when can gerbils leave their mother?
Questions About Gerbils

When Can Baby Gerbils Leave Their Mother?

Separate baby gerbils from their mother, and opposite-sex siblings, before they reach sexual maturity. But never remove gerbils from their mother before they’re ready to live independently.

Most pups are weaned by five weeks and will survive if separated then. The gerbils will be healthier and happier if separated at eight weeks. Put the father and male pups into another tank. You could also put the pups and parents into same-sex pairings.

Even though the pups are weaned at five weeks, the pups still may not know how to use a water bottle or wheel or how to forage for food. So, only separate them at eight weeks.

When Can Gerbils Leave Their Mother?

Gerbils can leave their mothers when they reach six weeks old. This is roughly the point at which they are independent enough to survive. However, not all gerbils reach this point at the same time.

There’s also a difference between wild and captive gerbils. Wild baby gerbils will likely stay with their parents for a long time. But in captivity, this isn’t possible unless your gerbils have a large enclosure.

Separating Gerbils

Before we explore each point in more depth, here’s a quick table explaining how and when you should separate baby gerbils. Get this right, or you could end up with more litters. Or, your baby gerbils won’t learn how to do things like drink from a water bottle.

Weeks after BirthWhat Happens Now?
0 weeksThe pups are born, and the female creates a nest for them. The male and female parent pair will mate soon after birth. The female is highly likely to become pregnant again. The pups will eat nothing but mother’s milk.
1 to 3 weeksThe babies continue to feed on their mother’s milk. Both the mother and father will contribute to the pups’ care.
4 weeksThe babies will begin to wean. This means that they will start to eat foods other than milk for the first time.
4 to 6 weeksThis is when the weaning process takes place. By six weeks, all of the pups should be weaned.
5 to 6 weeksThe mother will give birth to its second litter, and they will begin to feed on milk. Remove the father before the female gives birth, or the female will have a third litter. Replace the male with an older female, who will help care for the young. The first litter will also contribute to the care of the second.
8 weeksThis is the optimal time to remove the first litter. Pair them up in same-sex pairs, either with older gerbils or with each other. You can then follow the same process for removing the second litter later on.

If you follow this process, the male, female, and all the pups will develop healthily.

How to Remove Dad from Baby Gerbils

So, the babies will develop for around five weeks. They will feed on their mother’s milk and grow quickly. By four weeks, they will begin to wean and should be finished by four weeks. But before you think about removing the pups, you should remove the dad from the cage.

The point of doing so is to prevent the father from impregnating the mother again. Two litters is a good point at which to stop, or you will have too many gerbils. There are several ways to separate the father from the litter:

  • The split cage method. You can keep the father in one side of a cage, and the rest of the gerbils in the other. You will need a big cage to do this if there are lots of babies.
  • The two-tank method. You can put the father in a cage on its own.
  • Separating males and females. If the litter is old enough (six weeks at least), you can put the males in with the father and leave the females with the mother.

However, you separate the group, put an older female in with the mother. Pick one that the mother is already familiar with. This will help her care for the new litter. Don’t pick an older female that’s pregnant, or the two will fight.

When to Separate Baby Gerbils from Mother

If your gerbil has babies, the earliest you should separate them from their mother is after they reach six weeks old, preferably at eight weeks. Any earlier, and you will harm the babies.

Gerbil babies begin weaning at four weeks or so. Weaning is when the pup stops drinking its mother’s milk. After this point, the pup will never have to drink milk again. The weaning process takes a while and is usually completed by five or six weeks (but not necessarily).

After this, the juvenile gerbils may not be suckling but will still have lots to learn. They need to learn more about scavenging for food and play fighting. They may also see mating behavior, which essentially shows the juveniles how to behave later in life.

If the young don’t learn these things, they may not have full and healthy lives. Isolation also seems to be bad for their health. According to Physiological Psychology, isolation from an early age causes an increase in seizures and a lack of overall activity. Only separate your gerbils after eight weeks.

When Can You Touch Baby Gerbils?

You can touch gerbils almost from the point they’re born. The mother and father probably won’t reject them if you do, especially if you wash your hands before handling them. But you should wait at least a week before disturbing the male and female at all.

