Gerbils are delightful small pets that bring joy to many people. However, like any popular pet, gerbils are often subject to misconceptions and misinformation.
This misinformation can lead well-meaning gerbil owners to make mistakes in their pets’ care, resulting in lost money and potential risks to the animal’s mental and physical well-being.
In this article, we’ll debunk some of the most common gerbil misconceptions and provide you with accurate information to ensure the best care for your furry friends. Let’s separate fact from fiction in gerbil care.
Gerbil Misconception 1: Gerbils are low-maintenance pets.
It’s a common belief that gerbils require minimal care and attention. However, this is far from the truth. Gerbils are active creatures with specific needs that must be met for their overall well-being.
Gerbils require regular care and attention to thrive. They need a spacious habitat, a balanced diet, mental stimulation, and social interaction. Neglecting these needs can lead to health and behavioral issues.
To provide the proper care for your gerbil, ensure that you have a habitat that meets their requirements. Gerbils need a cage with a minimum space of 10 gallons per gerbil. We recommend a 40-gallon breeder tank for two to four gerbils or a similar-sized enclosure. Regularly clean the habitat, about once every two to four weeks, to maintain hygiene.
A balanced diet is also crucial for gerbil health. Offer a mix of seeds, fresh vegetables, hay, and high-quality pellets or lab blocks. Monitor their diet to prevent overfeeding and provide fresh water at all times. Engage your gerbil in mental stimulation by providing toys, tunnels, and opportunities for burrowing and foraging.
Gerbil Misconception 2: Gerbils can survive on just seeds.
Some believe that a diet consisting solely of seeds is sufficient for gerbils. The reason this misconception exists is largely because of a lack of information provided by pet stores and misleading marketing.
Simple, low-quality seed mixes are often labeled as “gerbil and hamster food,” without specifying that the mix isn’t a sufficient source of nutrition on its own. Unfortunately, this misconception can lead to nutritional deficiencies and health problems in gerbils.
While seeds are a healthy part of a gerbil’s diet, they should not be the sole source of nutrition. Gerbils require a varied diet that includes a combination of seeds, grains, fresh vegetables, hay, and high-quality pellets or lab blocks. This balanced diet provides essential nutrients and helps to prevent dental issues.
It’s also important to provide a seed mix that’s nutritionally balanced and not too high in fat. Most commercial “hamster and gerbil” seed mixes include lots of seeds with high-fat content, which can lead to obesity and diabetes in both hamsters and gerbils.
Fresh vegetables should be provided in small amounts several times a week, including options like broccoli, spinach, and kale. Remember to introduce new foods gradually and monitor your gerbil’s response to ensure they are eating a balanced diet.
Gerbil Misconception 3: Gerbils don’t need social interaction.
It’s common to assume that gerbils are solitary creatures and don’t require social interaction with their own kind or humans.
Gerbils are highly social animals and thrive in the company of their own kind. They should be housed in same-sex pairs or small groups to prevent loneliness and promote their natural behaviors. Additionally, human interaction, such as gentle handling and playtime, helps to build trust and strengthens the bond between gerbils and their owners.
To provide appropriate social interaction for your gerbil, adopt at least two gerbils of the same sex. Introduce them properly if they did not come from the same litter, and monitor their interactions closely to ensure compatibility. Make sure the cage is large enough for two gerbils.
Regularly interact with your gerbils through gentle handling, talking to them, and providing playtime outside the cage in a secure and supervised environment. This helps to keep them mentally stimulated, reduces stress, and strengthens the bond between you and your gerbils.
Gerbil Misconception 4: Gerbils don’t need a large habitat.
Some people believe that gerbils can live happily in small cages or enclosures, as they are small animals.
Gerbils are active and curious creatures that require a spacious habitat to explore and exercise. A cage should have a minimum floor space of 10 gallons per gerbil and at least 8 inches of bedding depth for burrowing.
To provide an appropriate habitat for your gerbils, opt for a cage with multiple You can provide multiple levels, tunnels, and hiding spots to allow them to exercise and explore. However, the most important factors to look for in a gerbil cage or enclosure are plenty of unbroken floor space (not broken up over levels) and plenty of depth to dig.
Allow your gerbils to have supervised playtime outside of the cage in a secure area. This gives them the opportunity to explore and exercise further and have new experiences, promoting their physical and mental well-being.
Gerbil Misconception 5: Gerbils don’t require veterinary care.
There is a very common misconception that gerbils and other small pets don’t need regular veterinary check-ups or medical care if they get sick. This is mainly because their lifespan is so short, and there are fewer exotic pet veterinarians than there are vets for cats and dogs.
Gerbils, like any other pets, are susceptible to illnesses and health issues. Just because they are small and have relatively short lifespans, that doesn’t mean that they don’t require medical care like any valued pet.
Monitor your gerbils for any signs of illness, such as changes in appetite, weight loss, abnormal behavior, or signs of distress. If you notice any concerning symptoms, consult a veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure prompt and appropriate treatment.
Gerbil Misconception 6: Gerbils are ideal pets for young children.
