Gerbils are social creatures, and should never live alone. If you’re thinking of adopting new gerbils, you may wonder how many gerbils can be kept in the same cage (gerbilarium).
A pair of gerbils (two males, or two females) is the happiest and safest combination. When two gerbils live together, they will rely on each other for company. Fighting between a bonded pair of gerbils is unlikely. You can also keep 3 gerbils together in a trio, but the risk of declanning is higher. Gerbil trios work best if they are siblings from the same litter.
If you’d like to keep a group of gerbils together, ensure that there’s enough space. There should be around 10 gallons of space in the cage for each gerbil. Male gerbils are less aggressive than females, and less likely to fight.
Do Gerbils Have To Live Together?
Pet gerbils are descended from wild Mongolian gerbils. Wild gerbils are social creatures, and live in large burrows made up of several individuals. A wild gerbil clan may have up to 15 members, including males and females from several generations.
As highly social animals, gerbils will groom, chase, and sleep with one another. The gerbils that we keep as pets today have not lost these behaviors. Gerbils living together will naturally fall into a social hierarchy, with the dominant gerbil at the top. They will socialize and play together for most of their waking hours.
Because gerbils love company of their own kind, it’s cruel to keep a single gerbil on its own. Even if you play with your gerbil all day long, it will still miss interacting with other gerbils.
While gerbils can bond with their owners, it’s not as strong a bond. We don’t speak a gerbil’s language, so they can’t fully understand us as they understand each other. If you want a pet gerbil, you should always adopt 2 or more, ideally from the same litter.
If you keep a single gerbil on its own, you’ll notice it falling into depression. Lonely gerbils quickly become stressed and sad, and this can lead to poor health. This is why it’s so important to keep gerbils in a group.
How Many Gerbils Can You Keep Together?
We know that wild gerbils live in large groups. However, these groups are prone to splitting up. This is called declanning.
According to Integrative Zoology, the population of a gerbil clan naturally fluctuates with the seasons. Gerbils naturally compete for dominance within their social rankings. A gerbil that’s unwilling to accept its rank will leave the burrow, and start its own clan.
Pet gerbils can also experience this phenomenon. If you keep a large group of pet gerbils in the same cage, declanning is a real risk. And in captivity, a declanned gerbil is unable to leave the other group’s territory. This could lead to fighting, and even injury.
In general, the smaller the group size, the less likely it is to declan. A pair of gerbils is regarded as the safest option, followed by a trio.
Can Gerbils Live In Pairs?
Most gerbil owners keep their gerbils in pairs. It’s the least risky option, with a low chance of declanning. Two gerbils that have established a strong bond will generally get on well, and aren’t likely to fight.
But you can’t just keep any two gerbils together. Ideally, you should buy or adopt a pair of gerbils that are from the same litter. That way, they’ll be used to one another and will cohabit peacefully.
If you put two gerbils who have never met before in a cage together, they won’t get on. They will each see the other as an ‘intruder’, and feel that their territory is under attack.
This is because in the wild, gerbil clans are formed of parents and their offspring. Gerbils don’t make friends with gerbils from different clans. If you want to introduce two gerbils in captivity, you have to do it subtly.
Buy or make a see-through divider, to place in the middle of a cage. Put one gerbil on either side, so that they can see one another. Regularly swap each gerbil to the other side, until they’re used to each other’s scent. This is called the split cage method.
The split cage method works best with juvenile gerbils, or one juvenile and one adult. It’s hard to get two adult gerbils to bond together.
You can either have a pair of female gerbils, or a pair of males. Never place a male in with a female unless you’re intending to breed them.
Can You Keep 3 Gerbils Together?
Gerbil trios also work well together, most of the time. Many gerbil owners keep groups of 3 gerbils together with no problems. However, trios are little riskier than pairs, as the risk of declanning is higher.
