Sources for Gerbils
and Cathy Bickel
You will most likely obtain your gerbils from breeders, humane societies and shelters, pet stores or through private adoptions.
Pros. The American Gerbil Society is the only national organization in the United States for gerbil breeders and enthusiasts. AGS breeders agree to a code of ethics and have access to an expert community to help them maintain the highest standards of care. Should you be fortunate enough to live near an AGS breeder, it is unlikely you will find any other source as knowledgable and dedicated to gerbils and their care. Breeders, especially those that show their animals, should be able to tell you the parentage of the animals you are considering, their birth date, genetics, and family history. Ideally, breeders will be available to support you in the case your gerbils become ill, declan, or are left bereaved. Talk to breeders about what post-adoption support they can provide. Some AGS members also rescue gerbils. They may be happy to let you adopt these rescued gerbils.
Cons. AGS breeders are distributed sparsely across the country, so you may need to travel some distance to adopt from one. Distance might demand that you arrange a meeting place outside the breeder's facility, which does not give you a chance to see how your pets were raised. While the AGS asks members to abide by a code of ethics, it is mainly a virtual organization which does not inspect, certify or guarantee any individual.
Not all breeders are affiliated with an organization. Anyone can declare themselves a gerbil breeder and advertise available animals online. Due diligence is important. With any breeder, try to meet your new gerbils in the breeder's home so you can see the conditions that they were raised in. You are entitled to skepticism about any breeder who refuses to show you his or her facility. Likewise, be cautious about a breeder who cannot convincingly tell you the names, ages, and lineage or history of the animals you are considering. Breeders who don't know their own animals may be having trouble keeping order in their kennels, which could be a red flag for health, care and socialization as well. A good breeder should talk about his or her gerbils like they are family members, because they are. A bad breeder, who has too many animals or breeds haphazardly, is as bad a source as the worst pet store, and even less regulated.
Shelters and Humane Societies
Few people even realize that gerbils end up in shelters, but they do, often due to unintended breeding. Municipal animal control organizations also end up with gerbils that are confiscated during an animal hording or neglect case, or when they are abandoned by vacating tenants. Shelter gerbils represent a valuable and underrecognized source. You can easily locate gerbils up for adoption in your area on petfinder.com.
Pros. Shelter pets will have been screened by a knowledgeable staff member and quite likely by a veterinarian. During their stay, they will be monitored for health and socialized by volunteers. They will be regularly cleaned, fed and watered. The level of attention and care in the shelter means your future pet will be a "known quantity" by the time you adopt it. Because unintended breeding is such a common reason for relinquishment, both young animals and adults are available.
Cons. Supply is haphazard so pets may not be available when you want them. While gerbils are resilient creatures, animals in shelters may have been in some substandard situation that led to their relinquishment. For gerbils, the problems you are most likely to encounter are lack of socialization and lack of information about age. Unplanned litters of gerbils may lack color variety. Since some shelters deal with gerbils infrequently, their fees may seem out of line with prevailing prices. The adoption fee may be negotiable.
Each store, whether it is part of a big chain or a small independent shop, should be evaluated on its own. A veterinarian may be a good source for recommendations.
Pros. Pet stores are more accessible and generally offer good color variety. There will be staff members available to consult.You should be able to get all your supplies and your animals in one stop. Pet stores will offer you the most flexibility, asking no questions and making the purchase as easy as possible.
Cons. Here are the major issues with buying from pet stores:
Level of knowledge. The staff member may know a lot about gerbils or next to nothing about gerbils. Many accidental litters of pups have started with a pet store not accurately sexing the gerbils. Their advice on gerbil care may also be unreliable. Please note that some stores have a policy of giving away, not selling, any returned pups from surprise litters. This leaves them vulnerable to becoming feeder animals for snakes. See the section on Placing Gerbils for advice on rehoming pups from surprise litters.
Health problems. Gerbils are fairly hardly creatures and are less likely to die shortly after purchase than a rat, guinea pig, mouse or hamster. Still, both the store and the pet distribution system, which takes animals from multiple sources and congregates them in dubious conditions, promotes the transmission of contagious illness and parasites. Your eyes and ears should help you here, though: look for signs of illness such as puffy fur, half-shut eyes, wet bottoms, smeared feces in the tank, foul odors, missing or thin fur, or excessive scratching. And you must look beyond just the gerbil tank. If the mice or hamsters in the store look sick, those same germs are being passed by staff members between animals. No animal should be bought from a store where even one sick animal has been left on the showroom floor. The failure to notice the illness and quarantine the animal speaks volumes to the store's lack of knowledge and/or ethics. Check also the condition of the rats and mice being sold as feeder animals.
Injuries. Managing gerbils' social needs can be inconvenient for pet stores. Those who don't know or don't care will carelessly mix new animals into established clans, resulting in fights and injuries. If you see gerbils with wounds or missing fur, who limp or have partial tails, or if you see mad chasing and running going on in the tank, this pet store does not know how to manage gerbil clans. Calmly report the issue, then go elsewhere.
Lack of socialization. Animals in pet stores can come from any number of original sources, and many of those sources raise animals commercially, which means pups are not handled during their critical periods for becoming tame. Ask the pet store clerk to let you put your hand flat on the bottom of the tank and see how the animals react. If they run in terror or nip you, decline. A well-socialized gerbil should at least calmly inspect your hand, maybe leaping over it to scent-mark you; at best, it will jump right in or climb up your arm.
No pups. For the animals' sake, it is better that they aren't sold in pet stores at 6-8 weeks; the average pet store gerbil is more likely to be 3-6 months old, regardless of what you are told. Very young pups could not withstand the rigors of distribution and would probably die anyway. But if you do want very young animals, you will not generally find them in a pet store.
Profit first. Some stores cut corners in ways that make it obvious they either don't know or don't care enough to give gerbils what they need. Look for these problems: water bottles that are too large, pine or cedar bedding, overly crowded conditions, nursing mothers mixed in with animals other than her own female teen-age pups, or poor quality food.
Craigslist and similar sites have revolutionized the world of person-to-person transactions, and gerbils are no exception. These sites can be an excellent way to find animals, and possibly also their equipment, at a great price. Shipping gerbils is not recommended: it is expensive to do, and not everyone knows how to ship them properly. Look at local sources.
Pros. Reasonable cost and the chance to give unwanted pets a home.
Cons. Pets that are up for adoption may have already experienced a period of neglect, culminating in someone finally throwing up their hands and putting out an ad to place them. They may be undersocialized, in poor health, have mites, or be quite elderly. If you are good at reading people, you may be able to decipher how much of what you are told is truthful, but for the rest of us, you'll need to be able to size up what you are getting. Learn how to sex gerbils yourself. It can be very hard to walk into someone's home and then reject the animals based on what you see; you may also find conditions which upset you enough that you can't in good conscience leave them behind.