What the Gerbil Needs

Mongolian gerbils should preferably be kept in pairs or small groups. In large groups, there are often fights over hierarchy.

Those who inform themselves about the needs of their pet and act according to them prevent the development of behavioral disorders. This makes both the pet and the owner happy!


Mice relatives – mice-like – gerbil

Life expectancy

3-4 years (max. 5 years)


after 5-8 weeks


The trivial name “Gerbil” is misleading due to the classification, since the Mongolian gerbil does not belong to the genus Gerbillus (gerbil), but the genus Meriones (gerbil or gerbil). As the name suggests, the origin of the Mongolian gerbil is Mongolia or Manchuria. The animals kept today are descended from 20 breeding pairs that were caught in 1935. They are diurnal and nocturnal with a two to four-hour sleep-wake cycle.


Gerbils feed on low-fat seeds supplemented with green parts of plants. Animal protein is also part of a species-appropriate diet, which can be given, for example, in the form of hard-boiled eggs, dry cat food, or food insects (e.g. house crickets or mealworms). Ready-made feed mixtures are also available commercially, but these should be of high quality.

Social behavior

In the wild, the Mongolian gerbil lives as a strictly monogamous pair of parents with the offspring until the little ones are sexually mature. Breeding has greatly changed the behavior of gerbils. However, it has been shown that keeping animals in pairs (with a castrated male) works well for pets. Keeping two female littermates seems to be the most stable group of females. In larger groups, there are a risk of sometimes very invasive ranking fights (intraspecific aggression), especially when there is not enough space for individuals to avoid and the inferior animals cannot escape.


According to the Veterinary Association for Animal Welfare e. V. (TVT), the housing facility should consist of a non-transparent lower shell with the minimum dimensions of 100 x 50 x 50 cm (L x W x H) and a grid attachment of at least 30 cm in height. Two animals can be kept in such a housing facility. The base area must be increased by at least 25% for each additional animal.

Gerbils also dig tunnel systems in human care. Therefore, the litter should consist of small animal litter, hay, straw, and strips of paper and be at least 40 cm deep. Gerbils are also very active animals and therefore need a lot of exercises. Roots and gnawable materials like paper, cardboard, and branches provide valuable occupancy materials and can be used along with pipes to create underground tunnels. A sand bath with chinchilla sand is also a must. The water bowl or drinking bottle should be attached to the side wall or placed on a raised surface, otherwise, they will be buried. The opaque bottom shell prevents behavioral problems.

Since gerbils need dark places to retreat to satisfy their need for security, keeping them in a terrarium without suitable places to retreat (absolutely dark little houses, which can only be reached through a kinked tunnel, for example) can lead to abnormal repetitive behavior (ARV): when digging a tunnel the animals encounter glass and due to the resulting lack of darkness the gerbils keep digging. Stereotypical digging can be the result.

Gerbils don’t like change. Frequent cleaning of the cage, therefore, puts them under stress. Since gerbils concentrate their urine very strongly and carry out their marking activity with the abdominal gland (instead of with urine), the development of odors is only very slight and the frequent changing of the complete litter is therefore not necessary.

Frequently Asked Question

How should you keep gerbils?

For two gerbils, a base area of about 80 by 40 cm is sufficient (height of about 50 cm), for four animals a base area of 100 by 50 cm. Keeping 3 animals is not advisable and does not occur in nature either.

What do gerbils need in their cage?

Gerbils should never be kept alone, but always in groups or pairs. The cage must be fully stocked with food, water, bedding, shelter, and bedding before the animals arrive.

Which bedding is suitable for gerbils?

Gerbils need bedding that is at least 20 cm high, preferably 40 cm high so that they can burrow. A mixture of a small animal or hemp bedding with straw, hay, branches, and cardboard tubes works well.

What do gerbils like best?

They also like fresh fruit and vegetables and like to nibble on fresh twigs. Good hay and straw are not only eaten but also serve as employment and nest-building material. Gerbils are not pure vegetarians and also like to eat a mealworm or an insect.

Can you play with gerbils?

Gerbils are not necessarily suitable for playing. If you want to try it, you should approach it slowly. You can put some food in your hand and hold it out to the animals.

Do gerbils become tame?

Brave gerbils also stay put on the hand. In the initial period after the new housemates have moved in, the gerbils should be allowed to get used to their new surroundings in peace, without being frightened by attempts to stroke or catch them.

How often do you have to clean gerbils?

If the enclosure has a floor area of at least 0.5 m² and a good 25 cm of litter, cleaning the enclosure will only be necessary about every 8 weeks.

What does beeping mean in gerbils?

Beeping: The high-frequency beeping is used to appease an opponent, e.g. in a fight over a piece of food. In this way, young animals show their mother when they are hungry.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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