Both cats and gerbils are very popular pets in America. Many owners want to keep cats and gerbils kept together in the same home, but want to know how to avoid the obvious pitfalls.
Gerbils are preyed on by wildcats in their native habitat, so don’t like cats. Cats instinctually attack and eat small rodents, so your gerbil is at risk of being killed. Cats may also be afraid of your gerbil’s foot drumming. If you have a multi-pet household, you must get a cat-proof gerbil’s cage.
We’ll look at the different ways to keep your gerbil safe from your mischievous cat. Keep your cat locked in another room any time you handle your gerbil. Ensure that your gerbil’s cage has narrow bars a cat can’t reach through. Place its cage somewhere inaccessible for your cat.
Do Gerbils Like Cats?
Gerbils don’t like cats, and are frightened of them. Cats are bigger than gerbils. According to the Compendium on Continuing Education for the Practising Veterinarian, cats are natural predators.
Furthermore, gerbils have predators that are similar to house cats. This gives gerbils an instinctual adverse reaction towards cats.
This dislike is reflected in your gerbil’s behavior. The first time it will see your cat, it will begin foot drumming. This is a warning signal that all gerbils know, which means ‘There’s a predator nearby!’ This behavior originated in the wild, but is found in captivity too.
If the cat comes closer, the gerbils will get louder and eventually run and hide. They will stay in their burrows until the cat goes away. However, cats don’t like this drumming noise and are afraid of it, so likely won’t come any closer.
However, not all gerbils dislike cats. If your gerbil has lived in a home with lots of cats for a long time, then it won’t mind being around them. Vice versa, the cat may not want to kill the gerbil, either.
Why Are Gerbils Afraid of Cats?
Wild animals are afraid of anything they don’t understand, or other bigger animals. That’s because animals that are wary of bigger threats survive and pass on their genes. Fearless animals stand a greater chance of being attacked and eaten.
Gerbils have several predators, the most common of which are birds of prey and snakes. Gerbils aren’t like the dodo, living somewhere that there aren’t any predators higher in the food chain. So, gerbils know that there are animals out there that may attack them.
Gerbils have a built-in desire to avoid larger animals. Cats, being bigger, are scary to a gerbil.
Gerbils Are Skittish
Gerbils are afraid of most things at first. When you took your pet home for the first time, no doubt, it was scared of you. You can also frighten your pet by standing up too fast, turning on the TV, or speaking too loudly. It’s no wonder that gerbils are afraid of cats too, because:
- Cats can leap quickly from one place to another
- Cats can make loud noises like yowls and meows
- Cats can do unexpected things
So, no, your gerbil won’t be friends with your cat, at least not at first. It’s possible that if your cat doesn’t act on its instincts and attack your gerbil, your gerbil could get used to it like it got used to you. But this is unlikely.
Wild Cats in Mongolia
Gerbils do encounter cats in the wild. According to National Geographic, in Mongolia, there’s a kind of wild cat called Pallas’s cat. It’s native to the steppe, like gerbils are, and looks like a bigger and fluffier version of a domestic cat.
Pallas’s cat feeds on gerbils in the wild. They are ambush hunters that wait behind grasses and rocks, as still as possible. When a prey item walks by, the cat will leap out and try to catch it.
Your gerbil won’t like domestic cats because they look like these wild cats. Your gerbil has learned over thousands of years to avoid these cats. That instinct can’t be erased by being in captivity.
Do Cats Kill Gerbils?
In the wild, cats feed on small rodents, among other things. There are several reasons why. Rodents are common where cats live, they’re small and easy to catch for an agile cat, and they provide a good-sized meal.
House cats have long since been domesticated. But according to the NPS, that doesn’t mean they have entirely lost their instincts. They still hunt if they get the chance. There is a risk that your cat could kill your gerbil.
How your cat reacts to your gerbil depends on the cat. Some cats act on their instincts more freely than others. So, for example, some will go out hunting for birds while others won’t show the same inclination.
The same applies to cats and small furry pets. There are several ways that your cat could initially react to your gerbil:
- Your cat won’t care, which is a cat’s initial reaction to most things
- Your cat will be curious, sniffing the gerbil and figuring out what it is
- Your cat will immediately attack your gerbil
- Your cat will be frightened of the gerbil
It’s surprisingly common for cats to be afraid of gerbils. That’s because gerbils will react immediately to a cat by foot thumping. This loud noise is confusing and scary for your cat, so it will steer clear.
Also, gerbils are slightly larger than the average cat’s preferred prey. Cats like to hunt for tiny field mice, which are perhaps two inches long. Gerbils are twice the size, which makes it harder for a cat to hunt.
So, cats could kill gerbils but aren’t as likely to kill them as they are with mice or shrews.
Do Cats Eat Gerbils?
If your cat attacks your gerbil, it may not eat it. Cats hunt in two ways: either to get food, or to play. That’s where the idea of a cat toying with its prey comes from. It may bat it around for a while, not eating it, and perhaps not even killing it.
However, it’s not a given that your cat would treat your gerbil this way. Your cat may eat your gerbil if left alone and allowed to do what it wants. If you have an outdoor cat, you may have already seen your cat do something similar to wild rodents.
This is what cats have evolved to do. They are efficient and effective hunters. Even a calm and gentle lap cat can turn into a hunter in an instant. And this hunting instinct can drive a cat to eat rodents. So, if your cat attacked and caught your gerbil, it may try to eat it.
Are Cats Afraid of Gerbils?
It is also possible that your cat will be afraid of your gerbil(s). Your cat’s initial reaction to your gerbil will likely be curiosity. But if it encounters anything that scares it, then it may be frightened of your gerbil from then on.
