You have finally decided to get a pair of gerbils as pets (and if you are still not sure about it, check if gerbils are the right pets for you and your kids).
You now have the gerbilarium as well as other necessary supplies (i.e. food, bedding, water bottle and toys). And you have already identified a nice place in your home to place their tank.
Now comes the best and the most fun part…
... i.e. going out and getting a pair (or two) of these adorable pets.
In this post, I will cover all you need to know to ensure that you get the best gerbils...
Few Things you will learn about...
- What are good places to get gerbils from [4 legit sources]
- Male gerbils or female gerbils? Which ones to pick?
- How to ensure that you always get same sex gerbils?
- How to pick the best of the litter?
- Things to take care of in the first few days after you get gerbils home
Excited? Let’s get started...
Where to get the gerbils from?
Many years back when I decided to get my first pair of gerbils, I simply went to my nearest pet shop. However, there were many other options that were there which I didn’t know at that time and if I had to get them again, I will probably follow a different strategy.
There are about four different sources to get gerbils from:
- Shelters, humane societies and rescue groups
- Pet shops
- Hobby breeders
- From friends and family who need homes for their baby gerbils
From animal shelters/humane societies and rescue groups
There are number of owners who can’t keep their gerbils anymore. They typically bring their pets to a local shelter for them to be adopted by another owner.
It's not as common as in case of cats or dogs, but there are reasonable chances of you finding some lovely gerbils up for adoption at your nearest animal shelter.
Check out the video below for a quick summary (or read on...)
See if you can provide a home to some abandoned gerbils.
These shelters and humane societies will typically require that
- You are knowledgeable and serious about the responsibility you are about to get into
- You have the requisite housing and permissions to house gerbils
- You have requisite training and knowledge about caring for gerbils
It will cost you anywhere from 5 to 20 dollars to adopt a gerbil from these shelters.
Other option for you is to find out a rescue group near by. These groups are sets of individuals that act as temporary pet parents. They will house abandoned animals till more permanent homes are found.
Rescue groups typically work very closely with animal shelters. Hence, in case there is no gerbil up for adoption at a shelter, it is a good idea to ask the shelter employees if they know of any rescue groups who may have gerbils up for adoption.
From Pet Shops
Pet shops are amongst the easiest methods to get pet gerbils. They are typically located in every nook and corner so finding one shouldn't be an issue. Also, as an added benefit, their staff can be really helpful when it comes to choosing the right pet for you.
Most pet shops sell young gerbils. But there are some who do adopt adult gerbils from their customers and make them available for sale (a lot of times alongside their original tank and supplies at discounted rates). This can be a great deal so do look out for same.
If you are going the pet store way, expect each gerbil to cost you between 10 and 20 dollars each
However, do note that gerbils from pet shops may sometimes be less friendly as compared to those who are specifically bred for a docile temperament. This is where the next option comes in.
From Hobby breeders
Believe it or not, there are hundreds of hobbyist breeders. And more often than not, these folks are the best sources to get your gerbils from.
Just like it happens in the case of cats and dogs, a lot of these hobbyists breed show quality specimens. This will mean that these gerbils will typically be healthier and friendlier as compared to let’s say ones obtained from a random pet shop.
A good breeder should have already hand-tamed your pets and the gerbils with him should already be used to human handling. This ideally should also be true of good pet shops (but not ones where gerbils are bred in mass).
Also if you crave for something different, you have higher chances of finding more exotic colors with a gerbil hobbyist as compared to a general pet shop.
There are many many breeders out there. Just google for your specific area or ask around in your facebook groups and you are sure to find one. You can also check out AGS breeder registery.
Go visit, talk to the breeder and if you get enough confidence that they are legit, you have found a good source.
From your friends and other individuals
Do you have friends who have gerbils?
If yes, check with them once before you go gerbil picking.
You may find that your friends have had a case of an accidental gerbil breeding. It is more common than you think.
This typically happens if they bring a pregnant female home without knowing about pregnancy or if there is a mis-identification of genders and they end up with a male-female pair. Eitherway, they now need to find good homes for 6-8 gerbil babies and you may get lucky. Typically the owners in such cases are more concerned about finding right homes and so you probably shouldn't have to spend anything to get a pair from them.
Also, keep an eye on animal classified sections in local magazines and newspapers. They might have advertisements with gerbils up for adoption from individuals who have had cases of accidental breeding.
Four decisions you will need to make as you pick your gerbils
Now that you know where to find gerbils of your dream, let us look at a few things you need to take care of and some decisions you need to make as you pick your gerbils.
Colors and varieties
The first decision you will need to make as you go near the litter is the color of gerbil you want.
There are more than 40 colors of gerbils available across pet stores and hobbyists. However, an important thing to note here is that all of these gerbils belong to the exact same species i.e. Mongolian Gerbil. They vary very little in terms of temperament and color difference is just because of selective breeding over the years.
The most popular gerbil color, by far, is Golden Agouti. Nutmeg, Blue, Burmese, Red Fox, Sapphire, Argente, Ruby Eyed White and Lilac are next in line. Himalayan and Siamese are getting popular too.
