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Gerbil Factoids

Origin

Mongolia

Maximum Size

3 to 4  inches plus longer tufted tail

Temperature

Room temperature

Attitude

Friendly and curious

Potential Threat

Wet tail (diarrhea) in dirty cages

Security

Likes hiding places like caves or houses

Foods

Prospers on “pet blocks” or seed diet

Supplements

None needed.  Really likes treats.

Lighting

Regular room light is fine

Breeding Age

About three months

Breeding Colony

One male plus one or two females

Estrus “in heat” Period

Every 4 to 8 days for 12 hours

Gestation

25 to 28 days

Litter Size

Two to six most common

Eyes Open

15 to 16 days

Keep with Mother

Six weeks

LA
Young gerbils accept people immediately.

Not Rats.  Though similar to rats and mice (and probably filling the same ecological niche in Mongolia), gerbils sport a hairy, tufted tail and smaller ears.  They are cuter than rats.  (Not to mention that Hollywood has never made a scary movie starring gerbils.)

LA
Lots of gerbil colors these days.  No browns here.  Typical daytime activity -- after lunch naptime.

LA
And odd colored gerbils pop up occasionally  in "pure" strains.

Original Origins.  In the wilds of Mongolia, you find the original what we call “brown gerbils.”  In captivity, selective breeding has produced, blacks, whites, silvers, golds, stripers, spotteds, and various combinations in between.  

LA
Fat-tail gerbils look quite a bit different.  They're more bitey also.

 

Gerbil Foods.  In nature, gerbils eat seeds, grains, roots, assorted bits of vegetation, and maybe an occasional insect.  They like the same things in captivity.  Our caged diets are better nutritionally than what they can find on their own.  Gerbils thus live healthier and longer lives in captivity.  Just remember that if you give them totally new food every day, they will pick out their favorites – especially sunflower seeds – and leave the rest.  Make them clean up their plates.

Best Gerbil Food.  Pet blocks work the best.  They contain everything gerbils need for a normal life plus a bit of peanut butter for taste.  And they help them wear their teeth down.  But since not all stages of life are the same, you will want to alter this standard diet from time to time.

LA Pic
You can find so many different gerbil treats you will be amazed.

Treat Foods.  You can find several types of gerbil treat foods – canned gerbil treats as well as honey-coated gerbil treat sticks.  If you want your gerbil to run up to you every time you get close, always have a sunflower seed in your hand.  In fact, if you feed one of the seed diets, pick out all the sunflower seeds and hand feed them later as treats.  Remember that too many of these fatty little seeds will make fatty little gerbils -- and fatty little gerbil owners.

Diggers.  You cannot keep a gerbil from digging in the litter like a crazed freakazoid unless you duct tape his little legs together.  He will dig in all areas of his cage, covering his food dish (and water dish if you’re crazy enough not to use a water bottle).  He’s not really trying to cover his food dish, he’s just trying to burrow his way back to Mongolia.  This litter-throwing characteristic is another reason we prefer the larger pet blocks to seed diets.  Seeds get mixed into their litter.

Water.  Water bottles are the only way to go.  Gerbils will quickly fill any water bowl with litter on a Speedy Gonzalez basis.  Gerbils don’t need much water, but they do need clean water.  Gerbils sweat very little.  Ditto on their urinary excretions.  Guinea pigs and rabbits are real squirters compared to these little desert dwellers.  Use a water bottle or you’ll need to add fresh water hourly.  The gnaw-resistant water bottles made for rats last the longest.

Greens.  Some people insist gerbils fed greens and vegetables need no water at all.  Gerbils can live under these conditions, but they will be smaller and live for a shorter time.  Spring for a water bottle you tightwad.

Hidey Holes.  Gerbils love small caves and crannies.  The little plastic houses are exactly the right size.  All the gerbils in your cage will pile into the smallest dwelling they can fit into.  They will quickly destroy any plastic houses or plastic anythings.

Litter.  You need an “absorber” on the floor of your gerbil cage.  We recommend all litters except cedar.  We much prefer pine, aspen, or ground corn cobs.  You need to change their litter weekly.  Dirty litter encourages disease problems, even if it doesn’t stink.

Gnawers.  As with all rodents, gerbils must continually gnaw on hard substances to keep their teeth ground to workable size.  A continued diet of soft foods could kill them.  Gerbils will destroy anything plastic in their cage – plastic wheels, plastic houses, plastic tubes, plastic toys, and plastic cages.  They need ceramic homes and wooden gnaw toys.

LA Pic
Pick 'em up by the base of their tail.

Pets with Handles.  Some sources say gerbils picked up by their tails are in danger of their tail’s skin peeling off.  We’ve picked up thousands of gerbils by these handy little handles without skinning their tails.  Your gerbil won’t love you for picking him up by the tail, but he won’t lose it either. 

