Gerbils are thought of as inexpensive pets. But there are lots you need to buy, like a cage, food, and bedding. Some of these are recurring costs that you’ll have to pay regularly.
A gerbil costs $5-10. Its cage costs $50-60, plus $50 for a water bottle, chew toy, and exercise wheel. Each gerbil eats $50-60 of food per year, and the tank needs $50-100 of bedding. Vets bills cost $40 for a checkup, $10 for medication, and $200 for surgery. The total annual cost for one gerbil is $100-150 and $50 for each additional pet.
This isn’t too much, especially compared to the annual cost of other household pets. But if you have lots of gerbils, the cost of all of them combined will be even greater.
Cost of Gerbil Ownership
Gerbils are cheap pets to keep compared to cats and dogs. However, there’s far more to the cost than the gerbil itself. You should only buy a gerbil if you can afford the following ongoing costs.
|The gerbil||$5 to $10||No|
|Cage (gerbilarium)||$50 to $60, plus $50 for ‘furniture’ like wheels, toys, and a water bottle||No|
|Food||$10 per bag, 5-6 bags per year per gerbil||Yes|
|Bedding (substrate)||Roughly $50-100 per year||Yes|
|Vet care||$40 for a checkup, $10 for medication, or $200 for surgery (varies between different vets)||Yes|
|Total setup cost||$150-200||No|
|Total yearly cost||$150-200 per gerbil||Yes|
This is more than most people realize when they buy a small pet like a gerbil. You can’t completely reduce all of these costs because your pet will get sick and be unhappy.
How Much Does a Gerbil Cost?
Buying the gerbil itself is the cheapest part. Gerbils can be bought from almost any pet store in the U.S. They are sold for between $5 and $10. You’re unlikely to see much higher prices than that.
Of course, cheaper doesn’t mean better. You have to consider the health of your new gerbil. The least expensive gerbils may be cheap because they’re sick or infested with parasites. They may be more susceptible to seizures, for example.
They may also have a low price tag because the breeder/pet store doesn’t spend much on caring for them. They may not provide proper bedding or food, for example, to keep costs down. But even if you opt for a more expensive pet, it will still be cheap. $10, $15, or $20, a gerbil is cheap to buy.
Where to Buy a Pet Gerbil
The most obvious place to buy a gerbil is from a pet store. However, not all pet shops are equal. Some will be more or less expensive, for example. You should also consider:
- The welfare of the gerbils that the store is keeping
- Whether the gerbils seem happy or not in their enclosure
- Whether some of the gerbils seem to have lots of seizures
You can also buy gerbils from breeders. Like shops, some breeders take better care of their animals than others. But what most breeders do is try only to breed healthy gerbils, e.g., by avoiding inbreeding. These gerbils live longer, happier lives.
The third option is to get your gerbil from somebody that wants to get rid of theirs. For example, you could find a listing on Gumtree or a similar site. This is a bad idea because the gerbil could have health problems or have been mistreated.
You could also get your gerbil from a shelter. Shelters take in unwanted pets and try to rehome them. Getting your gerbil from here would be free, which is good. But again, the gerbil may have been mistreated.
How Much Does Gerbil Bedding Cost?
Gerbils need bedding in their enclosures. Your pet will use it to build nests and burrows out of.
This isn’t a matter of comfort but your pet’s mental health because, without bedding, gerbils become depressed and stressed. According to Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, if your gerbil doesn’t have bedding, it displays signs of depression and stress.
The exact cost of gerbil bedding varies, but you can expect to pay $50-100 per year. You can line a cage with more or less bedding, e.g., 8 inches or 5 inches. The enclosure may be bigger and require more to cover the surface. You can also use different kinds of bedding.
There are lots of cheap beddings out there. You can find these either in pet stores or online. But be careful, because not every bedding you find will be suitable. Pick from:
- ‘Homemade’ shredded paper or cardboard, with no oils or inks: Free
- Hay, as you’d use for similar pets: Around $40 for 178L
- Wood shavings: Around $30 for 8 cubic feet
- CareFresh or Kaytee Clean and Cozy, which are paper-based bedding: Around $20 for 60L
You should provide a mixture of these different kinds of bedding. You can either mix or layer them on top of each other. Your gerbil will take them, chew them, mix them up, and make tunnels out of them.
