The gerbil as a pet

The gerbil is an unusual rodent that has made its home in many houses, and it is increasingly common to see people who have them as pets due to their personable, playful character, curiosity and, contrary to what many may think, intelligence.

For this reason, if you are thinking of having a gerbil as a pet or you already have one, in this AnimalWised article, we help you to know everything you need regarding the needs you must attend to so that your peculiar rodent is healthy and comfortable in your family.

You may also be interested in: The rat as a pet Index
  1. Origin of the domestic gerbil
  2. Gerbil characteristics
  3. Character and behavior of the domestic gerbil
  4. Do gerbils bite?
  5. Gerbil care

Origin of the domestic gerbil

Gerbils are a species belonging to the suborder of the myomorphs, in which the hamster, rats, mice, voles also belong… And within this classification, they are from the dipodidae family. It should be noted that it is common to confuse them with the family of the muridae, in which the gerbils belong.

These peculiar rodents, have not been too many years as pets, but were originally used as laboratory animals in the 1950s. But due to its docile nature, it was gradually adopted as a companion animal. However, there is no single species of gerbils in the wild, rather they are known nine different varieties spread over northern Africa and Asia. Now, the species that we have welcomed as a pet is the gerbil from egypt.

If you like rodents, you may also be interested in this other article about The rat as a pet.

Gerbil characteristics

This little animal is also commonly called the desert gerbil or desert rat, Because they are used to living in desert areas, which makes them have a resistant body and adapted to this kind of environment. However, the most striking physical characteristics of the gerbil are:

  • Brown or gray fur: the coloration of its fur is usually sandy or greyish and white on the underside, which allows it to camouflage itself in the environment and not be easily seen by its predators. Now, being a domestic species, they have been selected so that they present more varied coats.
  • Size: this small rodent is physically similar to the mouse, being able to measure between 10 and 12 cm in body, without taking into account its long tail.
  • Line: as we said, the gerbil also has a long tail of about 10 cm finished with a lock of hair, with which it balances easily.
  • Big eyes and ears: he has large eyes that allow him to see at night, and he has large ears with which he has great hearing and allows him to regulate his temperature.
  • Long hind legs: However, it differs from mice due to its peculiar long hind legs (which may remind us of those of a kangaroo), which are provided with hairs on the fingers that isolate it from the ground and allow it to move by jumping and facilitating movement. mobility on the sandy grounds in which it is adapted to live. In addition, thanks to these limbs, it is also capable of long jumps with which to quickly escape from its predators, such as eagles or snakes..

¿How long does a domestic gerbil live?

On the other hand, although the gerbil is a very resistant animal in nature, capable of living in climates as extreme as the desert, the gerbil is not in itself a very long-lived animal, since it has a life expectancy of some 3-4 years if they are being well cared for, even reaching 5 years in exceptional cases.

If you want to know other animals that inhabit the same places as the gerbil, don't miss this other AnimalWised article about Animals that live in the desert and their characteristics..

Character and behavior of the domestic gerbil

In general, the gerbil is a very affectionate, sociable and clean animal. Next, we will analyze a little more in detail the character and behavior of the gerbil.

Gerbil activity

Due to their prey nature, these animals often dig burrows in which to live, in order to protect themselves from predators, but also, to avoid the high temperatures of the desert. To avoid the heat, they tend to be rather nocturnal animals. Now, by living with us, they can adapt their schedule and be active both day and night.

Gerbil curiosity

These little rodents have a very curious character and, for this reason, they are constantly exploring everything around them. It is usual then, to notice that they usually maintain a upright posture, stretching its two hind legs to observe its surroundings.

Gerbils - sociable and friendly

Also, gerbils are animals sociable and friendly. These usually live in communities within burrows and sleep together. And even when a gerbil is scared by a predator, it often hits the ground with its hind legs to alert other gerbils. These blows on the ground, also usually occur during courtship. Let us remember that they have very good hearing and, therefore, They communicate especially through sounds of high frequencies that are imperceptible to us. They also whistle when grooming or for other reasons such as fear or claim.

Male and Female Gerbils - Differences

It should be noted that females tend to have a more temperamental character than males, which is accentuated during heat in case there are other females nearby, which they perceive as competition, something that can cause fights.

Another peculiar behavior that they usually perform, especially males, is that of crawl on your gut on the floor and objects that are in his comfort zone (usually his cage). This behavior is usually performed to mark your territory, since gerbils have scent glands in the gut with which they leave their scent.

