Gerbils are social animals that need to be kept in pairs or groups. A part of caring for them is providing a large enough enclosure, feeding them according to an appropriate gerbil food list, and regularly handling them for taming purposes and health check-ups too. They love cuddling while sleeping.
As gerbils became very popular pets around the world, people started observing the wide range of different behaviors they display, especially with each other and began wondering what they meant. Gerbils are known to be very social animals, and it is not a good idea to keep them as a single pet.
Gerbils that are kept in pairs or small groups are usually quite affectionate with each other. They will groom one another, cuddle together when sleeping, and play together, chasing each other around, wrestling and boxing. These tiny pets will be much happier if kept at least in pairs, usually same-sex pairs unless you plan to breed. However, that requires a lot more care.
Gerbils will also sometimes fight, and this might be difficult for the owner to distinguish from the play wrestling they usually do. If you notice that one of your gerbil pets appears to be distressed or it makes loud high-pitched squeaks, you should closely look into it, as it may be the case of a gerbil fight. Also, fighting is more intense and violent than regular play, though it looks the same.
Some gerbils that have severely fought in the past may never be able to live together again. Much like humans, some gerbils just don’t seem to get along. Even in families in the wild, some baby gerbils get sent off in search of new territories of their own, so that peace and order may be restored within the colony.
How can gerbils become friends?
If a pair member dies, the gerbil that is left to live alone might get depressed and fall ill. That’s why it is important to try and get it a new friend. This can prove to be quite a tricky thing, as most gerbil owners know. It is harder to introduce mature gerbils to each other, above the age of 10 weeks old, than babies.
More often, it is easier to introduce a young gerbil, younger than 8-9 weeks, to an adult gerbil. Since they do not perceive the baby to be a territorial threat, there is a high chance of the mature gerbil accepting the baby around a lot sooner. In case you need to introduce adult gerbils together, there are certain methods that have proved to be effective.
One possible method is the split-cage one. This involves using a cage separator for a while, that will allow them to see and smell each other without the possibility of them touching. This is a safe way of getting them acquainted before allowing them to peacefully live in the same enclosure. Even so, you need to keep a close eye on them after putting them in the same cage.
There are some signs that will accurately indicate whether the two gerbils get along well or, on the contrary, are about to start a fight. When a gerbil starts thumping around in its enclosure it’s a definite sign that things are not going all that well between them. On the other hand, grooming each other is a clear sign that the two pets are bonding very well.
Thumping is what gerbils do when they are stressed or excited, as a warning to other gerbils. They produce the thumping by pounding both hind legs on the ground in a certain manner. Often enough, if one gerbil starts thumping, the other will soon follow, as well. Thumping varies in loudness and tempo depending on the meaning and urgency of the situation.
Grooming is one of the most often seen activities during the day. Whether gerbils groom themselves or one another, grooming represents an important part of their social interaction. It is also a time of relaxing, keeping the coat in tip-top shape and creating strong social bonds. Gerbils also appreciate being offered sand for dust bathing, as it helps them stay clean.
Young gerbils will also make a lot of noise, as they learn how to socialize with each other and they go about their daily activities. The noise they make is a high-pitched squeak used in many situations. The louder the squeak, the more the gerbil calls for attention. Adult gerbils usually only vocalize when they are utterly excited or stressed.
In the wild, gerbils live in a complex system of tunnels and burrows, that they use in a particular manner, as a colony. Therefore, it is extremely important for them to have enough bedding in their enclosure for this important activity to properly take place. Burrowing also helps them keep healthy social relationships with each other.
The bedding, ideally, should consist of a thick layer of wood shavings combined with some good quality hay. The deeper the bedding, the more fun these little guys will have with it. It is mandatory for their health for the bedding to be of good quality, suitable for gerbils, to prevent any potential injuries to their paws or skin.
Gerbils have a scent gland on their abdomen that they use to mark their territory. Although this is a little known fact about gerbils, scent marking is one of the most important activities in their daily routine, especially concerning their social hierarchy and bonds. So, the next time you see your gerbils rubbing their belly on their cage items, know they are scent marking.