There are gerbils with white bellies and spotted colors, some have red eyes, others have black and a few of them have pink.
In a nutshell, you will have a lot of options to choose from (though some rare colors may be harder to get).
Do note that gerbils molt into a new coat of fur at about six weeks. For most types, the colors stay same but for same they change dramatically (e.g. nutmeg gerbils).
Ask your pet store or breeder for help if you are confused.
No of gerbils you want to get
How many gerbils?…
…. Two is the absolute bare minimum.
Gerbils are social animals and they need gerbil companionship to thrive. They need gerbil friends to groom, to play, to cuddle and in general to feel secure.
And no human companionship is not an alternative.
If you want only one pet, look for another animal as a lone gerbil will be irritable and lethargic.
Almost ironically though, you also need to ensure that your two gerbils are not strangers or else they will fight and injure each other.
Essentially gerbils need company, but not stranger company.
If gerbils, you are getting, are from different litters, get them when they are babies or introduce them to each other using split cage method. Do not put stranger gerbils together without a gradual introduction first else you will have a pet fight on your hands.
Also remember that the more number of gerbils, more is the space needed for them. On an average two gerbils will need a minimum of 10 gallons. Each additional gerbil will add another 5 gallons of tank space.
For beginners, it’s recommended to start with two gerbils first and expand once you start feeling comfortable with them as pets.
Females gerbils or Males gerbils?
Do you want to breed gerbils and have gerbil babies?
If you don’t want all these gerbil babies, you should make sure that you get same sex pairs. Either a male or a female one...
If you do want to breed, I hope you already made plans on how to take care of all the gerbil babies you are about to get. Gerbils breed really fast and one pair can produce up between 6 and 8 babies every 35 to 40 days.
A good perspective to remember here is that there isn’t much money in breeding gerbils and they are typically loss leaders for most pet shops.
At the outset, both male and female gerbils are wonderful pets. And gender is not as big a determinant of their temperament as their individual personalities and handling will be.
Still, there are some differences you should be aware of...
- Males are slightly larger compared to their female counterparts. This is only obvious once gerbils reach adulthood. The difference will be as much as 20-25%
- Female gerbils are considered to be more active and curious. They are more likely to jump, play and climb up your arm.
- Males have a stronger odor though this won’t really be noticeable unless you don’t clean their cages for weeks and weeks.
- Females shouldn’t be kept in groups of more than two, as they may start fighting with each other. For a group size of three or more, males are recommended
- Male gerbils are calmer and more docile. They are also easier to introduce to another stranger gerbil.
To reiterate, the above points are generalizations and at best trends that have been observed. There is no guarantee that your gerbils will follow these behaviors to the tee and lot depends upon your handling and their temperaments.
Whichever gender you prefer….
... make sure that you double check that you are getting same sex gerbils
There are way too many stories where people thought they were getting a pair of sisters (or brothers), but end up with a lot of gerbil babies a month or two down the line.
How to detect if a gerbil is a male or a female?
Differences between male and female gerbils are not as obvious as they are in other animals. Further, it is even more difficult to sex baby gerbils as they will look very similar.
For adults, males can be detected by looking at their scrotum near their tail. This scrotum is noticeable in gerbils 5 weeks and above, though at about 9-10 weeks, fur may cover it making is much less noticeable.
Alternatively, look for a small and hairless bump of skin above the gerbil’s anus. This is their urinary opening. If this urinary opening is half an inch or more above the anus, it is a male. On the other hand, if this opening almost touches their anus, it is a female you are looking at.
Third method to sex gerbils is to look for male testicles. For adult male gerbils, testicles are easily visible if you look close to their anus. Fourth method is to look at size of their scent gland areas. Males have bigger scent glands as compared to females.
For baby gerbils however, it’s a bit tricky as things seem very similar both for males and females. In this case, it is recommended to identify the gender by comparing a gerbil to its cage mates.
The other method to use in case of babies is what is called nipples technique. Females will have 8 nipples that look like dots.
However, this technique is most viable if gerbils are young enough to not be covered by fur (between 7-12 days is the best time). If they are covered by fur, you can blow on their belly to part the hair and see the nipples. They don’t like this blowing too much though so only use it if other methods outlined above don't work.
How old should be gerbils when you get them
Six to nine weeks is the perfect age to get gerbils home.
Gerbils form a deep bond if they grow up together and are much easier to tame when they are younger. Adults will be territorial and you will find it harder to tame them if they are not already tamed. Also, if you are getting gerbils from different litters, it will be harder to pair them if they are more than 10 weeks old.
Getting them young may be particularly important if you are getting females...
Females, if they are not separated from males, can get pregnant as soon as 9 weeks old. What this means is that you can actually be getting pregnant females home and about 6-8 gerbil babies may be on their way in about a month.
If you are getting female gerbils, either get them from litters where females and males have been kept apart or ensure that you are getting them when they are less than 9 weeks of age. Ask for the actual ages from pet handlers.
However, do NOT buy a baby that was just weaned. Gerbils wean between 3-4 weeks of age and it is fairly stressful for them to change homes at that age. Rather, reserve your pet and wait for about two weeks.
