what do gerbils chew on?
Care Guide

What Can I Give My Gerbils to Chew On?

Gerbils need to wear down their teeth to stop them growing too long. So, if you don’t give your gerbil something to chew, it’ll try to chew its cage. Many materials are ideal.

Wood and natural materials are ideal for gerbils to chew on. Household items, like toilet rolls, cardboard egg boxes, and corrugated cardboard, are also good options. Gerbil food mix and vegetables are part of your pet’s natural diet, and these will help to wear down a gerbil’s teeth.

Plastic, if ingested, will make your gerbil sick. Pine and cedarwood contain oils that are poisonous to gerbils. Anything with print on it, such as newspaper and cereal boxes, is harmful due to the use of ink. Avoid giving your gerbils these items. Use materials which you know gerbils can safely chew.

What Do Gerbils Chew On?

Gerbils, and Rodentia generally, enjoy chewing. This is a behavior you’ll see a lot in the wild, as well as in captivity. In the wild, gerbils and other rodents need to chew through things like roots.

Many rodents eat roots and vegetables. They may also need to chew through a tree root when digging a burrow, which gerbils are known to do. This is why rodents chew on wires in your home, because their instinct mistakes them for roots in their burrow.

Your gerbil will chew on any solid material it can find in its cage. This natural behavior doesn’t stop when the gerbil is no longer in the wild.

It’s your job to prevent your gerbil from chewing anything bad for it. Certain kinds of wood are poisonous, as are plastics. That’s because your gerbil will ingest some of what it chews on, either accidentally or on purpose.

Why Do Gerbils Chew on Everything?

Gerbils chew on things because it helps to wear down their teeth. Rodents have different teeth to other animals. The term rodent even comes from Latin, meaning ‘to gnaw,’ which shows how important their teeth are.

Rodent’s teeth are incisors, like we have at the front of our mouth. But according to Cell Reports, rodent teeth don’t have roots, and grow continually.

This poses a unique problem: if a gerbil doesn’t wear its teeth down, they will keep growing. According to Nature, this has been a problem for two hundred million years.

This can make it difficult to eat, and even cause severe injury. Eventually, the lower teeth can pierce through the upper jaw, or the upper teeth could pierce through the lower jaw. This can be fatal, so they must grind their teeth down.

Some rodents do this by grinding their teeth together like humans can. This keeps the tips of their teeth sharp and flat, perfect for gnawing. Another tactic is for the rodent to chew on tough things to gradually wear their teeth down. This is why a gerbil may sometimes bite the bars of its cage.

The issue is that rodent teeth are as solid like a rock. They are harder than iron, which is why rodents can gnaw through improbable things like metal pipes. That’s why rodent bites hurt so much, despite the animals being quite small.

Are There Safe Things for Gerbils to Chew On?

If you don’t give a gerbil something to chew, it’ll chew things that it shouldn’t. Examples of things that a gerbil will chew on which it shouldn’t include:

  • The bars of its cage
  • The plastic walls of its cage (although gerbils shouldn’t be kept in plastic enclosures)
  • Electrical wires around the house, when your gerbil is allowed out of its enclosure

Plastic makes gerbils sick. The problem is that gerbils will ingest some of the things they chew. Plastic isn’t supposed to be ingested by any animal.

They also have to avoid chewing on things that are too hard. They don’t want to break their teeth, just wear them down. So, things like solid rocks would be far too hard for your gerbil to chew.

safe things for gerbils to chew on

What Can I Give My Gerbil to Chew?

Your gerbil will not naturally have much in its enclosure to chew on. It will have its food, which is good for gnawing, but not enough on its own. The substrate you’ll provide won’t be suitable for chewing. Other things might be too hard, like metal and glass.

If you don’t provide something, your gerbils will start chewing the bars or walls of their enclosure. They may even escape if you don’t, which shows how important this is. So, what is good for gerbils to chew on? The following things are a good start.

Food That Gerbils Can Chew On

Gerbil food is specially formulated for your pet’s nutritional needs. However, it’s also perfect for chewing on. Gerbil food mixes usually contain:

  • Solid hay pellets
  • Sunflower seeds, which need to be cracked open to be eaten
  • Soy bean hulls and similar fibrous material, which can be chewed and gnawed
  • Different kinds of nuts

Even the fruit and vegetables which gerbils can eat are good for gnawing. Take carrots and pumpkin, for example. Carrots are reasonably solid when fresh. Pumpkin has both a soft inner part, which is tasty, and a harder skin which is suitable for gnawing too.

You don’t have to make drastic changes to your gerbil’s diet to achieve this. Gerbil food mix is something you should be feeding your gerbil anyway, and vegetables are a tasty treat.

