Posted: October 10, 2013, 6 a.m. EDT
A change of scent or dominance structure or a health issue are some reasons why gerbils might suddenly fight.
Q: I have had two male gerbils for three years. This morning I walked by and they were fighting, so I split them up and washed them to get some of the blood off. I separated them because I didn't want them killing each other. Is it safe to put them back together? This I the first time this has ever happened.
A: I am sorry to hear that your boys are no longer getting along, especially at the ripe old age of 3 years. Gerbils identify each other by scent. Sometimes if a strange smell gets on them, like from when they are running outside of the cage, they can be confused and squabble. Also, given that your gerbils are older, perhaps one has a health issue that is making him smell different.
Another reason gerbils will fight is if the dominance structure shifts. It's possible the more dominant of the two is aging and becoming feeble, and the other gerbil is making a play to be in charge.
The third reason gerbils might fight is if there is something in the cage that one is getting territorial over, or if the cage has a complicated setup causing them to establish separate residences. There should be one and only one nest box or hiding structure in the cage for them to sleep in together.
You did the exact right thing to separate the gerbils. Once gerbils start fighting it can turn deadly. Never touch fighting gerbils with your bare hand. They will indiscriminately chomp anything that touches them when they are in this mode.
As far as getting them back together, you might first try having them live in their housing setup split by a wire mesh divider so they can become reacquainted with each other’s scent. After a week, remove the divider and see if they get along. If they continue to fight, I recommend that you keep them in separate housing but close to one another so they have a neighbor if not a roommate.
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