Gerbil physical characteristics

Gerbil Physical characteristics

The Mongolian gerbil is a small animal. It is approximately twelve centimeters from nose to the base of the tail. Its furry tail adds another six to twelve centimeters. The male has a slightly sturdier posture than the female. It weights between some 53 and 133 grams. The gerbil’s body is slim and has a tight skin. The head is short and wide, with a pointed nose. The wild color of the Mongolian gerbil (the so-called agouti) is achieved by a slate grey hair base, a yellow color in the middle and a black top. The belly and the paws are beige to white. The coat should have a silky shine. This shine is the result of discharge from a gland on the belly. Both sexes have such a gland, with which they can spread their smell on objects and other animals of their kind. During the cleaning, they spread the substance, which contains pheromones (aromatic hormones), over their coat. Each gerbil has its unique smell, which helps the animal to identify each other. The gerbil’s body temperature is between 37.4 and 39 Celsius. Its respiration rate is 70 to 120 per minute, and the heartbeat is 260 to 600 per minute. Gerbils live for about three years; in some exceptional cases they can reach the age of five. The underside of the female is slightly rounder, and the anus and the vagina are closer together than the male anus and penis. You can see the scrotum at the base of the tail on a (almost) grown male.

Gerbils are often considered to be mice. There are, however, many differences between there two rodents. Gerbils dig holes, which mice do not. They both have shiny red or black eyes, but the gerbil’s eyes are rounder and bigger. The gerbil’s head is rounder and wider (like a squirrel’s). Its back legs are longer than the front legs, whereas the mouse’s legs are all the same length. Another unique characteristic of the gerbil is a small hairless spot on the otherwise completely fur-covered sole of the back paw. They also have a long, furry tail with a wisp of hair at the end. Mice have naked (hairless) tails. One difference that cannot be noticed at first sight is that the upper incisors of the gerbil have a groove lengthways, which is lacking on mice.

Buying a gerbil – 1

Things to consider before buying a gerbil

A small and fairly inexpensive rodent like the gerbil does involve some costs an effort. It needs a cage, food and care. Caring for one animal can cost (a lot) more time than another animal, but care is something that is needed every day, even when you come home tired from work or school, and during holidays. Before buying a gerbil, its important to discuss this with the whole family. Anyone who plans to buy an animal should get as much information about it in advance.

However sweet gerbils are, they do have their own needs in terms of care, food and environment. Discuss things with your family and ask the following questions: Is a gerbil a suitable pet in your family situation? How intensive is the care it needs and do you have the time for it, over the long term? What does it eat, and what kind of cage does it need? Will you keep it alone or will it feel better in a pair or a group? How much is it going to cost to buy and care for (including vet’s bills) and can you afford that? To avoid disappointments later, get the answers to these questions before buying your pet. In any event, don’t tempted by “love at first sight’, because buying on impulse is guaranteed to bring disappointment with your new pet later.

If you’re buying a gerbil for a child, make solid agreement in advance about who is going to feed it and clean its cage. Practice shows that children often promise a lot in the enthusiasm, but don’t always keep their promises over time. Don’t expect too much, especially with very young children: they’re certainly not old enough to take responsibility for a pet on their own. Before taking a gerbil home, be sure you’re got proper accommodation for it (a cage, container or other accommodation). After all, you can’t keep a rodent in a cardboard box.

What variety?

More than eighty species of gerbil are found worldwide, only a small selection are kept as pets in this country. Far less, is known about keeping special gerbils than about keeping the Mongolian gerbil. If you do not have any experience in keeping rodents, it is easiest to start off with the common gerbil. More advanced gerbil enthusiasts can try their luck with more exotic types.

Buying a gerbil – 2

One or more?

The question as to whether to keep gerbils alone or together is very simple to answer. In the wild, some animals are social creatures and live in group, families or as a pair. Other animals live alone. They seek a mate to breed and then go their own way again. So it’s important to keep animals that live alone in the wild alone in captivity too. Animals that originally live in group or as a pair are happier pets when they have a mate. Almost all gerbils are very definitely herd animals. They will feel very unhappy sitting alone in a cage. Gerbils may not be able to tell you about their mood in words, but they can certainly do so with their behavior: a lonely gerbil will become listless and apathetic over time. If you are planning to keep gerbils as pets, you would be well advised to keep tow or more animals of the same sex, There is then no risk of being overwhelmed with young, and fortunately, it is easy for young gerbils to form groups. It is far more difficult to get adult animals used to teach other as they can start vicious fights, which often end in one of the animals losing its life.

Where to buy?

You have plenty of options where to buy a gerbil.

Most gerbils are sold by pet shops, which in itself is a good thing, as generally pet shop owners know how to look after the animals they sell properly.

However there are always some shops that are not so good. You can often spot what kind of a shop you’re dealing with. Are the cages clean? Do all the animals have clean water? Are there too many animals in a small tank? Are they selling animals that are wounded or appear sick? Are the animals handled regularly?

Most pet shops obtained their rodents from enthusiasts or serious breeders. These animals are healthy and usually used to human hands. Unfortunately, as well as serious breeders and animal lovers, we have our share of rogue breeders in this country. These are people who try to get rich quickly by breeding as many gerbils, mice, rabbits or other pets as possible, often keeping the animals in disgusting conditions. They never, or hardly ever, take care of hygiene or animal welfare, and in-breeding is the order of the day. One of the major disadvantages of these “breeding factories” is that the young are separated from their mother far too early, because time is money after all. The young are nowhere near strong enough, and sooner or later become seriously ill. Never buy a gerbil (or other pet) that is still too young or too small.

