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Do Gerbils Make Good Pets? What You Need to Know!

Nicole Cosgrove

Native to Africa and Asia, gerbils are long-tailed, small burrowing rodents that live in colonies in the wild. These cute little animals can make great pets because they’re easy to keep and maintain and they’re highly entertaining to watch. Gerbils are also inexpensive animals to buy and easy to find for sale as many pet stores have them as well as people who breed and sell them.

While there are several species of gerbils, most of the ones kept as pets are Mongolian gerbils. This species is about 4.7-inches long and has dark tan coloration on top of its body with a lighter, cream-colored underbelly and legs.

Now that you know that gerbils make great pets and that Mongolian gerbils are the most commonly kept species, we’ll tell you a little bit more about keeping gerbils as pets.

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Gerbils Can Bite and Scratch

gerbils-pixabay
Credit: auenleben, Pixabay

Like other rodents, gerbils can bite and scratch and especially when they’re scared or feel threatened. Because of this, gerbils aren’t the best pets in the world for small children. A young child that tries to handle a gerbil may inadvertently squeeze the animal too hard which could prompt the gerbil to nip or scratch the child.

If you have small kids and are thinking about getting a gerbil, it may be best to wait until your children grow older. Older kids can easily learn how to properly handle a gerbil. It’s better to be safe than sorry so they say so consider getting a fish or another type of animal that your small kids aren’t tempted to handle.

Gerbils are Social Creatures That Can Be Tamed

gerbil mouse
Credit: Kurit afshen, Shutterstock

Hand-taming a gerbil is easy because these animals are social creatures that live in large colonies in the wild. To tame a gerbil, start slowly by offering it a treat through the cage bars. When the gerbil accepts the treats regularly, open the cage door and offer treats through the open door. Then proceed by placing a treat on your open hand. Sooner or later, your gerbil will sit on your hand to enjoy the treat.

When your gerbil gets used to you, you can pick it up and hold it in your cupped hands. You can even gently scratch the back of its head and around its ears. One area on a gerbil you should not touch is its tail because this animal has a sensitive tail.

Pet Gerbils Can Bond with Their Owners

Cream Gerbil
Image Credit: Sildf, Shutterstock

While you may not think that a rodent is capable of bonding with a human, you can form a bond with a pet gerbil. Like other pets, if you treat a gerbil well with some basic human kindness, it will learn to like you. Likewise, if you mistreat a pet gerbil, it won’t trust you. While a gerbil isn’t a cuddly pet like a kitten or puppy, it can enjoy some displays of affection like gentle petting or a bit of back-scratching.

You Should Get More Than One Gerbil

Agouti Gerbil
Image Credit: simbagolden, Shutterstock

As social creatures, gerbils like company and do best when living in pairs. If possible, buy a pair of gerbils that are already living together. This is the best route to take because it can be challenging to introduce two gerbils to each other when they are adults. Even though they’re social by nature, gerbils are very territorial which means there’s sure to be some fighting when two gerbils that don’t know each other are placed in the same cage.

When they are about eight weeks old, it’s possible to successfully introduce two gerbils to one another because young gerbils are more adaptable. It’s up to you whether you get two young gerbils or two adults so think about the two options before heading out to buy your pets.

Gerbils Have Special Habitat Requirements

Gerbil
Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay

Two gerbils living together need an enclosure that’s about 12”L x 24” W x 12”H. While it’s perfectly fine to house a pair of gerbils in a small animal cage, it’s best to keep a pair of gerbils in a glass aquarium. When you use an aquarium, you can put a deep layer of natural paper bedding on the floor so the gerbils can do their natural burrowing. Just be sure that your aquarium has a tight-fitting mesh lid so your little pets have good ventilation and don’t escape!

You’ll also need to put a nest box in your gerbil enclosure that gives your pets a place to feel safe. They’ll hide there and use it for sleeping so make sure it’s sturdy and made of something durable they can’t chew up and destroy.

It’s important to put some pieces of wood, ladders, hideouts, ramps, and other items in the enclosure for your gerbils to climb on and explore. You can add small blocks of wood or branches from a tree. Things not to put in a gerbil enclosure are items like toilet paper rolls because they’ll be destroyed in a matter of minutes!

Pet Gerbils Need High-Quality Gerbil Food

Sapphire Gerbil
Image Credit: simbagolden, Shutterstock

Wild gerbils forage for seeds, nuts, grasses, bulbs, and leaves. Pet gerbils must be fed high-quality gerbil food that’s a mix of seeds, grains, nuts, legumes, and fruits. Good gerbil food is fortified with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids and doesn’t contain any artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

You can give your gerbils some treats now and then, but only in moderation. Some treats gerbils like to eat include:

  • Melons
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Fennel
  • Cucumbers
  • Pumpkin
  • Carrots

While gerbils may nibble on things like potato chips, candy, and cookies, you should never feed your pet gerbils junk food. Like other rodents, gerbils can get fat! Even though they’re unhealthy, these types of snacks are for people and not pets including gerbils.

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Conclusion

Gerbils are inexpensive animals to buy and easy to care for. While these furry little rodents don’t make good pets for small kids, gerbils make great pets for older children and adults. Remember that gerbils do best when living in pairs so plan on getting two if you love the idea of being a gerbil owner!


Featured Image Credit: milivigerova, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.