Gerbil Lifespan: How Long Do Gerbils Live?

Written by Volia Nikaci
Published: February 21, 2022
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Gerbils are adorable and beloved pets, but they are more interesting than many of us would think. Gerbils come in over a hundred distinct species. The great gerbil, Rhombomys opimus, is the largest and is native to Turkmenistan. Before being introduced as a domesticated animal to North America and Europe, gerbils were known as ‘desert rats.’ Even though they are classified as rodents, they are not the same as rats.

The Mongolian gerbil, Meriones unguiculatus, is the most frequent species kept as a pet. This is the gerbil that you’ll most likely recognize. Funny enough, the scientific name for the Mongolian gerbil translated into ‘small-clawed warrior.’

Want to find out more about these adorable little rodents? We’ve got the rundown on how long gerbils live and more! 

The Average Gerbil Lifespan 

Mongolian gerbil eating its food.
Mongolian gerbils are the gerbils kept as pets by humans.

A wild gerbil has an average lifespan of 2-3 years. As pets, gerbils have an average lifespan of 3-4 years. 

Unfortunately, many wild gerbils will die in the span of a few months of being born. This is due to the difficulties they face in the wild, such as predators, a shortage of food or water, and infections.

Research has been conducted to find out just how long gerbils live while in captivity. 

A study published in Experimental Gerontology found that male gerbils had a mean lifespan of 110 weeks while female gerbils had a lifespan of 139 weeks. The oldest male gerbil in the research was 208 weeks old, while the oldest female gerbil was 209 weeks old.

The Average Gerbil Life Cycle 

Gerbils grow in size and appearance as they transition from babies to adults. Gerbil’s life cycle stages are quite similar to those of other animals, although as we’ve mentioned, gerbils have a significantly shorter life expectancy. Below we’ve gone into detail on how gerbils turn into the adorable small house pets we love. 

Birth

Baby gerbils are called pups. The mother will give birth to the young and since the babies are vulnerable they are typically kept in their nest. The Mongolian gerbil has an average litter size of 4–8 puppies; if the litter only contains 1–2 young, the mother will ignore them and they will die from malnutrition. Baby gerbils are born blind and deaf. Their eyes and ears will only begin to open after 2-3 weeks. 

Weaning Stage

The weaning stage is a gradual process. It corresponds with the growth of a gerbil’s teeth, which are required to break down food. This happens after 28 days or around 4 weeks. Initially, the gerbil will only consume its mother’s milk. Then, in addition to its usual milk, it will attempt little amounts of ordinary food. Then it will nearly totally consume conventional food, with the exception of milk on rare occasions. This might take up to a week.

Adulthood

A gerbil can survive on its own once it has been weaned. Its hearing and vision senses should be completely developed. It can locate its own food, explore securely, and detect impending dangers. Once it has done so, it may seek out another gerbil to live with and begin breeding, eventually forming its own group. Gerbils are generally choosy when it comes to choosing a partner for mating. However, their selection process is quicker than that of other species due to them having a shorter lifespan. 

What Impacts A Gerbil’s Lifespan

Gerbil isolated on white background.
Gerbils are desert animals that inhabit dry or semi-arid settings.

Kuttelvaserova Stuchelova/Shutterstock.com

There are various factors that will impact a gerbil’s lifespan. These will vary based on whether the gerbil is living in the wild or living in captivity as a pet. 

When living in the wild, gerbils have a number of natural predators. Some of these include Pallas’s cat, a kind of wild cat found in Mongolia, snakes, hawks, eagles, kites, and harriers. This means that gerbils must watch out for predators coming at them from both land and the sky. Gerbils are too small to fight back against any of these predators. Instead, the primary defensive method of a gerbil is to flee and hide.

Gerbils utilize their speed to their advantage and will flee to a burrow as soon as a predator approaches. 

While kept as a pet, you’ll notice that gerbils have a few common health problems that are typically avoidable. 

These health issues include: 

  • Dental issues
  • Skin issues 
  • Tail loss 
  • Gastrointestinal issues 

Luckily, the severity of all of these issues can be kept at a minimum with proper veterinary care.

How To Extend The Life Of Your Pet Gerbil 

Now that we know how long gerbils live, you may be wondering what you can do to ensure your gerbil lives as long as they can. Gerbils make for adorable pets and making sure that they are well taken care of will help both of you enjoy each other for longer. Pet gerbils have a short lifespan, but there are certain things you can do to help your small pet live longer.

Here are some tips to help extend the life of your pet gerbil: 

  • Diet: Diet is an essential component that influences a gerbil’s lifetime. Fortunately, this is a component that you can control. Wild gerbils will consume grass and herbaceous plant seeds. They will occasionally consume insects or plant roots. Pet gerbils will require a well-balanced dry diet as well as some fun treats such as grains, nuts, and seeds. 
  • Companionship: In the wild, Mongolian gerbils are sociable creatures that live in groups. They love being around other gerbils and they don’t do well on their own. One mistake that a lot of new gerbil owners make is keeping their gerbils alone. When you keep only one gerbil, they will eventually grow bored and will stress themselves out. You should at the very least anticipate getting a pair of gerbils. 
  • Housing them properly: Gerbils require a lot of areas to climb and run around in, and not all rodent cages are suited for them. Get a large enough cage with an appropriate amount of space and bedding for gerbils. Be sure to include toys and accessories that will keep your gerbils entertained and prevent boredom.

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About the Author

Volia Nikaci is a freelance copywriter and content editor with a passion and expertise in content creation, branding, and marketing. She has a background in Broadcast Journalism & Political Science from CUNY Brooklyn College. When she's not writing she loves traveling, perusing used book stores, and hanging out with her other half.

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