In captivity, gerbils eat a mixture of grains, seeds, nuts, and dried vegetables. But some foods can make gerbils fat, while other foods are healthy.
Fatty foods, like nuts and sunflower seeds, can make your gerbil fat if eaten to excess. A lack of exercise also contributes to weight gain. To help an overweight gerbil to lose weight, change its diet to a less fattening gerbil food mix. Provide a running wheel or exercise ball for regular exercise.
The average healthy weight of a gerbil is around 80g to 110g, although this differs between males and females. Overweight gerbils don’t tend to pass away much younger than fitter gerbils.
Obesity in Gerbils
In the harsh wilds of Mongolia, there’s not much to eat apart from grasses and grains. Gerbils have to forage all day to get enough. Gerbils don’t eat meat, and fatty seeds and nuts are rare. This means wild gerbils don’t easily get fat.
But, in captivity, a gerbil can eat what you offer it. So, if you provide it the wrong kinds of food, your gerbil can quickly pile on weight.
There’s also the issue of exercise. In nature, gerbils dig their own burrows. They run around when playing, and have to escape from predators. They may have to move around all day when searching for food. Your gerbil doesn’t get any of this exercise in an enclosure.
All of this means that gerbils can get fat in captivity. But when cared for properly, you can avoid the worst of this issue.
What Weight Should Gerbils Be?
Like all animals, gerbils have a natural healthy weight range. According to Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals, for males, this range is between 80 and 135 grams. For females, this range is between 70 and 110 grams. Any heavier than this and your gerbil may experience weight issues.
The weight of gerbils varies. There are several reasons why:
- The different sexes are different weights, with males being bigger
- Some gerbils are naturally bigger or smaller than others
- A gerbil’s weight can fluctuate based on when it went to the toilet, when it last ate, or what time of day it is
So, don’t worry if your gerbil doesn’t weigh the ‘correct’ amount. Its weight may fluctuate back to a healthy level by the next time you weigh it. If your gerbil is consistently overweight, that’s bad.
My Gerbil Looks Swollen, Is It Overweight?
Being overweight isn’t the only reason that your gerbil might be swollen. Gerbils are similar to people: they may not be overweight, but bloated. The difference between excess weight and bloating is that bloating happens suddenly.
Bloating can occur as a result of bacterial infection. If anything, this is more serious than a weight problem. Bacterial gut infections are a medical emergency, and your gerbil will need antibiotics.
According to Experimental Animals, another reason why your gerbil’s stomach might be bloated is a tumor. Tumors affect a gerbil’s scent gland, which is in the middle of its tummy. These don’t appear suddenly, but over time, so can be mistaken for excess weight.
The final reason your gerbil may be bloated is pregnancy. Gerbils don’t appear pregnant until the last few days of their pregnancy, which only lasts a month or so.
If you’re not sure what the problem is, the safest solution is to contact a vet. They will tell you exactly what’s wrong, and what you can do to fix it.
Are My Gerbils Too Fat?
The easiest way to tell if a gerbil is overweight is through comparison. If you’ve owned gerbils for a long time, you’ll know what a heavy or underweight gerbil looks like. You can also compare the gerbil to the other gerbils in the same enclosure.
There are signs you can look out for that a gerbil is overweight. These are if your gerbil is too heavy and too large, and if it’s eating too much.
However, weight isn’t too much of a problem. Gerbils regulate their own weight by controlling how much they eat. You can also easily fix your gerbil’s weight issue by changing what you feed it.
And besides that, gerbils don’t live long. So, they don’t get much chance to become overweight. And if they do, it has few effects. Even the most overweight gerbils will only pass away a little early, i.e. a month or two earlier on average.
How to Spot an Overweight Gerbil
The first sign that your gerbil is overweight is that it looks overweight. You can tell by looking that one gerbil is bigger than another. You can also tell by holding the gerbil in your hand. This becomes easy once you’re used to owning gerbils.
However, you shouldn’t base your gerbil’s diet on just suspicions. You should be scientific, and weigh your gerbil regularly to see whether it’s gaining or losing weight. This is easy, even if your gerbil is active and won’t stay still.
You’ll need digital scales to do this accurately. You may already have digital kitchen scales at home, but if you don’t, they’re perfect for weighing gerbils. To see how much your gerbil weighs, put it in a bowl and place it on the scales.
If your gerbil doesn’t like staying still, put it in a small but comfortable box. You can weigh the box first to see how much it weighs, and then take that amount away from the total. It should only take a few seconds to get the measurement, so your gerbil won’t be too uncomfortable.
