The gerbil diet is more complex than you might expect. The right healthy gerbil foods require the correct balance of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. This can be difficult to achieve in practice.
The best food to feed gerbils is a specially formulated gerbil mix. It contains nuts, seeds, corn flakes, and dried vegetables. Healthy gerbil foods also include fruit and vegetables, but only as a treat.
There are foods to avoid that may poison gerbils, like grapes and rhubarb. Gerbils need a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat or they’ll become unhealthy. Gerbils also need certain vitamins and minerals, or their seizures are likely to get worse.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Do Gerbils Eat in the Wild?
- 2 What Do Gerbils Eat as Pets?
- 3 Should Gerbils Eat Fresh Food?
- 4 Gerbil Dietary Needs (Nutrients, Vitamins, and Minerals)
- 5 How Often Should You Feed Gerbils?
- 6 How to Stop Gerbils Fighting over Food
- 7 Gerbil Foods to Avoid
- 8 Is There Human Food Gerbils Can Eat?
What Do Gerbils Eat in the Wild?
A gerbil’s wild diet varies. That’s because there are many kinds of gerbil, and they all live in different parts of the world. However, while the exact foods available may differ, the general types of food that gerbils eat does not.
Gerbils in the wild will eat a mixture of grasses, roots and bulbs, seeds, and leaves. They are foragers and will dig through undergrowth or soil to find the food they need. You must recreate both their favored diet, and their favored way of finding food, in captivity. You can achieve this by feeding your gerbil Oxbow Garden Select Food.
Gerbil food mix doesn’t contain the exact foods that gerbils eat in the wild. However, it does contain all of your pet’s nutritional requirements.
Do Gerbils Eat Grass?
The majority of a gerbil’s diet in the wild consists of grasses. Wild gerbils eat:
- Mugwort (Artemisia sieversiana and A. commutata). Mugwort is used in medicine and essential oils, and is a gerbil’s main food.
- This grows in salt marshes and is used by people for soap making.
- Bristle grass and lyme grass.
They eat the grass itself, as well as its seeds and the bulbs underground. In this way, none of the food is wasted. In captivity, a gerbil will still enjoy burrowing for food as it would burrow for grass bulbs.
You can recreate this sort of diet by offering your gerbil hay. Gerbils love hay, and it forms a part of most gerbil food mixes. It’s good for their teeth, too, because it gives your gerbil something to chew on.
Grass from your yard isn’t suitable. It may be treated with pesticides and fertilizers which your gerbil shouldn’t eat. It’s also unwise to leave your gerbil outdoors for too long, as it could be attacked by other pets or wild animals, or get lost.
Do Gerbils Eat Insects?
Gerbils also eat small invertebrates (insects) on occasion, as they would naturally encounter them in the wild, and they’re the right size to eat.
These are an essential source of protein in a wild gerbil’s diet. Because gerbils primarily eat grasses, they get a lot of carbohydrates from foraging, but not much protein or fat. Tiny insects are important as a snack in the wild.
However, you don’t need to supplement your gerbil’s diet with insects. Gerbils get protein and fat from gerbil-specific food mixes.
What Do Gerbils Eat as Pets?
The idea behind keeping any pet healthy is to recreate its natural environment but in a captive situation. So, animals need enclosures that mimic their natural habitat. They also need food that suits their nutritional needs. In some ways, this ‘natural’ diet can even be improved upon.
Gerbils require a high quality and balanced diet. They can’t eat the same thing day in, day out, unless you buy a specially formulated and gerbil-specific food mix.
This balanced diet should be fed consistently and without significant changes. If you change your gerbil’s diet, you risk giving them upset stomachs. Fortunately, you can feed a gerbil the same thing from when it’s young to when it’s old.
Can You Buy Gerbil Food Mix?
Far better than a general seed mix intended for ‘rodents’ is one that’s tailored to the needs of gerbils. Gerbil food mix should be the majority of your gerbil’s diet. It’s designed to contain everything a gerbil needs.