Gerbil hygiene

Gerbils also have hygienic habits very marked. Normally, in their habitat, these rodents usually preen themselves rubbing with sand. And, also, they tend to wash each other among members of the same group. They also usually make their feces and urine in the same place away from food and resting place..

Do gerbils bite?

Gerbils themselves do not bite. However, when they play, these furry they are usually related by nibbles, which are harmless, unless you are on the defensive (and therefore not playing). That is, it would be very rare for them to act aggressively, unless they are scared and cornered. In addition, it could be the case that if we were bothering our gerbil excessively, it would bite us to ask us to stop. We must bear in mind that, despite being sociable animals, it is important that from an early age our gerbil has become accustomed to contact with people, otherwise it would not be strange if it distrusts us and is stressed.

For this reason, it is very important that if our furry is going to be with children, we explain very well how to interact with him; through soft voice (since they have a sensitive ear) and treating it with care. In short, explain to them that it is not a toy, since it is a fragile animal. Also, if we grab our little one's tail, ¡we can get a good scare !, since one of the defense mechanisms that this animal has is, neither more nor less, that shed its tail in case you are trapped. And unlike lizards, it won't grow back.

In case of having children, if you doubt whether or not to have a gerbil at home, you can also consult this other article on The best pets for children.

Gerbil care

The gerbil is a pet that requires little care, compared to a dog, for example. It is a rather independent animal that will not require so much our attention. Now we must know well what care should we give you so that it is a healthy and happy animal, which are summarized in:

  • Adequate food.
  • Cage with everything you need.
  • Cover your social needs.

Next, we will explain in more detail each of these points.

¿Do gerbils eat? - Food

Gerbils are animals that do not need a large food intake. In their natural habitat, they tend to feed on all kinds of foods that are available to them, such as:

  • flowers.
  • Herbs.
  • Fruit.
  • Seeds.
  • Tubers.
  • Insects.
  • Poultry eggs.

However, to ensure that we provide you with a complete and balanced diet in nutrients, it is best to give it a I think specific for this rodent, and also offer him some hay, that will give you an extra supply of fiber. We can, in turn, leave you natural foods such as scattered fruits or vegetables through the cage, such as apple, broccoli, carrot… Always in small quantities, on the contrary you could have diarrhea.

Finally, when it comes to water, we advise you to put a tank with clean water, that can be freely supplied.

Forbidden foods for gerbils

On the other hand, we will never give you:

  • Onion.
  • Rhubarb
  • Spoiled food.

The gerbil cage

As it is a very nervous animal, the space in which it will be found should not be less than, at least, 1 meter long and wide. More, in case we welcome more than one. In addition, single-deck cages are often too small and limited in terms of mobility, so a cabin with several floors It will always be a good idea, as long as these are not mesh or bars (since it could hurt).

We must also add elements to interact with: structures to climb, gnaw, hide… This is because they need entertainment and exercise and therefore, spend long periods of time playing with the objects that you place in their cage. In this way, they will be satisfied if we place items so they can gnaw, which helps them keep their teeth of a size that allows them to eat properly. They must be supplied with objects such as toys suitable for gerbils that can be purchased in stores or cardboard rolls of toilet paper, which they love and meet their need.

Next, we will make sure that the bars should be enough narrow so that our furry can not escape and we will avoid the use of plastic, since it can easily gnaw.

As we have commented, this animal spends a large part of its time dig burrows. This activity is necessary for your psychological and physical well-being, since you exercise and file your nails. In this case, it will be common to observe our furry digging the ground or bottom of its cage. For this reason, when we choose the substrate, we will see that there are several specific substrates in stores, but we advise that it be one that allows you to satisfy your instinct to dig (corn or press paper, for example). In addition, we can add strips of toilet paper with which he will entertain himself and build his nest (never newsprint, because its ink is toxic).

The cage should have a good ventilation and should be easy to clean (with neutral soap), to make sure we do it conscientiously and take care of the health of our animal. Finally, it must be located in an environment no drafts or direct sun (always have the option of being in the shade). The room temperature should be between 18 and 28 ºC.

Gerbil social needs

Because this is a gregarious animal, that is, in nature, the gerbils go in a group, So if you decide to adopt a gerbil, it is difficult to keep a single specimen without it manifesting behavioral problems and without being stressed, since it will normally feel insecure.

For this reason, we advise having two gerbils, which can keep each other company and feel protected, always taking into account the space that we provide. In addition, it is recommended that these furry ones know each other as children to avoid fights or, otherwise, introduce them progressively so that they get to know each other little by little and get used to the smell of the other.

Now that you know more about the gerbil as a pet, you may be interested in this other article about Tips for choosing a pet..

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