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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.