These mixes don’t just contain seeds, but seeds, beans, grains, dried vegetables, and general fiber. This is more similar to their natural diet which contains all of these things (substituting dried vegetables for fresh). We recommend Oxbow Garden Select Gerbil Food for the following reasons:
- Timothy hay, orchard hay and/or oat hay
- Soya bean meal
- Flaked maize (corn flakes)
- Whole oats and whole maize
- Flaked soya beans and flaked peas
- Alfalfa meal
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dried carrot flakes
- Wheat feed
- Flax seeds
- Soya oil
- Soya bean hulls
- Extruded locust beans
- Added vitamins and minerals (fortified gerbil mix)
These foods normally look like tiny, dark dry biscuits. Different brands differ by quite a lot, either having different ingredients, or being processed to a different extent.
Having such a wide variety of beans, seeds, and grains mean that your gerbil has lots of different kinds of food, just like in nature. It also avoids the issue of nutritional deficiency, which can arise when a pet is fed only one kind of food.
Also, this kind of food mix is perfect for foraging pets like gerbils. Small seeds and grains are difficult to find when scattered on the substrate, which will give your gerbils something to do. Gerbils far prefer foraging to eating from a bowl.
Is Gerbil Mix Good for Gerbils?
Gerbil food mix is formulated to contain the right amount of nutrients of all kinds. It’s based on their natural diet, but in an easy-to-feed format. Otherwise, you would have to feed your gerbil dozens of different things.
Not all gerbil food mixes are equal. Cheaper mixes tend to have lots of one ingredient, and hardly any of the rest. This falls into the same trap as a general seed mix where your pet will be nutritionally deficient.
So, for example, one mix might have lots of wheat grains and little else. Wheat grains are a cheap ingredient, so a manufacturer could save money by putting wheat in, and hardly anything else. You have to be careful when picking your gerbil’s mix. Check the ingredients before you buy.
What Else Can You Feed Gerbils?
It is possible to formulate your own gerbil diet plan. Doing so would put you in control of your gerbil’s health.
Your food should contain ingredients which are similar to those listed above. It should be high in carbohydrates, have a reasonable amount of protein, and have little fat. 15-16% protein and 2-20% fat is a good benchmark to aim for (the rest being carbohydrates).
Should Gerbils Eat Fresh Food?
In the wild, gerbils eat lots of fresh food. Fresh food tends to be higher in nutrients than old or cooked food, so it’s good for them. Given that you want to feed your gerbil healthy gerbil foods, this is likely your first idea.
However, there’s no need for a gerbil to eat lots of fresh food. Wild gerbils hoard their food in stores, where it can go stale, but is still edible. They will still eat it. Premade gerbil mixes are perfectly safe and healthy. That being said, fresh fruits and vegetables are suitable for snacking.
What Fruits Can Gerbils Eat?
Fruit is safe for gerbils to eat, and is reasonably nutritious. The fruits that gerbils can eat include pears, melons, apples, and oranges. These should not be the main part of your gerbil’s diet, but can supplement and add variety.
When feeding your gerbil fruit, stick to fruits that you know are safe. Some are poisonous and could seriously damage your gerbil’s health, or even kill it.
Bear in mind that fruit isn’t as healthy as people think. It is full of sugars, with little protein or fat. All animals need a mixture of these three things, and to predominantly offer only one is detrimental to any animal’s health.
What Vegetables Can Gerbils Eat?
Contrary to what many people think, vegetables are not intended to be the main part of your gerbil’s diet. They should be a supplemental food used to add variety, or even be used as a treat. The main vegetables that people feed gerbils are cucumber, fennel, pumpkin, and carrot.
Again, vegetables are mostly water and sugar. This means that they don’t contain the fat and protein that gerbils need, like humans do. But because they’re sweet, they make the perfect treat.
The same applies to leafy greens. Gerbils eat grasses and greens in the wild, but not exclusively. They need lots of seeds, roots and so on too.
Do Gerbils Need Fresh Water?
