Gerbils as pets

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Gerbils as pets

Gerbil facts you need to know Which breed? Handling your gerbil Gerbils are inquisitive and enjoy human company which has made them popular pets for older children.  They are entertaining, lively little creatures, easy to care for and with regular handling they become very tame.  There are over 90 different species of Gerbil but the Mongolian Gerbil (sometimes called the Clawed Jird) is the favourite type to keep as a pet.  Mongolian Gerbils were first discovered in 1866 by a French biologist and come from the Mongolian Desert in Northern China and Russia. Gerbils are desert animals that have adapted live in arid hot conditions and on dry grassy sandy steppes.  They are typically between 6 – 12 inches long (15 - 30cm) and their tail makes up approximately one half of their total length. There are larger species – the Great Gerbil, originally native to Turkmenistan, can grow to more than 16 inches (40 cm) in length.  On average a pet gerbil lives between 2 – 5 years but different species such as the Shaws Jird can live longer, up to 7 years.   Gerbil facts you need to know In their wild habitat gerbils live in a complex system of tunnels and burrows where they can take shelter from the intense daytime heat and cold at night when the temperature drops suddenly.  Their burrows also protect them from predators like birds of prey or snakes.   Gerbils have long legs and can leap as high as 1½ feet (45 cm) to escape from predators.  When gerbils are excited or stressed they use their long hind legs to thump the ground.  Their furry tails help them to maintain balance and the fur acts as a sunscreen from the harsh desert sun and also keeps them warm during cold nights. Gerbils live in colonies in their underground tunnels and should not be kept alone as pets.  They are very social animals and are miserable if kept on their own.  Its best to keep a small group of similarly aged gerbils that are raised together from a young age.  A group that has been brought up together will sleep in piles, groom one another, play and chase each other around. Gerbils are clean and very active little creatures who keep themselves and their cage (called a gerbilarium) spick and span.  They love to dig and exercise so remember to provide lots of deep substrate (flooring material), tunnels and some toys such as a solid wheel (without spokes so they dont get their tails stuck!) to keep them healthy and fit. View our Gerbils Products section for our range of gerbil cages and toys BackTo Top Which breed? There are over 90 different species of gerbil.  Jirds are members of the same family and just to confuse matters some gerbils are actually jirds!  They are very similar animals and are very closely related.  Different types of gerbils and jirds can be found in deserts and steppes from Central Asia to Africa. Mongolian Gerbil Mongolian Gerbils (also known as Clawed Jirds and Desert Rats) come from the Mongolian Desert.  They live on average 3 - 5 years and are about 7 – 8 inches (20 cm) long including body and tail. These are sociable gerbils and should be kept in groups that have been raised together from a young age. Mongolian Gerbils are the most likely species you will have as a pet, being widely available, friendly and easy to tame. These gerbils have over 20 different coat colours including:  golden agouti, grey agouti, slate, cream, black, argente golden and lilac.  Patterns are white spotted, pied, mottled, colour point, siamese, burmese schimmel and himalayan.   Shaws Jird The Shaws Jird is twice the size of a Mongolian Gerbil and is about the same size as a pet rat. Males can easily grow to 14 inches (35 cm) or more in length. The tail is usually half the overall length. These jirds tend to live between 6 – 7 years.  They originate from the arid areas of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.  Shaws Jirds make good pets, they enjoy human company and as they are bigger they are easier to handle. Shaws Jirds usually have darker colouring than their gerbil cousins, a less tufty tail and larger ears.  Their colouration is agouti which is a sandy grey but this can vary a lot in intensity so some appear more orange or grey than others.  Some Shaws Jirds have a small white spot on their forehead. Females are very territorial and must be housed by themselves. In the wild they would only ever meet with another jird to mate or defend their territory.  Male jirds enjoy company and are best kept in pairs or small groups that have been raised together from a young age. Pallid Gerbil Pallid Gerbils come from the coastal dunes of the Western Mediterranean Coastal Desert in north western Egypt. They are smaller than Mongolian Gerbils but have the same life span of around 5 years.  They make good pets but can be difficult to catch!  Pallid Gerbils are best kept in small same-sex groups or pairs. Pallid Gerbils are lighter than agouti coloured Mongolian Gerbils. Their upper coat is a pale orange brown and their belly is a bright white.  They are slender creatures with big eyes that have adapted to see well in the desert dusk.   Fat-Tailed Gerbil Fat-tailed Gerbils (also known as the Duprasi Gerbil) also make popular pets as they are quite docile and enjoy being handled.  They come from the Northern Sahara (North-western Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria).  These little gerbils are similar in appearance to hamsters, their body shape being more rounded and having short legs compared to other gerbils.  Their body length is about 4 inches (10 cm) and their tails are 2 inches (5 cm) long.  Their life span is between 5 – 8 years.   They have soft, fluffy coats and a short, fat tail shaped a little like a club (which they use to store fat in, a bit like a camels hump).  Fat-Tailed Gerbils have a triangular shaped face, with large black eyes. Their coat colours can vary from pale apricot, to grey, through to a buff brown. The belly is clear white.  They should be housed separately as they will fight of kept in pairs or groups. BackTo Top Handling your gerbil When you bring your gerbil home leave them for a day or two before handling so that they can get used to their new home.   Before you start to handle your gerbil let them get used to your voice.  Then introduce your hand so they can become used to your smell. Gerbils prefer to climb or sit on you rather than be grasped. They are very friendly and will usually just walk onto your hand. Pick your gerbil up by cupping one hand under them and one hand over them to stop them from jumping off. Handle your gerbil over a table or close to the floor in case they wriggle or jump out of your hands.   Never pick your gerbil up by the tail, this is extremely painful for your gerbil and will cause the skin to tear off at the base of their tail. Handle your gerbil once a day and they will soon become tame and friendly. BackTo Top