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What Can Gerbils Eat?

Last Updated: 28.02.20


Good gerbil food is essential if you want to ensure that your new buddy lives a long and healthy life. While pellets or lab blocks can cover for most of their nutritional needs, diversity is always good so any great owner will spice up their gerbil’s taste buds by adding some delicious treats like small amounts of carrots, broccoli, or apples.


What are gerbils?

As of late, gerbils have become one of the more popular choices of household pets around the world because they are fun, peaceful, and not very demanding companions to have around. Just like their hamster cousins, they’re also quite cheap and easy to get, making them the perfect choice if you don’t have a lot of free time on your hands.

Historically, gerbils are burrowing rodents found in places all across the African and the Asian continents. While there are more than 100 species around the world, most of the household ones come from the Mongolian gerbil species.

You can identify a small rodent as a gerbil from its long, furry tail with an easily-distinguishable tuft of fur at the end. A pro tip for any gerbil owners is that they should never pick one up by its tail if they care for it at all because this thing can severely damage them. 

Gerbils also have a special type of coloration referred to as ‘agouti’ color due to each hair being streaked with different shades of gray, yellow, black, or even off-white hair if we look at the one on their belly.

Even though they are quickly gaining popularity even in the USA, it should be pointed out that gerbils are not always ideal as a young child’s first pet. They need a lot of attention and quality care and they can easily be injured if dropped or squeezed by the enthusiastic hand of a small boy or girl. When scared, gerbils are also very prone to nipping and scratching as a defense.

Their rise to fame has also caused some ‘specialized breeders’ to engage in a kind of selective breeding process in an attempt to obtain gerbils of certain colors. Therefore, you may be surprised to find gerbils in several lovely hues such as pitch-black or gold. 



Gerbil needs

To be a good owner, you have to inform yourself about your new best buddy’s needs to live a long, happy life.

For starters, fresh, clean water needs to be constantly available from a drinking bottle with a metal sipper tube. You should make a habit of inspecting the water bottle daily to check for leaks and/or blockages. Furthermore, the drinking liquid must be regularly changed while the bottle and nozzle need to be properly cleaned to prevent bacteria from growing there.

It’s also recommended that you provide a balanced, good-quality diet which is designed especially for gerbils and containing all the nutrients and minerals they need. This can include a compound pelleted ration or a mixture of different seeds. Furthermore, keep in mind that commercial rations are formulated to cater to their biological needs from the get-go.

You can also use a variety of fruits like pears, melons, apples, and oranges to supplement your buddy’s rations. Vegetables like cucumbers, pumpkins, carrots, and fennels are also very good as a tasty snack, although you have to keep them away from grapes or rhubarb because these are extremely poisonous to rodents.

Scattering food directly on the surface of the bedding is a great way to help prevent squabbling and it also helps the mental state of the animals by giving them foraging opportunities. This is because out in nature, gerbils eat seeds of various grasses, bulbs, as well as a bunch of leaves and herbs.


Things to avoid

Even though we are (very, very) distantly related to gerbils, they have evolved in different ways than we did so, and as a consequence, they cannot get their metaphorical hands on certain foods which we can enjoy without any problems. 

Their digestive system is adapted to a desert climate so processed things such as crisps, cakes, chocolate, and sweets can cause a world of problems for the little guys as they will upset their stomachs and bring major problems for their unaccustomed teeth.  

Furthermore, excessive amounts of certain seeds, such as sunflower, are to be avoided because they are fatty and can lead to obesity pretty quick. If you are looking at seeds as an alternative healthy treat, go for the pumpkin ones. 

Their gerbilarium should also be checked daily to remove any stale food items. Keep in mind that your little buddies are natural food hoarders and they get a kick out of seeing their stash grow every day. Unfortunately, that is not very healthy in the long run so you, as their owner, are responsible to keep their impulses in check.

The reason for this passion is because gerbils love to sit up and hold pieces of food they can gnaw on. Out in the wild, they may even hoard up to 3.3 pounds of grain in one store! However, you should always remember that sudden dietary changes or food that has been allowed to become stale can upset their sensitive stomachs so caution is advised here. 

One more thing any good gerbil friend will do is to monitor their daily intake of food and drink as this is a great tell if something happens to be wrong with them. If their food or water consumption increases or decreases from their average levels, their hind-quarters become soiled, or their feces become moist, take the little buddies to a veterinarian at once.



Different options to feed a gerbil

When considering getting a pet gerbil, it is also very important to learn about certain combinations of food which can still be healthy and enjoyable for them.

Seed mixes

These are loose mixtures of different types of seeds, sometimes combined with pellets or dried vegetables and fruits. Most of these combinations will be nutritionally balanced to their needs but only if the gerbils eat everything in the mix. However, you will see that many of the little ones will instead pick out their favorite items and leave the rest in the bowl.

Without proper care, this process can lead to a dietary imbalance if these are components which the gerbils learn to consistently avoid. This can be an often-repeating scenario especially if we are talking about sunflower seeds found in the mixture even though, as we said, they should be avoided anyway due to their fat level. 

Therefore, because loose seed mixtures cannot be relied on to ensure a complete and balanced diet for your gerbil, they should seldom be used as your new companion’s sole source of regular food.

Pellets and lab blocks

This type of diet has the advantage of being nutritionally balanced from the get-go and therefore taking a load off your mind. Pellets are the smaller pieces while lab blocks are the larger chunks of food that so closely resemble small biscuits. 

Both of them are good options for your buddy, even though some people like to point out to the scientific research behind the lab blocks as proper evidence in their categorization as the best food for gerbils. Unlike the loose mixtures, the sweet rodents will find it impossible to pick and choose which components they want to eat, ensuring a balanced diet with every bite they take.

However, the downside is that this type of food offers very little in terms of variety and enrichment. Therefore, while pellets and lab blocks can make up for the majority of your gerbil’s dietary needs, some supplementation will still be recommended to ensure mental health and keep things fun.


What should you go for?

Feeding pet gerbils a combination of the two types of food mentioned above as well as some delicious, healthy treats is the best way to keep them happy and with you for as long as possible. 

A pelleted or lab blocks diet can form the balanced base of your gerbil’s Maslow pyramid of nutritional needs while the loose seed mix combined with other types of treats will add variety and interest in eating.

However, make sure your buddy eats enough of the base food before giving in and offering the delicious treats else they will quickly learn to use this to their advantage. Another thing you can do is keep things such as sunflower seeds to a minimum and instead use them as special rewards which can be very helpful in taming and training your new gerbil.



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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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