Can Gerbils Chew Their Food Bowl?

Most people give their gerbil a food bowl, even though it’s better to scatter food. If the food bowl is plastic, it will regularly chew and gnaw on it. You may mistake this behavior for eating food if you aren’t looking carefully.

You should avoid this because plastic cannot be digested safely. According to the EFSA, absorption of plastic by the gut is next to impossible. Even microplastics are only absorbed at rates of between 0.04% and 0.3% in rodents.

If you must provide a food bowl, get one that’s either ceramic or glass. Ceramic and glass are two materials that a gerbil can’t destroy, no matter how much it chews them. This gerbil food bowl from Kaytee on Amazon.com is highly recommended.

What Natural Wood Can Gerbils Chew On?

Wood isn’t too hard or soft. If it were too hard, your gerbil’s teeth would break completely rather than wear down. If it were too soft, their teeth wouldn’t sharpen at all. Wood is right in the middle.

However, not all kinds of wood are suitable for rodents. Some may be toxic. It’s easy to confuse different kinds of wood, which means you should avoid giving any to your gerbil unless you can confirm what kind it is.

Avoid giving your gerbil any woods that have been processed or treated in some way. They may have been sprayed with something that could disagree with your gerbil. Any wood that’s used for building or food may have been sprayed with something like this.

This kind of wood may also have glue on it. Any home décor, or tiny wooden toys likely have been glued. If they haven’t been glued, they would have nails or screws in them. These could hurt your gerbil as well, so should be avoided.

You should also avoid certain kinds of wood (pine and cedar). These contain aromatic oils which have a distinctive taste and smell. When ingested in large amounts, these oils are poisonous to animals, including us.

Popsicle Sticks for Gerbils to Chew

Popsicle sticks are fine for gerbils to chew on, although there are three caveats to bear in mind.

Sticks used for popsicles, corn dogs and similar are usually made from birch. This material is safe for gerbils to chew on. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the material that was used. So, you can’t be sure.

Also, popsicle sticks will have a sticky residue on them from your popsicle. Before you offer it to your gerbil, you should wash the stick. This will prevent your gerbil from eating anything it shouldn’t, like something too sugary.

Also, popsicle sticks can splinter. If you’ve ever chewed on one yourself, you’ll know that for a fact. Because it’s so dry, these splinters are quite sharp. You should avoid letting your gerbil chew on these splinters for too long as they could hurt its gums.

But aside from that, popsicle sticks are fine for gerbils to chew on. Something similar you could use are unused coffee stirrers. These are less likely to splinter and hurt your gerbil because the wood is thinner.

You can even buy popsicle sticks online. This is the better idea, because you can check they aren’t treated with chemicals. You can also check for what kind of wood they’re made from.

Branches and Sticks for Gerbils to Chew

If you want safe wood for gerbils to chew on, branches and sticks are usually fine. In the wild, they would certainly chew on any wood that they might find in their habitat.

However, there are certain things you have to watch out for. The first, as you will read below, is that some kinds of wood may be poisonous for gerbils. These are best avoided.

Another problem that can occur is that the branch may contain fungi, lichen, parasites, or bacteria. You should avoid introducing any of these things into your gerbil’s environment.

By keeping your gerbil in a captive enclosure, you protect it from parasites. It can’t catch any from prepared food, for example. And there are no animals nearby to catch parasites from. And with antibacterial spray, you kill bacteria and fungi before they make the enclosure unliveable.

But by introducing a stick into your gerbil’s environment, you could unwittingly introduce these things. To avoid this occurring, bake the stick in the oven at a medium temperature. This will kill anything that may be in it. Alternatively, you can freeze the stick.

You can then keep the stick, only breaking off parts as and when your gerbil needs them.

Pine Wood for Gerbils to Chew

You have to avoid giving your gerbil any pine wood to chew on.

Pine contains different chemical compounds which aren’t suitable for gerbils, or other animals. Turpentine, for example, is derived from pine. Pine essential oils are too. Both have a distinctive wintergreen smell and can cause rashes when applied to the skin.

When ingested, these substances are dangerous. If you were to chew on pine, you would ingest small amounts of these substances, which would be bad for you. If you were the size of a gerbil, the ramifications of eating some would be worse, and you could be seriously ill.

Pine isn’t the only wood which has these properties. There are other woods which do, to a lesser or similar extent. Cedar is one of these. You want to avoid any wood from trees in the family Pinaceae (pines).

Of course, this is easier said than done. Unless you’re an expert, you can’t tell what kind of wood something is from looking at it. This means it might be wise to avoid giving any wood to your gerbil unless you know exactly what it is.

