Pet gerbils are active, inquisitive and amusing pets. They also create little or no odour, can be obtained in different colours as there are around 80 different species, and are less nocturnal than most pet rodents.
Best housed in small groups, the ideal pet gerbil group originate from the same litter, which reduces territorial squabbles which gerbils can be prone to. Gerbils can be handled but preferably only for short periods or they will normally try and escape because they like to be on the move, exploring their surroundings.
An important point is not to handle their tails, especially near the tip. The outer skin is sheddable and is also shed to escape predators, so it can easily break off. As the tail is often used to as a counterbalance during the gerbil’s natural athletic activity, it is best left as long as possible.
Being short-haired, grooming is largely unnecessary with gerbils as they groom themselves fairly effectively, though nails may need checking. However, when handling them, take the opportunity to check skin, fur, ears, etc, for any health concerns.
A glass aquarium or plastic cage is ideal, with closed sides to prevent debris being scattered beyond the cage boundaries and a secure but ventilated lid as gerbils are good jumpers thanks to their muscular back legs. Gerbils’ natural habitats are warm so while ventilation is good, draughts are not.
A small plastic cage should be kept in reserve for main cage cleaning or vet visits, etc. Water is best hung from the roof in a syringe-type or gravity-feeding arrangement. Gerbils do not need much water but being inquisitive will drag anything around the floor if the urge takes them. See “Gerbil Toys” below regarding what to include in the cage, but platforms and ladders can also be added to the list as further entertainment for the gerbil – and yourself as observer!
Gerbils’ nutrition requirements are well-known and commercial foods provide the right balance of a wide range of suitable ingredients. Food should be kept fresh, and hay is a suitable addition to the cage in samll quantities as it will be consumed. Most gerbils will eat live food such as small crickets ansd mealworms but these whould be used more as an occasional treat rather then regularly fed, to maintain a balanced diet. Like rabbits and some other rodents, gerbils will re-ingest some of their droppings, in gerbils’ case to extract the right bacteria to further aid their digestion, so this is not to be discouraged.
Aside from commercial toys, of which wheels and especially tunnels will be enthusiastically made use of, toilet roll canisters and small but safe cardboard boxes can also be used to create tunnels in the bedding material, which is often wood shavings. Be ready to buy replacement toys of any type as the gerbils will over time chew them to destruction; enjoy!