Gerbil breeding is an exciting and rewarding experience. There’s nothing quite like caring for newborn gerbil pups and watching them grow. However, you should take time to learn how to breed gerbils safely and correctly.
To breed gerbils, you’ll need a healthy male and female between 3 and 18 months of age. Introduce them using the split cage method, and mating will follow. Give the female extra protein, water, and soft bedding throughout her pregnancy. 24 days after mating, the pups will be born.
Leave the male gerbil with the mother and pups, as he’ll help look after them. Gerbils usually have two litters in a row, so be prepared for more babies in a month’s time. The pups can be separated into same-sex pairs and go to their new homes after 8 weeks.
Should I Breed Gerbils?
Before learning how to breed gerbils, you must decide whether gerbil breeding is right for you. It’s not a venture that you should undertake without considering the pros and cons.
|Gerbil pups are cute and fun to play with
|You’ll have to find homes for all the pups, and this may be difficult
|You can experiment with gerbil genetics, and breed different gerbil colors
|You can quickly become overrun with gerbils, as they often have several litters in a row
|Raising gerbils from birth to independence is a rewarding and beautiful experience
|Gerbil pups are occasionally stillborn or die of natural causes (e.g., genetic disorders). This can be distressing to witness
|You’re allowing your gerbils to fulfill their natural reproductive instincts
|Breeding gerbils takes time, space, and money – you’ll need lots of extra bedding, toys, food, and cages
|If anyone in your area wants gerbils, they can adopt from you instead of supporting pet stores
|Some people argue that breeding gerbils is morally wrong, as shelters are overrun with animals needing homes
Before you start breeding gerbils, ensure that you can find new homes for all the pups. Gerbils can have up to 8 pups per litter, and may get pregnant again straight after giving birth. If you intend to keep them all, you’ll need enough cages to separate the pups into same-sex pairs.
How To Breed Gerbils
The gerbil breeding process takes about 4 months, from the male and female mating to their first litter leaving home. When their pups are 4-5 weeks old, their mother will give birth again, continuing the cycle. So, you must be willing to dedicate time, energy, and money to the process.
Mating and caring for pups comes naturally to gerbils. Gerbils are excellent parents and don’t need much guidance. That being said, there are many things you can do to help them out, and prepare for the pups.
Gerbil Breeding Equipment
Before breeding your gerbils, you’ll need to gather your equipment and supplies. You will need:
- A gerbilarium big enough for the mother, father, and their pups
- A wire mesh screen for introducing the male and female. This is known as the split cage method
- Soft gerbil nesting materials such as plain tissue paper and hay (nothing fibrous or made from fabric – only digestible materials)
- An extra water bottle for the pups to drink from
- Extra cages to house the pups before they go to their new homes
Your gerbil pups will need to be separated into same-sex pairs at around 8 weeks of age. There may be as many as 8 healthy babies per litter, so you may require up to 4 extra cages. Each one will need bedding, a water bottle, food, and toys.
Even if you’re planning to give the gerbil pups away, make sure you have the above equipment. Otherwise, if you struggle to find new homes for them, you won’t have anywhere to keep them. Gerbils can breed as early as 12 weeks of age, so they must be separated before this point.
Introduce The Male and Female Gerbils
When you have all of your gerbil breeding equipment, you can introduce your breeding pair. Sex your gerbils first to make sure they’re a male and a female. They should each be healthy, and ideally between the ages of 3 and 18 months.
If either the male or female is living alone, you can use one of their current cages. If they’re living as part of a clan, you’ll need a separate gerbilarium for the breeding pair to live in. Never house another male or female with a breeding pair. According to Developmental Psychobiology, female gerbils may eat gerbil pups that aren’t their own.
Set up a gerbilarium into two halves, with a wire mesh screen running down the middle. This will allow the pair to get used to one another without fighting. Each side should have a separate water bottle and accessories.
Place the male and female gerbil on either side of the barrier. Every few hours, swap them over to the other side. They’ll slowly become accustomed to each other’s scent. After 1-2 days, you can remove the screen.
