For many people, getting a gerbil is an impulse decision. When they see a gerbil in a pet store window, munching busily on seed and looking as cute as a toy, they think that it has to be the easiest pet to own. They then buy one right away.
This isn’t the right way to go about getting a gerbil, though. As low-maintenance a pet as a gerbil can be, it still has needs.
1. The first thing to think about – how much time do you have
Gerbils don’t need as much attention as pet dogs. They are usually happily entertaining themselves for hours together. Nevertheless, gerbils don’t thrive unless they get at least half an hour of handling and human interaction each day. Gerbils also need spotlessly clean surroundings – they need to be far cleaner than guinea pigs, for instance.
While gerbil tanks don’t get dirty very quickly, you still need to set time aside to clean their tanks thoroughly at least once a week.
2. Where do you live
If you live in California or Hawaii, it’s against the law to keep gerbils. Since these states have desert-like environments in some places, they present gerbils with a habitat close to the one they are evolved for. If they escape, they could quickly multiply, establish vast colonies and destroy local flora.
3. Do you have young children at home
Gerbils certainly can make adorable pets for children. Unlike hamsters, gerbils are daytime creatures. They are alert and awake through the day, ready to play. Gerbils, though, may still not be appropriate for young children for the following reasons:
- Gerbils need to be handled with care. If they are dropped or if the tail picks them up, they can suffer serious injury. Gerbils are cute creatures – children are often moved to try squeezing them the way they would a soft toy. This can hurt gerbils, and they can bite back.
- Gerbils are easily startled by loud noises and sudden movements. It can be hard to get children to be quiet, on the other hand.
- Children need to be taught to wash their hands after handling gerbils. While gerbils are clean creatures, handling them the wrong way can result in fecal contamination.
4. If you do decide to get a gerbil, you should consider adopting instead of buying
Gerbils are bred commercially for sale at pet stores. Commercial breeding isn’t a humane process, though. It would help if you didn’t support it as far as possible. There’s no good reason to buy gerbils, either – you can easily adapt them at a pet shelter.
5. You should consider getting multiple gerbils, rather than just one
Gerbils are social creatures – they live in colonies in the wild. It isn’t humane to raise one in isolation. If you get multiple gerbils, it can be great fun watching them play and fight with one another, too.
Gerbils that are strangers to one another don’t get along well, though. If you plan to get multiple gerbils, you should make sure that they are all the same sex and get a set that has previously lived together.
6. You need to think of your budget
Gerbils are far less expensive to own than the average dog or cat. This doesn’t mean, though, that you’ll get away with spending nothing. While the adoption fee (or the price you pay at the store) isn’t likely to be much, you need to spend about $150 to set up your new pet’s living quarters.
About $40 should buy you a new 15-gallon aquarium. You will also need to spend on outfitting it. Gerbil food costs around $5 a bag, and quality wood pulp bedding can cost $20. You also need to set aside money for other regular healthcare needs. Since gerbils live up to three years, you need to keep up with such expenses for as long.
7. If possible, you should do more than merely buy commercially produced gerbil food
You need to make sure that you get a brand of gerbil food that doesn’t use sunflower seeds in great quantity. Gerbils love sunflower seeds and pick them out first. If they can fill upon them, they won’t eat anything else. This could result in poor nutrition. It would help if you also took out time to give your gerbil fresh fruit and vegetables – carrots, cucumbers, seedless apples and grapes, and so on.
8. You need to be ready for routine veterinary expenses
While gerbils usually stay healthy, they aren’t built for a quiet domestic life where they get their food with no effort. Their teeth grow very quickly to keep up with the demands of foraging in the wild. As pets, they need to have their teeth ground down once a month or so.
9. Your gerbil needs plenty of wooden toys
Since gerbils chew up any toy they get, you need to be careful and only get wood-made. A gerbil can easily destroy a plastic toy, eat pieces of plastic and hurt itself.
10. You need to be ever aware of the fact that you are dealing with a different species
Like most pets, gerbils have special needs. Food that seems perfectly innocent to humans can be a death sentence to a gerbil. For instance, you can’t ever feed gerbil chocolate. When you buy a wooden chew toy or bedding material, you must make sure that the manufacturer has used gerbil-safe wood.
Cedar and pine can cause respiratory and liver damage. You can never let cotton or anything fluffy get near a gerbil. It could ingest the material.