Scientific Name: Meriones unguiculatus
Size: These busy little rodents are about four inches long, with a tail that's just as long. But unlike their mouse cousins, who have naked tails, gerbils have fur on theirs!
Lifespan: Usually from three to five years.
Colors/varieties: In the wild, gerbils are brownish-gray, to blend in with the desert environment they live in. You can find pet gerbils in a variety of colors, including white, albino and black.
Your pet gerbil will get really lonely if he's on his own, so it's a good idea to get at least two. If you introduce them when they're young, they'll be great friends. That's why it's good to choose gerbils from the same litter. When adults who don't know each other are put in the same cage, they may fight. And please keep males and females separated, or they will have babies.
Food: You can buy a food formulated specially for gerbils at the pet supply store. The mixture contains seeds, grains, dried veggies and pellets. Every day you'll need to supplement your pets' food with small pieces of fresh vegetables, such as leaf lettuce, carrots, broccoli and cucumber. Every other day, treat your pets to small pieces of fruits like apples and bananas.
Drink: Don't forget to fill 'er up! Make sure your gerbils have fresh, clean water at all times. Use an upside-down bottle with a drip tube, and change it daily.
You may notice that your pets go for the yummy, high-fat sunflower seeds first. They need to eat the other super-nutritious high-protein seeds in the mix, too, so please take care not to give them extra sunflower seeds. Too much fat from the sunflower seeds could pack on the extra pounds—or in this case, extra ounces!
Housing: A ten-gallon aquarium with a wire-mesh top is a good home for a pair of gerbils. If you can get a bigger cage, please do—your gerbils will love it! Plastic habitats with connecting tubes are okay, but your gerbils will probably scratch the tubes and sides of the habitat, so it'll be harder to see them. Avoid cages with bars, because your gerbils will kick out the bedding when they dig.
Yes, they will dig! Line the cage with extra bedding of aspen or hardwood shavings and you'll see just how much! Add some hay or shredded paper towels so they can make a cozy nest. They love to tunnel, too, so be sure to give your gerbils cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper. Larger, more sturdy tubes—made of PVC, for example—are good choices, too.
All gerbils need a place for sleeping and resting. Use a medium-size flower pot or other sturdy container; don't use anything made of soft plastic or cardboard, or your gerbils will have a great time chewing it to bits.
Place a smooth, clean stone or rock in your gerbils' cage. This will serve as a lookout for your pets, who are curious (more like nosy!) by nature and like to see what's going on.
Fun and Games
Gerbils are pretty frisky, so you gotta keep your pets busy to keep 'em happy. First, they'll need an exercise wheel. Make sure it's the kind that doesn't have metal rungs. Otherwise, their tails could get caught in the wheel.
Exercise: You should also let your gerbils exercise outside their cage every day—preferably in a screened-off play area. Think of it as gym class! You'll have to supervise, of course. That means making sure your pets don't get lost in the area or chew on electrical wires. Make sure they have all the necessary cool gerbil toys—flower pots, boxes and cardboard tubes for exploring, and rocks and ladders for climbing and crawling. Keep in mind that gerbils can't see very well, so watch your pets carefully so they don't fall off tables or chairs.
Handling: Gerbils seldom bite, but you'll still need to get your new pets used to you—and used to being handled. Start by feeding them small treats. When they're comfortable with that, you can pick each one up by scooping him into your hand. Do not pick up a gerbil by the tail, as this can cause an injury.
Your gerbils' teeth will grow continuously, so they'll need to chew—a lot—to keep their choppers in tip-top shape. Make sure they have a piece of log or wood that hasn't been painted or treated with chemicals for their chewing pleasure.