Want to know about baby gerbils and baby gerbil care? This article aims to educate you on everything you need to know about raising a litter of baby gerbils from the day they are born to the day they begin to become more independent. We’ll also discuss baby gerbil development; baby gerbils day by day. Then we’ll show you how to care for baby gerbils — even newborn gerbils. So let’s get into it!
What Is a Baby Gerbil Called?
Baby gerbils are referred to as pups.
In general, a baby gerbil is known as a pup until it has been completely weaned off of its mother. By this time, it would have gained a good amount of independence.
From then on, they can be said to have fully grown up!
How Many Baby Gerbils Are There in a Litter?
The number of pups you may find in a litter can vary between 1-8.
But on average, a healthy mother will give birth to around 3-6 newborn gerbils. However, it is not incredibly uncommon to see only 1-2 pups, or as many as 8-10!
Therefore, it is important that you house your gerbils in a sizeable cage or tank. Once they reach independence and become bigger, there may be a lot less room.
At What Age Can Baby Gerbils Get Pregnant?
Baby gerbils start to mate typically around their 3rd month of life. Because they’re monogamous, they’ll usually have one mate paired with them. You can tell when your gerbil is mating because you’ll see the ritual of chasing and mounting. Both gerbils involved will also be checking their undersides after each round.
Interestingly, pregnant gerbils tend not to appear pregnant — just a bit of a bulge in the midsection. So most people are surprised by the appearance of newborn gerbils in their pet’s cage!
Once they’ve become pregnant, however, it only takes 24 days before they have their pups. And right after the female has birthed her pups, she can start trying for more pups by mating again. Pretty wild, huh?
Week-by-Week Development Of Baby Gerbils
Gerbil babies develop rapidly. Over a short period of 5-6 weeks, you will see them grow from tiny, blind babies into small independent gerbils with a lot of energy and curiosity.
We will take a look at each week of development, so you know what to expect from your gerbil babyand how to care for them! Let’s consider the first thing most people want to know before looking at baby gerbils day by day.
Baby Gerbil Development: What Do Baby Gerbils Look Like?
Gerbils are small mammals — rodents — just like the rat or hamster. However, gerbil babies are much smaller.
Upon being born, a gerbil baby is only as long as the last joint in your smallest finger. They’re also furless and blind, and their ears will be closed.
After just being born, you will find that gerbil babies are rather vocal. They will squeak a lot during their youth, especially in the first few days of their life. It’s important to not handle a gerbil baby in the first few days, as the mother is still adapting to them.
Over this week they will begin to grow their coat.
The litter will usually huddle together in the mother’s nest for warmth. It is not uncommon for the mother to move the litter around during the first few days if she feels nervous or anxious. But she will usually calm down given time.
It’s also crucial that you do not move things around in the cage during this time. This will only distract the mother from caring for her pups as she’ll spend more time rearranging than tending to them.
The mother may also kick out the father from the nest during the first few days, while she attends to the pups. This is only temporary, and the father will be allowed back into the nest after a day or two.
By the second week, your gerbil babies’ fur will be nearing fully grown. This usually happens around 10 days.
At this point in their life, they will become a lot more mobile, despite the fact that they are still blind!
Each gerbil baby is rather fast for their size, too, and may begin exploring around the nest.
Around this age, it is a good idea to try handling the pups for the first time. This ensures that they become used to human hands and being picked up from a young age.
However, there are things to be aware of to do this safely.
How to Handle Baby Gerbils Safely
Gerbil babies are so small and sensitive during their first few weeks of life. So it can be easy to accidentally injure them.
This, coupled with the fact that they are surprisingly mobile at this point in their development, means that it is a good idea to know how to handle a baby gerbil correctly. As a human gerbil parent, you should know how to care for baby gerbils.
If the parent gerbils trust you a lot, they may have no issue with you handling the pups.
However, if they are showing signs of anxiety or discomfort when you try, you can distract them with food or cardboard to chew while you handle the pups.
