Gerbils are excitable and fast-moving. They jump up and down frequently for several different reasons. As a new owner, you may not know why your gerbil jumps around so much.
It may be foot thumping, where it stands still but drums its hind feet. This is to warn other gerbils of a nearby threat, or because the gerbil is in heat. Jumping at the side of the cage can either mean that your pet wants to escape, or it’s excited about seeing you.
There’s usually no issue with your gerbil jumping up and down. But if your gerbil is trying to escape its cage, you will need to make changes to the way that you care for your pet gerbil.
Why Is My Gerbil Jumping Up and Down?
‘Jumping’ isn’t just one kind of behavior. Think of the last few times you jumped. You may jump when you’re scared, when you’re trying to avoid something, when you’re playing around, etc.
There are different ways in which a gerbil might jump. You can figure out why a gerbil is jumping from looking at how it jumps. Here’s a brief table describing each method:
|Type of Jumping||Description||Reason for Jumping|
|Foot thumping||Standing upright and still, your gerbil pounds its hind feet rhythmically||The gerbil is in heat, or is afraid|
|Jumping at the side of the cage||Standing upright and repeatedly jumping at the side of the cage, trying to reach the top||Desire to escape, seen in neglected gerbils|
|Repeated hopping and running||Hopping quickly up and down, followed by sprints from one side of the cage to the other||Excitement|
If you’re unsure why your gerbil is jumping, observe it. Figure out whether it’s scared, happy, or in heat. This will tell you why it’s jumping and whether there’s anything you need to do to help.
How High Can a Gerbil Jump?
Gerbils aren’t natural jumpers, like some other animals. Wild gerbils don’t have much reason to jump. Where they live, there aren’t many trees or high points to jump onto.
Gerbils live most of their lives on or in the ground, instead, in burrows. They dig these burrows for themselves, and use them to hide from predators and keep out of the weather. They don’t have to jump in and out to move through it.
All this means that gerbils can’t jump that high. But they still jump frequently.
Gerbil Foot Thumping
The most common reason why your gerbil will jump up and down is ‘foot thumping.’ This is the term for when a gerbil bangs its hind legs against the floor of its enclosure. Here’s what it looks like:
- Your gerbil will be stood on its hind legs only
- Your gerbil will stand still without moving its head or torso
- Your gerbil will hop so quickly that you can hardly see it
- When jumping, your pet won’t jump higher than 1/8 of an inch or so
You will also hear this as it happens. Foot thumping is loud, so loud that you might hear it across the room. It’s especially loud because when one gerbil starts foot thumping, the others will too. Gerbils in other cages around the room will join in as well. There are two reasons why gerbils foot thump.
Gerbil Warning Behavior
Foot thumping is a warning behavior. Its central purpose is to warn other gerbils that there is a threat nearby. A wild gerbil might see a predator and begin thumping its feet. All the gerbils join in, which puts them on high alert. If the threat comes closer, all the gerbils will rush to their burrows.
This behavior carries on into captivity. Captive gerbils will foot thump when they see a person they don’t recognize. They may also thump when they hear a loud noise, see a pet, or get scared in any other way.
According to Psychonomic Science, this behavior is rooted in the protection of territory. You can tell that a gerbil is trying to warn gerbils of something when there is something you can see that may have shocked your pet. So, the following may apply:
- You may have stood up quickly from a chair
- A pet may have walked into the room
- There was a loud noise or quick movement from the TV
- A dog started barking next door
Another vital sign is that all the gerbils will join in. When one begins to thump its feet, the others hear it. They will all join in because this helps other nearby gerbils hear the warning, too. The more hear the warning, the more will survive, at least in the wild.
Gerbil Is in Heat
Foot thumping also occurs when a gerbil is in heat. This means that your gerbil wants to mate with another gerbil in its cage. When this is the case, the gerbil will display several behaviors.
A male gerbil in heat will run around the cage foot thumping, trying to impress the females. This is a part of the overall mating ritual, in which he tries to convince the female to mate.
Why foot thumping is effective at proving the male’s worthiness to mate is unclear. Perhaps the louder a male can thump his feet, the stronger he is, and the more likely the female will accept the offer. However, this particular question hasn’t been studied.
If there’s only one gerbil foot thumping, this is the reason why. The gerbil may also run around the cage between thumps.
Gerbil Trying to Jump out of Cage
Something else you may notice is that your gerbil tries to escape from its cage. This behavior is characterized by your gerbil pushing itself up against the bars or glass of its enclosure. It will then stand up to try and reach the top. It will try and find handholds that it could climb up with. It may jump as well.
You will only see this if your gerbil is unhappy with its enclosure. Happy gerbils don’t do this consistently. You see this most often in neglected gerbils. There are many reasons why your gerbil may not like where it lives:
- The cage is too small. Ten gallons of space per gerbil is a good amount. So, a forty-gallon tank for four gerbils would be sufficient.
- It isn’t part of the group it’s living with. The other gerbils rejected it, which means it has to leave.
- No bedding, or anything to chew on. It needs both of these things to exhibit normal gerbil behaviors. It gets stressed if it can’t do these things.
- It doesn’t have enough food or water. It is trying to escape so that it can survive.
- Too cold or too hot. Again, it needs to move somewhere else to survive.
According to JAALAS, this jumping may be combined with bar gnawing. These are natural survival instincts. If you felt trapped somewhere, you would try everything to get out. That’s what neglected gerbils do, too.
Excited jumping is a good thing. You’ll notice when you reach into your pet’s cage, it might become excited. It shows this by jumping up and down to try and reach you. It will also excitedly sprint from one end of the cage to the other.
This looks similar to the gerbil trying to escape from its cage. That’s because that’s what it’s doing. However, the reason is that your gerbil is happy, not sad.
How to Stop My Gerbil Jumping Up and Down
Foot thumping can be much louder than you would expect. A tiny gerbil can make a surprisingly loud noise. When all of your gerbils join in, the noise is even louder. And if your gerbil keeps trying to escape its cage, you would want to stop that too.
There is no way to stop your gerbil foot thumping. It’s a natural behavior that is ingrained in all gerbils. You can’t train them out of it by giving them treats, for example. All you can do is put up with the noise.
According to JAALAS, you may also see routine and persistent foot stomping in neglected gerbils. So, you have to observe your pet carefully to figure out why it’s stomping this way.
If your gerbil is trying to escape its cage, though, you can stop it from doing so. You must correct whatever the issue is with your gerbil’s care. Begin by looking around your gerbil’s enclosure. Is there anything your pet is missing? It needs:
- A two-tier gerbilarium: the top half is a regular cage, the bottom half is a glass enclosure
- Ten gallons of space per gerbil
- A running wheel
- A water bottle
- Enough bedding to make a burrow out of
- Another gerbil for company, preferably same-sex so that they don’t make a litter
- A small amount of food each day
If your gerbil is missing any one of these things, correct the issue immediately. This should stop your gerbil trying to escape its cage.