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Do Gerbils Need a Friend?

Last Updated: 26.02.20


Gerbils are social animals that need a friend around and they can get depressed or ill if kept alone over an extended time period. It is quite difficult to introduce mature gerbil to each other, so you will get more info here on how to safely achieve this while using different methods.

Gerbils are rapidly growing in popularity despite being quite new to the global pet market, and as a result, many people are now interested in giving pet gerbils a forever home. Mostly due to their cute faces and lovely personalities, gerbils are fast becoming a part of many families, especially the ones with young children.

Since they are known to be very good-natured animals, seldom biting their owners, and for forming strong bonds both with humans and with each other, gerbils rapidly became one of the first choices of parents looking to teach their children about the responsibility of caring for another living creature. 

The gerbil species that is most commonly kept as a pet is called the Mongolian gerbil. This small rodent is quite fierce when things are not according to its liking, but it can also be a lovely companion. The scientific name of the Mongolian gerbil is Meriones unguiculatus, which can be roughly translated as “the clawed warrior”.

This means: don’t let yourself be fooled by the small size and cute looking face, as gerbils can be quite territorial, and will only accept the company humans and other gerbils that they already know. The scent and voice of known companions will calm your gerbil and give it a sense of relief, while strange scents and voices will make it defensive.


Do gerbils need friends?

Gerbils are well known for their social nature, and that’s why it’s best to provide them with the company of one of their kind. The only exception to this rule is the fat-tailed gerbil, which should be kept alone. For the overall well-being and emotional balance of these cute furry pets, it’s best to keep them in pairs, or small groups.

Even in the wild, gerbils live in colonies that usually consist of a gerbil mom and a gerbil dad living together with several pup generations. They all nest in the same burrows, live a social life and share chores, foraging for food, but also have fun and play together. In the same way, pet gerbils need other gerbil friends to share their life with. 

There are many activities that gerbils like to share, such as grooming each other, cuddling together while sleeping and playing together. Having more than one gerbil ensures they live happier, more balanced lives and, also, that they are constantly keeping busy, even when their owner is not around.

When choosing between keeping a pair of gerbils, or a group, one should consider how spacious the gerbil cage is. Unless you can provide a space that is large enough for them to roam freely in, it’s not advisable to keep more than 4 gerbils in an enclosure. Also, keep in mind that they need plenty of accessories to play with and keep themselves entertained.  

Since these animals are very territorial, in case of overcrowding, especially with female gerbils, aggression and fights are very likely to break out for domination purposes. This is most definitely not a situation you may want to deal with, therefore make sure you keep more than one gerbil but in a large enough cage.

While having at least a pair of gerbils is important to your pets, not having any unwanted baby gerbils around is very important to the owners. That’s why you must keep same-sex pairs or groups together, and, also, make sure you get them from a proper breeder that will be able to raise them correctly from a young age.



Same species companions

Some owners may think that for a gerbil not to be alone, but also for a nice variety of pets in the household, pairing up gerbils to other species of rodents may be a good idea. This is definitely not the case, as there are a few reasons gerbils should only be kept with other gerbils. Hamsters, rats, guinea pigs and others should be kept with others of their own species.

One reason for keeping gerbils with gerbils is the potential threat posed by stress and fights with other pet rodents. Gerbils are small, and if they are put together with other larger rodents, any fight could have a very bad outcome for them both. Also, even if no fights break out, the personality difference between them results in high-stress levels.

Another reason is the potential diseases that one pet rodent species may carry, but be immune to it, while others would fall ill. Each particular rodent species has a specific immune response developed over time for specific diseases. If put together, unwanted sickness may spread to other species, and the result would be less than poor.

Also, the different foods each species prefers could become dangerous to the other rodent species, or lack certain important nutrient components and vitamins, resulting in poor feeding conditions for one of the pets kept together. Each pet should be provided the specific food it requires and in proper conditions. 

Bottom line – get well informed about the living conditions each pet rodent requires, and once you’ve made your decision, stick to it. If you, however, decide to own more than one type of pet rodents, then make sure to provide an individual cage for each species. Also, providing large enough cages is an absolute must.


