Gerbil behaviour

Behaviour logo © RSPCA publications and brand 2010


Ensure your gerbils are able to behave normally


Portrait of single adult collecting nesting material ©Joe Murphy/RSPCA

Gerbils need:

  • Plenty of opportunities to hide and dig at all times of the day and night. As prey animals, gerbils are naturally timid and use their large, deep burrows to protect them from predators, which they construct themselves by digging. 
  • You to be considerate! Never startle or frighten them; they assume that they are in danger if they hear loud or threatening noises. If a gerbil perceives a threat, they will thump their hind feet rapidly, which will prompt the whole group to disappear into the burrow.
  • Space to exercise, play together and have appropriate enrichment at all times of the day and night. A running wheel can help with this, but additional opportunities are also necessary and the wheel should not be the only enrichment provided. Wild gerbils are usually active both day and night in the summer, tending to spend more time underground in the winter and emerging only on the sunniest days. 
  • To be safe if a wheel is provided. Wheels must be of good quality with a large diameter ¿ for example one intended for rats; they must be a solid structure and axel free for the safety of your pet; and should ideally have a non-slip running surface. 
  • You to seek advice from your vet if they develop sore feet whilst using the wheel. Remove the wheel temporarily. 
  • Providing with additional tubes of no less that 5cm diameter - or they will get stuck! Avoid plastic objects due to the gerbils¿ tendency to gnaw - tunnels made of wood or hay are ideal. 
  • Objects such as a large stone that they can use for scent-marking. Gerbils of both sexes have a strong motivation to scent-mark their territory using their bellies and feet. They may also use urine and faeces. Gerbils recognise each other by their own scent.
  • Supervision. Never leave your gerbils out of their gerbilarium unattended or overnight.
Did you find this useful?