When it comes to your gerbils’ happiness, healthiness, and overall well-being, the enclosure you choose is a crucial foundation. It lays the groundwork for your gerbils to be able to engage in all the behaviors they love, like running, jumping, play-fighting, chewing, digging, and burrowing.
Unfortunately, when you search for the best gerbil cages online, you get back mostly misleading or just plain incorrect information.
Most websites just do a cursory search for “gerbil cage” on Amazon and list the top 5 or top 10 best-reviewed gerbil cages they find. However, these products usually aren’t acceptable for safely housing gerbils.
Here, we’ll review what the best gerbil cages actually are, based on real-life, first-hand experience, diligent research, and the consensus of other gerbil owners and experts.
How to Choose a Gerbil Cage
Before we list our picks for the best gerbil cages and enclosures, let’s review what you need to look for in a proper gerbil habitat.
Know how much space gerbils need
A gerbil enclosure has to meet some basic size requirements for your gerbils to get all the space they need. Here are the guidelines you should follow:
- Minimum square inches for 2 gerbils: 400 square inches
- Minimum gallons for 2 gerbils: 20 gallons (not including topper)
- Minimum bedding depth for gerbils: 6 inches
To learn more about how large a gerbil habitat should be, click here.
Know your gerbils’ personalities
All Mongolian gerbils have similar instincts and natural inclinations. However, gerbils are also highly individual and have distinct personalities.
Some gerbils are true diggers and burrowers, who spend little time doing anything else. Some gerbils are wheeloholics, while others will ignore their wheel entirely. And some gerbils enjoy jumping and climbing, while others avoid heights.
If you haven’t adopted your gerbils yet, it’s hard to know what they’ll be like. So you’ll want to provide opportunities for all of their possible pastimes, including burrowing, running, and jumping or climbing.
If you’ve owned your gerbils for a while, you probably know what they like and what they tend to ignore or avoid.
If you know, for example, that your gerbils love to climb things (and aren’t just bar-climbing because they’re in too small a space), you might choose a tank with a tank topper so that they can go up to different levels.
If your gerbils don’t enjoy a wheel, you can provide even more bedding to keep them active and engaged in burrowing, instead.
Pay attention to chewing hazards
Gerbils are voracious chewers with 4 powerful incisors. They can and will chew anything that has a good “mouth feel.” This includes anything made of wood, cardboard, fiberboard, or plastic.
Because many small pet cages are made of wood or plastic, you’ll have to look out for those that your gerbil will want to chew.
Not all plastic enclosures are off-limits for gerbils, since some are thick enough and smooth enough to prevent them from getting a good grip. However, metal and glass are always a safer bet. Wooden enclosures are not a good idea.
Choose a gerbil enclosure, not a hamster cage
Many first-time gerbil owners believe that hamster cages and gerbil cages are one and the same. However, gerbils have different needs than hamsters. Here are the differences between what a hamster needs and what a pair of gerbils requires:
Gerbils need deeper bedding
Gerbils need a deeper substrate than hamsters because they naturally burrow much more. That means that most hamster cages won’t work because the bottom tray is not deep enough.
Gerbils can walk on wire surfaces (somewhat)
Hamsters are extremely prone to a condition called “bumblefoot.” This is an infection of the footpad that often occurs when hamsters walk on metal wire surfaces too often. Healthy gerbils rarely get bumblefoot.
So if you have a wire tank topper with levels, you don’t need to worry about this issue like you would with a hamster, as long as you keep the wire topper clean. However, a wire mesh floor can still be damaging to a gerbil’s feet and legs if they get caught in it, so it’s up to you whether you want to take this risk or not. Walking on wire is also not as pleasant as walking on a flat surface for your pets.
This also doesn’t mean that gerbils can use wire mesh wheels! These are dangerous for all small animals and should be avoided.
Gerbils get messy
Another reason most hamster cages don’t work well for gerbils, even if they do have a deep bedding tray, is that your gerbils will kick tons of their bedding out onto the floor.
This means you’ll need to sweep up around the cage often to keep the area tidy, and you could be wasting bedding.
Make room for your gerbils
You might be surprised at how large a proper gerbil habitat really is and how much space it takes up. After all, big-box pet stores sell the illusion that tiny animals can live and thrive in cute, tiny cages full of colorful tubes and toys. But this just isn’t the case.
A pair of gerbils needs at least 400 square inches of horizontal space, plus at least 10 inches of vertical space.
