Gerbil Care Handbook
Adopting a Gerbil
It is wise to have everything setup and prepared for your gerbils before bringing them home. Or even to bring the gerbils home inside the setup you've prepared. The most critical decision in adopting gerbils is selecting a pair that is friendly, tame, curious, and healthy.Selecting a Gerbil:
You’ll want to carefully consider where you get your gerbils. While the nearest pet store might sound more convenient, it's not always the best choice. Pet store gerbils can be ill, unused to human hands, and females may be pregnant. The clerk will commonly miss-sex them as it is difficult to distinguish gender at 5-8 weeks of age. Many first time gerbil owners have turned out to be reluctant breeders, when one of their two “males” had pups.
If possible, find a breeder in your area, even if it means a trip of several hours. By visiting a reputable breeder you will be able to see the pups, their parents, and perhaps even grandparents. This will reap long-term benefits and makes a fun and informative "field trip" as well. If you purchase your gerbils from an AGS breeder you should be given an AGS Pedigree. To find an AGS breeder near you check out the AGS Breeder Listing.
If you can't find a good breeder, then a reputable pet store will have to do. Always make sure the gerbil's eyes are bright and shiny, their tail is fully furred, their coat is soft and not rumpled, and no animals in the same cage look ill. (This goes for adopting from a breeder as well.) The gerbils should not show fear of a human hand or resist handling by the clerk or you. They most definitely should not nip or bite! Though a young pup may use his mouth to explore you (this tickles, not hurts).
Choose two young gerbils of the same gender that are about six to eight weeks old. This will help ensure that they will get along well. If, for some reason, you can't get them from the same place, so long as the pups are between six to eight weeks of age they should get with little or no trouble. If for some reason your gerbils come from two different places and one or both are adults, you will have to use the Split Cage Method to introduce them.Split Cage Method:
Gerbils are very territorial, and will be aggressive towards other unfamiliar gerbils. Ideally, you should pick out two gerbils that are already living together, or that are between six and eight weeks old. That way you shouldn't have trouble introducing them. However, if one or both gerbils are over eight weeks old a Split Cage Introduction is recommended.
A twenty-gallon aquarium divided down the middle for a Split Tank Introduction. You will need a cage or tank that can be divided down the middle. There are some commercial cages that can be purchased that are divided in two, but these can be difficult to find. To make a split cage, simply use one of your tanks and stiff, heavy 1/4" to 1/2" hardware cloth with. Place the dividers from corner to corner. (This makes it more secure.) Be sure that the divider fits in firmly! Gerbil will try to crawl under, over, or around to get to the strange gerbil on the other side. Watch the gerbils as much as possible until you are convinced that your split cage is secure.
- Place one gerbil on either side of the divider. The whole concept behind the split cage intro is to give the gerbils time to become use to each other's scent, while preventing fights.
- Four to five time a day carefully switch the gerbils to opposite sides of the split cage.
- Continue this routine for one week.
- Now remove the divider. Wear heavy gloves in case they should fight.
- Plan to watch them carefully for five to six hours, or longer. (Removing the divider is best done on a day that you have at home.) Do not leave them unwatched together until they sleep in the same nest. If you need to leave them replace the divider.
- If the introduction has gone well they will be use to each other's scent, and no fight will break out.
- If a fight breaks out separate them immediately, and start all over again. "Boxing" is okay, but rolling in a ball fight or one springing in the air as the other chases are signs of serious fighting.
You know that they have accepted each other when they settle down to grooming and are sleeping together in the same nest.
WARNING: Under no circumstances should you ever try to introduce a gerbil to an established group. Split cage introductions work only for two lone gerbils. Gerbils that have been separated for more than a day need to be gradually reintroduced using a split cage.Handling:
If you have bought your gerbil from a good breeder the job of taming them should be done for you, or a least well on the way. Remember that you should wait till a pup is around six week before bringing them home. This will give them time to learn from their parents and sibling to be social, and not to fear humans.
Firstly, you give them a few hours to settle into their new home. Then, introduce your hand into their tank and let them sniff. You might find a young pup trying to "taste" you, and find out if you're edible. This should not hurt; just slowly move your hand away. Young gerbils are particularly prone to this as it's part of their "put everything in your mouth" stage. They will outgrow this.
Rest your hand still in the bottom of the tank. The gerbils will cautiously explore your hand for a while. If they appear scared and run away, don't push it. Just put your hand in their cage for several minutes a few times each day. Pick sunflower seeds out of the food mix and set these aside. This is the perfect opportunity to teach you new gerbils that great treats come from your hands. Place a few sunflower seeds or peanuts in your palm and they will soon associate tasty things with your hands.
If you want to pick your gerbils up, try to scoot them into a corner and gently lift them up in two hands. Never pick a gerbil up by their tail, not even the base of the tail. (A gerbil tail is jointed and could break off in the middle). Do not chase them around the cage, and do not swoop down from above. If you can't get them into your hands, then you can start by lifting them up using a tin can or cup. They usually explore these and then you can pick them up once they're inside. Then, take them out and sit them on your arm or shoulder, and let them explore. Gerbils love a good shoulder. Usually they'll run back and forth across your shoulders, down your arm, and perch on your elbow to get a look around. Be careful if they seem jumpy, and you may want to do this sitting down on a chair or bed to keep them from getting hurt if they fall.
After a week or two of doing these exercises, the gerbils will usually happily let you pick them up. You can teach them to sit still on your shoulder or elbow while you walk around. Soon they'll start "signaling" when they want out of their cage. They usually do this by standing on their hind legs and resting their forepaws against the glass and hopping up and down a bit. Some learn to spring straight up in the air when they see you, if they've learned it results in the desired response of getting some out-of-the-tank time.
The Gerbil Care Handbook may not be copied, in whole or part, without prior written permission from the American Gerbil Society.
Note: The Gerbil Care Handbook is provided for informational purposes only. Diagnosis and treatment of specific conditions should always be in consultation with one's own veterinarian. The AGS disclaims all warranties and liability related to the information contained on these pages.