Gerbil Care Guide – Everything You Need To Know To Get Started

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gerbil care

Gerbil care is easy and rewarding once you learn the basics!

This gerbil care guide gives an overview all of the gerbil care information you need, and links to our more in-depth articles on specific topics.

From gerbil care supplies to food and treats, habitat and toys, health care and even baby gerbils, you will learn what you need to know to provide top-notch gerbil pet care!

Products included in this article were carefully and independently selected by the the Squeaks and Nibbles team. If you decide to make a purchase from one of the links marked by an asterisk, we may earn a small commission on that sale. This is at no extra cost to you.

Baby gerbil care: Weeks 1 to 6

Let’s start at the beginning (where else?), with baby gerbil care…

Because gerbils are very social, it is best to keep at least a pair of gerbils.

If you plan to breed gerbils (or you wake up one day to discover your “same-sex” gerbil pair wasn’t same sex after all) this baby gerbil care guide will come in handy!

Days 0 to 4

The first thing to know is that gerbil parents are typically great parents.

Just leave them to it and don’t clean or disturb the habitat other than to check on them.

Days 5 to 10

The pups will still be blind but you can begin gently handling them by cupping each pup between your palms for a few moments before returning them to the nest.

This helps socialize them to people.

Always wash your hands before and after handling the pups.

Days 10 to 21

Keep socializing the pups to your touch and scent – this will help you place them faster in good homes.

gerbil care

Around Day 17 the babies will open their eyes and – WOW.

This is an important time to keep handling them, but only between your cupped hands to prevent escape.

Day 21 to 24+

The baby gerbils have now figured out what “eyes” are for and they are keen to explore, play and chew.

You can introduce toys and cardboard for chewing.

Weaning begins around Day 21, and you can offer a food mix to encourage the pups to eat on their own.

Breeders suggest a mix of things like sugar-free Cheerios, uncooked rolled oats, sunflower seeds, roasted unsalted peanuts, unshelled sunflower seeds and canary seeds.

The pups will need to start drinking water now, so spritz the area around their bottle with water to let them know what it does.

For pups having trouble with weaning, you can feed kitten replacement formula with a syringe, wiping the extra milk away from the pup’s mouth as you go.

Five to Six Weeks

Your babies are nearly grown and about ready to go to their new homes!

Males and females will have clearly visible male and female parts to help you create same-gender pet pairs.

The females can reach sexual maturity any time after 8 weeks – so makes sure they’re separated from their brothers by then!

Some breeders feel it is best not to place the pups until six weeks.

Gerbil care for kids

Gerbils are often a “first pet” for a child.

Of course, as every parent knows, your child’s pet gerbil is really your pet gerbil.

To help your child learn about the responsibilities that come along with keeping a pet, you may find it helpful to work on a gerbil care sheet together.

This care sheet can include how-to reminders for these regular tasks:

  • Cleaning the gerbil cage
  • Feeding the gerbils
  • Refilling the gerbil water tube

You may even want to set up a little “gerbil care station” that holds all the supplies – extra clean water, feed, bedding, nesting material, cardboard, new toys, etc. – and post the gerbil care sheet right above it to make gerbil care for kids super-easy.

If more than one family member is taking care of the gerbils, it can also help to create a calendar for important daily activities like feeding, water changes, treats and cage cleaning.

The family member in charge for each day can initial by each task to indicate it has been completed, and you can check the calendar to follow up as needed.

How to take care of a gerbil: Gerbil habitat

Veterinarians, breeders and gerbil owners agree that a solid-sided, solid-bottom habitat is best and safest for gerbils.

Glass is ideal. Gerbils need to chew continuously and can chew right through most commercial plastic habitats.

Furthermore, gerbils have very sensitive feet and a mesh wire floor will cause pain.

Gerbils are also great climbers, which makes solid sided habitats a must if you don’t want to spend all your time going gerbil hunting in your closets.

You will want to add a secure ceiling to keep your gerbils safely inside and keep other curious family pets out.

