Biting

Libby Hanna

and Cathy Bickel

Biting is defined here as an application of a gerbil’s teeth to your body which punctures the skin. Nipping is defined as a noticeable, painful, use of the teeth on your body with no breaking of the skin. A third category, nibbling, is defined as repeated mouthing of the skin that is annoying but neither breaks the skin nor is painful. If a gerbil is nipping or nibbling, please see those sections for more information.

 

Serious bites from gerbils are quite rare, but can be very painful. Gerbils generally bite because they are fearful, in pain, smell the scent of an unknown gerbil on your fingers, or because you intervened in a gerbil fight. A gerbil who suddenly becomes a biter may be ill and in need of a visit to the vet. A gerbil can bite hard enough to be able to hang from your finger with her teeth. In this case, grasp the animal firmly with the other hand and open her jaws by squeezing lightly with your thumb and forefinger on either side where the jaws meet. After that, separate her from your hand.

 

Biters can be rehabilitated with patient and gentle handling. At first, handle the gerbil only with gloves on, or with your hand hidden inside your sleeve. This way, you will not be hurt and startle your gerbil further if she bites. If she chews on your clothing, gently puff air on her. Try to keep interactions brief and positive. Some biters seem to detest the feel of human skin. You may be able to train such a gerbil to jump on your sleeve and never touch your hand. Over time, your gerbil should come to trust you and will stop biting.

 

The rare gerbil who bites frequently was most likely badly mishandled and fears you. The simplest solution is not to handle the gerbil at all. She can live happily with a gerbil companion and no human interaction. When it is necessary to handle a serious biter, wear heavy-duty gloves for protection.

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