the cardboard tubes from empty toilet rolls, and kitchen rolls. They love running through the tubes and chewing them of course. My gerbils used to drag the tubes underground to their tunnels to reinforce them! You can also buy healthy vegetable chews for them to gnaw on which not only does good for their teeth, it is an essential part of their diet. Mineral stones are also a great one to have as these last for a long time. Try and find a wide variety of things to keep your little ones amused. Never use a hamster wheel in a gerbil cage, you may think they are getting exercise, but chances are they will get their tail trapped, leading to a nasty injury.
Food - Gerbil food from pet shops is generally a mix of pellets, dried seeds, leaves and vegetables. This is great, but better supplemented with fresh vegetables and a tiny amount of hay once or twice a week. My gerbils loved a few slices of carrot, grapes, broccolli, and cauliflower. Gerbils also love sunflower seeds. It has been proven that gerbils can actually get addicted to them and will eat them untill they literally burst. The gerbil becomes obese as sunflower seeds are mainly just fat, which leads to heart and mobility problems. Sunflower seeds are okay, in moderation. I always avoided packets of gerbil foods with sunflower seeds in (they are equally available without, just check the back of the packet), as my gerbils would just pick all the sunflower seeds out and leave the rest. To moderate their diet and keep them healthy I only fed sunflower seeds as a treat once a week, and only around 4 seeds per gerbil.
Disinfectant - It is important to use an animal friendly disinfectant. Shaws do a good one which lasts a long time and is around £5 per bottle, but is well worth the money. It doesnt go off and mine lasted around 2 years. Never use bleach or washing up liquid, as these have harmful chemicals which can poison your pet.
Flea control - Gerbils are prone to fleas as much as any pet, and Bob Martin Spot On For Small Animals is great. It protects from all types of infestation such as fleas,mites,ticks and lice.
Pet Carrier - If the unfortunate happens and one of your gerbils has to go to the vet, you wouldn't want to leave the animal suffering while you scramble around for something to put it in to take it to the vets. A small animal pet carrier will only set you back around £8 and is also perfect for putting the gerbils in whilst you clean out the cage.
<< Time For The Gerbils <<
You have the tank set up and ready, all you need now is some residents! When picking your gerbils, it is best to get 2 or 3. They are social animals and live in large groups in the wild. They get very lonely and bored if kept alone and can end up chewing their own fur through boredem. When choosing, always choose them from the same cage (chances are they are siblings, or if not at least they are know one another and are compatible). If you chose for example 3 from different cages, chances are they will fight, and sometimes kill each other. Some pet shops advise people not to get a group of males to keep together, as they will also fight. I, however went against this, and got 3 males. They never fought and 2 of them lived untill the were 6 years old - very old for a gerbil, (the third one died of a tumour at around 3 years old). Whichever sex you get make sure they are all the same sex! Gerbils will breed and breed, each litter being 9 or 10 infants large, they are only pregnant for 24 days and will breed again straight away, so imagine how many gerbils you could end up with. Making sure they are the same sex is essential. I cant explain how to do this without diagrams im afraid but there are a few websites out there that can help. faq.gerbil.info has some information on this.
~ When you get your Gerbils home place in the cage and leave them in peace for around 24 hours to settle in to their new surroundings. They will be nervous and scared as they dont understand that you are their new family! This can be quite difficult if you have children, itching to play with them, but the kids would probably get bitten as the gerbils are frightened, which in turn, leads the kids to being frightened of the gerbils! So they are best left well alone for the first day.
~ Getting them used to you can be difficult. I found the easiest way to do this was to feed them treats by hand at first, and let them learn that I wasnt going to hurt them. I did this for around a week, and then picked one up and fed him his treat while holding him. This progressed each time for me holding the gerbil a little longer, and within about 6 weeks they were up at the tank wall itching to get out to play for a while. Because of this trust by none of my 3 gerbils had bitten me once in the 6 years I had them. The only key to this is patience.
When picking them up, never pick them up by the tail. A gerbil's natural instinct in the wild is to "tail drop". This means that if a predator catches them by the tail in the wild, they release their tail from their body, in other words the tail falls off, and run away. They are left with a wound but are still alive. The skin simply strips from the flesh and bone. IT IS NOT a nice experience to see this. I have seen this happen once, not to my gerbils, but to someone else's and it is horrific. Simply cup the gerbil, using both of your hands, and it is much easier and safer this way.
~ Picking names ~
Always the fun part and often the cause of many a argument. There are many name websites out there for pet names, simply type "pet names" into Google and you have an array of ideas.
~ Care and Maintenance ~
Your gerbils need fresh food and water each day, and when I did this, I would take each gerbil out of the cage in turn to do a
health check. You should always check an animal's health in a "top to toe" fashion, as you don't want to check their bottom, and then their mouth, not very hygenic! The healthcheck doesn't sound easy, I know, but when you do it for a few weeks each day, you will notice that each gerbil has it's own characteristics, which means it is easier for you to spot a problem if one does arise. Also it gets your gerbils used to being handled alot, making them friendly little animals! So in order:
1. Ears - Make sure there are no blockages, wetness, bad odours, or baldind of fur.
2. Eyes - Make sure they are clear, nothing in them, and are not weeping in any way.
3. Nose - Check for any blockages, mucous, sneezing or noisy breathing.
4. Mouth - Lift the top lip of the Gerbil up slightly so you can see the teeth. The top teeth should be symmetrical to the bottom teeth and shouldn't be too long or overgrown. If this is the case, then they need more to gnaw on. Check for any blood, or rotten teeth.
5. Body - Check for any lumps and bumps as gerbils are prone to tumours ( I lost one of my gerbils to a stomach tumour ), and it is a common problem with rodents. Check fur for any baldness, or scratches or cuts.
6. Feet - Check claws are not overgrown, generally this doesn't happen, mine never had their claws trimmed once. Check for any abnormalities.
7. Anus and tail - Check for any faeces stuck to the fur, this could indicate they are not getting enough fibre, add a little more hay into the tank and see if there is a difference in a couple of days. Check the tail for any broken skin, or broken tail bone.
Gerbils tanks need cleaning around once a week, taking the gerbils out first - into the pet carrier if you chose one of these! - and completely emptying the tank out of all bedding and shaving. Use the pet disinfectant to clean the tank, and make sure it is completely dry before replacing any woodshavings or bedding. Place the toys back in the tank, along with fresh food and water. When you put the gerbils back in it is fantastic to watch their reaction to this and they usually eat a little and get stuck in to making their new tunnels and nests.
There you have it - the basics of gerbil keeping! I hope this is useful to anyone thinking of getting a gerbil as a pet - highly recommended fun!