As captive pets, gerbils are at risk of becoming overweight or obese. But with how active gerbils are, it’s difficult to tell how much exercise they should get each day.
Captive gerbils should exercise daily, and in different ways. Their periods of activity should last 30-60 minutes. Most gerbils dig burrows and search for food, but may also run on a wheel. A lack of exercise causes poor health. A complete absence of exercise is a sign that a gerbil is about to die.
The easiest way to get a gerbil to exercise is by gerbil-proofing your room, and letting it loose. It will run and explore, and slowly lose weight. You can also give your pet a solid-wood gerbil wheel or an exercise ball for the same results.
How Do Gerbils Exercise?
Gerbils exercise in by running around. In the wild, they don’t need to ‘exercise.’ That’s because the way they normally live involves lots of running around anyway.
But in captivity, gerbils can’t move around as quickly or go as far as they otherwise would. This raises the problem of your gerbil becoming overweight. It doesn’t need to run from predators, and can never run at full speed because of its small enclosure.
Whatever the case, you don’t need to push your gerbil to do these things. It should do them naturally on its own.
Gerbil Exercise in the Wild
The concept of ‘exercise’ is a strange one to animals. Most wild animals don’t ‘exercise’ in the sense that humans do. While we have to spend time running or cycling with no other purpose than to keep fit, wild animals get their exercise from their everyday activities.
Gerbils are no exception. They do lots of things that require physical effort. In the wild, gerbils get exercise by:
- Searching for food. Gerbils eat low-calorie foods, which means they have to eat a lot. To eat a lot, gerbils have to search for food constantly.
- Digging burrows. Gerbils are natural diggers, and live in burrows for protection. They dig their own burrows, which can be hard work.
- Running from predators. There are many predators of gerbils, including birds of prey. Sometimes, gerbils have to run and hide as quick as they can to escape.
- Playing with other gerbils. Gerbils are social, and spend all day in the company of other gerbils. Sometimes, they play and run around with each other.
- Fighting other gerbils. Sometimes a dominant gerbil will fight a submissive gerbil for one reason or another. This can involve lots of running and jumping around.
This level of activity is enough to keep a gerbil fit. Any gerbils that are unfit couldn’t get away from predators, so a wild gerbil’s fitness is vital.
Both wild and captive gerbils enjoy exercise, as demonstrated by the Royal Society, which published an article on wild mice learning to use a running wheel.
Captive gerbils have a harder time staying fit. They should still be active, but will need to be active in different ways to their wild cousins.
How Much Exercise Do Gerbils Need?
There is no set amount of time agreed on either by scientists with regards to how much a gerbil needs to exercise. That’s because gerbils are so active, that one becoming fat is rare.
However, a good rule of thumb is that you want to see your gerbil exercise for around an hour three times a week. Whether this is time during which it explores your room, or runs on its wheel, so long as it’s active an hour is fine.
This will be enough to prevent your gerbil from becoming too sedentary. But at the same time, it may also be possible for your gerbils to over-exert themselves. So, you need to find a balance.
How Often Should Gerbils Exercise?
Gerbils should exercise every day. The gerbil’s natural routine in the wild dictates that it has to be active constantly. Every day it has to run from predators, search for food, and interact with or fight other gerbils.
Your job as a pet owner is to simulate your pet’s natural experience. You should do this by helping your gerbil to remain active every day.
Your gerbil shouldn’t want to rest on the weekends, because its body is designed to be active throughout the week, and its daily routine isn’t that strenuous.
So, if you notice your gerbil taking long rest periods, that may be an issue.
How Long Should Gerbils Exercise?
Gerbils are highly active creatures. If they aren’t sleeping, gerbils are running around their cages or on their wheels. When gerbils exercise, ideally it should be active for periods of between half an hour and an hour. This period of activity includes:
- Using an exercise wheel on and off
- Running around and playing with other gerbils
- Digging around either to create a burrow structure, or to search for food
When this period of activity is over, your gerbil will have some rest time. It may go into the burrow it made in order to sleep. Gerbils sleep in several chunks throughout the day and night, and are active in between.
If your gerbil doesn’t exercise for exactly an hour, that’s no issue. All gerbils have periods of rest and periods of activity throughout the day.
