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Life With Your First Gerbil

They have an amiable nature and are not generally biters, but beware of gerbils dropping their tails.

Patricia Knight
Posted: July 14, 2014, 11:45 p.m. EDT

While doing research on gerbils, you might read that they are very similar to hamsters — but are they, really? There are quite a few differences, but luckily gerbil parents seem to enjoy their pets just as much as those who keep hamsters. In fact, many who have kept and worked with these little cuties happily sing their praises.

As an animal care technician for the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, William Wallace has worked with various gerbils. He recalls his first gerbil encounter: After he cleaned the aquarium that housed the gerbils when they arrived and put them back into their home, he says he was struck by their calm demeanor and also how well they accepted human interaction. They also appeared very smart while exploring their newly cleaned surroundings. "Before I had this experience, I had assumed that gerbils would be flighty, semi-nervous animals that would not much care to be handled,” he said. "Instead I found they were curious little animals that seemed just as interested in me as I was in them.”

Other gerbils he has worked with may not have always been quite as interactive, but they all had the same "gerbil charm.”

Others share this appreciation of gerbil curiosity. Lucy B., who has the YouTube pet channel LooBoosShedZoo, has two gerbils named Chip and Tee, which she describes as "lively and curious.” She added, "I remember looking at them and thinking they looked like mini kangaroos and were so cute!”

gerbil in playpen
© Courtesy Lucy B.
Gerbils need space in their habitat and time outside in a playpen area.

More Gerbil Pros
So, gerbils are cute, curious and smart — but what about practical benefits of keeping them? It turns out that there are several. Lucy B. notes that they are not stinky and they can be toilet trained — definitely plusses for many potential petkeepers.

Kim and Dana Halbert are breeders/owners at Rock Lake Gerbils, as well as being members of the American Gerbil Society. Pixie and Pebble are the names of the first of their gerbils. They found that gerbils are not nocturnal (several other small animals are) and that they "generally don’t bite as much as hamsters.” 

Of course, the emotional aspects of keeping a pet are among the most important. Gerbils score high in this area, as well, with the companionship they offer. "I love getting home from work and seeing my gerbils sit at the door of their cage waiting for me,” Lucy B. said.

Not For Kids
Although small animals may sometimes be a good fit for children, gerbils may not be the best choice. "A young child may not have the coordination or fine motor skills to handle a gerbil in a way that does not stress or harm it,” Wallace said. He also cautions that because of their size, gerbils could easily become lost in the home.

And handling gerbils properly is extremely important, even more so than with other animals. It’s so important, in fact, that one of Lucy B.’s most popular videos covers this very topic. Why is this even more important with gerbils than with other animals? Because a gerbil has a defense mechanism that could prompt him to drop his tail. "If anything picks them up by the tail, then their tails drop off and won’t grow back,” she said.

Also, a child witnessing a gerbil dropping his tail may be startled, to say the least.

gerbils in habitat
© Courtesy Kim and Dana Halbert
Most gerbils are sociable and enjoy living with other gerbils.

General Gerbil Care
Gerbils are not especially difficult to keep, but there are some important tips to keep in mind. The Halberts suggest keeping at least two, and they also stress that there is conflicting gerbil information online. "Generally gerbils and hamsters are lumped together as being the same — just one has a long tail. That is totally false; they are two different species, and perhaps only their diet can be considered as being the same.”

As noted, gerbils are curious and smart, so it’s definitely a good idea to keep some toys for them. "Provide plenty of items to keep your gerbils mentally and physically stimulated,” Wallace said.

Lucy B. mentions that one of the most challenging things about gerbils is perhaps the space needed for them. "If living in a tank, they also need a mesh lid, as they are capable of climbing and jumping,” she said. She also suggests taking them out of the cage and allowing them to burn energy in a gerbil-proof area or a playpen.

Great Pets
All small animals have their unique qualities — and there are certainly a lot of good things about gerbils! The Halberts describe them as "easy to look after and not expensive to maintain.” What more could you ask for?

Like this article? Please share it.
And check out:
Gerbils At Play In And Out Of The Cage, click here>>
Train Your Gerbils To Do Tricks, click here>>
See gerbil behavior questions and answers, click here>>
See gerbil health questions and answers, click here>>

Posted: July 14, 2014, 11:45 p.m. EDT


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