Gerbils are very popular small pets on account of their lively, inquisitive nature and friendly disposition which can make handling them a pleasure. In comparison to other small pets like Syrian hamsters and mice they’re also far less likely to bite, making them an ideal pet for younger children.
That said, if there is a downside to keeping gerbils as pets it’s that they require somewhat specialist housing. The reason is simple; gerbils are active diggers and gnawers. This means that many cages sold for small mammals like hamsters are totally unsuitable for gerbils. Today, then, let’s take a look at the factors you should be considering in order to properly house your pet gerbils…
Avoid Cage Bars
Many hamsters, mice and rats around the country live long and happy lives behind bars. These standard small mammal cages allow free airflow (which is a good thing) as well as letting you hand-feed your pet and so tame them quickly.
For gerbils though, cages with bars represent something of a problem. Firstly, gerbils are obsessive nibblers, and you will often find that gerbils in cages drive you mad with the non-stop gnawing on their cage bars. Not only can the noise be quite annoying, but gerbils can also remove the protective covering of the bars in time, and as a result make their cage look quite unsightly. Worse, all that gnawing on metal can harm your gerbils, causing them to wear away the fur around their nose.
There’s another problem too. Gerbils are active creatures that like to dig constantly. This means that wood flakes are constantly being jettisoned – and if you keep gerbils in a cage with bars you’ll find your room quickly fills with wood flakes that your overzealous gerbils have kicked out. Over time, this constant mess can become rather wearing, and also doesn’t endear gerbils to other members of your household.
In light of these factors, solid-sided cages are generally a far better idea. They reduce the noise and annoyance of constant gnawing, and they prevent bedding from being kicked all over the place.
Think Height, Not Just Length
Gerbils are some of the quickest and most active small mammals currently on the market. If you’ve kept more sedentary pets like hamsters and mice in the past then you might be surprised by just how much space gerbils really need. We would suggest that a pair needs a cage at least 90cm long in order to give them sufficient space to move about.
However it’s not just the length of the cage that you should consider. In addition it is important to remember that gerbils will dig down – or just as happily climb up. Including some vertical height can therefore be quite beneficial.
For the happiest gerbils possible, aim to house them in a cage that allows several inches of bedding for them to dig in and explore. The greater the depth you can include, the better.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to include height too – cardboard boxes, wooden hamster houses and so on can all add interest to your cage and encourage mental stimulation.
Avoid Plastic Cages
The final part of the puzzle is that gerbils are capable of gnawing through even the most solid plastic and wood. This makes all sorts of cages inappropriate for them. Even sold-sided plastic cages are at risk as somehow gerbils still manage to gnaw through.
One day you’ll head off to work when everything is fine. The next time you get home from work there’ll be a great big hole chewed out of the side of the cage and your beloved pets will have disappeared.
The point is this; plastic and wood simply won’t hold gerbils for long. The reality, therefore, is that the very safest cages for gerbils are made of metal or glass; neither of these can be destroyed over over-active gerbils.
In reality this means that possibly the best cage of all for a pet gerbil is an old fish tank with a close-fitting lid. These days, separate lids are available to go over fish tanks, which are made of metal yet allow air to flow in and out of the cage. In most cases an aquarium with one of these specially-designed lids is the perfect solution for housing your gerbil.