Gerbils grow bored when their owners become distracted by other commitments. The good news is that you can prevent boredom in gerbils with toys, enrichment, and spending more time together.
Gerbils get bored when they lack mental and physical stimulation. Signs that gerbils are living a boring life include gnawing cage bars and scratching the floor. Spend time with your gerbil, pet it, and feed it treats. Add chew toys and an exercise wheel to the cage, and consider teaching your gerbil tricks.
Don’t neglect your gerbil. If you regularly check in on your pet, you’ll be able to see if it is leading a boring life. You can then keep your gerbil entertained so that it enjoys a more fulfilling life.
Boredom in Gerbils
Many animal species seem to have fun. This is seen in many household pets, and gerbils are no exception. Gerbils like to play and explore, both with other gerbils and alone.
However, what’s not clear is if gerbils can get bored in the same way people get bored. While we like to think gerbils can feel affection and enjoy playing, animals aren’t as developed as humans. So, it’s not certain that gerbils can ‘feel’ the same emotions that we can.
What is clear is that gerbils become restless when they don’t have anything to do. They display repetitive behaviors and attempt to escape or explore. Gerbils can also become bored if:
- Their enclosures are too small, or don’t have any enrichment inside
- They don’t have any other gerbils to live with
- They eat the same diet every day of their lives, without any snacks in between
- They never interact with their owners
- They can’t exercise enough because they don’t have a gerbil exercise wheel.
What Do Gerbils Like to Do for Fun?
When a gerbil gets bored, it has a few options to choose from. The main thing you’ll notice them doing is chewing things. All rodents do this to stop their teeth from growing too long (they grow continually).
Your gerbil also likes to explore new places. In the wild, gerbils forage for food. They don’t go far, but they range around their burrow, looking for likely places they’ll find food.
They like to explore in captivity, too, if they get the chance. So if you have a maze, or a gerbil suspension bridge, or something for your pet to climb, it will be happy.
Is My Gerbil Bored?
Unfortunately, most gerbils in captivity don’t get to have much fun. They aren’t given toys and aren’t played with much. Even if you don’t understand gerbils well, you can still tell from their behavior.
When a gerbil is bored, it displays repetitive behaviors which are easy to spot. This phenomenon is known as ‘stereotypy’ and can be observed in both zoo animals and pets. According to PLoS One, common repetitive rodent behaviors include:
- Gnawing at the bars of the cage
- Scratching in the corners of the enclosure
- Pacing around aimlessly
If your gerbil’s bored, you’ll need to do something to help. The easiest thing you can do is play with it, and there are many ways to do that listed below. But first, you’ll need to prepare.
What to Do Before Playing with Your Gerbil
Put yourself in your gerbil’s position for a moment. It lives in a small enclosure that’s always in the same place. Every day it does the same things. Wouldn’t you be especially excited if your friend came over and let you explore the world around you instead?
That’s how gerbils react to you spending time with them. But you can’t pick up a gerbil and play with it the moment you buy it. Here’s how you prepare to play with your gerbil.
Bond with Your Gerbil
You have to gain your gerbil’s trust if you want to play together. If your gerbil doesn’t trust you, it won’t even want to come near you, let alone play. This is easily done by following these simple rules:
- Give your gerbil lots of time to get used to you. Sit near its enclosure where it can see you, so that over time it will understand you aren’t a threat.
- Get your gerbil used to your movements and the sounds you make. The more the gerbil sees and hears you before you pick it up for the first time, the better.
- Teach your gerbil to sit in your hand rather than picking it up. Put a treat on your palm and allow your gerbil to eat it. Eventually, it’ll sit in your hand while it eats.
- Don’t make any loud noises, grip your gerbil too hard, or move it around too fast when you’re holding your gerbil.
When your gerbil likes you enough, you won’t need to offer it a treat. You can scoop it up without it panicking. But only once you’ve bonded and gained its trust can you think about playing with it.