However hard it may sound, never give in to the temptation to buy such animal hoping to give it a better home. You’re really not doing any good. The more animals these dealers can sell this way, the more they will keep “in stock”. They don’t care why you’re buying the animal, just as long as you buy it. But if nobody buys their tiny sick animals then they can’t make any profit either, and they then have to decide either to stop trading or to start taking better care of the animals.

Things to watch out for when buying a gerbil

If you’re planning to buy a gerbil, watch out for the following points:

• The animals must be healthy. A healthy gerbil has bright eyes and is lively. Sexual organs must be clean and the animal must not show signs of wounds or scars. Its coat must be smooth, clean and glossy. Look out for any lumps or swelling.

• The gerbil must not be too young or too small. During the first few weeks of its life, the young animal gets resistance to disease through its mother’s milk that is vital to its health.

• The animal must also not be too old. Gerbils have a relatively short life. Buying an older animal may mean you will only be able to enjoy it for a short period. Also, grown gerbils are more difficult to tame. You can recognize an older animal by its yellowish belly.

• Check whether your gerbil is really the same sex as the shop assistant tells you. Mistakes are often made on this points: two “females” often suddenly produce babies later.

• Make sure the animal is not too thin or too fat.

Catching and handling a gerbil

Catching and handling a gerbil

Animals that are not used to being picked up by human hands are always frightened by the experience. You can normally pick up your gerbil by lifting it from underneath. You put the other hand over it as a “lid” to prevent the animal from escaping. Young animals, especially, tend to jump off your hand in panic.

When animals are very wild (which is not usual with gerbils) you should use a jam jar to catch them. It is important to catch the animal as fast as possible. Although gerbils can normally cope well with stress, along chase can tire them out and cause them to go into shock. A gerbil in shock will lay flat on its chest with paws outstretched and make epileptic (jerking) movements.

Selling young gerbils

Selling young gerbils

However much you like breeding gerbils, sooner or later you can’t keep them all. Then you must sell, swap or give away the young.

You call sell young (and older) animals to a pet shop. In this case you never know where they will end up. In any event, look for a serious pet shop that provides broad and correct information when selling animals.

You can also sell the young to private individuals. You might notify a gerbil owner’s club, place an advertisement in the newspaper or, preferably, sell or give them to acquaintances. Always give the new owner(s) good information about feeding and caring for gerbils.

Whatever you do, never set animals free into the wild! They will certainly not survive.

A home for a gerbil

Even if your gerbils live in a tank (a hutch would rarely be a home for gerbils in the UK) or a cage at home, it is still possible to get close to their natural living conditions, making the animals feel as comfortable as possible.

In the wild
The gerbil that we keep as a house pet originally came from Mongolia. There, the landscape consists mainly of savanna and semi-desert. Gerbils are talented builders: they make complicated underground networks if tunnels, nesting and storage rooms.

The strong hind paws of the gerbil are useful tools in the digging that’s needed. The animals dig tunnels and holes with their short, but strong front paws and push the waste soil to the back with their back legs. Tunnels are usually dug close to plants, so that the roots can offer support. A gerbil’s residence normally has more than one entrance. There are several escape routes for the family in case an enemy enters the burrow. Usually one gerbil family live in one burrow, but sometimes several families work together. This is especially the case when it comes to warning each other in the case of danger. Gerbils normally stay in the proximity of the burrow, even when searching for food.

Housing in captivity
So a gerbil is a real digger and rooter. It won’t be happy living on an old newspaper or a thin layer of sawdust, so a thick floor covering is a must. You need to think about that when choosing a gerbil cage. But, despite their yearning for digging, they deserve a comfortable and well looked-after home that should at least fulfill the following conditions:

  • Their home should keep its resident inside. A poorly closing door, chinks, small holes or too wide a space between bars can be enough. Also bear in mind that gerbils have very sharp rodent teeth, which can get through anything that is not made of glass, stone or steel.
  • Their home should be safe for animals and humans. No spikes or other objects, which may harm them, sharp glass edges or lids that fall inward.
  • It should be easy to clean, there should be no corner or holds that prevent you from cleaning parts of their home.
  • I should be made of a material that won’t absorb moisture or smells. Wood is unsuitable for making an animal cage unless it’s been treated with a water-repelling coating. When animal urine soaks into wood, it will begin to rot and smell. Glass or plastics, on the other hand, are ideal.
  • The opening must be wide enough for you to be able to access the entire area of their home, not just for cleaning purposes but also to be able to catch the animal of necessary. If the door is too small the animal may be able to get into a corner that you can’t get at.
  • Your gerbils’ home must be well ventilated. When cage litter is soaked in urine the ammonia smell can hang around in the bottom of the container. With insufficient ventilation, this can be harmful to the animals.
  • There should be areas where the animals can withdraw to in peace.

Type of cage for gerbils

You can keep your gerbils in various types of cage. All have their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at them one by one:

Wire cage
The majority of cages sold in pet shops are wire cages. They usually consist of a plastic base on which a cage of metal wire sits. The big advantage of this type of cage is their good ventilation: fresh air can get to the animals from all directions. However a disadvantage is that droughts can do the same.

Some wire cages have a very small opening. If you need a larger opening, then you have to life the whole top part off the base and your gerbils can easily escape in all directions. The better ones have a small opening for feeding, but you can also open the top leaving the walls standing. Another advantage is that this types of cage is very light and easy to clean.
But a disadvantage is that gerbils need a fair deal of bedding to dig around in. The base sides are usually low and a burrowing gerbil can easily throw sawdust over the edge.

Plastic or glass containers
Rodents are frequently kept in old aquariums or plastic containers with a wire gauze lid. In such a closed container the animals aren’t bothered by droughts, but ventilation is not optimal. So you need to clean the cage litter frequently, otherwise the animals live in ammonia fumes. A lid of glass or plastic sheet is absolutely out of the question because it allows no ventilation at all.

