Gerbils are indoor pets. They need a cage or enclosure suitable for their modest needs. They don’t take kindly to extremes of temperature or draughts, in spite of the desert-based ancestry. The enclosure should therefore be in a draught-free spot, away from direct sunlight.
It’s best to keep gerbils in a room that’s not too busy, but in which you will see them regularly. That way they will get used to you and you'll get to see them more often.
Gerbils like to burrow through their bedding material, keeping themselves fit by constantly remolding the burrows. A good cage will provide them with a deep bedding tray where they can dig to their hearts’ content. If the tray is too shallow the gerbils won't be able to burrow and will become very frustrated and unhappy.
Fat-tailed Gerbils like to burrow, like all gerbil species
There are different types of bedding material available:
Although this is cheap to buy, it is not actually recommended for gerbils. Sawdust can cause irritation to their eyes and noses, so just avoid it.
- Wood Shavings
This is a good choice as long as it is clean, and has the dust extracted from it. It is best to avoid strong smelling shavings like cedar, or anything scented, as the oils can cause skin, eye, and breathing problems. Gerbils will chew shavings as part of their normal nest-making, so it’s important to use nothing toxic. Mix the shaving with cardboard and paper, and it will help make the burrows more sturdy and less prone to collapse than shavings alone.
- Shredded paper or card
This is very clean, and there is no risk of allergy or other problems. The only issue is that paper doesn’t provide a very attractive or gerbil-friendly environment. Recycled card is a dull brown or gray, so it looks unattractive. However if you suspect that your gerbil is suffering from an allergy or other problem related to bedding material, placing your gerbils on paper bedding or card can help clear up the problem.
- Straw and peat
This can be used to provide a more natural environment for your gerbils as it does allow more complex burrows to be built. However, it has many disadvantages. It is a heavy material, and it can be difficult to get the consistency right. Too dry and the gerbils cannot burrow and any tunnels made will collapse. Too damp and it can cause fungal infections, such as ringworm and can also cause chest problems. There are also issues of sustainability around peat extraction, so if you’re persuaded to go down this road, use a peat substitute such as coconut fibre instead.
- Nesting Material
There are several types of nesting material sold for small pets. The best is simply plain tissue or toilet paper. Your gerbils will shred it so that it becomes like cotton wool, and will then have something perfect for lining their nests. Even better, it will cost you almost nothing.
Time outside their houseYour gerbils will really enjoy exploring the world beyond their cage. Using the Qute bedding tray you can safely take them into different rooms to play and explore.
A Gerbil needs plenty of exercise and adventure
Remember how small and vulnerable gerbils are. Any dog, small child, or – especially – cat, can be a major hazard. Gerbils are also little Houdinis, and can easily escape under doors, etc. If they are loose in a room, make sure there are no cracks they can escape through, or wires they can chew.
A cautionary tale: In 2001 a child was innocently playing with her gerbil when it suddenly disappeared through a small hole in a floorboard. It took the fire department 13 hours to get it out, not to mention the destruction of a 400 year old mahogany floor - one of only two in existence known to have been built by a certain Leonardo da Vinci!
If you use a hamster-style exercise ball for your gerbils, limit the amount of time your pet spends rolling around to about 20 minutes. Gerbils are intelligent little beasties, and soon realize that they are actually enclosed. This means they can roll around in boredom or frustration if left in the ball for too long.