Gerbils

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Gerbils make great pets – but you’ll have to be fast to keep up with them. If they’re asleep, forget it, they don’t want to be disturbed. BUT, if they’re awake – it’s playtime!

Gerbils are a bit shy so they’ll need to get to know you first. Always handle them gently and don’t make any sudden movements. They’ll soon learn to trust you and then you’ll see just how friendly and nosy Gerbils really are!

Gerbils are very sociable animals and get lonely and unhappy if they are kept on their own.

Which Gerbils Will You Choose?

Gerbils have only been domesticated for the last 30 years so there has not yet been an opportunity for extensive development of coloured varieties.

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The Golden Agouti is the most common gerbil found in pet shops and is a sandy colour with a dark stripe down the spine and tail. Other varieties include Albino, Black, Cinnamon, White Spot, Dark Tailed White, Dove and Argenté.

We suspect that the ones you choose will be the ones you fall in love with on the day you go to make your choice!

Bringing Your Gerbil Home

Make sure that you have everything ready before you collect your Gerbils, so that you can put them into their new home as soon as you arrive and they can spend the first 24 hours getting used to their new environment.

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Don’t forget to talk to your Gerbils and keep them company because they may be missing their brothers and sisters.

We suggest you don’t handle your Gerbils too much for the first day or two, just give them plenty of clean water and some Gerbil food for the first 24 hours.

You’ll soon know when your Gerbils have settled in – it will begin to eat, drink and groom itself.

What to Feed Your Gerbils

Gerbils need feeding twice a day, every day (in the morning and in the evening). A good quality, heavy, earthenware bowl keeps food dry and clean and prevents the gerbils from tipping the food. Bowls must be cleaned after every use.

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Gerbils have traditionally been fed on hamster mixes. However, this is not ideal as their requirements are different and hamster mixes contain too much fat for a gerbil. To find out more about high quality, nutritionally complete Gerbil food, click here.

If you’re changing your Gerbil’s diet, it’s vital that you introduce the new food gradually. Mix about one quarter of the new food with three quarters of the old food on the first day and then gradually increase the new food and decrease the old food over a 10-day period. This should make sure that your Gerbil has no tummy upsets.

You can also feed treats from your garden such as broccoli, carrot and cucumber, but remember; too much green food can cause diarrhoea.

Drinking Bottle

It is vital that you ensure there is fresh drinking water available at all times. The best way to provide fresh drinking water is to use a gravity-fed water bottle, attached to the front of the hutch. Use one of the large ballpoint bottles to prevent dripping and ensure a constant supply is available. Water bowls are not really suitable as they are easily tipped over and can get contaminated.

Housing

You need to provide plenty of room for your gerbil to eat, sleep and run around. Gerbils should be kept in pairs or groups and you must make sure that there is room for all of them.

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They need to be kept indoors and careful thought must be given to where your gerbils’ cage will be. The temperature in the room should be constant, away from direct sunlight and draughts, and out of reach of any other pets.

Gerbils need good, secure, roomy housing. They can be kept in a wire cage with a plastic base or a plastic hamster home but the best option is to construct a “gerbilarium” (an aquarium with a well ventilated cover). Never keep them in a wooden hutch as they will gnaw their way out!

A good cage will be two tiered and have at least two compartments – one for the day and one to nest and hide in at night. Don’t forget that if you have more than one gerbil you will need a bigger cage.

They prefer to sleep separately at night, too, so need their own nesting areas. Would you want to share your bedroom all the time?

Remember that a cage can NEVER be too big – buy or make the largest cage you can manage.

Gerbils are one of the easiest small animals to look after. Because their little bodies have adapted to having limited amounts of food and water, they waste very little body fluid, excreting only concentrated urine and dry faeces.

If kept in a gerbilarium, with lots of absorbent peat and woodshavings, the animals can live in sanitary conditions for up to 3 months.

It is important, however, to check DAILY for stale food, which should be removed. Also check the water bottle regularly, as gerbils are prone to piling litter underneath them, which can cause them to leak.

Every day: Remove all stale food and check water bottle.

