While Syrian hamsters may have been the most popular children’s pet for some decades, many gerbil keepers claim they actually make far better pets – for kids of all ages.
If you’re considering purchasing your first gerbil, in this article we’ll try to make a balanced argument, revealing both the good and the bad sides to keeping gerbils as pets. By the end you should be better informed to make a decision about whether Mongolian gerbils are the right pets for your home…
The Benefits of Gerbils as Pets
There’s no denying that gerbils can make fantastic pets. In many ways they offer many of the benefits that hamsters offer, with quite a few additional plus points too…
Always on the Go
Gerbils tend to be quite active animals, and can regularly be found digging, exploring, jumping around and looking for food. They’re also diurnal, meaning that they’re awake during the daylight hours. This therefore makes them fascinating pets to watch.
Some gerbil keepers opt to place their pets into a huge glass tank, filled with bedding and toys, and take great pleasure in seeing their pets carrying out their natural behaviours. If you want a pet that you can enjoy from a distance – such as for very young children – then gerbils can provide almost non-stop entertainment.
Syrian hamsters may be known for their grouchy personalities, but gerbils are quite the opposite. Gerbils rarely if ever bite, even from a young age. Unlike hamsters, which need careful taming, gerbils seem to take to their owner immediately.
Most gerbils are perfectly happy to be picked up (if you can catch them!) and will clamber about your person or dash across the sofa with abandon. While there’s no denying that gerbils are quick, if you’ve got your wits about you then there are few better pets to get out and play with.
Gerbils love company. In the wild they live in small family groups, and gerbils as pets are never happier than when kept with others of their kind. This not only means that each of the kids can have their own gerbil, but also makes watching your pets that much more fun. After all, rather than simply watching a single gerbil running around, instead you can observe them interacting, and get to know their unique personalities too.
It goes without saying that gerbils breed freely, so keeping mixed-sex groups is not recommended. Instead, keep a group of just one sex to avoid unwanted pregnancies, and a constantly-growing collection of rodents!
The Downsides of Gerbils as Pets
Of course, no pet is perfect, so it does perhaps pay to consider the downsides of keeping gerbils. In this way, if you decide that a gerbil really is the right pet for you, at least you’ll be fully aware of the main difficulties or annoyances you may face…
Gerbils gnaw more than almost any other pet rodent. Anything made of plastic (including the cage) can disappear in a matter of hours, and wood may not hold up much longer.
This means that great care must be taken when selecting equipment for your gerbil, and that toys may not last long. Also, appreciate that the constant noise of gnawing can be a little too much for some people, so it’s wise to site the cage somewhere the noise won’t disturb you.
Digging for Dust
Gerbils in the wild escape the scorching Mongolian sun by digging burrows. In captivity they emulate the same lifestyle, constantly digging and shifting the bedding in their cage.
While there’s no denying that this is a fascinating process to watch, the side-issue is that plenty of dust, food and wood flakes can be kicked out of the cage. Regular cleaning and vacuuming around it will be necessary, and these are perhaps not the best pets for house-proud parents.
While gerbils may be sociable by nature, arguments and fights can still occur. This is not only shocking – as blood can sometimes be drawn – but can also make gerbil care a little frustrating. After all, if you buy three gerbils and they all fall out, then you’re going to end up having to buy two new cages for them.
In general it seems that females are far more likely to fight than males. The safest bet is therefore to buy two or three related males, who will typically live a long, peaceful and friendly life together.
Frequently Asked Gerbil Questions
Here are some of the more popular questions we get asked about gerbils…
Should I Keep More Than One Gerbil?
Yes. Gerbils are sociable animals and benefit from company. As females can fight – even when they’re related – the safest option is to keep a small group of males together.
How Long Do Gerbils Live?
Lifespans in gerbils can vary considerably. Some specimens only live for two years, while others can reach the ripe-old age of four. Male gerbils frequently suffer from scent gland tumours with age, which may shorten their lifespan if not operated on.
Do Gerbils Drink?
Many older pet care books claim that gerbils don’t drink, and instead get all the moisture they need from their food. This is not strictly accurate, and pet gerbils should always be provided with fresh water. You’ll be surprised just how much they can drink, especially if they’re mainly fed on a diet of dry seed and grains.
How Do I Stop My Gerbils Chewing Their Water Bottle?
Gerbils are uncontrollable chewers – they will gnaw everything in their cage including plastic water bottles. There are a number of possible solutions. Firstly, protecting the water bottle with a jacket of wire mesh can help with some gerbils. Secondly, some newer gerbil cages now come with a special water bottle protector to prevent nibbling. Possibly the most effective solution is simply to give up on water bottles completely, and instead provide a small open dish of water.
Will Gerbils Eat Meat?
Gerbils primarily eat a herbivorous (plant-based) diet, but will certainly eat meat on occasion. Insects tend to be a particular favourite, and many pet shops sell mealworms, crickets or locusts – both dead or alive. Feed only in moderation as a treat – and prepare for the fun as your gerbils dash around the cage after their dinner!
Do Gerbils Bite?
While gerbils *can* bite, they tend not to do so. Even a scared gerbil is more likely to try and run away than to actually bite it’s owner. For this reason gerbils can make excellent pets for children, where a traditional hamster may be far more likely to bite an inexperienced keeper.
How Fast Are Gerbils?
Gerbils are fast moving rodents, and will easily outpace most common pet rodents such as hamsters, rats and mice. That said, their speed in not unmanageable. With a little experience most keepers adapt to handling their pet without problems, though small children may struggle initially.