Gerbil FAQ

Gerbils Frequently Asked Questions.

These are all questions people ring to ask or ask when they buy gerbils.

• My gerbil has a sore on its tummy. What should I do?
It’s a scent gland tumour. If it is small and does nothing I would leave it, but watch the gerbil for signs of it being unwell. If the gerbil becomes unwell or the tumour grows, multiplies or bleeds it needs immediate veterinary treatment. Vets can easily remove the tumour in an operation. It is expensive but I have never known a gerbil die under anaesthetic and they come round very well.

After an operation the vet told me to separate my gerbils so they didn’t fight or chew stitches. Shall I do it?
NO! Never separate your gerbils unless they are fighting badly. If you do it is going to very difficult to get them back together. Gerbils do not attack one who is poorly – they look after it. And they don’t chew the other’s stitches – if anyone does that it will be the gerbil who had the op.

• My gerbil needs antibiotics. The vet gave me some to put in water but my gerbil won’t drink it. What shall I do?
Gerbils are desert animals and drink very little. It would take them a month to drink a day’s dose of antibiotic. Ask your vet for a small syringe and some oral antibiotic. Hold your gerbil on your right hand (if you are right handed), with your left take it firmly by the scruff and lift it, then with your right hand pop the syringe in its mouth and give it the medicine. It only takes a second and the gerbil won’t mind at all.

  •  My gerbil is losing weight suddenly. Why?

    • There are two main causes. One is that the gerbil is very old or ill and usually there is not much you can do about it. Try lots of favourite treats, and maybe add vitamins or glucose to their food. However, there could be a very good reason that they can’t eat well. If the gerbil has fallen or caught their teeth at any time and has broken them their other teeth will grow up into their mouth digging in very painfully. They will find it very hard to eat anything at all. You can check this easily by scruffing the gerbil (see above) and gently parting their lips with your free hand. You should see a gap between top and bottom teeth as you slightly open their mouth. If you can’t, they need help. A vet will cut the teeth, but may insist on an anaesthetic. Alternatively, Roger can do it in seconds if you bring your gerbil to us.

      My gerbils have lived together for two and a half years and suddenly they are fighting. What can I do about it?
      There seems no accounting for gerbils suddenly fighting, but it is usually girls when it happens. Sometimes a short break (a few hours) will cool them down and all will be fine. It’s best to reintroduce in a neutral area like the bath, rather than the cage.
      It may be that something in the cage has changed and set off an argument, or sometimes when you have a large group of gerbils and one dies who happens to be “in charge” then the rest lose their leader and have to sort out a pecking order. If it’s the cage a change of cage can stop them. I’ve known (female) gerbils fight like crazy in their own cage but snuggle down happily in a small neutral cage and live happily ever after. Try it.
      Hidey places, tubes and small compartments seem to make things worse as small places mean they can’t get away from each other, enclosed spaces seem to make them fight more and tubes or houses mean one goes in and defends it and the other stays outside trying to get in. It sets up antagonism and makes it all worse. It’s better to give them a small but open cage with nothing but woodchips, a small hay nest and a dish of food to start with then gradually introduce toys and tubes when they settle

      If you have to split their cages run them together in a room. It may be that they are fine out in the open and you can then put an open cage in the room and let them gradually go in and get used to each other again, while able to come out again if one attacks. A bathroom is often good as there are no wires and fewer places to hide or chew.
      If everything fails you will have to separate them as gerbils do fight to the death when they want to. Be careful when you separate fighting gerbils as they will bite thinking you are the other gerbil and gerbil bites hurt and bleed! Put something between them or catch their tails and gently pull them apart, but be careful you don’t damage the tails.

      • I’ve lost one of my gerbils and the other one is pining. Can I introduce another?
      Yes, but not one of the same age. Gerbils do pine. I’ve known them starve themselves to death quite quickly at the worst, but most change character quite drastically, becoming withdrawn or nervous. You could introduce an adult of the opposite sex by putting them in a split cage for 24 hours them carefully letting them run together until you are happy they can go in a cage together, but the best solution is to introduce babies of the same sex. If the baby is no more than 4 – 5 weeks old the older gerbil will mother it and boys will go together with no trouble at all. Girls take a little more persuading but usually eventually will settle. If your gerbil is under a year then it’s fine to introduce one pup, but if they are older I would introduce 2 or 3 so they have each other when he dies.
      Don’t ever go and buy gerbils from a pet shop to introduce to yours as they will be older than 4 – 5 weeks and your gerbil will kill them.

      • Do you recommend males or females?