Plastic containers have the disadvantage that they quickly become unsightly, because they are easily scratched. The toilet corner in there containers can also become corroded and rough, making it difficult to keep clean and bad for hygiene.

Glass containers are available in various forms. One-piece containers are easily kept clean, but are also heavy. And if one crack appears you might as well throw it away. There are also aquarium types with a metal frame holding panels were fixed with putty, which would, of course, not dry out when the aquarium was filled with water. However, old putty tends to crumble in a dry gerbil container. The animals can gnaw at it and the panels can become loose. So containers with putty are unsuitable. Nowadays, glass panels can be fixed with silicone, which is an easy job for any do-it-yourself enthusiast. You can also make a glass cage without a frame. The glass panels are glued together with silicon and after one day the container is so strong that you could actually fill it with water. This type of cage can easily and cheaply be made at home. The silicon bead should not be too thick, otherwise the animals will gnaw at it, and the corners should be polished smooth or protected with plastic corner strips, because they can easily cause injury.

Laboratory pen
Some people keep gerbils in a laboratory pen, (often advised as simply a “lab pen”). These are low plastic containers with a metal grille as lid. A laboratory container is ideal for housing a lot of animal with the minimum of work, which is the intention in a laboratory. But you have very little contact with the animals. It is also questionable whether they feel happy in such a boring home, and some laboratory containers are so low that a gerbil can hardly stand upright inside it.

Gerbil paradise

Elaborate “gerbil paradises” can be bought in pet shops. Some consist of a number of wired cages attached to each other, others are a whole system of plastic tubes. Children, of course, find such an exciting gerbil house very attractive. They are, however, not ideal. Some models have narrow tunnels and sharp edges. A gerbil with a fully belly can easily become stuck. The tubes and burrows are also difficult to clean and the ventilation is bad. The biggest disadvantage is that the gerbils can sink their teeth into the plastic and your gerbil paradise will look like Swiss cheese in no time.

Cage litter
Four years, wood shavings have been used in animal cages. This is often called sawdust but is actually shavings. Sawdust absorbs moisture exceptionally well and hardly smells, but a disadvantages is that it usually contains a lot of dust. Investigations in recent years have shown that this dust can seriously bother rodents. There are now many other types of cage litter on the market that are “healthier” for animals.

Sawdust
Sawdust is not especially suitable as cage litter. However, it does appear that animal like the gerbil, whose natural habitat is dusty and who like to burrow, are less affected by the dust in wood shaving. Nature has made them better at dealing with it. Now that the dust problem is generally recognized, some types of sawdust are cleaned better by the manufacturer. So wood shavings are ideal for your gerbil’s home. They absorb plenty of moisture (a gerbil does not urinate very much) and they are great to dig and root around in. A layer of wood shaving mixed with hay (at least fifteen centimeters thick) is ideal to dig tunnels and burrows in. If the system collapses, the gerbil caught under it will be able to free itself without problems.

Hay
Rodents like to use hay as nesting material and to chew on, however it does not absorb moisture well and is thus not really suitable as cage litter.

Straw
Straw is much too coarse to be suitable as cage litter or nest material for rodents. There is a product on the market, which is made of shredded straw. Russell Rabbits cage litter is wonderfully soft and ideal as nesting material. It is less suitable as cage litter as it absorbs little moisture.

Cat litter
There are probably a hundred different sorts of cat litter on the market. Some are suitable to keep rodents on. Gerbils cannot really use litter made of stone or clay, as they cannot dig around in them.

Pressed pellets
Various cage litters are now on the market that consist of pressed pellets. Some types have sharp edges and don’t seem very comfortable. They also fall apart when they become damp. Pellets made of plant material, such as maize, are a good alternative if your gerbil seems to be allergic to wood-shavings. Symptoms of such as allergy are red eyes and a red nose. Maize pellets have the advantage that they hardly ever contain chemicals, but the disadvantage is that the gerbil cannot really dig around in them.

Sand
Some rodents like to live on sand. But as a flood covering sand has the disadvantage that it doesn’t store warmth and hardly absorbs moisture. Therefore sand alone is unsuitable for gerbils, but if you do choose to use it make sure there’s good nesting material available in the cage. The sand also has to be completely dry. Only gerbil varieties from the Gerbillus family can live in a sand-only cage. They urinate so little that the moisture has evaporated before it reaches the bottom. Make sure, however, that you offer your gerbil a separate nesting area with suitable material.

Shredded paper
There are also various types of shredded paper on offer as cage litter. These shreds are ideal to play with and can be used as nest material. But they absorb mush too little moisture to be used as cage litter.

The interior of a gerbil house

You can fill your gerbil’s home with wood-shavings and leave it at that. It would, however, be a very boring habitat, both for your gerbil and you. There are literally hundreds of different rodent toys in the pet shop. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of a number of popular gerbil articles:

Gerbil houses
There are countless sorts of gerbil houses on sale, but most are made of plastic and will be gnawed to destruction within a very short time. Apart from that, most are too small. There are roomier versions, made of wood, which are more suitable for gerbils although they will also gnaw at these. You can also use stone or glass pot. An empty package, such as a Cornflakes box, will also make a comfortable home. The gerbils will gnaw their out own door and windows. Once the house has been gnawed to destruction, you can replace it cheaply by a new one.

Wheels
Opinions vary on the usefulness of a wheel. Some people insist that these provide plenty of recreation for a gerbil. That’s surely true, but on the other hand a wheel does force the animal into monotonous activity that may result in psychological disturbances. The fact is that gerbils would rather dig than run. When offered the change to dig and shred, for example in wood-shavings and with empty toilet rolls, they will not often use the wheel. If you do want to buy a wheel, choose a safe model with a solid running surface. This prevents your gerbil from becoming caught or losing its tail.