A wire or mesh ceiling is often best to add much-needed ventilation to the habitat space.

Choose a habitat that permits each gerbil to have at least five gallons’ worth of individual space.

So if you plan to keep a pair of gerbils, a 10-gallon fish aquarium is a perfect choice!

Here are our favorite examples of gerbil-safe habitats and toppers. 

Gerbil habitat location and temperature

Gerbils are very sensitive to sounds – especially low frequency sounds that may (to them) sound like a predator coming close to their hiding areas.

It is best to elevate their habitat off the ground and place it in an area where it is out of the direct line of household traffic.

Be sure the area is free from drafts and can maintain an ambient temperature of 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (15.55 to 23.88 degrees Celsius) and a humidity range of 30 to 50 percent.

Gerbils are not truly nocturnal, although some wild species become more active at dusk.

Pet gerbils tend to be active during the day (diurnal) and take the majority of their rest at night.

Taking care of gerbils: Gerbil bedding

In a wild setting, gerbils live mostly underground.

They dig a series of tunnels and burrows where they can rest, nest, raise their young and stay out of sight of predators.

In captivity, gerbils will still feel that same urge to dig and tunnel.

So you will need to provide a thick layer of safe, appropriate bedding for digging, resting and nesting (even if you don’t plan to breed gerbils).

Layer on the bedding up to one-third the depth of the habitat (or up to 3+ inches).

The type of bedding and nesting material you use is very important!

Corncob, aspen, shredded paper towels or facial tissues are all good choices.

NEVER use pine or cedar shavings. These are toxic to gerbils!

Also steer clear of shredded newspaper and other printed material as the ink may be toxic to gerbils.

Here are some examples of gerbil-safe bedding:

Carefresh Complete Bedding* 

 Fresh News Paper Small Animal Litter* 

 FiberCore Eco-Bedding*

Gerbil care for beginners: Gerbil toys

Gerbils are smart and active pocket pets and they really need enrichment!

Gerbils love to run and play and climb and dig and burrow and chew.

You don’t need to invest in expensive toys since your gerbils will make short work of them anyway!

Some of the best toys are simple items you likely already have access to:

  • Empty paper towel or toilet paper rolls (be sure there is no glue on them!).
  • Empty tissue boxes or cardboard boxes.
  • Untreated wood blocks (NOT pine or cedar).
  • PVC pipes (these mimic burrows, especially if you bury them under some bedding).
  • Exercise wheel (ONLY if it has a solid running surface and is solid so the tail and paws cannot get caught as the wheel moves).
  • Nesting boxes (these are for hiding and resting) – one per gerbil.

For more gerbil toy inspiration, check out more of our favorite gerbil toys over here.

How to care for a gerbil: Food

Gerbils in captivity often fare best on a commercial pellet food.

Seed mixes can create picky eaters as your gerbils pick out their favorites and ignore the rest.

You can serve the pellets in a heavy dish that is tip-resistant.

Don’t be surprised if you see your gerbils “hiding” their food AND the food dish around their habitat – this is normal behavior and is nothing to worry about.

For more about the foods your gerbil needs to thrive and the best places to find them (including product recommendations!) visit our complete guide to the best gerbil foods.

Gerbil care information: Water

Gerbils should always have access to a supply of fresh, clean water.

The safest and best way to offer water to your gerbils is by installing a water bottle.

The Choco Nose No Drip Small Animal Water Bottle* is a perfect suitable example of a gerbil water bottle.

Gerbil care: Breaking out the treats

Gerbils like treats, but since a gerbil is so tiny, overfeeding can lead to obesity in a heartbeat.

Offering the occasional pumpkin seed or sunflower seed, along with some plain Cheerios or plain puffed rice cereal, can be a fun treat (hand-feeding these offers a great opportunity for bonding!).

Even more fun is sharing a little-fingernail sized piece of the human food you’re enjoying – our article on gerbil foods has a detailed list of safe fruit, veg and proteins to share with your gerbil*.

