Care Guide

How To Tame Skittish Gerbils

Some gerbils are naturally afraid, especially when they’re first introduced into your home. When gerbils are learning about their new environment, they’ll display skittish behaviors and may not seem entirely comfortable. Therefore, taming the gerbil should help to calm it down.

Gerbils are skittish due to fear of their new surroundings, too much noise, and over-handling. They may see their caregivers as predators. Taming gerbils is relatively easy, but you must work at your gerbil’s pace. Begin by offering treats to get your pet used to you. Once it becomes comfortable, start encouraging your gerbil to step onto your hand and pet around the ears and head it to show affection.

Once you’ve tamed a skittish gerbil, you’ll have a new friend to play with. Bear in mind that some gerbils retain a sense of nervousness, even after they’ve been tamed by their owners.

How To Calm Down Gerbils

Skittish gerbils don’t always show their shyness by hiding. Some spend lots of time running about in their cage and displaying destructive behaviors because they’re feeling stressed.

Before your sleep is disturbed and your gerbil drives itself mad, you’ll want to prevent this skittish behavior by calming it down. You can do so with the following steps:

Toys And Accessories

Skittish gerbils may be harboring too much energy that they can’t exert. Gerbils are playful and curious creatures, so they need lots of toys and accessories to keep them occupied.

If your gerbil’s bored, it will chew on the bars of its cage, scratch the corners, and pace around in a restless manner.

You should stop this behavior before your gerbil becomes unruly and untameable. Providing toys is a good way to keep your gerbil mentally and physically stimulated. Their favorite playthings include:

Burrowing Spaces

Gerbils need space to hide when they feel skittish or afraid. Gerbils have strong digging instincts, even when living in captivity. Therefore, providing skittish gerbils with bedding around six inches deep allows them to focus their energies on creating tunnels and burrows.

It also gives them somewhere warm and dark to sleep. As nocturnal creatures, gerbils sleep when it’s light, so they need hiding spots to go to during the day when everyone else is up. This will keep them rested and calm. Tired gerbils often become skittish.

what do gerbils do when they are scared?

Speak To Gerbils Softly

Sitting near to your gerbil’s cage and speaking softly to it is an effective way to show your gerbil that you’re not a threat. The soft tones could even help it calm down once it comes to realize you’re not a predator.

While gerbils are shy, they’re inquisitive and will investigate the sound. This will distract them from their nervousness and become more peaceful around your presence.

Get a Pair of Gerbils

Most gerbils feel more comfortable in same-sex pairs or small groups. Gerbils shouldn’t be kept alone, as they become lonely. This can lead to a range of behavioral problems.

In the wild, gerbil group sizes range between two and 15. If you choose to opt for more than one gerbil, try to find rodents that are already in pairs. Introducing gerbils from different social groups often leads to aggression and fighting.

What Do Gerbils Do When They Are Scared?

It’s easy to tell when gerbils are scared, as they’ll display a range of behaviors to warn you off. Any changes in behavior indicate an underlying issue, so pay attention to the following signs of fear: 

Hiding

If your gerbil’s scared of you, it will hide every time you approach the cage, burrowing into its nest or hiding in tunnels. It will go wherever it knows you can’t touch it.

Tunneling is a gerbil’s way of escaping predators. If your gerbil sees you as a threat, your gerbil may learn to only come out at night when you’re asleep to avoid you.

Some gerbils are naturally nervous and may never become comfortable around their caregivers. Others become more sociable over time once they get used to their environment.

Foot Stomping (Drumming)

Drumming is when a gerbil stamps its back feet quickly and repeatedly, like a drum. It signifies they’re scared or excitable. In the wild, gerbils stomp their feet to warn their kin about predatory threats. If your gerbil sees you as a predator, it will drum.

Similarly, your gerbil may stomp its feet when seeing you for the first time. It’s trying to understand you better. Psychonomic Science explains that gerbils also stomp in response to excitement, meaning it may be forging a bond with you and is happy to see you.

