Getting Started Page
"Teach your gerbils you'll be there...learn all you can about their care."
A very inquisitive (and handsome) Nutmeg Gerbil
Becoming a successful gerbil keeper is a worthy goal to work toward. Adopting a gerbil, or any pet, can fill the human spirit with the love of giving, the joy of caring, the challenge of commitment, the wonder of creation and the preciousness of life. This also can be said for respecting and appreciating all wildlife.
Having decided to search the Web for information, you recognize that adopting a pet means more than bringing it into our homes…it also means bringing it into our hearts. Getting off to a good start is crucial to our success as gerbil keepers…and to the welfare of our gerbils. This short page is simply a link in the never-ending chain of learning experiences you will encounter as a gerbil keeper. Ultimately, experience is our best teacher…but fortunately, it doesn’t have to be our only teacher.
The following will help you "get started" in the enriching hobby of gerbil keeping.
There is much valuable information available about the many aspects of gerbils and gerbil keeping. This information ranges from the needs of the novice to that of the experienced breeder, and is generally pleasurable reading. Check your local library and pet store for books on gerbils. We do not endorse specific books (admittedly, some are better than others) but we suggest that you read all you can find since no one book has a monopoly on information.
The Internet has many wonderful sites for learning about gerbils…many of these sites have been created by and are maintained by gerbil breeders! Most breeders will be happy to answer your questions. In addition, there is much to be learned from joining gerbil societies/clubs (such as The American Gerbil Society and The National Gerbil Society) and visiting gerbil communities (such as Gerbils.org and The Gerbil Mailing List or, GML). These are excellent forums to ask questions, make friends and to exchange information. [See Snooty’s Links Page.]
Where To Obtain Gerbils…
We like to believe that most pet shops are reputable in dealing with the public and do their best to properly care for their animals. Yet, since most pet shops do not specialize, but rather offer a variety of pets and products, it is not always safe to assume that your potential gerbil is in the best of health, has received optimum care or has been correctly sexed. This is not necessarily due to wanton neglect, but rather, may be simply a function of variables including the staff’s experience (or lack of) with gerbils, and the shops priorities in allocating time for dealing with particular animals. At any given time or geographical location gerbils may or may not be a high priority.
There are many animals that are abused, abandoned or simply given up for adoption each year. If adopting from an animal shelter, at a minimum, you will know that your gerbil has received love and proper care during its stay and is in good health at the time of adoption. You may not know the gerbils age or lineage and the gerbil may have visibly healed wounds, but the humane act of adoption far out weighs these issues. While we hope you adopt from The Snooty Agouti…before deciding to do so, we encourage you to first explore adopting from an animal shelter those gerbils who would otherwise be homeless.
Adopting from a breeder is considered by many to be the desired means of obtaining a gerbil. When adopting from a reputable breeder, you can generally be assured that the gerbil is in good health, has been tamed, and has been sexed correctly (although, everyone makes mistakes from time to time). Additionally, most breeders will be able to supply the gerbil’s lineage and will be happy to answer your questions. Many breeders have their own web sites, which are wonderful resources for gerbil information and for links to other gerbil sites. Visiting these various sites is educational, is fun, and will give you some insight about the breeder. We suggest that you visit as many of these sites as you can find. We still do! [See Snooty’s Links Page.]
When your gerbils arrive, whether from a pet store around the corner or from a breeder across the country, they will be stressed from the handling and from the trip. It is wise to have their habitat fully prepared for them (food, water, etc.) before they arrive home. When they arrive, try not to pick them up (they may nip you) but rather, remove some of the bedding they arrived in and spread it in their new habitat to give it a familiar scent. Then, place the container they came in into their habitat. Once they have crawled out into their habitat, remove the container. Place the habitat in a quiet location and let them settle down in privacy (do not disturb them) for 24 hours.
If you have adopted from a breeder, chances are your gerbil will be tame. Nevertheless, he/she will be in a new environment and will have to become acquainted with you. Then, gradually, you may want to start your own taming process.
Taming Your Gerbil…
The goal of taming is simply for you and your gerbil to become acquainted with each other to the point of winning each other’s trust. It is important to understand that taming your gerbil is a process. While gerbils are docile by nature, a gerbil unfamiliar with your scent and touch is likely to flee from the approach of your hand. For all the gerbil knows, your loving hand could be a bird of prey!
