Owning a Pet Gerbil

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Gerbils are commonly kept as family pets. There are many color variations, including the natural buff, black, white, grey and spotted. If well socialized from a young age and treated gently, they can be wonderful pets. These animals are friendly, very curious, active, and agile. They tend to scurry and scamper about, making them more challenging to hold. It is therefore recommended that children be older than 10 years of age before getting a pet gerbil. Gerbils tend to be nocturnal but can be active for periods during the day. They will run on an exercise wheel relentlessly at night.

They do not shed a lot and seem to cause few allergies for people. They are hardy, clean animals and are reasonably easy to care for. Gerbils tend to live between 2-3 years. Young children should be informed of this so that the "sudden death" of a pet does not come unexpectedly. Gerbils make good family pets and are suitable as a first pet for older children under supervision.

 

Interesting Facts

Gerbils love to chew paper, cardboard, boxes, paper tubes etc. They are agile climbers and entertaining burrowers. They are hardy, disease resistant animals but can develop various tumors as they get older. The incisors or front teeth of all rodents grow continuously throughout the pet's life. The upper incisors are shorter than the lower incisors (approx. 1:3 ratio). The molars do not grow continuously. Both males and females have a short haired oval scent gland near the belly button. Because they are desert animals they do not drink or urinate as much; therefore they tend to smell cleaner than many other rodents. Although they get most of their water requirements from fruits and vegetables, they should always have access to fresh clean water. Gerbils should never be fed a strict seed diets as they prone to obesity.

Gerbils will thump their back feet, called foot-drumming, when alerted, excited, or frightened; they also foot-drum as a form of communication. Gerbils are very territorial and better kept as single pets.

Selecting your Pet

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Gerbils can often be purchased at pet stores or through breeders. Ideally, select a young animal. The eyes and nose should be clear and free of any discharge that might indicate a respiratory infection. A gerbil that is sneezing may have a respiratory infection. The gerbil should be active, curious and inquisitive. Often an animal sitting quietly in the corner is a sick one. It should not be thin or emaciated. Check for the presence of wetness around the anus, which might indicate diarrhea. If possible, examine the gerbil’s mouth for broken or overgrown incisors (front teeth), discolored gums (they should be light pink), and any obvious sores.  Finally, inquire as to any guarantee of health the seller is offering.

The First Veterinary Visit

"Many health problems with small rodents are the result of misinformation."

Your pet gerbil should be examined by a veterinarian familiar with gerbils within 48 hours of purchase (this examination is often required by the seller or any guarantee is voided). Make sure the veterinarian has experience in treating gerbils. The doctor will examine the gerbil, record its weight, and discuss housing, proper diet, and appropriate toys for the gerbil. A fecal sample should be examined for parasites. Gerbils require at least annual physical examinations and fecal tests to check for parasites. Neutering can be discussed with your veterinarian.

Vaccinations

Gerbils do not require.
 
Gerbils generally make good family pets but should never be left unsupervised with small children.
Like all pets, gerbils should be examined by a veterinarian at once or twice annually.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Rick Axelson, DVM

© Copyright 2011 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

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