Avoid bedding made from pine or cedar because these contain phenols. Phenols are oils that irritate your gerbil’s eyes and cause allergic reactions. Also, avoid any bedding that’s overly dusty for the same reasons.
What’s the Cheapest Gerbil Bedding?
Because a mixture of different kinds of bedding is best, you can’t completely cut this cost. However, there are ways to cut down on the cost somewhat:
- Use homemade paper towel bedding. You can either scrunch up paper towels, or shred them yourself. Your gerbil will shred them anyway.
- Use shredded paper. Provided it doesn’t have any inks in it, shredded paper is perfect.
- Make the bedding last longer by spot cleaning. This is where you get rid of small, soiled sections of bedding, but not the whole tank.
Don’t try to cut costs by buying cheap gerbil bedding, though. This backfires because cheap bedding is full of dust, which causes allergic reactions.
How Much Does Gerbil Food Cost?
Despite what many owners think, gerbils need a special kind of food. They can’t only eat vegetables and leafy greens. Instead, gerbils should be fed gerbil food mix, which costs around $50 per gerbil per year. This can be found in pet stores and isn’t to be confused with hamster food mix.
Gerbil food mix contains everything that a gerbil needs. Because it’s made particularly for gerbils, it can be quite expensive. High quality gerbil food mix from Tiny Friends Farm costs around $10 for an 850g bag.
You have to get the right kind of food because it’s easy to accidentally not meet your pet’s nutritional needs. These ingredients give a perfect mix of carbohydrates, protein (17%), and fat (8%). This mix also contains the right amounts of vitamin A, phosphorus, and lots of other vitamins and minerals. That’s why it’s more expensive than you might expect.
According to the American Midland Naturalist, gerbils can also eat small amounts of fruit and vegetables. They can eat many of the same things that you eat. They only require small amounts, so you won’t have to buy these things especially. As such, they don’t add any cost to your bill.
You can feed your gerbil these snacks once or twice a week.
Can You Feed a Gerbil for Cheap?
Roughly fifty dollars per year, per pet, is a low price to pay already. But you may want to get your bills even lower by feeding your pet the same food you feed yourself. This can work for snacks but not for your pet’s general diet.
As above, the issue is that your gerbil needs certain nutrients and vitamins. It will not get these from a changeable and highly processed diet. You can feed your gerbil certain cheap snack foods, such as:
Your gerbil will survive, provided that it gets enough calories. But what it won’t get are the nutrients it needs because processed human food is made to meet the nutritional needs of people. Gerbils have different nutritional needs.
In short, you have to feed your gerbil food mix made for gerbils. Nothing else will do as a core part of your pet’s diet.
How Much Does a Gerbil Cage Cost?
The gerbil’s cage, better known as a gerbilarium, is the most expensive thing you’ll buy. Gerbils have different needs to hamsters, so a regular hamster cage won’t do. They need their own special cages.
A gerbilarium has two sections, one at the top and one at the bottom. The top half is like a regular cage, with metal bars. The bottom is often made of glass and is where you put all your gerbil’s bedding.
Because gerbilariums are more complex than regular hamster cages, they cost more. They usually cost around $50 to $60. You can buy them either online or from a reputable pet store. There are two reasons why gerbilariums are more expensive:
- They’re bigger and more complex than hamster cages
- They can’t be made from plastic, or the gerbil could break out
Once you’ve got your pet’s gerbilarium, you have to ask, what does a gerbil cage need?
How Much Do Gerbil Exercise Wheels Cost?
Your gerbil needs an exercise wheel. While these are more associated with hamsters, all rodents need them. They allow your gerbil to run at full speed for brief periods, which it can’t do otherwise.
A nice wooden gerbil wheel costs around $20. You may already have a wheel lying around, especially if you had a hamster before. However, you can’t get a hamster wheel and give it to a gerbil. That’s because:
- Gerbils are bigger than hamsters, so may not fit in a hamster wheel
- Gerbils have long tails, which can get caught between the slats or bars of a wheel
- Hamsters can live with plastic in their cage, while gerbils can’t
You have to buy a wooden wheel without any gaps between its slats. These are more expensive or difficult to find than a hamster wheel. That’s why they’re more expensive than cheap wheels, which cost around $10.
