A gerbil bite is shocking, can be painful, and can even draw blood. But stopping your gerbil from biting with punishments doesn’t work, so you may not know what to do.
Spend time near the enclosure, and pick it up by scooping (not snatching) it. Don’t irritate your gerbil. Don’t react by flinching or making loud noises when bitten. To immediately prevent bites, blow gently in your gerbil’s face, or gently push its nose. If it doesn’t stop biting, wear thick gloves.
Some gerbils bite more than others, but almost all can be trained to stop biting. Avoiding frightening or annoying your gerbil is the most crucial stage.
Why Is My Gerbil Biting Me?
Being bitten is an experience that we can all relate to. But before you learn how to stop a gerbil biting, it’s necessary to understand why it happens. You can then can you change its behavior.
The central reason why your gerbil is biting is self-defense. Gerbils have sharp teeth which they use when fighting. Their claws are short, and while a little sharp, won’t do any damage. So, their teeth are all they have to defend themselves from danger.
There are many reasons why your gerbil may feel the need to defend itself. These vary depending on the circumstances. Here is a list of reasons:
- You are much bigger than your gerbil
- You haven’t had your gerbil for long, so it doesn’t know you yet
- You squeeze your gerbil too tight when you pick it up, e.g. cuddling when it doesn’t want to
- You talk loudly when handling your gerbil
- The TV or radio is on loud when you handle your gerbil
- You handle your gerbil too frequently, or it doesn’t want any handling
Any of these things could cause your gerbil to bite. Proper care will avoid most of these issues, so learn to understand your gerbil’s behavior to discover how you’re scaring it.
Do Gerbil Bites Hurt?
Gerbil bites can hurt, because a gerbil’s teeth are sharp. But how much the bite hurts depends on how hard the gerbil chose to bite. Like all animals, it can bite hard or slight nip.
The precise nature of the bite depends on how threatened the gerbil felt. If you were handling it very roughly, it might think you’re about to kill it, in which case it bites hard. If you were, then you may even notice that the gerbil bite drew blood. This can be extremely painful.
If your gerbil didn’t feel that threatened, but only annoyed by you, then it might just give a warning bite. This isn’t as hard as a full bite, and doesn’t hurt as much. Owners refer to this kind of bite as a ‘nip,’ and they usually occur because you’re doing something to irritate your gerbil.
Are Gerbil Bites Infectious?
Infections from gerbil bites occur when bacteria enters a wound. A gerbil’s mouth contains lots of bacteria, so it will become infected if you don’t clean the wound thoroughly.
Bacteria can only enter an open wound. So, if your gerbil’s bite didn’t break the skin, then the area can’t become infected. If the skin is broken, you can tell that a wound is infected. Here’s how:
- It will turn red around the edges
- It will swell up
- Pus may form inside the bite mark. This is due to white blood cells fighting the infection
Cleaning the wound is straightforward. Begin by rinsing it under a tap. Then, cover the cut with a bacterial ointment and bandage. If the wound does become infected, go to the doctor for antibiotics, which will kill the infection.
How to Make a Gerbil Stop Biting
Reacting appropriately to your gerbil’s bites will go a long way towards preventing them from happening in the future. You shouldn’t reward your pet’s bad behavior with attention.
Sometimes, your gerbil wants you to interact with it in some way. If it finds that the easiest way to do that is through bad behavior, then that’s what it will do.
Of course, that isn’t the only reason that a gerbil might bite. It might bite you because it’s afraid of you. You may have taught it to be frightened of you by hitting it or scaring it, for example. Or, you may have made a loud noise or quick movement when you picked it up.
When it bites, you no doubt you complain loudly. You may move your hand away quickly, and even loom over your gerbil threateningly in response. This will make your gerbil feel more scared, which in turn, will make it more afraid and more likely to bite you the next time.
In both circumstances, your reaction to the bite should be different. When you’re bitten, you should follow these steps instead.
1) Spend Time Near Your Gerbil
Begin by spending more time around your gerbil. From your pet’s point of view, there may be only two times that you’re around it: when you feed it, and when you handle it. If that’s the case, your gerbil may not associate your handling it with any positive experiences.
So, sit next to your gerbil’s enclosure for a while each day. It may be scared at first, but will soon realize that you aren’t there to hurt it. When it does, it will come out to feed, exercise, or drink.
2) Change How You Pick Up Your Gerbil
The easiest way to do so is to reach into the cage from above and pick your gerbil up. This is like how a claw picks up a toy in a claw machine, but it’s the wrong way.
When you do this, it reminds your gerbil of a bird of prey. Wild gerbils are preyed on by eagles among other birds of prey, so have an in-built adverse reaction to being picked up this way.
