Gerbils Who Bite

Posted in Care on 22/04/2019

As a rule, you are not likely to receive a proper “bite” from your Gerbil if handled and treated correctly.  Like most rodents, Gerbils may test bite as a way of determining just what exactly you are and if you are edible!

If your Gerbil bites – ask yourself these questions.

* What was I doing at the time of the biting?

Were you holding the Gerbil correctly?  Did you startle it or pick it up unexpectedly?  Were you perhaps not paying attention to what you were doing?  Were you holding onto it  for longer than it may have wished to be held?  (In these instances its often the case that your gerbil is trying to tell you that it doesnt appreciate the way it is being held, or perhaps the length of time.  Try a gentle approach – allowing your gerbil to come to you.  I will go over this further down the page under “Taming the beast“)

*  How severe was the bite?

Was it a hard “nip” or a proper bite – possibly drawing blood? (A hard nip is more  of a warning – the Gerbil telling you its not happy with what you are doing.  A bite – you will know all about it!  The Gerbil is letting you know it means business and may even draw blood or hang on to whichever part of you it has bitten.)

*  What kind of environment does my gerbil live in?

I have often found that Gerbils who feel insecure are more likely to bite.  I have also found it happens more often in single animals – again most often down to insecurity or a defence mechanism rather than actual aggression.

I have taken in a few gerbils now with nipping or biting problems and found the best way to start is to ensure they have a proper sized tank with plenty of substrate to build their own tunnel systems.  This gives them the opportunity to hide as opposed to resort to going into attack mode.  I do know of some gerbils who would specifically attack anything, especially human hands,  that went into their cage.  Its not that surprising really as its a learned behaviour.

Big scary hand comes to get gerbil – gerbil bites big scary hand – big scary hand goes away!!

If you think about it logically – as is widely known all animals have the freeze, flight or fightresponse to perceived danger.  A Gerbil with no tunnels or similar to hide in will feel really quite threatened.  They could try freeze but the large hand coming towards them wont stop.  Then flight – but their natural instinct when threatened would be to find security and comfort in their burrows.  If you take that away they have nowhere to run to so all that is left is the fight option.

Giving them the option for flight will greatly reduce the chance of them wanting to physically stop you from coming near them ie biting.  As well as this – often introducing a lonely gerbil to a friend will boost it’s confidence and make it less likely to bite.  Of course, this isn't true in all cases.

If your Gerbil does bite please do not lose heart.  It CAN be sorted out if you are willing to take the time and effort needed in order to achieve a more well balanced animal.

Taming The Beast

(How to stop your gerbil from biting)

Step One

Check over your Gerbil to make sure there are no obvious signs of illness or injury that may be causing it distress or pain.  If in doubt – consult your vet.  It may be biting due to one of the afore mentioned reasons.

Step Two

Make sure the accommodation which you have for your Gerbil is spacious, has plenty of substrate for burrowing and making tunnel systems and has enrichment in the way of hiding places, toys and treats.  Wire cages are useless for them.  Tanks and similar are much more suitable for allowing natural digging behaviour.

Step Three

The aim here is to desensitise the biter to things ie hands, going into the tank.  Invest in a thick pair of gardening gloves or similar.  At regular, but short intervals, the gloved hand should be placed in the tank.  Allow the gerbil to sniff,  bite, chew – whatever it wants to do to the glove.  Once it realises that biting has no effect on the gloved hand whatsoever it should learn to ignore it and just associate it with part of the territory.  Once the gloved hand is no longer being bitten, you may put some food and treats in the palm of your (still gloved) hand and allow the Gerbil to feed from it.  This will not only make it realise the hand is not a threat, but also it provides something positive to associate with the hand.  Don’t forget – if the gerbil bites the glove DO NOT move your hand away.

Step Four

Once you are happy with Step Three and your hand is no longer being attacked when in the tank, you can try and start wiggling your fingers or moving your hand slowly when the Gerbil is on or near it.  This allows them to get used to movement of hands and again, realise they pose no threat.  Once your Gerbil is realaxed with this you can move on to the next step.

Step Five

Now your Gerbil trusts the gloved hand and  is no longer threatened by it, you can progress further.   Once the Gerbil is on your hand, lift it up slowly and let it walk onto your other hand.  If it bites the glove, dont panic and just act as if nothing has happened.  All of these steps may take days, weeks or months.  The important thing is not to rush.  If you carry on doing this and your Gerbil is relaxed with this,  you can move on to step six.

Step Six

It is now time to remove the gloves.  It’s best to do this really slowly and start again from step one but without the gloves.    Hopefully by now your Gerbil is much more relaxed and confident and you could be well on your way to a lovely friendship!

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