Pet Gerbil Guide: What To Know, What You’ll Need

Written by A-Z Animals Staff
Published: April 20, 2022
© Kuttelvaserova Stuchelova/


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Before Buying a Gerbil

Gerbils are curious, social creatures that are entertaining to watch. So, if you want to have a pet gerbil, it’s a smart idea to get a pair of them.

Gerbils are relatively inexpensive animals available at pet shops and gerbil breeders. Two gerbils need a 40-gallon aquarium with a secure lid. They do a lot of running and digging so they need quite a lot of space. They are active so they need an exercise wheel and plenty of things to chew on. Along with regular gerbil food, these small animals eat some types of vegetables and fruit.

Keeping a pair of gerbils means they are likely to entertain each other most of the time, but you can hold them too. Gerbils are active especially in the morning and early evening.

gerbil cage
Gerbils are social creatures, so when you choose one as a pet, you might consider getting a companion.

How much does a gerbil cost?

The initial price of one gerbil from a pet shop is $12 to $14. If you go to a gerbil breeder, the price for one gerbil is usually between $14 and $20.

Two gerbils need a 40-gallon aquarium for their habitat. Its measurements are 36 inches long by 18 inches wide by 16 inches tall. Some gerbil owners prefer wire cages, but these allow a lot of bedding to escape and fall onto the floor. A 40-gallon aquarium costs from $120 to $140. If you’d like to avoid buying a brand-new aquarium, there are quality used aquariums for sale online. An appropriately sized aquarium lid costs $20 to $25.

Aspen bedding is a good choice for gerbils. One 140-liter bag of Aspen bedding costs from $18 to $20. Bedding is an initial as well as an ongoing cost for gerbil owners.

Your gerbils will need a food bowl and a water bottle. Food bowls are $2 to $4 while a durable water bottle costs $3 to $4. The price of bowls and water bottles varies depending on the material used.

Gerbil food is an initial and ongoing expense for this tiny pet. The price of a three-pound bag of gerbil food ranges from $7 to $10. They also need timothy hay in their diet at a price of $5 to $7 for a 24-ounce bag.

Toys are a must-have for gerbils especially the types they can chew. A large wooden hut, an exercise wheel and a willow ball are all fun toys for these rodents. Two toys cost from $10 to $12. You can also use some items from your household. For instance, they like to chew on empty toilet paper rolls.

Gerbils don’t need vaccines or regular medical treatments, so yearly vet visits are not necessary. But, as with all animals, there is the potential your gerbil will become ill. A trip to a small animal vet to have a sick gerbil examined can cost from $80 to $100. Of course, if your pet needs medication that will increase the final cost.

The lifespan of a gerbil is two to four years, so let’s take a look at the one time and ongoing costs of owning two gerbils.

Initial Costs to Own a Pet Gerbil

  • Two gerbils: $24
  • 40-gallon aquarium: $120
  • Aquarium lid: $20
  • Bedding: $18
  • Food: $7
  • Hay: $5
  • Food bowl: $2
  • Water bottle: $3
  • Toys: $10

Total initial cost: $209

Ongoing Costs (monthly) to Own a Pet Gerbil

  • Bedding: $18 bag
  • Food: $7
  • Hay: $5

Yearly Ongoing Cost: $360

Total cost of ownership over four years: $1,440

As a note, there’s the potential for a visit to the veterinarian with a sick gerbil at a cost of $80 to $100.

New Owner Shopping List: What to Buy

It’s best to buy everything your gerbils need a day or two before they come home. Getting everything ready is going to make the transition into your home a lot less stressful for your newest additions.

  • 40-gallon aquarium – This aquarium gives your two gerbils enough space to run, dig and arrange their bedding just the way they want it. Here are our top picks for best gerbil cages.
  • Aquarium lid – A secure aquarium lid with a mesh top is necessary for keeping these rodents in their cage. They’re known for their jumping and climbing abilities!
  • Bedding – Aspen bedding is a good choice for gerbils because it absorbs urine and other liquids.
  • Food bowl and water bottle – A sturdy food bowl is perfect for holding a half cup of gerbil food. In addition, a water bottle hanging from the side of the aquarium gives them a supply of water at all times without taking up space on the cage floor.
  • Toys – Wooden chew toys, as well as a metal exercise wheel, can help to keep your gerbils entertained and active in their cage.