Closely supervise the pair for the first few hours, to ensure they don’t fight. Unfortunately, male and female gerbils don’t always get on well together. If they show signs of aggression, separate them.
Gerbil Mating Behavior
Female gerbils go into heat every 4 days. While in heat, she’ll be receptive to a male suitor. So, within the first few days of living together, you’ll observe your gerbil pair mating. Here are the signs to watch out for:
- Foot thumping
- Excited squeaking
- Female gerbil repeatedly raising her rear end into the air, presenting herself to the male
- Male gerbil chasing the female around the enclosure
- Male gerbil mounting the female (climbing onto her back)
Gerbils don’t just mate once. While the female is in heat, they will mate on and off several times for 1-4 days. After mounting, each gerbil will occasionally bend over and groom its genital region.
Mating is almost always successful. If it doesn’t take, your gerbils will start mating again within a week when the female comes back into heat.
There’s no need to remove the male gerbil after mating has taken place. You can keep them together indefinitely until you want them to stop having litters. Male gerbils are good fathers, and will help take care of the young once they’re born.
Prepare the Gerbilarium for the Pups’ Arrival
It can be difficult to tell if a gerbil is pregnant. Their abdomens don’t start to swell until 1-2 days before birth. But if you’ve seen your gerbils mating, it’s safe to assume that pups are on the way.
Gerbils have a short gestation period – they are pregnant for 24 to 25 days. This means you don’t have long to prepare for the arrival of the pups. You will need to:
- Provide nesting materials. Shortly before giving birth, the female will build a nest for her pups. She will appreciate extra soft hay, plain (untreated) paper towels and paper pulp bedding.
- Add an extra water bottle. This should be attached low in the cage, so the pups can reach it. Water dishes aren’t suitable, as newborn gerbils can drown in them.
- Remove any heavy toys that may crush or injure the pups. Cardboard toys are fine.
- Remove the exercise wheel. Wheels aren’t suitable for baby gerbils. Their tiny feet and tails can get trapped and injured.
Mother-to-be will build her nest 1-2 days before the pups are due. At this point, drape a towel over the side of the cage that the nest is on. This will help her feel more secure and give her some privacy.
Keep the cage somewhere warm (between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit). According to Comparative Biochemistry, adult gerbils can acclimate to a range of environmental temperatures. Newborns, however, struggle to regulate their body heat and will need some help.
Pregnant Gerbil Care
Your pregnant gerbil will have a bigger appetite than usual. After all, she is growing several babies, and this takes a lot of energy. Throughout the pregnancy, give her larger meals, and some additional sources of fat and protein. For example:
- Nuts and seeds
- Chopped up egg (hard boiled or scrambled, without oil or seasonings)
- Small pieces of hard, low-lactose cheese (e.g. cheddar or parmesan)
It’s normal for gerbils to gain weight during pregnancy. Pregnant gerbils will also drink a lot more. Keep the water bottle topped up with a constant supply of fresh water.
During the final week of the pregnancy, avoid handling the female gerbil much. She may be more aggressive or on edge than usual, and will be uncomfortable carrying the extra weight.
Gerbils usually give birth in the middle of the night. They have great instincts, and won’t need any help from you during labor. The mother will groom her pups to stimulate their breathing. She will eat her placenta after delivering it.
If any of the babies are stillborn, weak, or unhealthy, the mother may eat them. Although this is alarming, it’s a natural process. If any dead pups remain in the cage, remove and dispose of them safely.
You’ll notice the mother and father mating again soon after the pups are born. This is normal – gerbils have two litters in a row, to make the most of the breeding season.
Check on Newborn Gerbils Regularly
Gerbil pups are born blind, deaf, hairless, and helpless. They look like tiny pink jelly beans (with feet and a tail). But they’ll soon grow and develop, and by 8 weeks old, they’ll be ready to live independently.
Newborn gerbil pups consume only their mother’s milk. Check on the pups each day to ensure they’re wriggly and plump. Their skin is so thin that you can examine their stomachs, to see that they’re full of white milk. This is called the ‘milk bean.’
