Gerbil bedding is such a critical part of creating your pet gerbil’s at-home habitat!
But many new gerbil owners get caught up in the learning curve and may only realize too late that the gerbil bedding they’ve chosen is actually toxic to their new pet!
This article presents expert advice from owners, breeders, rescue groups and veterinarians about choosing the best gerbil bedding.
Creating a gerbil bed
Gerbils are consummate diggers. They love to dig!
The gerbils we keep as pets today are largely descended from the wild Mongolian gerbil.
Wild gerbils will dig tunnels up to 8.7 yards (8 meters) long and whole gerbil families will live, forage, breed, nest, rest and hibernate in those tunnels.
Suffice it to say tunneling and digging is a huge part of a gerbil’s life, whether in the wild or in captivity.
This means that the gerbil bedding you select will have a huge impact on your gerbil’s overall quality of life. Both the quantity and the quality of the bedding you provide can help your pet gerbil feel safe and secure, nurtured and enriched.
For general purposes (assuming you don’t have a breeding pair) a layer of two to three inches of gerbil bedding is considered adequate to a pet gerbil’s needs.
You must choose the right type and consistency of gerbil bedding so your gerbil can create tunnels that won’t just collapse.
But if you can provide an even thicker layer of bedding up to one-third of the cage width, that is even better. Your gerbil will enjoy it even more!
Best bedding for gerbils
The best bedding for gerbils is one that is non-toxic, holds its shape well, absorbs odor, won’t irritate your gerbil’s sensitive eyes/nose/ears/mouth. It will resist excess moisture that would otherwise mildew or mold.
It should also be sufficiently lightweight, so your gerbil won’t get trapped by it and it will come as close to dust-free as is possible.
You may have to experiment a bit to find the right gerbil bedding.
Some gerbil owners prefer to mix more than one bedding type together, such as wood shavings with empty toilet tissue or paper towel rolls, which your gerbil will moisten while chewing and mix with the wood shavings to create nice, stable tunnels.
Aspen bedding for gerbils is a great choice for a wood shavings-based bedding.
Another nice mixture that holds its shape well and resists excess moisture is wood shavings mixed together with Carefresh, a brand of commercial gerbil-safe bedding.
You can play with a few different types to find a blend that your gerbil enjoys and that meets your budget.
Gerbil bedding safety
There are some bedding options that are quite simply toxic to your pet gerbil!
It is so important to know which bedding NOT to use to avoid causing harm to your pet and putting a big (veterinary) dent in your wallet!
The following types of bedding should never be used with pet gerbils.
- Cedar or pine. Both emit toxic oils and acids that can cause respiratory and liver distress.
- Inked paper or newspaper. The inks used may be toxic to your gerbil.
- Empty toilet tissue/paper towel rolls that still have adhesive on them. The glue may be toxic.
- Soft “fluffy” bedding such as fabrics like cotton or wool. Gerbils may become trapped in it and they may also ingest it and develop dangerous blockages.
- Any wood or material that has been painted or treated. The paint or varnish may be toxic.
Most but not all fruit tree woods are safe for gerbils. When in doubt, there are some excellent lists of safe/toxic woods you can find online.
If you are unsure about using a new type of gerbil bedding, be sure to ask your vet first.
Gerbil bedding options
Gerbils should have multiple options for hiding and resting. The general recommendation is to provide at least three options for hiding, resting and digging.
- A thick layer of gerbil bedding
- A hide box (one for each gerbil in the enclosure)
- Plenty of edible gerbil-safe hay
If you are new to keeping gerbils, you can also expect the hide box to get thoroughly chewed.
So here again, it is vital to research what the hide box is made of before offering it to your gerbils. For example, many so-called “edible” hides contain pine wood, which is toxic to gerbils.
Gerbil bedding material
Now let’s take a look at some of the most popular options for gerbil bedding material and the pros and cons for each.
Aspen wood gerbil bedding
Aspen wood is typically a great choice for a wood-based gerbil bedding. Make sure the aspen wood is untreated for safety.
A small number of gerbil owners have reported that their gerbils show signs of allergy symptoms with aspen wood, so if this happens you will want to switch to another bedding right away.
Since aspen doesn’t hold its shape well for digging and tunnel-making, consider creating a ready-made “tunnel” by filling a paper towel tube with shavings.
