Small Animal Species E-mail

Gerbil

Courtesy of Oxbow Pet Products

Getting to Know your Pet Gerbil:
Hearty, frisky gerbils are fun to watch scurrying around their cages. They make wonderful pets for older children, because they are awake during the day and they rarely bite. Gerbils are native to many parts of the world, but the most common pet gerbil is the Mongolian. They come in dozens of different colors. Gerbils are very friendly and social. In fact, it is recommended that you get at least two, because they don’t like to be alone, and two gerbils can groom one another. Gerbils require a minimum of care, take up little space and don’t have an odor. You can train them to climb up your arm and sit on your shoulder!


Fun Facts about Gerbils:
· Gerbils have a lifespan of three to four years.
· Gerbils are four to five inches long with tails about the same length.
· Gerbils don’t have good eyesight, but they hear and smell very well.
· Never pick up a gerbil by the tail.
· Gerbils often cover their food dishes with bedding to hide the food.
· Average adult weight for male: 80-110 grams
· Average adult weight for female: 70-100 grams
· Gestation period: 24-26 days
· Pups per litter: 4-6
· Optimal weaning age: 20-30 days


What you Need to Start:
Large wire cage with solid flooring and a secure lid
Cardboard boxes, tubes and toys
Exercise wheel
Litter/bedding
Water bottle
Heavy food bowl
Fortified feed
Nesting material


Housing:
Gerbils can be housed in a variety of environments, such as wire cages or aquariums. Aquariums allow for deep burrowing and prevent bedding from getting kicked out, as in wire cages. Plastic habitats and cages are cute, but are not ideal because gerbils will chew small holes through the plastic through which they can escape. If you choose to keep your gerbil in an aquarium, be sure it is well cleaned and has a wire mesh top to provide ventilation. Keep in mind that aquariums are not as well ventilated as wire cages, so they require more frequent cleaning. Aquariums can be awkward for children to clean. A wire cage should have a solid bottom, and the wires should be close enough together that your gerbil can’t escape. Make sure the cage you choose has a large door to allow you to reach inside easily to handle or feed your pet. Gerbils need an entertaining, stimulating environment, so the cage should be large enough to accommodate cage furniture, including an exercise wheel, a hidey house, tunnels or tubes to play in, hay to burrow in, wood blocks to chew on, a food dish and water bottle. A plain, clean rock can serve as a lookout for your naturally curious pet. Place the cage away from drafts and direct sunlight.

Gerbils are happier when at least two of them are housed together, but be sure they are the same sex, or you will end up with too many babies.

Provide a deep layer of bedding for your gerbil to burrow in. A bedding of compressed high-fiber wheat straw is best, because it absorbs as much as 300% of its weight in moisture. Choose a 100% biodegradable, dust-free bedding that will not stick to fur. You also can use straw or grass hay, shredded paper, certain hardwood shavings or composite newspaper pellets. Gerbils love to chew on hay, move it around their cages, and hide and play in it. Avoid shredded paper made from shiny newspaper ads that contain toxic substances. Also avoid cedar and pine shavings—they contain resins that can irritate your pet’s skin, eyes and mucous membranes.

In addition, provide nesting material. Hay, newspaper, paper towels, facial tissue, old mittens or old socks are excellent nesting material for gerbils.


Exercise:
Gerbils are fast, playful, active pets. An exercise wheel allows your pet to run at full speed as much as she likes. Avoid wire exercise wheels that could cause gerbils to slip and fall or cause injuries by getting a head or foot stuck in one of the spaces. Tubes provide an ideal way for gerbils to explore and play. They enjoy wooden tubes that mimic burrows in the wild. Make sure any toys or cage furniture you put in the gerbil’s house is bite proof or safe for the animal to chew on.

Once a gerbil has been hand-tamed, you can allow her to run around outside of the cage with supervision for a short time every day. Be sure to screen off the area and check it for wires, house plants (they can be poisonous) and other things gerbils could hurt themselves with.

Gerbils love to chew and gnaw on just about anything. Satisfy their chewing urges by providing hay, empty toilet paper rolls or untreated wood blocks.


Feeding:
Gerbils are herbivores, which means they eat only plant material. It’s important to feed your pet correctly to keep him or her from getting fat and unhealthy.

Water: Gerbils drink very little water, but fresh clean water should always be available. A water bottle with a sipper tube works better for your gerbil than a water bowl, because the bowl can be tipped over or contaminated with waste and bedding. However, your gerbil will chew the sipper tube if too much of it is accessible. Hang the bottle on the outside of the cage, so just the tip of the spout is inside. Change water daily and clean the sipper tube weekly.

Complete, fortified kibble: Gerbils require a simple diet of a fortified kibble or feed block. Look for a complete gerbil food with optimally-balanced nutrients to help maintain proper nutrition, weight, digestive function, dental health and longevity. The optimum diet for gerbils contains vitamin E, quality protein, complex carbohydrates and high fiber, as well as being low in sugar and starch. It’s important to choose a food with a high level of acid detergent fiber (ADF) for intestinal mobility. Avoid seeds, high-sugar fruits or artificial preservatives, colors and flavors.

Traditionally, most gerbil foods have been mixes composed of a variety of high fat, low fiber, high-in-sugar seeds and fruits. However, feeding mixes allows your pet to selectively eat only what it wants to, often eating the pieces that are not good for it first and leaving the healthy pieces. Feeding mixes can result in potentially life threatening or life shortening conditions, such as wet tail, dehydration, fatty liver, diabetes, obesity or high cholesterol. Kibble or block food does not allow your pet to pick out its favorite pieces and leave the healthy pieces behind. The best kibble contains all-natural grass and whole grain ingredients, with a shape that is ideal for nibbling to promote healthy teeth.

Treats: Just as with humans, there is more to your pet’s meals than the basics. Eating should be fun! Treats also help you bond with your pet. However, it’s tempting to feed too many treats, because pets like them so much. Avoid feeding so many treats that your gerbil refuses basic foods. Treats should make up no more than 5% of the total diet. Offer pre-packaged treats that are all-natural and low in sugar, with no artificial additives. Treats such as yogurt drops, carrots, dried fruit and seed sticks are high in calories that promote obesity. Sunflower seeds are high in fat and do not make a good snack. You can offer small quantities of vegetables and fruits as daily treats. Do not give your pet cabbage, potatoes, uncooked beans, chocolate, candy or junk food. As with any new food, be sure to introduce new treats slowly to avoid upsetting your pet’s stomach and causing diarrhea.


Gerbil Troubleshooting:
Wettail, Dehydration: Gerbils need to produce both good and bad bacteria in their bodies to properly convert fiber into useable energy. It’s important to give your pet food that is high in fiber, specifically insoluble fiber (ADF) that maintains a proper balance between good and bad bacteria. If the balance is not maintained, your pet can suffer from wettail, a devastating disease that manifests as severe diarrhea. Other possible causes of wettail are stress, transportation, overcrowding, poor sanitation and weaning. Some cases of wettail can be contagious. Gerbils that develop wettail most often die of dehydration rather than the disease itself. Provide plenty of water to combat dehydration. If your gerbil develops wettail, call the veterinarian for advice.

General health: Regular visits to the vet are vital to keeping your gerbil healthy. If you see any signs of digestive upset, diarrhea, slobbers, dental problems or other abnormal behaviors, call the vet for advice.


What you Probably Didn’t Know About Gerbils:
Gerbils eat their own poop—both solid fecals and soft, moist cecals, which they consume directly from their bottoms. Although it seems strange to us, this is natural behavior, and it’s good for your pet because the poo is packed with necessary vitamins and amino acids!