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How to look after pet gerbils

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Gerbils are a fairly low maintenance pet in comparison with cats, dogs and even larger rodents. They do need you to play with them - preferably on a daily basis - but they don't complain if you leave them alone for a couple of days and don't demand you to take them on lengthy walks or garden jaunts. So if you're looking for a pet for you or for your children, gerbils are a good choice for a first pet that will add joy and fun to your lives without adding a great deal of stress or financial concern.
What you'll need: 
Love to give
A willingness to keep your gerbils clean, fed and watered
A safe space to store them- away from cats, dogs etc.
BE SURE YOU CAN DEVOTE THE NEXT FEW YEARS TO OWNING A PET: If you're someone who travels a lot or is planning on moving to a different country or whatnot, it might not be the right time to invest in a pet. As tempting as it is to purchase a furry friend, it's unfair to put yourself (and them) in a position where you need to find new homes for them in a few months.
LOOK AROUND TO FIND THE BEST PLACE TO BUY GERBILS: Pet shops have a mixed reputation but places like Pets At Home tend to have acceptable standards, and it's also possible to look on websites like Gumtree to find people selling gerbils (just make sure you're getting what they're apparently offering in terms of the sex, age, health etc. of your pets). Alternatively you might be lucky enough to have friends whose gerbils are expecting babies. In which case make sure you don't separate the babies from the mother until they're 7 weeks old. It's best to buy 2 gerbils at a time, they get lonely very quickly otherwise. Also, unless you're willing to take on the task of breeding, make sure you get two of the same sex. They also need to come from the same litter. You can't just pick two random gerbils and pop them in a cage together.
BUYING A CAGE: If you buy through Gumtree, your gerbils might come with a ready made home. Otherwise it's time to go cage shopping! There are four types of cage suitable for gerbils: Wire, Plastic, Glass tanks (like fish tanks) or rotastacks. These can often be combined (e.g. rotastack with plastic etc.) to make more exciting cages. The more tunnels and corners the happier and more stimulated your gerbils will be. You should generally buy your gerbils about a foot of space each. The starter cages sold in pet shops are normally smaller than that and won't allow your gerbils enough space to be healthy and happy. With the exception of the wire cages which are airy enough, all need lids that allow a significant amount of air in and out of the cage. The cage must be kept in a safe place away from the possibility of being attacked by larger animals.
SETTLING YOUR GERBILS IN: Making up the cage is a little like setting up a house for yourself! You need to create a warm, soft atmosphere with the space and materials for them to make their own beds, an eating area and room to play in. Gerbils are homemakers and will constantly rearrange the tank the way they want it. Put in a thick carpet of soft wood shavings bought from any pet store, so that they can bury into it. Leave them hay or shredded paper to play around with and make into beds. Add cardboard, paper and gerbil toys into the cage on a daily basis. Gerbils like to have things to play with and material to add to their cage lining. You wil need to make sure they get fresh air and a good balance of temperatures. They must not be exposed to drafts or be allowed to get too cold or hot (although being Desert Rats they do like sunshine and are generally adept at dealing with a little heat). The best temperature to keep them at is 15º to 24ºC (59° to 75°F).
FOOD AND DRINK: Gerbils like their water cool and fresh every day. Naturally Desert Rats they don't need to drink a huge amount but they hate stale water. Buy an approved gerbil food mix from the petstore and serve them approximately a tablespoon full per gerbil every 24 hours. Make sure they aren't picking out their favourite bits and leaving them and readjust the amount of food if it doesn't seem to be the right amount. Make sure they don't eat too many seeds - feel free to pick them out and use them as treats. You can add supplementary treats from time to time including dog biscuits, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, pet shop snacks etc. Every 2/3 days you should include some fresh fruit and vegetable in your gerbils diet in very small amounts (e.g. 1 grape, 2 blueberries). Don't leave fresh food in the cage for more than one day. If you run out of food for a couple of days don't panic. You can scramble plain eggs and serve them with a little brown bread.
TRAINING YOUR GERBILS: Gerbils generally should be played with every day even if it's only for 10 minutes. When you first get them you may need to give them time to settle in, taking them out for short periods at a time and rewarding them with snacks after you put them back away. You can train them to come out of the cage when you hold your hand out, or to sit on your shoulder...some gerbils are more open to training than others and it can often take a little patience and commitment. You need to make sure that you punish your gerbils if they nip or bite. Blowing on their faces is often very effective, and lack of treats is also sometimes good. Apart from the above, gerbils are lovely to hold, to run through your hands, put in an empty bath with some toys, create a run for them inside and just generally play with. They're friendly, fast and fun.
CLEANING YOUR GERBILS: Gerbils' cages need cleaning every 1-2 weeks. They get smelly less quickly than hamsters cages but still need a thorough clean. Take the gerbils out and place them somewhere safe like an empty bath or a travel case. Empty the dirty bedding, but save a very small amount to put back in the clean cage to maintain their scent. Rinse the cage, spray it with a specialised pet cage cleaner, rinse again and dry. Replace the bedding, put in different toys, replace the food and water, replace the old patch of bedding and pop your gerbils back in. Watch them go crazy rearranging their house again! Some people don't feel the need to clean their gerbils but if you handle them a lot or don't get the chance to clean the cage enough etc. it's good to pop them in some special rodents sand. Fill a box with the sand, pop the gerbils in and they will jump in and out of the sand, cleverly removing the grease from their fur. Don't handle them too much directly under their sand baths. Pop them straight back into the cage.
ILLNESS: Keep an eye on your gerbils health. They tend to be fairly hardy creatures but if they do succumb to illness they will deteriorate very fast. It's important not to dismiss their health. If you've bought gerbils it's because you care about them as pets, so please do take their health seriously. It's not really cost effective to buy health insurance for gerbils and generally a trip to the vet won't cost you a great deal anyway. So long as they're seem content they're most likely fine. Your main job is to keep an eye out for a) any sudden changes in mood and b) any strange growths on their bodies.
ENJOY! They're not for everyone, but gerbils can be surprisingly lovely pets. They're friendly, they enjoy being taken out of the cage, they're not needy and they're happy in each other's company. They're perfect pets if you don't have the space or time for cats and dogs...or if you are looking for a small yet satisfying presence to add to your day to day life!
Try borrowing someone else's gerbils for a week to see how you enjoy looking after them
Make sure you buy from a respectable place. Do check up on your local pet stores.
Always check you've closed cage doors/lids etc. after finishing playing with your pets or giving them food
Don't overwhelm them by demanding too much too soon, exposing them to excessive noise, lights or people


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