Don’t panic if you see the mother or father moving the pups around, or kicking them while digging. This is normal, and it won’t hurt them. As the pups grow, they will reach the following milestones:
- Week 2: the babies will grow a coat of fur
- Week 3: the pups will start to open their eyes and eat solid foods
- Week 4: the babies’ ears will open and they will respond to sound
- Week 5: all the pups will be fully weaned by this point, and eating solids full-time
If any of your gerbil pups aren’t thriving, they will seem listless and won’t grow as well as the others. Sometimes, gerbil mothers struggle to feed all her young, if the litter is large.
You can feed any neglected babies with a kitten milk replacer using a pipette. Take the entire litter to the vet (along with the parents) if you have any concerns.
Socialize The Gerbil Pups
For the first week of the baby gerbils’ lives, you should avoid handling them if possible. Excessive handling while the pups are so young can cause stress for the mother and father. This is especially true if you don’t have a good bond with their parents. Though it’s rare, there’s a chance that the parents may cull their young if they feel they’re under threat.
But in the second week, when the pups start to grow fur, you can start picking them up. It’s important to socialize the pups from an early age so that they get used to human contact. They need to learn that humans are friends; otherwise they won’t be tame for their new owners.
Start by handling the gerbil pups once per day, for 10 minutes at a time. Wash your hands first, then pick them up in a gentle scooping motion from underneath. Hold them low to the ground so that they won’t be in danger if they fall. Handle each pup one at a time.
As the pups (and the parents) become more used to you, you can hold them for longer. Eventually, when their eyes open and they become more mobile, they’ll enjoy running all over your hands.
Sex and Separate The Litter
When the pups are around 4-5 weeks old, they will become fully weaned. This means they’ll completely stop drinking their mother’s milk. They’ll already have been nibbling at solid food for at least a week, but now they’ll transition to it permanently.
Around this time, the mother will give birth to her second litter. She’ll time it so that the new pups will arrive when the first pups are ready to wean. According to Laboratory Animals, gerbils can prolong their pregnancy if they still have previous pups to feed.
There’s no need to remove the first litter yet. You can (and should) leave them with their mother for another few weeks. According to Physiological Psychology, separating gerbils from their mother too early can cause health problems such as seizures.
However, it is a good idea to remove the father just before the second litter is born. Otherwise, he’ll mate with the mother again, and you’ll end up with a third litter on the way. Having more than two litters in a row is tough on the mother’s body, and not recommended. The pups from the first litter will help take care of the second, so she won’t be on her own.
When the first pups are 7-8 weeks old, they are ready to leave the nest. Sex each gerbil and split them up into same-sex pairs. If one gerbil is left over, you can make a same-sex group of 3.
Don’t forget about the father: remember that gerbils should never live alone. You can pair him up with one of his sons.
Gerbil Breeding FAQ
Once you’re used to the gerbil breeding process, it will come naturally to you. But breeding gerbils can seem complicated if you’ve never done it before. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about gerbil breeding.
At What Age Can Gerbils Breed?
Gerbils can mate and breed from as young as 9 weeks of age. However, it can be dangerous for a female gerbil to become pregnant so early. Gerbils will breed with any opposite-sex gerbil, even their parents or siblings. That’s why it’s important to sex your gerbil pups and move them into same-sex pairings before 9 weeks.
According to Laboratory Animals, gerbils can continue breeding until they are over 2 years old. However, after 18 months (1.5 years) a gerbil’s fertility and overall health starts to decline. Litters conceived after this age will be smaller, and the pups may be smaller and less healthy.
So, if you want to breed gerbils, both the male and female should be between 3 and 18 months of age. This is a gerbil’s prime breeding age.
What Color Will the Gerbil Pups Be?
Gerbils come in dozens of different coat colors and patterns, such as black, white, and agouti. All the gerbils in a single litter can be of different colors.
If you’ve never bred your gerbils before, it’ll be difficult to guess what color their pups will be. It all depends on which genes are carried by both the mother and father.
An agouti mother and an agouti father, for example, may produce a litter of all agouti babies. But they may also be carrying multiple recessive genes for different coat colors. Until they reproduce for the first time, you won’t know which genes they carry.