Make a note of how much your gerbil weighs in a record book, writing it down each week. This will tell you whether your gerbil is gaining weight, losing weight, or maintaining weight.
Are Some Gerbils Fatter than Others?
Some gerbils are naturally fatter than others, while some are naturally thinner. This happens with all animals. Build can vary as animals can have a stocky frame or big bones, for example.
This is the case with gerbils as it is with other animals. Gerbil males, especially, are ‘chosen’ by natural selection to be as big as they can. This helps a male fight off other males, and find a partner to mate with.
The same applies to gerbils that are smaller. When a gerbil litter is born, they almost immediately start feeding. But if one is weaker than the rest, its siblings will push it out of the way to feed. It gets less food.
The runt of the litter rarely gets no food at all. But over time, it gets much less than its siblings. It ends up much smaller than it could have been. The others, by comparison, are fatter.
None of this is cause for alarm, though. Your gerbils will all be different weights. What is a problem is when your gerbil is consistently overeating.
How to Make a Gerbil Lose Weight
If your gerbil is overweight, it’s best for its health that you help it lose that weight. This is your job, because, in captivity, your gerbil has everything provided for it. Your gerbil gets its food in a bowl, or sprinkled through the bedding. There are no predators to run from.
This means that your gerbil will only lose weight if you help it to. There are two ways this can be done: either through lowered calorie intake, or increased exercise levels. Use both methods to achieve the best results, and help your gerbils be as healthy as possible.
How to Put a Gerbil on a Diet
The easiest fix for an overweight gerbil is for you to change what you feed it. This might sound too simplistic, but it’s true. If you haven’t fully researched what gerbils need, you’re likely feeding your pet the wrong food anyway.
Gerbil foods need to be balanced, like the foods of other animals, and the food we eat. This means that the food needs a mixture of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. If you get this mix wrong, the gerbil could end up fatter than it should be.
Gerbils also need a mixture of vitamins and minerals in their food. These won’t help your gerbil lose weight, but they are essential for good health.
Either way, all gerbils should be fed a diet of gerbil food mix. These mixes are available either from reputable pet stores or from online. They usually contain things like:
- Alfalfa, maize, wheat, and other grains
- Flaked grains like cornflakes
- Beans and pulses lie soya
- Whole seeds, like pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
- Dried vegetables like carrots and peas
- Dried fruits like raisins
The idea of such a variety is that some foods are high in carbs, while some are high in fats or protein. Grains are high in carbohydrates, for example, while according to Chemistry Central Journal sunflower seeds have lots of fat. This also ensures that your gerbil gets lots of different vitamins.
How to Get a Gerbil to Exercise
Aside from monitoring your gerbil’s diet, you can also make it exercise more frequently. The idea is not that your gerbil will eat less, but that it will burn off the calories it does eat. This is highly effective, and it’s good for general health too.
Fortunately, gerbils are naturally active animals. They are skittish, so are quick to run. They also run when they get excited, which is often. So, you won’t need to encourage your gerbil to move quickly, even if it’s overweight.
The best way to get your gerbil to exercise is by getting it an exercise wheel. Gerbils can run in wheels like hamsters can. A wheel will allow your gerbil to approach its top speed when running, which burns the most calories.
You can easily get your gerbil the wrong kind of wheel, though. Issues you can run into include:
- Plastic wheels. Gerbils chew on anything in their enclosure. If they chew on plastic, it enters their system, which is bad for them.
- Wheels with too many gaps and cracks. Sometimes, the wheel has gaps between the slats it’s made from. Your gerbil’s tail can get stuck in these cracks, which can cause major damage.
These are good reasons why you may not want to buy a wheel. Like all things, you have to consider the benefits and drawbacks before you make your decision.
Other Ways to Get Your Gerbil to Exercise
You could also get your gerbil an exercise ball. These are similar to exercise wheels, except they don’t go in your gerbil’s cage. Instead, you put your gerbil inside it when you take it out of its enclosure.
The issues with exercise balls are similar to those of exercise wheels. Because your gerbil needs to breathe, exercise balls have small slits in their sides. Your gerbil’s tail can get caught in them.
If you don’t want to get a running wheel or exercise ball, let your gerbil out of its enclosure to run around. To do this, you have to prepare your room by shutting off any exits and hiding places. But if you did this every day with your gerbil, it would run around happily exploring.
There’s no point starving your gerbil and giving it almost no food. This would help it lose weight, but your gerbil would be unhappy. Instead, create a healthy feeding plan for all your gerbils.