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There's a surplus of mouse and rat food on the shelves at the pet supply shop, but when you look for food specifically formulated for gerbils, you come up empty handed. Smaller shops might have a one-food-suits-all mentality when it comes to feeding rodents -- after all, in the end they're all seed-eaters. It's in your little guy's best interest, though, to find out first if mouse and rat food will hurt him.
Basically the Same
All smaller rodents who are kept as pets, like gerbils, mice, hamsters and rats, have basically the same dietary requirements. They're all omnivorous, although in the wild they mainly eat seeds. If you compare the contents of a bag of gerbil food to a bag of mouse or rat food, you may not find identical ingredient lists, but you'll see they have a lot of ingredients in common: pellets, flax seed, whole brown rice, oat groats and wheat bran, among other items. You've probably already found that sometimes the food is even labeled as suitable for gerbils in addition to rats and mice.
Being a small rodent, your gerbil appreciates the same kind of fresh treats that mice and rats do. Offer your little one a small amount (about 1/2 teaspoon) of fresh fruits and vegetables three or four times a week alongside his regular food. He'll devour bits of apples, carrots, broccoli and a few peas.
The typical amount to feed a gerbil is a tablespoonful of food once a day, but like rats and mice, gerbils enjoy noshing whenever they feel a snack attack coming on. Check your gerbil's dish three or four times a day to make sure he always has food available. If your little furry is particularly active he might need more food than the average small rodent, so you could find that you need to feed him more than one tablespoon of food each day.
If you end up feeding your gerbil mouse and rat food because the pet supply shop doesn't carry gerbil food, you should talk to your vet about nutritional supplements for him. Gerbils need more magnesium than rats do so it might be necessary to give your gerbil a vitamin and mineral supplement tablet a few times a day. It's smart to have your vet look over the nutritional information on the packaging of the food you feed your gerbil to ensure he's getting good nutrition. If the food you've selected falls short, your vet can recommend a brand of food that will be better for your little guy.
- Veterinary Partner: Small Mammal Nutrition
- HealthyPet.com: Feeding Rats, Mice, Hamsters, and Gerbils
- ASPCA: Gerbil Care
- The Laboratory Rabbit, Guinea Pig, Hamster, and Other Rodents; edited by Mark A. Suckow, et al.
- Quick and Easy Gerbil Care; Sue Fox
- Petsmart: Hamster, Gerbil, Rat Food Ingredients
- American Gerbil Society: AGS Newsletter: Knolls' Gerbils Daily Plan
- Drs. Foster and Smith: Rat Food Ingredients
- Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images