If you adopted gerbils thinking that they’d take up little space in your home, you’re not alone. However, it’s essential to prioritize your pets’ well-being over the look and aesthetic or layout of your home.
If you do not have the space to house your gerbils properly and have already adopted them, consider surrendering your gerbils to a reputable rescue shelter in your area, letting them know your situation.
Although this can be heartbreaking, it’s ultimately best for your pets if you’re not set up to take care of them properly. We don’t recommend adopting your pets out using Craigslist, Facebook, or any for-sale site because this can lead to animal neglect and abuse.
Best Gerbil Cages and Enclosures for 2023
Now let’s look at our recommendations for the best gerbil cages and enclosures. These recommendations are based on first-hand experience, extensive research, and the experiences of other gerbil owners.
1. 40-gallon breeder tank with mesh lid
17 inches tall | 660 square inches of unbroken floor space
- Great size for 2 to 4 gerbils
- Space for enrichment items and plenty of bedding
- Fits a 12” wheel
- Easy cleaning by scooping or vacuuming out bedding and sanitizing the glass surface
- Easy setup, no DIY
- Too heavy to regularly lift-and-dump for cleaning if that’s your preferred method
- Can be hard to find and is only available by one company currently
- Can sometimes have subtle cracks; check the tank over before leaving the store
- Lid doesn’t lock or seal securely; motivated gerbils may be able to lift the lid
The first “gerbil cage” on our list isn’t actually a cage at all but a tank, instead.
As mentioned above, most gerbil owners eventually choose a tank over a cage for several reasons. Tanks are less messy, and they provide the vertical and horizontal space gerbils need.
A 40-gallon breeder tank is a unique type of tank that has more depth (front to back) than a normal 40-gallon tank. This makes it perfect for laying out all the enrichment your gerbils need, as well as a space full of deep bedding.
Unfortunately, only one company currently sells a 40-gallon breeder tank. This Aqueon tank, plus an Imagitarium mesh lid for 40-gallon tanks (available on Amazon and through Petco), is a great choice.
Petco often offers both of these on sale for a lower price, and you can find them secondhand, too.
The mesh lid doesn’t feature a seal or lock of any kind. You can use these tank lid clips or rest something heavy on each end to keep it secure, but make sure not to block the ventilation into the tank.
2. 20-gallon tank with tank topper
400 inches of unbroken floor space | 13 inches tall (tank only)
331 inches of unbroken floor space | 17 inches tall (tank only)
- Simulates a gerbil’s natural environment with bedding on the bottom and enrichment on top
- Keeps your gerbils from burying their wheel and water bottle
- Meets the minimum requirements for two gerbils, with 10 gallons of unbroken space apiece
- Easy to clean by disconnecting the top and dumping out the bottom
- You can buy a custom-built topper that fits your specific needs, including a large wheel
- Tank toppers are expensive
- Can be hard to access your gerbils when they’re in the bottom
- Doesn’t provide a lengthy horizontal space for running
- Has wire flooring, which you’ll want to cover with tile or wood pieces
- Takes a while to order and receive a custom tank topper
A 20-gallon tank with a custom tank topper can be perfect for two gerbils who enjoy a bit of climbing.
A 20-gallon tank is just large enough on its own to house two gerbils, but most owners feel that it’s still too small. Your gerbils don’t have enough space in a 20-gallon tank to fit enrichment items like a wheel and hide as well as enough bedding.
If you add a tank topper to a 20-gallon tank, though, you can put the enrichment items in the topper and fill the entire tank with bedding.
This is an ideal setup because it simulates what a gerbil would encounter in the wild, with activities “above ground” and their safe burrows “below ground.”
Then head to Etsy to find a custom tank topper that fits the specifications of your tank. Here’s an example of a custom-fit tank topper.
The issues with this setup are that it’s difficult to access your gerbils without taking the topper completely off, and the whole setup will cost more than a larger tank.
Tip: A 20-gallon tank topper can also be used with a 29-gallon tank, which provides your gerbils with more burrowing space.
3. 75-gallon tank
864 square inches of unbroken floor space | 21 inches tall
- Easily fits a large wheel
- Offers a balance of horizontal floor space and vertical burrowing space
- Comfortably houses 3 to 5 gerbils
- Not ideal for just two gerbils (excess space may lead to declanning)
- Requires a large, dedicated space
- Requires a large amount of bedding to provide the proper burrowing depth
A 75-gallon tank is a great option if you have a larger clan of more than two or three gerbils. It has tons of horizontal and vertical space, offering plenty of room for burrowing and enrichment items.