Biting

Scared gerbils bite as a form of self-defense. Their claws are short and not very sharp, so their teeth are the only things they have to defend themselves with.

Because you’re much bigger than your gerbil, your pet sees you as an immediate threat. Your gerbil may also bite if you grip it too tightly when handling it.

Biting hurts and can lead to bacterial infections. It can also ruin the bond that you’ve started to build between you and your pet.

Poop And Urinate More Often

Gerbils are clean creatures, pooping in a dedicated area of their cage so that the rest of the enclosure remains clean.

As a result, if you notice that your gerbil has started to poop or urinate in other areas of its cage or on itself, it’s scared. 

Similarly, when you get it out of the cage, it may poop on you out of fear. Your gerbil might not be tame enough to be handled yet, so put it back into its cage before beginning the taming process.

Vocalization

Scared gerbils are more likely to vocalize their displeasure. Baby gerbils frequently chatter until they’re around five months old. As adults, they become much quieter. So, if you notice your gerbil is becoming noisier, it’s probably scared or stressed.

It’s not just high-pitched squeaking that your gerbil will vocalize, but teeth chattering and foot-stomping.

Why Are My Gerbils Scared Of Me?

Gerbils are small animals, reaching around four inches in size. As a result, humans look like big, scary predators – at least at first.

As described by a journal published by the US National Library of Medicine, gerbils are usually non-aggressive and are one of the easiest rodents to handle and maintain.

This is firstly good news, as it means that your gerbil is likely to warm to you with the right care.

However, it also indicates that they’re easy to pick up and hold. As a result, some gerbil owners over-handle, causing the rodent to become wary of its human handler. Signs that your gerbil is afraid of you are:

  • It stands on its hind legs with its front paws pressed together
  • Hiding away in corners of the cage
  • Reduced appetite
  • Refusal to accept treats
  • Foot drumming
  • Aggression
  • Frequent vocalizations
  • Red tears
  • Hyperactivity

Gerbils are scared of their owners for the following reasons:

Making Too Much Noise

Gerbils communicate using ultrasonic frequencies. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America describes how gerbils can hear frequencies between 100 Hz and 60 kHz. In comparison, human voices register between 85 and 255 Hz.

As a result, loud noises likely scare your gerbil – especially from squealing, high-pitched children who become overly-excited around cute animals.

To make your gerbil feel more comfortable, limit the amount of noise in its living space. This includes:

  • TV noise
  • Sound from the radio
  • Talking or shouting
  • The sound produced from electricals or household appliances

Not Bonded with Your Gerbil

If you’ve recently got your gerbil, it will feel scared as it’s not used to you. Not only do you look unfamiliar, but you smell unfamiliar, too. Similarly, a new, unexplored environment can cause gerbils to become nervous.

You might be tempted to over-handle your gerbil to try to get it used to you. However, this is likely to have the opposite effect. Gerbils avoid larger animals in the wild for fear of predation.

Resist the urge and only handle your gerbil now and then. If your gerbil becomes fearful, put it back into its cage and try again another day. And when you do hold your gerbil, grip it lightly and support the gerbil’s body properly so that it doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall.

Make Sudden Movements

Sudden movements are the sign that a predator is near and ready to pounce on the gerbil. Your gerbil’s survival instincts will kick in, causing it to flee and hide.

If you place your hand into the cage too quickly or are skittish in your movements, your gerbil is always going to be fearful of you, as it’ll associate your actions with those of a predator’s. Slow down when you’re around your gerbil and proceed with caution when you’re around the enclosure.

Too Rough with Your Gerbil

If you squeezed your gerbil a little too hard or played too rough with it, your gerbil will remember and associate the stress caused with you. Therefore, every time you attempt to play with your pet, it will make itself scarce and hide when you approach.

Gerbils are small creatures that need to be treated with the utmost care. It’s easy to forget how fragile they are, but accidents and injury are common with gerbils due to their size.  

