10 Things You Need to Know About Properly Keeping a Gerbil as a Pet
In many American households, a gerbil is typically chosen as a child’s first pet. This is often the case because parents want to make sure their children are up to the task of caring for a pet, and capable of handling all of the responsibilities that go along with owning a pet. Gerbils are small, they don’t need to be walked every day, and there typically isn’t a ten-year plus commitment from the get-go.
But another reason for their popularity is because gerbils make great pets for kids: after all, they provide endless hours of entertainment and fun. That said, even though caring for a gerbil is relatively easy and straightforward, there are some things that parents and children should be aware of before bringing this friendly rodent into the home.
Here are ten things you need to know about properly keeping a gerbil as a pet.
#1: Gerbils Are Social Animals
Unlike hamsters, gerbils are very sociable creatures and a solitary life can actually be bad for them. Studies have shown that gerbils live longer and healthier lives when they live with others of their kind, while solitary gerbils tend to be unhealthy, overweight, and have shorter lifespans. Therefore, if you’re bringing a gerbil into the home, you will do better for your gerbil if you actually bring two home at the same time.
#2: Handling Your Gerbil
Gerbils are fragile creatures, so if you’re buying a gerbil for a child, then a parent should always supervise when the animal is being handled. Your gerbil should be kept away from larger, predatory pets like cats, dogs, and even ferrets. And, you should never grab or hold a gerbil by its tail or you could cause a serious injury.
#3: Gerbil Housing Options
Gerbils, like most rodents, are notorious chewers. Therefore, you don’t want to house your gerbils in any kind of cage made of wood. Wire cages don’t work well either, because gerbils have a tendency to dig and the metal could cause an injury.
For many gerbils, a 20-gallon fish tanks makes for a great home, or you can go with the usual plastic gerbil homes that you will find available in most pet stores. Don’t choose a rounded tank, though, because gerbils like to curl themselves in corners. Just as with most pets, your gerbil’s home can never be too large.
#4: Feeding Your Gerbils
You can find pre-mixed gerbil food at your local pet store and for most gerbil owners, this will suffice. But, you can also make your own gerbil feed by combining hamster food with parrot feed. Other things you can add to your gerbil’s diet include fresh fruits and vegetables, but not too much lettuce as it could induce diarrhea. Gerbils also love hard-boiled eggs, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and cheese, but these items should only be given in limited supply because of their high fat content.
#5: A Gerbil’s Water Intake Needs
It is important to note that in the wild, gerbils get most of their daily water intake through the food they eat, but store-bought gerbil food is dry so you will need to make sure your pet has a ready supply of fresh, clean water at all times. Usually a gravity fed water drip works best. You should change the water in the container at least once a week, even if there is still water in it, although changing it daily is best.
#6: Bedding Care
Only use aspen wood shavings for your gerbil’s bedding as other wood bedding types, like pine or cedar, can be harmful to your pet. The bedding needs to be cleaned out at least once a week, but more frequently if you house more than two gerbils in the same cage. You will find that your gerbils tend to go to the bathroom in one location, so this should make cleaning your cage easier.
To clean you gerbil’s cage, you simply scoop out the old bedding and replace it with fresh bedding. You should always make sure to leave some of the old bedding behind so your gerbils will continue going to the bathroom in the same location.
#7: How to Wash Out the Cage
Twice a month, you will want to wash out your gerbil cage completely. This involves removing everything from the cage and throwing out the old litter (remember to keep some of the old litter). Then, use warm soapy water to wash out the interior of the cage and rinse it out thoroughly with clean water.
You want to be sure there is no lingering scent of soap remaining, or the soap could be harmful to your pet. If you still smell soap after rinsing, then use towels soaked in vinegar water to wipe it out. Make sure everything is completely dry before adding everything back in.
#8: Proper Toys for Gerbils
Don’t give your gerbils any toys made from plastic because they love to chew and plastic could cause a wide range of problems for your pet. Instead, stick with natural wood products like wooden chew toys, cardboard tubes, and wood planks.
#9: Gerbil Sleeping Schedules
Gerbils don’t stick to routine sleeping schedules. They often sleep for an hour or two at a time, and then they’re up for an hour or two. This cycle occurs throughout the day and night. However, gerbils that were raised in captivity do tend to adapt to human sleeping schedules much easier.
#10: Gerbils Require Routine Veterinary Visits
Just like any other pet, gerbils need to be seen by a veterinarian on a regular schedule. These routine veterinary checks are important for keeping your pet healthy and happy.
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Author: Giano Panzarella
[Image via: Wikimedia]