Handling Gerbils

The art of taming gerbils is in encouraging the animals to become used to you. Young gerbils are often nervous and this is due to inexperience. It is essential to be gentle, unhurried and not to force the pace. Make the gerbils’ natural curiosity work for you. Leave the cage door open on a table and eventually they will almost certainly come forth of their own accord. Scampering back at a sudden noise or movement. Try feeding them with small pieces of food held in the fingers. Allow them to investigate your hand and to walk onto the palm of your hand held motionless on the table. Once the gerbils have gained confidence, they dearly love to burrow up the sleeves of jackets and inside clothing. Care should be taken not to crush or suffocate them.

Allowing the gerbils out of their cage for exercise is part of the excitement of having them. A table top makes an ideal play-ground for a hop and skip. A few precautions should be taken however. They could fall off the edge accidentally or even jump down if the table is a low one. There may be no harm in their running about the floor, provided one is careful. The main dangers could be the presence of a dog or cat, who may consider the gerbils fair game, or the existence of small holes or cracks in the skirting or floor boards. Unfortunately, the presence of a hole may be unsuspected until the gerbil has disappeared down it.

Unfortunately, too, a gerbil in unfamiliar surroundings may not be able to find his way home. Should your pet become lost in this manner, the best policy is to remain quiet and to place the cage on the floor with the door open. It may be necessary to leave the cage there overnight, so that the wanderer may return in his own good time. His (or her) mate should be housed temporarily in another cage or makeshift box. Do not rap on the floor-boards as this will most likely frighten the animal and will drive him further away. Generally, it may not be thought worthwhile to let gerbils down on the floor because of the chance of mishaps.

The correct way to hold a gerbil is by the base of the tail. This should be held firmly but not tightly. Animals can be transferred from one cage to another or from cage to table quite easily by this method, but not held suspended in mid-air for any length of time. To continue to hold the animal, support the weight of the body with the other hand. Not all gerbils like to be held for any period of time and if he struggles continuously, it is wise not to persist. A certain amount of practice is required to pick up a gerbil by the tail, cleanly and without fumbling. Another method is to “scoop up” the animal by one or both hands, being careful not to squeeze or hurt him in the process. He can be held briefly in the hollow of one hand while a firm grip is taken of the tail.

An escaped gerbil may become very excited or frightened and a simple method of dealing with this situation is to slowly approach with an open tin-can or even a paper tube of suitable diameter. It is surprising how often the animal will scoot into it, whence one needs only to clap a hand over the open end (or both ends depending what is being used). The gerbil should be returned to his cage to quieten down for a while.

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