Can Gerbils Play in Water? (Do They Even Like it?)

Gerbils are small mammals from a subfamily called Gerbillinae. They are rodents that are most commonly found in arid habitats. Gerbils are closely related to mice and rats and may sometimes be confused for either. They are mostly active during the day, and they make great pets for people who know how to take care of them.

So, can gerbils play in water? Gerbils are not adapted to life in water and will, therefore, not play in the water. Instead, they rather have their fun with other gerbils or toys that you provide them.

Read on to find out more about gerbils, how they react to water, and what you can do to encourage your pet gerbil to play.

Understanding Gerbils and Water

Gerbils are cute little pets that just about anyone can keep in their home. All they need is a cozy cage, food, and water. The downside is that these pets may sometimes seem a bit dull, so their owners may be interested in finding ways to make them active and playful.

Gerbils have a small stature and short legs, which are not suited for playing in water. If you put your gerbils in water, chances are they are going to struggle to stay afloat. While they may manage to swim from one point to another, it is generally not a good idea to put them in water because they will drown when they get tired of trying to swim.

Instead of putting your gerbils in deep water, provide them with a little amount of water in a shallow plate that lets them wet their feet while drinking. 

Why Don’t Gerbils Like Water?

You must remember that gerbils live in semi-arid habitats, and such places do not typically have large masses of water. Even when they live in an area with rivers, springs or lakes, gerbils are unlikely to venture into the water. They only pay a visit to such water bodies when they need to have a drink.

Gerbils stay close to their homes, and that is where they forage for food. They are unlikely to migrate to other parts of the wild and rarely have to cross any mass of water. Because of their short legs and lack of adaptation to water, they may end up becoming easy prey for predators that hunt in water, and that is why they know better than to play in water even while in their natural habitat.

However, gerbils will attempt to cross any body of water if their survival depends on it. For instance, if there is no food where they are or if conditions get too dire, they may have no choice but to swim across to survive.

Bathing Gerbils

People love to give baths to their pets. The experience is often exciting for both the pet and the owner. However, it is not very exciting for gerbils.

Instead of giving your gerbils water baths, get them some sand or chinchilla dust in a dish, bucket, or basin and let them play in it. Gerbils love sand baths and will have a fantastic time digging and rolling in the sand. These sand baths help them to clean themselves and even get rid of some parasites that may be hiding under their fur.

The only time that you should give your gerbil a water bath is if it is necessary for getting rid of parasites or cleaning infections. Otherwise, these pets do not need much grooming as they can do that by themselves. Not only can they clean their fur by licking and using their teeth, but they can also straighten it to look beautiful. They can also groom each other.

Ideas for Gerbil Playtime

The fact that gerbils do not like playing in water should not discourage you from seeking alternatives to make them a bit more active. The following ideas can help you playfully bond with your furry friend.

Play with the Gerbils

It is a good idea for you to take out your gerbils and let them sniff you and play on your lap and hands. Letting them explore the room under close supervision is another way to ensure they are having a good time. While playing with your gerbils, don’t forget to offer them treats such as strawberries, pumpkin seeds, carrots, and dry mixes.

Gerbils Play with Each Other

Gerbils love to be in the company of each other. So, if you have two or more of these pets, they will enjoy playing with each other in their cage or enclosure. If you only have one gerbil, you can always invite a friend to come with theirs so that the two can play. However, make sure to slowly acclimate the gerbils to one another before giving them free roam of a single cage.

Wheels are Good


Most gerbils stay in cages or small enclosures and do not get much exercise. However, to remedy this situation, consider getting a wheel for your gerbils. Wheels with a solid surface and solid back make it easy for gerbils to run and enjoy themselves while getting much-needed exercise. A Silent Runner or a Wodent Wheel would be ideal. 

Chew Toys

Gerbils are particularly fond of chewing things, which is why you should consider providing them with some chew toys. 

Some great ideas for gerbil chew toys are:

  • A cardboard tube from a toilet paper roll is one of the simplest chew toys you can give your gerbil. 
  • There are also cardboard tubes that are specifically designed for pets to play with. These are a much safer choice.
  • Untreated wood can also make good chew toys for your gerbils. 
  • Tree branches are another option. Just make sure the branches do not come from evergreen plants.

Climbing Toys 

Another idea to get your gerbil playing is to use climbing toys and tubes. When you walk into a pet store, consider picking up a see-saw or wooden ladder for your pets. These can often be found in the bird or small pet sections of the store. 

If you buy plastic tubes for your gerbils, make sure you are around while they play with them because they have a habit of chewing into just about anything, and it can cause some complications due to splintering.


Gerbils also love digging. This behavior is quite helpful to these animals because it helps them to build safe homes while in the wild. The burrows they make help them stay away from extreme weather and also keeps them from falling prey to marauding predators that would otherwise make easy meals for them.

That is why a part of their enclosure should be relatively deep with a substrate. This will allow them to keep busy by digging. The best substrate to use is a combination of hay, aspen shavings, and paper. A mixture of such materials makes it easier for them to build stable tunnels. You need to change the substrate every three to four weeks.

In Conclusion 

Gerbils are cute and easy to take care of. Just provide them with adequate water to drink and enough food to eat, and they will not need much of anything else. If you want to play with your pets, don’t hesitate to get them out of their enclosure and let them explore your room a bit.

Play toys mentioned above are another way to ensure your gerbils are not dull all the time but instead get to be active. However, avoid playing with your gerbils in water because they do not like it. 



I love animals! I grew up with everything from dogs and cats to rabbits and guinea pigs. I enjoy learning about pets and to share what I learn with others.