Nuts are high in fat and protein, and make great gerbil treats. Acorns are a type of nut grown by oak trees. But acorns contain a toxic substance that can be harmful to some animals.
Acorns contain tannins, which can cause kidney and liver damage in certain species of animals. It’s not known whether tannins are toxic to gerbils, so it’s best to avoid feeding them to your pet. You can remove tannins from acorns by boiling them repeatedly.
We’ll look at whether gerbils can eat acorns, and why they’re toxic to many animals. We’ll explain how to prepare acorns and oak to remove the tannins, and make them safe for gerbils to eat. We’ll also explore which other tree nuts gerbils can eat as snacks.
Can Gerbils Eat Acorns?
Acorns come from oak trees, and are therefore also called ‘oak nuts.’ There are around 600 species of oak tree in the genus Quercus, found throughout the northern hemisphere. Some oak trees are found in Mongolia, where gerbils live.
Roughly 60 species of oak tree grow in North America. They are split into two major types: red oaks and white oaks. Both types produce acorns, which ripen and drop in the fall.
Acorns are high in fat and calories, like most tree nuts. They also contain several nutrients such as vitamins A and E, iron, and potassium.
Gerbils love to eat most tree nuts. However, acorns might not be good for gerbils, because they contain toxic substances called tannins.
Most animals can’t process the tannins found in acorns. If consumed in abundance, tannins can cause liver and kidney damage, and eventually death.
This is called oak poisoning, or Quercus poisoning. It’s a well-known killer of wild animals, particularly large mammals.
However, acorns are a popular food for some rodents, such as squirrels and mice. They seem to be immune to the effects of tannins.
According to Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, white-footed mice survive almost entirely on acorns as their primary food source.
Are Acorns Safe for Gerbils?
As yet, there has been little scientific research on whether gerbils can eat acorns. It’s not known whether tannins are toxic to gerbils, or whether they can metabolize them like other rodents.
Some research has been done on certain species of the desert gerbil. A study in Ecology found that wild gerbils prefer not to eat plants that are high in tannins. This might indicate that tannins are toxic to gerbils. However, they may avoid them purely because tannins have a bitter taste.
One species of oak tree, the Mongolian oak, grows in the wild where Mongolian gerbils are found. But scientists haven’t yet found out whether gerbils eat acorns from these trees.
To be on the safe side, it’s advisable to avoid feeding your gerbil acorns. There is no antidote for oak poisoning. So if you did feed your gerbil acorns and it got sick, it could die.
Along with tannins, acorns collected in the wild may harbor bacteria, dirt, insects, and pesticides. All of these could harm your gerbil.
Can Gerbils Eat Cooked Acorns?
Because of the lack of scientific evidence, it’s safest to assume that gerbils can’t eat raw acorns. But you may be wondering: can gerbils chew acorns if they’re cooked?
The tannins in acorns are water-soluble. This means that if you boil acorns for long enough, you can remove all the tannins. They will dissolve and leach out into the water, which is then thrown away.
This is how humans have been preparing acorns as food for thousands of years. Native Americans used to leach acorns by placing a basket of them in a fast-flowing stream. After a few days, all the tannins were gone, and the acorns became safe to eat.
At home, you can leach tannins from acorns using cold water or boiling water. Cooking acorns in boiling water is the quickest and safest method to remove tannins.
How to Leach Tannins from Acorns
Removing the tannins from acorns will make them safe for gerbils to eat. But it’s a lot of effort, and you have to be sure that all the tannins are removed. Here’s how:
- Harvest your acorns. According to Northeastern Naturalist, acorns from red oaks contain higher levels of tannins. It’s best to choose acorns from white oaks.
- Crack the acorns. Discard the shell and remove the brown papery layer, called the testa. Keep only the white nut inside.
- Cut each nut in half to inspect the inside. Discard any acorns that look rotten, or have any discoloration, mold, holes, black spots, or insects inside.
- Wash the acorns Put them into a large pot filled with water, and bring to the boil.
- Boil the acorns for 15 minutes, then take the acorns off the heat and drain them. The water will be brown, indicating the presence of tannins.
- Add fresh water and bring back to the boil. Once again, drain after 15 minutes of boiling and add fresh water. Repeat this process several times, until the water stays clear.
- Taste one of the acorns. There should be no bitterness at all, indicating that all tannin has been removed.
At this point, the acorns are now safe for consumption. But they are still not particularly suitable for gerbils. Acorns are high in fat and calories, so they should be given only as a rare treat.
Gerbils are small animals, so it takes only a tiny amount of poison to harm them. If any tannins are left in the acorns, they could still be poisonous. Most gerbil owners avoid acorns altogether.
Is Oak Safe for Gerbils?
All parts of the oak tree including the leaves, branches, and bark contain tannins. But oak wood contains lower levels of tannin than the leaves and nuts (acorns).
Gerbils like to chew on wood, because it helps them to maintain their teeth. They don’t swallow much, as it’s low in nutrients and calories. They prefer to spit it out and use it to help build tunnels.
It’s safe to give your gerbil oak to chew on. But to be on the safe side, boil and bake all wood before giving it to your gerbil. This process removes dirt, bacteria, pesticides, insects, insect eggs, and tannins.
How To Prepare Oak for Gerbils
- Wash branches thoroughly in hot water to remove any surface dirt.
- Place branches in a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Boil for 30 minutes.
- Drain and add fresh water. Boil for another 30 minutes. Repeat until the water ends up clear.
- Drain and shake off any excess water. Place the branches on a baking sheet in a single layer.
- Bake in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 2 hours. Thicker branches may need longer to dry completely.
To test whether the wood is completely dry, try breaking a branch. If it’s dry, it will snap. If there is still moisture, it will bend.
Which Tree Nuts Can Gerbils Eat?
Although it’s not clear whether acorns are poisonous to gerbils, it’s best to steer clear of them. As they’re toxic to so many animals, it’s not worth the risk that your gerbil might become sick.
However, not all tree nuts are poisonous to gerbils. Most types of tree nuts don’t contain tannins, and are perfectly safe for gerbils to eat. Tree nuts gerbils can eat include:
- Brazil nuts
- Sweet chestnuts
Gerbils can also eat seeds, and legumes such as peanuts. Due to their high fat content, nuts and seeds shouldn’t be offered as a regular part of the diet. However, they make excellent occasional treats. Try offering a nut as a gerbil training incentive.
Gerbil Has Acorn Poisoning
If your gerbil has eaten raw acorns, or any other toxic food, remove the food straight away. Contact your veterinarian and explain what your gerbil has eaten, how much, and how long ago.
The vet may ask you to bring your gerbil in for an evaluation. Or, if they think the risk is minimal, they may ask you to monitor your gerbil at home. Signs that your gerbil is sick may include:
- Anorexia, or lack of appetite
- Lethargy (lack of energy, listlessness)
- Nasal or eye discharge which may appear red
- Polyuria (frequent urination)
- Polydipsia (excessive thirst)
- Changes in behavior, such as sudden aggression
If you notice any of the above signs, take your gerbil to the vet straight away. Bring a sample of the food that you believe caused the trouble. If your gerbil is poisoned, your vet will treat the symptoms while the poison works its way out.