Saturday, March 19, 2011
Species of the Day: Gerbils
Scientific Name: Meriones unguiculatus
Origin: Mongolia, China and Siberia
Average Life-Span: 3 to 4 years
Temperament: A curious and social animal that is energetic and fastidious about grooming. Although its Latin name translates to "Clawed Warrior", gerbils are actually sweet natured and loves being in the company of other gerbils and their humans.
Varieties: Standard color is agouti; other colors include apricot polar fox, Argente, black, black-eyed white, Burmese, chinchilla, cinnamon, dark-eyed honey, dove, Himalayan, honey cream, lilac, nutmeg, polar fox, red fox, albino, Schimmel, Siamese, silver nutmeg, slate, yellow fox
Gerbils are native to many parts of the world, but the type of gerbil commonly kept as a pet is the Mongolian gerbil. These busy little rodents grow to a length of about 8 inches including the tail, which is the same length as its body. Pet gerbils are available in a variety of colors, although they usually have white fur on their bellies. Gerbils usually live three to four years if well cared for. Gerbils are very frisky , and can easily escape from a cage that isn't closed securely. Gerbils have rather poor eyes sight, but their sense of hearing and smell are very acute. These gently critters are hardy and seldom bite, and unlike hamsters, gerbils are active during the day, which fits in well with the average owner's schedule.
Gerbils are social animals, so its a good idea to get two of the same sex, with siblings making the best matches. Gerbils are rodents, and rodents being rodents, they will quickly breed if you put a male and female together. Gerbils can be kept in wire cages or 10 gallon aquariums with wire mesh tops. The cage should be kept away from direct sunlight and drafts, and lined with a good absorbent bedding. Timothy hay and aspen shavings make the best choices, but avoid cedar or pine shavings at all costs as the fumes will harm your pet. Gerbils love to play, so be sure to provide yours with an exercise wheel and toys. Avoid toys made of cardboard or soft plastic as they will almost certainly be chewed to bits and accidentally ingested. Gerbils also like to hide and sleep in enclosed spaces, so small boxes and flowerpots are a must. Gerbils love to dig, so provide yours with plenty of extra bedding. Tunneling is fun for your gerbils too, and small interconnected sections of PVC pipes work great for this.
Your pets will do well on a commercial gerbil diet with a protein content of about 12%, and a fat content within the 6 to 8% range. Nutritionally complete, commercial gerbil mix is made of pellets, grains, seeds and dried vegetables and is readily available at pet supply stores. Try to avoid mixes including sunflower seeds, as it will lead to your gerbils picking out the tasty treats and leave the more nutritious stuff behind. Offering small amounts of fresh veggies, such as carrots, lettuces, turnips and broccoli, is also a good idea. Sweet fruits such as apples and bananas can be given every other day. Do not give gerbils cabbage, potatoes, onions, uncooked beans, chocolate, candy or junk food. Fresh, clean water should be available at all times via a water bottle that attaches to the side of the cage.
Remove soiled bedding, droppings and any uneaten food everyday. Clean the cage completely once a week. Its important to provide chewing toys for gerbils, as their teeth grow constantly throughout their lives. Small raw-hide bones for toy dogs, twigs or untreated wood blocks are excellent choices for keeping their teeth in top condition and preventing dental problems. It's also important to get your pets used to you and being handled. The best way to go about this is hand-feeding them their favorite treats. It wont be long before they're allowing you to gently pick them up. Never pick a gerbil up by the tail, as the skin can slough off and cause serious injury. Once you've successfully hand-tamed your pets you can allow them supervised out of cage time for a period of time everyday.