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What Should I Consider before I Buy a Gerbil?

By Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A person who wants to buy a gerbil must consider a number of factors, including the ability to provide care, a gerbil's life span, the social behavior of gerbils, confinement, food and water, bedding, exercise and the overall health and temperament of the animal. Factors such as age of the gerbil or whether the gerbil will be used for breeding influences all these factors. Additionally, buyers should note the store's policy on animals that are sick or die after purchase.

By far the most important thing individuals should consider before they buy a gerbil is the ability to care for the animal. For instance, someone who travels consistently for work may not be home enough to provide a fresh, daily food and water supply, handle the gerbil regularly to prevent the animal from becoming depressed or aggressive, or monitor the gerbil if it gets sick. Small children frequently cannot care for gerbils and other pets entirely on their own. Care of the gerbil also involves factors such as the ability to pay for vet visits, medications and general supplies.

Next, consider that gerbils can live up to five years. Someone who wants to buy a gerbil should be prepared to commit to the animal physically, emotionally and financially for that long. A gerbil's lifespan should be considered in situations such as relocation, as some landlords will not allow pets of any kind.

Another consideration is that gerbils are happier when they have at least one buddy. Buying two gerbils thus can be better. If a person selects this option, it's better to have two males or two females, preferably from the same litter, unless a person wants to breed the gerbils. Breeding pairs will need much more space than non-breeding pairs.

When going to buy a gerbil, a person must decide whether to use a wire cage or a glass aquarium of at least 10 gallons (37.8 liters) in size. Wire cages are advantageous in that they have slide-out bottoms for easy cleaning, provide better ventilation and, depending on the exact design, make it for the gerbil to climb and play. Aquariums are better in that there is no risk of the gerbil ever getting caught between or loudly chewing on the wires, with bedding always neatly contained so the gerbil is free to dig and nest instinctively.

Bedding is another big issue. Cedar and pine bedding are not the greatest choices because oils in the bedding can cause problems for the gerbil, ranging from minor rashes to major liver, neurological and respiratory distress. If a person must buy wood bedding, the ventilation provided with a wire cage may aid evaporation of the oils and reduce these risks. In general, non-wood bedding such as corncobs is the best, with old crumpled newspapers and toilet paper tubes cheap additions.

Diet and fluids also matter. Although it's fine to give a gerbil specific food treats once in while, someone who is planning to buy a gerbil should look for or create an everyday food that is a mix of fresh vegetables, seeds, pellets, and high-protein items such as crickets. A small water bottle and food dish are adequate for most setups and make it easier to monitor consumption. Some of the foods should be strong enough to help keep the gerbil's teeth shorter, although gerbils also can chew on stiffer bedding supplies.

Gerbils need a way to exercise as they are confined, so gerbil buyers should look into buying an wheel the gerbil can use to run. It's imperative to stick with closed wheels rather than open wire ones, because unlike hamsters, gerbils can get their tails caught in open wheels. It's not necessary to buy plastic tubes to create tunnels and pathways, as gerbils often just chew through them. Exercise balls can be fun and make it a little easier to clean the cage or aquarium, but they are optional.

Lastly, a gerbil buyer must consider the overall health of the animal. A gerbil that is wet, dirty or lethargic, or which has matted fur, runny or sticky eyes is not a healthy animal. When handled with both hands, a healthy gerbil should be alert and inquisitive. If the gerbil bites or nips the buyer or other gerbils with which it is contained, this signals at best that the store representatives have not handled the animal courteously or enough, indicating a poor temperament at worst.

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