Behavior

Gerbils are very social animals and being kept as a pet you will learn each of their personalities and observe several behaviors.  They love to play, explore and tunnel through their bedding.  They are very curious, intelligent and social with their cage mate as well as with their owners when handled properly.

sleeping gerbils

Grooming:

Gerbils groom themselves, as well as each other, with their paws or teeth.  This behavior reinforces the bonded relationship between clan members.  Sometimes a gerbil can groom a bit too hard and come up with a missing patch of fur.  Don’t worry the missing fur will grow back.

Winking:

Yes gerbils can wink.  Winking can be observed when a gerbil content, happy or appreciation.  A gerbil may also wink to show others that everything is okay.  Give them a wink back.

Purring:

Gerbils do purr, however this is normally felt instead of heard.  If you are holding your gerbil and you notice your gerbil is vibrating its a purr and they are extremely happy.

Play Fighting / Boxing / Wrestling:

Gerbils, especially younger ones, will play fight.  They will stand up on their back legs and box with their front paws.   When wrestling they will push each other over on to their sides.  Sometimes they play fight to establish rank with in the clan.  Normally the play fights don’t last very long and the loser usually ends up getting groomed by the winner.  If your movement or making a sound around the cage does not distract the fight or if you hear squeaking this is no longer a play fight and you will need to stop the fight.

Signs of an actual Fight:

It can be hard to determine if they are playing fighting or actually fighting, especially if you are new to owning gerbils.  Most fights break out when you have gerbils trying to establish rank and one doesn’t to give up their dominance.

You must take fighting gerbils very seriously as it can and will result in the death of one of the gerbils.  Once a gerbil draws blood there is no going back and those two gerbils will forever have to be separated.

  • A definite sign of a fight is blood around the tail, rump or neck.  If there is blood or bite marks on the tail or rump that tells you exactly who was being bullied.  Sometimes this may be a one time thing or it could lead to a declan. You will need to observe closely but be prepared for a declan.
  • Gerbil sleeping alone.  Usually all clan members will sleep piled up together in one nest.  If you find a isolated gerbil there could be a fight in the near future. Keep a watch on the isolated gerbil to make sure they aren’t being chased away from food, water, and the rest of the clan.  Sometimes this will resolve itself in a day or two, if not check for signs of a fight.
  • Squeaking and hiding in a tube or corner.  Sometimes this can be a gerbil issue or environment issue.  If this is an issue between the gerbils it means they are afraid to come out because if they do they will be attacked or chased.  If this is environment issue reduce the gerbils stress by moving the tank to a quieter room.

Sliding Belly:

There are two reasons a gerbil slides on their bellies.  A gerbil’s scent gland is located on their lower belly and when sliding across new objects especially they are marking it with their scent.  The second you will notice when you have them out of their tank and they sorta do a low belly crawl on the object they are walking on.   This could be because they are a bit nervous.

Thumping:

If a gerbil becomes afraid and thinks there is danger they will start to thump their back feet at the same time on the ground to warn the rest of the clan to take cover.  If you have more than one clan you may notice the other clan will also start to thump their feet.

Standing Motionless:

A gerbil who is standing motionless on their back legs, front paws drawn close to their body and close together as if they were praying is actually on alert.  They could have heard a noise or seen a movement that has them on alert.

When a gerbil who is standing on their back legs with their front arms relaxed and paws apart, means they are relaxed. – This is a normal gerbil stand.

Digging in Corners:

Digging in corners of their tank is known as a stereotypical behavior.  It has been in my experience and noted by others, that given the adequate amount of bedding for them to dig and tunnel in will stop this behavior.  You may find them briefly digging in corners after being supplied with the appropriate depth of bedding but usually doesn’t last long.

Licking Glass:

Young  pups will lick the glass trying to find their water source.  If you have a older pup or adult who is licking the glass you need to check their water bottle.  Make sure that the water is fresh, can be reached and that the spout is not clogged but drips when you touch it.