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How Do I Know If My Gerbil Is Happy?

Last Updated: 29.04.20


Gerbils display excitement by jumping in the air, while those that are relaxed and curious stand on their hind legs inspecting their surroundings. If an individual keeps the paws pressed together, this indicates stress, so you might want to check it out and see if a new toy could help. 

Gerbils are intelligent creatures that often communicate with other individuals in their community, as well as with their owners, by using various non-verbal signs. That’s why, observing your pet’s body language will often help you determine whether he or she is happy, excited, angry or stressed. 

As any gerbil owner can tell you, getting to know your little friend’s language is very important if you want to make sure that you provide the best care. Moreover, it can help you identify and respond to needs that might otherwise go unidentified. Of course, there are two main categories when it comes to body language, namely positive and negative ones. 

In the next lines, we’re going to zoom into each of these, to help you get a better understanding of how to determine what your gerbil needs, which will definitely be useful, especially if you haven’t owned this type of rodents before. 


Positive signs 

If you notice your gerbil jumping in the air, this is a sign that he or she is excited about what is going on. You might see this type of behavior in the morning, when your little friend sees you for the first time during the day, or when you two are playing, as an indicator that it’s great socializing with you.

Of course, the box of treats won’t go unnoticed either, so your gerbil might display the same behavior when you are getting ready to provide him or her with a treat. Along the same lines, if you see that your rodent friend sits upright, holding the arms on the sides, this is a positive sign that indicates he or she is curious and relaxed. 

This body language might be displayed when other people walk around the room and by the cage, or when you buy a new toy and you place it in the gerbil’s space. Sitting on the hind legs and staring at the surroundings almost always indicated that the little guy is curious about what’s going on. 

Another type of behavior that you might notice is sniffing the air and moving the head around to get a better look at something that is happening around or at someone. This is a sign of curiosity as well, which is something that gerbils are known for. They use a lot of their time observing and investigating their surroundings, which is also why they can end up stuck in small places. 

Another great aspect of owning a gerbil is that these rodents can form strong bonds with their owners if they are given proper care and attention. So if you can feel your pet purring or vibrating when you pet it, it’s a sign that he or she is relaxed and happy, and thus responding to the petting session in a positive way. The whole body can vibrate, so don’t worry about it. 



Other positive signs 

Grooming or washing also shows that a gerbil is comfortable and relaxed in his or her environment. These little fellows often use their tongue to wash and groom their belly, paws, tail, and face. If your pet does this while you are holding him or her, it’s even better since it indicates that your presence is calming, keeping your furry friend happy. 

Furthermore, contrary to what one might think, digging or burrowing is a positive behavior that means your pet is comfortable in the given environment. Shredded paper or various pieces of cardboard can be used to create a nest, besides the provided bedding, so if you do notice such behavior, rest assured that everything is going well. 

Some might think that it’s actually a sign of anxiety or frustration, but this is not the case. And since gerbils are sociable creatures, you might also think about owning more than one. If you’ve already welcomed more of these rodents into your home, then you can take a look at how they interact with each other, in order to determine if they are happy or not. 

If they greet each other either by touching their noses or by running, then it’s a good sign. This behavior enables them to recognize the other individuals using body scent or the taste of saliva, and if your little guys do this, it’s because they are happy to see each other. 

Even if they live together in the same space, they might still greet each other often to confirm the smell and taste indicators. Another collective positive sign is when one gerbil offers the belly to the other ones or raises the chin. This means that he or she wants to be groomed, indicating a high level of comfort within the small community. 

You should allow gerbils to wash and groom each other as much as they want to, given that this behavior is important from a social point of view, reinforcing the relationship and hierarchy, but also because it keeps them clean. 


Negative signs 

We know that pet parents hope they never identify signs that indicate stress or anxiety within their pet’s behavior, but it’s very important to be aware of these in order to quickly identify and respond to situations that, if prolonged, can take a toll on the pet’s health and happiness. 

If you notice your little friend standing with the paws closely together, even pressed, and on the hind legs (this can resemble an “in prayer” position), then he or she is either on high alert or stressed out. The reasons might be something happening in the cage’s surroundings, or the presence of another gerbil within the cage. 

Loud noises are also a reason for which these little guys can get stressed and scared, so they should be avoided if possible, especially those happening for extended periods. Furthermore, if you see that your little friend is using the hind legs to thump the ground, a behavior also called drumming, this is usually a warning for other nearby animals or gerbils. 

Of course, this also means that their presence is stressful or threatening for the little guy, so if possible, any such presence should be removed from your pet’s surroundings. However, drumming can also be a courting technique used by male gerbils, so if you own a pair, then it might not be stress we’re talking about at all. 

Some of the young gerbils might also drum imitating their parents’ behavior, even if no immediate danger is in sight, so this is also something that you should be aware of when trying to determine whether your pets are happy or stressed. 

Other factors can contribute to the situation becoming stressful, such as the lack of water or food. If you notice that your gerbil is licking the cage or the sides of the water bottle, then it simply means he or she is thirsty. You should check that the water container works properly, and provide clean and fresh water right away to avoid any dehydration that could be dangerous. 



Other signs 

There are other symptoms that might show problems related to dehydration, and these include a lack of appetite, lethargy or low urination. Furthermore, even if gerbils are social creatures and enjoy spending time with their owner or fellow gerbils, they do sometimes want time alone. 

Therefore, if your little friend avoids or pushes your hand away with the head, give him or her some space. You shouldn’t force the pet to play, so simply allow your gerbil some alone time in the cage. While these rodents are friendly by nature, they can become angry and aggressive in certain situations. 

For example, if you see your pet arching the back while in the presence of another gerbil, or even pressing his or her face against the other one, these are signs of anger and aggressiveness. In case this happens, you should try to separate them before any fighting starts. You should place the two gerbils in separate cages and give them some time to calm down. 

You should also be careful when you intervene between them in a tense situation, as you might get injured in the process as well. Once they are calm, you should try to reintroduce them. If they display the same aggressive behavior, they might need to be kept in separate cages. 



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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