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Care Guide

About Care Guides[x] These care guides are written to help your clients understand common conditions, tests, and procedures, as well as to provide basic information about pet care. They are based on the most up-to-date, documented information, recommendations, and guidelines available in the United States at the time of writing. Pharmaceutical product licensing, availability, and usage recommendations are based on US product information. Use the Download Handout button to generate a PDF for printing or e-mailing to your clients.

Caring for Gerbils

    If you are looking for a rewarding pet that can entertain you for hours, consider a gerbil. Gerbils are fascinating, charismatic, and less prone to disease than other small rodents. Gerbils are friendly and social, and they rarely bite, which is why they are considered good pets for children. Following certain guidelines can help prevent disease and keep your gerbils happy.

    Biologic Facts

    • The Mongolian gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus) is native to the desert regions of Mongolia and northeastern China.
    • This species is one of 90 or more belonging to the subfamily Gerbillinae.
    • Wild gerbils build elaborate burrows. Under the right environmental conditions, they hibernate, although this is not recommended for captive gerbils.
    • Gerbils are social and active during the day and at night.
    • They reach sexual maturity at 9 to 10 weeks.
    • Gestation usually lasts about 25 days.
    • The life span of a gerbil is usually 2 to 3.5 years (up to 5 years has been reported).

    Behavior

    • Gerbils are social, preferring to live in pairs or small, familiar groups.
    • Usual social interactions include grooming, wrestling, and communal sleeping.
    • Gerbils are territorial and aggressive toward intruders, especially when overcrowded; unless adults are properly introduced, fighting and cannibalism are likely.
    • Gerbils form stable, monogamous relationships; males participate in caring for offspring and stay in the cage at all times.
    • Gerbils are more likely to explore and less fearful of new things than other small rodents.
    • They rarely bite when handled correctly.
    • Gerbils make excellent pets for older children who can handle them appropriately (e.g., not hold them too tightly or pick them up by the tail).
    • Gerbils are clean, friendly, curious, quiet, and produce little waste and odor.

    Diet

    • Wild gerbils consume an omnivorous diet of leaves, seeds, and insects.
    • Pelleted rodent chow with 16% to 22% protein is recommended over seed mixture; if gerbils are fed seeds, they tend to eat an incomplete diet.
    • Gerbils in the wild require little water and can obtain almost all the water they need from available fruit and vegetable matter; however, a captive gerbil’s diet is low in moisture and should be supplemented with small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables, such as apples and carrots.
    • Captive gerbils should have clean water available at all times.

    Housing

    • Gerbils are able to tolerate heat well, but not high humidity. They should be housed at a temperature between 65°F and 85°F (18°C and 29°C); 72°F (22°C) is ideal.
    • Humidity levels between 30% and 50% are recommended. Above 50% relative humidity, a gerbil’s fur becomes roughened and damp.
    • A day-night cycle of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness is best for gerbils.
    • Gerbils should be allowed to dust-bathe regularly in chinchilla dust.
    • All gerbils nest, and they like to shred paper and cardboard.
    • The cage should be a metal or plastic rodent cage with a solid floor and deep bedding; glass aquariums are not recommended because they do not provide sufficient ventilation.
    • Cages should be designed to prevent escape, like those used for rats or hamsters. Gerbils possess excellent climbing ability and agility; they are excellent “escape artists.”
    • A solid exercise wheel should be provided, along with items appropriate for gnawing to maintain dental health.
    • Cage litter should be clean, dry, absorbent, and nonabrasive. Cedar shavings should not be used because their strong odor can cause respiratory problems.
    • Gerbils are adapted to a desert environment and conserve water well. They produce only a small amount of concentrated urine, and their feces are small, dry, and hard.
    • Gerbils create little odor.

    Preventive Care

    • Routine physical examination every 6 to 12 months
      • Consult a veterinarian with experience treating exotic pets if you have any questions or concerns about your gerbil’s health.
      • Annual fecal examination for parasites

    Common Medical Disorders

    • About 50% of pet gerbils suffer from seizures. The cause is unknown and may be genetic. The seizures start at approximately 2 months of age and are elicited by stressful situations or startling stimuli: sudden noises, handling, or introduction to a strange environment.
    • “Sore nose” is a facial dermatitis (Staphylococcus infection) that results from excessive humidity and unsanitary conditions. Providing a clean, dry cage environment and regular dust bathing help to prevent this problem.
    • “Tail slip”: the skin of the tail is easily pulled off if a gerbil is held by the tail. Gerbils are best restrained by the scruff or cupped in your hands.
    • Dental malocclusion: the incisors grow throughout life and require constant wear to keep them ground down. If the teeth do not oppose properly, they may overgrow, puncturing the lips, mouth, and nose.
    • Diarrhea may occur as a result of various bacterial infections and/or internal parasites.
    • Glandular tumors: cancer of the ventral scent gland (on the underbelly) occasionally occurs.