Gerbil care guide: Cage cleaning

So long as you have added a nice, thick layer of bedding inside your gerbil’s habitat, you may not need to clean the habitat more than once weekly.

Gerbils originally come from the steppes of Mongolia*, so they’re adapted to use water very conservatively and only produce tiny amounts of urine.

They also rely on coprophagy (re-consuming food the first time it is pooped) to fully digest energy and nutrients – which means the final pellets are pretty dry and inoffensive.

Gerbils are very sensitive to commercial cleaning products, so only use gerbil-safe cleaners like white vinegar diluted with plain water.

You can remove any soiled bedding daily and replace it with fresh to further reduce time spent on weekly cleanings.

Always replace a bit of the old unsoiled bedding in with the new bedding so your gerbils can smell “home” right away.

Gerbil care for beginners: Behavior

Gerbils are anything but dull to have about!

Besides the amusement of watching them play, you might spot them carry out some of these other natural behaviors:

Gerbils have a small scent gland on their underside that is used to mark their territory.

They rub their belly on anything they want to mark.

Digging is something you will see gerbils do frequently.

As long as you are providing adequate space (at least 5 gallons of floor space per gerbil) digging shouldn’t be anything to worry about.

Grooming one another (allo-grooming) is a bonding behavior between gerbils that is calming, healthy and a sign that all is well.

Thumping happens when a gerbil wants to mate or when a gerbil senses danger and wants to issue a warning.

Gerbils are smart, and highly motivated by food. It is possible do simple tricks, like completing a maze for food rewards, jumping, begging and name association.

Gerbil pet care: Handling

Gerbils are tiny and fragile and can easily be injured.

NEVER pick up a gerbil by the tail. This will cause injury and the tail may break off.

Children who are too young to handle a gerbil gently should not be permitted to handle these delicate pets.

Use both hands, scoop the gerbil into your palm and cup one hand over the other.

Always hold the gerbil near the ground so a fall won’t cause any injury.

Gerbil health and lifespan

In the veterinary medical field, gerbils are considered to be “exotic” pets that need specialized care.

Before you bring home a pet gerbil, be sure you locate a qualified exotic vet who can treat your gerbil if the need arises.

One of the most urgent health needs your gerbil has is to keep the constantly growing front teeth (incisors) filed down.

Providing sufficient chewing material is vital to avoid painful and expensive dental care.

Gerbils have an average lifespan of 2 to 4 years in captivity.

While gerbils are generally healthy pets with proper daily care and good husbandry, there are some warning signs to watch for that can signal your gerbil needs veterinary care:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Inactivity
  • Slouched position
  • Heavy breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Bald nose
  • Tail changes (loss of hair, breakage of the tip)
  • Changes to urine or feces
  • Respiratory or other discharge
  • Coat and skin changes

How to take care of a gerbil

We hope this gerbil care guide has answered all of your questions about how to care for a gerbil!

It’s usually quick and easy to find a rhythm when it comes to gerbil care.

Once you’ve found your feet and mastered the basics, there’s plenty of time for introducing new games, teaching them tricks, and testing their palate with new treats.

Do you have any advice for first-time gerbil owners?

If you’re already an old-hand with gerbils, what do you wish you’d already known when you first brought them home?

Share your wisdom now in the comments box!

Affiliate link disclosure: Links in this article marked with an * are affiliate links, and we may receive a small commission if you purchase these products. However, we selected them for inclusion independently, and all of the views expressed in this article are our own.

Sources

“Providing a Home for a Gerbil,” Merck Veterinary Manual, 2018.

Hess, L., DVM, “Gerbil Care,” American Animal Hospital Association, 2018.

Anastasi, D., “Gerbil Breeding,” American Gerbil Society, 2018.

Fisher, P., DVM, “Gerbil Care,” Pet Care Veterinary Hospital, 2018.

Block, K., et al, “Gerbil Care Tips,” The Human Society of the United States, 2018.

Brown, S., DVM, “Gerbil Care,” Veterinary Partner, 2011.

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