Are my Gerbils Playing or Fighting?

Have you ever looked into your gerbil’s cage and noticed them wrestling or rolling around with each other slightly aggressively?

Maybe you’ve seen them stand up straight and box each other as well. They even chase each other around the cage and seem to do this every day, multiple times a day.

The first question that comes to mind is are my gerbils playing or fighting? If your gerbils are standing up and boxing or rolling around then they are playing with each other. If they are biting and chasing each other frantically then it’s most likely a real fight.

Play fighting is normal gerbil behavior and nothing to worry about. However, there are signs that you need to look out for to see if they are actually fighting.

Gerbils will play and fight often, so I did some research into all of the signs and what we can do about each situation.

Why Gerbils Play Fight and Actually Fight

Before getting into the signs of play fighting and actual fighting we have to understand why they do it in the first place.

Gerbils are social animals and play fighting with each other is a natural and important behavior that happens.

When they play fight they are establishing a special kind of hierarchy within the pair or clan.

It’s important because it creates order and it’s also a gerbil way of playful affection.

Play fighting to establish a hierarchy is normal, but it’s when it turns into a power struggle that it can get dangerous and they start to actually fight.

When you have pet gerbils you typically have them in a cage or a habitat that they can’t leave.

This means that if any tensions were to arise they would have to stay in the same space with each other instead of being able to leave the group.

Any kind of power struggle would usually end in chasing and fighting because there is just no other place for them to go.

Actual fighting within a clan of a mother gerbil and her pups can happen if the pups feel it’s time for them to be in charge, they then start to kick the mother gerbil out of the clan.

Male gerbils may start to fight each other around the time they start to get to their breeding age.

Although this specific situation usually only happens when you keep male gerbils with female gerbils in the same environment.

Signs of Play Fighting

Now that we know why gerbils play fighting and actually fight we can take a look at some of the signs to be able to tell the difference.

They’re having a boxing match. One of the most noted signs of play fighting is when your gerbils start to box each other.

  • It sometimes starts by them sniffing each other and then they stand up and have a playful boxing match, while also rolling around with each other.
  • You can usually see this when your gerbils are in different parts of the cage for a while and they finally meet back up.
  • This, like many other signs of play fighting is a behavior that you will see throughout the day.

They lightly chase each other. Another sign of play fighting is when your gerbils chase each other lightly around the cage.

  • As long as they’re not frantically running after each other or slamming into things in the cage violently while running away, then it’s safe to assume that they are just play fighting.

They’re having a wrestling match. Your gerbils can also play fight by wrestling around on the ground with each other.

  • If they’re rolling around and neither of them looks distressed then they’re more than likely play fighting.
  • It’s easy to tell because they may take quick stretch breaks throughout the wrestling match.

Signs Your Gerbils are Actually Fighting

Signs of actual fighting look a lot more aggressive and violent, and it can leave your gerbils scared. It will look unnatural to how they’ve normally been behaving.

The signs leading up to a fight are a little harder to notice if you don’t know what to look for.

They can be very subtle so I thought that I would discuss some of the signs that I found because it’s essential to know as a pet gerbil owner.

Signs Leading up to a Fight

Certain situations you can control that will prevent them from most likely fighting are things like giving them adequate space to live in.

There are also things you can’t control but should watch out for, and they can be seen days or even weeks leading up to a fight.

They sleep in different areas often. If your gerbils start sleeping in totally different areas away from each other be wary.

  • When they sleep in different areas that can signal they are stressing each other out.

One gerbil preventing the other from eating. Another sign is if you notice one of the gerbils hogging all of the food to starve the other gerbil out.

  • Periodically check on them when they are eating.
  • Slightly hogging the food is normal but actually preventing the other from eating is what to watch out for.

Noticing the signs that could potentially lead to a fight is a very important thing to do.

Knowing that your gerbils are starting to get stressed with each other can better prepare you and also prevent the fight before it even starts.

Signs Your Gerbils are Actually Fighting

Like I previously said, when gerbils actually fight it will look very violent and it’s easily distinguishable from play fighting.

They bite at the head or tail. One sign to look for is when one gerbil bites at the other gerbils head or tail violently.

  • Look for any kind of bloodshed around the cage.
  • Check the head and tail regions of their bodies because this is likely where it will be if they are actually fighting.

They frantically Chase each other. Another sign of actually fighting is when you notice a gerbil chasing another.

  • Watch for frequent, aggressive and relentless chasing.
  • Listen for slamming sounds because the gerbil that is being chased will start to run into objects.
  • They run into things unintentionally because their only objective is to run away.

Panic squeaking coming from their cage. Another sign to listen for is panic squeaks coming from the gerbil’s cage.

  • When your gerbils squeak out of panic or fear it will be frequent.
  • Not all of gerbils squeaks mean the same thing so just listen for the squeaks that can signify pain or fear.

Noticing the signs of your gerbils actually fighting when it’s happening is fairly easy to do.

It’s very violent behavior that is very different from play fighting and you want to separate them as soon as you see it.

What you can do if Your Gerbils Actually Fight

What you do when your gerbils actually fight can depend on many things like the number of gerbils you have, if your gerbils are declanning, and other situation-specific variables. Seeing as not all situations are the same.

One thing to take into consideration is how many gerbils you have in the same cage together.

That’s because what you do if you have 2 gerbils will differ from what you do if you have a group of 3 or more.

Split Cage Method

If you only have two gerbils then you may only have two separate them for a while. If the situation was too extreme you may even have to try the split cage method.

Keep the gerbils slightly separated with the split cage method until you start to see them get along again.

Once they get along again, let them both go back to normal without the split cage method.

Be sure to monitor their activities moving forward to see if there are any more serious issues between them.

Remove the Gerbil That’s Causing the Problem

If there is a fight in a clan of three or more gerbils, remove the gerbil that started the fight.

Be very certain that you remove the gerbil that actually started the fight because if you don’t that gerbil may go on to bully other gerbils within the clan.

Care for any small wounds that either of the gerbils may have but if it’s too severe it may be time to take them to the vet.

Sometimes unfortunately, some gerbils just do not get along and can no longer live in the same cage together after a fight.

The best thing to do is to move the aggressor into their own cage where you can see if other gerbils will get along with it through the split cage method.

Can Play Fighting Turn Into Actual Fighting?

It’s not unnatural for play fighting to turn into actual fighting. This type of behavior doesn’t happen that often, but I thought that I would cover it because it came up while I was researching this topic.

While play fighting, gerbils can actually start fighting for real. This kind of fighting is usually not as aggressive as a power struggle fight for example, but it’s still something that should be looked into when it happens.

It can all start from one gerbil feeling that the other is playing too rough, and they get stressed.

Once that gerbil gets stressed it can start to go on the offensive and up its aggressiveness so the other gerbil will stop.

This can lead to both gerbils getting more and more aggressive which will lead to actual fighting.

Thankfully,  when this happens most of the time the gerbils will work it out for themselves by taking a small break from each other.

This kind of situation is less serious but, always be sure to break up the gerbils if this carries on for too long without them going their separate ways for a while.


Sometimes gerbils play fight and sometimes gerbils actually fight, but you can be better prepared when you know the signs of each situation.

Always keep a watchful eye on your gerbil habitat so you can do your best to prevent any fighting between your gerbils.

If any gerbils do get into fights regardless of if you don’t think the injuries are too bad or not, be sure to get the correct medical care for them that is necessary so they can remain happy and healthy.


Hi, I'm Mason, I've kept small animals as pets since I was 8 years old. I love to learn and talk about them basically every day. Over the years I've adopted small pets like hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs.

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