Wash Your Hands Before and After Handling
You may not realize it, but your hands smell. Gerbils have sensitive noses and can smell lots of things on you. These include the last things you ate, where you’ve been, whether you’ve touched any other pets, and the regular smell of a person.
These smells are exciting to a gerbil and not always in a good way. If your hands smell like a dog, for example, the gerbil may instinctually fear you. So, wash your hands to avoid this problem.
You also have to wash your hands after handling a gerbil. This is basic cleanliness. Rodents aren’t as dirty as a lot of people think, but this isn’t rodent-specific advice. It applies to any pet.
Prepare Your Room to Let Your Gerbil Out
Gerbils like nothing better than exploring. So, when you take your gerbil out of its enclosure, it’s going to want to run around your room. If there are many places, it could get hurt or ways it could escape, then it will.
That’s why you prepare your room first. Begin by closing doors and locking windows. By doing this, you know that even if your gerbil gets loose, it will be contained within that room. You should also:
- Clear away any clothes or other loose things that are on the floor.
- Take any other pets out of the room, as they may attack your gerbil.
- Clear away anything they might want to eat. Gerbils shouldn’t eat empty snack foods like chips.
When you’re ready, you can open your gerbil’s cage and allow it to explore. Once it’s prepared, you can think about our tips below on how to keep your gerbils entertained.
Put Your Gerbil Somewhere Fun
If your enclosure were kept in a cupboard, you’d be bored stiff staring at the walls all day. If your cage was next to a window you could see out of, to look at the street below or the birds in the trees, you’d be more entertained.
Your gerbil will benefit from its enclosure being somewhere fun. Pick a room where there are lots of people coming or going. Your gerbil won’t necessarily find it fun but will be less bored if it can see things happening and people moving around.
The only issue is your gerbil’s smell. This can mean that keeping your gerbil in the kitchen isn’t an option. Consider keeping your gerbil next to a window or a TV that’s switched on often. This will give your gerbil something to look at.
Let Your Gerbil Explore
Now your gerbil is out and about, there are lots of ways you can play with it. The easiest is to let your gerbil run free around the room. It will have fun investigating all the sights, sounds, and smells that it normally can’t get near.
The best thing about this tip is that you hardly have to do anything. All you have to do is keep an eye on your pet and see where it goes. You should have cleared everything dangerous away already, so there should be nothing to worry about.
However, if you do this, bear in mind that gerbils love to hide. So, you may end up having to find your gerbil after it hides under or around furniture. You can always lure it back out with a treat.
Gerbils Like Tunnels
You can also set up toys for your gerbil, like cardboard tubes. Gerbils love running through tunnels, whether they burrow manually or find a pre-made one. They can do this either in their enclosures or when exploring.
Gerbils like tunnels because they’re natural burrowers. In the wild, gerbils make their own burrows in the ground by digging. They will spend much of their lives in these tiny holes and tunnels, so it’s something that they instinctually like.
One tube on its own can be enough to keep a gerbil entertained. However, what’s even better is to link several together and create a big maze of tunnels.
You can also buy natural wooden tunnels on Amazon. These are perfect for gerbils because they’re chewable, too.
Pet Your Gerbil
So, one way you can keep your gerbil entertained is by offering it toys. But your gerbil, if well trained, also enjoys spending time with you. So, to keep it entertained, stick around for a while.
One way is to sit outside the gerbil while it’s in its cage. You will only have limited interaction with it while it’s cooped up. But your gerbil may appreciate having something new to look at and sniff.
Better yet, spend time with your gerbil on the floor. It may run around you, and you can pet it. Pet it on its head and back but don’t be too forceful. You can also interact with your gerbil while it’s playing in a hamster ball or running through tubes.
Gerbils can be flighty. You’re much bigger than your pet, so it makes sense that it would initially be scared. But once it knows you aren’t going to attack, your pet will be affectionate.
