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Gerbil Care Handbook

Introduction to Gerbils

What is a Gerbil?

What is a gerbil?A gerbil is a rodent halfway between a rat and a mouse in size. They're usually 2-4 oz, and have a slightly different facial shape than a mouse or rat. Their long tails are covered with fur and end in a tuft. Their eyes are deep black or ruby red, and they come in dozens of different colors, from regular agouti (wild rabbit brown with white belly), to black, to shades of orange, gold, cream, to color points like Siamese and Burmese! Gerbils make fun and entertaining pets for both young and old.

Gerbils are fun to watch. Their antics and family interactions can entertain you for hours. They are also incredibly friendly pets. They can be taught to climb up your shoulder and can sit there, or on your head!

Gerbils require a minimum of care. Their homes take up little space, they are low-maintenance, create little odor, and they do not need frequent vet visits. They are very friendly, social, and rarely bite, as is the case with some rodents that will remain anonymous.

Things to Consider First:

Before you get your gerbils, you have to decide just what you're looking for. How many do you want? What colors do you prefer? Do you prefer a certain gender? Do you want to breed?

Gerbils are highly social and do not like being alone at all, not like the solitary Syrian hamster. If you're getting gerbils you must get at least two. Lone gerbils have been proven to live shorter, less healthy lives, and are often overweight and not too happy. They also tend to be harder to tame and less friendly overall. Even if you are home all day, and playing with them constantly, this does not make up for the fact that they must sleep alone, eat alone, and have no one to groom them. So a companion is essential. Both females and males will get along happily with a companion of the same sex, especially if they are siblings or kept together from the age of six to eight weeks old. Females tend to be less stable in groups larger than two, while males tend to be more tolerant of each other in groups of three, or more. However, it is recommended that the average gerbil owner stick to a pair of gerbils, as the chance of fighting increases with larger groups. Never mix gerbils from two different clans (tanks)!


Below are some ideas for taking responsibility for your own gerbils:

  1. Remember that, as with any pet, there is a long-term commitment. For gerbils, that commitment can be as long as four to five years. If you are buying gerbils for a child they will need to understand the responsibility that they are taking on. You, as the adult, will have the obligation to monitor and support the child to ensure that the gerbil will be well taken care of.
  2. If you have decided to breed gerbils you will need to adequate space for a mating pair and for their pups. Once young pups are weaned they should be separated into two separate tanks, males and females. Each new litter of pups will need to have hands on attention, so they will be use to human contact. One pair of gerbils can have a litter every thirty-five to forty-five days, or ten-litters a year (or more). A litter can be from one to eight babies, if each litter consists of four babies that would be fourty pups a year. Two mating pair could produce eighty pups... Can your market support that? One well-meaning breeder living in rural Maine grossly over estimated the demand and the possible profits to be made with gerbils. He started off with ten breeding pairs. Little demand and poor management has left him overwhelmed and inadequate to care for the three hundred animals he now has. His irresponsibility has turned to neglect.
  3. You won't get rich raising them! Gerbils are often the loss leader at pet stores that make profit on supplies and add-ons. Gerbil pups should be handled every day and you may need to medicate or supplement feed as well, which takes added money and time. Breeding gerbils is a labor of love.

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The Gerbil Care Handbook may not be copied, in whole or part, without prior written permission from the American Gerbil Society.

Note: The Gerbil Care Handbook is provided for informational purposes only. Diagnosis and treatment of specific conditions should always be in consultation with one's own veterinarian. The AGS disclaims all warranties and liability related to the information contained on these pages.

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