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The Best Way To Handle Gerbils

What do you do when your gerbils are too jumpy to handle or they bite you?

Donna Anastasi
Posted: December 26, 2013, 4 a.m. EST

gerbil on hand
© Isabelle Francais/I-5 Publishing
Once you earn a gerbil's trust, he will willingly sit on your hand.

Today I will answer two questions on taming and handling gerbils. The first question is about taming gerbils that are jumpy and the second is about handling gerbils that are biting.

Q: I have two gerbils, Echo and Snowy. Is there any other easier way of taming gerbils? Mine are jumpy, and I'm only 11.

A: To tame your jumpy gerbils, Echo and Snowy, approach them quietly but with confidence. I recommend keeping gerbils in a 10 or 20 gallon tank with a mesh wire lid. This gives the gerbils room to dig in their litter, explore their toys, run in a wheel and sleep in a nest box, while giving you easy access to them.

When you are ready to begin taming them, take everything out of the tank (except the litter and the gerbils!), then rest one arm and hand in the tank. Remain very still. Now you have become the most fun thing for them to explore and play upon. They rely on you to be a still and steady gerbil "playground.” Speak quietly to them; gerbils have excellent hearing and prefer soft sounds and noises.

When they are used to climbing on you, use two hands to guide one into a corner and scoop him up. Or use a cardboard box to scoop him and then place him in your hands. Let the gerbil run on you, but do not hold him still or constrain his movements. Gerbils feel very uncomfortable and threatened when they cannot move;  it feels to them a little bit like being clutched in a hawk’s claws!

A great place to practice handling your gerbils is in a dry bathtub lined with a towel. You can get used to how they move and handle them without being afraid of them getting away from you. Once your gerbils associate you with out-of-the-tank time, they will jump right into your hands to come out and play.

Q: I have had my gerbils for more than seven months, and they just don't like me. I have to wear leather gloves when handling them because they bite down on the glove really hard and refuse to let go. They also try to jump and squirm out of my hands and get angry when I then have to grab them a bit tighter so they can't. What should I do?

A: I recommend that you start fresh with your gerbils and interact with them in a different, much gentler way. It would be ideal if you could work in-person with a gerbil expert (check out the breeder list at the American Gerbil Society website) who can observe you.

If working with a nearby gerbil expert is not possible, give this a try.
1. For the next week, do not handle your gerbils or even put your hand into the tank. Just open the lid and talk with them. Give them special treats like sunflower seeds and empty paper towel tubes.
2. Then for the next week, rest your hand and arm in the tank, be very still. Let them come to you and explore you, but do not touch them.
3. On the third week sit in a dry bathtub (lined with a towel) with the gerbils. Let them run on you and explore your hands but do not pick them up. Use a box to get them in and out of the tub.
4. On the fourth week, guide them one at a time into the corner of the tank with a box, scoop one out, and put him in your hands. Sit in the tub (lined with a towel) so you don’t have to worry about him getting away. This part is very important: let him crawl on your arms and hands, but do not hold him still or constrain him or grip him tightly. This is a very scary feeling for gerbils and can make them panic.

Good luck!

See more gerbil questions and answers, click here>>
See Donna Anastasi's author bio, click here>>

Posted: December 26, 2013, 4 a.m. EST


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