Tell me about the care and feeding of gerbils

We’re getting a pair of gerbils for my five-year-old daughter. We’re getting the animals and all accessories free through My husband grew up around snakes, which his father raised. So all he knows of gerbils is how to keep them alive until it’s time to feed them to the snakes. So here are some questions:
How often do you have to clean the cage?

How often to feed and how much?

How careful will we have to be of our cats?

How safe is it to let our little one take them out of their cage and play with them?

Any particular dangers we should look out for?

Also, they’ll have to be named. Amusing name suggestions (family-friendly only, please), will be welcome.

Care and feeding? Well, if you don’t care, you can feed them to a pet snake!!


Seriously…my sister and niece had a couple of these little guys. They’re very cute if you like rodents. I think they eat standard gerbil food. I know my sister gave them lots of cardboard and fabric scraps because they love to nest. While I couldn’t see it, she said they have distinct personalities. Whatever…they’re snake food to me. (Sorry…I tried to muster some pet/owner love for them and I just couldn’t.)
They also took the little dudes out to play with them every day. I don’t think that’s required, but they all seemed to enjoy the bonding time.

Then there is the inevitable “death” experience that will befall your little rodents. I think they live about 3 years on average. My sister and neice had a funeral. They were very attached to them.

Kalhoun, when I saw them listed on freecycle, I called hubby to ask him about getting them. His first response was “why do we want gerbils? We don’t even have a snake!” But my little one’s goldfish died, and she’s been asking for another pet. I thought gerbils would be good, as we have a smallish house, and no real space outside.

Cardboard and fabric, huh? Well that gives me something to do with the old clothes that aren’t good enough for the Goodwill box.

Well, it’s good that you’ve already had the Close Encounter With Death Pet Experience. Because in my experience that’s about all little rodent pets are really good for in the long run; learning about the circle of life. Some gerbils will lead long (for a gerbil) healthy lives, but it seems the ones I’ve known have died of little-rodent diseases in pretty short order. Your mileage may, of course, vary, but you might want to keep any shoeboxes you get from now on. Just sayin’.

I love gerbils.

We fed gerbil food, plus the occasional straight shot of sunflower seeds (which they adore) and, when they got elderly, some natural peanut butter.

They will chew and chew and chew and chew. See if you can find pieces of untreated wood at a store. Ours especially loved the ones with the bark still on them. They adore toilet paper or paper towel rolls. It’s fun to drop one in and watch how quickly they’ll demolish it.

For bedding, use the paper stuff instead of wood. Carefresh or something like that.

We cleaned the cages (tanks, actually. We put them in 10 gallon fish tanks) once a week.

Be very careful of the habitat. These guys can chew their way out of things very quickly. No plastic cages for gerbils!

That’s the biggest thing, really. Anything you put in there, expect it to be chewed.

And they love love love exercise wheels. Make sure to get one that is safe for gerbils. Their tails can get caught in wheels that are explicitly designed for hamsters.

Gosh I envy you. I love gerbs.

Be careful what kind of fabric, though. Anything with loops, like terrycloth / towels, is dangerous. Their feet can get tangled in it to the point of cutting off circulation, and they can ingest it and choke or get it caught in their various gerbil insides.

Gerbils are great! The best cage for them is a glass aquarium, they chew on bars and WILL chew right through anything plastic. I had mine in one of those plastic hamster cages w/ tubes for a day or two b/c I acquired them before I got a chance to get the aquarium, and they gnawed a hole large enough for them to escape through. 5 gallons per gerbil is the general rule. Also, get a top that snaps shut, especially if you have cats. They’ll have these at any pet store. Don’t bother buying any fancy toys for them, gerbils are highly destructive. Cardboard is really what mine love best. I build them little forts with empty boxes and they run around through them before destroying them. Even those wooden houses are easily destroyed by gerbil teeth. Also, mine chewed their standard water bottle open. Yours may not, but to avoid this issue you can either rig something so they can’t reach the plastic part of the bottle, but can still drink, or get an unchewable bottle. The unchewable bottles are rounded, so there are no edges for them to chew. That’s what I have, and I’ve never had a problem with it.

As for the cats, it really depends. My old roommates’ cats (all four of them) loved to stare at the gerbils, for hours. One of them would sleep right on top of the tank. I would just close the cats out of my room when I wasn’t going to be around. My current roomate’s cat doesn’t even notice them, even when they’re running on the wheel and she’s sitting right next to the cage, so Ycat’sMMV.

They’re really easy to take care of, and are very clean. I’ve never had a problem with smells at all. Use a bedding like Carefresh instead of pine - it’s more expensive, but gerbils are very dry (very little pee), and you wont’ go through bedding all that fast. Any gerbil/hamster food mix should be fine. Some gerbils can get fat with all the sunflower seeds in the mix, but mine never have. Make sure they have a wheel, they love to run! A wheel with no spokes is best, their tails can get caught.

Also, go to for some good info as well (it’s actually where I got most of mine).

Gerbies!!! Get the metal bar cage or glass aquarium (don’t fill it with water!). The plastic & metal combination cages are crap. They crumble & the little rats escape!

Play with them daily and they won’t bite. They do have personalities, but it’s hard to describe them. Mostly I guess you notice different temperaments.

Freakin’ tell me about it. My sister’s got uterine cancer or something. I shit you not. She spent $300 on medical bills for this flushable little varmint.

Lots of great advice. Thanks! I don’t really know what kind of cage or water bottle they come with; I’ll have to wait until hubby gets home with them this evening to see.

As far as paper-based litter, would shredded newspaper do the trick? Seems like it would be an easy way to recycle the Sunday paper.

Regarding feeding, mine have a habit of burying their food dish. I think they’re just trying to hide the food from other animals (of which there are none, but they don’t know that.) When they finish the food, they usually “unbury” the food dish and that’s my signal to add more food.

Mine seem partial to raisins as a treat. I don’t give them much - 1/2 a raisin per day max… they work like prunes to them if you get them too much! (grin)

For this reason, I actually don’t even use a food dish for mine, because when I did, they’d just flip it over, empty it, and hide it! It was only after the offending dish was gone they’d eat. I just started putting a little pile of food underneath their water bottle, they’ll just eat it without flipping out first.

Believe it or not, from the kind goodness of my heart I have other people’s dead gerbils buried in my yard. Stupid non-dirt-having apartment dwellers! :slight_smile: Once we ended up digging a tiny little grave for a check box full of dead gerbil in the dark with flashlights because I refused to keep an ex-rodent in my freezer overnight; one wonders what the neighbors think.

I’m not sure. The inks aren’t very set on newspapers, so you might end up with very dirty gerbils! I don’t know if there is any hazard associated with newspaper though.

Talk of paper litter has reminded me of something we always used to do. We’d stuff a pop-up tissue box (with the plastic liner removed) full of paper litter, then push it against the wall of the tank. The gerbs would fall upon it immediately, chew through, and then spend happy hours redistributing the litter around the tank. The boxes occasionlly lasted a day or two before being completely destroyed.

I’m thinkin’ they’re thinkin’ “Voodoo Priestess”. :wink: