can gerbils eat bird food?
Gerbil Food and Hydration

Can You Feed Gerbils Bird Food?

When you compare a gerbil and bird’s diet side by side, they seem relatively similar. After all, gerbils eat dry pellets and enjoy a selection of seeds and nuts. So, is bird food suitable for gerbils to eat?

While owners must only feed bird seed as an occasional treat, it’s a good source of calcium, and the rough textures can help your gerbil keep its teeth filed down. Bird seed also makes a tasty treat. However, it’s high in fat and low in carbs.

Gerbils have a more complex diet than you might think, so if you choose to feed your pet gerbil bird food, it must only be for a day or two until you can find suitable rodent food. Otherwise, your gerbil is at risk of vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition.

Can Gerbils Eat Bird Food?

While bird seed is suitable for gerbils in the smallest quantities, bird pellets don’t contain the right nutrients. Bird pellets are made with mealworms, suet, flours, and artificial flavorings. As a result, pellets are too high in fat and can make your gerbil malnourished.

Gerbils require a complex diet that’s rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. They also need a mixture of carbohydrates, fat, and protein to stay healthy.

A wild gerbil’s natural diet varies between the different species. There are many gerbil varieties that live in different parts of the world, so they forage for whatever’s available in their habitat.

However, the ideal diet for wild gerbils contains a mix of grass, leaves, seeds, roots, and bulbs. Wild gerbils eat insects on occasion, which are a good source of protein. Overall, a gerbil’s diet is higher in carbohydrates than any other nutrient, so you must replicate this in captivity.

In captivity, gerbils typically eat commercial food, which is designed to offer them all the minerals they need. Standard gerbil mixes contain:

  • Seeds
  • Beans
  • Grains
  • Dried vegetables
  • Fiber

Gerbil pellets look like small, dry biscuits, making them easy for gerbils to eat and digest. Alongside dry food, gerbils can eat fruits and vegetables as an occasional treat, including:

In comparison, standard bird seed contains a mix of seeds and nuts that are high in fat and carbohydrates. Dried bird seed mixes that contain some grains, nuts, and seeds are suitable for gerbils to eat, but only in strict moderation.

What’s In Bird Seed Mix?

Not all bird seed mixes are created equal. Some contain seeds, nuts, and other foods that aren’t as suitable for gerbils as others. While none are considered poisonous or toxic to gerbils, some seeds and nuts are more nutritionally dense than others.

As a result, look out for bird food that contains the following food items. As a top tip, you can purchase a standard bird seed mix and pick out all the foods that aren’t suitable.

can gerbils eat bird seed?

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are a favorite with gerbils. They’re also one of the main ingredients in most commercial bird seed mixes.

Sunflower seeds are high in fat and low in calcium. While that’s the case, they’re an excellent source of essential fat and protein. However, bear in mind that half of a sunflower seed is oil in weight. Too much can cause problems for gerbils.

Because gerbils love them so much, they’ll pick sunflower seeds out first, ignoring other seeds and nuts within the mix until that’s all that’s left.

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are even more nutritious than pumpkin flesh. They’re less fatty than other seeds, including sunflower seeds, as only a third of a pumpkin seed’s weight is oil. They also contain good levels of carbohydrates and protein.

Gerbils also need lots of fiber to keep their toilet habits regular. Luckily, pumpkin seeds are high in fiber, which helps keep a gerbil’s digestive system functioning efficiently. Pumpkin seeds also contain:

  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Calcium

As well as the nutrients, the outer shell of pumpkin seeds is fibrous and solid, providing gerbils with ample opportunity to wear down their teeth.

Wheat

Bird food is bulked out by wheat. This fills birds up and makes them feel less hungry. Flaked wheat is found in many gerbil mixes, so it’s safe to assume that wheat is fine for gerbils to eat, too.

Similarly, gerbils eat grains in the wild. They’re a good source of carbohydrates, providing enough energy for them to burrow extensive tunnels underground and exercise.

Dried Fruit

Gerbils love fruits, whether fresh or dry. Because the taste is more concentrated, it’s sweeter, satisfying a gerbil’s taste for tastier alternatives to their dry food.

Dried vegetables are found in most gerbil mixes, which suggests that dried fruits are perfectly safe for your gerbil to eat, too. Even dried raisins, which are toxic to some animals, are fine.

However, dried fruit is high in sugar, so too much will make your gerbil gain weight. As a result, your gerbil can’t have too much.

Cracked Corn

Many bird mixes contain cracked corn. Cracked corn provides an excellent texture for keeping the teeth filed down. Not only do gerbils love eating cracked corn, but they love playing with it.

Is Bird Seed Good For Gerbils To Eat?

Bird food isn’t all bad for gerbils. While it may not feel like a natural food choice for them, it does provide some benefits. As a result, you might want to consider the following things before feeding it to your gerbil, especially if you only have bird seed to hand:

Calcium

Some bird seeds are fortified with extra calcium to keep birds healthy. Some brands also add sesame seeds to their mixes, which are relatively high in calcium.

While most gerbil mixes contain calcium, bird food makes a good substitute if you’ve run out of your rodent’s regular food. However, we must stress that you shouldn’t rely on bird seed as your gerbil’s sole calcium provider.

Like most other mammals, gerbils need calcium for strong bones and healthy teeth. Without it, they’re at risk of developing soft, brittle bones. Therefore, bird food can provide a healthy calcium boost when your gerbil needs it the most.

Tasty Treat Food

Gerbils get bored of eating the same foods every day. While standard gerbil pellets provide your rodent with the essential nutrients they need, adding treat foods, such as seeds and nuts, is a great way to add some flavor and enjoyment to your gerbil’s diet.

Some gerbils love the taste of seeds and nuts, particularly sunflower seeds and monkey nuts. While it’s not healthy to change your gerbil’s diet too often, adding treat foods is a good way to satisfy your gerbil without throwing their nutritional balance out of sync.

Keeps Teeth Filed Down

Gerbils have teeth that continuously grow. As a result, they must keep them filed down to a reasonable length to prevent tooth overgrowth. The tooth grows from the bottom, and the gerbil grinds it from the top.

Most gerbils keep their teeth nicely trimmed by nibbling on tough foods. Bird food contains nuts and seeds that make it possible for gerbils to do this. It also discourages them from using their cage’s bars and easily-breakable plastic toys as a teeth file.

Similarly, if gerbils can’t keep their teeth filed down, they exhibit stereotypies. These are repeated behaviors that signify the gerbil’s unhappiness with its environment. Good-quality bird food can help prevent this.

Is Bird Seed Bad for Gerbils?

While bird food has its benefits, there are also plenty of risks to consider before feeding it to your gerbil. It’s not the healthiest of foods, and it’s not the most natural for gerbils to eat.

So, before you provide it as a treat, you must understand the risks associated with bird food. This includes:

High in Fat

Bird food is high in fat and contains seeds that are approximately 50% oil. Gerbils need fat for their fat stores, but they don’t need this much. If you were to feed your gerbil bird food too much or too often, it would quickly gain weight.

Fatty nuts and seeds are rare in the wild, so they’re not a natural part of a gerbil’s diet. As a result, you must emulate these conditions by only feeding your gerbil a small selection of bird food at a time.

Gerbils regulate their body weight by controlling how much they eat. However, this becomes more difficult for them when they have access to an abundance of food. Unfortunately, it’s easy for gerbil owners to overfeed their pets.

According to the Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals, a healthy weight for male gerbils is between 80 and 135 grams, while a healthy female should be between 70 and 110 grams.

feeding gerbils bird food

Low in Carbohydrates

The majority of a gerbil’s diet should contain carbohydrates – gerbils need approximately 80% of their daily calories from carbs to function.

While bird seed is high in fat and protein, it’s surprisingly low in carbs. It’s difficult for gerbils to find high-fat, high-protein foods in the wild, so it’s not natural for them to eat foods that are so low in carbohydrates.

As a result, when gerbils are fed too much bird seed, they’re at risk of lethargy and energy loss. Without the energy from carbs they need to function, they can become sedentary, leading to weight gain and health conditions associated with obesity.

Malnourishment

According to the National Academic Press, gerbils require a delicate nutritional balance consisting of carbohydrates for energy, fat for their fat stores, and protein for muscle growth. If these nutrients are thrown off balance, they can become sick or malnourished. 

Similarly, because bird food is so densely packed with fat, it’s devoid of essential vitamins that gerbils need, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Hard Shell

While hard nut and seed shells are great for filing down teeth, they easily fly off when the gerbil cracks the shell open, injuring the gerbil’s delicate eye or hurting one of its tankmates.

As a result, you might want to consider de-shelling the nuts and seeds before feeding them to your gerbil. If the nuts and seeds are tough enough, gerbils can file their teeth down on the edible part.

Can Gerbils Eat Parrot Food?

Captive parrots enjoy a diet of nutritionally-dense pellets, which make up around 75-80% of their diet. Pellets are considered a complete food for parrots, as they’re formulated to contain all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients captive parrots need to stay healthy.

As parrots and gerbils are quite clearly very different animals, their nutritional needs aren’t the same. As a result, gerbils that are fed parrot pellets are at risk of malnourishment.

That being said, parrot pellets do contain some of the same vitamins gerbils need, including vitamin A. However, leafy greens are a better source of essential vitamins for gerbils and are easier for them to eat and digest.

While parrot food isn’t particularly healthy for gerbils, eating a small amount won’t kill your gerbil. If parrot food is all you have, it’s better to feed your gerbil parrot food for a day or two than let it starve.

Bird food isn’t too bad for gerbils, as long as you’re feeding seed and nut mixes and not pellets. While it shouldn’t be a permanent substitute for formulated gerbil mixes, it’s OK to provide if you’ve run out of your regular gerbil food. Only feed a small handful at a time to prevent your gerbil from becoming fat or malnourished.