While they may not match the popularity of the Syrian hamster, gerbils are still very common pets, especially among children. It is hardly difficult to understand why; gerbils are fascinating to watch, typically live longer than hamsters and are far less likely to bite.
However what you might not know is just what gerbils will eat. You see, many pet owners opt to simply feed their gerbils a standard seed mix – such as those sold for hamsters in virtually every pet shop in the land. However while these dried seed mixtures certainly have their place, they are far from the be-all and end-all of a gerbil’s diet.
Foods for Gerbils
Dried Seed Mixes
Before we look at some of the other constituents of a healthy gerbil’s diet, it’s worth discussing dry seed mixes for a moment. You see, while many gerbil owners opt to give their pets dried hamster mix, it turns out that the nutrition required by gerbils is quite different to that of a hamster. This is why a limited number of pet foods have been launched that are tailored specifically to the nutritional needs of gerbils.
A popular example in the UK is Gerri Gerbil, which is sold in a pink bag from many reputable pet shops. While hamster food may be used, generally speaking you are best to rely on a properly formulated complete diet designed specifically for the needs of gerbils.
Nuts & Seeds Gerbils Can Eat
Relying solely on a diet of dry grains isn’t exactly exciting. Imagine how you’d feel eating the same thing for every meal of your life. Pretty boring, huh? In addition there is a risk that by limiting the food items given to your pets you’ll also increase the odds of nutritional deficiencies. A balanced diet is therefore a varied diet; the more variety, the better.
So while we would encourage you to use a standard gerbil mix as a base food – something that should always be in the cage, there are also all manner of foods that you may supplement your gerbil’s diet with.
The first of these are an assortment of nuts and seeds. Unsalted peanuts, for example, can be popular. So too can monkey nuts, sunflower seeds, niger and the like. All of these can be scattered around the cage to add interest and stimulate natural behaviour, or can be hand-fed as treats when handling your pet.
Fruit & Vegetables
It’s not just seeds and nuts that your pet will enjoy. Almost any fruit or vegetable that is edible for humans can be fed to gerbils. This can include carrots, cabbage and apple. Note that plants from the onion family, together with raw potato and rhubarb should not be fed as they are toxic for gerbils.
So next time you’re making dinner and have some “offcuts” of your vegetables, try giving a little to your gerbil. Remember, though, to only feed small amounts. Larger volumes can either cause stomach upsets, or end up rotting in the cage after being hidden for later.
Eggs for Gerbils
You might be surprised to hear that eggs are perfectly safe for gerbils, and while some seem to turn their nose up at the opportunity, others will squeak with delight. The egg should of course be cooked; a tiny little bit of warm scrambled egg in a tiny bowl is about as good as it gets for some gerbils!
Like other rodents, a gerbils teeth will grow constantly throughout its life and need to be kept short. The way this is done is by gnawing on tough food items, thus gently and naturally filling down the teeth. It is for this reason that gerbils seem to adore chewing on wood.
For safety, the best type of wood for gerbils are the branches of fruit bushes – apple wood, pear wood, spine-free raspberry canes and so on can all hold interest for a gerbil yet are perfectly safe. If you have any fruit trees in your garden try snapping off a tiny bit of wood and see just how much fun your gerbil has as a result.
Hay Vs Straw: What Should You Give?
A common question asked by keepers of gerbils relates to the subject of hay versus straw. Generally speaking straw is used for bedding in small rodents, while hay is used for “roughage”. That said, while straw has its purposes, it can be sharp and it can also be filled with dust.
Best then, to avoid straw altogether and instead try giving your gerbils a small handful of hay from time to time as a treat. Not only will their digestive system benefit but they’ll also have great run running around the cage with it in their mouths, building nests and leaping in and out of the piles!
Images c/o Vivatier