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10 Things to Know About Keeping a Gerbil as a Pet

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Thinking About Getting a Gerbil as a Pet?

In many American households, a gerbil is chosen as a child's first pet. This is because parents want to make sure their children are up to the task of caring for a pet, and capable of handling all the responsibilities that go along with owning one. Gerbils are small, they don't need to be walked every day, and they don't require a ten-year commitment.

Gerbils make great pets for kids. They supply endless hours of entertainment and fun. Even though caring for a gerbil is easy and straightforward, there are some things that parents and children should be aware of before bringing one of these friendly rodents into your home.

1—Gerbils Are Social Animals

Unlike hamsters, gerbils are very sociable creatures and a solitary life can be bad for them. Studies have shown that gerbils live longer and healthier lives when they live with others of their kind, while solitary gerbils tend to be unhealthy, overweight, and have shorter lifespans. If you're bringing a gerbil into your home, you may do better for your gerbil if you bring home two at the same time.

2—Handling Your Gerbil

Gerbils are fragile creatures, so if you're buying a gerbil for a child, a parent always should supervise when the animal is being handled. Your gerbil should be kept away from larger, predatory pets like cats, dogs, and even ferrets. And, you should never grab or hold a gerbil by her tail, or you could cause a serious injury.

3—Gerbil Housing Options

Gerbils, like most rodents, are chewers. You don't want to house your gerbils in a cage made of wood. Wire cages don't work well either, because gerbils tend to dig, and the metal could cause an injury.

For many gerbils, a 20-gallon fish tanks makes a great home, or you may choose a plastic gerbil home available in most pet stores. Don't choose a rounded tank, though, because gerbils like to curl up in corners. Just as with most pets, your gerbil's home can never be too large.

4—Feeding Your Gerbils

You may find pre-mixed gerbil food at your local pet store and for most gerbil owners, this will suffice. But you also may make your own gerbil feed by combining hamster food with parrot feed. Other things you may can to your gerbil's diet include fresh fruits and vegetables, but not too much lettuce as it can cause diarrhea. Gerbils also love hard-boiled eggs, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and cheese, but these items should only be given in small amounts because of their high fat content.

5—Water Intake Needs

In the wild, gerbils get most of their daily water intake through the food they eat, but store-bought gerbil food is dry. So you should make sure your pet has a ready supply of fresh, clean water at all times. Usually a gravity-fed water drip works best. You should change the water in the container at least once a week, even if there is still water in it, although changing it daily is best.

6—Bedding Care

Use only aspen wood shavings for your gerbil's bedding as other wood bedding types, like pine or cedar, can be harmful to your pet. The bedding needs to be cleaned at least once a week, but more often if you have more than two gerbils in the same cage. You will find that your gerbils tend to go to the bathroom in one location, so this should make cleaning your cage easier.

To clean you gerbil's cage, scoop out the old bedding and replace it with fresh bedding. You should always make sure to leave some of the old bedding behind so your gerbils will continue going to the bathroom in the same location.

7—Washing the Cage

Twice a month, you will want to wash your gerbil cage completely. This involves removing everything from the cage and throwing out the old litter (remember to keep some of the old litter). Then, use warm soapy water to wash the interior of the cage and rinse it thoroughly with clean water.

You want to be sure there is no lingering scent of soap remaining, or the soap can be harmful to your pet. If you still smell soap after rinsing, use towels soaked in vinegar water to wipe it out. Make sure everything is completely dry before putting everything back in.

8—Proper Toys

Don't give your gerbils any toys made from plastic because they love to chew, and plastic could cause a wide range of problems for your pet. Instead, stick with natural wood products like wooden chew toys, cardboard tubes, and wood planks.

9—Sleeping Schedules

Gerbils don't stick to routine sleeping schedules. They often sleep for an hour or two at a time, and then they're up for an hour or two. This cycle occurs throughout the day and night. However, gerbils who are raised in captivity do tend to adapt to human sleeping schedules much easier.

10—Routine Veterinary Visits

Just like any other pet, gerbils must be seen by a veterinarian on a regular schedule. These routine veterinary checks are important for keeping your pet healthy and happy.

About the Author

Dr. Evan Ware

Dr. Evan Ware is a veterinary practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona. He received both his undergraduate degree in microbiology and his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University.

Dr. Ware is currently the Medical Director of University Animal Hospital (VCA) and is also the owner of two other hospitals, including Laveen Veterinary Center and Phoenix Veterinary Center. His areas of expertise include orthopedic medicine and surgery, veterinary oncology and chemotherapy, and general and advanced soft-tissue surgery.