Gerbils are normally sociable creatures that get along well with their owners. However, they can sometimes nip and bite you and not want to be handled when they feel afraid.
Gerbils can be afraid of their owners because they’re small and vulnerable to harm. You may handle your gerbil incorrectly, too frequently, or not often enough. Gerbils can be fearful of loud noises and quick movements. If you haven’t owned your gerbil for long, you’ll need to give it time to learn that it can trust you.
Correctly supporting your gerbil in your hands and not gripping it too tightly will mean that your gerbil feels much safer. Handling every other day is the optimal amount of physical interaction.
Reasons for a Scared Gerbil
There are things you may do by accident that can make your gerbil scared. Here’s a table listing each reason and describing how you can fix it:
|Reason||What It Means||Fix|
|Size difference||Children and adults are much larger.||Don’t loom over your gerbil and give it time to adjust.|
|New gerbil||Unsure if it can trust you yet.||Trust comes with kind behavior and time.|
|Over-handling||Running from your hand and biting implies excessive handling.||Handle your gerbil less often and more briefly.|
|Too little handling||Moving from your hand and biting implies insufficient handling.||Gerbil is uncomfortable because it doesn’t know you well enough. More handling may be beneficial.|
|Incorrect handling||You grip your gerbil too hard or don’t support its body fully.||Learn how to properly handle your gerbil.|
|Loud Noises||Foot thumping, hiding in its burrow, and biting you imply fear.||Turn the TV/radio volume down, block out street noise, and avoid shouting.|
|Quick Movements||Fear leads to foot thumping, hiding in a burrow, and bites.||Don’t wave your arms around and swoop down on your gerbil to pick it up. Never pick up a gerbil by its tail.|
|Unkindness||You hit/flick your gerbil, treat it cruelly, provide poor living conditions, etc.||Treat your gerbil well and meet its basic needs.|
Humans Are Big and Gerbils Are Very Small
Gerbils are one of the smallest pets available. They reach an adult size of around four inches, plus a four-inch tail. Some other rodent pets are smaller but not much smaller.
Other household pets are still small but can at least defend themselves when attacked with fangs or claws. These claws and fangs are big and sharp for maximum damage.
Gerbils can try to do so but will be out-matched by a bigger animal every time. According to Nature, their teeth are long and sharp but not big enough to do significant damage to an animal of our size.
This means that when your gerbil first meets you, it won’t trust you. However, even if it has known you for a long time, this difference won’t go away. Your gerbil will still feel vulnerable around people.
You can encourage your gerbil to trust you over time. This will lessen its nerves and make it trust you more. But you will always be a threat to your gerbil, even if you mean well. You can make yourself appear smaller:
- Don’t wear large, baggy items of clothing
- Avoid holding your arms out wide
- Never loom over your gerbil, e.g. when you pick it up
Only Recently Got Your Gerbil
If you don’t have a relationship with your gerbil, it will feel scared of you. It doesn’t yet know if you’re a friend or foe.
However, this issue will fade away eventually on its own. All you have to do is treat your gerbil well, feed it, and it will grow to trust you more each day.
Handling Your Gerbil Too Much
This might not make sense at first. After all, you’re only being kind and spending lots of time with your gerbil. It seems like the right thing to do.
Wild gerbils don’t encounter humans. And when they do, the humans aren’t kind and well-meaning. Gerbils are wild animals that have figured out how to survive and will avoid larger animals.
It’s only over time that a gerbil comes to trust a person. But even then, it will have its limits. For example, if you tried to handle your gerbil for a whole day, it wouldn’t like it. It would want to spend some time alone. You can tell this is the case because your gerbil:
- Isn’t excited when you come to handle it, and it may hide
- Moves away from your hand when you reach into its cage
- Nips you when you pick it up
To avoid this issue, spend less time with your gerbil. Try halving how much you handle your pet. So, if you handle your gerbil every day, try every other day instead.
Every gerbil is different. Some gerbils will enjoy spending time with their owners every day. Others won’t want to be near you that often. The solution is to find what’s right for your pet, so generalized advice doesn’t apply.
Handling Gerbil Too Little
Gerbils require frequent socialization to get used to a person. This applies regardless of whether you recently bought your pet or not.
The signs are the same as when you handle your gerbil too much. So, your pet won’t be excited when you come to handle it. It will bite at your hand if you try to pick it up. It may try to run away when you pick it up.
Handling once every other day is a good guideline. If you handle your pet once a week, this may not be enough for it to get used to you. Begin by:
- Sitting near your gerbil’s cage for extended periods
- Staying closer to your gerbil’s cage while it eats, so that it learns that you’re not a threat to its welfare
- Reaching into your gerbil’s cage with both hands to scoop your gerbil from underneath
If your gerbil still doesn’t like you, and you’ve tried handling it both frequently and infrequently, you may not be the problem. While most gerbils are sociable, some are unfriendly. Gerbils have their own personalities, which you can’t change that much.
So, your gerbil may dislike being handled. If that’s the case, you’ll have to stop trying to handle your gerbil altogether.
You Handle Your Gerbil Wrongly
The main problem new owners encounter is that they grip their gerbil too hard. If it’s wriggling a lot, don’t grip it harder. This causes the gerbil to dislike you. Instead, pass it from hand to hand as it moves. Allow it a little freedom.
Another common problem is that people don’t support their gerbil’s body properly. It may feel like it’s going to fall. Keep a hand underneath the core of its body at all times so that it isn’t scared.
Sudden Loud Noises
You can easily spot if your gerbils are startled for any reason. When they are, they will start foot-stomping. According to Psychonomic Science, this is to establish territory and is a response to anything surprising.
It’s where your gerbil starts rhythmically pounding its back feet in a quick drumming pattern. As a gerbil owner, you’ll see it a lot.
This is supposed to serve as a warning, so it can be quite loud itself. It’s a warning for other gerbils nearby to hide quickly. It’s also a warning to predators that might be approaching, to make them think they’re approaching a bigger animal than a gerbil.
If your gerbil is consistently frightened by loud noises, it will become afraid of you. So, stop making loud noises around it. This applies both when you’re handling your pet and when it’s in its cage. The loud noises it’s most frightened of might be from:
- A TV nearby, radio, or kids’ toys
- A person talking or shouting
- Kitchen implements, power tools, etc
- Household goods, like a washing machine or dryer
Consider moving your gerbil’s cage to somewhere that’s quieter. This should make your pet calmer. And, of course, be quieter when you handle your gerbil.
Sudden movements are something that will alarm your gerbil. Your pet’s natural instincts kick in, and it will attempt to reach somewhere safe.
You could be the one making the quick movements. If you make them when you’re handling your gerbil, this will make your pet afraid. But they’re also afraid of movement that they see, which reminds them of predators.
According to Ecology, gerbil species will hide when they sense hungry predators nearby. Quick movements and loud noises are two key signs that there may be a predator somewhere close.
You Aren’t a Kind Owner
Punishing your gerbil for any reason can make it dislike you, even if it did do something wrong. Gerbils don’t understand cause and effect, so punishment isn’t effective.
You may also hit, flick, or push your gerbil. This will teach it to dislike you. You should also ensure that your gerbil’s living conditions are adequate. Bad conditions and illnesses can make your pet act out.