Gerbils don’t drink much compared to other animals, such as hamsters. But it should be drinking some water. If you notice your gerbil not drinking water, it can be a very worrying sign.
Your gerbil could be meeting its water requirements through the food it eats. Alternatively, your gerbil might not be drinking due to an illness, such as Tyzzer’s disease or respiratory infection. All gerbils eventually stop eating and drinking during old age, where their life comes to an end.
Make sure that the water bottle in your pet’s cage isn’t empty or broken in some way. An equipment malfunction can lead to dehydration, and there’s no way for your pet to let you know. If your gerbil won’t drink from a water bottle, you should check for signs/symptoms of illness or disease.
How Long Can Gerbils Go without Water?
Gerbils can go a surprising length of time without drinking any water. They are built to survive drinking hardly anything. It’s uncertain how long gerbils can go without water entirely, but they can at least survive for between four days and a week.
One study in the Journal of Mammalogy even suggested that gerbils could survive for 29 days or longer without drinking water. Surviving without drinking much water is an attribute common to all gerbils. It helps them survive in the wild. Captive gerbils, not having been captive for as long as other pets, still retain this adaptation.
Gerbils live in dry parts of the world. The most common pet gerbil is the Mongolian gerbil. You can find this species in the Mongolian steppe and the Gobi Desert, both of which are arid. Other gerbil species live in North Africa, dotted throughout the Sahara.
Gerbils must conserve as much water as they can. According to the Journal of Comparative Physiology B, their bodies are adapted to urinate infrequently. Unlike other rodents that scent mark using urine, gerbils use the scent gland on their stomachs instead.
So, it’s not guaranteed that your gerbil is sick or dehydrated when it’s not drinking. But there are several reasons why your pet may be avoiding drinking altogether.
Why Isn’t My Gerbil Drinking?
Avoiding food and water can be a sign that something serious is wrong. If you don’t do anything about it, your pet could become severely ill or die.
|Reason||Signs and Symptoms||What to Do|
|Gerbil water bottle empty||Not drinking, but otherwise healthy and eating regularly.||Refill the bottle. Check the bottle isn’t broken before replacing it.|
|Illness, e.g. respiratory infection, Tyzzer’s disease, etc.||Usually accompanied by lethargy (lack of movement), although symptoms vary by illness.||Note your pet’s symptoms and figure out the problem.|
|Getting water from food||Not drinking, but otherwise healthy, and eating regularly. May see diarrhea.||Feed your pet gerbil food mix and provide a water bottle|
|Water bottle has broken||Water bottle dripping continually, or not letting any water out. Gerbil otherwise healthy.||Replace your pet’s water bottle.|
|New gerbil not drinking||Not drinking, but otherwise healthy, and eating regularly. May be fighting semi-frequently to frequently.||Try pairing the gerbil with another using the split tank method.|
|Old age||Lethargy and weight loss||Make your gerbil comfortable as it’s likely to be close to death.|
1) Gerbil Water Bottle Empty
Your pet’s water bottle could be empty, in which case there’s nothing for it to drink. Never discount the obvious answer to an issue as it’s often the correct one.
This can happen if you don’t pay close attention to your pet. While gerbils don’t drink often, this can work against them. You must change their bottle so infrequently that you forget to do it at all.
Alternatively, the bottle may be leaking. This empties it quicker than you would normally be expecting. So, again, you may not notice that it’s empty and your gerbils would be without water.
Some water bottles also have opaque or translucent sides, which means you can’t see the water level easily. It’s better to have a bottle with transparent sides, so that you can see how much water is left.
2) Gerbil Not Drinking Because It’s Ill
Gerbils stop eating and drinking when they’re ill. This is a response you will observe during many different health issues, including:
- Tyzzer’s disease
- Respiratory infection
- Scent gland tumors
- After a stroke or severe seizures
- After heart issues
The reason gerbils stop eating and drinking when ill is to conserve these resources for other gerbils. Because gerbils live in groups, any food or water the sick gerbil enjoys could have gone to a healthy gerbil. These healthy gerbils could go on to have more litters, while the sick one likely won’t.
Also, the sick gerbil could pass on its issue to the other gerbils. If they both drank from a standing water source, the healthy gerbil could catch whatever sickness befell the other.
So, gerbils evolved to stop eating and drinking when ill. If you think your gerbil is unwell, check for other signs of poor health such as:
- Lethargy (lack of movement and excess sleep)
- Eyes half shut or completely shut
- Loss of use of limbs (specifically occurs after strokes)
- Runny nose or runny eyes
- Wounds and bleeding
A vet can diagnose the issue and recommend a course of treatment. Certain conditions can only be treated by a vet, e.g. scent gland tumors.
