Wild gerbils are amazing creatures, getting almost all the moisture they need from the vegetation, seeds, and small insects they eat. This is an adaptation to life in arid places. They even eat carrion, given the chance. This non-veggie lifestyle is another adaptation, as the meat will have a good moisture content, in an environment where fresh water is extremely scarce.
However, pet gerbils still need a fresh supply of water and proper formulated gerbil food to make sure they get all the nutrients they need to stay healthy. No point putting them through the extremities of life in the wild – they may be adapted for a bit of hardship, but they don’t enjoy it!
Gerbils enjoy trying out fruit and veg, to supplement their dry food diets
Gerbils, being naturally omnivorous, will try most foods you offer them, but they will thrive on a diet based largely on mixed gerbil food from the pet store. Small portions of extras such as vegetables and slices of apple will keep them and their tastebuds stimulated, though.
Gerbils tend to prefer dry or crunchy foods. Oily seeds like sunflower and linseed are favorites, and they love millet; but these should be fed sparingly, as gerbils don’t need as much fatty foods as, say, hamsters. Sunflower seeds, for example, are a real favorite, but the gerbils will eat them to the detriment of other foods and can then become overweight.
You can offer non-veggie food such as mealworms and beetles, but not all gerbils acquire the taste, and you don’t actually need to, from a nutritional point of view, as long as you’re feeding them a proper gerbil dry food mix.
Gerbils will enjoy small amounts of dried banana, pumpkin seeds, nuts, millet (the kind sold for budgies and other birds), crispy vegetables such as raw broccoli and carrot, small amounts of fruit, such as apples and grapes (but break the skin so the gerbil can easily see the moist interior), alfalfa, and hay.
Only feed these treats in small amounts and remove any fresh food as soon as the gerbils lose interest in it. Uneaten food will be stored away by the gerbils, and it will rot and possibly cause a health hazard for the animals.
Foods to Avoid
Toxic vegetables include:
- Citrus fruits
- Wild flowers, weeds, leaves, and house plants, unless you have been told by an expert that they are suitable
- Any un-ripe fresh food
- Any over-ripe fresh food
This bread-and-cheese house looks like a good idea – but neither foodstuff should be fed to gerbils!
Other Foods Not Suitable For Hamsters
- Any processed ‘human food’
- Chocolate (unless specifically made for hamsters)
- Dairy products, inc. cheese (too salty and fatty)
- Jams and preserves
Although gerbils drink hardly any fresh water in the wild, and very little in captivity, getting most of the water they need from their diet, they should always have access to water. A fresh supply is as essential as fresh food. Elderly, pregnant or nursing gerbils need plenty. Use a water bottle, as gerbils tend to bury their water bowls!