Introducing gerbils to each other

Since gerbils are quite territorial animals, and will only easily accept other gerbils whose scent they already know, introducing two adult gerbils to each other can be a tricky thing. However, there are situations where a gerbil loses its friend, and the owner decides it’s best for it to have a new friend, rather than live a solitary life.

In situations like this, the owner has a few options at his/her disposal: either introduce a baby gerbil to an adult or use the split-cage method. Introducing a baby gerbil to an adult usually makes the adult gerbil accept its new companion a bit easier than in the case of another adult gerbil. This is because they do not perceive the baby as a territorial threat.

However, the owner has to keep a very close eye on them over the next few days, in some cases even weeks, and immediately remove the baby in case the adult gerbil attacks it. The last thing anyone would want is an injured baby with no possibility of ever introducing it back with the adult gerbil, therefore having two solitary gerbils.

Another way is by using the split-cage method, as we said before. This involves splitting the existing cage in half, by using a special separator, allowing the two gerbils to see and smell each other without the possibility of touching one another. This method gives the two gerbils time to safely get acquainted. 

This is a good method to be used when introducing adult gerbils, and also in case the owner does not have time to stay home and watch them all the time for the first few days. After the two pets became relaxed around each other, you can remove the separator, but caution is still needed, hence it is best to closely watch them for another couple of days. 



Health issues

Whether you already have gerbils at home, or you want to become a gerbil owner for the first time, purchasing gerbils should follow certain steps. First of all, you need to decide if you are going to buy or adopt. Adopting gerbils from certified shelters ensures you will get a healthy animal. Adopting should always come to mind before buying.

If you choose to buy pet gerbils, then you need to look for a certified breeder or pet shop. Either way, make sure the person you are purchasing them from is a professional and will be able to raise them correctly, even if they are very young. One thing you want to look for is clean eyes and noses, as these might be the first signs of a healthy pet.

Once you’ve decided on your new friends and are about to take them home, first stop by your local veterinarian, and ask him/her to give them a medical check-up. Prevention is key in any situation involving pets, especially such tiny ones, that are so sensitive and hard to provide appropriate medical treatment to.

If you have other gerbils at home, make sure to place your new friends in a separate cage for at least two weeks, as a quarantine time and space. If they seem to be healthy and happy after the time they spent in quarantine, then you can begin the process of getting them acquainted to your other furry friends. 

Taking all the possible precaution and prevention methods is of utmost importance when dealing with such tiny creatures that are sensitive to most common medical substances, and prove to be quite hard to be maneuvered to receive any sort of medical treatment. Also, the stress levels resulting from these procedures may prove to be harmful to your small-sized pet.


Gerbil care

Caring for a pet gerbil is not a complicated thing at all, especially since the needs and requirements to be met are quite basic. However, pet gerbils should not be cared for or handled by very young children. These tiny and cute pets are delicate animals, that could easily get injured in the interaction with a very young child. So, parental guidance is advised at all times.

That being said, there are a few simple things you need to do for your furry buddy to stay healthy and happy, such as keeping it clean, fed, and having regular health check-ups. Feeding them is not hard, as there are a lot of gerbil food formulas available on the market. However, you will need to feed your pet gerbil on a daily basis.

Although gerbils originally are desert animals, constant access to fresh drinking water is very important to their overall health. Make sure you daily check the bottle for any wood shavings that may block the water in. Providing clean, fresh water to your pet gerbils is the one thing you must do to make sure they stay healthy and happy.

Making sure the cage is correctly positioned in your home is another important aspect of keeping your pet gerbils in tip-top shape. They need a quiet, shaded area to live in. Avoiding loud or crowded areas in your home is better for the pet gerbils. You should also make sure no other pets have access to the gerbil enclosure, as it would be a very stressful situation for the pet gerbils.

The cage you buy should be large enough for all the gerbils inside it to have plenty of space for all of the daily activities they engage in. You can also provide sand baths for them to keep themselves clean and properly groom their coats. Toys, as well as other entertainment items, are always welcomed to keep them busy. It is also a good idea to regularly get them out of their cage and assess their health, to make sure they are in good condition.  




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Irina Ionescu

As a long-term learner and animal lover, Irina helps her readers find the best products and accessories for their pets, as well as the latest training techniques, tips & tricks on how to handle animals.

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