How To Stop Gerbils Making A Mess

Gerbils are one of the cleanest rodents, but that doesn’t stop them from creating a mess outside of the cage. While this is normal, there may be times when you’d prefer a cleaner house.

Gerbils kick bedding out of their cage because they’re instinctually burrowing animals that dig underground tunnels. You can prevent this with a deep glass cage and 6 inches of bedding. Placing plastic catching trays under the cage and a wire mesh covering around it stops bedding and food from making a mess.

There are things you can do to prevent your gerbils from making a mess. So, let’s explore your options.

Are Gerbils Messy?

Gerbils are clean animals, but they display a range of untidy behaviors. As a result, some owners feel like they spend most of their time cleaning up after their pets. Gerbils are messy for the following reasons:

Kicking Bedding Everywhere

Gerbils continuously dig in the corners of their cage because they have a natural urge to burrow. In the wild, they live in large groups and build a series of caves that are interconnected by underground tunnels. They have long hind legs that they use to dig and burrow.

Digging underground tunnels protect gerbils from extreme weather and predators. Unfortunately, standard cages don’t allow enough space for gerbils to burrow properly. As a result, they end up kicking sawdust everywhere.

When using a cage with bars, the bars aren’t always adequately spaced apart. This causes the bedding to spill out of the cage and onto the floor and surrounding areas, leaving you to clean up the mess.

Because digging is such a strong instinctual behavior for gerbils, they must be allowed to create burrows. If they don’t, they can become depressed and destructive.

gerbils kicking sawdust everywhere

Dust Particles

Tiny dust particles become airborne and travel further around the house when they’re kicked into the environment. The dust particles land and settle on your furniture, coating everything with a dirty, woody film. As a result, you’ll find yourself cleaning your house more often.

Not only that, but dust particles from sawdust are harmful to both you and your gerbil’s health. Once it’s breathed into the lungs, it can cause respiratory problems.

Using Wheel As A Toilet

Gerbils prefer to go to the toilet away from their bedding. Being around waste can make gerbils sick, so they protect themselves by doing their businesses where they don’t sleep.

Gerbils also go to the toilet whenever they need to. Like most animals, they don’t understand the concept of a bathroom. If they need the toilet while running on a wheel, they’ll go as they stand to relieve themselves.

As you can imagine, a spinning wheel can cause a significant mess. As owners, you’ll need to clean the mess up before your rodent becomes covered in urine and feces.

Dirty Cage

Because gerbils dig holes, it’s hard to see where they’ve peed and pooped. Feces and urine usually fall to the bottom of the cage, meaning you can’t always see or smell it, especially if you have a good-quality substrate.

As a result, your gerbil’s cage could be harboring harmful bacteria without you realizing it. It’s recommended that owners should clean cages thoroughly every 3-4 weeks to remove traces of waste, soiled bedding, and old food.

If the cage is cleaned too often, gerbils become stressed, particularly if you destroy the tunnels that gerbils have spent a long time making. Instead, to maintain good hygiene, spot clean the cage every day.

Kicking Food Around

Gerbils sometimes kick their food out of their food dishes, causing a mess inside and outside the cage.  Gerbils bury their food because of evolutionary behavior.

As explained by Behavioral Processes, gerbils hoard their food to save some for later. In the wild, they don’t always have a constant food supply, so burying food allows them to prepare for extreme conditions, reducing the risk of starvation.

As a result, many gerbils can’t help but dig through their food bowls to forage, kicking it into a mess. If gerbils have a favorite seed or nut, they may dig through their food bowl to find the ones they like best, discarding all others.

How To Prevent Gerbil Mess

While you love your gerbils, you might want to stop them from making so much mess. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help keep your living space clean and tidy, including:

Glass Cage

Instead of a cage with bars, a glass tank prevents gerbils from kicking their bedding out and creating a mess everywhere.

A deep cage with around 6 inches of bedding also provides plenty of space for gerbils to burrow. Deeper cages make better homes than wider cages because they provide more space to dig downwards.

Whether you’ve got a glass or wire cage, you can stop tunnels from collapsing and causing gerbils to re-dig by placing cardboard tubes into the substrate.

