Equipment and Supplies
When it comes to bringing home your furry friends, you will want to make sure you have all of your supplies before their arrival. This includes cage, bedding, food, water bottles, and toys. This will ensure you are fully prepared for life with your new pet!
Below you will find ideas for products that we like to use and that are best suited for your gerbils. There are many brand names and products to choose from!
Gerbils require a home that allows them to dig deep, which means wire cages do not work. We recommend a 20 gallon long aquarium for two gerbils and an additional 10 gallons for each gerbil after that. A 20 gallon long is large enough to allow ample room for your gerbils to run and play, but is also not too tall making it less difficult to reach into than a standard 20 gal. tank. It is recommended that you divide the tank into a food/exercise area and a living area where the gerbils will have plenty of room to dig, but not bury water bottles, running wheels, etc.
Here are photos of one of our tanks which has a plexiglass divider secured in place with pet safe silicone sealant.
Another option is to build (or buy) a “gerbilarium”! These typically consist of a wire cage on top and a large bin on the bottom. Check out the American Gerbil Society for several gerbilarium ideas!
Get creative get fun – but don’t waste your time or money on habitats that have plastic tubes. Gerbils are lifetime chewers and will chew the tubes which can be harmful to your pet if swallowed. In addition to chewing, they often pee in the tubes which can become a nightmare to clean. Take it from someone who had massive “Habi-trail” setups in the 90’s – they don’t work for gerbils!
It is very important that gerbils have deep bedding to burrow in; however, it is recommended that for the first 2-3 weeks of bringing your new friends home that the bedding levels be kept low. This will help you bond with your gerbils. If they start out with deep bedding, they may develop prey animal tendencies and hide 24/7. Once you have bonded with your new friends for 2-3 weeks, start increasing the bedding and watch them build amazing burrows!
There is always debate over what the best bedding is, but there is never debate over what the best bedding isn’t. Whatever you do, do not use pine and/or cedar shavings. The aromatics from the wood are too strong for your little gerbils and will cause a host of problems from allergies to respiratory infections! The safest wood shaving to use is aspen.
We are still exploring what we like best for our gerbils as we want soft bedding that they can build borrows through, but we want as little dust as possible at the same time (1) no one likes to dust in the first place and 2) too much dust can irritate your gerbils).
Currently for our non-breeding gerbils we use corncob, about an inch or two deep, on both sides of the divider. The only bedding we use on the food side is the corncob, it is absorbent and easy to sift through when they kick the other bedding around the divider! After the corncob, we add a mixture of bedding to the living/burrowing side. The current mixture at this time is carefresh, aspen shavings, and a combo of both timothy and orchard hay. The carefresh is soft and absorbent and the wood shaving and grass help hold the burrow structures. We may eliminate the aspen shavings in the future as they are pretty dusty, but we will keep experimenting.
Breeding gerbils have the exact same bedding and setup; however, as it gets close to litters being born the amount of bedding is reduced to avoid the babies getting buried and lost.
Did you know you can litter train gerbils? Gerbils naturally prefer to go to the bathroom in one are of their cage and you can encourage this by placing a jar with pet safe sand in it. Your gerbil will use this as their restroom, keep their cage clean, and help prevent any smells.
Sand is also used by your gerbils to clean their fur! They LOVE to roll in and it is so fun to watch them do it. We like to place a clean bowl of sand out when they are playing, this gives them the opportunity to roll in fresh sand on a regular basis to look and feel their best. Gerbils should NEVER be put in water, sand is all they need to keep clean!
Please note, you must use SAND, anything marketed as DUST is not safe and could make your gerbil sick. We like to use pavestone play sand from Home Depot. It is very cheap and you get a lot for the price. You must bake the sand in your oven prior to using to kill any potential mites that may be lurking, but once you have treated an entire bag, it will last you for ages!!! We like to use baking pans or disposable lasagna trays, bake at 350 degrees in the oven for an hour or so. Allow the sand to cool completely before storing in a plastic tote. You can buy sand made for reptiles; however, you must get sand WITHOUT calcium added.
There are many commercial diets available at your local petstore and online, there are also various “make your own” recipes available with a quick Google search. Right now, we like to feed our clan Higgins Sunburst gerbil food with regular cheerios tossed in.
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Gerbils do not drink a lot of water; however, they must have fresh water available to them at all times. We do not buy any other bottle but the Oasis Bell Bottle and Holder. The hard plastic and rounded shape help prevent your gerbils from chewing through the bottle and creating a soggy mess in their home. We have never had issues with them clogging or not working like similar designed brands. I cannot tell you how many water bottle were chewed through before the bell shape became available, I had to keep multiple extra bottles on hand at all times because you never knew when they would decide to destroy their water bottle. Now we only have 1-2 extra bell type bottles on hand for “just in case” situations.
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Toys and Treats
Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, pecans, fresh fruit (a piece the size of a pea 1-2 week), freeze dried fruits, and freeze dried yogurt drops are all great treats to offer your gerbils.
As for toys, toilet paper rolls, paper towels rolls, drink carriers from take-out/delivery, pet safe pinecones and chews from your local petstore/online store, and mesh running wheels are all superb toys; however, nothing beats playing with their human in a safe environment such as the below picture playpen. Heavy duty shipping tubes are an all-time favorite and last a long time compared to your average TP roll.
When it comes to wheels, there are many opinions as well as options. We avoid plastic wheels as gerbils are constant chewers and often turn their insatiable desire to chew on their running wheels, reducing them to nothing within days. Silent Spinners are ok, but we avoid one-sided wheels due to the potential for them to tip and trap a gerbil underneath. Our pick for adult gerbils is the below mesh wheel of no less than 8” in size. We secure the wheel to the side of the tank using small Command brand hooks!