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Are Gerbils Good as Pets for Kids?

Gerbils are small, desert-dwelling rodents. They look similar to rats or mice, but have short fur covering their tails. This is a natural protection against sunburn. Being cute and very low-cost animals, gerbils are quite common as children’s pets, although they do have some quirks that make them lass suitable than some other species. Gerbils generally live for about 2-1/2 to 5 years.

Safety (4/5)

Gerbils are very clean, docile animals, making them unlikely to bite or scratch unless mishandled or badly frightened.  While gerbils are unlikely to injure children, however, children run a high chance of injuring the gerbils.  Because of their small size and light build, gerbils are quite delicate, especially at their tails. Picking a gerbil up by it’s tail (as children are likely to do) can break the tail right off!  Only children who can reliably handle the small animals gently should be allowed to do so.

Ease of Care (4/5)

Gerbils are very low-maintenance pets, though they do require lots of attention to remain happy. Because they are desert animals, they require less water than most rodents and consequently urinate less. This reduces the frequency with which their bedding must be changed.

Sociability (4/5)

While gerbils are very social and affectionate, they are also a naturally nocturnal animal, meaning that they are primarily awake at night and asleep during the day. Children who want to play with their pets a lot will probably be disappointed with gerbils, as they will not be very inclined to play during daylight hours.

Because gerbils are so social, it is highly recommended that they are kept in pairs. This presents another social issue, though, as gerbils which are not acclimated to one another are likely to fight. When introducing new gerbils to one another, they should be kept in a split cage, where they can meet each other through a divider without being able to fight. Only after a few weeks of getting to know each other should the be allowed to make contact.

Care

Housing

Wire cages and the colorful tube houses commonly used for hamsters are inappropriate for gerbils. Voracious chewers, gerbils will destroy anything plastic that enters their enclosure. A pair of gerbils can be housed in a 10-gallon aquarium, though a 15-gallon model will give them more room to play. Because they are exceptional climbers and jumpers, a gerbil enclosure needs to have a lid that the gerbils can’t pop open. Wire mesh lids are the best, as they provide the gerbils with plenty of ventilation.

Gerbils will require a container in which to build a nest, but commercially available boxes are usually designed for hamsters and made of plastic. Again, your gerbils will quickly destroy such a box. A wide-mouth glass jar that has been thoroughly cleaned is a better choice. You will also need to give your gerbil nesting materials. The best thing to provide are empty toilet paper tubes. Gerbils love nothing more than getting a nice cardboard tube to shred.

Giving your gerbils an exercise wheel is an excellent idea, although you need to select the wheel carefully. Avoid the kind with rungs, opting instead for a mesh-covered model. These are much safer for your gerbils’ feet and tails. Also, avoid any wheel with plastic parts.

Bedding

Pine and cedar bedding should be avoided for your gerbils’ health. Good, safe bedding materials include aspen shavings, corncob bedding, and bedding products made from shredded paper or reclaimed wood pulp. Regardless of which option you choose, avoid any bedding that smells musty or moldy.

Gerbils need lots of bedding material in the bottom of their enclosures, as they need to be able to dig to stay happy. Place at least three or four inches of bedding in the bottom of their tank. Make sure that the bedding is changed at least once every two weeks, or as soon as it starts to get damp or smell like urine.

Food

Pet supply stores generally sell a mixed food labeled for “Hamsters and Gerbils”. These mixes generally contain sunflower seeds, which can provide too much fat in your gerbil’s diet. If you use such a mix, remove the sunflower seeds first. You can feed sunflower seeds to your gerbils, but do so sparingly, and as a hand-fed treat during playtime.

Seed mixes alone will not provide your gerbils with a balanced diet, so you should feed them pelleted food as about 1/2 to 2/3 of their diet, with seed mixes and occasional mealworms to round out their diet and add variety.

Food can be placed in a heavy ceramic (i.e. chew-proof) dish, but your gerbils will invariably bury the food in their bedding quickly. This is normal, so make sure they are actually eating the food before you keep filling their bowl back up needlessly.

Water should be provided in a hanging bottle. Make sure the tip of the nozzle is at least two or three inches above the bedding material, or your gerbils may bury it.