Although many people enjoy having gerbils as pets, there can be a concern about them overeating.
Can gerbils overeat? The simple answer to this question is yes, but not all gerbils will do this. Some gerbils will eat just enough to satisfy their hunger, while others will constantly be at the food bowl.
The signs they’re overeating are easy to spot if you know what to look for. There are also ways to help them stop eating so much, while also keeping them healthy by providing good nutrition.
What are the Signs They’re Overeating?
It can be challenging to evaluate whether your gerbil is overeating or not. That’s because their fluffy hair can mask some of the more common signs of it.
While looking up this topic, these were the most common ways I found to tell if they’re eating too much.
Finishing their food too quickly. This is one of the more objective ways to gauge overeating.
- The amount provided should last about one day.
- If their food is being finished in half or less of that time, your gerbil is probably overeating.
They look physically bigger than usual. Gerbils are also prone to bloating when overeating.
- If you pick up your gerbil, you can feel their abdomen. If it seems distended or firm, they’ve probably been eating too much.
- This may be challenging to determine although a vet can assist with this evaluation.
Their weight has risen suddenly. If you can get them to sit still for a second, weighing your gerbil is a good way to determine if they’re overeating on a regular basis.
- A male gerbil should weigh 65-100 grams while a female gerbil should weigh 55-85 grams.
- If you have a kitchen scale or a small gram scale, weigh your gerbil on a monthly basis.
How Much Should They be eating?
If you have a gerbil, they primarily eat gerbil food which is specifically designed to meet their nutrient needs.
Their food usually looks like a mix of seeds and small pellets and is sold in most pet stores.
Although nutrient content can vary between different types of food, the type of food will have a recommended amount to feed the gerbil on the package.
If you’re wondering how much should I feed my gerbil, this is a good starting point. An adult gerbil should eat approximately 10 grams of food per day.
This is usually about 1/2 cup or a small handful of food. If you have more than one gerbil, you should base serving sizes on how many gerbils are present.
For example, two gerbils should receive 1 cup per day. When multiple gerbils are present in the same cage, it can be easy for one of them to overeat while the other may not be getting adequate nutrition.
If possible, consider keeping the gerbil’s food separate so they can only access their own food.
Tips to Keep Gerbils From Eating too Much
Sometimes it seems like gerbils don’t have any self control when it comes to mealtime.
When this happens we have to step in and regulate their eating habits a little.
While researching ways to do that, I found some good tips that should help keep your gerbils from overindulging and bloating up like a balloon.
There’s also a fun feeding strategy you can try that promotes activity and curiosity, that we personally use for our gerbils.
Eating More Than Just Their Favorite Parts
When gerbils only pick out their favorite pieces from their food mix, they may only be selecting the unhealthy parts.
This may cause them to keep coming back for more food because their hunger wasn’t completely satisfied.
Gerbils have food preferences just like humans. Some gerbil foods contain sunflower seeds which are high in calories and fat.
If provided in their food mix, they will usually choose to eat the sunflowers and leave the rest of their food.
If you notice that the gerbil is eating the seeds and leaving the rest of their food, it’s a good idea to make a change to their meals.
Either consider purchasing gerbil food without sunflowers or take out most of the sunflowers. This will help them have a healthier diet without gaining excessive weight.
Limit Refilling Their Food too Early
Track their intake by looking at how much food is left when you’re refilling their food bowl.
Gerbils who have food left in their bowl every time that they’re being fed may be missing out on essential nutrients.
Gerbil food contains essential protein, vitamins, and minerals that they need to consume in order to be healthy.
Gerbils are social so they’ll eat most of the same food together, at the same time.
So it’s a good idea to wait until their food bowl is mostly empty before adding more food, that way they both get all the nutrients they need. This will make sure that your gerbils keep up with a balanced diet.
Cut Back on the Treats
Giving your gerbil treats is an area of concern if you’re worried that your gerbil may be overweight. However, this is a great way to socialize and play with your pet.
By providing treats, you can teach tricks and enjoy playtime. The best treats for gerbils are nuts and sunflower seeds.
However, as mentioned previously, these foods are high in fat and can contribute to your gerbil being overweight if you’re not careful.
It’s usually recommended to feed your gerbil these foods no more than 3-4 daily. This will not provide excessive calories and is a fun treat for the pet.
Try Different Feeding Strategies
If your gerbils seem to be overeating you may want to try feeding them in different ways.
Usually, gerbil pet owners will fill the food bowl up to the top and wait for them to finish most if not all of the food before refilling the bowl.
This is the main way of feeding them and it gives the gerbils the freedom to eat when they want for how long they want.
This is usually not a problem, but for some gerbils, it may lead to them overeating.
One way to counter that is to feed them multiple small meals a day. Fill the food bowl up enough for one meal and let them eat all of that first, then do the same a few more times throughout the day.
This will put them on a schedule and when the food bowl is empty there will be more of a chance that they will fill in their spare time with more exercise and play.
Another strategy to prevent them from overeating is by making mealtime fun by letting them forage for their food.
This may require extra space like a small attached enclosure or maybe a dedicated space within their cage.
If you fill the space with some of their food and hide it throughout bedding they will be able to take their time and look for their food.
This is a fun activity because it inspires activity and it feels more natural for them to forge for their food instead of just having it all accessible in one spot.
You can also do this in moderation with their treats as well to satisfy their curiosity and increase activity.
Keep a Good Exercise to Feeding Ratio
A healthy gerbil should be exercising on a daily basis. In the wild, gerbils are extremely active which will burn through the calories they consume.
Monitor how much your gerbil is playing. Keep track of how much they normally play inside their cage and also track how much they play outside in the yard if you take them out there.
They may need some prompting to stay active though. Make sure to keep an exercise wheel in the cage as well as branches and wooden toys.
Your gerbil should be playing on a daily basis for 8-12 hours a day or even more.
If you notice that your gerbil simply isn’t staying active, he or she may need less food than an extremely active gerbil.
Keep in mind that gerbils are mostly nocturnal so they may be more active at night.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Although gerbils are fun pets to have, they’re also prone to becoming overweight.
During their lifespan, make sure to feed them the appropriate amount and adjust for weight gain or loss as needed.
With good nutrition, gerbils can maintain a healthy weight for their entire life.
If you’re not sure how much to feed your gerbil or how to tell if they are overweight, use these guidelines to get started.
You can also discuss any health and weight concerns with your vet when going for a checkup.
Keeping Healthy Weight Over a Lifespan
Gerbils live about 3-4 years when they’re in good health. If you adopt a gerbil when they’re young, you can expect them to maintain an active lifestyle for the first few years of their life.
However, just like most animals, they will become less active towards the end of their lives.
Around the age of 3-4, you can expect your gerbil to become less active which can cause them to gain weight.
When this happens, you should consider feeding your gerbil less than when they were active.
Usually, about 75% of their normal portion is a good place to start. They don’t need too much when they get up in age.
If you’re concerned about the gerbil not getting adequate nutrition, consider adding a liquid multivitamin. This can fill in any gaps and may help if restricting their food.
Why do gerbils overeat? Mainly because it’s easily accessible. Also if you keep multiple gerbils, one of them might be just a little selfish and spend their time at the food bowl to make sure they get more than their portion.
Does leaving food in the bowl overnight lead to overeating? In most cases no. It’s actually good practice because they will sleep and wake many times throughout the night and they need their nighttime snacks while it’s quiet. Just be sure to not fill the food bowl to the top if you’re concerned about them eating too much.