Gerbils have ways to keep cool when it’s too hot. These mechanisms enable them to survive in the wild during the summer months. But in captivity, you need to take steps to keep your gerbils cool.
Gerbils hide in their burrows to escape the sun and warm air. They also drink more water than usual. Gerbils can get heatstroke, so move your gerbil’s cage out of sunlight, provide fresh/cool water, and a chilled rock/tile for your gerbil(s) to sit on.
Heatstroke is a serious condition that can kill your gerbil. Even if you take your gerbil to the vet, it may not survive this traumatic experience.
Is It Hot Where Gerbils Live?
There are many species of gerbil, but each species lives in a similar place. Mongolian gerbils, the most common, live in the Gobi Desert and the Mongolian steppe.
Both of these places will get hot in the summer. However, they aren’t close to the equator like other deserts (e.g. the Sahara). They aren’t constantly hot, though.
According to National Geographic, the area has temperature extremes. In the summer, the air will only get up to 100 degrees or so regularly, but can go higher. Because a gerbil’s body temperature is lower than this (around 98 degrees), the air is too hot for them.
But, it’s only that hot during the day. At night, the temperature drops, like it does in all deserts. The steppe is an open plain, so it loses heat quickly in the evening and at night.
And in winter, the temperatures are nowhere near these summer highs. It can get remarkably cold, all the way down to -40 degrees. When it does, gerbils have to survive the cold rather than the heat. They use different tactics to survive during the summer and winter months.
How Do Gerbils Regulate Body Temperature?
Gerbils are warm-blooded animals. This means that they produce their own body heat. This is something that mammals, including people, do. It helps animals survive in cold temperatures.
The internal temperature of a mammal is roughly the same, no matter what circumstance it’s in. In people, for example, that temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. In warm weather, most of the body is this temperature. When it’s cooler, only the area around the organs is this warm.
The gerbil’s body temperature is roughly the same (a little lower). The point is to keep the organs working optimally. However, this can be a problem when the room temperature gets too high. A mammal’s body has several ways of keeping cool, like sweating or panting. But these methods work slowly and don’t result in drastic changes.
When the ambient temperature is higher than the body temperature, the only solution is for the animal to leave the area and find shelter. Otherwise, its organs will fail.
Can Gerbils Get Heat Stroke?
According to the ASPCA, heatstroke is the result of spending too long somewhere warm. This could be in a warm room, in direct sunlight, or an area near the equator. Whatever the case, the results are the same. The symptoms of heatstroke include:
- Fever, i.e. high temperature with accompanying dizziness, hallucinations, etc.
- Loss of appetite
- Fast breathing and fast pulse
- Extreme thirst
Heatstroke can be fatal if left untreated. If it occurs, you must give your gerbil water and take it to a vet. However, there would still be a high risk that your gerbil would die.
That being said, heatstroke is unlikely to occur unless you don’t care for your gerbil properly. Only by leaving your gerbil in a sweltering room in direct sunlight would heat stroke occur. It can also happen when you’re traveling with your gerbil.
Gerbil Temperature Requirements
Both wild and domesticated gerbils need a specific temperature to thrive. If it’s too hot or too cold, a gerbil can become sick, and can even die.
In captivity, this isn’t usually a problem. Almost everybody keeps their home at a comfortable temperature. A comfortable temperature for a person is the same as a comfortable temperature for a gerbil. So, if you’re happy with your home’s heating system, your gerbil will also be contented.
The range in which a gerbil is happiest is from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This is what most people set their thermostats to. This means that there usually isn’t anything you have to do to make your gerbil comfortable.
How Do Gerbils Survive Hot Weather?
Gerbils have several methods they use to keep their body temperature low. Some involve their environment, while others involve bodily functions. These apply both in captivity and in the wild, so you’ll see your pet gerbil doing these things too.
Burrows Keep Cool in Summer
All gerbils live in burrows. They each have a burrowing instinct, so enjoy digging, although many wild gerbils take over existing tunnels.
These burrows are the perfect shelter. They have small entrances and exits, so that air can’t easily get in from outside. Coupled with the shelter of the soil around them, this keeps the gerbil warm or cool, depending on the season.
Gerbils will try to stay out of the worst of the sun. While Mongolian gerbils are diurnal, they still must avoid the hottest sunshine of the summer, which can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Their burrows help them do this.
Do Gerbils Sweat?
The purpose of sweating is to cool the skin down, which the sweat does as it evaporates. However, not all animals sweat in the same way that we do. Gerbils don’t sweat at all.
The reason why is that gerbils have fur. Sweating isn’t as effective for a gerbil as it is for a person, because the sweat wouldn’t evaporate quickly.
Gerbils need to conserve water. While the desert and steppe they live in isn’t consistently hot, it is consistently dry. These regions in Mongolia are some of the driest places on the planet.
Gerbils need to keep hold of as much water as possible. They go to the toilet infrequently, and eat plant roots to get water rather than finding streams and ponds (as there aren’t any). To sweat would be a waste of too much water. So, gerbils rely on other cooling methods instead.
Becoming Less Active
If gerbils are highly active when it’s hot, they will get even hotter, which can cause heatstroke. So, you may notice your gerbil:
- Lying flat on the ground, not moving, spread out
- Staying in its burrow and not coming out as often as it usually would
- Not eating as much, because to eat, they need to dig and search for food
This will help your gerbil keep cool. If possible, it will also find somewhere out of the sun and under some shelter, where it’s cooler. If the burrow isn’t available, it may try to get under or inside something else, like its running wheel.
