Gerbil Housing and Cage Requirements
Gerbils require cages that allow them to exercise their natural burrowing behaviour. The best cages for gerbils to live in are tall glass aquariums or home made bin cages.
Plastic cages and wire cages commonly sold in pet stores are NOT ideal options for housing gerbils. Please avoid any commercial cage that uses connecting plastic tubes as well. They are too small, encourage territorial behaviours and gerbils can easily chew their way out!
We recommend a size of between 20-30 gallons for a pair of gerbils (90-100 liters) which should be cleaned every two weeks. Especially deep bedding can go a little longer without cleaning for the most part.
Gerbils need at least four inches of bedding so they can dig and build tunnels, but the deeper the better!
Bedding to avoid includes pine, cedar, nesting "fluff" or anything that produces dust, which can irritate your gerbil's lungs.
We use a mixture of aspen, shredded paper and timothy hay as it holds their digging tunnels well. Paper beddings such as Kaytee clean and cozy are also great options, but we advise against Carefresh brand due to dust and other health concerns associated with it. Here in Ontario, our bedding can be composted and so all our wood shavings, paper and cardboard that our gerbils nest in gets completely recycled.
Wheels are a great addition to your gerbil's home, but they must be solid (no ladder or rung styles) and LARGE. A minimum wheel size of 8" is required. Hamster balls should not be used as they cause stress to the animal inside.
Nest boxes should be provided to gerbils and be dark enough to block out light. Cardboard boxes and wooden houses make for both a nesting space and a chew toy, but will have to be replaced. Other great options include coconut houses or ceramic or glass pots (which can be easily cleaned). Ceramic has a nice side effect of retaining heat and can be a cozy option in winter, but be careful if it is painted.
Sand baths are a great enrichment option for your gerbil - they should be offered at least once a week for your gerbils. In Europe they recommend leaving it in the gerbil's enclosure, but we only recommend this if you use true sand as gerbils will kick it all over the place. Children's play sand that has been baked in the oven can be used, or calcium free reptile sand is a great commercial option that are safe to use in your gerbil's cage.
Chinchilla dust can be used with HEAVY supervision. Dust removes oils from the coats much more efficiently than sand can, but it is incredibly lightweight and can be easily kicked into the air and into the airways of your pets. To protect your gerbil's lunge we suggest putting "dust" in a container that your gerbil can roll in and offering it to them once a week, or in a playpen type setting.
Sand can be placed in a glass candy-type jar, or in a 2.5 or 5 gallon glass aquarium for your gerbils to jump in and out of. If you leave it in their enclosure they may "potty" train themselves and use the sand as a bathroom, so it must be changed often.