From observation, it seems obvious that your gerbil can feel some things, even if those feelings aren’t as complex as human feelings.
Gerbils have feelings, experiencing pain and excitement. Gerbils are happy when with partners, and depressed if their partners die. But it’s not clear whether they have more complex emotions.
Also, some gerbils have stronger emotions than others. Some get sad and depressed easily, for example, while others are happier and more excitable.
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Do Gerbils Have Emotions?
Gerbils do have feelings, although they aren’t as complicated as those of humans, or easy to understand. According to BioScience, many animals do.
You can tell that a gerbil has emotions from its actions. For example, you can tell when a gerbil is excited, or whether it’s depressed.
However, while it is possible to observe these behaviors, that doesn’t necessarily mean your gerbil can feel true emotions. Scientists aren’t sure whether these reactions are linked to the kinds of feelings that humans feel.
They may be basic communicative behaviors, for example. Loud, shrill ‘crying’ could indicate feelings underneath. But the purpose of communicating that ‘sadness’ to another gerbil will be fulfilled, even if the underlying feeling isn’t truly there.
Do All Gerbils Have Feelings?
All gerbils have personalities. These personalities differ from one gerbil to the next. This means that some will express their emotions frequently, while others won’t. So, your gerbil may never express emotions.
What may also happen is that your gerbil is happier or more frequently depressed than most. Why this is the case isn’t clear, but it is likely similar to what happens in other animals. If the gerbil experiences a difficult growing-up period, it may be unhappier and more insecure in later life.
Differences also exist between male and female gerbils. According to most owners, males are friendlier, happier, and enjoy cuddling more. Females are more excitable but can fight more than males. There are exceptions to this rule, but this is generally the case.
Whatever the case, there is no right or wrong way for a gerbil to be. You shouldn’t be upset with your pet because it’s a certain way, because your pet can’t help that.
Why Do Gerbils Have Feelings?
Gerbils likely have feelings because it’s advantageous for them to have them. Feelings help them survive and thrive in the wild.
Animals that have feelings can react to stimuli in the natural world. They will move away from things which hurt, for example. If an animal consistently avoids painful things over the course of its life, it’s more likely to have more young and pass on its genes.
The same applies to happy feelings. Gerbils seem to get happy and excited in the company of their partners. So, they’re driven to find a partner because it makes them happy. Again, this ensures that the gerbil gets to breed.
Even depression has a purpose. An animal will do what it can to avoid or correct depressing stimuli, e.g. if its partner dies. To become happy again, the gerbil must find a new partner. Every feeling has its purpose.
Do Gerbils Feel Pain?
Gerbils certainly feel pain. This is something backed up by scientific evidence, anecdotal evidence, and common sense.
Pain is a physical feeling caused by nerves in and under the skin. When something hits or cuts an area where there are nerves, the nerves respond by telling the brain about the stimulus. The brain immediately reacts, telling the animal to move away from the source of the pain.
This is an automatic reaction that you don’t have to think about. You will already be familiar with it from day to day life, e.g. if you touch a hot surface and you flinch away. This reaction is common to all mammals when they encounter pain.
According to National Geographic, the reason why this reaction occurs is that it’s advantageous. Any animal that can avoid painful stimuli is more likely to survive, because fewer things will hurt it. Gerbils have the same reaction because it’s useful to them.
Of course, you can’t tell for sure that gerbils feel pain in the same way that you do. If they could talk, they could tell us, but they can’t. However, since we evolved the sensation of pain for the same reason and it applies in the same circumstances, it’s safe to say that the feeling is the same as in us.
This may be surprising. According to Big Think, many people mistakenly believe that no animals feel pain in the same way that we do. But it has been proven repeatedly and in numerous ways that they do.
Do Gerbils Cry?
You’ll never see a gerbil crying in the same way that you do. That means they don’t produce tears that they have to wipe away. Scientists aren’t clear about whether any other animals cry. Some say that none do, while some say that some do. But gerbils have never been observed crying.
But can gerbils cry another way? What you may see is a gerbil doing something similar to crying. Gerbils can become upset, and will behave in a certain way when they are. While they won’t produce tears like humans, you could call this behavior ‘crying’.
One thing you will see is a gerbil producing shrill, urgent shrieks. This is something you will notice during certain situations, such as:
- When they’re fighting
- When they find that their partner or young have died
- When they’re panicking, e.g. because you’re holding them too tightly
Your gerbil’s reaction in these circumstances could be construed as crying, even if they don’t produce tears.
You can also tell when your gerbil’s depressed. A depressed gerbil won’t move around as much, won’t become excited, and won’t want to eat. The difference between these two states is immediately obvious, and they occur in response to emotional stimuli.
What to Do If Your Gerbil Is Sad
If your gerbil is sad all the time, there are different ways you can help it. How you do so depends on why your gerbil is sad. One common reason is if your gerbil’s partner dies, in which case it will be depressed. In the same way, gerbils are depressed if they have always been kept alone.
When a gerbil is sad because it’s lonely, you must buy another gerbil to keep it company. Any gerbil will do, provided that it isn’t sick or infested with some kind of parasite. But you can’t put the two gerbils in a cage and expect them to like each other. If you do, they’ll fight.
Your gerbil can also be sad if its cage is too small. If that’s the case, get a bigger cage. Or, it could be depressed because it’s never allowed out of its cage. In that scenario, you should handle your pet more and build a pen it can run around in.
Can Gerbils Be Happy?
Like other emotions, you can tell if a gerbil is happy and content. A content gerbil will purr, like other pets can purr. They will do this when they’re especially happy, e.g. if you’re stroking your gerbil.
This purr is a low rumble that your gerbil can make. But unlike putting by other pets, it isn’t a noise made by the voicebox. Instead, gerbils purr by rubbing and chattering their molars together. This means that the noise sounds slightly different from the purr of other pets.
It’s rare for a gerbil to make this noise. To make a gerbil this happy, you have to get it to trust you. This trust can only be built up over time, through kind ownership. There’s no shortcut you can take to this point, so unless you’ve owned your gerbil for a long time, it may not purr for you.
Do Gerbils Get Excited?
Gerbils can certainly get excited, which is something any experienced owner will be familiar with. An excited gerbil is immediately easy to spot. So, for example, you’ll see your gerbil:
- Hopping up and down on its hind legs
- Making loud squeaking noises, repeatedly, and at a high pitch
- Running around quickly
- Moving towards your hand (if you’re reaching in to pick up your pet)
Some gerbils get excited more frequently or more easily than others. This depends on your pet’s temperament, and each gerbil is unique.