Gerbils are fascinating pocket pets that are best kept in pairs since they are social, but people who have gerbils as pets sometimes run into issues with them fighting. Can gerbils kill each other?
Some of these fights are brutal and leave gerbil owners wondering whether they are capable of fighting to the death. Let’s handle this together.
Can gerbils kill each other?
Yes. While it is rare, gerbils are capable of fighting to the death. In the wild, it is common for gerbils to fight, but the defeated gerbil can flee because it is not in a cage. In captivity, a defeated gerbil has nowhere to escape, forcing the fight to go on until death.
Seeing gerbils fight can be traumatic, but if you know how to keep gerbils properly, you might not ever have to step in and prevent a fight to the death.
Keep reading to learn more about the social behavior of gerbils and how to prevent them from killing each other.
Why Do Gerbils Fight to the Death?
Gerbils fighting is a fairly common occurrence since they are a territorial social animal, but most of the time, it doesn’t leave lasting damage to either animal. Here are some of the reasons that gerbils will fight:
Gerbils that are kept in a cage that is too small for them will not be able to establish enough personal territory and will eventually come into conflict with each other. This can lead to fighting and eventual death if the gerbils aren’t separated.
2. Lack of bonding between adult gerbils
Because they’re territorial, adult gerbils that are strangers can’t be put into an enclosure together without causing territorial fighting. This is one of the reasons it is better to adopt a pair of young gerbils together.
3. Play fighting
Like many other mammals, young gerbils will play fight to practice their agility and bond with each other. The mood of these play fights will be much less intense and gentler than a real fight between gerbils.
Gerbils form a social group called a clan, but sometimes in the wild, a gerbil will want to leave the clan because of social conflicts and either go it alone or join another clan. In captivity, since the declaning gerbil cannot leave, this often leads to severe fighting.
5. Introducing an opposite-sex gerbil to a bonded same-sex pair.
This almost always causes declaning and fighting in the same-sex pair because of mating conflicts. Gerbils fight for the hierarchical right to mate, and all fights in captivity have the potential for lethality.
No matter the reason, once gerbils begin fighting seriously, the only solution is to separate them (either temporarily or permanently, depending on the severity of the fighting behavior).
A cage means that there is no way for the losing gerbil to “surrender” the fight, which ultimately leads to more severe injuries than if the two gerbils were fighting in the wild.
Do you think they can be poisoned or poison each other when they fight? Find out here because it’s important to know.
How to Stop Gerbils from Fighting to the Death
There are a few signs you might see that your gerbils have progressed from a minor spat into a serious conflict. Here are a few things to watch out for if you have a pair of gerbils that seem to be fighting:
- Fast-rolling/fighting in a ball formation that seems especially intense
- Aggressive chasing that doesn’t let up or results in biting attacks
- Drawing blood
- Loud or shrill vocalizations (gerbils are typically quiet animals outside of a conflict)
In comparison, gerbils that are only play-fighting will “box” with their front paws, hop around each other in game-like motions, groom each other, or gently wrestle.
Once you’ve owned gerbils for a few weeks and have observed their behaviors, the difference between real fighting and playing will be like night and day.
- When you’ve determined that gerbils are fighting seriously and not just playing, the two gerbils should be separated quickly.
- The safest way to do this and avoid being accidentally bitten in the process is to wear gloves such as thick leather gardening gloves. It’s a good idea to have a back-up cage available if you have multiple gerbils just in case you have to separate them temporarily.
- After they’ve had a chance to cool off, clanned gerbils should be reintroduced (with a mesh divider in the enclosure) within twenty-four hours.
This will ensure that they do not lose each other’s scent, which will cause a declaning and prevent the gerbils from being integrated into the same enclosure again.
Be careful with gerbil bites against you. See what needs to be done in my other article about gerbil bites.
How to Prevent Gerbils from Fighting and Killing Each Other
Along with stepping in and preventing death when severe fighting occurs, there are many things gerbil owners can do to help prevent severe fighting from starting up in the first place. Here are some rules of thumb for owning gerbils that can help reduce aggression and conflict:
1. When it comes to habitats, the bigger, the better.
Most fighting in captive gerbils is the result of territorial spats that have nowhere to dissipate. If you were stuck in a studio apartment with your roommate for years with no ability to come and go, you’d probably get hostile, too. Larger habitats give bonded gerbils a chance to forge their territories.
2. Do not keep unbonded gerbils together.
Throwing together two adult gerbils who have never met each other before is bound to lead to fighting. If you keep gerbils, getting two same-sex siblings from the same litter can lead to a bonded gerbil pair without any worries of unwanted breeding or issues with introducing strange adults to each other.
