Gerbil Housing Options
You have several options when deciding on a cage for your pet gerbils. Gerbil housing breaks down to three main choices that most people consider, says Libby Hanna, a certified judge and president of American Gerbil Society in Clermont, Fla.
1. Glass Aquariums or Terrariums
Glass aquariums or terrariums are a popular option for gerbil cages and the one most often recommended, Hanna says. These containers are inexpensive, easy to clean and allow you to observe your gerbils more pleasurably. Most importantly, the gerbils cannot chew through these enclosures.
“It’s great for the gerbils themselves because they’re kept safely inside with virtually no chance of escape,” Hanna says. “It also keeps the bedding inside to keep things clean.”
If you decide on an aquarium or terrarium, you will need a mesh or wire lid securely fitted on top in order to provide air circulation. This also prevents your gerbils from jumping out of the cage and keeps any housecats from preying on your critters. You can buy the lid at a store or construct it yourself out of hardware cloth.
“These glass enclosures are economical,” Hanna says. “You can start with a second-hand enclosure by repurposing a fish aquarium or lizard terrarium.”
Another benefit of using glass aquariums or terrariums as gerbil cages is that this option works well in all parts of the country, regardless the climate, and it is compact for all living situations, she adds.
2. Wire Cages
Another popular option for gerbil cages is wire cages. Wire is effective to combat your passionate chewers and keep them from escaping. For example, Ware’s 4-story small animal cage features an all-metal, chew-proof design that includes shelves and ramps.
Be sure to select a cage with bars close enough together that your gerbils cannot escape or get their feet or tails caught. Bars ½-inch apart at most is recommended.
Wire cages offer plenty of airflow, but can make the surrounding area messy because bedding inevitably will spill out. In some situations, where people live in extremely humid climates, the excessive humidity can cause more potent odor in the glass tank setup, Hanna says, and pet parents might find wire cages a better fit.
3. Plastic Cages
Available in all plastic and plastic-and-wire combinations, these enclosures are another favorite option for gerbil cages. These tend to be attractive to pet parents, especially children, with their fun colors and styles, but because gerbils chew everything, experts do not recommend them as primary housing.
“Kids think they’re fun and like the tubes, so these might prolong period the children remain interested in the gerbils,” Hanna says. “But gerbils, unlike hamsters, are incredible chewers and will destroy every non-metal surface, and they often get lose because they chew their way out.
Some styles provide little ventilation and you must pay extra attention to the maintenance of these cages because they smell more quickly. A compromise Hanna suggests is to use a plastic cage as a play structure for when you’re cleaning your gerbils’ main enclosure.
Choosing a Size for Gerbil Cages
When selecting your gerbils’ cage, keep in mind that these small mammals are social creatures. They need lots of room to burrow and run and enjoy other gerbil interaction.
“Never get one gerbil; always pairs or even-numbered groups,” Hanna says. “A single gerbil is a sad gerbil.”
A rule of thumb is 5-gallons of space per gerbil, so if you have a pair of gerbils, a 10-gallon cage—or an average base of 12 inches by 20 inches—is a good minimum.
“If you have room, 15-20 gallons is preferable—they appreciate the space,” Hanna says. “Terrariums are ideal because they are lighter weight than aquariums because the glass doesn’t need to be as heavy, which facilitates cleaning.”
Whichever size you choose, your gerbil cages clean and well maintained. Hanna recommends cleaning them out every 2-3 weeks.
“Dump out all contents except a handful of substrate from the nesting corner,” she says. “Wash the cage with mild detergent or vinegar, give a quick wash of all the equipment, air or towel dry, and refill with 2-3 inches of substrate. Add the handful of used substrate from the nesting corner back inside for the familiar scent in the nesting box.”
Accessories to Include in Gerbil Cages
Be sure to equip your gerbil cages with these necessities.
1. Secure a 4-8ounce water bottle to the side of the tank or cage so no water will drain out, and change the water at least a couple times a week. This freestanding Alfie pet bottle is a good option.
“When you change clean the cage, remove the water bottle washer and give it a good scrub with your fingers and clean the underside/lip of the water bottle because that’s where bacteria can collect,” Hanna says.
2. Include a wooden nest box, which gerbils like to use for hiding, sleeping and a roof deck, Hanna says. Wooden hideouts and huts, such as Kaytee’s Tropical Fiddle Sticks hideout, are enjoyable for your critters as well.
3. Provide a wire mesh wheel measuring 8-9 inches, like Kaytee’s Run-Around wheel. Hanna doesn’t recommend slat style wheels for gerbils and says solid plastic styles are fine “as long as it’s not a thin plastic that your gerbils can chew holes in.”
4. Toys are a must and should appeal to your pets’ innate desire to chew and burrow. Something as simple as a four-by-four with large holes drilled into it is great for climbing and chewing. Adding new toilet paper rolls and heavy cardboard boxes daily will keep your gerbils entertained.
“Because of their indiscriminate chewing, avoid plastic tubes, plastic toys and plastic houses or hideaways,” Hanna says. “Chewing plastic can lead them to ingest shards, which can be dangerous.”
5. A sand bath with chinchilla dust is a special treat for gerbils. To avoid them using it for a potty, Hanna recommends leaving it in the cage for only an hour or so and them removing it.
“They love a chinchilla dust bath,” she says. “It helps reduce the oil in their coat and they enjoy it. We use it routinely as part of a pre-show beauty routine for our show gerbils.”
Finally, if possible, construct different levels within the cage for your gerbils to jump around on. And because gerbils love a challenge and constantly changing their surrounds, adding new toys and providing different climbing platforms will stimulate their creativity and keep them happy.
By: Sandy Chebat and Rachael Brugger
Featured Image: Via Devonyu/iStock/Thinkstock