Gerbils are very active, curious animals and provide entertaining and lively company.They are extremely clean, odourless animals who produce a minimum of waste.
Where should they live?
A glass aquarium with a suitably ventilated lid will make an ideal home. Buy the biggest you can afford, at least 60 cm long by 30cm wide by 45cm high, as gerbils live in burrows in the wild and love to make tunnels.
Gerbils need lots of wooden toys to gnaw and pottery tunnels to explore. Do not us plastic as these will be chewed and may harm the gerbil.
Fill the aquarium at least two thirds deep with wood shaving (the gerbils will arrange it to suit their needs) and add a bedding material such as shredded paper.
They will also enjoy gnawing and playing with cardboard tubes from loo rolls and kitchen towel etc.
How to handle
Children should always be supervised when handling gerbils.
Allow your gerbil to get used to its new surroundings for a day or two with the minimum of interference.
After that it is important to build up a relationship by getting the gerbil use to your voice, and then introduce your hand so it can become use to your smell.
Before handling make sure your pet is awake then pick it up slowly by cupping both hands around him gently, but firmly. To avoid the risk of a serious fall, always handle over a table or close to the floor.
Never pick gerbils up by their tails as the skin may strip off.
Do they need company?
Gerbils are social animals and will be happier in small, single sexed groups, or pairs. If you want to keep more than one you should buy them at the same time, since new individuals will not be accepted later.
They can sometimes fall out and become very aggressive towards each other. If this does happen you must separate them immediately.
What do they eat?
Gerbils will eat a wide variety of food; however a dry gerbil mix or pellets will provide all the minerals, vitamins and nutrients. As a treat, gerbils love sunflower seeds, but these should be given sparingly as too many can cause stomach upsets and / or a weight problem. Small quantities of fruit and vegetables can be given, but must be cleaned out daily if not eaten.
Food bowls and drinking bottles must be washed daily.
Their teeth are constantly growing, so it is important to provide them with treats and mineral stones to gnaw on.
Health and fitness
As with all animals the emphasis should be on maintaining clean hygienic conditions. Keep the cage in a place that is out of direct sunlight and away from anything that may cause rapid temperature fluctuations, such as radiators or draughts.
The cages should be cleaned out thoroughly at least once per week, using a pet safe disinfectant. If your pet uses a particular part of its cage as a toilet, this area may need cleaning more often.
A healthy gerbil will be active, playful and inquisitive. They should have soft shiny fur, bright eyes and a clean nose. Signs of illness, listlessness, ruffled hair, mucus or crustiness around the eyes or nose or even a loss of appetite, if you do notice any of the above consult your veterinary surgeon.
Their teeth should not be visible when the gerbil’s mouth is closed and there should be fine covering of hair around the ears.
Gerbils may develop upset stomachs and diarrhoea if their diet has too much fat or carbohydrate and not enough roughage. If the diarrhoea is severe it may be caused by a more serious infection and you should contact your veterinary surgeon.
Gerbils need to groom regularly to keep their coats clean and healthy; this can be stimulated by providing a shallow bath or find sand. An example of this is bird or chinchilla sand.
Gerbils can live up to 4 years so please think carefully about giving one a home.
A small animal pet is for life, not until the novelty wears off, or your circumstances change.