CARING FOR YOUR PET GERBILS
Gerbils are clean, quiet pets that are best kept in two’s or groups. These mini architects spend hours entertaining their owner, tunnelling and building burrows. There are approximately 89 species of gerbils, with the most popular being the Mongolian gerbil, from (you guessed it!) the Mongolian Desert. In the wild, gerbils like to live in burrows with their families. Assorted colour variations are available, which include agouti, argent, blue, lilac, dove, cream, chinchilla, black and albino.
One Gerbil, Two or More?
In their natural setting, gerbils thrive living in communal groups. This should be sufficient reason to keep more than one gerbil. Unless babies are wanted, females generally get along together better than males. Gerbils should be introduced to one another at six to 10 weeks of age if a relatively happy living arrangement is to be accomplished.
Raising A Family
Sexual maturity occurs at eight to nine weeks and the gestation period is 24 to 28 days. The number in a litter may be two to eight pups and their eyes open at 10 to 12 days. During birth and weaning, if the male is left with his partner he will share the parental duties. Very little intervention other than fresh food and water are required. Anything more than a quick change of food and water and the occasional spot cleaning will upset the mother, and cause her distress.
We recommend placing your gerbils’ home in a room where there is a fair amount of activity. This way they will have an opportunity to get familiar with your family’s day-to-day routine. The optimum room temperature is between 68°F – 74°F (20°C – 23.8°C). Rapid changes in temperature may lead to respiratory problems. Place the cage away from direct sunlight, heat or air-conditioning vents and any drafts.
Our pet counsellors are small animal lovers and because they are, they hold and play with all the small animals in our store. Our guests also play a big part in our small animal’s social skills.*
This is why Petland small animals are quick to bond with their new owner.
To provide a happy, healthy atmosphere for your gerbils, Petland recommends the following necessary, and fun accessories. We have listed them as your new pet’s four basic needs: Nutritional, Environmental, Maintenance and Behavioural. When these needs are met, along with a loving environment provided by you, your gerbils can live a long and happy life. Typically, a healthy gerbil may live between two to four years.
Your Gerbil’s New Home – Whether it is a two-storey cage with a removable plastic bottom, an enclosed plastic unit with tunnels and attachments or perhaps it is an aquarium with a snug fitting screen lid; do not underestimate your potential escapees! Give your gerbils room enough to run, sleep and tunnel.
Nesting Material – This material is made specifically for gerbils, hamsters, mice, rats, and degus (it’s safe). It provides your gerbils with an opportunity to gather and chew bedding to form a cozy bed inside their hideaway.
Hiding Place – Every living creature needs an area to call their own. A hideaway is necessary in reducing stress and makes them feel secure. Their home can be made of ceramic, wicker or wood, but make sure it is made specifically with a gerbil in mind. Tissue boxes or toilet paper rolls, although happily slept in and chewed, are potential health hazards that you should avoid.
Your gerbil is an omnivore, which means he eats both plant and animal food. Your gerbil’s primary diet is extrusion food. A few cubes placed in his dish every day, plus the following extras in his daily feeding program, will keep him satisfied. Provide mixes with nuts, corn, seeds and fruits as a treat only. Gerbils have a habit of selecting these tempting morsels and leaving the healthy pellets.
Treats and Other Diet Variations – Supply grass hay to stimulate natural foraging activities, which help in the prevention of obesity. The bonus here is that they also love it! Hay is also an excellent source of nesting material. There are variety of hays to choose from; however, gerbils especially enjoy oat hay, which often contains immature seed heads.
Treats are a great way to help keep your gerbils from becoming bored with their fare, and stay healthy and active. All gerbils should be introduced to new foods gradually. Never more than 5% of their total diet should consist of treats, or about a ½ tsp daily. These also include mixed seeds and treat sticks. Offer treats to encourage interaction between you and your pet, but only after your pet eats his basic diet.