Straw houses
Gerbil houses, tunnels and balls made of straw have appeared on the market in recent years. These products are made of woven straw and hay held together by wire. These are idea toys for gerbils! The can climb and tunnel in and around them and gnaw at the straw and hay. After a while the straw houses is finished with and you just need to take the wire skeleton out of the cage.

If you’re not keen on ready-made plastic objects, you can fit out your gerbil’s home really nicely with rocks and branches, giving it a pretty natural look. Make sure that the gerbils cannot easily reach the lid of the cage via the branches. Some gerbils love to gnaw at the bars for hours at a time, which can cause a dreadful noise, and make their noses sore. Also make sure that the branches are clean and no poisonous. Pruning from fruit trees that have not been sprayed should be safe.

The best place
Take care when picking the place to put your gerbil cage. Places where big temperature differences can occur, such as near an oven or radiator is not suitable, nor is windowsill that is sometimes in full sunlight. Gerbils prefer a temperature of 20 to 24 Celsius. Although they are desert animals, they do not like extreme temperatures. In the wild, they withdraw into their burrows at the hottest times of the day. They do not have a chance to do this in a glass contained standing in full sunshine. The garage or shed is also not suitable. You cannot see your pet, and the whole idea is that you should enjoy its presence. It is also too dark, too quite and often draughty. Gerbils can cope with a temperature of 15 Celsius, as long as they have plenty of dry nesting material. Once it gets colder, there is a risk of hypothermia. Gerbils like to party, but living permanently on top of a loudspeaker is too much of a good thing. Preferably place the cage in the living room, out of the sun, away from droughts and, where possible, off the ground on a (low) cupboard or table. The cage has to be closed securely, so that small children and other pets cannot open it.

Nutrition for a gerbil -1

Feeding in the wild
Mongolian gerbils prefer to eat herbs and herb-like plants in the wild (seeds, stems and roots). They sometimes also eat flowers and leaves. Many gerbil varieties also eat live food (insects).

Feeding in captivity
When you consider their feeding habits in the wild, it’s illogical to feed gerbils only a mixture of oats, grain, barely and grass pellets all the time. These “old-fashioned” foods contain almost no animal content and thus hardly any proteins. So a lot has changed in the field of rodent foods over the last few years. Major manufacturers have developed special foods for each variety of small rodent. Supreme pet-foods, for example, makes a special gerbil food with less fat and more protein than typical hamster foods. This is available in many pet-shops.

The nutritional requirements of the gerbil are very similar to those of the hamster. Your gerbils will therefore also be very happy with a mixed hamster food. Make sure that there are not too many green grass pellets in the food. The manufacturers put all the vitamins and minerals into these green cubes, but gerbils normally do not touch them. In the wild, they hardly ever find grass, and then definitely not in green, lush form. Whenever you buy any other food, take care that its structure is not too coarse. Rabbit food is certainly not suitable. If you use mixed rodent food, you can supplement it with dry cat or dog foods, and possibly weed or grass seed from the bird food shelf.

Pet shops also carry ready-made foods in the form of pressed pellets. These pellets all look the same and have the same ingredients. Many breeders give their animals such foods, because then they’re sure that each animal gets all the nutrition it needs. Apart from that, a lot less food is wasted as the animals don’t pick out what they like best, leaving the rest. Although the feed is very comprehensive, gerbils cannot satisfy their natural urge to peel seeds. Feeding the same food every day is also very monotonous. Make sure that the food does not contain too many sunflower seeds, peanuts and other nuts. Gerbils love them, but they contain lots of fat. Your gerbils will gain weight very quickly. This is bad for their health and also causes breeding problems, You can use nuts in a very limited fashion as treats or temptation, for example when taming your pet. Scientific research has shown that gerbils eat better when they have to search for their food. Gathering their own food is a natural activity. They will completely empty a full feeding bowl put in front of them and then fill it with wood-shavings. Therefore you can quite happily spread the food around the cage.

Be aware of the manufacturing date when buying food, as the vitamins are only effective for three months after manufacture. They quickly lose their power after that. Therefore never buy too much food at once.

Just like humans, animals also love variety. Never feed your gerbil sweet, crisp, biscuits or sugar lumps. They can become very ill, as there is too much fat, salt and sugar in such food. When you want to treat your gerbil, there are plenty of healthy treats that you can add to its menu.

Nutrition for a gerbil – 2

Vegetables and fruit
Gerbils enjoy most sorts of vegetables, but take care with them. After all, the Mongolian gerbil comes from a habitat with very little water (semi-desert) and is not used to large quantities of food with high water content. They can cause diarrhoea. Now and again your pet can be treated to a small piece of chicory, carrot, cauliflower, paprika or apple. It will enjoy most fruits, although citrus fruits are often too acid. Gerbils also enjoy dandelion, freshly cut grass and clover.

Lettuce and cabbage are best left out of their diets. These vegetables can easily cause intestinal problems. Make sure that all fresh food has been washed well (insecticides) and never gather grass, clover or dandelion from patches next to busy road, because of pollution. Take care to remove from the cage any pieces of fruit or vegetables that have not been eaten. There is a change they will start to rot, which could make your gerbil ill.

Other treats
Mongolian gerbils love mean-worms, sunflower seeds and nuts. They are rich in fat and therefore not that healthy. Therefore, give them only sparsely and never feed salted nuts. Gerbils also enjoy a small piece of old bread or a raisin.