      Males. Strangely people have a preconceived idea that females are best and that is what I am most asked for, but I recommend males because i) they are slightly friendlier, more outgoing, more likely to become really tame, ii) they are slightly less likely to fight when they get older and iii) if you have to introduce babies to a single male it is easier than with females. Having said that, most gerbils do not fight, you can introduce females with care and time and females are friendly too. They are, to a large extent, what you make of them – if you handle them a lot they will be friendlier. SO, I usually say go for the ones you like the look of whatever they are and don’t worry about it.

      • What treats can I give my gerbils?
      You can buy gerbil treats but will probably find they don’t eat them. The best things to give them are fresh fruit and veg, although I think these are essential food rather than treats really. A small piece of cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage leaf, or apple, a slice of cucumber or tomato, or a French bean will all go down very well. Treats can be nuts – especially pine nuts, or sunflower seeds. I always recommend a gerbil food not a hamster/mouse/gerbil mix because hamster food contains nuts and sunflowers already. Hamsters are bigger, fatter animals and can eat more of these, but for gerbils it’s far better to use nuts and sunflowers as treats. That way you can ensure they don’t get too many and also you can hand feed them and get your gerbils really tame. Gerbils will try most human food but do keep this to a minimum as human food isn’t really recommended for any animal, and never give your gerbils human chocolate.

      • What’s the best way to pick up a gerbil?
      It depends where they are. The very best thing is to let the gerbil walk onto your hand but obviously this won’t always happen. Scoop the gerbil up with one or two hands and place them on an open hand. Never enclose the gerbil tightly in your hand. It is very tempting to do this when you are nervous that it might jump, but I always say to people, “What would you do if someone held you tightly around your middle?” and people answer “We’d struggle or bite!” Exactly! By gripping them tightly you will teach them to struggle or bite, while holding them on an open hand will teach them to be calm and steady. If they run, put your arms against your body so they can go along your arms, or sit on a chair so it doesn’t matter if they climb off your lap.
      If you are trying to pick them up in a small, enclosed space it’s sometimes better to catch them by the tail (always right against the body or you can pull the tail off) then place them straight onto your open hand. It sounds bad, but it’s over quickly, rather than chase them round a cage for ages getting them stressed. Restrain them gently by the tail on an open hand instead of being tempted to squeeze them tight to stop them jumping, then gradually let go.

      • Do you recommend cages or tanks?
      It totally depends on your needs. Tanks keep the mess in, and gerbils are really messy! Tanks allow deep bedding so gerbils can tunnel and dig. However, tanks are difficult for children to clean out as they are heavy, and it’s very hard to get gerbils out of a tank.
      If you choose a cage you can put it in a shallow box to catch the mess. Get the largest you can afford and fit in, but not necessarily the most expensive – a simple basic cage is far better for gerbils than a gimmicky coloured plastic one with little sweaty compartments, no space to run fast and vertical tunnels designed for hamsters. A nice deep base with room to dig and run, and an open wire top to make it light and airy is what gerbils like best.
      Whether you go for a tank or cage, make sure it has levels for the food and sand bath. Without a shelf gerbils will bury every dish and bowl which is a real nuisance.

      • What do I need to set up a pair of gerbils?
      A cage or tank
      Woodchips – nice a deep.
      Hay for the nest (you can add shredded paper bedding or fluff but PLEASE give them hay)
      A shallow dish and some chinchilla dust or silver sand for a sand bath
      Food bowls (one for gerbil food and maybe one for plain canary seed)
      A water bottle (I don’t recommend a dish as they fill it with woodchips)
      Tunnels or hidey holes, houses, coconuts etc
      Loads of toilet rolls tubes to chew
      A really solid plastic wheel fixed to the side if your gerbils like it. (some do, some don’t, but they will chew soft ones)

      • Can we let them out in a ball?
      NO! They are for hamsters. Hamsters need enclosing as they disappear up the nearest curtains or inside the settee but gerbils will run around a room and investigate everything. They will learn to come up your legs and sit on your lap, and will eventually become really tame about being picked up, or you can let them go back to their cage by themselves. Gerbils are too inquisitive to hide for long. Balls are designed for heavier tail-less hamsters not gerbils. If you are not able to let them out in a room then perhaps make a run for them or use the bath. The bathroom is often good as it hasn’t wires or chairs to hide behind.

      • Should we buy the youngest possible gerbils for our small child?
      No. People think they want small ones because they are so cute, but they don’t stay small for long, and because they think big ones will be wilder. This may be true if they’ve sat in a pet shop for ages, but my gerbil pups are handled and actually become tamer as they grow. They also think older ones will die sooner, but we are only talking a couple of weeks difference and who is to say how long they will live – they are all living creatures like us.
      If your small child picks up a small gerbil and it jumps he or she may never pick it up again so the gerbil will get wilder and the child will get even more frightened of it. If you buy slightly bigger, calmer, steadier gerbils your child will be able to handle them confidently immediately, they will do so more often and consequently the gerbils will become tamer still. Better all round.

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