Gerbil Care Basics
Gerbils are very social animals and are active day and night. They are curious, friendly and nearly odorless, and love to burrow. They make extensive burrows in the wild consisting of multiple entrances, nesting rooms, and food chambers.
Gerbils rarely bite or fight and are easy to handle and care for as pets. They are relatively free of infectious disease.
High quality rodent pelleted food containing 20%-22% protein , this can be supplemented with sugarless breakfast cereals, whole wheat breads, pasta, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables: ALL FED IN MODERATION. Gerbils eat approximately 5-8 grams of food a day. A common commercial food for gerbils are seed base but these do not provide adequate calcium and are high in fat and cholesterol and if fed alone will lead to malnutrition and obesity.
Fresh water should be provided daily and the water bottle and sipper tube should be cleaned daily to prevent blockage of food particles in the tube.
Gerbils are generally docile and friendly in nature and usually will approach a hand placed in their cage and can be gently picked up. They can also be picked up grasping the base of the tail. Just the base of the tail should be grasped because the skin on the end of the tail will easily pull off. They can also be restrained by scruffing them– that is by grasping the skin over the back of the neck. They are very fast so be careful not to let them escape.
Cages with tunnels, exercise wheel, and nesting boxes are good for the gerbils mental well being. The cage should be a minimum of 36 inches square and 6 inches high with a secure top. The material should allow good air circulation and be easy to clean and not allow escape.
Bedding should be clean, non-toxic, absorbent, and relatively dust-free. Shredded paper, recycled paper products, aspen shavings and processed corn cob bedding are recommended. DO NOT USE CEDAR OR CHLOROPHYLL SHAVINGS since they have been associated with respiratory and liver disease. Provide at least 2 inches of bedding so they can burrow. The cage should be cleaned at least once weekly.
Epilepsy: gerbils have a genetic tendency to develop seizures. These can be mild to very severe. The convulsions appear not to have long term effects. Frequent handling, during the first few weeks of life and providing a stable environment with a complete, balanced diet can help suppress the seizures in genetically predisposed gerbils.
Tail Sloughing: improper handling of gerbils can result in the loss of fur from the end of the tail.
Nasal Dermatitis: gerbils commonly develop hair
loss on the nose and muzzle with open lesions and crusting. This can be due to coarse bedding or rough surfaces in the cage. This can also be due to the Hardarian gland malfunctioning, which is located behind the eye and produces a porphyrin secretion.
Renal disease: Old gerbils, 2.5-4 years of age, often present with weight loss, poor appetite, lethargy and increased drinking.
Neoplasia: Gerbils have a relatively high incidence of cancer after 2 years of age. Ovarian tumors may present with early cessation of reproduction, decreased litter size, or distended abdomens. The skin can also be affected by tumors. Squamous cell carcinomas and melanomas are most common. The ventral marking scent gland is another site for tumors. This is located in the mid-abdominal area and it produces an orange– colored secretion for marking territories. Tumors can appear as abscesses.
Tyzzer’s Disease: This is the most common infectious disease in gerbils and is caused by a bacteria. It can cause a high death rate. Clinical signs include ruffled fur, lethargy, hunched posture, poor appetite and diarrhea. Prevention is the key to this disease. High level sanitation and minimal stress can reduce the occurrence of this disease.
Provide an adequate sized cage with good ventilation and one that is easy to clean
Safe bedding that is non-toxic, absorbent, clean and relatively dust– free; DO NOT USE CEDAR OR CHLOROPHYLL BEDDING
Provide a well balanced diet with clean water daily