Having a Gerbil as a Pet

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Interesting habits, captivating antics and faces beyond cute are just a few of the traits that make gerbils desirable nontraditional pets. These smart little rodents learn that having their owner around equals food and fun, and they'll stand on their hind legs to greet you or entice you over to the cage when they sense you're nearby. Gerbils are social animals that are happiest when they cohabitate in same-sex pairs or groups.

Time

Gerbils don't need a lot of your time -- just a few minutes every day. Handling them daily keeps him friendly and happy. Take a few minutes every day to change their food and water and clean up messes in the cage. Give the cage a thorough scrub and change the bedding once a week if you have two gerbils and more often if you have more. You can leave pet gerbils at home alone over a weekend with extra food and water.

Housing and Supplies

A 10- or 15-gallon aquarium with a wire or plastic mesh lid makes a comfortable home for two or three gerbils and provides little chance of escape. You will need shaved or shredded aspen for bedding, plus a water bottle, gerbil food and a food dish, clean wood for chewing, a sand bath and toys. Gerbils appreciate an exercise wheel, but make sure theirs is designed for gerbils and not hamsters. Hamster wheels have slat or rungs in which a gerbil's tail can get caught. They also need a place to hide and sleep. A wooden box, half of a coconut shell or a length of PVC pipe makes a good hiding place.

Costs

Gerbil owners can expect to spend about $290 per year for reoccurring expenses such as bedding, food, toys and treats, according to the ASPCA. Gerbils don't need vaccinations or routine veterinary care, but they do need immediate care when they become sick. The cost of an office visit is similar to that for a cat or dog.

Gerbils and Children

Gerbils make better children's pets than hamsters because hamsters are nocturnal, while gerbils alternate between periods of activity and rest throughout the day. The Humane Society of the United States recommends supervision for children under the age of 8 when they handle gerbils. Teach young children individually to handle a gerbil gently enough so they don't frighten or squeeze the gerbil but firmly enough so they don't drop them. Frightened gerbils are likely to bite. Gerbils can spread diseases such as salmonella, so remind children to wash their hands after handling a gerbil. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against gerbils as pets for children under the age of 5.

Photo Credits

  • Big eyes watching image by Pushpangadan from Fotolia.com

Author

Jackie Carroll has been a freelance writer since 1995. Her home-and-garden and nature articles have appeared in "Birds & Blooms" and "Alamance Today." She holds a Bachelor of Science in medical technology from the University of North Carolina.