3) Do Gerbils Get Water from Food?
Gerbils in the wild get almost all of their water from the foods they eat. Wild gerbils eat lots of plant roots, which store up water in desert conditions. This water will sustain a gerbil comfortably.
Captive gerbils can live on the water in their food, too. If you feed your pet lots of fruit and vegetables, it will get its water from them.
Most fruits and vegetables are between 70 and 80% water by weight, but can be more. According to Nutrition Value, cucumbers are 95g water per 100g.
However, this isn’t the optimal way to feed a gerbil. Far better is to feed your pet gerbil food mix. This is a nutritious mix of nuts, seeds, grains, and dried vegetable flakes. It is formulated to contain all the carbs, protein, fat, and minerals that gerbils need. The only thing it lacks is water.
The ideal setup is to feed your pet this food mix, and provide a water bottle. This gives your gerbil everything it needs to be healthy.
4) Gerbil Water Bottle Broken
Your gerbil’s water bottle may not be working as intended, e.g. by not letting any water out. Water bottles work like ballpoint pens. They have a ball at the bottom of the spout, which stops the water leaking out all at once.
However, either because of damage or something blocking it, this ball could become stuck. If this occurs, your pets can’t get water from it anymore.
It may also be leaking continually. This would empty the bottle quickly and leave nothing for your pet to drink. You can spot this issue by looking for drips coming from the bottle’s spout, or by a pool of water in the cage. This becomes a significant issue if you leave your pets unattended to go on holiday.
The simple solution is to get another water bottle. Pick one that has a larger capacity and from a recognized brand with good reviews to avoid this problem reoccurring.
If you plan on going away, you may wonder how you could avoid this problem occurring. Experienced owners will attach a second water bottle to their pet’s cage before going away to prevent this. Even if one water bottle breaks, it’s unlikely that the other one will too.
5) New Gerbil Not Drinking
If you’ve recently bought a new gerbil, but it’s not drinking, the group may have rejected it. Gerbils have a clear social structure for their groups, which excludes outsiders. There is a central breeding pair, and then the pair’s young are all subordinate to them.
This group rejects an outsider gerbil. That’s because the breeding pair want to be the only ones allowed to breed. So, if you put a gerbil in with an existing group, it won’t become friends with them. This is made evident through the group’s behaviors. They will reject the new gerbil by:
- Fighting it and chasing it away
- Not allowing it to eat food or drink from the same water source
- Not allowing it to sleep in the same burrow
You must introduce the new gerbil to one of the others properly. Do so using the split tank method. Briefly, this is where you put a divider in the tank. The new gerbil lives on one side and the old gerbil on the other. You swap them around each day so they get used to each other’s smells.
You can’t introduce a new gerbil to an existing large group. The group will always reject it. But if you pair up the new gerbil properly, it should begin drinking again.
6) Gerbil Not Drinking Because It’s Old
Your gerbil may be avoiding both food and drink because of its advanced age. This is something that all gerbils do.
If your gerbil is above three years old, it can be classed as elderly. Gerbils are the kind of animal, like many other rodents, which breed young and have many litters. Their lifespan doesn’t need to be much longer for gerbils to be a successful species.
The reason for this is the same as when a gerbil is ill. A gerbil that’s on the verge of dying would eat food, only for that food never to go digested. It would be put to better use by another member of the gerbil’s family. So, evolution selected gerbils that left food alone before they died.
Can Gerbils Drink Out of a Bowl?
The humble water bowl is the most straightforward alternative way of offering your pet water. Gerbils can drink from a water bowl, but it’s not a good choice.
Some owners think there’s a chance of their gerbil drowning in the bowl. This won’t happen. Provided that the bowl is a small one intended for gerbils, you can’t fill it deep enough for your pet to drown in.
The real reasons are that water bowls create lots of work for the owner. You have to refill them more frequently because the water goes bad. The inside of a gerbil cage is usually dirty, and this dirt will spread to the water bowl.
Also, your gerbils will bury the water bowl in bedding. This is an instinctual reaction which gerbils can’t seem to help. Even if they don’t, it will get full of bedding and food that gets knocked in there when your gerbils move around.
Besides that, animals don’t like drinking from standing water. Standing water harbors bacteria, mold, and parasites. Fresh running water doesn’t, so all animals prefer it.