This will also prevent the gerbils from continually creating new tunnel systems, which require extensive kicking and digging.

Similarly, you can find gerbilariums with glass bottoms for the tunnel section and a wire mesh top section. This prevents gerbils from kicking sawdust and bedding everywhere but allows space to play on the top section of the cage.


Providing fun and exciting toys distracts gerbils from digging too often and obsessively and provides the mental stimulation they need to remain healthy.

Gerbils love things they can chew on, like cardboard tubes and wooden toys. Running wheels are also an excellent way for your gerbil to burn energy, making them less likely to tunnel and cause a mess.

However, after constant usage, the toys may begin to smell. To prevent this, clean them regularly with soap and warm water. Leave them to air dry before placing them back into the cage.

Mesh Netting

If you’re using a wire cage, you can prevent a mess by covering it with wire mesh netting. Thanks to the mesh material, they’re breathable and don’t prevent oxygen from getting into your gerbil’s cage.

Wire mesh prevents bedding and food from getting kicked out of the cage as everything bounces back in. They also prevent your gerbils from escaping.

When using mesh netting, make sure it’s secure to the sides of the cage so that gerbils can’t chew on it.

Catching Tray

Depending on how big your gerbil cage is, placing a plastic tray underneath catches the bedding and food your gerbil kicks out, making your gerbil’s mess easier to keep on top of.

This doesn’t restrict your gerbil’s digging behavior but keeps things a little tidier, allowing you to effortlessly discard the contents and sanitize the tray.


Veterinary Partner confirms this, explaining how many owners choose to use between 6-8 inches of bedding. If the bedding is too shallow, it will simply fly out of the cage every time your gerbil kicks through it.

The best bedding is made from wood or paper pulp. This is because it’s absorbent of urine, keeping the cage cleaner for longer.

Also, as it’s heavier and bulkier than sawdust, it’s harder for gerbils to kick out of the cage. Another benefit of paper-based bedding is that no dust particles are kicked up.

A mixture of bedding helps gerbils build the sturdiest tunnels. However, always avoid perfumed bedding, as it is unpleasant for gerbils. They may also kick it out of the cage more often to get rid of it.

are gerbils messy?

How To Clean A Gerbil’s Cage

While gerbils aren’t dirty animals, their cages get unsanitary relatively quickly, especially if they are left for too long. As a result, sanitizing them every 3-4 weeks is sensible.

Cleaning the cage isn’t difficult, either. To start, you’ll need to remove the gerbils and all accessories, like the wheel, water bottle, and food dish. While you’re cleaning, you can place the gerbils in another box or a hamster wheel so that they can get some exercise.

All bedding, whether it’s soiled or clean, must be discarded to remove bacteria. Wash all plastic and wooden toys and accessories with warm soapy water and leave them to dry.

Then, wash the inside of the cage with soapy water or a non-toxic cage cleaning spray. If the cage is particularly messy, white vinegar is suitable for cutting through grime and removing strong odors.

Scrub deep into the sides with a scrubbing brush and get rid of excess water using a clean towel. Once everything is completely air dry, put fresh bedding into the cage and the accessories back in. The gerbils are now safe to go back into the cage. When carrying out your daily spot cleans:

  1. Remove the gerbil poop you can see using a litter scooper, remembering to check the sand bath.
  2. Replace the substrate that’s wet from urine or the water bottle.
  3. Remove and replace discarded food that’s been spilled out of the bowl. Leaving them inside the cage runs the risk of them going moldy or germinating.
  4. Use a damp cloth or unperfumed baby wipe to clean down any wet shelves or accessories.
  5. Remove the water bottle and food dish, washing them in soapy water. Let them air dry and then refill them before putting them back into the cage.

Following these steps is the best way to maintain good cage hygiene and stops gerbils from getting stressed because of destroyed tunnels.

Gerbils are animals, so no matter what measures you take, there’ll always be an element of mess around the cage. Regular spot cleaning is the best way to keep your gerbil’s mess under control, but all pets require some level of housekeeping.

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