Knowing Your Small Pets: A Guide to Gerbil Behavior

Pet Gerbils make great companions, but understanding their behavioral patterns will make a close pet even closer. Here’s a short guide to help you do just this.

Pet Gerbils may seem like very simple and easily understood animals. For such a small pet, though, they exhibit an enormous range of behaviors that indicate the potential for a close relationship with both their owners and other gerbils. If you can learn to identify these behavioral patterns, you and your gerbil can grow to be great friends!

Here are some common gerbil behavioral patterns:

Belly Rubbing: A common gerbil behavior is to rub his stomach up on objects and surfaces in his habitat. This is a way of marking territory, as gerbils have a gland on their abdomen that leaves behind a distinct scent.

Nose Rubbing: Another common behavior of gerbils involves them rubbing their noses on other gerbils, or even trying to rub noses with their owners. Gerbils use this action as a greeting and a way to get to know each other. Feel free to rub noses with your pet.

Eye winking: Gerbils often wink as a sign of contentment or appreciation. It seems silly, but feel free to join in and wink back; your gerbil will recognize it as a sign of happiness.

Purring: Similar to eye-winking, purring is a sign gerbils use to indicate they are satisfied. Your gerbil may purr when you are petting or cuddling him.

Thumping: Sometimes, your gerbil will stomp his back legs against the ground, making a surprisingly loud noise. This is actually a warning sign used by gerbils to alert each other to predators. Perhaps your gerbil has spotted your cat or dog approaching the gerbil cage. Your gerbil may also be mistaking you for a predator. Try to avoid this by approaching him cautiously and handling him gently. A loud squeaking noise similarly indicates danger.

Gnawing: You will notice that your gerbil spends a lot of time chewing things over; sometimes everything in his cage! This is a natural behavior for gerbils and is essentially done to keep their teeth healthy. Encourage gnawing by providing your gerbil with appropriate chewables: untreated wood, cardboard tubes, and specially designed chew toys.

Licking: If your pet is licking his gerbil cage or tank walls, this is a sign that he is thirsty. Your pet should always have a source of cool, clean water.

If you learn to read these behavioral patterns and react appropriately, you and your gerbil will get along amazingly. You may even be able to train your small pet to take food right from your hand.