Gerbils are busy little rodents that generally grow to about four inches, with a tail of the same length. Pet gerbils are available in a variety of colors, although they usually have white fur on their bellies. If well cared for, gerbils usually live for three to four years.
All gerbils are very frisky, and can easily escape from a cage that isn’t closed securely. Their eyesight isn’t very good, so you’ll need to take extra care they don’t fall or otherwise hurt themselves when they are exercising outside the cage. Their hearing and sense of smell, however, are both very acute.
The ASPCA heartily recommends gerbils as pets for older children who have mastered proper handling techniques. These gentle critters are hearty and seldom bite. And unlike hamsters, Mongolian gerbils are active during the day, which fits in well with a child’s schedule.
When you first get your pet, you’ll need to spend about $35 for a cage. Food runs about $50 a year, plus $20 annually for toys and treats, and $220 annually for litter and bedding material. We recommend purchasing your gerbils from a breeder or, even better, adopting them from a local shelter or small-animal rescue group.
Gerbils are social, so it’s a good idea to get at least two. If you introduce them when they’re young, there’s an excellent chance you’ll have a successful match€”especially if you choose gerbils from the same litter. Please do not keep males and females together, or they will breed.
Get your gerbils set up in a wire cage or a 10-gallon aquarium that has a wire mesh cover. The enclosure should be placed away from direct sunlight and drafts, and lined with absorbent bedding. Timothy hay and aspen shavings are good choices, but avoid using pine or cedar shavings at all costs€”the fumes from these products may be harmful to the animal. Also make sure that you change the litter often enough to keep it dry and odor-free.
Gerbils love to play, so be sure to provide yours with an exercise wheel that does not have any openings in which their tails can get caught. Toys will be much appreciated, but avoid toys made of soft plastic or cardboard€” they will almost certainly be chewed to bits! Gerbils also like to hide and sleep inside enclosed spaces, so it’s a good idea to place a small box or flower pot for this purpose.
Gerbils also love to dig, so provide yours with plenty of extra bedding, hay or shredded paper towels. Tunneling’s fun for your pets, too, so be sure yours have cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper. Larger, sturdier tubes€” those made from PVC, for example€” will also serve this purpose. And finally, don’t forget to place a smooth, clean stone or rock in your gerbils’ home. This will serve as a lookout for your naturally curious pets.
Your pets will do well on a good commercial gerbil seed mix with a protein content of about 12 percent, and a fat content in the 6- to 8-percent range. Nutritionally complete, gerbil mix is made up of pellets, grains, seeds and dried vegetables, and is readily available at pet supply stores. If you offer your pets a mix that includes sunflower seeds, you may notice them picking out these tasty treats first and leaving the high-protein, ultra-nutritious seeds for later. Don’t worry –they’ll eventually eat the good stuff, so please resist the urge to refill the bowl or offer more sunflower seeds, which are high in fat.(continued…)