Once a week: Check for dirty bedding and remove.

Every 3 months: Remove all bedding. Thoroughly sweep out all the soiled bedding. Rinse with warm water and mild detergent and wait until dry. Spray inside of cage with safe cleaning product and wait until dry. Replace with clean bedding (check for signs of mould etc. on bedding and discard if necessary)

Bedding Material

There are many types of bedding available for gerbils but the best are the natural products made from paper, wood or straw.

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Some of the synthetic products can harm your Gerbil if eaten. It is also recommended that you provide bedding that is dust extracted, as this reduces irritation to the eyes, nose and respiratory system. To find out more about suitable bedding products, click here.

Exercise

It is extremely important that your Gerbil has the opportunity to exercise every day. Your Gerbil will love running around and playing; provide play things such as toilet roll tubes, flower pots, cardboard egg boxes and pieces of safe wood, such as hazel or apple wood, that they can climb on – and gnaw!

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Piles of twigs (natural wood – willow, beech, hazel or apple) make platforms for them to explore or rest under. Gerbils will chew the wood and this will help keep their teeth in trim!

By hiding food and the occasional treat in cardboard toilet roll tubes, in empty yoghurt pots, or in different areas of the animal’s enclosure, your Gerbil will be forced to hunt for its food – this will keep it occupied for many happy hours and help prevent boredom.

Handling your Gerbil

To ensure that your Gerbil becomes tame and affectionate it is important that you handle it frequently and correctly. Picking up a Gerbil incorrectly could lead it being permanently frightened and may lead to it becoming aggressive.

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Remember that most small animals are prey in the wild. So, if approached from above they’ll see a large shadow and become scared. They might run and hide or try to attack you.

The best way to pick up your Gerbil is to talk to it as you approach – on the same level. Crouch and let it come to you, presenting the back of your hand for it to sniff.

If your Gerbil is confident and appears interested, slowly unclench your fist and offer your palm. It may well crawl on to your hand or you can gently scoop it up.

Cup your Gerbil in the palms of your two hands to ensure that it is safe and won’t be dropped. Lift slowly – picking up too quickly would be the equivalent of going up the Empire State Building in 3 seconds! To ensure it is safe at all times you should hold it over your lap or close to your chest.

Always talk to your Gerbil to calm and reassure it. A small treat once it is out will make it happy as well.

Common Illnesses

Dental Problems – As with all rodents, gerbil’s teeth continue to grow throughout their life. Should your gerbil be injured and a tooth become misaligned, the opposite tooth will grow as it has nothing opposing it on which to grind. Gerbils require fibre in their diet and gnawing ensures their teeth are evenly worn, preventing overgrowth. Overgrown teeth can cause a number of problems including abscesses and inability to eat. Ensure there is sufficient fibre in the diet or feed “gnaw” treats.

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Diarrhoea – Diarrhoea can have several causes including bacteria, parasites and neoplasia. The most common bacterial enteritis is Tyzzer’s disease. Other causes are Salmonella and E. Coli bacteria or coccidiosis or pin- and tapeworms. Take your gerbil to the vet immediately as loss of fluid through diarrhea can be life threatening

Colds – Gerbils can catch colds from humans so, if you have a cold, you should keep the handling of your gerbil and its food to the minimum. Your gerbil will have a runny nose and sneeze if he has a cold and should be kept in a warm room. Isolate the affected gerbil from the rest of the group as colds can spread through colonies. Take him to the vet if the condition has not cleared in two to three days, or if you have any concerns at all.

Tyzzer’s Disease – This is a very serious condition and your gerbil will have diarrhoea, look tired and weak and will lose his appetite. Weanlings are especially sensitive to this disease. Take your gerbil to the vet immediately if your gerbil has these symptoms, as this disease is often fatal. Good hygiene in the gerbilarium and using good quality bedding and burrowing material will help prevent this disease.

Always consult a vet if you have ANY reason for concern

If you need to know more

For more detailed information about Gerbils, you can contact us and we will get back to you with our experts’ advice. However if you have any concerns about the health and wellbeing of your rabbit, you should seek veterinary advice immediately.

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