You may be amazed to know that degus have been in Britain longer than Gerbils! Gerbils were introduced into Britain in 1964 and they have an ability to conserve liquid, and produce small amounts of a highly concentrated urine and dry faeces making them very clean and practically odourless little pets!
At NANNA’s we prefer to house the gerbils in tanks allowing them the natural ability to burrow and make tunnels, again toilet rolls are used and they love to chew them up. A wheel is also handy, however you may get frustrated because they change the living quarters on a daily basis making a different picture everyday, so where do you place a wheel, where it cannot be jammed up with bedding? Only leave it in for short periods to allow exercise but reduce the chance of exhaustion and again make sure it is a full enclosed wheel to prevent injuries. Although tanks make ideal accommodation for gerbils they can overheat if placed in direct sunlight or near a heat source, so care should be taken when looking for the ideal place for the tank. The bigger the tank a reduction in boredom is seen and remember gerbils are friendly, social animals but they should be kept in sibling groups (single sexed) or they may fight and they do have nasty fights, sometime to the death. The gerbil may well be from the desert it can only survive the heat by deep burrowing so please do not allow them to get overheated.
Many illness Gerbils suffer from are related to stress, but they can also catch the common cold from a human, so if you have cold or flu’ symptoms don’t go near them. If you see red tears, take them to the vet because this can be an infection or stress and if allowed to build up they can become highly irritant and lead to nasal dermatitis.
You should cup a gerbil into your hand and hold the base of the tail between your fingers nearest the palm they are very quick!
Feeding is important and like most gnawing animals (not the degu), they love a dog biscuit to gnaw on, again unlike the degu, they can have fruit, and a little cheese is always an extra treat. Like other rodents they will select what they eat and they love sunflowers however, sunflowers are low in calcium but high in fat so small amounts only, excess in these can cause calcium deficiency, fractures and obesity. Mouldy peanuts can cause fatal liver damage, so check what you are feeding before you put it in and check what is already in there!
Although they live in the desert and they can retain water it is still very important to make sure their water is fresh and plenty of it. Did you know that Gerbils have good ear drainage compared with other rodents? Like all rodents, gerbils have teeth that are open rooted and grow throughout their life. So it is essential that they are provided with adequate food and toys to gnaw. Their teeth may not always be aligned properly and they may have to go to the vets to have them clipped, but the use of wholemeal macaroni, apple twigs and dog biscuits will help keep them healthy.
Foot stamping is a sign of territorial warning and they will also exhibit displeasure this way so look out for it. Gerbils are friendly, but quick, they love to burrow so make sure you have given them enough bedding to enable this, fresh hay, shredded cardboard, toilet rolls and shredded paper will all help them to make their tunnelling system, but remember they have to be able to get to their water!