Gerbils thrive on a varied diet containing a range of grains, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Along with a high-quality gerbil food mix, gerbils enjoy fresh produce as dietary supplement. Gerbils can eat lettuce, but in moderation due to its high water content.
Lettuce is safe for gerbils to eat. It contains a variety of nutrients such as folate, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins K and A. Red and green leaf lettuce, butterhead lettuce, and romaine lettuce are good choices. Gerbils shouldn’t eat iceberg lettuce as its water content is too high.
Most gerbils like lettuce, particularly romaine and dark leaf varieties. However, lettuce should not make up a large part of a gerbil’s diet. They should only have lettuce as an occasional treat, once or twice per week.
Can Gerbils Eat Lettuce?
Gerbils are omnivores, meaning they can eat both animal and plant matter, including lettuce. Though lettuce doesn’t form a natural part of a wild gerbil’s diet, it’s safe for pet gerbils. Lettuce also contains many important vitamins and minerals.
That being said, lettuce has a high water content. Gerbils are desert animals, and too much water can be bad for them. Because of this, lettuce should not be a staple food in your gerbil’s diet. It should be limited to an occasional snack.
Lettuce doesn’t have much flavor and can taste quite bland. So, you may be wondering: do gerbils like lettuce? Most gerbils enjoy it, but some don’t. Lettuce isn’t high in calories, and gerbils prefer high energy foods, like nuts. But to some extent, it depends on which type of lettuce you offer.
There are several different types of lettuce, called cultivars. They’re all the same species, but have been selectively bred for different flavors, textures, and nutrients. Other than iceberg lettuce, all other edible kinds are safe for gerbils.
Nutritional Value of Lettuce
Because lettuce is quite watery and mild, you’d be forgiven for assuming that it doesn’t contain many nutrients. However, lettuce contains several different types of vitamins and minerals, including (but not limited to):
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- A range of B vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, folate, and pantothenic acid
- Vitamin K
Unfortunately, lettuce isn’t all good news for gerbils. It contains little fiber, virtually no protein, no fat, and very few calories. A 100g serving of lettuce contains only 13 to 17 calories on average.
According to Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals, gerbils do live longer with access to “succulent feeds” such as lettuce. However, they also need lots of protein and fat – far more than lettuce can provide. This means that while lettuce makes a good dietary supplement, it isn’t suitable as a main food source for gerbils.
Is Lettuce Bad for Gerbils?
Lettuce is not poisonous to gerbils. However, it can occasionally cause health problems. All fresh produce can harbor bacteria, dirt, or pesticide residue. Lettuce in particular can carry Listeria bacteria, which can cause food poisoning.
The leaves and stalks of lettuce plants also contain a compound called Lactucin. This can have a mild sedative effect. According to Food Science and Biotechnology, romaine lettuce has higher lactucin levels than leaf lettuce. This is only a danger for gerbils if lettuce is consumed in excess.
Lettuce also contains a high percentage of water (94-96%). Gerbils only need 3-5ml of water per day, as they’re desert animals. A diet of watery vegetables can dilute the sodium and electrolytes in your gerbil’s body, and cause diarrhea. So:
- Only feed your gerbil lettuce that is sold for human consumption (not wild)
- Ideally, all lettuce fed to your gerbil should be organic (grown without pesticides)
- Wash lettuce thoroughly and dry it before giving it to your gerbil
- Offer lettuce only as an occasional treat, rather than an everyday food
Also, never give your gerbil any lettuce that has been coated in seasonings, oils, or dressings.
What Kinds of Lettuce Can Gerbils Eat?
There are hundreds of different varieties of lettuce. But you’re unlikely to spot them all at your local supermarket. You’re most likely to find the four main cultivars: leaf, romaine, butterhead, and iceberg (crisphead).
All kinds of edible lettuce belong to the same species: Latuca sativa. All lettuces are mostly water, but they have different nutrient profiles. In general, the darker the leaf, the more nutritionally dense the lettuce is.
Romaine, leaf, and butterhead are all safe lettuce for gerbils. While iceberg isn’t poisonous, it can cause digestive problems for gerbils because of its extremely high water content.
Can Gerbils Eat Leaf Lettuce?
Leaf lettuce has many names depending on its specific cultivar, and where in the world you are. You may know it as:
- Loose leaf lettuce
- Curly leaf lettuce
- Bunching lettuce
- Cutting lettuce
The above terms can refer to any types of lettuce that don’t grow in a ‘head’ shape. Instead, they have loose leaves which are often frilly or curly in texture. The leaves can be red or green in color.
Leaf lettuce is softer in texture than romaine or iceberg, and has a mild, nutty flavor. Some varieties are sweet, while others are somewhat bitter.
With the lowest water percentage of any lettuce (94%) and the lowest sugar content, leaf lettuce is the healthiest kind for gerbils. It contains vitamins K and A, and minerals such as potassium, magnesium and iron. Gerbils can eat both red and green leaf lettuce as an occasional treat.
Can Gerbils Eat Romaine Lettuce?
Romaine lettuce is one of the most popular types of lettuce eaten around the world. It’s also known as cos lettuce in some countries. There are red and green varieties, but green is more common. Smaller cultivars of romaine lettuce are sometimes called ‘little gem’ lettuce.
