Although approximately half of the planet’s animals are rodents, the Gerbil or Mongolian Gerbil is one of the sweetest natured of ALL the rodent pets! Quiet, sweet tempered Gerbils make excellent first pets for children. They are diurnal, meaning they sleep at night so will be quite active and curious during the day. At first they may be timid and shy, but once you have earned their trust, these endearing little animals will quickly become a favorite “pocket pet”. They rarely bite.

The Mongolian Gerbil is a small furry animal with sparkling dark eyes and a cute tufted tail. They are fastidiously clean; eating in one area of the cage, nesting in another area, and making their bathroom in still another. This makes their daily care easy and undemanding. They are also hardy and much less prone to respiratory illnesses than other small rodent pets.

Their small size means Gerbils can be housed in a relatively small cage though they are quite active and will need room to play. They have a natural curiosity and need to explore, but they are also very quiet. They are gentle, attractive, and amusing to watch. Gerbils are great pets for anybody but especially for people living in apartments or houses where space is at a premium.

Gerbils should be kept as a pair or in small groups as they are very social and need the grooming and attention of their own kind. They do not do well with strangers though so It is best to get gerbils from the same colony or when they are young. Keep same sex gerbils together if you don’t want to have babies!

What’s in the name ?
“Meriones”meansGreek for “warrior”
“unguiculatus”meansLatin for “with claws “
“rodere” rodent) means“to gnaw “

Scientific Classification


Scientific Name

Meriones unguiculatus


The Mongolian Gerbil, also called the Clawed Jird, is one of more than 100 gerbil species found in Africa and Asia. This little fellow, sometimes referred to as the “Warrior With Claws” originated from eastern Mongolia where it was discovered in 1867 by European Explorers. It was brought into the United States in 1954 as a lab animal and introduced into the pet trade by the 1960’s.

Image Credit: auenleben, Pixabay


A mature Mongolian Gerbil is a very small little critter weighing only 2 ozs (60g), though they are plumper than a mouse. They have small little ears with excellent hearing, a twitching nose that has a highly developed sense of smell, and large dark eyes. Their teeth grow continuously throughout their lives and are great for gnawing. They have a long tail that is fully furred with a soft tuft at the end. Their kangaroo-like hind legs are great for jumping and if they fall a short distance they will almost always land on their feet. As a fear response, they will also thump with their hind feet. They live about 3 to 4 years which is a bit longer than mice, rats, or hamsters who generally live for 2 to 3 years.
In the wild their fur color is agouti (a combination of browns, blacks, and whites), but there are many color and patterns available today. Some of the other colors are nutmeg, marten, lilac, golden or creme, black, white and albino, and spotted or pied varieties.


Gerbils can be housed in a cage or an aquarium. Keep in mind that they will readily chew through wood, light plastic, and soft metal. The space should be at least 22″ (56 cm) long, 12″ ((30 cm) wide, and 12″ (30 cm) deep to adequately house two gerbils. This will give them plenty of places to run and climb as well as room for accessories. They need enough room to set up a toilet area, which they will naturally do, a place for a nest, a place to eat, and places to play.
An advantage of a cage is that you can get one with multiple levels which gives them lots of places to climb. A pan bottom on the cage is nice too as this helps keep them from kicking their bedding out. Make sure it has wire spacing no wider than 1/2″. An aquarium will keep the bedding contained so is less messy, but make sure you have a tight fitting but well ventilated top so they don’t escape. There are also a variety of tubes that you can get that fit with various cages, or can be adapted to an aquarium. These make it possible to expand their environment, which they will love as they are very curious and busy.
Place their home in a quieter area of you home. It should get good daylight but not direct sunlight or where there are drafts. A moderate temperature is fine, about 60° to 77° F and avoid high humidity.
Provide a good soft bedding that is clean, non-toxic, absorbent, relatively dust free and easily acquired. Shredded paper or tissue, processed corn cob, wood shavings (aspen is best), or a prepared litter are preferred bedding. Avoid cedar or chlorophyll impregnated shavings as they have been associated with respiratory and liver disease. They love to burrow so make sure to give them a good layer, at least 2″ thick. Some folks like a sand bottom, even mixed with some cat litter (about 1/3), but this type takes a bit more work to keep clean. Don’t use cloth or fabrics as they may eat them and they can cause digestive problems.
Accessories are important for your pet gerbil’s psychological well-being. Provide a hide box or a nest, dishes for food, and a water bottle. They also need lots of climbing, hiding, and chewing things such as wood toys, tubes, hay, straw, twigs, soft wood, and bark. All of these things will get chewed and need to be replaced over time. Change the area around too, as they are very inquisitive and this will help keep them from becoming boring. Also provide your gerbil with an exercise wheel. Many cages today come with additional accessories such as an exercise wheel, tunnels, and nest boxes.
Remove soiled bedding and old food daily, clean the food and water containers daily, and thoroughly the cage and accessories weekly.

Care and feeding

A Gerbils diet is really quite simple, in the wild they eat seeds and insects, which require quite a bit of chewing. A good staple small animal pelleted food, lab pellets, or a small animal mix is fine and you can get these at just about any pet store. The prepared food will contain all of the vitamins and minerals necessary for your gerbil’s nutrition. Avoid a sunflower based diet, even though they love them, because seeds are high in fat and cholesterol and low in calcium. They should be offered as a supplement to their pelleted diet.
Offer them a small amount of fresh vegetables every day and occasionally a bit of fruit. Some good choices are broccoli, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, and hay. Chew sticks and hard pellets make great treats and are good for gerbils too, helping satisfy their need to chew a lot. Some occasional treats can be offered such as cheerios or other sugarless cereals, whole wheat breads, pastas, cheese, or a mealworm for protein. Do not feed them sweets. You can also give them a salt or mineral wheel.
A fresh water needs to be available at all times.