Thomas Trimble, Canada, February 12, 2010
Hello. I have been using your site a ton for fish information and have found you very informative but was shocked when I read your gerbil page and saw that you recommended picking gerbils up by the tail. Doing this is very dangerous and painful for gerbils as they have a jointed tail (unlike mice) which can be easily dislocated. They also have nerve ending at the base of the tail which become inflamed and cause intense pain to the gerbils. As one final reason why not to do this, the tissue can tear away from around the bone and the tail will hang, sometimes even with the bone sticking out of the side. All of these things can cause serious health problems for gerbils and potentially be fatal if the injuries become infected. When handling gerbils, you want to scoop them up with both your hands as shown in the following video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FYB_UYayOo. You could do a more professional video if you wish to demonstrate this to customers. They may not be easy to pick up right away but with some hand feeding (placing a favourite food in the center of your hand and raising it slowly as they climb on) they will be gradually easier to pick up.
Hope you take my advice,

A:  Thanks, Tom.  I'll add your info to my gerbil page.  LA

How Many?  Gerbils are social animals.  Start with two and your gerbils will be happier.  Take them out of the same group or they will always fight – sometimes to the death.  If they do not smell alike to each other, they will fight each other.  Wear gloves or use a cup to break up these spats.  You dont want to go up against an enraged gerbil barehanded.  Young gerbils mix more easily than sexually mature adults.
 

Kathy Evans, June 12, 2006
You have a dangerously wrong piece of info on your gerbil care fact sheet.  In Gerbils the females are the dominant ones. If you put more than one female with a male they will KILL each other.  Please change this.  Also at the bottom of your sheet, you tell them to leave the male in but you do not tell them that they will mate again and again and again and have babies every 5 weeks until the female reaches 20 to 30 months old.  Also you tell them they can not put a female back in.  Yes they can with the split cage method.  No gerbils should meet each other for the first time without the split cage method.  They will kill each other if over the age of 10 weeks.
Please visit the AGS website: http://www.agsgerbils.org  and go to the care guide for proper information.  Due to improper information we see too many newbies come to us asking why their gerbils died or one killed the other or why their one lone gerbil is so depressed.
I would greatly appreciate it if you would fix these simple and way too common errors on your sheet so that the proper info gets to people purchasing gerbils. Thank you very much

A:  I'm not too sure exactly how dangerous the page is, but I'll make your suggested corrections within the next two or three days.  LA

LA Pic
Snoopy little twerps.

What to Look for:  Healthy gerbils are curious and alert.  Avoid droopy critters that act listless.  These are different from sleeping gerbils that take frequent “cat naps” throughout the day.  Males and females are equally friendly.  Other than that, pick a color you like.

How to Sex:  We cannot sex young gerbils.  Most male rodents sport huge testicles.  Male gerbils are not as obvious.  His testicles are still less apparent at older ages.

Do They Like Wheels?  Wheels are great for hamsters.  Wheels are only semi-great for gerbils.  The spokes in the wheels can catch their long tails and break them.  Put some ugly duct tape on the outside of the spokes to keep their tails from catching.  Then put litter on the sticky part they will be running on.  (Gerbils don’t like running on sticky duct tape anymore than you do.) 

Do They Like Toys?  You bet.  They like to knock around ping pong ball-type toys.  They also enjoy anything they can chew on.  Don’t throw away your next tube from your used up roll of toilet paper.  Gerbils love to run through these tubes and chew them up very rapidly.

 

What about Those Roller Balls?  Most gerbils love them.  Some don’t.  The Roller Balls give your gerbils extra exercise and a harmless way to explore your house.  They can’t crawl up into your furniture when you keep them in a Roller Ball.

Are Gerbils Nocturnal?  No.  Gerbils are diurnal.  Hamsters stay up all night.  Gerbils take the day shift.  They like frequent short naps (just like our Aqualand staff) and won’t run their squeaky wheel at all hours of the night. 

How to Pick up a Gerbil.  Yes, they have a handy, easily grabbable tail.  But it’s hard to make friends with anything you hoist up by its tail.  Better, approach your gerbil slowly with a sunflower seed.  He’ll learn to jump up on your hand if you go slowly.

LA 
Keep your male and female gerbils together when raising kids.

Remove the Male?  When the female gerbil has her babies, do not take out the male.  He won’t eat the pups.  He may walk on them or kick litter all over them, but he won’t eat them.  If you take him out, you often cannot put him back without a fight.  Just leave him in there with the kids.

Refer back to the blue paragraph from Kathy Evans.  LA

LA
Just born baby gerbil.

LA 
She takes excellent care of her tiny litter.

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