One of the nicest things about having pets is cuddling, stroking, and holding them close to you. But because gerbils get easily nervous and scared, they may not seem to be as affectionate.
Most gerbils enjoy petting or sitting in your hand. Some gerbils will allow you to cuddle or hug them once trust is established. Spend time with your gerbil every day to strengthen your bond.
To get a gerbil to like you, you have to build trust gradually over time. If you can get a gerbil to feed out of your hand, that’s the first step towards a more rewarding relationship.
Are Gerbils Affectionate?
Gerbils are affectionate and social. This applies both in the wild and in captivity. That’s one of the reasons they make such good pets.
Because wild gerbils are social, their social structures are complex. According to Behavioral and Neural Biology, gerbils’ social interactions can even be determined by coat color. Apparently, female gerbils like interacting with male gerbils of the same color.
Bear in mind, though, that there are different levels of affection and trust. A gerbil that’s happy when you pet it may not be happy when you hold it. And a gerbil that likes being in your hands may not like being hugged/cuddled closer.
Some gerbils don’t like affection at all. This isn’t uncommon, and if you’ve owned a few gerbils by now, you may have already come across one that doesn’t like being petted or stroked.
Gerbils are like people in that they have personalities. Some gerbils will like receiving and giving affection, while some will be more stand-offish. Your gerbil may also be in a bad mood, perhaps because it was recently fighting with other gerbils.
If that’s the case, leave your gerbil alone for a while. By being consistently kind and affectionate, you can teach your gerbil that you’re friendly, not an enemy.
Why Are Some Gerbils More Affectionate?
Male gerbils seem to be more affectionate than female gerbils. The reason why this is the case isn’t well understood. This discrepancy hasn’t been studied by scientists, and so can’t be easily explained.
Another factor is the gerbil’s childhood. A gerbil that was raised by a ‘mean’ owner wouldn’t like people. It will have learned, over the course of growing up, that people aren’t to be trusted.
Most children don’t fully understand the idea of respecting a pet’s space, and will immediately pick it up to hug it and squeeze. So, many gerbils raised by children are less trusting of people.
Do Gerbils Like to Be Petted?
Petting and stroking is the most basic form of affection. Almost all gerbils enjoy this kind of bond between pet and owner.
Your pet is much smaller than you, and in the wild, big animals are often threats. So, your gerbil has to learn to trust you. Contact from a distance like this would allow the gerbil to escape if it suddenly felt threatened.
So, even skittish gerbils usually don’t mind petting. But if your gerbil doesn’t like you yet, the first thing you should do is get it comfortable with your hands. Sitting close by your gerbil’s enclosure is the first step.
Then, you have to get your gerbil closer by putting food in your hands. This will get your gerbil to move closer, and you’ll get a chance to pet it. Do this a few times and your gerbil will come to like being petted.
Do Gerbils Like to Be Held?
The next ‘step up’ from petting is holding your gerbil. This requires that your gerbil trusts you and doesn’t see you as a threat. You have to encourage your gerbil to be comfortable with petting and stroking first.
Of gerbils that do trust their owners, almost all will allow their owners to hold them. Your gerbil will sit in the palms of your hands and appear comfortable. If it likes you, it may make a purring noise.
One issue that many owners come across is their gerbils’ activity levels. Gerbils are constantly running around, exploring, digging, and foraging for food. Not all gerbils like to sit still in a person’s hand.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your gerbil doesn’t like you. It can, but it can also mean your gerbil is more active than other gerbils. If that’s the case, enjoy the time you do get to hold your pet, but allow it to run free when it wants.
Do Gerbils Like to Cuddle?
Cuddling is a gray area, because even some gerbils which like affection don’t like cuddling. That’s because cuddling is a step beyond simple petting and holding.
When you cuddle your gerbil, you hold it tight and give it a gentle squeeze. Unfortunately, many owners don’t realize their own strength. They may think they’re being gentle, but the tiny creature they’re holding may feel scared, or even worse, choked.
What often happens is that a new owner will start cuddling their gerbil straight away. They may be too forceful at first, and the gerbil will learn not to like cuddling. Then, even if it trusts its owner in other ways, it will never like being held tight.
That being said, there are lots of gerbils that like cuddling. They seem to enjoy the warmth of their owners, and the affection of petting, too. So, if you’re going to cuddle your gerbil, check that it’s comfortable first.
