Gerbils: how to tame

Taming a gerbil requires some patience to gain their trust, but it will make handling your gerbils much easier and it is also extremely rewarding.

Here are some simple steps to follow:

  • Give new gerbils a few days to adjust to their new home before handling them – keep maintenance and interaction to a minimum.
  • Move slowly and speak softly around the gerbils.
  • Limit interaction to times when the gerbil is awake – waking a gerbil isn’t a good way to gain its trust!
  • Initially just sit next to cage to acclimate gerbils to your presence.
  • Offer a treat (sunflower or pumpkin seeds) when the gerbil approaches the cage bars.
  • Once the gerbil take treats from your hand through the bars of the cage, open the cage door and offer a treat through that.
  • Once taking treats this way, place a treat on your open hand to entice the gerbil to step up onto your hand to retrieve it.
  • Place a treat on your forearm and allow the gerbil to climb onto your hand and up your arm.
  • When your gerbil is comfortable with your hand, try gently scratching the sides and back of the head – this immitates the natural grooming behaviour of gerbils.
  • Avoid chasing or grabbing the gerbils to get them back into their cage if they have been out. Rather, try to entice the gerbils back with their favorite treats or try to gently herd them back to the cage.
  • Handle your gerbils regularly to keep them well socialised.
  • Gerbils are active and curious and will appreciate daily time outside the cage.

Gerbil fans say that gerbils make good pets due to their temperament, and ease of care. They tend to be easily tamed and are not as skittish as some other small rodents.

They also aren’t as inclined to bite unless threatened (as always there are exceptions), and are easy to handle. Coming from a dry natural habitat they are designed to conserve water, so produce scant urine and dry droppings, making it fairly easy to keep their cage fresh and clean.

They go through several sleep/active cycles in the course of 24 hours, although they do tend to be more active at night. They are very curious and will explore anything, and can be quite entertaining. Gerbils are social animals, living in colonies in the wild, so do not do well as a solitary pet.

Keeping a same sex pair (litter mates usually do well together) is much preferred. If you have a single older gerbil, it can be difficult to introduce a new one though as they are quite territorial.