How to make your gerbils feel at home

Gerbils spend much of their time underground or busy digging tunnels and foraging for food. They are designed to dig, so floor space is more important than height and shelves.

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The ideal size enclosure for two to four gerbils:

  • Depth: 30cm or 1ft
  • Width: 100cm or 3ft
  • Height: 30cm or 1ft

Suitable gerbil housing available to purchase is very limited. Therefore, we recommend building your own by converting a tank. If you are looking to purchase, avoid any enclosures that have mesh shelves, as these can damage your gerbils’ feet.

Avoid three-level glass rodent tanks – a weaker gerbil may become stuck under one of the shelves when trying to dig up for air or escape.

How to build your own gerbil tank

Use either a 3ft fish tank or a glass display cabinet, laid on its back. Both need a homemade, mesh lid to ensure your gerbils receive plenty of fresh air. A fish tank lid is not suitable.

To make the lid, you will first need to construct a wooden frame, similar to a picture frame. This will either sit on the inside ledges of the tank or snugly fit over the enclosure edges. These should be well made with correct wood screws and not tied together. For larger glass cabinets, you may need to make the lid in two sections to avoid it being weak in the middle.

Once you’ve made the frame, use a staple gun to attach 1cm by 1cm welded mesh to the lid. Ideally, place this on the inside of the lid to avoid your gerbils chewing the wood.

Keep your gerbils happy and occupied

Unlike most rodents, providing toys and activities for gerbils can be rather tricky. Many items are unsuitable and may injure your gerbils. However, there are a few items that will help them stay fit and healthy.

Your gerbil will enjoy:

  • Kitchen and toilet rolls. Gerbils love these and will often chew them down and use the remains to line their nests
  • Card boxes such shoe and cereal boxes. Again, these are fun to chew and build their nests in. You will often notice your gerbils will drag these down into the depths of the bedding and cover them over
  • Apple or willow tree branches and twigs. Your gerbils can have hours of fun clambering over these and gnawing on them. This form of wood is ideal for keeping your gerbils’ teeth in good health. The fresh bark will also aid their digestive system
  • Piles of forage or meadow hay. Gerbils love to make their nest out of this once they have chewed it into smaller pieces. Add a large handful every other day, and watch them pull it down through the tunnels

Choosing the right gerbil bedding

The wrong bedding for your gerbils can have a very negative effect on their health. Wood shavings or sawdust can be extremely harmful to your gerbils’ skin and airway, and can give you an allergic reaction too!

Again, gerbils are slightly different to other rodents. They like a deep layer of bedding in which they will build tunnels and nesting pods. Aim to fill your tank around 3⁄4 full, allowing your gerbil enough room on the surface for them to reach up on their hind legs without touching the lid.

Below are bedding materials that are safe for your gerbils’ tank:

  • Small-cut, shredded paper. Easy to use, and best of all, it’s free! Use shredded paper to line the floor
  • Finacard. A shredded card material, good for the base of the cage
  • Cardboard squares around 1 cm square, ideal for the base of the cage
  • A small handful of white, soft tissue paper bedding is suitable for your gerbils’ sleeping area. Please avoid the cotton wool type, as this can be dangerous to your gerbils
  • Organic soil – this needs careful monitoring to prevent it from drying out and becoming dusty, which could affect your gerbils’ lungs
  • Soft, green hay as nesting material a few times a week.

How to clean out your gerbil

As a gerbil house is made up of deep bedding, give then a full clean out every three to four weeks. Do a daily pick of any dirty areas and remove old food to prevent it from becoming contaminated. Your gerbils will also appreciate a top-up of nesting material, such as white tissue bedding or hay, a few times a week.

When your gerbils are due to be cleaned out, remove them from the tank and place them in a rodent pet carrier. Place some of the bedding and a toilet roll in the carrier to help them feel relaxed. Completely empty the tank and clean it with a pet-friendly disinfectant. Once dry, refill with fresh bedding and activities.