Even though owning a gerbil has become so popular that it makes you want to check it out, their lifespan has always been a question. Out in the wilderness, they seldom live for more than two years but pet gerbils can live for up to five years, with some distinct species even going up to eight.
What are gerbils?
Gerbils have become one of the more popular types of household pets around the world due to their peaceful, non-demanding nature and easy-going way of life. Just like hamsters, they are small, inexpensive and none-to-intrusive to have around the house so they are the perfect companion for people who just want somebody to be there when they get home.
When it comes to their origins, they are actually burrowing rodents from places like Africa and Asia. While there are several breeds of gerbils in the world, most of the pet ones come from the Mongolian gerbil subspecies.
Even though, as we said, more and more people have started to enjoy them as household companions, there is an argument to be made due to the fact that they are not always ideal for young children. Gerbils need a lot of attention as they can be easily injured if dropped or squeezed, while they’re also very prone to nipping or scratching if you scare them.
They are fairly small rodents with long, furry tails that have an easily-distinguishable tuft of fur at the end of them, even though you should never pick up a gerbil by its tail if you care for it at all. Their special type of coloration is referred to as ‘agouti’ color because each hair is streaked with gray, yellow, or black, with off-white hair on the gerbil’s belly.
However, like with any species, there are also certain specialized breeders who try to engage in a selective breeding process and obtain certain colors. Therefore, you may find gerbils in several lovely colors such as white, black, and gold. One striking difference is that unlike their mouse or hamster cousins, gerbils have an affinity for often sitting up on their hind legs.
Gerbil behavior and temperament
Unlike mice or hamsters which are all nocturnal, a gerbil’s sleep cycle really depends on its type. The more-common Mongolian gerbils are not nocturnal even though you may sometimes find them wandering around the house at night.
In the span of 24 hours though, they will go through several sleep/active cycles while being extremely fun to watch because they are very curious beings which will explore anything and everything they can get their metaphorical hands on.
Keeping the rodent family tradition, they are also very social animals which choose to live in colonies out in the wild. For this reason, a gerbil will seldom do well as a solitary pair so it is necessary to keep a same-sex pair at all times, littermates usually being a good choice.
However, it’s also important to understand the dynamic of their relations, as a single older gerbil may find it difficult to accept a new, younger one in its cage seeing how they are quite the territorial beings. Even so, there are certain steps which can be taken to improve their relationship.
Since they are very social and active, gerbils can become quite tame if they have a good and kind owner. You will observe that your new best-bud generally has a pretty agreeable temperament and will only be predisposed to biting if it feels threatened, this being the main reason why they became so popular as pets.
Hand-taming a gerbil is a pretty easy process and you should remember that you can make your job even easier by making sure to always be fully stocked up on delicious treats as they love being spoiled.
The lifespan of a gerbil
Number-wise, there are more than a hundred species of gerbils living in the wild, all of them with varying lifespans due to their different living conditions and predator interactions. Gerbils which cannot stand having an owner and prefer to live in isolated group seclusion out in nature only live for up to one or two years.
In captivity, pet gerbils extend their lifespan up to anything between three to five years while some breeds can live up to eight years if properly cared for and protected. This is because just like any pet, their life cycle depends on a lot of genetic factors but also other things such as quality of food, exercise, a stressful environment, or diseases.
If you plan on getting one of these furry rodents as a companion you should know that the most important factors which can impact their lifespan are as following:
In total, there are about 110 different breeds of gerbils with each one of them having a slightly different life expectancy due to a number of different factors.
Wild vs captivity
As a rule of thumb, you will find that pet gerbils will almost always outlive wild gerbils simply due to the importance of humans taking care of them.
Quality of food and water
Just like any other living being on this planet, access to healthy nutritious food and continuous access to a clean water source are crucial factors in assuring your gerbil has a long and healthy life.
Accidents and diseases
For such a small and overall delicate creature, accidents are always a potential issue. Falling from the top of the cage or being taken by a predator in the wild are ever-present dangers, as are certain diseases that can hastily shorten their lifespan or even quickly end it.
Even though gerbils can usually handle a fall from a relatively short distance, a fall from way up high might break one of their little bones. Furthermore, as tempting as it may be to pick your pet up by the tail, doing this can damage your buddy irreparably so this is why it is recommended to keep them away from very young children.
Exercise and stimulation
Because they are such active creatures, it’s imperative that gerbils receive daily opportunities to stretch their legs and get around. It’s healthy for their body and their mind, both of which are very important in leading a long, happy, gerbil-ish life.
While any creature out there is susceptible to stress, gerbils and even their hamster cousins can be very affected by a stressful living environment and this will drastically shorten their life expectancy.
Gerbils are also prone to becoming overheated which can lead to lethargy, trembling, and eventually death, so it’s imperative to provide them with a well-ventilated place to live.
Last but not least, individual genes are extremely important and greatly affect how long a gerbil will live, just like with us humans. You’ve surely known somebody who smokes cigarettes and eats junk food like there’s no tomorrow but still manages to live for a hundred years while being envied by everybody else.
Tips for extending their lifespan
Other than the generic ‘good care’, there are a few distinct things you can do to prolong your furry friend’s life for as long as possible.
First of all, you can make sure that your gerbil always has organic high-quality food and snacks available, even though they may cost you a little more than regular, dime-a-dozen food.
Constant access to freshwater is a must as they are extremely active pets that need to be able to drink as soon as they feel the need to.
Since exercise is so important, providing your pet with an exercise wheel and a few toys to befriend is a thing that you should consider doing from Day 1 to offer it the best quality-of-life available.
You have also got to make sure the cage is safe, without danger of falling and place it in a quiet room as stress and lack of sleep will be extremely detrimental to your little pal.
Furthermore, keep being a good owner and clean the cage thoroughly and regularly because gerbils can get sick very easily if they live in a dirty environment.
One final piece of advice would be to contact a veterinarian as soon as you feel your friend may be sick because its situation can become serious in a very short time.