Gerbils are cute little furballs.
They are active, curious and are surprisingly intelligent (look at maze runner experiment). They bond with their owners and will recognize and interact with them.
They are widely considered to be great starter pets and having them can be a great experience both for you and for your kids.
But are you left wondering if that's indeed true? Are gerbils really the right pet for you, your kids and your unique situation?
After all there are so many abandoned pet stories you have heard and you want none of that.
Let me help you with this decision...
Do you have enough space in your home to place a similar tank?
Gerbil fit checklist - What you need to know!
- Do you have enough space to keep gerbils?
- Are you ok with two or more pets or do you want just one?
- Have you budgeted well?
- Do you have enough time to take care of gerbils?
- Do you have pregnant women at home?
- Are your kids old enough to handle gerbils?
- Do you have other pets at home? Are they always under supervision?
- Do you go on vacations regularly?
- Are you ready for the commitment for long enough?
- Do your state laws allow Gerbils?
See there are about 10 things to take care of...
And if you tick these boxes, rest assured, your gerbils will be happy pets and you will be a happy and content pet parent.
Let's go through each one of these ten things...
Space and Size
Do you have enough and appropriate space for gerbils?
Gerbils need at least 10 gallons of tank size for two of them to feel comfortable. And every additional gerbil will need another 5 gallons of space. You should have enough space to place a tank of this size in your home.
Additionally, you should not place a gerbil tank in a damp space so basements are typically a no-no. It is ok to place Gerbil tanks by windows but you need to make sure that there is no direct sunlight.
Gerbils are most comfortable in a temperature range of 65 to 75 Fahrenheit. Their homes should not be placed close to heaters or directly on floors where the temperature can fluctuate wildly.
Additionally, if you are a light sleeper, bedrooms are not appropriate for gerbil tanks. Gerbils are mostly non-vocal but they will still make noises as they gnaw and run the wheels during nights.
An acceptable solution is to move gerbil tanks to living rooms at night.
Following video shows a pretty typical gerbil tank. You should have at least this much space.
And if you are feeling somewhat adventurous, here is another video showcasing a much better (and bigger) tank being used to house 4 gerbils.
Do remember however - bigger tanks mean happier gerbils but they will need that much extra cleaning effort too.
Do you want just one pet? Probably because your kid is nagging you?
I am sorry but a single gerbil is not a good idea.
Gerbils are not solitary animals. They will not be happy in a situation where they do not have other gerbils for the company.
Even if you can provide a lot of human companionship, a solitary gerbil is a strict no-no.
Gerbils get depressed if they are the only gerbil in their tank. In fact, it has been scientifically proven that solitary gerbils are unhappy and will die earlier than gerbils in groups.
When you get gerbils, they should always be two or more. Also you should ensure that all of these gerbils already know each other.
Ideally your store manager/breeder should ensure that. In case you are buying or adopting gerbils from different stores, use split-cage method to gradually introduce them to each other.
Have you budgeted well?
Gerbils are relatively cheaper pets but there are still some costs associated with keeping them that you should now of.
Unless you are adopting them, two gerbils initially will cost you between five and ten dollars each.
A cage will cost about 40 dollars. Accessories like water bottle and food bowl will cost another 20 dollars and toys can set you back by another 20.
All of above is cumulative one-time cost of almost 100 dollars.
In addition to these one-time costs, gerbils need weekly bedding changes and like any other pet they will need regular food. Both of these will cost about $10-$15 per month.
Gerbils are hardly animals and it will be rare if you have to visit a vet. But if you have to, do expect that visit to cost you between 30 and 50 dollars.
Be ready for a one time cost of 100 dollars and running cost of about 15 dollars per month. Additionally you should keep about 50-100 dollars in reserve in case your gerbil needs a vet visit.
Gerbils will cost at least 100 dollars to start with and will have an ongoing cost of 10-15 dollars per month for two gerbils
Do you have enough time to care for gerbils?
Though gerbils are fairly independent and can entertain themselves for extended periods of time. But they will still need time from you.
They need to be fed daily, their water needs to be changed periodically and their cage will need a periodic cleaning - every fortnight if not every week.
A happy, well-adjusted gerbil is one who receives daily handling and interaction. They appreciate time out of their tank and interacting with you regularly. This regular play time is also important from the perspective of you bonding with them.
A daily interaction with gerbils will last about 15 minutes. Additionally weekly cleanings of their tanks will mean another 1-2 hours each week. You should be able to dedicate at least this much time to your pets.
Gerbils will need weekly tank cleanings as well as daily interactions. Does that fit your schedule?
Do you have pregnant women at home?
If yes, you should know that gerbils can carry a small risk of salmonella.
