Hay and grass is a staple food for gerbils. It’s found in many commercial gerbil food mixes, providing the nutrients gerbils need to stay healthy. However, with so many hay varieties, it can be hard to know which ones are safe.
Gerbils enjoy eating Timothy, meadow, alfalfa, and orchard hay. They’re high in fiber, which keeps the digestive system running efficiently. Don’t overfeed your gerbil hay, as it can cause diarrhea. Too much of any food is bad for gerbils, as it leaves them vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies.
Gerbils don’t only eat hay – they use it for their bedding. They also use it as a material to build nests and tunnels with. Gerbils must be able to dig through their substrate, so mix hay with aspen shavings and paper-based bedding to enable them to carry out this natural behavior.
Can You Feed Gerbils Hay?
Hay is cut when grass is mature. It’s left to dry before being harvested and stored, which gives it a tougher, more fibrous texture than fresh grass. In the wild, gerbils enjoy a natural diet consisting of:
- Bristle grass
- Lyme grasses
Feeding gerbils hay replicates this wild diet, keeping them physically healthy and mentally stimulated. Most commercial gerbil dry food mixes contain hay, but gerbils also enjoy eating it on its own as a tasty treat.
Grass from your yard isn’t healthy. There’s a high risk of it being contaminated with pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals. Instead, purchase gerbil-safe hay from a pet store and put it into your pet’s enclosure as it’s sold. Your gerbil will nibble on it throughout the day and use it to burrow and sleep under.
Why Do Gerbils Need Hay?
Hay has more uses than being a nutritious food source. Gerbils need hay to keep their teeth healthy. That’s because gerbils have incisors that don’t stop growing. The tooth grows from the bottom, and gerbils naturally grind it from the top as they eat. According to JAX, this is known as an open-rooted tooth.
As mentioned, hay has a fibrous texture. This is beneficial because it helps gerbils file their teeth down, preventing them from becoming too long and uncomfortable.
Gerbils also use hay for bedding. They enjoy digging burrows and extensive underground tunnels in the wild and captivity, and hay is an excellent material to dig underneath and burrow through. It also strengthens tunnels and nests.
Do Gerbils Have To Eat Hay?
While gerbils enjoy the taste of hay, they don’t have to eat it. However, because gerbils eat a wide range of grasses in the wild, it’s only natural that it forms a part of their diet. When you see your gerbil chewing on hay, it may not be eating it but cutting it down into smaller pieces to use for bedding or to make a nest.
Gerbils shouldn’t eat more than a handful of hay a week. If they have too much, they’ll develop diarrhea. Diarrhea causes a gerbil’s poop to become:
- Light in color
Sadly, diarrhea is a serious condition in gerbils. It causes severe dehydration and kills in only a matter of days. Gerbils rarely drink water, so diarrhea depletes their bodies of essential fluids. Be careful with how much hay you let your gerbil eat at a time.
What Hay Is Safe for Gerbils?
Not all hay is safe for gerbils to nibble on. As mentioned, grass from your yard is a no-go, so you’ll need to choose specific hay from a reputable pet store. Even though gerbils play with hay just as much as they eat it, there are certain types you should avoid. That’s why we’ll explore some of the best types of hay for gerbils.
Is Timothy Hay Good for Gerbils?
Good quality Timothy hay is one of the best kinds for gerbils. It has a fragrant smell and taste that many gerbils enjoy.
Timothy hay contains healthy fats and proteins. It’s also high in fiber and low in sugar. Specifically, fiber is essential for keeping the digestive system healthy by encouraging it to work hard. It also produces firm, healthy droppings. Gerbils require different amounts of fiber at various stages of their lives, including:
- 0.6 months: 10-15%
- 6-24 months: 8-10%
- 2-6 years: 8-10%
However, as Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals describes, gerbils have a poorly developed cecum and colon, meaning they shouldn’t have too much fiber in their diets. When hay is used as a treat food, it must be restricted to small handfuls to keep your gerbil safe and healthy.
Commercial Timothy hay contains the stem, leaf, and seed head – all of which are excellent for keeping your gerbil’s teeth healthy. When looking for some in a pet store, make sure it’s free from dust and mold and looks green and fresh.
Is Meadow Hay Good for Gerbils?
Most gerbils take to meadow hay well. It’s a well-known type of hay sold in most supermarkets and pet stores, so it’s easy to get hold of. It contains several different types of grasses, flower and seed heads, and plants, which provide a mentally enriching experience for your gerbil every time it nibbles on it.
It tends to be cheaper than other types of hay, so it makes a good bedding material. However, it’s also fibrous, so it’s an excellent material for keeping teeth filed down. Not only that, but it’s a source of natural fiber and helps aid digestion. Most meadow hay varieties have the dust extracted to prevent respiratory issues, but always double-check the packaging to be sure.
Is Alfalfa Hay Ok for Gerbils?
Alfalfa hay is another good option for gerbils, but it’s not as healthy as Timothy and meadow hay. It’s better for baby gerbils, as it’s high in calcium and protein, which support their growth and development. Alfalfa hay also contains:
- Vitamin E
- Beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A
- Pantothenic acid
- Folic acid
However, because of these high nutrient levels, alfalfa hay is problematic in large quantities, so you must be careful with how much you feed your gerbil in one go.
Can Gerbils Eat Orchard Hay?
Orchard hay is both healthy and nutritious. It’s safe for gerbils to eat and can also be used as a reliable bedding material. Some gerbils have sensitives to Timothy hay, so orchard hay is a good alternative. You can also switch to orchard hay every now and then to give your gerbil’s diet some variety.
Nutritionally, orchard hay’s high in fiber and low in protein. It supports gerbils by improving digestion and preventing obesity. You can also mix it with other hay varieties to provide your gerbil with a tasty and healthy treat.
Can Gerbils Eat Oat Hay?
Gerbils love eating oat hay because it contains immature seed heads. Some people have allergies to Timothy hay, and handling it causes itchy rashes. In this case, oat hay is a safer alternative. It provides a change of texture for gerbils to explore and enjoy, so feed it alongside other hay varieties to provide maximum mental stimulation. When it comes to nutrients, oat hay is:
- Low in carbohydrates
- High in fiber
- Low in protein
- Low in calcium
This balance of nutrients helps keep gerbils happy and healthy.
Things To Look For When Choosing Hay for Gerbils
If you’re unsure which hay variety to choose, there are several things to look out for that indicate quality, such as:
- Freshness: Quality hay smells sweet and fresh and has a slight green color, which indicates it contains vitamin A
- No additives or preservatives: Your chosen hay should be completely natural with no added ingredients
- Stems: Make sure the hay you choose contains stems, as they’re packed with fiber and are good for keeping teeth filed down
- Little dust: Dust can cause respiratory problems, whether your gerbil eats it or uses it as bedding. Look for hay that contains as little dust as possible
- No pesticides or fertilizers: Make sure your hay has been grown on a farm that doesn’t use harmful chemicals
Hay also varies in quality from season to season, so choosing a more expensive brand ensures the best hay, regardless of when you buy it.
Whichever brand of hay you choose to buy, always check the packaging to make sure it says that it’s suitable for gerbils. A weekly handful of hay will benefit your gerbil nutritionally, so it’s fine to feed it in moderation.