Activities – Exercise and Play

Gerbils are very active little creatures that need lots of exercise and love to play. Be sure to equip their cage with lots of chew toys, places to run, climb, and hide, and a good layer of bedding so they can burrow. A wheel is a great accessory too but get a metal one, if it is plastic they will chew it up.
They are so curious that they can get lots of enjoyment out of houses with several openings, ladders leading to different levels, as well as tube and tunnel configurations. Many toys of this sort are readily available at pet stores
Gerbils also love to have free running time outside of the cage a couple of times a week. Be sure you have a developed a trusting relationship with them before you let them loose though, or they can be difficult to catch. A good method for retrieving them when you are ready to return them to the cage is to set a tube on the floor. Their curiosity will get the best of them and they will readily run inside. Then you can easily pick it up and deposit them back in their cage. To offer a little more adventure, think about getting a hamster ball. This offers your little pet an opportunity to run around a room without getting loose or getting hurt.

Social Behaviors

Gerbils must have a companion. A lone gerbil can get very timid and develop behavioral problems. These little animals do have a unique characteristic, they can be described as being ‘xenophobic’. This means they will live together with family members quite well or with gerbils they have been introduced to at a young age, but getting along with strangers is a whole different matter! Gerbils must be slowly introduced to each other before putting strangers together or they will fight ferociously, possibly to death.
To introduce strangers set up a cage that has two territories with a divider. Place each gerbil into one of the territories. Swap them into each others territory twice a day, this way they can get familiar with each others scent without actually being together. Do this for a couple of days, even up to 10 days, then put them together in a new clean cage. They should be comfortable with the familiarity of each others scent and get along, but should they start to fight you will need to remove them and try the split cage for a few more days. Keep an eye on them for a several days to make sure they are getting along.
Gerbils don’t mix with other household pets and should be kept away from them. They are easily frightened and having a cat on top of their enclosure can cause severe stress. They can have a seizure or even a stroke if they get extremely frightened.
Both younger and older gerbils can adapt to you, and both males and females make equally good pets.

gerbil mice sleeping
Image Credit: PatrickLFC93, Pixabay

Handling and Training

Taming Gerbils is simply a matter of gaining their confidence. At first they may be timid and shy, but once you have earned their trust they will be friendly and sweet. They don’t tolerate noise, stress, or rough handling. Always be patient and gentle, talk softly, and move slowly. Making friends with your pet and getting him accustomed to you can often be accomplished by offering tidbits such as cheerios, a raisin, or a sunflower seed in the palm of your hand, which he will want to examine. Then you can start petting his cheeks and behind the ears.
Never pick your pet up by the tail as the skin can easily be torn and it will not grow back. Pick your gerbil up by putting a hand underneath his body to support him, and then hold the scruff of his neck with the other hand for security. When your pet is use to you, you can scoop him up with your palms on either side of his body.


Gerbils are sexually mature at about 7 to 8 weeks of age and will generally pair for life. It is difficult to determine what sex they are until they are over 7 weeks old. To determine the sex, hold your gerbil in your hand and gently lift up the rear-end by the base of the tail. A male will have bulge. You can also compare several gerbils to each other, there is a hairless patch between the base of the tail and the anus. This patch is shorter on a female than the male and a female has 8 nipples on her belly.
Gerbils are very active breeders and will mate repeatedly during a single day. The gestation period is usually between 24 to 26 days, but can be up to 43 days if there are young still being cared for from an earlier litter. There will generally be between 5 to 6 pups, but they can have up to 11. Because the mother can become easily stressed when she has newborns, even becoming cannibalistic, don’t handle the newborn babies for a few days. The pups eyes will open at about 3 weeks and they will begin to eat solid foods. Though they will be completely independent at about 4 to 5 weeks of age, the babies will stay with the mother until they are at least six weeks old.
To help prevent stress and to insure that the mother is getting adequate nutrition, It is good to provide additional mealworms, yogurt, and sunflower seeds at this time.
Also the female can become pregnant immediately after giving birth, so to prevent this it is best to separate the male for a few days. Sometimes the female will attack the male when you try to reintroduce him, so you will have to use the split cage method described above in the “Social Behaviors” section to get them comfortable with each other again. Once back in the family, the male will often help baby sit the young.

Common health problems

In general gerbils are one of the healthiest rodent pets. They are not as prone to respiratory illnesses as rats and mice, and will only need to see a veterinarian if they get ill or hurt. However, if not taken care of properly they can become ill. Most ailments are preventable simply from taking proper care of the animal.
Some signs of illness to watch for are ruffled fur, listlessness, diarrhea, lack of appetite, labored breathing, hunched back, head tilt, drooling, and excessive scratching.
Some of the common illnesses include fungal infections (though rare), external parasites such as mites, internal parasites such as worms, hair loss on the nose and muzzle, respiratory, diarrhea, seizure, strokes, and tumors in older gerbils.

Availability/Purchasing your Gerbil

Gerbils are readily available in pet stores, from breeders, and even from friends. However, there are some states and municipalities which ban them or require licensing to own and/or breed them. California is one such state.

Featured Image Credit: Jearu, Shutterstock