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The decision to adopt a gerbil, no matter how much you are attracted to this scuttling, little animal, should be made with a mix of impulse and logic and not be a spur of the moment decision. There are several factors you need to consider before you adopt one-factors that will help you identify the needs that must be met when purchasing your gerbil.

Answering these questions in advance will help you maintain a sense of logic in your decision making and when dealing with the shelter or animal center, breeder's home or pet shop:

  • Are you able to spend at least half an hour each day with your gerbil? Even more of your time will be needed if your gerbil doesn't have a mate. These social, often monogamous, creatures can become depressed if left to their own devices.
  • Are you able and willing to handle a feisty, hardy rodent? If you have a timid nature, a mellower pet such a guinea pig, might better suite your style.
  • Are you able to leave your gerbil in capable hands while you're away? You will need to verse a reliable friend, relative or neighbor in the nuances of gerbil care in your absence.
  • Are you willing to spend money for quality food, supplies and veterinary care? Gerbils need store-bought seed or pellet mix and regular snacks of raisins, hay, corn and peas. They need a gravity-flow water bottle, clean nesting material, a cage with a pullout bottom for cleaning, an exercise wheel and gnawing sticks. Gerbils have a strong instinct to chew, and they will chew on anything they can sink their teeth into.
  • Are you certain there is a room in your home that you can keep your gerbils where they will be safe and where they won't disturb anyone? The room must be escape-proof for quick little gerbils, who can skitter under doors, out cracked windows or behind clutter in a flash.
  • Are you or any of your family members allergic to fur or dust? If so, a gerbilĀ is not the right pet for you. You do not want to be responsible for someone in your family having an allergic reaction.
  • Are all of your family members agreeable to keeping gerbils as pets? If anyone in the household has the potential for a squeamish lapse while holding a gerbil, it wouldn't be fair to either the human or the gerbil. The small, spunky pet can leap out of a person's grasp and be gone in an instant.

Reality Check

Just as there are situations where a gerbil is an ideal pet, there are others when one is most inappropriate. For example:

  • Immature Caregivers. Parents shouldn't count on one of their children to be the pet's primary caregiver. They shouldn't buy a gerbil for a child who makes promises readily but doesn't see them through. While a child may have the best intention to care for his pet, he may lose interest or become too busy. Meanwhile, the gerbil's need for care and attention remains constant.
  • Surprise Gifts. No matter what the occasion, presenting a gerbil as a gift is presumptuous and dangerous. All potential owners should have the opportunity to review their situation to determine if owning a gerbil is a good idea for them at that time. While the gift of gerbil may be well received in some instances, more often than not it's an unwanted surprise.

Important Decisions

After selecting the type of gerbil for you, there are other factors you need to consider.

One or Two? Gerbils are highly social colony animals. They become depressed when they are alone. So, unless you have some compelling reason not to, gerbils should always be adopted in pairs. A solo gerbil won't be content unless you spend a great deal of time with him.

Keeping one gerbil initially is recommended. Allow your gerbil time to get used to you. After a few weeks you can bring in the second one. He won't be as tame, but he will be a play partner for your first gerbil.

You should bring the two gerbils together on neutral ground to minimize the risks of fighting. You might try a clean, deodorized cage that has been rearranged because this distracts the first gerbil and makes him more likely to accept his new cage mate.

A pair of gerbils interacting can be quite a sight. They often groom and lick each other and snuggle together. When they are feeling energetic, they may wrestle and chase each other.

When selecting your gerbils you should either take them from one family group or take 4- to 6-week-old gerbils. If they are any older, it will be almost impossible for them to grow accustomed to each other because they become fixated on their group's odor. The odor of their own social group is the most important means of recognition among all rodents.

Male or Female? The question of your gerbil's sex becomes important only if you are planning to breed them. It is better to adopt two females rather than two males. Intact males have a tendency to fight when they mature. Although you can neuter a male gerbil, you will probably want to avoid the extra cost and potential risk to your pet.