The keys to taming include…patience, slow movements, short sessions and regularity .
Briefly, take some of the gerbil's bedding and rub it on your hands (palm and forehand) and arm up to your elbow. This will place some of your gerbil's scent on you. Then let the bedding come off. Next, form a fist and place it palm down, very slowly and deliberately, in an open area of the habitat. It should be expected that the gerbil may hide at the arrival of your hand. Keep your fist motionless...eventually your gerbil's natural curiosity will compel it to investigate your fist. This may take several minutes or longer.
Start with your fist...
Be patient and continue to remain motionless. After the gerbil has sniffed your fist several times, extend your knuckles outward keeping the thumb and the soft part of your fingers folded inward exposing only the hard part of you hand. Should your gerbil decide to taste (nip) your fingers, he/she will encounter tough skin and knuckle and general stop. If the gerbil insists on biting, move your hand away slightly but avoid quick, unexpected movements!
Extend your knuckles...
Once again, the gerbil will investigate. Allow him/her to sit on your forehand...but continue to remain motionless. Your gerbil is likely to stand on your forehand and survey his/her habitat for a few seconds. After you have experienced this several times, and you sense your gerbil is confident, try raising your hand an inch or so off the ground. The first several times you do this, your gerbil will be inclined to run, but eventually will remain on the human elevator as more and more trust grows between you both. Keep the sessions brief...perhaps ten minutes.
Make sure your sleeve is rolled up or your gerbil may latch on to it and make a quicker than anticipated run up your arm...!
When removing your hand from the habitat remember to do so slowly and deliberately. Practice this perhaps three times a day at regular intervals. Let your gerbil's behavior be your guide. Your gerbil should eventually be climbing up your arm fearlessly... as if you belong to him/her. If your gerbil nibbles at the hair on your hand or scratches at your hand or arm, he/she may just be grooming you.
and away we go....!
NOTE: Do not grab your gerbil by the tail. This could injure the tail and cause it to break loose. This "break away" tail is a natural defense mechanism to help gerbils escape preditors.
Essential "Start With" Items…
Below are several items you would ordinarily want in creating your gerbil habitat. From left to right they are: wooden bird ladder; vitamins; wood chews; manila folder "roll ups"; water bottle and holder; exercise wheel; (make sure it is taped first!) mineral block; and, wooden housing for privacy. What are not visible are: aspen bedding; corn cobb bedding; aquarium; and, screen hood. You may also wish to purchase a food dish [See Snooty's Cuisine Page.], a bowl for dust bathing and any other toys you wish that are suitable for gerbils.
The beginnings of a habitat
[See Snooty's HOUSING Pages 1 and 2.]
You will want to add more toys. Notice the screen hood.
An aerial view...
A temporary holding tank, such as a second aquarium, should be used to house your gerbils as you clean their home habitat. For bedding in the holding tank use some of your gerbils current (soiled) bedding to give them the scent of home. This is also a good opportunity for a dust bath. The home habitat could be washed with warm water. After the home habitat has been prepared with new bedding, take a little of the old bedding from the holding tank and spread it along the surface of the freshly prepared habitat to provide the scent of home. A plastic "habitrail" tube can be used to transport your gerbils back and forth if you are not inclined to carrying them. We do not wash wooden toys so as not to remove gerbil scents. Plastic tubes are washed only when they become odorous and threaten to be a breeding ground for bacteria.
@ Observe your gerbils each day for any irregularities in behavior or appearance.
@ As a general rule, (we do not follow this general rule) habitats should be cleaned atleast every other week. NEVERTHELESS...let your observations and nose be your guides. If you "sense" that it is time for a change before the two week generality...DO SO.
@ Be sure that toys that have become questionable over time (have become sharp edged, etc.) are removed.
@ Water bottles should be cleaned regularly as film can build up from vitamins and minerals. A small brush can be used for this purpose.
@ When in doubt...Always see a Vet.
This is not the end...it's the BEGINNING. As with any new venture you are bound to have many questions...particularly when dealing with a living creature. Your learning will be an ongoing process. The key is to enjoy yourself...and for your gerbils to enjoy you.. Please visit Snooty's LINK Page for other informative sites.
HOMElast update 1/15/01