Gerbils drink far less than other similar animals. That’s because they come from dry parts of the world. The most common pet gerbil species, the Mongolian jird, comes from the dry steppes and desert of central Asia.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t need water at all. Your gerbil will need constant access to a water source, otherwise, it will become dehydrated. This is especially the case if you feed it lots of dry or dried foods like nuts, seeds, and seed mixes.
To provide fresh water, install a drinking bottle with a metal sipper tube in your gerbil’s enclosure. These are the kind that you see in many other pets’ enclosures.
You will need to change the water inside the tube regularly. This will prevent bacterial build-up. You should also clean the sipper tube regularly, again to prevent bacteria.
What Do Gerbils Like to Eat as a Treat?
Fruit and vegetables make the perfect treat for gerbils. These foods should only be fed infrequently, because they are largely sugar (i.e. carbohydrate) and water. While they do contain some nutrients, they don’t contain enough to be the basis of your gerbil’s diet.
Gerbils can eat insects, if you count insects as meat. These serve well as treats because they are high in protein. But they shouldn’t be fed regularly like seed mix.
Gerbil Dietary Needs (Nutrients, Vitamins, and Minerals)
According to the National Academies Press, gerbils have a delicate nutritional balance that they require. They need carbohydrates for energy, protein for muscle growth, and fat for their fat stores. But if fed these things in the wrong amounts, that’s bad for them.
The majority of a gerbil’s diet should be made up of carbohydrates. What’s easier to get wrong is the amount of protein and fat a gerbil eats.
Gerbils require somewhere between 2 and 20 percent fat in their diet. Not enough research has been done to determine exactly how much is required. However, studies indicate that gerbils can survive when fed as little as 2% fat.
It’s likely that your gerbil won’t need much fat at all. That’s because gerbils are extremely good at conserving both fat and water. They developed this skill because they live in dry parts of the world, where fatty food is scarce.
As for protein, this is the easiest nutrient to get wrong. Growing gerbils require around 15-16% protein in their diet. Adult gerbils don’t need quite as much, because they aren’t growing anymore.
What Vitamins Do Gerbils Need?
Vitamins aren’t necessary for nutrition, but for health. The concentration of fat-soluble vitamins found in natural seed and grain mixes is adequate for rodents generally, and for gerbils specifically. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Your gerbil would benefit from the supplementation of foods higher in these vitamins. This can be achieved by feeding certain foods occasionally. Green leafy vegetables and fruits are good for this.
As for water-soluble vitamins, less is known about a gerbil’s requirements. However, it’s unlikely that they will require anything which isn’t found in their regular food. There are, at least, no regular deficiencies which occur when gerbils are fed a regular diet.
What this means is that you don’t need to add vitamins to your gerbil’s diet. There should already be enough in their food, provided you picked a high-quality mix.
What Minerals Do Gerbils Need?
Minerals are similar to vitamins, in that they aren’t necessary for nutrition but health. There are several minerals you must ensure that your gerbil receives.
The first of these are calcium and phosphorus. These are essential for healthy bone mass/density and healthy teeth. Again, these are found in suitable amounts in regular gerbil mixes. You don’t need to add them to your gerbil’s diet manually.
Gerbils also need magnesium. This is something you do need to pay attention to. If you didn’t already know, gerbils are prone to seizures. These occur when the animal is excited or stressed, e.g. when you handle it.
These seizures have complex medical origins. They are heritable, meaning that a gerbil which has bad seizures will pass that on to its offspring. However, what is known is that in the absence of magnesium, they become worse.
According to the Journal of General Psychology, gerbils fed a low magnesium diet are more prone to seizures in a new environment. This was noted by scientists who released them into new environments at a farm.
These effects were reversed when the gerbils in the test were switched to a high-magnesium diet. The scientists also found that gerbils on low magnesium diets developed alopecia. So, when you buy a gerbil food mix, make sure it has plenty of magnesium.
And according to Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals (Fourth Revised Edition), the same applies to calcium, sodium, and B6. So, overall, it seems like gerbils have fairly strict mineral requirements with severe side effects if neglected.
How Often Should You Feed Gerbils?
Different kinds of gerbil are various sizes, so have different dietary requirements. But feeding once a day is a good compromise. It is also possible to feed your gerbils more or less frequently than this. However often you feed them, you should give them the same amount of food.