However, 75 gallons of space is often too much for just two gerbils, and this excess space or filling it with too much bedding and enrichment can lead to declanning.
Not all gerbil pairs will declan when given this amount of space. It’s more likely if you break up the tank into separate sections or include too many hides and toys.
4. Ikea Detolf storage unit with DIY lid
60 US gallons | 928 square inches of unbroken floor space | 15 inches tall
- Inexpensive way to provide a lot of space
- Provides the most floor space without going up to a 75-gallon tank
- Tall enough for a 12” wheel
- Easily divide the burrowing space from the space with the wheel and water bottle
- Plenty of room for up to 5 gerbils
- May be too much space for just two gerbils, which could lead to declanning
- Long and narrow dimensions mean your gerbils have limited ability to burrow front to back
- Prone to cracking along the bottom because it’s meant to stand upright rather than lying on its back
- Requires a DIY lid
The IKEA Detolf storage cabinet is a popular DIY choice amongst both gerbil and hamster owners. Many gerbil owners use this cabinet as an enclosure for multiple gerbils.
The Detolf is an inexpensive solution to providing tons of horizontal floor space, as well as sufficient height for burrowing. Its length means that you can separate the bedding and burrowing area from the space with the wheel and water bottle.
The Detolf may provide too much space for two gerbils, however, similar to a 55-gallon tank. Additionally, the Detolf limits your gerbils’ ability to burrow in three dimensions because it is so long and narrow.
The Detolf as a gerbil cage also requires you to create a DIY lid, and it’s prone to cracking along the bottom since it’s not meant to lay on its side. You can find instructions for building a lid for your Detolf on Reddit, here.
What to Avoid in a Gerbil Cage
Now let’s look at what you should avoid in a gerbil cage or enclosure. These are features that are far too prevalent in products advertised as “gerbil cages,” often misleading new pet owners.
If you have a cage that meets this description, don’t worry! Most small animal owners go through a trial-and-error process that includes purchasing non-ideal cages.
As long as you take the steps to correct their housing situation and provide them with everything they need, your gerbils will not hold your misstep against you (and neither will your fellow gerbil owners).
Shallow base tray
Unfortunately, many “gerbil cages” are actually hamster cages, and they aren’t suitable for gerbils. Gerbils need a deep burrowing area–much deeper than what hamsters require.
Small overall size
Gerbils need much more space than most pet retailers seem to think. A gerbil’s enclosure should be at least 20 gallons (for two gerbils) and have at least 400 square inches of unbroken floor space.
More vertical than horizontal
Another trend is enclosures that look like a tower with multiple levels. This is an attempt to provide more space for the gerbils without creating a larger footprint.
However, additional levels do not count toward the required floor space. The floor space of at least 400 square inches must be all on one level. Additional levels are fine, but they need to be in addition to those 400 square inches.
Tubes and attachments
Gerbils do not need tubes, and using a cage or enclosure that has tubes attached can lead to declanning.
This is especially true if you use a tube system to connect two or more cages together. Adding two or more cages together doesn’t, unfortunately, count towards gerbils’ unbroken floor space requirements, either.
Attachments like exterior wheels and hides that attach to a tube system are also something to steer clear of. These can promote territorialism and declanning and cause distress.
Cheap hides and toys included
If a gerbil cage comes with cheap plastic hideouts, wheels, food dishes, or water bottles, that’s not a problem in itself. You can, of course, take these things out and replace them with higher-quality items.
However, the inclusion of these bells and whistles often indicates that the cage is not actually geared toward gerbils.
Gerbils can and will chew plastic food dishes and hides, and the wheels included in these packages are almost always (if not always) far too small for a gerbil.
Made of inexpensive plastic
A cage that’s made of plastic can work if it’s designed properly, with no accessible edges to get ahold of. However, most of these cages have parts that a gerbil can chew up and even get out of the cage.
Caring for Gerbils is a Process
Most gerbil owners don’t get it exactly right on their first try. If you’ve found yourself with a gerbil enclosure that isn’t ideal, take it upon yourself to improve on your gerbils’ living conditions. Using one of the gerbil cages above or something similar, you can create a gerbil habitat that gives them everything they need.
Taking care of small pets like gerbils is an ongoing process, and you’ll always find ways to improve upon the care you’re providing. That includes updating or changing their enclosure as needed.