How to Cool Gerbils Down
If the room temperature is too high, you should take steps to cool it down. If you don’t, your gerbil could experience heat stroke. There are several things you can do.
Air Conditioning (Regular Room Temperature)
Most houses have A.C./air conditioning, which is an energy-intensive but effective way of cooling a home. The air conditioner sucks in air, which is cooled down and blown back out. The A.C. may be in only one room, or the cool air could be blown through vents around the whole house.
Either way, air conditioning keeps your home at a steady, comfortable temperature. This temperature is usually around 65 to 75 degrees, which is optimal for your gerbil. There’s no need to chill the room any further for your gerbil to be comfortable.
So, if you have the A.C. on, your gerbil will be fine. Ensure that your pet is in a room that has air conditioning, e.g. your bedroom, rather than the garage. If you do that, and keep your pet out of sunlight, you won’t need to do anything else.
Keep Your Pet’s Cage Out of Sunlight
You should never keep your gerbil’s cage in direct sunlight. Even if you were trying to warm your pet up rather than cool it down, it’s a bad idea. Direct sunlight can quickly cause heatstroke.
Your gerbil’s cage will trap heat. If your pet has a proper gerbilarium, it should have a lower glass section and an upper metal cage section. The below section has bedding, while the upper cage contains the water bottle, exercise wheel, and so on.
According to PopSci, glass is excellent at absorbing and trapping light/heat. Energy, in the form of light, gets through the glass easily. Once through, it hits the bedding, in which it is absorbed. The bedding quickly warms up, eventually becoming hot.
But what’s worse is that glass is excellent at insulating. It keeps warmth in efficiently. So, the bedding and air will warm up, but can’t cool down again easily, and stay warm. As more light comes in, it gets even hotter. It’s like a hot car on a summer’s day, parked in the sun.
Even regular warm sunlight can cause this problem to an extent. Because your gerbil’s burrow is where it likes to hide from the heat, this is especially bad. So, if your gerbil’s cage is in sunlight, move it to somewhere that it’s not.
This also applies to areas hit by reflected light. Reflected light can be as bad as direct light.
Give Your Gerbil Cool Water
An overheated gerbil will benefit from drinking cool, fresh water. Cool water has two effects. It replaces water lost through evaporation, which is a bigger problem during hot weather. But it also cools the animal’s core temperature, from the inside.
Take your gerbil’s water bottle and empty it. You may want to take the opportunity to give it a clean, if you haven’t for a while. Then, fill it with cool water from the fridge or faucet. If your area has lots of chlorine in faucet water, you’ll need to filter it out. Then, affix the bottle to the cage as you usually would. Your gerbils will drink if they want to, which they likely will.
Bear in mind that you shouldn’t give your gerbil icy water. It would be too cold for your gerbil to drink, and could even cool your pet down too much. Regular cool water is fine.
You’ll want to change your pet’s water regularly. Twice a day is a good amount to change it. Otherwise, the water will get back up to room temperature quickly.
Damp Cloth or Cool Tile in Gerbil’s Cage
You could also consider adding something cooling into your pet’s environment. The two easiest things to do are to place a cooling, damp cloth or a chilled tile into your gerbil’s enclosure.
A chilled tile is the best choice, because it doesn’t add moisture as well as coolness. You place the tile in the fridge or freezer, until it’s nice and cold. Then, you wrap it in a cloth and put it in your pet’s cage—the top section. You could also use a regular stone, provided that it’s clean.
Don’t place this tile/stone on top of your gerbil’s cage. The weight of it could damage your gerbil’s home. Ideally, put it in the enclosure. If it’s too big, then put it next to the enclosure.
The best thing about this method of cooling down your gerbil, is that your pet can choose how cool to get. If your pet is way too hot, it can sit on the tile until it’s a better temperature. But if your gerbil doesn’t want to get cool, it doesn’t have to, and can stay in its burrow.
If you don’t have the time to chill the tile, which is best done overnight, then you can use a damp cloth. It shouldn’t be soaking wet, because then it will drip everywhere, including on the bedding. It should be rinsed in cold water and wrung out.
You can place this damp cloth inside your gerbil’s cage, in the same way, i.e. for it to lie on. Alternatively, you could drape it over your pet’s cage. This would keep the air cool, because the water will evaporate. Provided that the cloth isn’t dripping everywhere, this is a good idea.
Set Up a Fan or a Draft
On sweltering days, the most effective way to keep cool is air circulation. Still, the air gets warm and stays warm. But as air is blown on, cooler air takes its place. That’s why rooms have ceiling fans, to keep the air moving.
If your gerbil’s room does have ceiling fans, you should consider turning them on. This will prevent the air from sitting still and getting too hot. Alternatively, you could consider:
- Setting up a small table fan. Don’t have it blow directly on your pet’s cage, but near it.
- Opening up a window. Having a through draft running through your home will keep it cooler.
You must be careful if opening a window. In some circumstances, you can keep a room cooler if the window is shut and covered. Whether this is the case depends on where you live.
Only by closely monitoring your gerbils can you completely prevent issues with heat. You may want to set up a thermometer in or near its cage, which you can check occasionally.