Gerbils are small friendly animals that make great first pets. They are fun to watch and don’t smell bad like some other rodents. One of the questions we get most often is from people wondering if a gerbil will bite. Unfortunately, the short answer is yes. Your gerbil can and will bite if provoked. However, it’s not very common. If you are thinking of getting a gerbil for your home but are concerned about the biting. The good news is, they rarely bite, but keep reading while we look at what makes a gerbil bite and how frequently it happens, so you can make an educated decision.
Do Gerbils Bite Humans?
Yes, many owners have reported that their gerbil bit them. However, it’s rare since biting is not the gerbil’s preferred defense. Gerbils are incredibly quick, so when they feel threatened, they will almost always run for cover. They avoid conflict and will leave a wide path for any other animals nearby. The only time the gerbil bites is if it feels threatened and cannot run. Usually, this happens with new owners when they are learning how to hold their new pet. It’s easy to hold it too tight, which will trigger its fight or flight instincts, and since it has nowhere to run to in your hand, it will bite.
Another reason your gerbil might bite you is that it’s sick. If you have owned your gerbil for quite a while and it suddenly bites you, it might be trying to tell you that it’s not feeling well. If your gerbil has an injured foot or leg, it might be in too much pain to leave the cage.
How Can I Avoid Getting Bit By My Gerbil?
Learn Your Gerbils Routine
Before you start handling your gerbil, we recommend taking some time to learn its routine. Every gerbil will have a time of day that it likes to be around people and a time it doesn’t. If your pet was startled awake, it’s much more likely to bite you. We recommend choosing times when they are most active. Luckily, most captive gerbils have the same sleep schedule as humans and are most active in the morning, a few minutes after they wake up, but they should be ready to play throughout the day.
One of the most common mistakes we see new owners make is that they move too quickly. Lifting off the lid and quickly grabbing your pet can scare it. We recommend taking the lid off a few minutes before you slowly reach into the cage to retrieve your pet. If you consistently take the lid off a short time before picking up your pet, it will help them understand the routine, and your pet will expect the hand, which will help it feel more at ease and much less likely to bite. If you notice your pet running from your hand, we recommend leaving it be for a few hours as it’s likely a sign your pet doesn’t want you to pick it up.
Don’t Restrict Its Movement
Almost everyone who picks up a gerbil for the first time worries that it will fall out of their hand, which makes them grab it too tightly. Closing your hands around your gerbil is the easiest way to get bit because your gerbil doesn’t have anywhere to go and will feel like it’s getting predated. The best way to hold your gerbil is with an open and slightly cupped hand. We recommend starting over a flat surface like a table because it’s common to worry it will fall out. However, gerbils have good eyesight and can see the distance to the ground, so they don’t usually jump out of your hands. When you feel comfortable, you can move away from the table and walk around your home. The open hand is also harder for your pet to bite.
Never punish your gerbil if it misbehaves or bites you because doing so can cause it to be frightened of you. Positive reinforcement is much more effective and will help you bond with your pet while you train. Commercial gerbil treats are a powerful tool when training your pet. They will help your pet feel more comfortable, and it will know it’s behaving properly. Give it a treat before you pick it up and another while holding it if it’s not biting. Allow it to have another treat when you put it down.
You won’t be able to give your pet this many treats every time, or your gerbil will become obese, but it can be a great way to get it used to being picked up and carried.
While your gerbil will bite if it has no choice, it is unusual for it to do so, and many owners will raise gerbils without ever getting bit. In most cases, it occurs soon after purchasing it because inexperienced owners try to pick it up too quickly and hold it wrong. Once you know what you are doing, there is much less risk, especially when compared to some other animals like the hamster. If your hamster starts biting later in life, it could be a sign that it has an injury or is sick.
We hope you have enjoyed this short geode and learned some new facts about these tiny pets. If we have helped convince you it’s safe to purchase one for your home, please share this look into if gerbils bite and what you can do about it on Facebook and Twitter.
Featured Image Credit: auenleben, Pixabay