Gerbils are among the most common pets people choose for companionship. They are small, easy on the eyes, and easy to care for. Although most of the time keeping them entertained requires only some carefully-chosen gerbil toys, breeding them calls for responsibility and specific do’s and don’ts. Find out more about gerbils and mating in today’s post.
They say a house is not a home without a pet. If you think so, too, and you have a gerbil in mind for your next animal companion, careful consideration is needed, especially if you want more than one. Leaving male and female gerbils in the same cage can easily lead to a bigger gerbil family since they are ready to mate at an early age.
However, you can still keep several gerbils as your pets, help them mate, and control the entire process if you respect some rules. If you want to learn more about the basics of gerbil breeding, this post might be of help.
When is my gerbil ready to mate?
It is not unusual to get a pair of gerbils and end up with pups soon after you’ve placed them together since they start to mate at an early age. Even if they can mate in the first two months of age, it is recommended to allow them to mate only after they’ve reached 3 months of age. While females mate until they are about 2-year old, male gerbils mate throughout the entire life.
After you’ve placed a pair of gerbils together, you will soon see that they will engage in a ritual of chasing and mounting and they will check their undersides. This is when they mate. The female usually mates about every four days and the mating ritual lasts a couple of hours.
Gestation lasts 24 days yet it can reach even 28 days and a litter can consist of 1 to 8 baby gerbils called pups. The female gerbils remain active until they give birth and they will start to mate again soon after delivering. That’s why it is difficult to tell when a female gerbil is pregnant.
Besides being active until giving birth, the female shows signs of pregnancy only a few days before the birth. Getting heavier and taking a pear shape are the signs that will let you know the pups will be there soon.
However, cases of infertility in gerbils are not uncommon. Some of the reasons behind that include ovarian cysts, sexual immaturity, old age, nutritional deficiencies, environmental disturbances such as low temperatures as well as incompatibility with the male gerbil.
How to select the breeding pair
Before reaching the point where your female gerbil gives birth, there are a few factors to consider in order to enjoy the best results. Selecting the breeding pair requires attention if you want the pups to be healthy and the mating, gestation, and post-gestation period to run smoothly.
It is recommended to get the breeding pair from a breeder or a pet store. You can even consider buying the male gerbil from one store and the female from another to make sure they are not related.
Once you’ve found the gerbils you’d like, there are a few things to pay attention to. Their health history should not be ignored. It is best to go for gerbils that had no respiratory problems or illnesses as pups. Choosing the strongest gerbils from the litter to breed increases the chances of getting healthy pups.
Pay attention to their temperament as well. Spend some time with them and observe their behavior towards you and other gerbils. Being gerbil gentle weighs a lot when it comes to the ease with which gerbils mate.
Some gerbil owners also consider color before selecting the breeding pair. Choosing gerbils of common colors will make it easier for you to place the pups. Rich colors and spotted gerbils are more popular.
Getting the breeding pair from a breeder is also recommended as you thus have access to the health and behavior history of the future parents. You can ask the breeder about the gerbils’ health conditions, how they behaved as pups, and so on.
If you’re satisfied with what you’ve found and have made your choice, you will have to introduce the gerbils to one another and do so properly. A direct introduction is recommended when the two gerbils are 6-8 weeks of age and the female is smaller than the male gerbil or at least the same size. However, many gerbil breeders prefer to use a split cage to introduce the gerbils to one another.
Creating a breeding-friendly environment
Once you’ve chosen your breeding pair, you need to make sure the environment dedicated to them is breeding-friendly. Make sure the gerbils are located in a quiet area of your house where they can’t be disturbed; therefore, place the tank with the breeding pair away from other animals and tanks as well as from loud noises.
It is best to leave only one male and female in the breeding tank since the females will fight over the males. Remove any items that could be harmful and keep the tank simple. Pups are fragile and falling off ledges or getting caught in some toys may harm the little ones more than you’d think.
Birthing and care of newborns
When the time of giving birth comes, it is best not to interfere and leave the parents alone. Watching from a distance is recommended. Staying too close to the tank may disturb the parents and the newborns. Immediately after the female gives birth, the pair will mate again, which lasts for a couple of hours.
The mother gerbil will create a nest in the corner of the cage and move the babies there to nurse them. The father is usually “kicked out” of the tank and the mother remains alone with the pups for up to 2 days. The father will then return to the nest and both parents will cater to the babies’ needs.
Gerbils are great parents and it is unusual for them to cannibalize the babies. However, if a baby dies after birth or is stillborn, the parent’s instinct is to clean up the cage, so, it is best to remove the body right away.
It is best not to touch or handle the pups in their first few days of life. Changing the layout of the tank or touching the babies can do more harm than help since foreign smells may make the gerbil parents attack or reject the babies. Moving the tank, cleaning it, taking items out of the tank, or putting new ones inside it is not recommended.
Try not to change the environment because any change might disturb the parents that would then try to put the tank back in order and thus neglect the pups. If there’s something wrong that requires your intervention, then make sure you wash your hands thoroughly or use a plastic baggie.
Baby gerbils are born naked, deaf, and blind and they wouldn’t survive without their mother. It takes about 10 days for them to grow fur and about 20 days to open their eyes. Handling them after a week or so should be done carefully. Even if they are small and fragile, they can easily flip out of your hand and get injured.
Make sure you always keep the pups enclosed in two hands when taking them out of the tank. Have a blanket or pillow ready under your hands to hold the pups. Taking them out of the tank once a day will help them get accustomed to your smell.
The babies are weaned from their mother at about 4-5 weeks of age. Soon after that, they will be ready for a new home. Although some experienced breeders can tell the sex of a baby gerbil when the pup is only a couple of weeks old, it is easier to tell the sex of a gerbil after it has reached 7 weeks of age.
The testicles will become more prominent and can be easily seen under the tail. If the gerbil is young and you still want to identify the sex, just lift the tail. You should see a patch with no fur. Males have this patch farther away from the tail than females.