With crunchy, crisp, and slightly bitter leaves, romaine lettuce is safe for gerbils. It’s higher in calories and fiber than leaf lettuce, and has a more varied nutrient profile. It contains a range of B vitamins, as well as vitamins C and E.
However, romaine has a higher sugar and water content than leaf lettuce. It also has more lactucin, and may have mild sedative effects if eaten excessively. So stick to small, occasional servings.
If possible, avoid feeding your gerbil the white stalk or heart parts of romaine lettuce. This is where most of the water and lactucin is found. The darkest green parts of the leaves are healthier.
Can Gerbils Eat Butterhead Lettuce?
Butterhead lettuce is also known as round lettuce in some parts of the world. There are two different varieties of butterhead, called Boston and bibb. Bibb lettuce is slightly smaller, but both types of butterhead lettuce have the same nutrient profile.
Named because of its soft, ‘buttery’ leaves, butterhead lettuce is sweet and tender. It comes in the form of a head, but its leaves are loose and wavy rather than tight. Its leaves are dark green, and it’s high in vitamins and minerals. It has slightly less sugar than romaine lettuce, but more than loose leaf.
Butterhead lettuce has a higher water content than romaine and leaf lettuce. However, it’s not quite as high as iceberg. Gerbils can eat butterhead lettuce in small quantities as part of a balanced diet. They usually love its mildly sweet taste, and its soft texture.
Can Gerbils Eat Iceberg Lettuce?
Iceberg lettuce is also known as crisphead lettuce. It’s the most popular type of lettuce eaten in the United States. It comes in the form of a large round head with tightly packed, light green leaves. Iceberg lettuce is so named because it was historically shipped among large piles of ice, for freshness.
Iceberg is the most crisp and crunchy type of lettuce, with a mild flavor. It also has the highest water content of any variety, at 96%. Iceberg lacks iron and folate, and is relatively nutrient-sparse compared to leaf, romaine and butterhead lettuce.
Due to its high moisture content, gerbils shouldn’t eat iceberg lettuce. Even in small quantities, the wateriness of iceberg lettuce can cause diarrhea in gerbils. Most gerbils don’t care for its bland taste, either.
If you’re going to feed lettuce to your gerbil, avoid iceberg and choose a darker, more nutritious cultivar.
Can Gerbils Eat Wild Lettuce?
Some types of lettuce grow in the wild. These plants also belong to the genus Latuca. However, they aren’t the same species as the lettuce we eat. Wild lettuce hasn’t been bred to be edible, and therefore isn’t safe for gerbils or humans to eat.
Wild lettuce is also called bitter lettuce, spiky lettuce or tall lettuce. It can be found throughout the world, but is most common in Europe and Asia.
The leaves and stems of wild lettuce contain a milky, latex-like fluid called Lactucarium. This is a toxic substance that is dangerous for gerbils and people alike. According to BMJ Case Reports, the consumption of wild lettuce can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and dizziness. To gerbils, it may be fatal.
Never let your gerbil eat wild lettuce, or anything else that you find growing outdoors. Your gerbil should only ever eat greens that have been grown and sold for human consumption.
How to Feed Gerbils Lettuce
Lettuce should not make up a substantial part of your gerbil’s meals. Gerbils are more suited to a drier diet, consisting of things like hay, grains, cereals, seeds, and nuts. However, feeding gerbils lettuce is fine in moderation, as an occasional treat.
If you’d like to offer your gerbils lettuce, stick to a small amount every once in a while. Choose a variety that’s lower in water and high in nutrients, such as leaf or romaine lettuce. Iceberg lettuce should always be avoided. To give gerbils lettuce:
- Wash the lettuce thoroughly in water. This will remove any dirt, and pathogens such as bacteria and pesticides. Pat the lettuce dry with a paper towel, or use a salad spinner
- Cut or tear off a piece of lettuce roughly the size of your gerbil’s head
- Bring the lettuce up to room temperature before giving it to your gerbil. Excessive amounts of cold foods could cause a stomach ache
- Offer your gerbil the lettuce outside of the cage, if possible. Gerbils often hide their food for later, and lettuce rots quickly due to its high moisture content
You shouldn’t feed your gerbil lettuce every day. 1 to 3 servings per week is plenty. Offer it alongside plenty of other foods, as part of a varied diet.
Not all gerbils enjoy the taste of lettuce. Every gerbil has its own likes and dislikes. You may find that one of your gerbils will eat lettuce, while the other won’t. Some gerbils are also prone to diarrhea after eating lettuce.
If your gerbil doesn’t like or tolerate lettuce, it’s not a cause for concern. Lettuce is not a required food for gerbils. It doesn’t grow where wild gerbils live, so it’s not a natural part of their diet.
The most important component of a gerbil’s diet is its dry food. A good quality gerbil food mix contains a range of seeds, grains, grasses, cereals, and dried vegetable flakes.
This is all your gerbil really needs. But if you want to supplement your gerbil’s diet with fresh produce, there are many lettuce alternatives to try. For example:
- Herbs such as parsley, cilantro, and basil
- Pumpkin and squash
- Bell pepper
You can also offer small amounts of fresh and dried fruits, unsalted nuts, and insects such as mealworms.