Until you see how your gerbils react, buy the smallest possible amount of aspen bedding.
Living World Wood Aspen Shavings
This highly rated aspen bedding is very absorbent and made of all-natural untreated aspen wood.
It will expand up to 1,200 cubic inches as it absorbs moisture.
Kaytee Aspen Bedding
This all-natural, untreated aspen wood bedding is safe to use with gerbils.
Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding
While this aspen bedding is marketed to snake owners, it is perfectly good for gerbils also!
It is 99 percent dust-free, made from sustainable sources and offers easy clean-up.
Commercial gerbil bedding
The most popular gerbil bedding brand is called Carefresh. This is a bedding type that many rescue organizations, breeders and gerbil owners recommend.
It can be a little more expensive, but it does a great job absorbing moisture and odors and holds its shape pretty well for tunnel-making.
To make it last longer, consider mixing Carefresh with another type of more economical bedding, such as wood shavings or shredded tissue.
Carefresh Complete Pet Bedding
Carefresh comes in a natural or blue color with guaranteed habitat odor control for up to 10 days.
This bedding is 99 percent dust-free and up to three times more absorbent than wood shavings. There are several sizes available.
Absorbtion Corp Carefresh Shavings Plus Pet Bedding
This bedding is 10 percent blue Carefresh mixed with 90 wood shavings.
It is 97 percent dust-free with moisture absorption rates of 60 percent.
Healthy Pet HPCC Natural Bedding
This is a very similar product to Carefresh and is made from reclaimed wood pulp.
It can absorb up to three times its weight in moisture and expand to twice its size in volume. It has excellent odor absorption and is nearly dust-free.
Corn cob gerbil bedding
Corn cob bedding has pros and cons.
A benefit is that corn cob is a particularly absorbent material, which means it will soak up waste and odor like a charm.
But the drawback is that corn cob bedding needs to be changed out more frequently or it will start to mildew or mold.
Also, corncob bedding won’t hold its shape for making tunnels as well as some other gerbil bedding. So it is best used when mixed with another type of bedding such as shredded tissues or paper towels or empty toilet tissue/paper towel rolls.
Pestell Pet Products Easy Clean Corn Cob Bedding
This corncob bedding is all-natural and safe for use with gerbils and other small pets.
Kaytee Kay-Kob Bedding and Litter
This natural corncob bedding is 99.7 percent dust-free and contains no wood debris.
eCOTRITION Natural Corn Cob Bedding for Small Animals
This lightweight, long-lasting corncob bedding is sifted to remove sharp edges and is mixed with colorful paper confetti for fun!
Sand gerbil bedding
Sand should never be the sole bedding source offered.
However, sand is a preferred material for gerbil bathing. Sand or, alternately, cornmeal, helps remove excess oils and debris from your gerbil’s coat and leaves the fur shiny and clean.
Gerbils love rolling in the sand, too!
Dust is another option for gerbil bathing.
With either option, if you leave it in too long, you may find your gerbil mistakes it for the toilet (although this is also a good way to toilet train your gerbil to use one specific area as a toilet).
Supreme Tiny Friends Farm Chinchilla Bathing Sand
This bathing sand comes recommended by gerbil owners for bathing.
Kaytee Chinchilla Bath Sand
This nearly dust-free sand is made from volcanic ash and comes in five premeasured packets.
Oxbow POOF! Chinchilla Dust
Dust is an alternative to sand you may want to try. See which one your gerbil prefers!
We hope you have found this article about gerbil bedding helpful to plan your gerbil’s habitat!
What do you use? What do you like about it? Let us know in the comments!
Resources and Further Reading
- Donnelly, T. (2018). Gerbils. Merck Veterinary Manual.
- Alamed, E. (2018). Gerbils, Mice & Hamsters: General Care & Husbandry. Humane Society of Chittenden County, 2018.
- Leck, S. (2018). Gerbil Care. Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital.
- Hanna, L. (2018). Gerbil Care. American Gerbil Society.
- Wilmot, S. et al (2017). Gerbil Care Information. Small Angels Rescue.
- Liu, W. et al (2019). Population ecology of wild Mongolian gerbils Meriones unguiculatus. Journal of Mammology, 2009.