How long a gerbil lives will depend on its species, genetics, and the care it receives. Pet gerbils live longer than wild ones. Pet gerbil lifespan is usually between 2 and 4 years for common, Mongolian, gerbils. However, other species such as the fat tailed gerbil may live longer.
Gerbil life expectancy is increased dramatically by good hygiene, social interaction, and suitable nutrition. Providing your gerbil with the correct diet and taking care of their teeth will help them to live longer, happier, lives.
Aging and the average lifespan of gerbils
The majority of pet gerbils are Mongolian gerbils. Their average lifespan is approximately 2-4 years, around 3 years being typical. However, some gerbils have been reported to live for up to 5 years.
There are dozens of other gerbil species, some of which are occasionally seen as pets. We’ll take a look at some of these less common gerbils shortly.
But first let’s look more at the Mongolian gerbil.
Wild Gerbil Lifespan
Mongolian gerbils were one of the first species of gerbils brought into America. They are now the most common species of pet gerbil in the Western world.
As their name suggests, the ancestors of pet Mongolian gerbils originated in Mongolia and China.
Today Mongolian Gerbils still live wild in the deserts, shrubland and grasslands of these countries. They are not currently endangered in the wild.
Mongolian gerbil lifespan is potentially 2-3 years in the wild. However, this may be greatly reduced by predation, and many wild gerbils only live a few months.
How long do gerbils live as pets
How long a gerbil lives as a pet depends greatly on their level of care.
Most gerbils who are well taken care of as pets will live longer than those that live in the wild, due to the lack of predators, and there never being a shortage of food or water. Pet Mongolian gerbils live 2-4 years on average, with some reaching 5 years.
To help your gerbil live as long as possible, make sure you understand all your gerbil’s needs at each stage of their life.
If your gerbils are going to be cared for by an older child, make sure they know exactly what’s involved as well.
Gerbil Life Cycle
Gerbils love to breed. In the wild they breed up to 3 times a year, between February and October. In captivity they can breed all year round, including from the day after giving birth to a litter! So it’s essential that you keep males and females separately if you are not planning to breed your gerbils.
Gerbil pregnancy typically lasts 3 weeks (give or take a couple of days!). Gerbil babies are completely helpless, blind, and hairless, with closed eyes. A typical litter has 4-7 babies in it. They open their eyes at 16-20 days old, and will be weaned (able to manage without Mom’s milk) by 30 days old.
Weaned, growing, gerbils need 5-10g of fairly high protein food per day, plus a constant supply of fresh water. Choose a complete gerbil food aimed specifically at younger animals, for the best possible health and weight gain.
Adult gerbils thrive on a variety of different complete foods.
Gerbils are sexually mature by 3 months old. They will carry on being able to breed until they are around 20 months old, at which point they will become to old to breed safely.
How To Tell If Your Gerbil Is Getting Old
From around 2 and a half years old your gerbil will start to show signs of aging. Older gerbils less energy and are less active. They may lose weight.
Consider monitoring your gerbil’s weight monthly from the age of about 2 years. Speak to your vet about any rapid loss or gain in weight. Gain can indicate a tumor, and loss could suggest a problem with their teeth.
A gerbil with broken or misaligned teeth may need their food ground up or softened for them. Be guided by your vet when feeding an elderly gerbil.
Gerbil Lifespan Is Improved By Good Teeth
Overgrown teeth are an easily prevented threat to your gerbil’s health.
Gerbils’ teeth never stop growing. In the wild they are kept trim by breaking in to tough seed casings and eating fibrous grasses.
In captivity, your gerbil still has the urge to chew, chew, and chew some more.
Providing safe toys will keep them happy and engaged in their surroundings, and help wear down their teeth.
Overgrown teeth can turn eating into a struggle and lead to malnutrition – if your gerbil’s teeth get too long ask your vet to help trim them before his health suffers.
Factors Affecting Gerbil Life Expectancy
As we have seen, nutrition is a big factor in gerbil health, so diet and dental health have a big effect gerbil life expectancy.
Make sure your gerbil always eats the right diet for their age, and keep an eye on their weight and the health of their teeth, to give them the best possible chance of a long and happy life.
Gerbil lifespan is also affected by their social environment, and by a number of common health conditions.
Many of these conditions are genetic, which means that they are passed from parent to child. Gerbils with genetic diseases can often be avoided if you adopt your gerbil from a reputable breeder, who removes affected animals from their breeding lines.
Gerbil Lifespan and Social Contact
Gerbils are extremely social animals and require inter-species contact. They should therefore always be purchased in pairs or small groups
Isolation is very stressful for gerbils, and can shorten their lifespan considerably.
Gerbil Lifespan and Epilepsy
The most common health problem associated with gerbils is epilepsy.
In most cases, this condition is genetic, and inappropriate breeding practices have caused it to become more prominent.
Death from the seizures, however, is rare, and most gerbils appear to outgrow it.
The seizures can also often be reduced by medication, although the type of seizure does greatly affect which medication is effective.