Eating droppings
Almost all rodents eat their own droppings from time to time. This is not only normal, but also necessary. During the digestion process, vitamin B12 is produced in the intestines. By eating their droppings the animals take in this important vitamin.

Young gerbils eat their parents’ dropping, because they contain the bacteria they need to be able to create vitamin B12 in their own intestines during digestion.

Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals are elements every body needs to stay healthy. As long as a gerbil enjoys a good, varied diet it does not need additional vitamins and minerals. These are in their food.

Some breeders hang a so-called “mineral lick” in the cage. The animal takes in minerals by licking the stone and it seems that pregnant females, particularly, use them. Sometimes small blocks of limestone are placed in the cage. By gnawing on these the animals get extra calcium and at the same time keep their teeth sharp.

Water
Many rodents drink only small amounts of water. They come from regions where water is scarce and have learned to be careful with it. Some varieties can go with almost no water a all. Gerbils do, however, take in water in form of dew. It is therefore important for your gerbil to always have fresh water available. Any time it is thirsty it can drink. It is best to give water in a drinking bottle, which you hang on the outside of the cage, with the spout inside. Make sure that all animals (old and young) can reach it.

A dish of water is quickly overturned of filled with sawdust of other dirt.

Gerbil behavior – 1

A gerbil will not run away and hide whenever there are sudden noises and movements. Your pets is attracted by anything new and goes to inquire before if decides whether there is danger or not. Mongolian gerbils are therefore not easily annoyed, and they only bite in exceptional cases.

Communication
Gerbils do not speak a language as people do. Although they do not talk to each other, they can still communicate. They express their feelings and intentions (such as readiness for mating) via various non-verbal signals. Gerbils are in constant contact with each other via high, squeaking sounds, which are hardly audible for human ears. Very young gerbils squeak a little louder. The owner will often notice the presence of newly born young by the squeaking. Older animals, too, sometimes squeak louder. They do this when playing, but it can also be the expression of fright or sexual excitement.

Body language
The most important means of communication for gerbils are not via sounds, but through body language, which hey use to express a whole range of emotions.

Alertness
A typical gerbil action is its so-called “drumming”. The gerbil stands upright and quickly thumps on the ground with its hind legs. One of the functions of this stamping is to warn other members of the group when danger is approaching. The drumming is the signal to escape or attack. Drumming is also very important during courting and mating behaviour between male and female. Young gerbils learn to drum from their parents. You can observe young gerbils imitating their parents’ drumming even when there is no danger approaching.

Greeting
When gerbils greet each other, it looks like they are kissing. They lick each others mouth, as they recognize each other by the taste of their saliva.

Happiness
Gerbils that feel at home love a good cleaning session. They wash their face, belly and paws, and clean their tail by holding it with their front paws.

Excitement
When gerbils are excited or under pressure, they jump in the air with all four feet at once. Sometimes this excited jumping is combined with boxing movements of their front paws. The boxing of two animals is often playful, but it can sometimes be very serious.

Fear
A frightened gerbil sits upright as if frozen, with its front paws folded as if it is praying.

Curiosity
A curious gerbil, too, sits upright with its front paws folded. It is, however, not as tense as a frightened animal. It sniffs around with whiskers trembling and moves its head up and down at the same time.

Asking for a cleaning session
If your gerbil wants to be cleaned, it will roll in front of a friend and turn its head, offering its throat. The gerbil cannot usually resist this gesture and will gives its friend a good cleaning session.

Leave me alone
An irritated gerbil that wants to be left alone will dismiss other gerbils or your hand by pushing it away with its head.

Attacking
When gerbils are ready to fight, they box each other with their heads. Then they start boxing and wrestling match.

Gerbil behavior – 2

Solitary or gregarious?
Al l animals can be put into one of two categories, depending on their behavior towards others of their kind. Some animals live in groups, just as humans. We call these gregarious animals. These groups can have very simple structures, where the animals live next to each other, but more of less live their own lives. We see this with mice, for example. There are also animals which live in groups with very clear, strict rules. The prairie marmots, for example, have real group leaders, which are respected and obeyed by the other group members. Very often, each animal has a certain task to fulfill within the group. Most rodents are gregarious animals.

Some rodents are solitary, which means that they prefer to live on their own. They only meet up for mating in the reproduction season. The male has to make sure that it gets away quickly after the mating, as the female can injure it badly. A solitary lifestyle is often led by animals which live in dry grassland and desert areas, such as some desert mice and some special gerbils. Solitary animals often have a very strong territorial instinct. This is also obvious with some squirrels. It is very obvious that gregarious animals are very forgiving. When observing a group of mice, you can see that they have reconciliation signals: turning the head away and/or closing the eyes. The willingness to compromise aims to prevent injuries and deaths in the group.

When an animal is willing to succumb, it is not likely to be attacked. This assumes that the animals have got enough room to escape from each other. When gregarious animals are forced to live together in a very small cage without escape options, it can cause fights. This can also happen when two gerbils that are not familiar with each other are put in one cage.

If you can to keep rodents, it is therefore very important for you to know whether your chosen animals are gregarious or solitary. A solitary rodent, which is forced to live with others, will feel constantly threatened by this situation. The animal will be unhappy and become aggressive. On the other hand, it is wrong to keep a gregarious animal on its own. It will be very unhappy and will finally pine away. It should be obvious that you should never keep a gerbil on its own. It does not only need a partner to play with, but also to scratch each other. Gerbils are just like humans in this respect: they need protection and affection.