We recommend that for the first few days in your home, you do not feed your new pets any fruits, vegetables or treats. It is at this time that they will be most prone to getting diarrhea (wet-tail). Limiting their variety of foods is best until they are settled. Fresh foods are considered treats for gerbils rather than a staple in your pet’s diet. Carrot and beet tops, dandelion greens and flowers (that have not been subjected to spraying), kale, collard greens, romaine and leaf lettuce (not iceberg lettuce), parsley, carrots and pea pods are some good choices. Large amounts of green foods should be avoided, since they are difficult to digest and can cause health concerns.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplement – This should be added to the drinking water or food, according to bottle directions. In the wild, animals can choose the foods their bodies require. Even i f you give your gerbils a variety of foods, you may not be providing them with certain vitamins/minerals that they need.
Salt and Mineral Stone – Your gerbils need a salt and mineral stone available at all times. Salt will encourage them to drink enough water, and the water aids in digestion.
Water Bottle – A water bottle should be used to keep the gerbil’s water clean and free of shavings. As well, the liquid vitamins will not be wasted if a bottle is used. Fresh water should be made available at all times. If your gerbils are housed in an aquarium, a bottle holder or bottle guard will be required.
Crock Bowls – These are easy to clean, cannot be chewed and are hard to tip over. Two are advisable, one for food and the other for treats.
Litter – Aspen bedding is the best choice for your gerbil’s home. Cedar or other aromatic litters may not be used due to a gerbil’s sensitive respiratory system. Pelleted litters made from wood pulp or paper may also be used, but are not nearly as fun! Since gerbils love to tunnel and build nests, aspen fills an important behavioural need. An aquarium half full of aspen is a fun activity for gerbils that will delight in making a maze of secret channels. A cage with pelleted or corn cob litter and an aquarium full of aspen for their play times would be ideal. A litter scoop will be needed to spot clean your gerbil’s home once a week. Strip (completely clean out) your gerbil’s home once every two weeks (more often if you have more than two gerbils) with hot, soapy water. It should then be rinsed well, and dried completely. Bleach or other household cleaners are not to be used in or around your gerbil’s home.
Deodorizer – Thankfully gerbils do not produce much urine, so odour problems are not typically an issue. Everyone has their own definition of what’s stinky, and what’s not. There are products available, made specifically for small animals. A product that has enzymes in it should be used. Enzymes eat up odours!
Chew Blocks – Your gerbil’s teeth will grow throughout their life. Give them a variety of chewing aids to keep their teeth trimmed. A branch from outside may not be safe nor will a toilet paper or paper towel roll. Small animal chews are generally made from balsa wood, which is hard enough to gnaw on, but soft enough not to splinter or cut. Your gerbil doesn’t play fetch with a ball or run after squeaky toys, as other pets do, but they have a behavioural need, and that is to chew.
Tunnels and Tubes/Blocks and Ladders – Your gerbils will love to burrow and run about in a maze of tunnels, or run an obstacle course of blocks and ladders. In order to provide them with mental stimulation and exercise, they require an assortment of tunnels, tubes, blocks and ladders.
Exercise Wheel – Just like us, gerbils need exercise to stay healthy and trim. As any gerbil owner can tell you, the wheel is used nightly for your little one’s instinctual need to run, run, run!
Exercise Ball – An exercise ball can be a fun and safe way for your gerbils to gain a little more freedom while staying in shape. Remember, to keep the ball far away from stairs to prevent a sudden accident. Limit the amount of time in their ball to five to 10 minutes.
A Book on Gerbils – Petland has many excellent books on small animal care available. Having a book available to you will make for interesting reading and may be used as a reference for years to come.
Please ask your pet counsellor what other items pertain to your particular pet’s needs.
*Ask about the volunteer program at your nearest Petland location.
Cleanliness and Safety
All pets must be kept in a clean environment to avoid the spread of dirt and contaminants to yourself and others. Always keep your pet’s home clean, and wash your hands before and after handling your pet or cleaning his home.
Please remember that all pets may bite or scratch, and may transmit diseases to humans. Young children, infants, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and the elderly are at greater risk of infections and should use caution when in contact with pets or their homes.