Do You Need to Buy Tunnels for Gerbils?
If you know anything about gerbils, you’ll know that they like to dig. They enjoy building their own burrows and will sit in them throughout much of the day. You may think that you need to buy plastic tunnels for your gerbils.
This is a bad idea, so you don’t have to spend money on these. Gerbils like to dig their own tunnels, not run around in premade ones. While your gerbil will run through its tunnel, it would be happier if it could make its own.
There’s also the issue of plastic. Anything plastic that is put into a gerbil’s cage will get chewed. And when it does, your gerbil will ingest some of the plastic. This is bad for your pet’s health. So, plastic tunnels (and plastic anything else) should be avoided.
Instead of buying plastic tunnels, buy bedding that can be burrowed into. This will satisfy your gerbil’s desire for burrowing. If you want to give your gerbil a tunnel toy, use the cardboard tubes that come with toilet or kitchen rolls.
How Much Do Gerbil Toys Cost?
The only other toys that a gerbil needs chew toys. These sit in the gerbil’s enclosure, and as the name suggests, your gerbil will chew on them. You can find them from $5-$30 online.
You may think your gerbil doesn’t need toys, but it does. According to Cell Reports, gerbils have teeth that continually grow. If left to grow, they can pierce the top or bottom of your gerbil’s mouth. This causes severe pain, infection and can kill.
Plain wooden chew toys are the best. You can find these online or from pet stores cheaply, at between $5-$30. Pick a wood that hasn’t been painted or dyed, and check it isn’t pine. Other toys include sandblasted grapevines, which last a surprisingly long time.
You can also buy wicker and dried hay toys. These are as good as wood. Again, avoid painted or dyed toys. Gerbils accidentally ingest a little of whatever they chew. The same applies to plastic toys.
How to Save Money on Gerbil Toys
Toys are one thing that you don’t strictly need to buy. To be clear, your gerbil needs toys. But you can find or make gerbil toys at home for free. Here are a few examples:
- Kitchen or toilet tissue tubes. If these don’t have glue on them, they make good chew toys and tunnels to run through.
- Egg boxes. These are the same kind of cardboard, and are as good for chewing.
- Mail packaging, e.g. from Amazon. This thicker cardboard acts as a chew toy and shelter.
These toys are free and fun for a gerbil to play with. As such, you can save some money here.
Cost of Vet Care for Gerbils
Gerbils require vet care, like any other pet. They can experience health problems, such as Tyzzer’s disease, infections, and seizures. And despite being small, your gerbil’s vet bills can still be big. They can be bigger than the bills for many other household pets.
There are several reasons why gerbils cost so much. They are:
- Gerbil care isn’t as well understood as that of other pets, so owners make mistakes
- Gerbils don’t live long, so reach old age soon, when health problems begin
- Gerbils are prone to many different health problems because of a small gene pool
The cost of your vet’s bill depends on the reason for their intervention. Example costs include:
- $35-40 for a basic, scheduled exam
- $100 for an emergency appointment
- $10-20 for medication, e.g. antibiotics
- $200 for scent gland removal after tumor
These costs can vary depending on the prices that your vet charges. If you want to know exactly how much something will cost, talk directly with your vet.
It’s worth ‘shopping around’ to see if you can find lower prices. But cheaper isn’t necessarily better, so factor in experience and reviews, too.
Total Annual Cost of Owning a Gerbil
The first year that you own a gerbil will be the most expensive. That’s because you have to buy everything for it, like a cage and an exercise wheel. These initial setup costs come to $150-200, and you’ll have to spend a little more if you get more than one gerbil.
Once these things are set up, you have to think about the ongoing costs. The two main recurring costs are bedding and food. Your gerbil will need to eat every day, like any other pet. You will eventually run out of both and have to get more.
You will need to buy your gerbil/s food semi-regularly. The precise amount you’ll need to buy depends on how many gerbils you have, whether they’re male or female, and whether they have big appetites. On average, the cost comes to $50-60 per gerbil.
Bedding costs a similar amount, at between $50-100 per year. If your cage is bigger, you’ll have to spend more. If you don’t mind a slight gerbil smell, you can change the bedding less frequently.
In total, you’ll have to spend around $100-150 a year if you keep one gerbil. Add $50 for every additional gerbil you keep.