As with pairs, there will always be a dominant gerbil in a trio. But because there are two subordinates (lower-ranking gerbils), there is a mismatch of power. Two of them could, at any point, decide to ‘gang up’ on the other.
Alternatively, one of the subordinates may decide he wants to create his own clan. This isn’t likely to happen in a pair, because each gerbil relies on the other for company. Either of the above scenarios would lead to declanning, and then fighting.
If you do want a trio of gerbils, always choose 3 from the same litter. A trio of siblings, which have been raised together since birth, will already have a strong bond. They’ll be less likely to argue and declan than gerbils introduced at a later date.
Never try to introduce a third gerbil to an established pair. A pair of bonded gerbils will not readily accept another addition to the clan. In most cases, this will lead to the newcomer being attacked. Or, if one gerbil decides he likes the newcomer (but the other does not), declanning could occur.
Can 4 or More Gerbils Live Together?
From observing wild gerbils, we know that large groups of gerbils often live together in a burrow. Theoretically, it would also be possible for large groups of pet gerbils to live in the same gerbilarium. However, having a large gerbil clan is a lot of work, and fights often break out.
Declanning is much more likely among large groups of gerbils. The more gerbils there are, the higher the chance that one of them will challenge the dominant gerbil. And if declanning happens, fighting will always follow, as they aren’t able to find their own territories.
Only experienced gerbil owners should attempt to keep 4 or more gerbils together. Even then, we wouldn’t recommend it. You’ll need at least two spare tanks to use in case your gerbils declan. And you’ll have to watch them closely in case a fight breaks out.
Young gerbils (under 3 months old) can often live together in large groups without any conflict. If you’ve had a surprise litter, it’s safe to keep the male pups with the dad and the females with the mom. However, you should try to rehome the pups (in same-sex pairs) as soon as it’s viable to do so.
How Many Male Gerbils Can Live Together?
Many gerbil owners consider male-male to be the ideal gerbil pairing. Males bond together more readily than females, and develop lifelong friendships.
Male gerbils also get on well in larger groups. They are easygoing, and much calmer than female gerbils. They tolerate other males quite well (as long as there are no females present).
Male gerbils are used to living in large groups in the wild. In a group of pet gerbils, one male will naturally establish himself as the dominant one. They’ll live peacefully in this hierarchy, though the top gerbil will occasionally have to remind the others who’s boss.
According to Psychonomic Science, a gerbil clan’s social hierarchy is quite stable, and each gerbil’s rank rarely changes. Declanning is rarer in groups of male gerbils than groups of females. Therefore, more male gerbils can live together than females.
In captivity, up to 7 male gerbils have been known to live peacefully together in a group. But large clans demand lots of space. And if a large clan breaks up, it might split into several small groups, each requiring a separate cage. So, have no more than 3-4 gerbils in your group of males.
How Many Female Gerbils Can Live Together?
Female gerbils are more aggressive and territorial than males. In the wild, the dominant female gerbil may bully and shun a subordinate female until it leaves. This is to prevent her from mating with the dominant male.
Pet gerbils are descended from wild ones, and still have a lot of their wild behaviors. Thanks to instinct, groups of female gerbils are more likely to fight than groups of males. This can be the case even if there are no male gerbils present.
If you want female gerbils, we’d recommend keeping no more than 2 in one cage. Housing 3 or more female gerbils together will often result in declanning. And as the de-clanned gerbil has nowhere to go, physical fights may ensue.
Of course, this is just a rule of thumb: every gerbil is different. Some groups of female gerbils get along fine. This is particularly likely if they are siblings from the same litter, and have always lived together.
If you’re keeping 3 or more female gerbils together, always be on the lookout for arguments. Keep a spare cage handy, ready to separate them if they fight. And never try to introduce a strange female gerbil to an already bonded pair or group.
Can You Put a Male and Female Gerbil Together?
One male and one female gerbil will almost always get along (if introduced properly). However, it’s unwise to place mixed-sex gerbils in the same gerbilarium. This is because a male and female will breed, and produce babies (pups).
Caring for gerbil babies takes a lot of time, energy, and money. Unless you are fully prepared to raise a litter, never keep a male and female gerbil together. Gerbils can have up to 10 babies at once, and can get pregnant again the day they give birth.
A mixed-sex group of 3 gerbils will never work out. The two same-sex gerbils will fight over the right to mate with the opposite sex gerbil. This can happen whether there are 2 males and 1 female, or vice versa.
A particularly bad combination is one male with multiple females. According to Developmental Psychobiology, non-breeding female gerbils will cannibalize gerbil pups that aren’t their own. So if one of your female gerbils gives birth, the babies won’t be safe.
Before putting any gerbils together, have them professionally sexed by a breeder or a veterinarian. Only house them in the same gerbilarium if they are the same sex.
How Much Space Do Gerbils Need?
The more gerbils you keep together, the larger the gerbilarium will need to be. This is because although gerbils are social creatures, they each need their own space, too.
A cage or tank which is too small can cause your gerbils to become stressed. This may manifest in obsessive behaviors, such as digging or biting at the cage bars. It can also cause your gerbils to fight over space, and attack one another.
The bare minimum tank size is 10 gallons for the first gerbil, then a further 5 gallons for each additional gerbil. So, a pair of gerbils should live in a 15 gallon tank at the least. For 3 gerbils, 20 gallons is just enough space.
A more generous guideline to follow is 10 gallons of space per gerbil. Under this rule, you would need:
- 20 gallons for a pair of gerbils
- 30 gallons for a gerbil trio
- 40 gallons for a group of 4 gerbils
You may be tempted to buy the biggest tank you can find. But for gerbils, bigger is not always better. If your gerbils have too much space, the likelihood of declanning will increase.
This is because your gerbils may perceive the tank as being large enough for 2 separate clans. The group may split up, each claiming a separate ‘territory’. When they inevitably encounter each other, they’ll fight. For best results, stick to the rule of 10 gallons per gerbil.
Can You Keep a Gerbil on Its Own?
If you don’t have the space or money for two gerbils, you may wonder: can you keep a single gerbil? Unfortunately, the short answer is ‘no’. Gerbils are prone to loneliness if they don’t have at least one cage-mate.
Imagine how you’d feel in social isolation, with no friends or family to meet or talk to. Even if you had the company of other animals, you would still crave human interaction. It might even make you feel depressed. The same happens to gerbils.
Gerbils that have no company (of their own species) become lonely, bored, stressed, and sad. This will happen no matter how much love and attention you give your gerbil. Signs of loneliness in gerbils include:
- Anorexia (lack of appetite), leading to weight loss
- Sleeping too much
- Reluctance to exercise, burrow, or explore
- Over-grooming, leading to bald patches
- Obsessively biting or digging at the cage bars or tank walls
According to Neuropharmacology, keeping a gerbil in isolation for as little as 7 days can impair its social skills. The longer your gerbil lives alone, the more difficult it will be to introduce it to a new playmate.
What to Do If One of Your Gerbils Died
Unfortunately, gerbils don’t have long lifespans. The average life expectancy of a Mongolian gerbil is 3 to 5 years.
If you had a group of 3 or more gerbils, and one dies, you don’t need to get another. Provided there are at least 2 gerbils left in the group, they will be fine.
Even if you tried to get them a new friend, you might not have much success. It’s almost impossible to introduce a new gerbil to an already-bonded pair or group. The clan will most likely reject the ‘intruder’.
However, if a gerbil’s only remaining cage-mate dies, you should get another gerbil quickly. Although it may seem cold-hearted to ‘replace’ your beloved pet, you don’t want your remaining gerbil to be lonely.
Always choose a same-sex gerbil, to avoid unwanted pregnancies. The chance they’ll form a successful bond is highest if the new gerbil is under 10 weeks old.