Colony behavior
Gregarious animals often live in colonies, which may consist of just three to eight animals, or of several thousand. Mice and rat colonies are usually very big; gerbil colonies are a little smaller. A group of Mongolian gerbils usually consist of three grown male, two to seven grown females and several young and adolescent animals. The colony behavior is vitally important for the existence of the group. The members of the group build a system of burrows with nesting and storage rooms. While the group rests or looks after the young, a few members watch out or dig around a little. As soon as danger approaches, they begin to drum the ground with their back paws to warn other animals. Another function of group behavior is to ensure a good rest. When colony animals sleep, they pile up in a heap. The youngest animals are on top. As little warmth as possible can escape, and the strongest animals protect the weak young. In cold times, the small animals with very little body volume cannot keep themselves warm. If they were not covered by others, they would die of hypothermia. Colonies have no set pattern. Animals with a free order, such as mice and rats, constantly change their composition. With smaller (and therefore closer) colonies, this takes much longer. An alpha male of a gerbil colony therefore keeps his position for two years. He is then too old, and a younger male will take over the lead. Adolescent males cannot normally measure their strength against the adult males. They are therefore often thrown out of the group and swarm around in small bachelors’ groups, until they can found their own colony. If no young females are found, the young males stay together.

Taming the gerbil

Taming the gerbil
When taming a gerbil you can exploit its natural curiosity. When something unusual happens, it will run for cover, but after a while a plucky hero will reappear. Hold your hand in the cage with something tasty on it and, sooner or later, the gerbil will approach it. But don’t try to catch the animal at once, because you’ll destroy the newly won trust. Let the gerbil get used to the scent of your hand and wait for your gerbil to sit on it. After a few attempts, you can carefully lift your hand a little. The gerbil will get more and more comfortable with it. Never chase after your animal, I will only get frightened.

Hungry animals are easier to train with something tasty than an animal that’s just eaten, so always do your taming exercises before you feed your gerbil. Taming a gerbil can sometimes require patience, so don’t give up too fast if you don’t get immediate results.

House-training
In principle, most rodents are house-training by nature. They don’t like to foul their own nest and will always do their business in the same corner of their home. This can be practical because sometimes it won’t be necessary to clean out the whole cage, but just to scrape out the “toilet corner”.

Cuddling a gerbil
When keeping gerbils as pets, it is important that they are tame (as far as possible). This not only helps when you clean out their cage, or when they need to be (medically) examined, but it is fun too. You can even play with them. Tame gerbils enjoy being picked up once in a while, but these little animals are not suitable to be cuddled for hours at a time; they don’t like it and can get frightened and stressed. If you are looking for a cuddly animal, go to a toyshop.

Gerbil Reproduction -1

Gerbil Reproduction

Of course it is nice to breed a litter of gerbils, but you need to be sure in advance whether the young have a good home to go to, because they must be separated from the mother in six weeks or so. You can ask you pet shop whether they need your gerbils or perhaps neighbors, friends or acquaintances will take them.

Should you be left with young, then you must find another way of housing them, because they really must not be kept in the same cage with their mother. One solution, of course, is to go out and buy several more cages as homes for the youngsters, but this is not an option for many people. So only start to breed if you’ve found good homes for the young!

Male or female
To breed gerbils, you first need to be sure that you have a male and a female available. With gerbils, the difference between the sexes cannot be seen at a glance. You have to examine them closely under the tail.

As with most rodents, you can tell the sex of a gerbil from the space between its anus and its genital opening. This distance is much larger on male you can also easily see the shape of the scrotum.

Fertility
Gerbils are fertile at about three months of age. As pregnancy takes approximately 24 days, healthy couples can have their first young at the age of four months. It is advisable not to mate a female gerbil before five to six months of age, as she needs all her energy for growing in the first few months. A female gerbil can have young up to an age of fourteen to twenty months. Her most fertile age is around her first birthday. Beforehand and afterwards, she will have fewer and smaller litters. One female will raise approximately seven litters in her life. There are generally four to five young in one litter, but there can be up to ten. If a gerbil has give birth up to so many young, she will be less fertile for a while after the birth. This is natural protection to allow her to recover. Females can be mated immediately after an average litter. This is also no problem, as sucking her young delays the next birth. When the new babies are born after four weeks, the older ones are already approaching independence.

Gerbil Reproduction – 2

In-breeding
To breed responsibly, you must only ever use strong, healthy adult animals. And you may never put any male together with any female, because there is a high risk of in-breeding. For instance, if you’ve been given a brother and sister from neighbor’s litter, it’s better not to breed them. Pairing these animals together is a serious form of in-breeding, and who can guarantee that your neighbor’s litter was not also the result of pairing a brother and sister? Most rodents live in fairly isolated ground in the wild. Scientist wondered whether this life does not automatically lead to multiple in-breeding. In-breeding means that a female mates with a relative (father, brother, uncle or nephew). In-breeding is harmful, because the same genetic information appears several times in diluted form. The animals do not only appear increasingly similar, but they also develop a one-sided character. In practice, animals become smaller, less fertile and vulnerable to illness and hereditary disorders through in-breeding (or very selective breeding). Scientific research has shown that in-breeding hardly ever occurs in wild gerbil populations. Females in season leave the colony nearby. Then they return to their own group to give birth and raise the young with the help of their uncles and aunts.

Pairing
When the times has come for a litter, you have to bring male and female together. This is called “pairing’. In the wild, the partners can choose each other and they have plenty of room available. This is completely different in captivity. The owner choose the partners and puts them in a relatively small space (the cage). Normally the pairing runs smoothly. It is advisable to provide plenty of shelter in the cage, so the partners can escape from each other, if necessary. You can fill the whole cage with a tick layer of fresh hay and a number of tins and toilet rolls. Always put the female into the male’s cage, and never vice versa! If the coupling is not successful this way, you can put the female into a small show cage. These cages are approximately ten by fifteen centimeters and are available in most pet shops. Put the cage (with a well fitting lid) into the male’s cage on its side, so that the animals can see and smell each other through the lid. They can even act aggressively towards one another, but they cannot injure each other. After about 24 hours, you can let the two animals together. This will normally go without problems.

