Gerbils love to dig and are excellent chewers! They therefore require a sturdy enclosure that can hold deep substrate for burrowing, so a tank set-up is really the only option. Hamster cages are not suitable as the bases can be chewed through and they do not provide enough depth for burrowing. You will need at least 8 inches of substrate in your tank for optimum digging potential!
A pair of gerbils should be housed in a tank of at least 75 litres capacity (20 US gallons), but you should seek to exceed this where possible. We strongly advise choosing a 3ft x 1ft x 1ft tank as a minimum. These can be found cheaply on second hand selling sites, and you can just add your own mesh lid. If you want somewhere to easily hang a water bottle you could add a hamster cage or gerbilarium topper on to the mesh lid.
Most gerbilariums sold in pet stores are far too small, however there are a few larger models available online:
DIY options are usually a lot cheaper, unless you can find a good 2nd hand version of one of the above! You can add a mesh lid or use the topper from an unsuitable gerbil cage or hamster cage to add a tank topper.
The IKEA Detolf glass cabinet is also an excellent option – you just need some DIY skills to create a mesh lid. Below is our detolf set-up for mice, to give you an example. Gerbils would require deeper substrate.
Sawdust and woodshavings (unless the shavings are aspen-based or kiln-dried such as Bedmax/Littlemax) are not recommended as these can cause respiratory issues. Paper, cardboard, or hemp based bedding are suitable alternatives. We have found that mixing in dust extracted meadow hay with cardboard or paper based bedding holds tunnels well. Gerbils need at least 8 inches of substrate to provide sufficient burrowing depth!
Gerbils should be fed around 1 tbsp each of a good quality food mix, scattered across their substrate, once a day. Scatter feeding encourages their natural foraging behaviour.
The food mix should be supplemented with fresh veggies a few times a week, and you can feed the odd mealworm once or twice a week too. We also provide dried herbs and flowers as treats.
Gerbils are intelligent and active rodents, whose main aim is to dig and burrow! Providing sufficient burrowing space with at least 8 inches of substrate is therefore your starting point for enrichment.
Anything within your gerbils set-up needs to be safe if chewed, so plastic is a no-no. Go for cardboard and wooden/natural toys and accessories instead. If you choose to include a wheel, choose a wooden one with a diameter of 28cm.
Gerbils will enjoy a sandbath – we use glass cookie jars for this and encourage you to provide one.