Gently pick up a pup and completely enclose them with both hands. As they are somewhat mobile but completely blind, it is easy for them to wiggle out of your hand and fall.
Hold them outside the cage a few inches above a soft surface such as a pillow. This ensures that if they do fall they will land safely.
Perform this with each pup for a few minutes the first time. From then on you can slowly increase their time outside the cage as they get more and more used to your warm hands.
This is a very important week in a gerbil’s development, as the pups will begin taking their first steps towards independence.
When Do Baby Gerbils Open Their Eyes?
During this week, the baby gerbils will begin to open their eyes for the first time. They will usually open one at a time, a day or so apart.
Some pups in the litter may be late opening their eyes in comparison with the other pups. If so, gently wiping the closed eye with a warm damp cloth can help.
You will need to be very careful handling the pups the day their eyes first open and the next few days after. Because they are still getting used to sight, they may mistake you for something dangerous upon seeing you for the first time.
Therefore, be very careful handling them and only do it for short amounts of time during this phase of development.
What Do Baby Gerbils Eat? — Weaning
Week three is also of note because this is when the pups will start to be weaned off their mother. Before week three, baby gerbils should only be fed their mother’s milk. If you have an orphaned baby gerbil, you can feed them formula with your vet’s supervision.
They will still mainly get sustenance from her milk at this time. But the pups may try some of the parent’s food or anything small to nibble on, to try out their teeth.
If you find the baby gerbils are struggling to eat their parent’s food, you may give them some special foods. One of such is peeled sunflower seeds or roasted peanut bits, which are easier to gnaw on.
At this stage, you should also provide water for the gerbils. However, do not use a water bowl as the pups can fall into the bowl and drown. Instead use a water bottle placed low enough to the ground. It also helps them find the water if you splash some around the cage on the way to the bottle.
During this week, the pup’s ears will become open and they will actually begin to look more and more like their parents.
They will continue to become more and more independent by eating more adult foods and relying on their mother’s milk less.
You’ll also see them be much more mobile at this stage. They may even engage in play with the other members of the litter and burrowing.
Continue to handle them carefully and they should start getting used to being in your hands. They may even begin running up your arm!
But remember to handle them carefully. They may be bigger and more mobile, but injury can still be a concern.
Week Five and Onwards to Adulthood!
This can be considered the final week of infancy in most cases. Your baby gerbils should be completely weaned off their mother’s milk and eating solely solid food.
They will still have some growing to do, for sure. But by this point they will have developed an individual personality and a good amount of independence.
By week six, they will be strong enough to leave home and their mother. Over the next few weeks, they will finish growing and reach sexual maturity.
When Can Baby Gerbils Be Separated from Their Mother?
To allow for proper bonding and socialization with the litter, baby gerbils should spend six weeks with their mother. It also works well for the mother as she will probably have another litter right around the sixth week mark.
Baby Gerbil Care
To summarize, pups develop very rapidly, hence why we looked at baby gerbils day by day — practically. Each week, they will require a watchful eye to make sure they are coming along okay. So baby gerbil care is important if you’re an owner.
However, gerbils usually make for good parents, so it is important to not interfere too much with the natural raising process.
Exposing the baby gerbils to being handled slowly over time, making sure the cage is safe, and keeping an eye out for illness and weakness are the top priorities for you as the human parent.
The gerbil mother will handle the rest! Remember during your baby gerbil care to handle the pups gently and protect them from falls.
Have you ever had a litter of cute baby gerbils?
Have anything interesting to say about their development or baby gerbil care? Learn more about gerbils in this article.
Let us know in the comments below!
References and Further Reading
- The American Gerbil Society, Breeding.
- Roswell, J. and Barker, J. (2001). Raising Baby. The National Gerbil Society UK.
- Wikihow. Elliot, P. MRCVS. How to Care for Unexpected Baby Gerbils
- MERCK Veterinary Manual. Breeding and Reproduction of Gerbils.
Donnell, T., M., BVSc, DVP, DACLAM, DABVP(ECM)
Quesenberry, K., M., DVM, MPH, DABVP (Avian)