So, for example, gerbils require around 1tbsp of food each per day. If you have four gerbils, leave 4 tbsp of food in their enclosure each morning. Alternatively, you could leave 8tbsp of food in their enclosure every other morning.
The only issue with feeding less frequently, but in bigger amounts, is if the food goes stale. If you are feeding your gerbils food mix, then this will stay fresh for longer than two days. But feed them fruit and vegetables this way and they may go bad.
So, make sure to remove stale gerbil food from your pet’s gerbilarium regularly.
How to Stop Gerbils Fighting over Food
Gerbils are social animals, meaning that you shouldn’t keep them on their own. Unfortunately, this leads to fighting in a variety of circumstances.
You can avoid fighting over food by scattering the food in a certain way. Don’t provide food in a bowl, as all the gerbils will fight over the spaces around it. Instead, scatter the food loosely over the substrate in their enclosure.
You may think that this is unhygienic or untidy at least. However, this is exactly how gerbils like to eat. Gerbils are natural foragers, digging in the ground to find seeds, nuts and similar. You enrich your gerbils’ experience by feeding them in this way.
If you do feed your gerbils this way, be aware that they may hoard some of the food. Gerbils are natural hoarders, and hide food under the substrate or in other hidden places. This behavior stems from scarcity, as in the wild, there may be times when there is no food left to find.
Unfortunately, this behavior is detrimental in captivity. The food they hoard can go stale or even go bad. You should check your gerbils’ enclosure each night to make sure they aren’t hoarding. If they are, take the food and throw it away.
Gerbil Foods to Avoid
Gerbils are thought of as regular rodents. But there are foods they should avoid because they’re bad for their health. Some foods can kill gerbils.
Can You Feed Gerbils Hamster Food?
Dried seed mix is a food source that many people feed their pet gerbil. It’s the same as the mix that’s fed to hamsters and other similar small pets. You might think that it’s likely perfect for gerbils too.
This isn’t strictly true. Gerbils have different nutritional needs to hamsters. You may find that some mixes like these are unsuitable. Take pumpkin seeds, for example. These are high in fat, so feeding your gerbil too many of these in a seed mix is bad for them.
A seed mix supplemented with a little variety is fine, and will keep your gerbil alive. But it isn’t optimal. Your gerbil will be healthier and live longer if it eats food specifically made for gerbils.
If you do feed your gerbil a seed mix, it should be the majority of your pet’s diet. The idea is that it contains carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, while other sources on their own (e.g. vegetables) are mostly carbohydrates.
Foods That Are Poisonous to Gerbils
All animals have foods that are poisonous to them, but with gerbils. You could easily feed your gerbil these foods by accident without realizing how dangerous they are.
Many different rodent species are allergic to grapes. Grapes may be poisonous to gerbils in the same way, although owners disagree as to what effect they have.
The discrepancy may be due to the difference between seeded and unseeded grapes. Seeded grapes may be poisonous while unseeded varieties aren’t. But even if they aren’t, it’s wise to stick to the rule of “If you’re not sure, don’t.”
The same applies to rhubarb. Again, it’s poisonous for some rodent species. It may also be poisonous for gerbils. It’s best to avoid giving any to your pet, just in case the worst were to happen.
Is There Human Food Gerbils Can Eat?
The gerbil diet is omnivorous. This means they can eat different kinds of food: fruit and vegetables, seeds and nuts, and meat. But that doesn’t mean they can eat everything.
Gerbils shouldn’t eat processed food like humans eat. Processed food is often called ‘empty calories’ for a reason. It can be low in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals which the body needs to survive.
It’s also less than optimal to feed gerbils cooked food. Through cooking, some or many of the nutrients in food are lost. It’s better to feed your gerbil raw food instead. It’s far easier to buy specially formulated gerbil mix supplemented with fruit and vegetables.
This saves on lots of time which you would have to use to check the nutritional content of your food, and the vitamin and mineral content too. You would also have to research foods that are poisonous to gerbils.