Animals / Rodents

The Gerbil

Синонимы и названия на других языках

Desert rats; Sandaal (German)


Order: rodentia

Family: muridae

Subfamily: gerbillinae

Genus:  16 different genera


The gerbil subfamily includes about 110 species of African, Indian and Asian rodents. It can be found in deserts and semi deserts of Africa and Asia. For instance, in Central Asia it can be found in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan (there around 1000 specimens can be seen in 1 hectare). They also occur in India, Iran, Mongolia and north-west of China. They prefer sandy and clay soils with some vegetation. Gerbils live in holes that are interconnected with numerous tunnels. A hole can reach 3 m deep, and the total maze can spread up to 300 m. In the wild gerbils always live in groups.  

Внешний вид

A gerbil reminds of a small mouse with a bit shorter ears. Their tails are fluffy and have tufts in the end. The snout is sharpened. An adult gerbil is normally between 15 and 30 cm, the tail makes about a half of the total length. An average adult gerbil weighs about 70 g.

The coat is sandy-brown color which makes good disguise in the sand. They have 16 teeth.  These small animals are vulnerable to predators so the nature has given them good eyesight, excellent hearing and quick reaction. They are active all year round, but in winter they can hibernate. 


Gerbils should be let out of the cage for walks and exercises. Usually they walk in people’s view and don’t clash with other pets. If you have other rodents or birds, the gerbil will most probably be on friendly terms with them. They are calm and friendly animals.

It is highly desirable to keep gerbils in couples and groups. They tend to get on with their specimens and with other animals and rarely get aggressive.

Содержание и уход

Gerbils are extremely active, and you have to remember this if you want to keep one at home. They need spacious cages with a thick layer of hay or straw (15-20 cm) at the bottom so that your rodent can dig. If you have a latticed cage, it is best to put a tray under it because gerbils will accidentally throw out the bedding. It is recommended to put in the cage a bowl with sand – your pet can use it as toilet or for sand baths.  

Don’t buy for your gerbil a multi level cage and don’t put there high shelves: they are very fragile and can injure themselves badly if they fall. You can put an exercise wheel in the cage for the gerbil to get out energy. But it is not enough: you should let it out of the cage under careful observation. 


In the wild gerbils usually live in areas with scarce vegetation, so they eat any plants they can see. They stock food for winter, e.g. camel thorn, saxaul branches etc. In search for food whole colonies of gerbils can migrate to new areas.  

In captivity gerbils are usually fed with commercial mixes for rodents with added vegetables and fruit that should be neither sour nor sweet. Protein is good for gerbils, so at times you can give them boiled eggs. You don’t have to put a water bowl in the cage; gerbils are used to desert climate and can get necessary liquid from vegetables and fruit. 


On average gerbils live for 3-4 years. It is strongly not recommended to keep them alone. They cannot be handled. 


Gerbils have the same illnesses as people, therefore they are carefully observed in the laboratories and by doctors. Teeth problems, inner ear disorders and tumors often occur.


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