As stated above, the sound of foot thumping can be loud. Your cat won’t understand where the loud noise is coming from, which is the point of the behavior. It makes a predator think that a bigger animal is nearby. This can scare your cat into staying away from your gerbils altogether.
Cats are also wary of anything that moves fast. Gerbils scurry about quickly, especially when they’re excited or aggressive. Your cat may see this and think that your gerbil is scary.
Can You Train a Cat to Live with a Gerbil?
Cats aren’t known for their ability to train, although they can, to an extent. You can teach a cat how to roll over or beg, for example. But like with all animals, you can’t entirely erase a cat’s instincts.
Wild cats largely prey on small rodents like gerbils. As discussed above, Pallas’s cat lives in Mongolia and hunts gerbils to survive. But all wild cats feed on rodents. Some house cats were even bred to be better at hunting mice than their wild cousins (mouser cats).
You could theoretically give your cat a treat when it behaves well around your gerbil. However, it wouldn’t make the connection. Even if it could, you can only train your cat to an extent. So, you can’t train a cat to live with a gerbil and be sure that it’s worked.
That being said, perhaps your cat’s instincts won’t kick in. Your pets may grow used to each other. Check that they are calm around each other. Don’t allow your cat to stay near your gerbil’s cage if it’s in ‘hunting mode,’ with big wide eyes and a swishing tail.
Small Pets That Can Live with Cats
There are no small furry pets, like gerbils, that all cats will leave alone. If anything, it’s more likely that your cat would attack smaller rodents like hamsters and mice.
The only exception is the rat. Rats are bigger and stronger than other rodents, and can defend themselves against cats.
They have even bigger teeth than gerbils do, and which hurt even more. If a cat tried to attack a rat, the rat would be hurt. But the rat would give as good as it gets, and could severely injure the cat.
Again, this doesn’t mean that your cat will necessarily kill your gerbil, or any other small pet. But this does apply to most cats. So, do all you can to keep your cat away from your gerbil.
What to Do If Your Cat Attacks Your Gerbil
If a cat attacks your gerbil, you should immediately come to its assistance. If you don’t:
- The cat could begin to attack your gerbil in earnest, and try to kill it
- The cat could start eating your gerbil
- The gerbil could have a seizure or heart issue from the severe stress of being near a predator
Step in and separate the two. Picking up the gerbil will likely be easier than picking up your cat. The cat may not want to be touched when it’s hunting. It could react by scratching or biting you.
Take the gerbil and give it a once-over. Check for any wounds, especially ones from your cat’s teeth. Scratch marks will heal easily, but bite marks can quickly become infected. If there is a bite mark, wash it with antiseptic fluid.
If your gerbil is in good condition, put it back into its enclosure. It will probably want to run and hide in its burrow, which will make it feel better.
If your cat is holding the gerbil in its mouth, the process of separating the two won’t be easy. You must hold the cat from the rear of its head. If you’re right-handed, place your thumb on the left-hand side of your cat’s jaw, and your other fingers on the right side. Swap if left-handed.
Then, apply gentle pressure to each side. You should feel that your fingers and thumb push into your cat’s mouth cavity through its gums. This will gradually open your cat’s mouth. The gerbil should then drop free. Separate the two into different rooms afterwards.
How to Keep Cats Away from Gerbils
The best way to avoid this issue is not to keep both cats and gerbils. If you have a cat and are thinking of getting a gerbil, it would be a better idea not to. The same applies if you have a gerbil and are thinking of getting a cat.
The two can be kept together. But it’s unlikely that they’ll ever like each other. Instead, your pets will stress each other out, and there’s no guarantee that there won’t be an accident. But if you must keep the two together, here are some tips to follow:
- Keep a regular watch on your gerbils. Check them regularly to see how they are in their cage.
- Listen out for loud and squeaks. Gerbils squeak when frightened and when aggressive.
- Don’t allow the cat into the same room as the gerbils. If the cat is never allowed into the room where your gerbils live, it can’t attack them.
- Keep your cat locked in a separate room if you take your gerbils from their enclosure. This tactic will at least stop your cat attacking when your gerbils are most vulnerable.
Cat-Proof Your Gerbil’s Cage
Your gerbil’s cage must be secure so that your cat can’t reach inside of it, or get inside. It must also be secure so that the gerbil can’t get out when you’re not looking.
One of the easiest mistakes to make is to get a cage that doesn’t have a proper ‘roof.’ If your gerbil is housed in a glass tank, it may not have one. If that’s the case, either buy a ready-made roof for the enclosure, or buy a new enclosure altogether.
Your gerbilarium must also be out of reach of any other pets in the home. Somewhere high up is ideal, i.e. on a table or a bookshelf. Here, it will be harder for your cat to see and access it.
The bars of the gerbilarium must be narrow. With wide bars, your cat could reach inside and play around with or hit your gerbils. This may require you purchasing an entirely new gerbilarium.
Cat Proof Gerbil Pen
Gerbils need to get out of their cages regularly. If you have no other pets, and you can block off all the exits in a room, you can allow the gerbil to run around on the floor. But if you have a cat, that’s not a good idea:
- The cat could get into the room somehow—perhaps the door isn’t completely shut
- The cat could pick up the scent of the gerbils from the floor
You should buy your gerbil a gerbil pen. These are large areas that your gerbil can run around. They have walls made of metal bars, plastic, or wood that your gerbil can’t escape through. Unfortunately, cats could easily get into most of these pens.
Use a normal pen, but keep your cat locked in another room while your gerbil plays there. This is the best solution for keeping cats and gerbils: keeping them apart as much as possible.