Pine Cones for Gerbils to Chew

Pine cones come from pines, but don’t contain the same aromatics as the conifer trees they come from. They are therefore safe for gerbils to chew on.

Do pine cones make a good chew toy for gerbils? They certainly do, because they have lots of individual scales/seeds on them for your gerbils to chew. Your pet will strip each of these off by chewing them one by one.

Pine cones make a suitable chew toy, and are also nice to look at in a gerbilarium. But before you put one into your gerbil’s enclosure, check it’s free of pests and bacteria. Freeze or bake it before offering it to your gerbil.

Household Items for Gerbils to Chew On

If you don’t want to introduce anything from nature into your gerbil’s enclosure, that’s fine. There are good reasons why you should avoid doing so. But this leaves you with fewer options.

There are still household items you could consider offering them. Most are healthy and natural, but some are more heavily processed than others. The less processed something is, the better it is for a gerbil to chew.

Toilet Paper Rolls for Gerbils to Chew

Toilet paper rolls are an excellent choice for a gerbil chew toy. They are made from a material which isn’t hard enough to damage their teeth. They are also fibrous, which gerbils enjoy when chewing.

Toilet paper rolls are also untreated, meaning that they are safe for your gerbil to chew on. If any of the roll is ingested, this won’t hurt your gerbil in any way.

The only issue with toilet paper rolls is that they are too soft. Your gerbil can’t grind their teeth down enough with only toilet rolls. It will need something more solid like a stick of solid wood to properly grind its teeth.

What can I give my gerbils to chew on?

Cereal Boxes for Gerbils to Chew

Cereal boxes are more of a gray area than other kinds of cardboard. While they are made from the same kind of card as other things, the card has been treated in several ways:

  • The box has been covered in a protective shiny coating layer, containing chemicals your gerbil probably shouldn’t eat
  • The box has been printed with inks, which again shouldn’t be ingested
  • It may have been glued together, and dried glue will still be stuck to the card.

That being said, people have reported that they allow their gerbils to chew on cereal boxes with no ill effects. It’s likely best that you err on the side of caution.

That’s especially the case considering there are so many better, more natural things you can offer to your gerbil to chew. You’ve got no shortage of choice even when you only pick from household items.

Corrugated Cardboard for Gerbils to Chew

Corrugated cardboard is better for gerbils than other kinds of cardboard. If you aren’t familiar with the term, corrugated cardboard is the kind that has two outer sheets of card, with a wavy layer sandwich between them. You can recognize it by cutting it and looking at its cross-section. Either way, corrugated cardboard is a good choice because:

  • It’s usually not bleached or printed on with ink
  • It’s freely available and you’ll often have some lying around
  • It’s a little stiffer than other choices like toilet paper rolls

The only issue is if you use recycled corrugated cardboard. This usually contains residual inks from the recycling process, because newspapers are frequently recycled. However, there’s nothing to say that this would hurt your gerbil.

Can Gerbils Chew Frozen Food Boxes?

Cardboard frozen food boxes are similar to cereal boxes. They are printed with inks which shouldn’t be ingested, which will happen if your gerbils chew on them.

Also, they’re given a coating to stop the card falling apart in the freezer. This waterproof coating is similar to that on cereal boxes. They aren’t suitable for your gerbils.

Egg Cartons for Gerbils to Chew

You shouldn’t offer plastic egg cartons to your gerbil. Plastic is a material to avoid altogether. Instead, you should consider offering your pet the light cardboard that some eggs are packaged in.

These are typically made from the same kind of recycled cardboard as corrugated card. But they have a different texture. They’re fine for chewing, but not optimal, although your gerbil will still have fun with one.

Overall, they’re a good option, but your gerbil will need something more robust from time to time too.

Newspaper for Gerbils to Chew

Newspaper isn’t suitable for gerbils. The main reason is the ink. Ink shouldn’t be ingested because it can cause poisoning. Because gerbils are small, they are more susceptible to this than a person when ingesting the same amount.

An added issue is that the ink in newspapers is more prone to rubbing off. The ink in cereal boxes is contained beneath a protective layer. And even if this layer were stripped away, the card the ink is sprayed onto is thick enough to hold onto it.

With newspapers, the paper is so thin that this isn’t the case. You can see this in action by smudging the letters printed on a newspaper. A smear will be left behind on your thumb if you do.

This makes it easier for your gerbils to ingest. It will also stain their fur or enclosure, especially if it gets wet. So, as a rule, avoid giving your gerbil newspaper to chew on.

Other than the things listed above, don’t offer your gerbil anything else to chew. Stick to what you know is safe for them. There’s no need to offer them lots of variety because gerbils don’t care about that. So long as your pet can keep its teeth ground down, there’s no issue.