Caring for gerbils
If you are new to owning gerbils, then you must quickly learn the first rule in gerbil handling, which is never picking them up by their tail. Unlike other rodents that are commonly kept as pets, such as mice, gerbils have particularly delicate tails. By handling them the wrong way, you may even cause their tail to break off.
This happens because of a natural defense mechanism that gerbils, just like many other wild animals, have to prevent predators from catching them. However, unlike reptiles that can regenerate their tails, gerbils will never grow theirs back. Therefore it is of utmost importance to gently and carefully handle these delicate creatures.
If you are having trouble picking your gerbil up and out of its enclosure, then try laying down a cup inside their cage. Their natural curiosity will make them go inside it, to check it out, and, at that time you can simply lift it. This way to can make sure you gently remove the gerbil from the cage without hurting its tail.
Also, their housing is very important to their health and overall well-being. Since gerbils like to live in pairs or small groups, providing them with a large enough cage is mandatory. The way to go is to make sure the bedding is pet-safe and thick enough, and add a nest box for the tiny gerbils to safely cuddle in while sleeping.
Feeding your gerbils a varied diet will increase the chances that they get enough of every nutrient while avoiding the risk of disease. Seed mixes, pellets, and blocks are all part of the gerbil’s daily diet, but providing only one of them will not be enough. Sunflower seeds make the perfect reward for good behavior when you are training for taming your gerbil friend.
Pairs or groups
As gerbils are very active pets that love to play a lot and require many accessories in their cage, the number of gerbils that is advised to have in one cage pretty much depends on how large that enclosure is. Therefore, if the cage you own is rather small, then owning a pair of gerbils is the best way to go about it.
If, however, the enclosure is large enough, you may keep a small group of gerbils in it. Ideally, small groups should be of up to four members and should consist of same-sex gerbils, to avoid any unwanted pregnancies. Female groups are always preferred as they fight less than males, they are less territorial and will get along better.
In case of overcrowding, especially in the case of female gerbil groups, aggression and fights may spontaneously break out for domination purposes. Another good idea is to buy them at a very young age, around six to eight weeks old, making it a lot easier for them to get along well and form especially strong bonds that will last for the rest of their lives.
It is always better to have small gerbil groups in the same enclosure, rather than a pair of these tiny pets because if one of them dies, they will still have the companionship of the other remaining group members. It is a widely known fact that introducing two adult gerbils to each other can be quite a tricky thing.
In case you need to introduce a new adult gerbil to the group, it is best to first pair it up with a youngster of up to eight weeks old, making it easier to accept each other. After that, you can gradually introduce it to the rest of the group. Territoriality is the major reason adult gerbils have a hard time accepting any newcomers. However, with lots of care and patience, you can do it.
Another method that proved to be successful is the split-cage method. It involves using a cage separator that will allow the gerbils to see and smell each other, without having the option of touching. This method gives the gerbils time to get used to one another’s scent before being put together in the same cage.
When deciding to add more members to your gerbil group, or the situation calls for a new friend to be purchased for your lonely gerbil buddy, there are some health issues to be kept in mind. First of all, you need to take a very close look at the gerbil you are about to purchase or adopt. The eyes and nostrils should be clean and dry, and its coat should look healthy and smooth.
Also, you should look out for any traces of feces on its hind area. Only after everything looks fine, and you get assured that the pet gerbil is in good health condition, should you proceed to take home the soon to be new family member. A routine check-up with your local veterinarian is always a good idea before taking the tiny pet to its new home.
Once you get home, there should be a quarantine time of about two weeks, before you start introducing the pet gerbil to your other gerbils. This way you prevent any unwanted diseases from spreading to your gerbil group. Even if the new gerbil seems to settle in just fine, you should always have this quarantine time before allowing it to cuddle in with the rest of the gerbil group.
Keep in mind that handling your gerbils as often as possible is mandatory for them to be tamed and relaxed around people. Regularly handling them also gives their owner a chance to assess their health. In case anything goes wrong and one of the gerbils becomes ill, it’s always better to notice it as soon as possible.