Gerbils are often seen as ideal pets for young children due to their small size and perceived low maintenance. In fact, gerbils are often kept as “class pets” in elementary schools. However, gerbils aren’t always the best pet for kids.
While gerbils can be great pets for families, it is important to supervise interactions between young children and gerbils. The primary caregivers for the gerbils should be the adults in the household since proper gerbil care requires a sufficient budget.
Gerbils are also delicate creatures and may become stressed or injured if mishandled. Teach children the proper way to handle gerbils gently and responsibly.
When introducing gerbils to young children, teach them how to handle the gerbils with care. Show them how to support the gerbil’s body properly, hold the gerbil with both hands, and avoid any rough handling. Supervise interactions to ensure the safety and well-being of both the children and the gerbils.
The gerbil’s safety and comfort should always be at the forefront of consideration. If they show any signs of distress or discomfort, place them carefully back in the cage.
You should also educate children about gerbil behavior, needs, and appropriate ways to interact with them. This helps foster a sense of responsibility and respect for the gerbil’s well-being.
Learn more: What is the Best Small Pet for Kids?
Gerbil Misconception 7: Gerbils are nocturnal animals.
It’s a common misconception that gerbils are strictly nocturnal animals, active only at night. This is because people generally think of rodents as being nocturnal.
Gerbils are actually crepuscular, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk. However, they can also be active during other times of the day, especially when they receive regular social interaction and mental stimulation.
Observe your gerbils’ activity patterns to determine their peak times of activity. Provide social interaction, playtime, and mental stimulation during those times to keep them engaged and prevent boredom.
It’s also important to understand that gerbils are crepuscular so that you can place their enclosure in the best part of your home. For example, if you don’t wake up early and your gerbils are very active at dawn, you might not want to keep their enclosure in a bedroom.
Gerbil Misconception 8: Gerbils need their teeth trimmed.
Dental care is an often-misunderstood topic in gerbil care. Gerbil owners may overlook their gerbils’ dental health entirely, or alternatively, believe that gerbils need their teeth professionally trimmed or kept trim exclusively through chewing.
It’s true that gerbils’ teeth continuously grow throughout their lives. Providing them with appropriate chew toys, hay, and a balanced diet that includes hard food items helps maintain proper dental health. You should regularly check their teeth for signs of overgrowth or abnormalities and consult a veterinarian if any concerns arise.
However, most gerbils won’t require any dental procedures during their lifetimes. Additionally, while chewing activities are great for their teeth and for mental stimulation, chewing isn’t the only way your gerbils maintain their own teeth.
Gerbils actually grind their teeth together to keep them from growing too long. So even if they don’t have chewing activities (which they always should anyway), your gerbil knows how to keep its teeth trim.
With that said, some genetic abnormalities, illness, and old age can cause a gerbil to be unable to maintain its teeth. In this situation, veterinary care is required.
Gerbil Misconception 9: Gerbils don’t need fresh foods.
It is sometimes believed that gerbils can thrive on a diet devoid of fresh vegetables and fruits.
Fresh vegetables and fruits are crucial for a gerbil’s overall health and well-being. These provide essential vitamins, minerals, and hydration. Offer small amounts of fresh vegetables like carrots, broccoli, and leafy greens as part of their balanced diet.
Introduce a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits to your gerbils’ diet gradually. Start with small amounts and observe their response to different options. Avoid offering toxic or harmful foods like onions, garlic, or citrus fruits.
Remember to wash and prepare the vegetables and fruits properly before offering them to your gerbils. Remove any uneaten fresh food from the cage after a few hours to prevent spoilage.
It’s also important to provide fruits and vegetables in moderation. Provide only a thumbnail-sized portion of fruit or vegetables to each gerbil two to three times a week. Any more than this and your gerbil can suffer from stomach discomfort and diarrhea.
Gerbil Misconception 10: Gerbils have a short lifespan.
There is a misconception that gerbils have a very short lifespan, and their longevity is limited.
Gerbils have an average lifespan of 2 to 4 years. However, with proper care, a healthy diet, and a suitable environment, gerbils can live beyond the average lifespan range, sometimes reaching up to 6 years of age!
By providing a nutritious diet, a spacious and stimulating habitat, regular veterinary care, and social interaction, you can often (not always) help extend the lifespan of your gerbils. Remember that each gerbil is unique, and genetics also play a role in their overall lifespan.
Observe your gerbils closely for any changes in behavior or health and seek veterinary attention when necessary. Providing a nurturing and enriched environment contributes to their overall well-being and longevity.
Setting the Record Straight on Gerbil Care
Gerbil care should be based on accurate information rather than misconceptions. By debunking these common myths, we hope to provide you with a better understanding of your gerbil’s needs. Remember, providing a spacious habitat, a balanced diet, social interaction, and regular veterinary care are key to ensuring your gerbil’s health and happiness.
- Cartwright, Louise. “Do Gerbils’ Teeth Keep Growing?” Gerbil Welfare. 2 November 2022. https://www.gerbilwelfare.com/do-gerbils-teeth-keep-growing/.
- “Gerbils.” RSPCA. https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/rodents/gerbils