What Do Gerbils Eat?

Small in size, gerbils are sometimes called "pocket pets."
Small in size, gerbils are sometimes called "pocket pets." (Image: Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images)

The gerbil is a small rodent originating in the arid deserts of Asia and Africa. Gerbils prefer to hoard their food and subsist off of nuts, grains, plants, fruits, seeds and cereals. A pet gerbil's diet differs little to that of a wild gerbil; however, owners must pay close attention to the ratio of fats and proteins the gerbils take in. Gerbils mostly survive off of the food available in their area.

Natural Diet

The wild gerbil's diet varies greatly depending on location and time of year. During the summer, gerbils prefer fresh greens, seeds and sometimes insects. In the winter, in addition to dried food they store in their burrows starting in late summer, gerbils will feast on available seeds and fruits. Gerbils living in areas populated by humans will often, due to convenience, eat the seeds and fruits of the local crops. Researchers have found that gerbils prefer oats to wheat. Gerbils will have multiple storage chambers in their underground burrows, but only store one food type per chamber.

Pet Gerbil Diet

The American Gerbil Society (AGS) recommends pet owners feed their gerbils premixed, store-bought gerbil food, as it is the easiest way to get the correct ratio of protein, minerals, vitamins and fat in bulk. AGS guidelines state that non-breeding gerbils should consume 12 percent protein and 7 percent fat, or 15.5 percent protein and 8 percent fat for breeding gerbils and 10.5 percent protein and 4 percent fat for gerbils over 2 years old. For owners of multiple gerbils, it is important to check that no one gerbil is hoarding most of the food, especially foods high in fats like sunflower seeds or peanuts. While cereals are a good source of "special occasion" foods, owners should avoid cereals with artificial colors, flavors or sugar or marshmallows. Apples, carrots, banana peels and lettuce are should only be given occasionally and always removed from the gerbil cage the next day.

Pregnant Gerbils

A pregnant gerbil must take in more protein than normal. Pet owners and breeders may supplement their pregnant gerbil's diet with store-bought gerbil food containing at minimum 15 percent protein, or scrambled eggs, insects or dry kitten food. Pregnant and nursing gerbils also need a constant source of water, so ensure that her water bottle is always full and properly working. If the water source runs dry, gerbils may eat their own young as a source of liquid.

Infant Gerbils

Like all mammals, infant gerbils sustain themselves on their mother's milk. A litter will typically nurse for 3-5 weeks. If for some reason there is only one pup in a litter, it may not be able to stimulate an adequate supply of milk from the mother. Pet owners and breeders can introduce young pups from another litter into the group; however, the mother gerbil may not accept the adopted pups. When pups begin to wean, which takes up to two weeks, they are generally able to eat small nuts, seeds and cereals. If necessary, infant gerbils of at least 2 or 3 weeks can take kitten milk supplement. Weaning pups sometimes develop respiratory infections, which are evidenced by clicking, glazed eyes, puffed fur and weight loss.

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