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The gerbils found in most pet stores originally came from the country of Mongolia. They were discovered in the early 1950’s by a French scientist. By 1954 they were used in laboratories in the United States. Their curious and gentle nature made them ideal for pets. Today, most pet stores still have Mongolian gerbils, but there are varieties from other countries available as well.

Selecting Gerbils

Gerbils are highly social animals, and it is important not to keep them isolated. They may be bought singly, but it is the owner’s responsibility to provide enough interaction so that it will not be lonely. It is much better to have two to four gerbils. They require the same amount of care, and they are more fun to watch.

Males and females get along well with each other, but they will produce a litter of pups every month for several years. Gerbils of the same sex may be kept together if they are brothers or sisters from the same litter, or they will most likely kill each other. Females tend to be more gentle and sociable with people than males.

When selecting gerbils at the pet store, make sure you buy from a reputable dealer. Unclean stores may have sick animals. A gerbil’s coat should be soft and never oily or greasy looking. Ask to hold the animal before you purchase it. Gerbils do not generally bite, and you do not want to buy an animal that does. Gerbils will, however, nibble your finger a little to see if you are edible. This is much different than a bite.

If you put your hand into the cage a gerbil should be naturally curious and will come to give you a good sniff. Animals that do not get up or seem lethargic should be avoided. Gerbils have different personalities than hamsters.

Providing a Proper Home

Gerbils are very active, and they need to have a home that will allow them to play safely. Plastic homes with lots of tunnels look fun, but they are not safe for gerbils. Gerbils, which are rodents, must chew constantly to wear their teeth down. All rodents’ teeth grow throughout their entire lives. Hard plastic, such as in tunnels and certain cages, may break off in shards that will damage your gerbils stomach and possibly kill it. These types of cages and tunnels are designed for hamsters. Safety aside, gerbils can chew through hard plastic cages and escape.

The best type of housing for a gerbil is a glass aquarium (ten-gallon at least) with a screen lid. These are virtually escape-proof provided that you keep the lid on tight. Gerbils can jump out of ten-gallon tanks quite easily.

Once you have chosen a cage, you should fill it with wood shavings. Do not use newspaper or sawdust because these items can make the gerbils sick. Cedar shavings have the most pleasing smell, but some animals are allergic to them. If you find that cedar shavings do not work, then pine shavings will be fine.


Being desert animals, gerbils do not drink much water. Nevertheless, you should provide water for them in their cage. Gerbils may eat a variety of foods, but the most important thing is to make sure they get the nutrients they need. Most stores sell gerbil pellets or mixes of pellets and seeds. You can make your own mix by purchasing pellets and bird seed separately.

It is a good idea to buy a small, but heavy glass bowl to put their food in. Gerbils love to dig constantly, and the heavy bowl will not tip over as easily. Do not place their water in a bowl because they will quickly make a mess. It is best to purchase a hanging water bottle, and it also takes up less space on the floor of their cage.

Sunflower seeds, popcorn, and potato chips are also favorites, but they should be given as treats because of the high fat content. Gerbils may also enjoy fresh fruits or vegetables given in small amounts, but the high water content may give them diarrhea. Remove any uneaten fruits or vegetables the next day.

Handling Your Gerbils

After you place your gerbils in their new home, give them a day to adjust. Feed them once a day on a regular schedule. This is the best time to handle your pet. The gerbils will begin to expect you at feeding time, and they will become accustomed to you quickly if you place food in your hand before you place it in their bowl. The hungry gerbils will put their paws on your hand and grab a tasty piece of food. They may nibble your hand a little, so do not jerk it away and scare them. The gerbils may then sit in your hand or even crawl up your arm.

If you want to pick up a gerbil, and it will not sit in your hand, then you may pick it up gently by the base of the tail and support its body with your hand. It is important that you not grab the tip of the gerbil’s tail because it will break off. This is a protective measure against predators in the wild, and it will not grow back.


Gerbils love to play. Chewing and digging are their all-time favorite activities. So any toys you purchase that gerbils can chew or dig are sure to be a success. They enjoy chewing on sticks, logs, pinecones and pinecone seeds, but make sure they are free of chemicals or insects. Gerbils also enjoy chew sticks, paper towel tubes or tissue boxes. They will make short work of any paper product that you put in.

If you purchase a wheel, make sure to get the metal kind. The wheel will become unmoveable if you place it on the floor of the cage because the gerbils will bury part of it or tip it over. If you hang the wheel from the screen lid, it will always run freely. There is a slight danger that your gerbils may get caught in the wheel, but this is uncommon.


Gerbils will become sexually mature at the age of two months. They will have litters of one to eight pups, the average being two to four. Gerbils stop producing young around the age of two and a half years.

The gestation period is approximately twenty-four days, or three to four weeks. Baby gerbils are born without fur, and they are blind and deaf. Their skin turns dark in about three days, and by six days they are covered in light fur. By the twelfth day, their eyes are open.


Gerbils will live from three to five years if you follow the guidelines listed above. They are an excellent pet because they are relatively quiet, they do not have much odor, and they are very friendly. They are also a lot of fun to observe.