Mating
A female is ready for mating when she is at certain point in her cycle. She is in season only in this one phase (the oestrus). The season occurs once in four to six days and lasts for about twelve hours. Male gerbils normally only try to mate with females when they are in season. A complex foreplay proceeds the actual covering (which normally happens in the evening). The animals chase each other around, and drum with their paws once a while. They also smell each others genitals. When the female is ready, she stands still and lifts her back end, so that the male can mount her. Gerbils mate quickly (less than half a minute), but often. The male has to penetrate the female approximately ten times before he ejaculates. He cleans his genitals after each penetrate. The female only cleans herself after the ejaculation.

Gerbil Pregnancy and Birth

Pregnancy and birth
It is not always easy to spot a pregnancy. It is sometimes obvious that the female has become fatter, but in some cases she does not at all. Your gerbil will be just as active during pregnancy as before. She will withdraw discretely for delivery. The newly born young are not yet fully developed. They are naked, deaf, toothless and their eyes are closed. They weight approximately tow grams and three centimeters long. The young are bigger in small litters. The babies are completely helpless in the first stage. They can only squeak when they are hungry or cold, in the hope that their mother will quickly come to help. The first few days after birth are critical. The weak animals usually die during the time. It is advisable to feed the mother extra protein, for example with dry cat food or meal worms. You can judge by heir stomachs whether the young have been feed sufficiently. If it is filled with milk, the stomach looks like a white bean under the abdominal skin.

The first weeks
The father, too, helps with the care of the young, especially when they start to crawl around the nest after approximately ten days. He helps the mother to bring them back. They do this by carefully carrying the young in their mouth. The father also keeps the nest warm. When the young are two to three days old, the ears begin to develop. The first growth of hair become visible a few days later. Gerbils grow quickly. At ten days old, they will try to crawl out of the nest. Their eyes open shortly after the seventeenth day. This is when they also start to try solid food. After about 24 days, they are no longer fed by their mother, but eat solid food. In very exceptional cases, the parents eat their young. They do not do this because they are hungry, but because the young are not viable or already dead. The gerbils follow their instinct and keep the nest clean in this way.

Gerbil’s Health – 1

Fortunately, gerbils generally have few health problems. A healthy example has bright eyes and is lively. Its coat is smooth, soft and regular. Its rear end is dry and clean. A sick gerbil sits withdrawn all the time.

Its coat is dull and stands open, as if wet. The animal’s back is raised, even when walking.

Prevention
The rule that “prevention is better than a cure” also applies to small animals such as the gerbil. It’s not always easy to cure a sick gerbil. They are so small that even a vet doesn’t always know how to treat them.

Even a light cold can prove fatal for a gerbil and the biggest risks to its health are droughts and damp.There are few general rules that you can follow if your gerbil is ill:

  • Keep the animal is a quiet semi dark place. Stress, crowding and noise won’t help it get better.
  • Keep the animal warm, but make sure its surroundings are not too hot. The best temperature is 20 to 21°C
  • Don’t wait too long before visiting a vet. Small rodents that get sick usually die within a few days.
  • The patient should always have fresh water and remember that your animal may be too weak to reach its water bottle.
  • Sick animals often eat little or nothing. Give it a small piece of apple or other fruit.
  • Several of the conditions mentioned below can spread very easily. Do not separate gerbils that live together as they will have already been exposed to the relevant agent, however, if you have more than one tank or cage, always make sure you do not carry the infection from one group of gerbils to the other.

Colds and pneumonia
Droughts are the most common cause of colds and pneumonia for gerbils, so choose the place for its home carefully.
They can withstand low temperatures, but cold in combination with a drought almost inevitably leads to a cold. The gerbil starts sneezing and gets a wet nose. If its cold gets worse, the animal starts to breathe with a rattling sound and its nose will run even more, so it’s now time to visit the vet, who can prescribe antibiotics. A gerbil with a cold or pneumonia must be kept in a drought-free and warm room 22 to 25°C.

Diarrhea
Diarrhea is another formidable threat to gerbils and often ends fatally. Unfortunately, diarrhea is usually result of incorrect feeding, sometimes in combination with droughts or damp. Most cases of diarrhea are caused by giving the animal food with too high a moisture content. After all, the gerbil’s digestive system is not used to it. Rotten food or dirty drinking water can also be a cause. You can do a lot to prevent diarrhea yourself.

Should your gerbil become a victim then you must take any moist food out of the cage immediately. Feed your animal only dry bread, boiled rice or crisp bread. Replace its water with lukewarm camomile tea. Clean out its cage litter and nest material twice a day.

If your gerbil is not better within one or two days, you must take it to the vet’s! Once the diarrhea is over, you need to disinfect the whole cage.

Wet tail
E-coli bacteria causes an especially serious form of diarrhea and most victims die within 48 hours. Gerbils that fall victim to this disease have a constantly wet tail and anus; they won’t eat and become apathetic.

E-coli bacteria are normally present in small quantities in the intestines of a small rodent. In the event of reduced resistance of stress, the bacteria suddenly becomes active. Whenever your gerbil has a wet tail take it to the vet’s immediately. The other animals in the cage also have to be treated. As this disease is highly contagious, you have to pay particular attention to hygiene.

Gerbil’s Health – 2

Tumors
In contrast to most other rodents, gerbils seldom have problems with tumors, and when they do it is mostly in the old age. Tumors occur more frequently in strains where in-breeding has occurred, in other words where animals have been crossed with their own family members. The most common tumors affect the female’s teats, but tumors can also be the result of skin cancer. These forms can be operated on but, because of the animal’s age, this rarely makes sense.

