Health Topics


(By P. Alderson DVM)

Gerbils are native to the Mongolia and China. They are very active and move quickly, so keep this in mind when handling them. Their life span is very short, only about 3 - 4 years.


Gerbils are small, so don't require much room. However, they usually spend their entire life in a cage, so purchase the largest cage your pocket book will allow. Wild gerbils build themselves a network of under ground tunnels and chambers. Many people will build a maze of plastic tunnels to entertain both themselves and their gerbil. This is acceptable and encouraged, but make certain the maze is secure.

Gerbils are social animals. They are best housed with other gerbils. Introduce them slowly and monitor closely for fighting. Make sure the cage is large enough for comfort or fighting will start.

A house should be provided for privacy and security, especially when they are first brought home. Houses can be purchased, or use a cardboard box. Torn Kleenex or paper towel is excellent to place in the gerbils house for bedding. Be ready to replace a cardboard box soon, as they will chew it up.

Use a solid flooring. Slatted floors can cause broken feet if they get their feet caught in the slats. In general, wood chips are adequate for the flooring on the bottom of the cage. Gerbils also tend to push their noses through bars of the cage, causing "sore nose". If this is occurring you may want to house your gerbil in an aquarium with a suitable lid. However, keep in mind that ventilation is poor in an aquarium, so it must be cleaned more often than a wire cage.

Gerbils are great at conserving water, and don't urinate frequently. Thus, cleaning the cage once a week is sufficient for removing ammonia smells from the cage that can cause pneumonia.


Pellets, grain, and seed mixtures are available for gerbils. However, because vitamins and minerals are lost in stale food, it is best to buy food in small quantities frequently. Gerbils love a variety of vegetables, however, keep these in moderation as obesity is common.

Most gerbils will drink from a sipper tube. However, when you bring your gerbil home, ensure that it knows how to drink from the sipper tube. Gerbils drink very little, but changes in drinking can indicate a sign of illness, and not drinking at all can result in dehydration. If you are placing vitamins into the water, this may cause an unfavorable flavor, and your gerbil may not drink. Always provide a separate fresh water dish, or monitor drinking closely. They usually drink 4 cc per day.


Should you decide to breed gerbils, house the male and female together. Gerbils form mating pairs for life. It is best to breed them when they are 5 months old, as they are more mature. Gestation is 24 days, and they usually have 1 - 12 young in a litter. The female will wean her young at 21 days.

They should be handled frequently from a young age. Gerbils that aren't handled frequently may bite if frightened. Remember, gerbils are quick, so can be difficult to handle. NEVER grab a gerbil by its tail, as the skin will slough off leaving a naked tail bone.

Veterinary Care

The most common problem with gerbils results from lack of proper care. If housed and fed properly, and if the cage is kept clean, they usually live to 4 years of age uneventfully. Common ailments include pneumonia, diarhea, sore nose, broken limbs, and skin problems. Over half of all gerbils will develop epilepsy and have seizures.

Most human drugs are toxic to gerbils. NEVER administer any drug without veterinary advice. Should your pet gerbil become ill, please call your veterinarian for options or advice.

Gerbils can be spayed and neutered to prevent unwanted pregnancy.