To be clear, there’s no need to time to the minute how much exercise your pets do. But what you should take note of is roughly how active they are, how long they exercise for, and whether they exercise every day. If your gerbil is still digging and foraging for food, it’s exercising enough.
Can Gerbils Get Obese?
Like other animals, gerbils can become ill from being overweight or excessively idle. Weight gain is determined by the amount of energy consumed, measured in calories, versus the amount of energy burned. If your gerbil eats too much, it gets fat like any other animal can.
This can happen if your gerbil eats too much of the wrong kind of food. Sunflower seeds, for example, are nutritious but have lots of fat. This means if your gerbil eats too many of them, it may get fat too.
The more your gerbil eats, the more it will have to exercise. So, if you know that one of your gerbils eats more than the rest, you should encourage it to be even more active.
The more a gerbil exercises, the more it will eat. The journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that mice with high levels of physical activity ate lots more than less active strains.
This isn’t a problem, though, as the increased food only makes up for the increased effort.
Can Gerbils Get Heart Disease?
Gerbils can experience heart failure. This is where the gerbil is overweight to the point that its heart doesn’t work properly. Heart failure is characterized by several symptoms, including:
- Hardly moving, and definitely not wanting to exercise or run around
- Labored breathing
- Blue tongue and gums
- Sudden weight gain and bloating of the stomach
If you notice these symptoms, take your gerbil to the vet. They will recommend several changes for your gerbil, like a change in diet. Again, extra exercise will help your gerbil to lose weight and stay healthy if it has heart disease.
Gerbil Exercise in Captivity
Gerbils are highly active even when cooped up in their enclosure. So, your pet will spend much of its time moving around. It will:
- Move from the top part of its enclosure to the bottom
- Dig around in its bedding to make small burrows
- Fight and play with other gerbils
But, crucially, your gerbil can’t push to its limits because the enclosure is small. Your gerbil won’t move around as much because it has nowhere to go. It can’t reach its full running speed, either.
Captive gerbils also don’t get the kind of exercise wild ones do because everything is provided for them. They are given food which meets all their nutritional needs, for example. Often, they have plastic burrows instead of burrowing on their own. There are no predators to run from.
This means that your gerbil doesn’t get natural exercise. You need to help it exercise by installing a wheel in its enclosure, letting it out to run around, or buying your pet an exercise ball.
Can You Buy Gerbil Exercise Equipment?
Because gerbils are stuck inside their enclosures, you need to provide something for them to exercise on and prevent boredom. There are several things you can get, which are both cheap and effective. The most well known are exercise wheels and exercise balls.
Other than this, you can buy bridges and walkways that your gerbil can walk across. These don’t exercise your gerbil in a particular way. But they encourage your pet to move around its enclosure, because its enclosure is now more interesting.
Gerbil Exercise Wheel
Getting an exercise wheel is a perfect way to get your gerbil some exercise. Exercise wheels sit in the corner of your gerbil’s enclosure. Whenever your gerbil feels antsy or excited, it will jump on the wheel and run as fast as it can.
According to Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, running on a wheel stimulates a rodent’s brain reward systems. So, it’s been scientifically proven that most rodents enjoy running on wheels.
Crucially, the exercise wheel will let your gerbil reach full speed. This is something it can’t do when running around its enclosure. This both helps your gerbil stay healthy, and prevent it from becoming too unhappy from being cooped up.
Not all gerbils like exercise wheels, though. Many owners report putting a wheel in their gerbil’s enclosure, only for their pet to never use it. If that’s the case, you’ll have to try some other way of getting your gerbil to exercise.
Gerbil Exercise Ball
Exercise balls are essentially the same thing as exercise wheels. They are round, plastic balls with a hole in the top that your gerbil can get inside. You can close that hole with a small door. Your gerbil can then run around anywhere, even outside, safely.
Exercise balls aren’t as good as wheels because it’s harder for your gerbil to run fast.
Gerbil-Proofing Your Room
This involves shutting off any entrances and exits that your gerbil could use to escape. You also have to block off gaps behind and underneath furniture.
Once you’ve done this, you can let your gerbil out of its enclosure. This is even better than a running wheel or ball because gerbils are curious, and love to explore. They enjoy running around their owners’ rooms.
You can let your gerbil out of its enclosure as often as you like, provided it’s safe. This will give your pet more than enough exercise time. You could even set up a special pen for your gerbil to run around in.