Video of the Day
If you have decided gerbils would be good pets for your household, it will be important to be able to tell males from females. These tiny rodents are social creatures. To ensure gerbil happiness, it's best to keep more than one. Small mammals such as gerbils are not usually spayed or neutered, so it's best to buy gerbils of the same sex. If you can distinguish males from females, you can ensure the gerbils you're buying won't reproduce.
Look under a gerbil's tail to determine gender. The female's anus and urogenital opening are close together. Males have a small gap between the openings, and the male's abdominal scent gland creates a bulge. You can turn a gerbil on his back, or place him in a clear plastic box to see these differences.
Gerbils are territorial, so it's best to buy young littermates or find gerbils who have always lived together. Gerbils are sold in pet stores from about 5 to 6 weeks old. It's easy to determine gender at this age, so you can select same-sex pairs or groups without much trouble. Gerbils who are kept together have the company they need, and they can enjoy normal social behaviors such as mutual grooming, an activity gerbils appear to enjoy.
The Mongolian gerbil is the most popular pet variety. They are natives of the deserts of Mongolia and northeastern China, where they live in tunnels and burrows that provide protection from predators and extreme weather conditions. Gerbils live in extended families that include the breeding pair and their offspring, who won't breed until they leave the group to find mates.
In captivity, gerbils live for 3 to 4 years. They are about 4 inches long, with a 4-inch tail, and they come in various colors. With careful daily handling, gerbils are usually friendly and rarely bite. Unlike some other rodent species, they are active during the day, so they make good pets for children 8 years and over, who are able to handle them correctly.
Buy or Adopt?
Adoption is a good alternative to buying gerbils from a pet store or private owner. Local animal shelters and animal rescue groups often have small pets such as gerbils who are in need of new homes. By adopting, you can save a gerbil's life, and help reduce the demand for more gerbils.
Check the Law
Gerbils kept as pets are banned by law in California and Hawaii, where gerbils can survive and reproduce in the wild if they escape captivity. Feral gerbils can damage crops and adversely affect native plants and animals.
- Veterinary Information Network: Gerbil Care
- California Department of Fish and Wildlife: Illegal Pets in California
- State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture: Animal Guidelines for Importation to Hawaii
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Gerbil Care
- Little River Veterinary Clinic: Your Gerbil
- The Humane Society of the United States: A Gerbil:The Right Pet for You?
- Johannes Norpoth/iStock/Getty Images