According to recent surveys, 5.4 million households have small animals as pets in the United States. These include popular pets such as rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, and guinea pigs, to name a few.
With so many homes with small pets, it seems very likely that there are households that have multiple types of small animals living in them. This brings up the question of whether small animals can eat the same types of food.
Can gerbils eat rabbit food? No, rabbit food should not be used to feed gerbils. Not only do these two animals belong to different species, but their nutritional and dietary needs are also different as well. Rabbits require food consisting primarily of high-fiber items like hay, while gerbils get their sustenance from a diet of seeds and grains. Rabbits are strictly herbivores, and gerbils are considered omnivores.
While feeding rabbit food to your pet gerbil will likely not be harmful if done on the rarest of occasions, it should only be done when the only other alternative is your gerbil going hungry. Continue reading to learn why gerbils shouldn’t eat rabbit food and what you can feed your gerbil.
Why Can’t Gerbils Eat Rabbit Food?
As a general rule of thumb, you should consider how your animal feeds in the wild or its native habitat for clues as to what type of diet it should be fed in your household. In the case of gerbils, they originate from arid lands in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, where they foraged for seeds, grains, grasses, insects, and even carrion (decaying animal flesh), for sustenance.
In contrast, rabbits are strict herbivores that have relied on grasses, weeds, wildflowers, and even twigs and branches, for their sustenance. Domesticated rabbits are descended from wild rabbits that have roamed southern France, northeast Spain, and other parts of Europe for the past several million years. Throughout all that time, rabbits have fed on diets consisting of high-fiber foods that provide the roughage that their digestive systems need.
For a long time, rabbits were classified as rodents along with gerbils, hamsters, mice, and guinea pigs. However, they have since been classified as lagomorphs, which can be considered cousins to rodents but anatomically distinct. For instance, one significant difference is that rabbits and other lagomorphs have an extra pair of incisors that correlate directly to the need to chomp down on and tear the hay and long grasses that make up the bulk of their diet.
What Should Gerbils Eat?
Although domesticated gerbils do not need to scrounge for food, their dietary needs still revolve around grains, seeds, certain nuts, long grasses, the occasional fresh vegetables, certain fruits, and other treats. As far as their daily nutritional needs, there are a variety of gerbil food blocks (also known as lab blocks) and pellets that are specially formulated with gerbil health and well-being in mind.
Gerbil blocks and pellets can be supplemented with fresh foods on occasion. Here are a few pointers when selecting gerbil food for your furry little critter:
- Gerbils have an affinity for hard, dry, and crunchy foods.
- Lab blocks and pellets are advantageous over loose mixes because gerbils cannot pick out their favorite things to eat and leave behind less appealing (and often healthier) bits.
- Look for blocks and pellets that contain a range of protein between 10-16% and fat content between 4-8%.
When it comes to protein and fat, the recommended amounts of these two vital components of a healthy gerbil diet will vary with the animal’s age. In general, younger and breeding female gerbils require the most protein and fat, while senior gerbils (over 2 ½ years old) require the least amounts.
Here is a simple table with recommended protein and fat amounts based on gerbil age:
|GERBIL AGE/CONDITION||RECOMMENDED PROTEIN||RECOMMENDED FAT|
|Under 6 months old or breeding females||15 to 16%||7 to 9%|
|Adults (6 months to 2 ½ years old)||12 to 14%||6 to 8%|
|Senior (over 2 ½ years old)||10 to 12%||4 to 6%|
Supplementing Your Gerbil’s Healthy Diet
To supplement your gerbil’s daily diet of lab blocks or pellets, it is recommended that measured amounts of selected fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, dairy, and meats be fed to your gerbil.
While the lists of permissible foods are quite exhaustive (they are omnivores, after all), here are common food items that can be safely fed to gerbils:
Fruits & Vegetables
- Romaine lettuce
- Dandelion greens
- Carrot tops
- Other dark, leafy greens
All fruits and vegetables must be thoroughly washed to remove traces of pesticides and herbicides, which are particularly toxic to gerbils. Also, fruits and vegetables in the gerbilarium that have not been eaten should be removed immediately to prevent rotting or mold growth.
Nuts & Seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Gerbils love nuts and seeds, but they must be given as occasional treats in tiny amounts because of their high fat content, which can lead to obesity if not carefully monitored. Pumpkin seeds are a healthier option and may be given more frequently because they are significantly lower in fat.
Meats & Dairy
- Cooked chicken
- Dog biscuits
Yes, you can safely feed gerbils specific meat and dairy products in minimal amounts and only once in a while. These special menu items add variety to a gerbil’s diet. Gerbils have even been known to love scrambled eggs, but proper portion size is essential, and this is meant to be only an occasional treat.
Chew Toys & Substrates
- Timothy hay (rotate fresh batches in the gerbil’s cage)
- Chew sticks (branches from fruit trees)
- Chew toys (natural fiber balls and the like)
Like hamsters, guinea pigs, and other members of the rodent family that are popular pets, a gerbil’s teeth (specifically its incisors) continually grow throughout its lifetime. If left unchecked, overgrown teeth can lead to serious dental problems and can cause health issues related to malnourishment.
For these reasons, gerbils instinctively chew and gnaw on just about everything. (This is one reason why gerbilariums – cages for gerbils that often resemble aquariums because gerbils can gnaw their way out of a plastic cage.) This is nature’s way of ensuring that gerbil teeth are the proper length; the instinct to chew and gnaw on things wears down the tips of their teeth to the proper length.
Gerbil Diets Need to be Monitored
Aside from the different nutrients offered by rabbit food, another vital thing to consider before feeding rabbit food to your gerbil is the fact that small rodents like gerbils are very sensitive to sudden or dramatic changes in their diet. A disruption to the usual diet that is fed to your gerbil can result in an upset stomach or digestive problems.
Certain foods need to be avoided altogether because of their toxicity to gerbils. These include items such as:
- Processed foods
- Sugary foods
- Any leftover food that the gerbil has lost interest in should be promptly removed from the gerbil’s habitat
Gerbils can bring an enormous amount of joy to their owners that belies their tiny size. Owning and caring for a pet requires a great deal of responsibility, particularly concerning proper feeding and nourishment. Gerbils are omnivores and can safely eat many things, but care must be taken to ensure they are given foods that are suitable for gerbils. This includes resisting the temptation to give them foods that are formulated for other types of animals. Your gerbil will thank you for this.