Ongoing Needs: What You Need to Care for Your Gerbil

Some of the ongoing needs of your gerbils include gerbil seed, timothy hay and bedding. These supplies can be purchased once per month. However, some gerbil owners buy these supplies in bulk which can save a little on the monthly budget.

  • Gerbil food/seed-The sunflower seeds, millet and shelled peanuts are some of the basic ingredients in a bag of gerbil food. These animals also need fresh fruit and vegetables to balance out their daily intake of nutrients.
  • Timothy hay-Gerbils nibble on timothy hay to keep their teeth from becoming too sharp. This is the case with other rodents like the guinea pig.
  • Bedding-This is an ongoing cost because you need to clean the gerbil cage and change the bedding every week. There are many types of bedding, but Aspen bedding is popular because of its absorbency and fragrance. Some types of Aspen bedding are especially dusty, so be sure to read about a brand before buying.

Exercise and Ongoing Care

If you watch a cage of gerbils for more than one minute, you know these are active creatures! They run, dig, hide, and jump. So, they have some exercise requirements. And, of course, they need to have their cage cleaned once a week.

Cleaning the Cage

Before cleaning your gerbils’ cage, put your pets in a large plastic bin where they’ll be safe while you’re working.

First, remove the food bowl, water bottle and toys. Next, scoop all of the used bedding out of the aquarium and dump it into the trash. Then using a rag, hot water, and mild soap wash the interior of the aquarium. Be sure to get your rag into all four corners of the aquarium. Thoroughly rinse the aquarium and dry it with a soft cloth.

Pour a fresh layer of Aspen bedding into the aquarium. Gerbils need a layer about four to six inches deep.

Wash the food bowl and water bottle with hot water and mild soap. Rinse them thoroughly before putting fresh food and water into them. You can use a moist cloth to wipe down the gerbil toys to get the dust and bedding off of them.

Exercise Needs

Gerbils can move at an extremely fast rate. So, when taking them out of the cage to exercise, be sure you let them loose in an enclosed area. You can create a small exercise arena by using plastic blocks as a border. Be sure the blocks are stacked high enough to keep your gerbils from getting out.

When you want to put them back into the cage, carefully put the open end of a small box in front of one gerbil and gently guide it inside the box with your palm.

Thirty minutes of exercise outside the cage every other day is adequate for these little animals. If your gerbils have an exercise wheel in their cage, they’re likely to be getting a lot of running time already.

How to Catch a Loose Gerbil

Not surprisingly, these speedy rodents have been known to get out of their exercise enclosure or escape their cage. Fortunately, there are ways you can catch your gerbil and get it back to the safety of its cage.

If your gerbils get loose while exercising, they’re likely to run beneath a sofa, table, or other piece of furniture in the room. Get a small box or even a butterfly net with small, woven mesh to catch them when they come out. If your gerbils won’t come out, take some food, and put it nearby to coax them out. Be sure to put the box over each gerbil gently to prevent injury.

One morning you go to feed your gerbils and you notice one of them is missing! Check the lid of the cage. Some gerbils are persistent enough to climb up their water bottle and push on the lid until there’s just enough space to slip out.

Close the door of the room and look under sofas, beds, and tables for your gerbil. Luckily, gerbils are somewhat active during the day, so it may move across the floor while you’re looking for it.

Mongolian gerbil eating its food.
In addition to gerbil food, these creatures enjoy several types of fresh fruits and veggies, such as lettuce, blueberries, radishes and more.

If you think it’s in a particular room behind a sofa or even behind a set of kitchen cabinets, you can set up a friendly trap. Find a bucket and put a layer of bedding in it. Put it on the floor and position a narrow piece of wood as a ramp running from the floor to the top edge of the bucket. Place a treat with a strong fragrance such as peanut butter inside the bucket. Your missing gerbil is very likely to smell the treat and come out to look for it.

