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Libby Hanna

and Cathy Bickel

Gerbils generally live together peacefully their whole lives. Occasionally, however, a fight will break out among them. This is called declanning.


If two gerbils declan, there is some possibility you can reunite them using the Split Cage Method. Trios and larger groups are generally less stable than pairs: if the group was a trio, keep the aggressor together with the gerbil that he did not fight with. As much as your instinct is to punish the aggressor, it will be much easier to find a new friend for the passive and gentler victim than for the gerbil that started the ruckus.


If you did not see the fight happen, the gerbil with wounds on his back and tail is probably the victim; the one with wounds on his face and neck is the aggressor.


If one gerbil is very badly injured, take him to the vet. In any case, clean all wounds with clean, warm water, and apply an antibiotic cream recommended by your vet. Keep injured gerbils safe, warm and on clean, dry, soft bedding until they heal.


There may be a period of increasing aggression between the parties. See Aggression.


Fights that break out seemingly from nowhere with pairs of animals of the same age or those who've had no history of aggression can result from a gerbil picking up a strange smell. A gerbils is so smell-oriented that she literally would not recognize her own mother if she smelled different. Smell changes can be hard to decipher after the fact but consider these possibilities:

  • Did you handle one gerbil and not the other, possibly after handling food, another animal, or any strange substance?
  • Did you recently change the tank and dispose of all the bedding, not leaving any of the old nest behind?
  • Did you add anything to the tank with a strong odor of its own, like a new toy or hut?
  • Did you switch to a new type of bedding?
  • Is there any strong "background smell" in your home, like a fresh Christmas tree, painting smells or a brand-new carpet?
  • Did one gerbil get loose for a time, picking up strange smells from his explorations?


If you think a smell is the culprit, try a chinchilla sand or dust bath first. That may give them enough of a common odor to reduce aggressions. Separating the warriors into a split cage and switching sides frequently may be enough to re-familiarize them with their shared scent. Moving them from a room with a strong background odor will help.It is very important to separate warring gerbils before the fight becomes deadly. Having an extra container and water bottle around - wire cage, kritter keeper, extra tank - is sound practice for all gerbil owners in case of a declanning emergency.


Fights can also be caused by dominance disputes. The previously submissive gerbil may sense a weakness in the dominant gerbil. In a father-son pair or a mother-daughter pair, the parent gerbil will naturally be the dominant of the two. As time goes by and the son or daughter becomes fully mature, roles can start reversing due to the size, strength, and fully-developed nature of the son or daughter.


When a pair of gerbils declans, keep an eye on the general health of the one who was not the aggressor. It is sometimes the case that a previously dominant gerbil’s health is declining, changing the dominance relationship between the two as the previously submissive gerbil is now the stronger one. This is particularly true of father-son and mother-daughter pairs.


See Clan.

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