Now that you know decisions you will need to make while choosing your gerbil, lets look at some tips to get the best of the litter...
How to choose the pick of the litter
Are they alert and active?
You should get gerbils that are not lethargic and ideally they should be active at most times.
Gerbils are incredibly curious and like to play a lot. In fact, the only time they sit still is when they are sleeping, are depressed or are not healthy.
If there is a lethargic gerbil that is not moving around much, you should ideally skip and choose a more active one.
Are they healthy?
You should ensure that you are getting healthy pets. The health of gerbils to a large extent depends upon how well they have been cared for. But broadly look for following signs:
- Are they well cared for? Their cage should be clean and non-smelly. Look for their food bowls and water bottles and check if they are empty or full. A cage that smells pungently or has no food or water is a sign of poor care and chances are gerbils are less likely to healthy in that store
- Do they have runny eyes, runny nose, a rough coat? Is it sneezing? All signs of a not so well gerbil
- Look at the fur near front feet and if it's dirty or matted, there is a high chance that your gerbil is ill.
- A wet or matted fur near tail may be a sign of diarrhea.
- If you find a really sick gerbil, stay away from other gerbils in that tank for time being. Gerbil you like may not be ill as of now, but can become ill once it gets to your home. It may have caught an illness from its sick mate. And ddded stress because of changing homes doesn't help.
- Do you see any mites in the cage? These pests typically look like red or black dots crawling on tanks or on bedding. Also look for small dots or bites on gerbil fur, these are mites too. Another sign of mites is if gerbils are scratching excessively. Just stay away if you find any evidence of mites!
Not choosing a sick gerbil as a pet can save you hours of headache but most importantly it discourages bad caretakers as they can't sell their not-cared-for gerbils.
Choose gerbils that have a dense shiny fur. They should have a sleek look and shiny bright eyes. They should look healthy (almost fat) and should not be limping. They should be active and not lethargic.
Are they tame and friendly?
Gerbils should ideally be tamed already by the time you get them home. If so, it may be useful to check for their personality and get the friendliest of them home.
One easy way to test for their personality is to put your hand in their cage…
Do they come up to investigate and sniff your hand...
Even better do they try and climb your hand? Do they seem at ease or run away when you touch them? Do they bite?
A gerbil that runs away when it's touched, struggles frantically when held or tries to bite is not one with a friendly personality (at least not at that moment).
Please note that really young gerbils tend to mouth everything out of curiosity. This doesn’t mean that they are pets with problematic personalities. In fact, their behavior is very similar to puppies who too nip at everything.
Get a pair from same litter or ensure that they are already introduced
Gerbils are territorial and will need to be introduced gradually to each other before they can form a bond.
As I mentioned before, the easiest way to ensure this is to get a pair from the same litter. They were born together and recognize each other already.
Else you should get them when they are babies and put them in the same tank pretty early in their life (less than 9 weeks).
If you get gerbils >9 weeks in age, you will need to split-cage them first.
Five questions you should ask your pet store or breeder
Are gerbils you like healthy and active? Any known issues there?
Have they been tamed already?
What’s the age of gerbils?
What’s the final adult color of gerbils you are looking at? Is it same as baby color that you are looking at right now?
What's the gender of gerbils you are interested in?
Once you get them home
Your gerbil tank should be ready before you go out to get them home.
Gerbils can chew through cardboard boxes that most pet shops provide very quickly. In fact, the average life of standard cardboard box can be as low as half an hour. Hence it’s important to transfer them to their permanent homes as soon as possible.
In case you have a long drive home, consider taking a more sturdy metal or glass carrier with you.
Once you reach home and have put them into their tanks, wait for some time before you start playing with them.
Let them settle down. It's stressful time for them.
They are nervous and afraid when they first come home with you. It's a good idea to let them get used to their new surroundings before playtime starts.
To ease them into their new tank, ask your pet store or breeder for some bedding from their original tank and place same in their new home. The familiar smell will help them settle faster.
Most importantly, before you leave pet store, learn how to hold gerbils. It is not ok to hold gerbils by their tails as they can break off very easily. Similarly, it’s not recommended to swoop down and pick them up suddenly as it can startle them. You will need to transfer gerbils to their permanent homes from their temporary carriers and it’s important for you to know how to best handle them.
Also, supervise your kids whenever they are handling gerbils. It's infinitely more important if you have really young kids. Gerbils sometimes tend to struggle if picked up suddenly and kids typically just squeeze them harder in such cases. This will cause gerbils to bite. Not a happy scenario!
In a nutshell, let gerbils feel safe and give them time to settle down.
But once they are settled in and are not feeling so shy anymore, it is time to make friends.
Offer them treats and if they are willing, play with them.
Start calling them by their names and they will learn to associate sound of their names with playtime. They will soon start recognizing you. Once that happens, they will start responding to you positively and lot of affection.
Gerbils are incredibly happy pets and if you are a responsible owner, will make you incredibly happy too. So what are you waiting for, go get them home and start the fun.