Get Your Gerbil a Wheel
Gerbils don’t strictly need a wheel. They can run around the enclosure without one. But there seems to be something gerbils like about running in one place.
Part of it is probably that they can go faster than they otherwise could. But whatever the reason, according to Phys Org, even wild animals will use a wheel if given the chance. Gerbils benefit from having a wheel, too. The wheel fulfills several vital purposes:
- It stops the cage from looking too bare. In an enclosure that has nothing in it, gerbils can get stressed.
- It allows the gerbil to exercise. Gerbils run around a lot in the wild, and need to do so in captivity as well. If they do, it will extend their lifespan.
- Gerbils like to chew, and can chew on their exercise wheel. If they have nothing else to chew on, then at least they’ll have that.
If possible, buy a wooden wheel. You should avoid putting anything plastic in your gerbil’s enclosure. Gerbils chew on everything, and when they do, they ingest some of what they chew on. Ingesting plastic is bad for your pet’s health.
Also, don’t buy a wheel that has segments or bars. Instead, buy a wheel that doesn’t have any gaps across its whole surface. Your gerbil can get its tail caught in the other kind of wheel.
If your gerbil doesn’t want to use its wheel, you can try to get it to exercise another way. One way is to put it in the bathtub, with no water. Your gerbil will have a large space to run around that it can’t escape from. You can even put some things in there for it to play with.
Hamster Ball for Gerbils
Hamster balls are the clear, plastic balls that hamsters can run around in. These can be used for gerbils as well. They are better in some ways than wheels because:
- They allow the gerbil to explore a new environment
- They allow you to interact with your pet gerbil more than you could if it were in its cage
- They give you somewhere to put your gerbil while you change the substrate in its enclosure, or spray it clean
However, this is all assuming that your gerbil enjoys being inside an exercise ball. Not all do because they can’t put their feet flat on the ground. Your gerbil may also not like you putting it into an enclosed space it isn’t familiar with.
So, put your gerbil in for a minute or two at first. If it enjoys rolling around, then you can leave it in for longer. But if it looks distressed, take it out. Bear in mind that your gerbil may like the ball at first but feel scared later on.
You shouldn’t leave the ball in your gerbil’s enclosure as enrichment. Gerbils chew on almost everything, and you don’t want them to chew on things made of plastic.
Chew Toys for Gerbils
Gerbils are rodents, and rodents have uniquely adapted teeth. A rodent’s teeth will never stop growing throughout its whole life. If left to grow unchecked, they will pierce the top or bottom of the rodent’s mouth. So, gnawing on things is important.
The gerbil will happily spend most of their time chewing on things. If you don’t give your pet anything to chew on, it will gnaw on the bars of its cage. This can cause lasting damage to your gerbil’s teeth and the cage.
So, get your gerbil some chew toys. They come in all shapes and sizes and are almost always made of wood. Wood is the best material for a gerbil to chew on because it’s hard, but not too hard.
Alternatively, give your gerbil something more natural to chew. Find a branch outside from a tree that isn’t pine or cedar. Then, bake it in the oven at a low heat. Don’t worry as it won’t burn. The idea is to kill any fungi or parasites that may be in the bark.
You can then give the branch to your gerbil. It will happily gnaw on it for hours. You can either offer it inside or outside the cage, although inside is the more normal way.
Teach Your Gerbil Commands
Gerbils are much smarter than people give them credit for. They can understand basic commands, for example, and figure out how to get through mazes. You can spend your time interacting with your pet and trying to teach it these things.
According to the journal Nature, gerbils can understand the difference between the sounds we make. Scientists taught gerbils to recognize the noises ‘oo’ and ‘ee,’ with one meaning left and one meaning right. The gerbils could then find food in hidden cups based only on the noise they heard.
