Responsible stewardship of a companion gerbil involves providing proper housing, nutrition, grooming and veterinary care.
Gerbils are native to many parts of the world, but the type of gerbil most commonly kept as a pet is the Mongolian.
Gerbils come in a variety of colors, but usually have white fur on their belly. Their tails are covered with hair, unlike those of mice.
Gerbils usually live for three to four years. Most are nocturnal, but Mongolians are not. All gerbils are very frisky, and can easily escape from a cage that isn't closed securely. Their eyesight isn't very good, so they sometimes fall off tables when they are running around loose, but their hearing and sense of smell are both very acute.
Children caring for gerbils should be supervised by an adult.
Gerbils should be kept in a wire cage or an aquarium that has a wire mesh top. The enclosure should be placed away from direct sunlight or drafts, and lined with an absorbent bedding or some other form of litter. Be sure to change the litter often enough to keep it dry and odor-free.
Gerbils like to play, so provide them with an exercise wheel that does not have any openings in which their tail can get caught and/or allow them to run around outside of their cage for a supervised period of time each day in one room carefully checked for any places from which the gerbils can escape.
Gerbil food is available at many pet stores, but gerbils can be given sunflower seeds, nuts, alfalfa pellets and fresh vegetables as well. Be sure to clean up any leftover fresh food before it spoils. It is best to use a bottle with a drinking tube to provide water.
Gerbils' teeth grow continuously, just like those of all other rodents. So, it is important that they be given a sterilized bone or twig that has not been treated with pesticides or any other chemicals to gnaw.
Gerbils are social animals, so it's best to get at least two. However, since gerbils are prolific breeders, keeping males and females together is not recommended.
A gerbil who is ill should be seen by a veterinarian.
In case of accidental poisoning, call the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) 24 Hour Emergency Hotline Numbers: 1-888-4ANI-HELP (1-888-426-4435) ($30 per case; Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express when you call.) 1-900-680-0000 ($30 flat rate will be charged to phone bill.)
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