Gerbils are very active and inquisitive creatures that live wild in parts of the Middle East, Asia and Africa. They live in underground burrows and tunnels, which act as protection from predators and provide somewhere for them to escape the elements. Gerbils live in small family colonies which bond for life, therefore it can be very hard to introduce adult gerbils as they rarely accept gerbils from other colonies.
Gerbils are very good at jumping and can leap up to around 45cm into the air — they use this impressive ability to escape predators. Gerbils are naturally nocturnal; sleeping during the day, and foraging for food and burrowing at night.
Gerbils have been domesticated as pets for 30 years, although they may not be ideal pets for children as they are hard to handle and tend to move very quickly – they're great fun to watch! The sandy red coloured gerbil (Golden Agouti) is the most popular colour of pet gerbil but other colour variations, including albino and black, are now available. Gerbils can live for three to five years.
Although gerbils are an interesting pet to watch — they create very interesting burrows and tunnels within their living space — they may not be ideal pets for children as they're hard to handle and move very quickly. Gerbils are also nocturnal — sleeping during the day and burrowing at night. However, if you care for your gerbils properly and provide them with the environment and enrichment they need, they will reward you with lots of entertainment!
Gerbils should be kept in at least pairs and ideally in groups of three or four of the same sex. Do you have the time, space and money to care for more than one gerbil?
Gerbils can live for up to five years. Will you be able to commit to a gerbil's care for that amount of time? If bought for children, have you considered that in that time your children may want to move out or go to university? Who will care for the gerbils if that happens?
Gerbils need plenty of space – the minimum recommended cage size for gerbils is 100cm wide, 30cm deep and 30cm high — and somewhere to be able to burrow and display their natural behaviour. Can you offer your gerbils that?
It's important that you find a vet in your area with a good amount of knowledge about gerbils who can give you the right advice should your gerbil become ill.
As well as the initial cost of purchasing a gerbil, you should also consider the ongoing costs of food, hay, bedding and any veterinary feeds that may be needed. And then consider the fact that you need to have more than one gerbil!