Gerbils are very fun and active pets which, depending on breed, are most active during the day, unlike hamsters which are more active in the evening and night time.
Gerbils are fairly low maintenance pets to keep and affordable compared to other animals.
They make great pets and in this guide, we will cover their basic needs and how to care for them.
Gerbils are very social animals and should never be housed on their own. To start with we advise you buy a pair of gerbils, preferably from the same litter.
When kept alone gerbils will become depressed and may develop behavioural issues.
If you are unable to home at least two gerbils you should look at other animals that prefer to live in solitude such as hamsters.
When choosing a pair of gerbils it is important that you do not mix males and females as soon you will soon have more gerbils than you know what to do with! So stick to the same sex.
You could also consider a trio of gerbils. We recommend a trio of males over a trio of females because females can tend to fight more and can be more aggressive to each other.
Gerbil Cages – Gerbilariums
The minimum size of house recommend for two gerbils has the following dimensions:
24” long, 12″ wide and 12” in height in metric those measurements are 61cm long, 30cm wide and 30cm high.
This equates to approximately 15 US gallons or 56.6 litres. Again keep in mind this is the minimum size of home for gerbils’. Kept in too small a space gerbils will fight causing injury or worse and can develop health issues.
Always buy the largest home you can accommodate to ensure your gerbils don’t become stressed and develop health or behavioural problems.
When it comes to the place your gerbils will live there are several options to choose from:
- An aquarium
- A storage container
- A gerbilarium
Our recommendation is to buy an aquarium. Now, this may sound strange but stick with us.
Aquariums make fantastic homes for gerbils. Lots of space for customization and they offer a great view of their little world.
Aquariums also have a major advantage over cages, no gaps for bedding to fall out of. Gerbils are very active and will create a lot of mess.
Don’t be surprised, after having lovingly spent time creating a beautiful little home for your gerbil, to find they have rearranged everything and undone all of your work!
With an aquarium, their mess from burrowing and moving things about will be contained, unlike a cage.
Aquariums are also made of glass so cannot be chewed. Gerbils love to chew!
Storage containers or bins can make good and cheap homes for gerbils.
This type of home is a bit controversial with gerbil enthusiasts. With bins being made of plastic gerbils can escape by chewing holes into them.
If you do choose to make a home from a bin you need to find one that does not have internal moulded areas that stick out to avoid escapes.
The lid of the storage bin will also need to be modified. A hole can be cut in the top and covered with a fine mesh for ventilation.
The benefits of this type of home are that they are cheap, light to carry and highly customisable.
A gerbilarium is designed specifically for gerbils, who have different needs to hamsters.
Gerbilariums generally have more than one floor. The lower area being a tank which can be filled with substrate, for digging, and an upper floor for a wheel, food and water.
These make great homes without the need to customise and build the home like the other options but can be costly to buy.
No matter how fancy the houses in the store, or online, may appear with a multitude of coloured tubes and tunnels DO NOT BUY a plastic home for your gerbil.
They will chew through it and escape. With that being said also do not put any plastic bowls or toys in their home as they will be chewed up as well. Gerbil homes need to be kept plastic free.
Read our Gerbil Accessory Guide and Gerbil Cage Guide for a more in-depth look at how to house your gerbil.
Substrate is basically the stuff put into the bottom of the gerbil house that they can burrow into and make nesting material with.
There are several options when it comes to gerbil substrate. the most popular is a product called aspen.
Aspen is soft, dust free, odourless and highly absorbent. It is made from non-toxic shredded wood.
It can also be mixed with some hay to make it a little easier for gerbils to dig tunnels through.
Do not use Pine or Cedar wood shavings as a substrate or nesting material. Using either of these can cause severe health problems in gerbils.
If you do wish to use wood shavings, make sure what you choose is gerbil safe.
Deep bedding is really important for gerbils they love to dig. In nature, they have burrow’s under the ground so it’s important that you mimic this by laying down a deep layer of a substrate.
At least 6″ or 15cm is recommended but you can add more depending on the size of the house you have for them.
Gerbil Nesting Material
One of the best and cheapest nesting materials for gerbils is unscented, plain tissue or toilet paper.
Shred the tissue into thin strips, place in your gerbils home and watch them get to work making a cosy place to sleep.
There are also commercially available nesting materials. Avoid any “cotton wool” type materials as these can cause problems for gerbils.
Buy nesting material made from shredded paper if you don’t want to use tissue or toilet paper.
If you wish to use paper you have shredded yourself only use plain paper. Don’t be tempted to put in you shredded mail as the ink may be harmful to your pet.
Cleaning a Gerbil Cage
Gerbils are generally quite clean animals and produce very little odour. How often you clean your gerbil cage depends on how many gerbils you own and the size of their home.
If you have two gerbils in a large gerbilarium you may only have to clean them out once every three to four weeks.
Once they have become familiar with their new environment they will choose somewhere to use as a toilet area. This area can then be cleaned out every few days.
If you choose to include a sand bath in your gerbil home, which we recommend, there is a good chance they will use this as their toilet area.
You can then just sieve out the droppings every few days to keep it clean and reuse the sand.
Gerbils like a varied diet made up of greens and seeds.
Fresh and dried plants vegetables can be offered on a daily basis. Nuts and seeds have important nutrients in them so may be offered as treats but don’t feed too many as they can be quite fattening.
Protein is also important in your gerbils’ diet and you can give them pea flakes, soy flakes or dried insects which are a popular choice.
There are many ready-made foods available in pet stores or you can make your own. Just make sure whichever food you choose has the correct balance of nutrients for your gerbil.
Gerbils need water to drink. They don’t drink very much though so don’t be too alarmed if their bottle doesn’t empty very quickly.
There are some essential accessories that you should have in your gerbils home.
Food bowl and water bottle. Make sure to buy a glass or ceramic food bowl and a glass water bottle. They will get chewed up if you buy plastic ones.
A wheel. We all know hamsters love to run on wheels and gerbils do too.
A sand bath is also very important. Gerbils love to roll around in sand. Rolling around is not only fun but a way to clean their fur.
Just make sure to choose the right sort of sand. Chinchilla sand is recommended but do not confuse it with chinchilla dust as this can be harmful to gerbils.
Gerbils love to climb. Including things for your gerbils’ to climb on and over will enrich their lives. This may simply be some stacked up wood, gerbil friendly of course, or adding a second floor to their home with ladders for them to reach it.
Toys are also quite important. Gerbil’s love to gnaw on different things. Toilet roll tubes are great and obviously, they are “free” so this is a great option. gerbils’ love to run through them and it makes a very simple and effective toy.
You can also get the wood from safe trees and they will gnaw on it.
To learn more about gerbil accessories read our Gerbil Accessory Guide.
We hope you have found our beginners guide to gerbils helpful.
This article just scratches the surface of what you need to know to be a good gerbil keeper. Explore the rest of our site to find out more about these lovely little animals.
Let us know what you think about our guide in the comments below.