If you notice your gerbil biting and scratching its cage, this is a sign of stereotypy. It shows that your caged pet is unhappy, and that’s what is causing these sorts of behavioral issues to occur.
Gerbils bite and scratch their cage due to boredom, a desire to escape, and because their cage is too small. They may also bite the bars of their enclosure to wear their teeth down.
You can prevent scratching and biting by getting a more spacious gerbilarium, such as the Savic Habitat Gerbil Cage. You should also allocate more time for play and provide a chew toy. It’s also important to understand why your gerbil is feeling sad or depressed.
Why Do Gerbils Scratch Their Cage?
Scratching and biting at the cage are negative behavioral signs in gerbils. According to Current Protocols in Neuroscience, these repetitive behaviors are known as stereotypy and are common in caged animals.
These signs indicate that something is wrong, although what that ‘something’ is can vary. You should identify the problem so you can fix it or your gerbil will remain unhappy.
A gerbil will display repetitive scratching behavior when it can’t satisfy its natural need to burrow into the ground. This may be because it doesn’t have enough substrate, or it doesn’t have any bedding at all.
This behavior will focus on the corners of the enclosure. The reasons why are unclear, but perhaps the gerbil’s instincts encourage it to dig there.
Can a Gerbil Scratch Through its Cage?
A gerbil’s claws aren’t as strong as its teeth. It’s unlikely that your gerbil can scratch through the bottom of its cage, even if it repeats this behavior frequently and for long periods of time.
What a gerbil can do is gnaw through the plastic base of its cage. So, if the use of teeth accompanies scratching, be careful. You should solve this issue before your gerbil breaks free.
Why Does My Gerbil Lick its Tank?
A similar behavior is where your gerbil licks the floor or glass walls of its tank. It’s easy to confuse this with digging and chewing, but it has a different cause. It indicates your gerbil isn’t getting enough water.
If this occurs, check whether your gerbil’s water bottle has any water left in it. Alternatively, the issue may be that the bottle is somewhere that’s hard to reach.
The only other cause is that other gerbils are bullying your gerbil. When one gerbil is dominant and the other subordinate, the dominant one will bully others when it tries to eat and drink. If this occurs, separate the gerbils in question.
What Does Gerbil Biting Cage Bars Mean?
Your gerbil will bite the bars of its cage, often standing up to do so. If your cage is strong enough, it won’t get out. But the bars can wear down. There are several reasons why this occurs.
One reason why your gerbil may bite the bars of its cage is a dental issue. Gerbils’ teeth grow continually, unlike our teeth. According to Cell Reports, rodents have had this problem for fifty million years. Your pet will need to grind its teeth down against something.
If they continue to grow, they can cause injury. Your gerbil may bite its cage bars to wear its teeth down. This affects all gerbils, and the precise genetic reason why isn’t known, according to Nature.
However, bar chewing can also be a sign of nervousness and unhappiness. If your gerbil’s cage lacks enrichment, your gerbil can become bored. It will then try to get out because of how bored it is.
Your gerbil may also be trying to escape because its enclosure is too small. Gerbils may be domesticated, but that doesn’t mean they want to spend the whole day in a tiny cage. Gnawing, in this circumstance, is driven by a desire to escape.
Issues with Your Gerbil Biting Cage Bars
While this behavior may appear cute, it can cause severe problems. The first is that your gerbil’s teeth can become misaligned. To bite the bars, your gerbil will usually tilt its head. This can cause feeding and drinking problems.
Also, if the behavior is repetitive, your gerbil can wear away some of its skin. The skin on its nose and around its mouth would be continually rubbed against the bars of the cage. This can cause an open wound, which can become infected.
And since bar biting is a sign of a deeper problem, there’s something else you’ll have to fix as well. That could be your gerbil’s boredom or lack of a chew toy.
This is as important as the health problems above because if you don’t fix it, your gerbil’s bad behavior will continue in this or other ways.
Can Gerbils Bite Through Cage Bars?
Your gerbil’s jaws and teeth are surprisingly strong. If it’s bitten you, you’ll know that by now. All rodent teeth are strong because:
- Teeth are a rodent’s only defense mechanism. They don’t have sharp claws to attack prey or threats.