There have been no reports of humans getting this bacteria from gerbils. But it is a risk nonetheless.
One should be particularly careful about this when it comes to people with weakened immunity as is the case with pregnant women or really young kids.
Do know that most household pets carry some risk (no matter how-so-ever small) of animal to human transmittable diseases.
You should always wash your hands after handling a pet gerbil.
Really young kids
Are you getting gerbils for someone who is really really young? Or are they old enough to handle gerbils?
Gerbils are not a great pet for really young kids.
Young kids lack fine motor control and won’t be able to handle gerbils gently. They can injure gerbils by dropping them, squeezing them or by stepping on them. Some simply want to hold the gerbils by their tails and this can actually break their tails off.
Also young kids typically make sudden movements that gerbils are really afraid of. In wild this meant danger and evolution has made gerbils really wary of overhead movements. Any sudden movement will startle them and may push them into self-defense mode. This will mean that they are much more prone to biting.
If you have a really young kid at home, wait for a year or two before you get them gerbils as pets.
Watch the video below to see how to handle a gerbil and see if your kids are old enough to do it the right way.
It is a good idea to teach kids about gerbil dos and don’ts before you get them their pets. Ideally you should supervise kids when they are playing with gerbils. Under supervision, kids are much less likely to hurt gerbils.
Do you have other pets at home?
Gerbils are fiercely territorial and you should not place them alongside other pets in same cage. They will fight hamsters and guinea pigs. In fact, they will fight stranger gerbils unless properly introduced.
Cats and ferrets will look at gerbils as prey and can potentially hunt them. If you have either one of them at home, you should ensure that gerbils are always out of their reach. Ideally gerbils tanks should be secured with a lock that your ferret or cat can’t open.
Gerbils do not have cats as their natural predators and hence they do not generally fear them.
Cats however will typically be curious about gerbils and can harm them if chance presents itself. Care should be taken to prevent any accidents.
Dogs can be trained to accept gerbils as part of the household and will typically be kind to them. However some dogs are more predatory than others and have high prey instinct and like cats will want to hunt gerbils. To be on safe side, dogs should never be left unsupervised with gerbils.
You should take a lot of precaution in case you have other pets alongside your gerbils. You do not want your gerbil to become food for your other pets even if accidently.
All in all, if you have other pets at home, adult human supervision will be needed at all times to ensure that they don’t harm each other.
Do you go on vacations regularly?
If you are going out only for 1 or 2 days, Gerbils will do fine on their own. Do leave enough food and water and additionally put a small fruit or vegetable in their tank in case water bottle runs dry.
If you are going away for more than 2-3 days, you will either need to hire a pet sitter or take gerbils along with you.
If possible, the best solution is to take your gerbils alongside you. These pets are great travelers and can be carried along in small boxes called gerbil carriers. You will need to make sure that these carriers are not made of plastic and they are not chewing through their temporary homes.
If you indeed take them along with you on vacations, never ever let them loose outdoors. They will get lost and wild is unforgiving for these little creatures. They will either starve or get hunted.
If you are traveling by bus, train or airline, it’s always a good idea to check their pet policies first. You should also check with your hotel before you decide to take your gerbils alongside you.
Do know that if you are traveling to California, Hawaii, Australia or New Zealand, you can not take gerbils alongside you as per local laws. In this case, your only option is to either hire a pet sitter or look for an animal hotel.
Commitment for 3-5 years
Are you ready for a 3-5 years commitment?
Gerbils if taken care of well, will live between 3-5 years. There have been reports of gerbils living as long as 6 years but even on an average 3.5 years is pretty standard.
That is a significant commitment towards your pet and before you decide to get gerbils home, you should understand what you are signing yourself up for.
You will need to ideally interact with gerbils every single day for next 3.5 years, will need to do weekly cleanings and will need to take good care of them.
Especially if you are getting gerbils for your kids, be aware that there is a chance of their novelty wearing off quickly. If that does happen, the responsibility of caring for these little fur creatures for rest of their lives will fall upon you.
Do you live in Hawaii, California, Australia or New Zealand?
Unfortunately, laws at these places do not allow gerbils as pets.
The reasoning behind these laws is the fear that gerbils can potentially get loose in wild. Gerbils breed really fast and can potentially form big colonies.
They can potentially become an invasive species and this will result in harming the native ecology.
This is particularly true of California and Hawaii as habitat in these states is very similar to Gerbil's natural habitat.
In case you live in above states, you have no choice but to look for other pets.
Wagfu is intended to be the most authoritative and accurate resource on pets. So if you see a mistake anywhere or want us to add something that we may have missed, please (pretty please) let us know