If you got your gerbils from a professional breeder, they may be able to tell you their genetics. If not, it’s a case of experimentation: you’ll have to wait and see.
How Can I Tell If My Gerbil Is Pregnant?
Female gerbils do an excellent job at hiding their pregnancy. Their behavior doesn’t much differ from normal throughout the entire process. The pregnant belly doesn’t start to show until a few days before the birth.
So, from an owner’s perspective, gerbil pregnancies can be hard to detect. You might not even know about it until the babies are born.
The most reliable sign that your gerbil is pregnant is that you’ve seen her mating with a male. You can also weigh her every day after mating has occurred – pregnant gerbils gain 1-3 grams per day. If your gerbil isn’t getting pregnant, it may be because:
- She is too young (under 3 months old)
- She is too old (over 2 years old)
- The male you’re pairing her with is too old (3+ years)
- Your gerbils aren’t mating because they aren’t getting along
Unexplained infertility is rare in gerbils, but it can happen to both males and females.
How Many Babies Do Gerbils Have?
Gerbils can have between 1 and 10 pups per litter, but 4 to 8 is most common. Very young and old gerbils are more likely to have fewer pups. The average number of pups per litter, for a healthy gerbil of prime breeding age, is 6.
If your gerbil has more than 8 pups, she may struggle to feed them all. This is because female gerbils only have 8 nipples. Although it’s rare, the mother may cull and eat the weakest pup in this scenario. If not, the runt of the litter may fail to thrive. You can supplement its diet with kitten milk replacer.
Bear in mind that your gerbils won’t just have one litter. Their natural instinct is to have 2 or more litters in a row. So, you could end up with dozens of baby gerbils.
Will a Male Gerbil Kill the Babies?
Unlike many other rodents, gerbils make good fathers. A male gerbil will never kill his own offspring if he’s in the cage with them from birth. In fact, he’ll help look after them, reducing stress and strain on the mother.
It’s perfectly fine – and even recommended – to allow the mother and father to raise their pups together. The only exception is if you don’t want them to have a second litter. Gerbils can get pregnant again the same day that they give birth.
It’s important to note that other (unrelated) adult gerbils won’t tolerate the babies. Females, in particular, have a reputation for killing gerbil pups that aren’t theirs. If you plan to breed your gerbils, only the mother and father should be housed with the babies.
When Should I Remove the Father?
Gerbil mothers appreciate a ‘helping hand’ raising their babies. Being a lone parent can be highly stressful for them. So, if possible, you should keep dad with his pups until they’re weaned.
However, gerbils are biologically driven to reproduce multiple times in a row. In the wild, they would have 2 litters during the breeding season. But in captivity, they may have 3 or more.
You’ll need to remove the father before you become overrun with gerbils. The best time to do this is when the first pups are around 4 weeks old. This will be just before the second litter is born.
Removing the father at this point means that the female will only have 2 litters. She’ll cope much better with the second set of newborns, as the older pups will help look after them.
Are My Gerbil Pups Male or Female?
When your gerbil pups are 7 to 8 weeks old, it’s time to separate them. This means removing them from their parents and their opposite-sex siblings. Do this before they reach 9 weeks old, when gerbils can begin to mate.
So, you’ll need to sex your gerbil pups (identify whether they’re male or female). To do this, lift the tail and examine their genitalia.
Male gerbils have a large gap between their anus and urinary opening. Female gerbils have a very small gap. Males also have two small bulges where their testicles are, underneath the skin. A veterinarian will be able to assist you if you’re unsure.
How Do I Find Homes for Baby Gerbils?
If your gerbil only has one small litter, it may be feasible for you to keep all the pups. But if you can’t, you’ll have to find new homes for them.
Try searching the internet for a gerbil or small animal group in your area. You could also advertise on a classified ad site, or leave a flyer in your vet’s waiting room. Ensure that whoever adopts the pups is experienced with small animals, and knows how to take care of them.
The pups should always be adopted out in same-sex pairs, or groups of three. Gerbils are social creatures and do not take well to living alone. They can become stressed or depressed without the company of another gerbil.