3. Do not introduce an opposite-sex gerbil to a same-sex bonded pair.
This will inevitably lead to conflict and fighting because of how gerbil mating rituals work. Gerbils should ideally grow up together to prevent fighting.
4. Do not keep more than two gerbils in an enclosure.
It’s recommended to keep gerbils with a partner since they’re social animals, and they need plenty of same-species socialization, but owning three or more gerbils in the same habitat is a fast way to increase territorial spats.
5. Provide plenty of enrichment.
Bored animals are more likely to pick fights with one another for lack of anything else to do, so providing plenty of toys, treats, and other enrichment objects in a gerbil enclosure can help prevent boredom-based fights.
6. Reintroduce gerbils through a divider.
Using a mesh divider allows the gerbils to see and smell each other but prevents physical contact, which allows them to work through their conflict with each other without being able to fight physically.
After about a week, the mesh divider can usually be removed. If the gerbils are still fighting at this point, they are unlikely to get along in the future and must be separated permanently.
Sometimes, due to interpersonal conflicts, a bonded pair of gerbils will declan and cannot be safely kept together anymore, no matter what reintroduction measures are taken. In these cases, the gerbils should be rehomed in separate habitats.
Why Are My Gerbils Suddenly Fighting?
When my gerbils started fighting, I blamed myself. I soon realized a few factors that makes it less my fault and more natural. This doesn’t mean we can’t stop it.
1. Gerbils are extremely scent-oriented as animals, which means that if something occurs to the fragrance of one gerbil, it is possible that the other gerbil will no longer be familiar with it.
This might result in conflicts breaking out between the two gerbils. This is especially typical with gerbils who spend a significant portion of their time outside of their habitat.
2. The presence of an excessive number of males and females of reproductive age that are confined in one tank may be to blame, as may a battle for dominance in which the dominating gerbil may not be as powerful as it formerly was.
It is not uncommon for this to happen to gerbils who are two years old or older; however, it is possible for it to happen sooner.
Do Gerbils Play Fight?
Yes. When gerbils play fight, they engage in a behavior that resembles boxing and involves bouncing about. In general, this makes it possible for gerbils to create their social order without major conflicts arising.
This kind of behavior does not pose any health risks. Bites around the head and tail area, on the other hand, will be visible in the event of a real battle.
When they are having fun with one another, gerbils will:
- run about
- box one another with their front paws
When two or more gerbils are really fighting, they may:
- bite each other around the head and tail areas
- draw blood
Gerbils that are fighting should be kept apart to prevent injury to any of them. True gerbil fighting is uncommon in bonded pairs.
Gerbil females are more likely to be affected by this condition than gerbil males. It can take place at any time and frequently without any prior notice.
Why Are My Gerbils Are Fighting and Drawing Blood?
When your gerbils fight, declanning is the likely culprit if you detect blood being drawn.
The social group of the gerbil dissolves when declanning. This can be the result of another gerbil challenging the dominant one because it is weak or elderly.
- Disinfecting a wound is the first step in treating it. Cleaning a wound prevents germs from penetrating it.
- Disinfectants are simple to use. Some may already be in your house. Use a Q-Tip to wipe the area surrounding the wound carefully after dipping it in disinfectant.
- The next step is to make sure that nothing can spread infection to your pet’s wound. Infections are significantly influenced by dirty bedding, especially when it has feces and urine on it.
Waste or germs found in decomposing food will spread throughout the bedding, especially if it’s damp. Replace the bedding and separate the fighters for now.
How to Tell if Gerbils Fighting or Playing
Normal play fighting to establish hierarchy is harmful when it escalates into a power conflict and they start to really fight.
- Gerbils used as pets are often housed in cages or habitats that they are unable to escape. When your gerbils begins to box one another, it is one of the most obvious symptoms of play fighting.
- They will occasionally begin by smelling each other before standing up and engaging in a playful boxing bout and rolling around with one other.
- Your gerbils softly chasing each other around the cage is another indication of play fighting.
- Be cautious if your gerbils begin to sleep in completely separate locations from one another. They may be stressing one other out if they sleep in different places.
- Another indication is if you see one gerbil eating all the food in an effort to starve the other gerbil to death.
- You can tell it’s real when one gerbil furiously bites at the other gerbil’s head or tail while the victim is panic screaming in fear.
While it is not common that gerbils will kill each other in fights, it is more likely to happen in captivity where one gerbil is unable to escape the other.
To prevent this kind of deadly conflict, a gerbil owner needs to be observant of their animals and make sure that any kind of fighting observed is only of the play variety.
Knowing how gerbils generally interact in a group setting and making sure that they have a suitable place to live are the two best ways you can prevent a tragedy in your gerbil cage.