By Donna Anastasi
Gerbils are active, curious, bold, friendly pets that love playing with toys, a gerbil friend and you. A 20-gallon long aquarium setup with a mesh-wire lid is a wonderful environment for a gerbil pair. It provides space for them to run, climb and explore the various activities and equipment you give them. The glass housing lets you enjoy watching these busy, fun-loving animals at play. If space is limited, gerbils do fine when housed in a 10- to 15-gallon setup as long as they are given plenty of opportunity to exercise and have fun both in and out of their housing.
Playtime Inside The Habitat
A simple gift or offering will make your gerbils’ day. In the mind of the gerbil, the ultimate toy is an empty paper towel or toilet tissue tube. Drop one into their housing, and your gerbils will immediately rush to investigate, then climb over and through it, and finally settle, one gerbil on each end, to gnaw it to bits. Gerbils make interesting patterns with their gnawing on a tube; if you remove it mid-chew, you may get a nice sculpture to paint and display. In the winter months, try folding a snowflake out of white paper and having your gerbil gnaw a lacy pattern — don’t forget to remove it, before it “melts” away completely.
You can provide gerbils activities, right in their housing, that allow them to express behaviors of their wild ancestors that lived on the plains of Mongolia. These activities include climbing, digging, burrowing, running, rolling, chewing and nesting. Gerbils are surprisingly good climbers. I’ve found that offering a kiln-dried branch or play structure from the time they are babies (called “pups”) increases gerbils’ climbing athleticism.
Use these three ideas to make your gerbils champion climbers:
- Take a branch sold for reptiles and prop it in one corner of the housing (it should have no holes or ones big enough for a gerbil to easily fit through)
- Add a small, wire mouse cage, with the doors permanently removed, inside the gerbils’ housing as a jungle gym
- Install a tank topper, which is a cage that fits above an aquarium and has a ramp leading down to the ground floor; this immediately doubles the housing size
Other materials that bring out the Mongolian gerbil in your domestic pet are deep, 3-inch bedding for digging; timothy or alfalfa hay which, when nibbled, produces a catnip-like response and makes gerbils extra frisky; chinchilla dust in a shallow bowl to roll and fluff in; a wooden nest box in one corner to hide in, sleep in and chew; and unscented toilet tissue to build a huge, soft, whipped cream-shaped nest.
Playtime Outside The Habitat, But Not Outdoors
Gerbils should never go outdoors to play. Their quick, agile and fearless nature will lead them to disappear for good. But you can still give your gerbils a break from tank-living. Gerbils absolutely love it when you gerbil-proof an indoor area outside of their housing that allows them to run at full speed.
Possibilities for gerbil-safe, escape-proof spaces include the landing of a stairway, a bathroom (with towels strategically stuffed to block any unplanned exits), a bathtub lined with a beach towel or an area in a room penned in with a small animal fence (sold in most pet stores). Note the gerbils can easily climb over a fence that is 1 foot or even 2 feet high, but will learn not to if told “Awk” or “No” and gently pushed back a few times. Provide obstacles for the gerbils to run over, under and through inside the play area. This is a nice introduction to running an obstacle course if you want to teach your gerbils agility (oh yes, gerbils can do agility!).