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.
5. What should you feed your gerbil?
It’s good to give your gerbil a fairly varied diet. Seed mixes, available from pet shops, provide for a nutritional mix if fully consumed. However, gerbils might pick out their favourite bits and leave the rest. In this respect, pellets are better as they don’t allow for such selectivity, but they might bore the rodent. Give your gerbil a variety – pellets can be a main source of nutrition with seeds given in a controlled manner, possibly picking out the fatty sunflower seeds to use as treats and in training.
Include fresh fruit and vegetables in his diet. Do so in limited amounts at first to prevent diarrhoea. Rhubarb, raw kidney beans, raw potato and onions should be avoided. Other treats can include raisins, small amounts of cheese, unsweetened breakfast cereal, occasional cooked egg, and dog biscuits as they’re good for chewing. Get into a routine of feeding your gerbil every 24 hours. Water in a sipper bottle should be replenished regularly
6. How do you know if your gerbil is healthy?
To ensure your gerbil is healthy, check him every day for signs of illness. Recognising some symptoms can identify common health issues. Gerbils have a high potential to suffer from allergy problems, many of which come from their living environment and so are easy to correct and treat.
Bleeding or a discharge from the nose or eyes possibly indicates allergies. Scratching sores and hair loss can be from parasites. Loss of appetite may indicate broken teeth, and loss of balance may be a sign of an ear infection or a broken limb. If you suspect your gerbil is not 100% healthy, get him checked by a vet sooner rather than later.
Taming your gerbil.
Taming your gerbil requires some patience to gain his trust, but it will make handling him much easier and more rewarding. Some steps include:
- giving your new gerbil a few days to adjust to his new home.
- moving slowly and speaking softly around your gerbil.
- interacting with your gerbil when he’s awake – waking him isn’t a good way to gain his trust!
- sitting next to his cage so he can get used to your presence.
- offering a treat like sunflower seed when he approaches you.
- placing a treat on your open hand to entice him to step up onto your hand to retrieve the treat.
- imitating the natural grooming behaviour of gerbils by scratching the sides and back of his head once he is comfortable in your hands.
- enticing your gerbil with treats, or trying to gently herd him to get him back into his cage.
- handling your gerbil regularly to keep him well socialised. Gerbils are active and curious and will appreciate daily time outside the cage.
Make sure your gerbil is comfortable with each step before proceeding to the next. It’s probably best not to allow him to run around outside his cage until he is tame. The stress of chasing, catching and returning him to his cage may scare him and make him fear you.
7. How should you handle your gerbil?
Gerbils are social animals so they should be handled daily. Wash your hands before picking up your gerbil to prevent spreading germs. Don’t pick him up by his tail, and support the underside of his body with one hand.
8. How do you breed gerbils?
Don’t ever breed with gerbils who have a history of genetic defects. It’s best to introduce one female to one male to prevent any injury. Females are able to reproduce from three to four weeks of age and males from four to five weeks. Females come into heat every five days.
Gerbil pairs can and will have babies about once a month (the gestation period is 21 to 25 days). It’s very common for the female to fall pregnant immediately after giving birth, so if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with unplanned baby gerbils. Normally four to five babies are born at a time.