You can try this at home if you like, although there’s no guarantee it will work. Put a treat under one of two upturned cups. Then make a noise for left (“oo”) and a noise for right (“ee”) depending on which cup the treat is in. Hopefully, over time, your gerbil will learn to understand you.
Teach Your Gerbil How to Backflip
Gerbils can perform tricks for treats if you teach them how. The easiest trick to teach is jumping. All you have to do is hold a treat above your gerbil’s head and have it jump up.
Once your gerbil can jump, you can teach it to flip. Instead of holding the treat above its head, move the treat while the gerbil is in mid-air. Because gerbils can change direction when jumping, they can do backflips.
Try associating the treat with a certain sound. If you do this, your gerbil may even learn to jump on command.
Build a Maze for Your Gerbil
Gerbils like exploring new areas. But over time, your pet might get used to your room and everything it can find there. You can mix things up by building a maze for it.
The maze doesn’t have to be complex. It could have an entrance, one or two dead ends, and an exit. But your gerbil won’t mind if it’s simple. You can even incorporate some tunnels into the maze for extra fun. You can consider making a maze out of:
- Books stacked on top of each other
- Carboard and folded paper
Line the maze with small treats to give your gerbil an incentive to explore it. Ensure that if you build a maze out of books, they’re balanced flat, so there’s no chance of them falling onto your pet.
If you do use books, this is fun for gerbils in another way. You can stack books into stairs. So, you could have a maze on the bottom and a set of stairs leading up to a tiny platform on top. This will make the experience more fun for your gerbil.
Enrichment for Gerbil Enclosures
To keep a gerbil entertained, you need to fill its enclosure with ‘enrichment.’ Enrichment is a term that refers to things that aren’t necessarily essential for a gerbil’s health and well-being but are important anyway.
These things are like hobbies for gerbils: fun things to do that stop your gerbil from being bored. A gerbil with lots of enrichment in its cage will be happy and entertained, even if you’re not around. Examples of things you can include as enrichment are:
- Toilet roll tubes, boxes, and other things made of cardboard
- Special gerbil toys like seesaws, wheels, rope toys, and hammocks
Your gerbil isn’t picky and will play with whatever you give it. Avoid putting anything plastic in your gerbil’s enclosure because it will chew through it.
Treat Food for Gerbils
Gerbil food mix contains every nutrient that they need. It’s specially formulated to contain the right balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. It also has all the minerals and vitamins that gerbils need.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t give gerbils treats. There are many things you can feed gerbils that break up their usual diet and are more fun. Offer fruits and vegetables, such as:
- Pumpkin and squash
These foods should be saved for rare occasions. They don’t offer everything a gerbil needs. For example, fruit doesn’t contain much fat or protein. But gerbils love it nonetheless.
If you want to feed your gerbil treats to stop it from getting bored, do so once a week. Offer one stick of carrot, for example, each week for your gerbil to gnaw on. This is good for its teeth, keeps its diet varied, and stops it getting bored.
Bigger Enclosure for Your Gerbil
Gerbils can get stressed and bored in enclosures that are too small. Hamster enclosures are especially bad for this because they’re normally much too small.
The ideal gerbil enclosure has an upper level for walking around and eating and a lower level for burrowing. These bigger enclosures allow your gerbil to move around more, which will keep it entertained.
Small enclosures are especially bad for gerbil groups. The bigger the group, the less room each gerbil has. You can correct this by separating the group if it de-clans into two enclosures. Or, buy one big enclosure to house them all.
Having a bigger enclosure also allows you to include more enrichment inside it. This is important because the more enrichment, the less bored your gerbil will be. So, the size of the enclosure works with other factors to ensure your gerbil is never bored.
Gerbils are social creatures, both in the wild and in captivity. If they live alone, they are deprived of interaction. Gerbils are far happier when there are other gerbils around.
More important than anything is that you watch over your gerbil. Gerbils only usually get bored if you neglect them. If you don’t and regularly observe and play with your gerbil, it’ll only rarely have boredom problems.