Maintenance in captivity
Gerbils make very good pets. They are very vivid and they are of a very tame nature. They hardly ever bite a human.
Because they originate from the dry steppe they are very economic with their water. They produce very dry droppings and few urine. Because of this gerbils hardly smell, their cage doesn't have to be cleaned as often as a rat or mice cage. On the contrary, cleaning to often will disturb the animals, who, after every cleaning have to rebuild their nest.
Important: Gerbils are social animals and should not be kept alone!
The best gerbil cage is not a cage, but an aquarium or terrarium with a solid wire lid. Cages with bars have the disadvantage that the gerbils will kick all the bedding material out while digging. You cannot see the animals that well through the bars, and the gerbils tend to gnaw at the bars, often resulting in bald spots at their noses.
A glass container is easy to clean and the gerbils can be observed very well. If you try to purchase a (leaky) second hand aquarium, it doesn't have to be expensive either.
The minimal required measurements for two gerbils is 30 x 60 cm. surface. A family consisting of 4 - 8 animals need a surface of 40 x 100 cm. The height of the container needs to be at least 30 cm., for gerbils are excellent jumpers!
To see some examples of cages and tanks, click here.
Bedding and furnishings
Don't place too much things in the gerbil aquarium, there should be enough space to run and dig. A place to sleep in, a branch to climb in and gnaw on, a stone which can serve as a lookout and the composition is complete!
Remember that everything made of wood or plastic will be gnawed into pieces sooner or later. So plastic hamster houses, sold in pet stores are not suitable for gerbils. A clay pot with a hole in it serves as well as nest house, and is much cheaper!
A water bowl is completely out of the question, gerbils will through it upside down while burrowing, or they will burrow the water bowl. Better is a water bottle which can be hung inside or outside the container.
You can give your gerbils a food bowl, although they don't really need it. In the wild gerbils have to hoard there food, so it is very natural if you spread the food around in the aquarium. A disadvantage of this is that it is harder to control if they ate all their food.
A food bowl will be covered with bedding material by the gerbils, this way they give in to their food hoarding instincts.
You should always provide enough gnawing material, branches of fruit trees for instance. Gerbil teeth grow for ever, so they need to be grind.
Gerbils (and their owners) can have lots of fun with toilet paper rolls, they will be gnawed into pieces in no-time.
Bigger and more solid rolls (PVC tubes for instance) can imitate the tunnels where gerbils live in in the wild.
Besides a thick layer of bedding material like corn cob bedding or aspen shavings you should give your gerbils enough nesting material like hay, tissues, shredded paper, etc.
Gerbils love to take a sand bath! Give them a sand bowl filled with bird sand, mixed with chinchilla dust. This also helps keeping the fur nice and dry.
Find the gerbil! A picture by Marielle Gerritsen of 'Bruintje' in his burrow.
This is what they can make if you give them lots of different sorts of bedding.
Gerbils can determine very well what amount of food they need, they even build storage's. Because of this you won't overfeed your gerbils, with normal food that is, if you give them much fatty things like sun flower seeds and nuts they can get obese.
Hamster food is very suitable, a mix of seeds, grains and nuts. They like some vegetables once in a while, not too often, not too much otherwise they get diarrhea. But they do eat apples, carrots, chicory, cucumber, bananas, etc.
They like dry bread to chew on. Meal worms or dry cat food provide protein, which is appreciated by pregnant and nursing females.