- Rodents need to have a varied diet. Some rodents eat soft things like fruits and meat. But they also need to eat nuts and seeds, which are tough.
- Rodents build nests using shredded wood, paper, and similar materials. To create these nests, the rodent needs to shred things with its teeth.
- Many rodents, like gerbils, make burrows. When burrowing, they may encounter thick tree roots that they have to gnaw through.
This means that a gerbil’s teeth are strong enough to break through thin bars. They can’t bite down through one, but a rodent can wear away the metal of pipes or thin bars over time. This means the main issue with your gerbil biting its cage bars is that it could escape.
Gerbil teeth are also easily strong enough to bite through the plastic. That’s why you shouldn’t keep a gerbil in a hamster cage.
How to Stop Your Gerbil Scratching Its Cage
Put more substrate in your gerbil’s cage. Even if this isn’t the issue, more substrate is usually a good thing. Put some extra bedding in and see if your pet’s behavior changes.
You could also give your gerbil a more natural, two-layer cage known as a gerbilarium. This has an upper section made of cage and a lower section made of glass. The upper section may have a food bowl, exercise wheel, and water bottle.
The lower section has a small ladder or tube leading down to it. In the lower section is a pile, several inches thick, of bedding your gerbil can dig in. This is the most natural setup because gerbils like to feel that they’re digging down deep to make their burrows.
Give Your Gerbil Something to Gnaw On
If the issue is that your gerbil has to wear its teeth down, you can give it something to gnaw on. The best material is wood because wood is solid, but not solid enough that it will break your gerbil’s teeth.
Most pet stores sell tiny wooden toys for gerbils and other rodents. The best are those which aren’t painted or treated with anything, so are natural wood. However, be careful. Some kinds of wood are poisonous to gerbils.
The most common are pine and cedar. These contain aromatic oils that are toxic to life (including people if you ingest enough). Because the gerbil ingests some of what it gnaws on, this is bad.
But wooden toys aren’t the only thing you can offer them. Other options include:
- Popsicle sticks or coffee stirrer sticks. Wash these or buy them unused for best results.
- Branches from a tree (excluding pine and cedar). Bake or freeze the branch to kill any bacteria, parasites or fungi on the branch before offering it to your gerbils.
- Harder gerbil food mix. Many foods contain raw seeds and nuts, which gerbils enjoy gnawing on.
Your gerbil will periodically bite and gnaw on whatever you give it. If the issue was to do with gnawing, it will stop chewing the bars of its cage.
Play with Your Gerbil
Both scratching and biting are a sign of boredom. One way of fixing this is to give your gerbil toys to play with, such as a running wheel and a gnawing toy, such as the Kaytee Nut Knot Nibbler. But there are other ways, too.
The easiest, and one which is pleasant for you too, is to play with your gerbil more often. Take it from its cage more frequently so that it can explore occasionally. Your gerbil will be less restless and feel less trapped in its enclosure.
You could also consider playing with your gerbil outside. This can only be done in certain circumstances:
- Take the cage outside and sit it on the ground. If possible, remove the floor so that your gerbil is sitting on the grass with the cage around it.
- Check there are no other pets around that could attack your gerbil.
- Ensure your gerbil is comfortable with going outside. If it has never been out before, it may be uncomfortable.
Never allow your gerbil to move around freely outside because there’s a good chance it will escape. But this may cure your gerbil’s restlessness.
Better Enclosure for Your Gerbil
If the issue is the gerbil’s enclosure being too small, the solution is to buy the Savic Habitat Gerbil Cage on Amazon. This may be an inconvenience, but if you don’t, then all your gerbils will be unhappy. An unhappy pet is no fun.
Your next option is to buy a cage with bars that are closer together. Your gerbil can’t push its nose between the bars to chew. Compare the enclosure with your own before buying it to check the bars are closer.
Or, you could buy an enclosure that’s entirely made of glass to prevent the behavior entirely. Gerbils can’t bite glass, although they may lick it. This behavior isn’t as problematic as bar chewing, however, so it’s an improvement.