How Much Attention Do Gerbils Need?
Both in the wild and in captivity, gerbils enjoy spending time with other gerbils. By extension, they have also learned to enjoy spending time with people. Gerbils need attention when kept as pets. Ideally, you should spend a little time with your pet every day. This has multiple benefits:
- Taking your gerbil from its enclosure allows it to exercise. In a small enclosure, gerbils can’t exercise unless they have exercise wheels.
- It also allows your gerbil to explore. Because gerbils are curious, they can get bored easily in their enclosures.
- It builds up mutual trust between you and your pet. Through regular contact, your gerbil will come to understand that you aren’t a threat. Only through doing this can you encourage your gerbil to enjoy close contact.
This is especially the case if your gerbil lives alone. While gerbils should be housed in groups, many owners don’t appreciate this or can’t care for more than one pet. If that’s the case, you must spend time with your pet to stop it from getting lonely and unhappy.
How to Tell If Your Gerbil Likes Affection
Gerbils that don’t like affection, or being close to people, will let you know straight away. The first thing an unfriendly gerbil will do is try to get away from you. If you press the issue, your gerbil may bite your finger if you get too close.
You can also spot a gerbil that likes affection from its behavior, and the noises it makes. Gerbils purr to show their contentment. This purring is similar to the sound a cat makes, except the gerbil makes it with its teeth.
Owners with gerbils that purr report that they usually only do so when you hold them. The gerbil will be sat still in your hands, with you stroking their back. You will feel a vibration through your pet’s feet, which is it purring.
Your gerbil may also be excited to see you and to be affectionate with you. Excitement is expressed in a different way. Your gerbil will become hyperactive, sometimes running, and sometimes standing on its hind legs and hopping.
It will also make repeated yipping noises. According to the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, gerbils use sound to communicate with each other. When directed at you, these behaviors mean that your gerbil can’t wait to see you, which must mean that it likes spending time with you.
Why Doesn’t My Gerbil Like Being Held or Petted?
Gerbils can be highly flighty and skittish. This happens because of how much bigger you are than your pet. To understand why, put yourself in your gerbil’s shoes for a moment. You are:
- Much bigger and stronger than a gerbil
- Capable of making loud noises and sudden movements
- Capable of picking up your gerbil without warning
Imagine that somebody a hundred times bigger than you wanted to pick you up. You would be scared if you didn’t know that they’re friendly. So, the issue is that you may not have built up enough trust with your gerbil yet.
Another problem is that your gerbil may constantly be moving around. Gerbils are so active that they can irritate many first time owners, by constantly running on their wheels, and never sitting still when the owner tries to be affectionate.
The problem may not be that your gerbil dislikes you. It may be too active to sit still.
Can You Train Your Gerbil to Like You?
Through spending time near your pet’s enclosure, and getting your gerbil used to feeding from your hands, you can build a bond of trust. You can then gradually get your gerbil comfortable with sitting on your palm, and with you picking it up.
However, what you should never do is force your gerbil to do any of these things. Picking up your gerbil when it doesn’t like you will make your pet resent you. In the same way, petting your gerbil when it clearly wants you to go away will teach it that you’re mean.
So, it is possible to train your gerbil to like you. But it may take time, and it’s easy to go wrong. And the key to getting your gerbil to like you is understanding why it might not.
How to Make Your Gerbil Happy
Affection is one of the easiest ways to make your pet gerbil happy. Provided that you’ve already built a bond of trust, you can make your gerbil happy by petting it, stroking it or holding it. However, these aren’t the only ways to make a gerbil happy. You can also make your gerbils happy by:
- Never having fewer than two gerbils. Gerbils are social and hate to live alone. According to Current Zoology, Mongolian gerbils live in groups and mate for life.
- Ensuring that their enclosure is big enough. Each gerbil needs at least ten gallons of tank space. So, if you have four gerbils, you need a forty-gallon tank.
- Providing a means by which your gerbils can exercise, like a wheel. When you aren’t around, gerbils get stir-crazy if they can’t run and play. A running wheel lets them do that.
- Spending regular time with your pets. If your gerbils are affectionate, that’s good. Make the most of that fact by spending time with them each day.
This will improve your gerbil’s general mood. This, in turn, will mean your gerbil is happier when you try to pick it up. So, a happy gerbil makes for happy handling.