We adopted two female gerbils, about 6 to 8 weeks old, from our local store about six months ago. We were told they were siblings, and they got along beautifully until about a month ago. Brownie, our nutmeg, began to bully and chase Jumps, our dove and white gerbil. This usually occurred during and right after time out of the cage in our “gerbil-proof” room. Things would escalate, with Brownie sometimes not allowing Jumps out of the nest box, or lots of squeaking, chasing and thumping, but then calm would be seemingly restored. They were still nesting together.
Now that I’ve done more research, I know that Jumps, the more adventurous one, may have picked up strange scents from her much longer out-of-tank experiences. Also, though the tank was being cleaned only with hot water, we had neglected to save some of the old nest material or substrate to maintain a scent reference. In addition, I think their 20-gallon tank setup may have been too complex, as it had two nest boxes as well as a couple of logs designed for reptiles. We simplified the cage and stopped letting them out to play (temporarily, we hoped). Things did seem to calm down, until Brownie drew blood with a nasty bite to Jumps’ back. Even after that, they seemed OK for a while, but then the mad chasing, bullying and imprisoning in the nest box began anew. This after a new type of food was just put into their bowl.
They are now in our hastily devised split-cage until we think they can be safely re-introduced. What are their chances for a permanent reconciliation? This is stressful for my children and the whole family, as we don’t know if we can trust them together even if they do seem to reconcile. We know that declanning females will fight to the death, and the worry about unexpectedly discovering beloved pets in a bloody/grisly state is upsetting. What should we do? We are thinking of giving one or both away, but no one seems to want them. We don’t want to keep two in separate housing. If we can only keep one, which should we keep? We are on day six of a split-cage, and they are still scent-marking along the mesh divider, and trying to dig through or get across. No real signs of reconciliation, except that they are nesting alongside each other at the back of the divider, but only after we moved their nesting material there. We took everything else out except water bottles, substrate, tissue, scatter-fed food, chew sticks, timothy hay, and toilet paper rolls.
I commend you for doing your research to understand why gerbils declan and trying to prevent it.
You have hit on some of the major reasons for gerbil declanning: a gerbil gets a funny smell on herself, the housing setup is too complex, and there is some object that the gerbils are getting territorial over. Another reason is that there is not enough food or the water bottle is flaky. So giving plenty of food and replacing or adding a second water bottle are both good ideas as well.
However, given that you have tried all of these avenues, I suggest you pull in an expert. The American Gerbil Society (AGS) has gerbil breeders across the country who often help people with introducing gerbils, taming gerbils and other issues. Find a breeder at the listing on its website.
It sounds like you have two gerbils with very different temperaments: one boisterous and assertive, the other timid and passive. A breeder may well be willing to pair up one of your gerbils with another of the same temperament for you and then keep the other gerbil to pair and place with another family.
If this doesn’t work out, I recommend building a permanent split cage. Very important: Just make sure that the gerbils cannot get to the other side! Another option is to set up two cages side by side. Some gerbils make better neighbors than roommates.
Good luck, I hope that your gerbils are a source of fun and enjoyment for your family again soon.