How To Make Your Gerbil Happy

As an owner, it’s normal that you’d want to keep your gerbils happy. Treating your pet well reduces skittishness and makes the gerbil easier to tame in the long run. To keep your gerbil happy, consider the following:

Occasional Treats

Gerbils love treats. While they should only make up a small part of your pet’s diet, offering a treat is a good way to keep your gerbil happy. It also helps with the taming process and gives your gerbil the chance to start trusting you. Gerbils enjoy the following treat foods:

Avoid treats like spinach and citrus fruits, as they are too high in water and overly acidic.

Position The Cage Well

Gerbils spend most of their lives in their enclosure, so it needs to be in a prime location. Gerbils needs at least 10 gallons of space to be comfortable – if you have a pair, you need 20 gallons (and so on).

It’s best to put gerbils in the quietest room in the house where they can live in peace. Choose a room without too much through traffic or noisy TVs, and close the room off from unsupervised children and pets.

Doing so should give your gerbil a comfortable place to live and will keep it happy and feeling less skittish. Don’t put too many gerbils in one cage.

Keep The Cage Clean

Gerbils are naturally clean animals who stick to a specific part of the cage to urinate and defecate. Therefore, washing the enclosure out twice a month with soapy water will keep your gerbil feeling comfortable.

Don’t replace the bedding too often, as you’ll ruin your gerbil’s tunnels. However, resetting the cage by adding new bedding is an excellent way to encourage your gerbil to keep itself busy by creating new tunnels.

how long does it take to tame a gerbil?

How Long Does It Take To Tame A Gerbil?

You can’t handle gerbils from the day you bring them home. Children will be tempted, but you must teach them to respect their new pet first.

When young gerbils are around 6-7 weeks old, it takes roughly 2 weeks to tame a gerbil successfully. However, the pet will need daily handling once it’s acclimatized to its surroundings.

Older gerbils take a bit longer to tame, even as much as 2 months or longer. As long as gerbils don’t feel threatened, they will respond to the taming process. Over time, they should even enjoy being handled.

Don’t feel too disheartened if your gerbil takes a while to tame. Skittish gerbils sometimes take time to calm down enough to handle.

How To Tame A Gerbil

Before you begin the taming process, allow your gerbils some time to get used to their environment. If you start too soon, you’ll stress them out.

It’s easier to tame gerbils in pairs because they keep each other company. If you’re wondering how to get your gerbil to trust you, follow these steps:

Start Slowly

Sit by the cage quietly to allow the gerbil to become used to your presence. Only interact with the gerbil once it’s awake. Waking it up from a slumber will only cause it to become stressed and aggressive.

If your gerbil becomes withdrawn at any point, slow the taming process down until your gerbil feels more comfortable.

Begin To Offer Treats

Start by offering your gerbil treats from your fingers. Once it becomes used to doing so, you can offer treats while the cage door is open. Practice this technique a few times until your gerbil responds positively to you.

When the gerbil approaches the cage’s bars, offer it a tasty treat, such as sunflower seeds or gerbil-safe fruits and vegetables.

As soon as your gerbil is comfortable taking treats from you through the cage door, place the treat on your open hand for it to step onto.

Encourage Body Contact

At this stage, place a treat onto your forearm and encourage the gerbil to climb up your arm. Repeat this process until your gerbil stops acting skittish around you and becomes calmer and more placid.

After a while, begin to scratch your gerbil’s head around the back and sides. Keep handling your gerbil and socializing with it, so it learns to understand that you’re a friend, not a foe.

By following these steps, you should begin to form a strong bond with your gerbil. Don’t move faster than your gerbil wants to. Also, don’t chase it around the cage, as that will cause stress.

Taming your gerbil ends in the two of you becoming friends, if successful. Start by taming the gerbil first; then, if you have kids, you can teach them how to do the same thing. After a while, your gerbil will enjoy affection. You might even be able to teach gerbils tricks.