Another form of tumor is caused by an infection under the skin and is called an abscess. A small wound may heal, but an infection remains under the skin. This type of tumor can be easily treated by the vet who open and clean it. Should your gerbil show signs of a tumor, take it straight to the vet’s. Delaying can only make things worse, both with skin cancer and abscesses.

Bite wounds
The most common injuries suffered by a gerbil are the result of fights. Pairing adult animals Is not always easy and can sometimes result in fierce fighting.

Bite wounds generally heal quickly, and as long as they’re not too big deep you usually don’t need to do much. Don’t let the wounded animal sit on sawdust or sand for the first few days. Small pieces might get into the wound. Shredded paper or kitchen roll is a good alternative.

Broken bones
Gerbils sometimes break bones because the get stuck with their paws, jump off your hand or fall from a table. An animal with a broken paw will not put weight on it and will limp around the cage.

If it’s a “straight” fracture (the paw is not deformed), this will heal within a few weeks. Take care that the gerbil can reach its food and drink without difficulty. If a gerbil has broken its back, it’s best to have it put to sleep. If in doubt about a possible fracture, always consult a vet.

Broken teeth
Gerbils that are fed an unbalanced diet with too few minerals run the risk of broken teeth. If you notice that your gerbil has a broken tooth, check that its diet is properly balanced,. The vet can prescribe gistocal tablets to restore the calcium level. A broken front tooth will normally grow back, but you should check regularly that this is happening.

Overgrown teeth
A rodent’s front teeth grow continuously and are ground down regularly by its gnawing. A genetic defect, a heavy blow or lack of gnawing opportunities can disrupt this process. Its teeth are ground irregularly and in the end don’t fit together properly. In some cases the teeth continue to grow unchecked, even into the opposite jaw.

When a rodent’s teeth are too long, it can no longer chew properly and the animal will lose weight and eventually starve to death.

Long teeth can easily be clipped back. A vet can slow you how to do that, or do it for you if you don’t feel able. Take care that your rodent always has enough to gnaw on, A piece of breeze block, a block of wood or a branch will do fine.

Malnutrition ailments
Not only calcium deficiency, but also a shortage of other minerals and vitamins can lead to sicknesses.

Gerbil’s Health – 3

A healthy coat
It is very important that your gerbil’s coat is kept in very good condition. This prevents the animals from becoming infested with parasites and other problems. Gerbils look after their coat by bathing in the wild – not in water, but in sand. They roll in the sand, which gets between their hairs and absorbs all the grease and dirt. After their bath they shake themselves, so that the dirt leaves the cost with the sand. In this way, the cost remains untangled and aired, and therefore offers ideal insulation. Not all gerbil breeds need sand baths. Some hardly ever use it, others really need it. Mongolian gerbils really love to take such a bath, and it is always a very attractive show to watch. You should offer them the opportunity to enjoy themselves once in a while. Shell sand or special bathing sand for chinchillas is ideal. Shell sand is most often used in birdcages and consists of silver sand mixed with pieces of shell and aniseed. Gerbils love the seeds and sometimes even eat the shells to fulfill their need for calcium. The chinchilla sand is made of ground clay and is available in different structures, from fine to coarse. A disadvantage is that chinchilla sand is fairly expensive, but you can solve this problem by mixing it with shell sand. If the sand has remained dry during the bath, you can sieve it through and use it again. You have to replace it after the third time. When it is bathing time, put a bowl with sand into the cage. The animals will go for the sand straight away. Remove the sand after the bath. If you leave it in, the gerbils will dig and root until all the sand is mixed into the bedding and the nesting material.

Parasites
Parasites are small creatures that live at the cost of their host. The best known are fleas on dogs and cats. Rodents seldom have problems with parasites, and certainly not healthy animals. Weak, sick or poor cared for animals, however, are far more likely to be affected. You mostly discover parasites only when an animal starts to scratch itself and gets bald patches. If you notice that your gerbil is itching and scratches itself frequently, then it’s probably suffering from mites (tiny relatives of spiders some of which feed on blood). These mites are often spread by birds, and gerbils sometimes pick up a flea from a dog or cat.

A pet shop or vet can advise you on dealing with parasites. Remedies sold for bird mites are often effective.

Skin mites
The skin mite is a particularly harmful parasite. Fortunately they seldom occur but if they affect your gerbil, you will have to treat it. The skin mite is a minute spider-like creature that creeps into its host’s skin, making the mite itself almost never visible. It causes scabs and eczema, known as scabies, which sometimes covers the whole skin within a month. Skin mites are infectious and can be passed on to other animals. Your vet or good pet shop will have treatments for skin mites.

In most cases the infected animal must be bathed in the substance. Dry your gerbil off well to prevent it catching a cold and put it in a warm place (minimum 25°C).

Fungal skin infections
Rodents can sometimes suffer from fungal skin infections, which cause small areas of flaking in the ears or nose. This is known as ringworm, and is cause by the same fungus as athlete’s foot. Skin fungi are infectious to humans and animals but easy to treat. But don’t let the problem go on for too long because the animal may suffer other ailments because of it. Yours vet has standard medicines against fungi, although athletes foot powder can be just as effective. Treatment may take a long time, several weeks, to make sure the fungus has been completely eradicated.

Old age
Obviously we hope that your gerbil will grow old without disease and pain. However gerbils live nowhere near as long as humans and you must accept that after a couple of years you have an aging gerbil to care for. An old gerbil will slowly become quieter and get some grey hair in its coat but can still live an active and happy life.