So, hold your hand flat in the cage to allow it to climb on instead. Alternatively, scoop it up with both hands, one on each side.
You should also give your gerbil warning before you pick it up. Sitting quietly before quickly snatching it up will make it scared. So, approach your gerbil and move your hands slowly, talking in a calm voice. Then, when holding your gerbil, hold it securely but not too tight.
3) Don’t Irritate Your Gerbil
There are two kinds of bites: full bites and nips. If your gerbil nips you a lot, it’s because you’re doing something to annoy it. There are many things that your gerbil may find irritating:
- Picking your gerbil up when it doesn’t want you to pick it up
- Continuing to hold your gerbil when it wants to be put down
- Cuddling your pet close when it doesn’t like cuddles
- Stroking your gerbil where it doesn’t want you to
If you do these things and you notice your gerbil nipping you, you must stop. Only through time and trust will your gerbil start to enjoy you doing these things.
4) Don’t React when Bitten
If your gerbil stops nipping, but still occasionally bites, don’t worry. You can stop regular, harder biting too. Keeping your reaction in check is the key.
When you’re bitten, it’s natural to react with shock. Your body wants you to move away from the ‘threat,’ to prevent any further injury. So, when you’re bitten, you may:
- Yelp loudly or raise your voice in anger
- Flinch, pulling your hand away quickly
- Jump because of the shock of being bitten
Each of these things only makes it more likely that your gerbil will bite again. When you raise your voice, for example, it’s like a threat. Animals, including gerbils, make loud noises to threaten other animals. That’s what your gerbil thinks you’re doing.
The same applies to flinching. Your gerbil will already be on edge, or it wouldn’t have bitten you. Then, it sees you moving your arm fast. It may think you’re about to hit it. Jumping is the same.
So, control this reaction. When your gerbil bites you, you should remain as still and calm as you can. Don’t shout, don’t yelp, and don’t flinch away. This has the added benefit of proving to your gerbil that the bites don’t hurt. It will then be less likely to bite to protect itself in the future.
5) Don’t Punish Your Gerbil when Bitten
It’s tempting to punish your gerbil if it does something wrong. You might think that putting your gerbil in ‘solitary confinement’ might teach it the error of its ways, or not giving it its favorite snack later on might do the same. But punishing a gerbil is pretty pointless.
Some pets understand cause and effect, but only in a limited way. Your gerbil won’t know why you’re punishing it. All it will understand is that you’re attacking it, and it will defend itself through biting.
Begin by continuing your non-reaction. The first time your gerbil bites you, carry on doing what you were doing. If that’s handling, then continue handling your gerbil for a moment. If it keeps biting, then put it back in its cage.
The next time you try handling your gerbil, gauge its reaction. If it doesn’t bite this time, then there’s no problem. But if it does, you’ll have to try something else.
6) Blow Gently in Your Gerbil’s Face
Immediate corrective behavior is different from punishment because it’s linked to what your gerbil is doing wrong. There are two kinds of corrective behavior that you should look to employ.
You can gently blow into your gerbil’s face as they don’t like air being blown at them. As soon as your gerbil bites you, blow a gentle puff of air into its face.
Your gerbil may flinch away slightly, so this will stop it from biting in the short term. And in the long term, if you do it every time it bites, it will come to associate biting with this reaction.
7) Gently Push Your Gerbil’s Nose
The next time your gerbil bites you, take a finger, and push it against your pet’s nose. Don’t be forceful, as if you’re pushing it away. A gently poke will suffice.
You shouldn’t jab it hard, or flick its nose, for example. Put your finger next to its nose and push forward. This will help disengage its bite. It’s also slightly annoying for your gerbil, so it won’t like it.
The reason gerbils don’t like this is because it’s common gerbil behavior. If one gerbil is doing something that another doesn’t like, the second may gently tap it on the nose.
What to Do If Your Gerbil Won’t Stop Biting
Despite your best efforts, it may be that your gerbil won’t quit biting. Some gerbils are less trusting of people than others. The easiest solution is to handle less frequently.
You can also wear a pair of gloves. While any gloves will help to an extent, thicker gardening gloves would be ideal. These would stop your gerbil’s teeth from reaching your skin and hurting you. It would prevent any pain. That in itself is reason enough to wear them. But they would also ensure that you don’t flinch or yelp when bitten, which will encourage your pet to stop biting.
You could also try tempting and distracting your gerbil with food. Place a small snack on your hand and let it feed from your palm. This can break the cycle of your gerbil associating you only with negative things. However, it can mean that your gerbil nibbles your hand more, looking for food.