Sexual differences in gerbils are most visible in naked, new-born young than ones that have fur; even in these tiny rodent babies, the gap between the anus and the genital opening can be seen clearly. Here's how to differentiate the sexes:

  • In females, the distance between the anus and the genital opening is much smaller than in males. Females also have two rows of tiny teats along their stomachs.
  • In males, the testicles are visible and can be felt at the base of the tail.

Young or Old? Gerbils have a short life span, so you should only purchase young animals. They can be taken from their mother when they are from 4- to 6-weeks old.

Basic RulesĀ for Choosing Your Gerbil

Purchasing any pet can be an emotional decision. When selecting your gerbil, remember: choose from your head, not just your heart; both you and your gerbil will be happier for it.

To help you with that, follow these basic rules:

  • If a child is making the selection, remember their choice is usually based on sight and emotion. They also can be easily overwhelmed by too many choices. If it is vital for your child to pick the pet, pre-select several options, put them in a separate room and then have your child choose.
  • Choose a time to view your potential pet. Call ahead to the pet store, breeder, or shelter and find out when their feeding and adoption times are. Ask what the best viewing time would be. Some will allow you to come at feeding time and help feed with the feeding.
  • Allow for an adjustment period. Leave yourself adequate time for introductions if you have other pets. Your new addition will need to be left alone for a while so he can acclimate himself to his new surroundings in peace.
  • Don't wait until you bring your gerbil home before setting up his space. Have everything ready so that when you come home you can attend to your gerbil. He will need a quiet room to settle in before he has company.

Now that you have purchased your gerbil you have to transport him safely home. Carrying containers made of transparent plastic with a barrel lid and two handles are good for transporting your gerbil. If you buy a slightly larger box, you will have a spare cage, which can also be used as temporary housing. You should also use litter, tissue or hay to keep your gerbil from sliding and injuring himself. Keep the container upright and out of the sun. This will make him feel more secure.

During a short trip it is not necessary to add food because he won't eat anyway owing to the stress of moving. Be aware that the cardboard or paper cartons supplied by pet stores will rarely stand up to the gnawing teeth of a gerbil. This means that your new pet could easily escape on the journey home.

Making the Choice

With careful observation and the help of the following checklist, you should be able to tell if your gerbil is healthy. Before you make your final selection, thoroughly examine your gerbil for the following:

  • The key temperamental quality to seek out is curiosity. Hold the baby gerbils. You'll need both hands because they'll try to run away at first. Once you've got hold of one, she should give you a thorough once-over, sniffing your hands and looking at you with clear, large eyes.
  • Her tail should be as long as her body, with a burst of fur at the end, and the fur should be soft and clean. She should have a well-formed, stocky body.
  • Avoid a gerbil that bites you or has bite marks on her skin because this could indicate a bad disposition. It could also indicate that the store or breeder facilities are overcrowded and unhealthy. Along these lines, look for depressed, listless gerbils or signs of diarrhea, which could signal disease.
  • A gerbil's nose must be clean and free from scabs or discharge. Avoid an animal that has a sore, red or bleeding nose, an indication of an infection or an allergy to his bedding.
  • Dry or ruffled fur and runny or dull eyes signal a sick animal.
  • Sometimes a healthy gerbil will seem depressed if she's been alone for too long. Consider giving her a chance if she perks up when you pet her. If her fur and eyes appear good, chances are she's healthy, just lonely.

A Final Word

You should arrange to visit your vet on the way home from picking up your new gerbil. The vet will check him to be sure he is healthy and answer any questions you may have.

Know how to properly handle your gerbil. It will take time for your gerbil to learn that the hand that usually picks him up from above does not signify danger. Allow your gerbil to sniff your hand to give him confidence, rather than trying to pick him up straight away. It is better to retain a gerbil by his tail until he has developed real trust. Remember that being grasped in that way is unpleasant for the animal. Hold your gerbil by the tail only briefly, grasping him at the base near the body. Support him with your other hand so that he is not left dangling by his tail. Gerbils should not be held this way because their tails are easily damaged.

When choosing your gerbil, using a little bit of common sense mixed with your instincts, will guarantee the best chance of you and your gerbil living happily ever after.