If you are looking for a pet that is suitable for a limited living space, such as a small apartment, then gerbils might be a good choice for you.
These small rodents don’t take up much space or eat much food. And as long as you have at least two of them they will keep themselves amused when you need to be busy elsewhere.
So, are gerbils social animals? Yes, gerbils are naturally social creatures and enjoy the company of other gerbils, as long as they are familiar with their scent.
They will happily play with you and allow you to hold and pet them. You may need to give them time to get familiar with you first, so avoid handling them too much until they have gotten used to your scent.
They’re very social creatures, so newer pet gerbil owners should definitely understand what that means for them and their new pet friends.
- The reasons they’re social.
- The normal behavior of a social gerbil.
- What can happen if you only have one gerbil.
I’ve researched all of these topics and more so that new and experienced owners can have an easier time understanding, and raising their pet gerbils.
Table of Contents
Gerbil Social Background
There are about 110 species of rodents in the gerbil subfamily. They are naturally found in parts of Africa, Asia, India, and other regions.
In the wild, they tend to live in arid desert regions which is why they were originally known by the name Desert Rats.
While most are diurnal, which means that they are active during the day, the common Mongolian gerbil house-pet variety is crepuscular, so they are active at dawn and dusk.
This makes them good pets for busy people as they will be inactive when you are sleeping and at work, and active when you are home awake.
Pet Gerbil Social Background
Gerbils tend to be friendly creatures that generally do not bite unless they are threatened.
They like being handled and will happily let you pet them as long as you treat them well.
Because they are prey animals and a desert rodent they have evolved so that they have very little body odor and rarely need to urinate.
Their kidneys are designed to remove as much water as possible from their waste to stave off thirst in an arid environment. This makes them very clean animals, which is part of why they are popular pets.
Like any animal, gerbils have their own special social behaviors and needs. Here are a few things you should know before you get gerbils as pets.
Why are Gerbils Social?
In the wild gerbils are pack animals. They tend to form into a family group based around a mating pair and their extended offspring. Gerbils are natural prey animals and live in groups as a means of strength in numbers.
The more gerbils in a group, the more efficiently they can forage and keep watch for predators.
They also like to play with each other and practice-fight, which is completely different from them actually fighting.
If you’re not sure if your gerbils are playing or fighting for real, consider checking out my post on that topic. I talk about the signs for both situations in detail, so there’s no confusion.
If they encounter other gerbils with a scent that they are not familiar with from their colony then they will start to become stressed and more aggressive.
So if you are thinking about introducing new gerbils to each other then it’s a good idea to use the ‘split tank method’ to get them used to each other.
This method involves putting the gerbils together in a cage or tank and placing a mesh barrier between them. This lets their scents mingle while stopping them from attacking each other.
Normal Social Gerbil Behavior
Gerbils love to play. This may include play-fighting in the form of wrestling and a type of gerbil boxing that looks like they’re standing toe to toe jabbing at each other.
They like to groom both themselves and each other, and will often sleep together in furry gerbil piles.
They like to take sand baths to keep themselves clean and may have fun bathing together.
Gerbils may also seem like they’re scared all the time. For the most part, this is normal, but should still be monitored just in case there are some preventative actions you can take.
Their Daily Behavior
They love toys, including balls, exercise wheels, and tubes that they can scurry through.
You can give them your used toilet rolls to run through, though they will eventually nibble them to bits.
You need to be careful with some toys though. Toys that are suitable for a slightly larger animal like a hamster may not be safe for a relatively small gerbil.
You should avoid anything that they can get their tails or claws stuck in. Some types of exercise wheels are dangerous in this regard, but you can sometimes modify them to be safe.
Alternatively, you can get an exercise wheel that has no holes for their tails and claws to get caught in like the Silent Runner Wheel. It’s perfect for small pets, especially gerbils.
How They act in Their Enclosure
Gerbils are a burrowing animal and like to dig tunnels, as they are used to doing this for their colony. This can be a problem in a mesh cage as they can fling the material they are digging into through the gaps in the mesh.
Ideally, you should house them in a glass tank and give them some sand or a similar material on the bottom of the tank to burrow around in.
Regular dust-free bedding that’s soft works really well because they can easily move it where they want and make small tunnels with it. It makes them feel very safe.
Whatever you chose to house them in should be well sealed as gerbils can be great escape artists.
Like most small rodents they are used to foraging for their food. This and their natural curiosity will lead them to explore and try to find ways out of their enclosure.
Their Social Sounds and Actions
Gerbils love to chew on everything, and that includes plastic. Sometimes you can find them chewing on the same item close to each other so they can feel safe.
Gerbils also make many cute sounds when they are playing with both you and other gerbils. This includes some funny chirps and squeaks.
When they get excited or startled they will make a thumping sound with their hind legs. Other gerbils in the group will also usually take up this sound when they hear it.
This can be a sign of agitation or stress for the gerbil, as they normally make this sound to warn others of nearby predators.
What Happens if I Only Have one Gerbil?
One gerbil won’t be as happy and engaged, because gerbils like to live in groups and need lots of social interaction.
A gerbil living alone will be sad, and more prone to health issues. Their mental and physical health can deteriorate over time if they don’t have a companion to play with and help keep themselves clean.
That’s why some owners are concerned about their gerbil dying of loneliness when they only have one left.
Some owners only adopted one gerbil, and some only have one gerbil left after their companion passed away.
So if that happened, and you’re not clear on what can happen next or what you should be doing, take a look at my post on gerbils dying of loneliness. I cover the signs you should be aware of and ways to help your gerbil.
What Choices do I Have?
Like I said, occasionally first-time pet gerbil owners will only adopt one instead of two or more. Also sometimes one gerbil out of the pair dies leaving the remaining gerbil lonely.
In both cases, it’s very likely that the lone gerbil will start to become lethargic and crave the companionship of another gerbil.
If that happens or your situation is similar to that, then you have two choices:
- Use the split cage method to introduce a new gerbil to your current one safely.
- Stick with one gerbil and give it as much love, care, and affection that you can so that they can still get a good deal of social interaction.
These are basically your only options, but ideally, you should have at least two gerbils so that they don’t get lonely and can feel secure with each other.
This gives them a playmate to frisk about with and also provides an outlet for their social instincts. It also helps when it comes to keeping each other clean, active and feeling safe.
Gerbils Need Other Gerbils
So, to keep your furry little friends happy you’ll need at least two gerbils that get along well together.
Unless you are breeding them, you will want to keep them in the same sex group.
Males tend to be more docile than females so two or more males will work well for your family of gerbils.
Gerbils make great pets and are a good option for people with limited space. They are friendly and clean creatures that can entertain themselves when you’re not around.
So if you’re looking for fun, small pets that want to play with you just as much as they want to play with each other, then adopting a pair of gerbils is definitely the way to go.