The goal is for the gerbil to run up the ramp in search of the flavorful treat and fall into the bucket. Putting a layer of bedding in the bucket serves as cushioning for your pet when it falls.

Feeding Your Gerbil

Gerbils eat a little bit of food throughout the day. Sometimes they take food out of the bowl to store in their tunnels. So, it’s best to fill the bowl with gerbil food once a day and refresh the water.

Put a fresh vegetable or piece of fruit in the cage each day as well. Spinach, blueberries, oranges, lettuce, and radishes are all good ideas for this pet.

Click here for a more in-depth look at what gerbils eat.

How Long Will Your Gerbil Live?

Gerbils have a relatively short lifespan at two to four years. Of course, there are some gerbils that live much longer.

Feeding your gerbil a combination of seed, fruits and vegetables is going to help it stay healthy. On the other hand, avoid feeding your gerbil processed foods and those high in fat.

Click here for more information on the lifespan of a gerbil.

Common Health Issues for Gerbils

Eye issues are common in gerbils. Their eyes can become red and swollen if there’s too much dust in the bedding or if they get a piece of hay in their eye. It’s best to leave it alone to see if it clears up on its own. However, if the gerbil seems to be in pain or stops eating, it needs to visit a small animal vet for treatment.

Where to Buy Your Gerbil

You can buy a gerbil at a pet shop or from a gerbil breeder. A third option is to call the local animal shelter to see if there are any gerbils available for adoption. Whether you purchase gerbils at a pet shop or a breeder, the seller will put your gerbils in a traveling container.

It’s helpful to make a comparison when trying to decide whether to visit a pet shop or a gerbil breeder.

Pet Shop Gerbils vs Gerbils Raised by Breeders

One big difference between buying from a pet shop and a breeder is a gerbil breeder usually charges more for their animals. This is because a breeder is careful about monitoring the health of the gerbils they breed and often hand-tame the babies before they are sold. Normally, the gerbils sold in a pet shop are not hand tame.

Another difference is a gerbil breeder is likely to be much more knowledgeable about the gerbils they sell. A worker in a pet shop may not know more than the basic facts about gerbils.

Oftentimes, a gerbil breeder has several colors and types of gerbils for sale. A pet shop may have a few gerbils in different colors, but probably not the variety you’d find at a breeder.

If you have questions, a dedicated gerbil breeder is going to be open to answering them at any time during the process.

So, you’re paying a higher price for your gerbils at a breeder, but you’re getting more color options, background information, and helpful advice.

Special Considerations with Gerbils

One of the special considerations to keep in mind relates to handling your gerbils.

Handling a Gerbil with Care

Gerbils are not only fast, they can also jump really high. So, when holding one, it’s a good idea to sit on the floor. That way if the gerbil jumps, it wouldn’t have far to fall and likely wouldn’t be injured.

Holding them in a gentle, secure way is the best approach. Plus, it allows the gerbil to get used to being held. It may even start to climb into your palm when you put your hand in the cage!

Another important point to keep in mind is: Never grab onto a gerbil’s tail. A gerbil’s tail skin or even part of its tail can come off fairly easily. Though this is not usually deadly, it’s painful for the animal and its tail won’t grow back.

About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

Pet Gerbil Guide: What To Know, What You’ll Need FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How do I go about buying a gerbil?

You can buy gerbils at a pet shop or a gerbil breeder. Take some time to look at what they have to offer and ask questions about them before making a decision.

What is a good price to buy a gerbil?

A good price is $12 per gerbil.

What is the safest way to buy a gerbil?

The safest option would be to buy from a gerbil breeder who has experience and knowledge about their animals.

How easy is it to take care of a gerbil?

They are easy to care for and are considered pets for beginners.

Do gerbils like to be held?

Yes, if they feel secure in an owner’s hands.

When are gerbils active?

They are especially active in the morning and the evening. Though this animal’s schedule can change with the surrounding activities in a household.

What should I look for when buying a gerbil?

Whether you go to a pet shop or breeder, look for gerbils in excellent health. A healthy gerbil has clear eyes, a full coat of smooth hair, a healthy tail with no bare spots and clean nose without any dripping. A healthy gerbil is active and alert.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.