The issue is if the parent pair aren’t comfortable with you. If that’s the case, they won’t want you to touch their babies. They will become worried when you do. They are most worried early in the babies’ life, so it’s better to wait a couple of weeks.

It’s also better for the pups if you wait. When they’re recently born, their ears and eyes aren’t open. They don’t know what’s going on when you pick them up. They will get used to people far quicker if you pick them up when they can see and hear you.

Sex Gerbil Pups before Separating Them

You must sex the pups before you pair them up with other adult gerbils. That’s because gerbils are capable of breeding at an early age. According to Reproduction, Fertility, and Development, that age is reached at only 2-3 months.

For ideal breeding, you would have your gerbils wait a little longer, but your pets don’t know that. If you randomly paired your gerbils up, you would have lots of litters. This situation is best avoided, as you would need lots more space.

You can prevent this by sexing your gerbil pups before you separate them. This means looking at each and figuring out whether it’s male or female. Doing so is easy once the gerbils physically develop, which happens at six weeks old.

When your gerbils reach this age, the male and female will be physiologically different. The male will have developed a scrotum and testes, which are at the base of the tail. You can lift the pup’s tail to see it.

The female will have obvious nipples at this point. These are located on the stomach and are in two rows of four each. The first pair is roughly level with the ‘armpits’ of the gerbil’s front legs. They run back towards the hind legs. Only once you’ve identified the sex of each gerbil can they be separated.

Should You Wait for The Second Litter before Separating Gerbils?

When gerbil pairs mate, the female will only be pregnant for a short time. It only takes 24-25 days for a female gerbil to gestate and give birth. And shortly after giving birth, the male and female pair will breed again.

This often results in the female becoming pregnant while it is nursing her existing litter. She may give birth to the new litter before its existing litter is fully weaned and independent. This raises the question: should you separate the first litter before or after the second litter is born?

when to separate baby gerbils from mother

According to Laboratory Animals, the female will delay its pregnancy if the first litter is still feeding. This means there’s no chance that the second litter will stop the first litter from getting fed.

The second litter will also encourage any stragglers from the first to fully wean. These gerbils will become capable of feeding themselves quicker. So, keeping the two litters together for a short while is good for the first litter.

It’s also good for the mother. You may think that the mother would be over-stressed, having to care for two litters at once. But that’s not the case. At five or six weeks old, a gerbil is capable of almost entirely caring for itself. They aren’t an added burden to the mother.

Furthermore, the first litter will help the mother look after its litter. They will help to groom the juveniles, for example. This is good both for the mother and babies.

All that being said, many people do separate the first litter from the mother before she gives birth to a second litter. They pair up the first pups with adult gerbils, and they can continue to grow happily. Neither approach is wrong, only different.

What to Do with Separated Baby Gerbils

If you want to separate your gerbils from their parents, you can’t put them in a big enclosure on their own. The gerbils are still learning how to behave from their parents, or if not their parents, then other adult gerbils. They would fight if all kept together.

Ideally, you want to pair each juvenile gerbil with an adult gerbil of the same sex. You can do so either in individual pairs or in larger groups. The idea of same-sex pairings/groups is that they won’t result in litters.

Pairing Dad with Male Gerbil Pups

When you separate the dad from the litter, you can place the male pups with him. This may not be possible straight away, as you should separate the dad before the second litter is born. This is normally after five weeks.

However, you can gradually separate the pups over the next three weeks. Place the male pups with their father for a few hours at a time. Then, put them back in their original cage with their mother.

After eight weeks, you can put the males with their father for the time being. You will eventually want to pair them up with other gerbils, as big groups frequently declan.

When you remove the males, you can leave the females with their mother. But, again, this group will likely fracture eventually. So, be prepared to separate the groups into individual same-sex pairs.

Setting Up Breeding Pairs

The alternative is to set up pairs right from the beginning. If you have enough space, you can separate all of the gerbils into same-sex pairs. They should all get along because they’re family. You may not even need to use a split tank to introduce them.

You could also set up breeding pairs. To do this, you would need to get lots of gerbils from another family. Otherwise, the brother and sister pairs would mate, which would result in unviable litters.