Your guide to keeping these cute little rodents from Africa and Asia as pets
Easy to maintain and very friendly, gerbils are becoming popular pets all over the world. They are small furry friends with a naturally curious disposition and adorable looks. Here are the answers to the most asked questions about gerbil pets.
1. Where are they from?
Gerbils are jumping desert rodents originally found in Asia, Africa and parts of Eastern Europe. The first known mention of gerbils was in 1866, when ‘yellow rats’ were sent to the Museum of Natural History in Paris from northern China. Gerbils were initially used for research and then introduced to the pet industry, where they continue to grow in popularity
2. Do they come in more than one type or colour?
There are over 30 gerbil species, but the types most commonly kept as pets are the reddish-brown Mongolian and sandy-coloured Egyptian gerbil. Gerbils have been bred to create different coat colours. Some of these are the dark-tailed white, black, albino, golden and blue-grey. The jird is a larger form of gerbil who is still relatively rare.
- When a gerbil is frightened, excited or stressed, he continuously thumps his back legs.
- Baby gerbils are hairless, blind and deaf. After a week they get pigments on their skin, which mark the start of fur growth.
- A gerbil marks his territory by rubbing his stomach on nearby objects.
- A gerbil’s tail is around the same length as his body and is used to help him balance when standing on his hind legs.
3. What kind of pets do gerbils make?
Gerbils are playful and curious pets. They are roughly 13cm in size and have a lifespan of approximately four years. Gerbils alternate periods of intense activity with sleep or rest, day and night.
Normal activities include burrowing, scratching, gnawing on available material, making nests, and nibbling on food continually to support their bursts of energy. They are clean and odourless pets thanks to their frequent grooming habits.
4. What kind of housing do they prefer?
Some housing options include aquariums and wire cages. Be warned that your gerbil might constantly chew on the bars or try to kick his bedding out of the cage due to his natural digging instincts. Plastic cages are discouraged as gerbils tend to chew their way out. Cover the bottom of the aquarium or cage with a thick layer of bedding. Aspen shavings are better than sawdust or pine and cedar shavings, which can irritate his respiratory tract. Your gerbil requires a nesting box, which can be bought at your local pet store. A clay flowerpot can also be used as long as the rough edges have been sanded down. Shredded paper, tissues and soft hay make good nesting box bedding.
Leave room in your gerbil’s enclosure for him to run around and burrow freely. Opt for cage extras that serve multiple purposes to keep him active and stimulated. For example, a long, curly branch can be a chewing and climbing toy and can also be a lookout point. Clean his cage at least once a week. Gerbils are happiest in pairs. Two female gerbils can safely be kept in the same living environment. Two males kept together might fight for dominance