A basic introduction to keeping Gerbils as Pets
Gerbils are cute and cuddly, and they are social animals
that should live with other gerbils. But they are one of the
most territorial species of the normally territorial rodent
family, and an unsuspecting owner who has only one gerbil
but then decides it is lonely and buys their little friend a
pal may be in for a rude awakening. If he puts them in one
tank together he will likely then see an immediate fight
that may lead to death for one or both of the gerbils if
they are not separated immediately.
So, what can you do if you want to add new gerbils to your
collection? The secret is to introduce two unacquainted
gerbils without allowing them to fight. That is done most
easily by using a split-cage with a screen wall between the
two gerbils, so that they can get used to the sight and
smell of each other before they live together.
A simple but not very safe method of making a split tank is
to simply fold a piece of hardware cloth so that it will fit
down into an aquarium as a center partition. Many gerbil
owners have used that method. The problem with that is that
it can come loose when the gerbils climb on it and the
dreaded battle may ensue while you are asleep and unable to
intervene, or even after you open the lid to feed and water
the gerbils and one runs up over the divider to attack the
A better split tank that has a secure divider and a way to
open the top of one gerbil's cage without opening the other
side is not that hard to make for yourself. Here are some
suggestions from experienced gerbil keepers:
1. Choose a horizontal twenty to fifty gallon aquarium and
measure the inside width and height of the tank. Go to your
pet supply shop and buy a two-sided hinged aquarium lid that
will fit your tank tightly. These are often sold for reptile
tanks. Make sure they can be secured with latches so your
gerbils can't get out.
2. Now go to your favorite hardware store and ask for
"aluminum channel." It will be an aluminum bar shaped like
the letter U so that a piece of glass or whatever can be
slid into the slot and secured. Have the clerk cut the
aluminum channel into one length that is the width of your
tank, and two pieces that will fit the height, so that you
can make a frame into which you can slide a hardware cloth
3. While you are at the hardware store, also buy some tin
snips in case you need to trim the pieces, some aquarium
sealant to glue the channels to the tank, masking tape to
hold the channels as the sealant dries, and protective
gloves for yourself so you can't injure yourself on the cut
channel or while cutting the hardware cloth divider.
4. Once home, get ready to make the channels to hold your
divider. Once you have glued the channels in a U shape down
the center of the two tank sides and across the bottom so
they will hold your divider, let the sealant cure for ten
minutes and then trim off any exposed sealant so the gerbils
can't gnaw it later.
5. Wait at least two full days or until you can no longer
smell the sealant before doing more work on your tank, and
be sure not to put the gerbils into the tank until all the
sealant fumes are gone.
6. Once the aluminum channels are securely set, remove any
masking tape that held them, get your tin snips and hardware
cloth, and measure and cut your dividing wall. Be sure to
cut the hardware cloth so that it will fit snugly,
determined rodents sometimes have amazing powers.
7. When the split tank is ready, set up each side with
bedding, food and water and add gerbils. You will be able to
open one's cage for cleaning, food and water without risking
the escape of the other.
Last but not least, here is a recommended way to speed up
the adjustment: switch the gerbils from one side of the tank
to the other every day so that each gets used to the odor of
the other. You'll need another small cage to put the first
one into while you move the other to its side of the tank.
After two weeks, watch and see if the gerbils are sleeping
near each other on each side of the divider or trying to
groom each other through the divider. If so, get some sturdy
gloves in case you have to break up a fight despite all your
efforts, and then start the introductions. Make sure you
pick a day that you will be at home so that you can watch
the gerbils for a day to make sure no arguments ensue.
Have your small cage ready in case you have to isolate one
gerbil, and then slowly lift out the divider. One gerbil
will probably go over into the other side and they will
sniff each other for a while. If all is well, you will still
probably see some standing on hind legs and boxing, some
chasing and some squeaking, but they are just determining
which gerbil will be dominant.
Just be watching for these bad signs: * Biting * One gerbil
constantly chasing the other without stopping * One gerbil
running and squeaking in fear for an extended period *
Gerbils rolling up into a ball. This means they want to kill
If you see any of the above, remove one gerbil and maybe try
again with a different potential companion. Some gerbils
simply don't get along.
Once you see your gerbils grooming each other and sleeping
together, you are probably home free. Be sure not to clean
the tank or add toys other than paper tubes to the tank for
at least a week to keep the odors strong. Gerbils depend a
lot on odor for their social interaction cues.