Because the seizures are not usually life threatening, and anti-epileptic drugs can have strong side effects, many vets will recommend avoiding medication.
Seizures are increased by stress. You can reduce the chance of your gerbil having multiple fits by keeping them otherwise healthy. And by taming and handling them a lot when they are very young, so that they don’t find being picked up as adults too stressful.
Tyzzer’s Disease and Gerbil Lifespan
One of the most fatal diseases gerbils are prone to is Tyzzer’s disease.
This is a serious disease caused by a strain of bacteria called Clostridium piliforme.
Gerbils are not the only rodent prone to it, but an otherwise healthy rat or mouse will fight off the infection before symptoms even appear, whereas gerbils get very sick, very quickly.
The symptoms are usually easy to spot and include a rough coat, weakness, lethargy and diarrhea.
Sadly, nearly 80% of all gerbils who begin showing symptoms of the disease die within 48 hours.
Because of their social nature, gerbils pass the disease very easily in between them. Once the disease infects a colony of gerbils, a very high death rate is usually expected.
This makes Tyzzer’s disease one of the leading causes of death in gerbils and can greatly affect how long a particular gerbil lives.
You can reduce the likelihood of your gerbils getting Tyzzers by keeping their living space scrupulously clean, and isolating new gerbils for a quarantine period before introducing them to your current gerbil family.
Gerbil Life Expectancy and Cancer
Gerbils aged over 2 years are prone to cancers. In particular they tend to get skin cancer, cancer of the scent glands, and ovarian cancer (females only).
In most cases the best chance of survival is to remove the cancer surgically, as early as possible. It’s important therefore to let your vet know about any odd lumps and bumps or changes in your gerbil’s health.
Increasing Your Gerbil’s Lifespan
Your gerbil will have the best chance at a long, healthy life, if you follow these guidelines:
- Keep gerbils in pairs or groups
- Clean their cage regularly and thoroughly
- Use a reputable breeder
- Isolate new gerbils until you are sure they are healthy
- Feed a complete gerbil food suitable for their age
- Handle your gerbils regularly (but gently!)
- Tame them while they are young
- Monitor the teeth and weight of gerbils over 2 years old
- Involve your vet promptly if you have any concerns
How Long Do Other Species of Gerbil Live?
So far we have focused on the Mongolian Gerbil, or Meriones unguiculatus – the most common species of pet gerbil. But what other types of gerbil do people keep as pets, and how long do they live?
How Long Do Fat Tailed Gerbils Live
Fat tailed gerbils, also known as Duprasi gerbils, are a rarer pet alternative to the Mongolian gerbil.
Their owners report that they live longer than common gerbils, at 4-7 years. However it is hard to find any scientific evidence to support this lifespan.
If you decide to keep Fat Tailed Gerbils, do research how their needs differ from common gerbils’ first. For example, Fat Tailed Gerbils are not as sociable as Mongolian gerbils.
How Long Do Libyan Gerbils Live
Another alternative species of pet gerbil is the Libyan gerbil. They look a lot like Mongolian gerbils, although they have a slightly narrower head.
Libyan gerbil lifespan is very similar to common gerbils’; an average 2-4 years.
Oldest Living Gerbil
According to the book of Guinness World Records 2014, the oldest ever gerbil lived to be 8 years and 4 months old.
She was a Mongolian gerbil named Sahara, and she died back in 1981.
There are claims of gerbils living to be 12 years old, but these haven’t been scientifically verified.
Gerbil Lifespan Summary
Gerbils typically live around 3 years, though there are a number of factors that can contribute to a particular gerbil living longer, or shorter, lives.
Certain diseases can greatly decrease the lifespan of a gerbil, as can neglect and physical injury.
By buying your pet from a good breeder, and taking care of their diet, lifestyle and teeth, you can maximise their chance of living a long and happy life.
How Old Is Your Gerbil
Do you have a long lived pet gerbil living with you?
What you you think has been the key to their longevity?
Tell us about your grand old pets in the comments box below!
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References and Further Reading
- Loskota. “The Gerbil as a Model for the Study of the Epilepsies.” Medical Devices & Sensors. 1974.
- Bartoszyk. “The genetic animal model of reflex epilepsy in the mongolian gerbil: Differential efficacy of new anticonvulsive drugs and prototype antiepileptics.” Pharmacological Research Communications. 1987.
- Baker, Julian. “Tyzzer’s Disease in Gerbils.” National Gerbil Society.
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016. “Mongolian Gerbil”.
- The Manual of Exotic Pet Practice. “Hamsters and Gerbils”. Heatley and Harris.
- Functional Neurobiology of Aging.Willott, J. “Animal Models of Presbycusis and the Aging Auditory System” 2001.
- Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals. 1995. “Nutrient Requirements of the Gerbil”
- The American Midland Naturalist. Harriman, A.E., 1969. “Food and Water Requirements of Mongolian Gerbils as Determined through Self-Selection of Diet”
- Guinness World Records 2014