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January 8, 2010

Food and Water: Cage Supplies for your Gerbil

The Humane Society of the United States

gerbil in house

istockphoto

It doesn't get more basic than food and water, right? Keep your gerbil well-fed and well-hydrated with the right supplies for mealtime.

Your gerbil's watering hole

When it comes to deciding on a water bottle or a water dish, the choice is clear: water bottles are the winner.

Since water bottles can't be easily spilled or clogged with bedding material, food, and other particles, they make it much easier to keep your gerbil's home and water supply clean. Gerbils prefer clean, dry bedding, and even though they may mastermind the mess created by overturned water bowls, they won't appreciate the result. You probably won't either, since sodden bedding necessitates additional cage cleaning.

Water bottles are available in different sizes and styles. Here's what to look for:

  • Size: 8-oz. water bottle
  • Material: Glass is preferable, but plastic works well too and is more commonly sold in pet supply stores.
  • Features: Angled stainless steel sipper tube with a ball bearing in the spout.
  • Cage placement: The water bottle should hang off the side of the aquarium at a height that's easily accessible for your gerbil. You'll need to purchase a bottle holder or shield so that the water bottle hangs easily from the side of the aquarium. Make sure the end of the sipper tube is not touching your gerbils' bedding. This could create a continuous leak that empties the water bottle in a matter of hours. Although gerbils have adapted to dry conditions in their natural habitat, they can become dehydrated very quickly.

Water bottle care and maintenance

Your gerbil's water should be changed daily, and the water bottle should be washed with soapy water and rinsed thoroughly during the weekly cage cleaning. A bottle brush can help remove any stubborn particles.

When re-hanging the water bottle, gently tap the ball bearing to make sure the sipper tube is not clogged.

Food: dished up or scattered with abandon?

There are two approaches to gerbil chowtime.

  • Put the gerbils' food in a dish, which separates the pellets or seed mix from soiled bedding and offers a tidier appearance.
  • Place food directly on the bedding, which allows gerbils to follow their foraging instinct. Many gerbils bury their food bowls or scatter the contents regardless of the way the food is introduced, so this approach lends itself to the theory that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Either approach works well and depends on your personal preference.

If you decide a food bowl is the way to go, here are some guidelines to follow.

  • Amount of food: Gerbils need about a tablespoon of gerbil chow every day, so the food dish should be small. Larger bowls take up valuable cage space and may encourage owners to inadvertently overfeed their gerbils. Establish a second bowl or feeding spot for fresh vegetables and fruit. Suggested vegetables include dark greens, carrot, and broccoli. However, the quantity of these foods should only be about one teaspoon per gerbil daily. Apple can be given but only in much small quantity, as the sugar in fruits can be harmful in larger quantities.
  • Material: Ceramic food bowls are strongly recommended over plastic bowls because they are sturdy and chew-resistant, and their weight makes them difficult to overturn.
  • Cage placement: Place the dish in an area of the cage that is removed from your gerbils' bathroom area.

Food dish care and maintenance

Wash the bowl with soap and water, then rinse and dry thoroughly during the once-a-week aquarium cleaning. Ceramic food dishes are durable and shouldn't need to be replaced unless they become cracked or chipped.

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