Do Gerbils Need Hay? {How Much & What Kind?}

Maybe you are already buying plenty of treats for your gerbils and wonder, do gerbils need hay? 

Perhaps you have some friends who are giving their gerbils hay and wonder if you should do the same?

You may be trying to sort through all the information on the web and wonder if you should add some hay to your gerbil’s diet. Let’s look through this much more simply together. 

Do Gerbils Need Hay? 

No. Gerbils do not need hay for food.   They will chew on hay as a way to sharpen their teeth.  Because gerbils can burrow underneath the hay, it makes an ideal addition to whatever bedding you use. 

Some people assume that all small rodents have similar nutritional requirements.  If a guinea pig needs hay, wouldn’t a gerbil need hay? However, that is not true. 

We’re going to dig into why gerbils don’t need hay but how they can benefit from it.  If you decide you want to buy some hay for them, we will let you know which kinds are ideal for your cute gerbils. 


Gerbils Do Not Need Hay. 

Gerbils are descendants of animals that lived in habitats where grass was not plentiful.  When describing a gerbil’s diet,  Susan Brown, DVM, writes that you should “leave a small amount of grass hay in the cage.” 

If you want to feed your gerbils what they would have eaten in the wild, you will need to hunt up some saltwort, bristle grass, or lyme grass.

As long as you are providing your gerbil with healthy, well-balanced foods (more about that in a bit), you never have to give them any hay.  

How Can Hay Benefit Gerbils?

Just because we don’t need something doesn’t mean we can’t have it.  The same is true for gerbils. Although they don’t need hay, it does provide several benefits.  

Gerbils, like all rodents, have front teeth (incisors) that never stop growing.  These are called open-rooted teeth, and they continuously grow more tooth tissue.

We use nail trimmers to keep our nails short, but gerbils chew on hard things to keep their teeth from becoming overgrown. 

If they have nothing to chew on, then their teeth will overgrow, resulting in painful eating, or gum or mouth damage, including teeth that grow through their jaws. 

If you watch gerbils interact with hay, you will see that they spend most of their time chewing it into smaller bits.

Consider the following for your gerbil to chew:

  • Paper towel or toilet paper rolls
  • Cardboard
  • Manilla folders 
  • Paper lunch bags
  • Untreated wood (but not pine or cedar)
  • Wicker
  • Hay and other natural grasses
  • Gerbil food mixes

When picking paper products, avoid those with ink, and avoid wood products that contain glue (like corrugated cardboard or particleboard).

Avoid plastic as well. I have a story to tell about it in another informative gerbil article. 

Gerbil Not Chewing Hay

If your gerbil is not chewing on hay or other chewy items, then you need to investigate why.  One reason could be it has some sort of dental disease.

If your gerbil is suffering from dental disease, you might observe some of these:

  • Selection of soft food over something harder to chew
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Drooling

Should you see any of these signs, find a vet who specializes in small animals.  Attempting to trim your gerbil’s teeth will be painful and could worsen dental problems.

The good news, according to Heidi L. Hoefer, DVM, is that gerbils rarely have dental issues, as long they have plenty of opportunities to chew. 

Along with the perennial cardboard and chewy snacks, hay is something else for them to grind their teeth on.

Hay Bedding For Gerbils

Gerbils love to dig and burrow.  They had plenty of practice doing so in sandy environments, so it is as natural to them as breathing.  If you are going to have a gerbil, you will need bedding and lots of it.

Two to three inches is the recommended amount, and you can include shredded paper (but not the waxy kind), cardboard tubes, paper towels, shredded hardwoods like Aspen, and hay.  The hay becomes something else to dig under.  

Gerbils might munch on the hay a little, but if you observe them, you will see that they are primarily cutting it into smaller pieces. 

They like to use the hay to help strengthen the tunnels and build nests.  If you watch them in action, like in this cute video, you will see the gerbil grab a bunch of hay and take it to her nest:


What Kind of Hay Is Best?

Typically, the first hay that gets mentioned when talking about hay and gerbils is timothy.  Other types of hay available for purchase include orchard hay, alfalfa hay, and oat hay.  

When you purchase timothy hay, you can get one of three cuttings.  

  • The first cutting is low in protein and fat but high in fiber.  
  • A second cutting has a better balance of protein, fat, and fiber.  
  • The third cutting has the highest amounts of fat and protein.  

The second cutting should be your go-to.  Some companies will tell you which cutting of hay you are purchasing.  This Timothy hay from Kaytee Natural is a highly rated 2nd cutting.

Orchard hay is often mentioned as another option.  Because it is softer hay, people often use it as a “treat” hay.  If your gerbils don’t like timothy hay, then look into this alternative.

Can Gerbils Have Straw?

A little. Instead of using straw, consider sometimes giving your gerbils a small amount of hay. They’ll have a fantastic time making nests, jumping in and out, and running about the cage with it. 

Straw can be too brittle and pointy. According to what I have experienced, hay is preferable than straw since you may offer more of it. It makes sense to merely purchase Timothy or orchard hay rather than straw.

YouTube video

Is Hay Good for Gerbils?

Yes. Gerbils enjoy:

  • Timothy hay
  • meadow hay
  • alfalfa hay
  • orchard hay

Hay is good because it:

  • includes a lot of fiber
  • helps to maintain a healthy digestive tract.
  • they can easily build tunnels through it
  • simulates what they would find in the wild
  • gives them something to munch on

Avoid overfeeding your gerbil hay since it might make them sick. Gerbils shouldn’t eat too much of anything since it makes them more susceptible to nutritional deficits.

Hay is a great alternative for gerbil bedding.  The hay is fairly fragrant, so it may make the cage smell much more pleasant. Many owners claim that it makes their gerbils’ habitat smell better.

Do Gerbils Need Bedding?

Yes. Consider bedding made of absorbent materials, such as:

  • recycled paper
  • hay
  • Aspen shavings
  • materials that are free of dust

The fumes from pine and cedar shavings are dangerous to gerbils, so avoid using them. You may also use newsprint-free, plain paper that has been shred.

Hay is a great option for gerbils because it is all-natural and simple for them to burrow through. Hay, aspen shavings, and paper-based bedding make up the ideal gerbil bedding.

Gerbils can construct strong tunnels by using a variety of materials. Give your gerbil a minimum of 6 inches of substrate, and spot-clean it once each week. Every 3 to 4 weeks, completely change the bedding.

Can I Use Timothy Hay as Bedding for Gerbils?

Yes. Gerbils can enjoy timothy hay for their bedding if that’s what you have available. The advantage of using fresh Timothy hay is that it has a pleasant aroma and may soak up some of the moisture that is present in the air.

In addition, gerbils adore making their nests out of it and will eat it anytime they choose. Timothy hay, on the other hand, is:

  • unable to regulate odors
  • molds quickly
  • requires regular replacement

These are all drawbacks. The absorbency is not as good as some of the other alternatives for bedding. Mold will quickly develop on timothy hay if it becomes moist.

To boost the absorbency of the hay, you can place paper without ink underneath it.

Bottom Line

There is nothing wrong with giving your gerbil hay.  Ideally, you want to provide them timothy or meadow grass over alfalfa hay.  As with most things, moderation is key.

If your gerbil is only eating hay, then it’s probably time to look at their overall diet.  And if all your gerbil is doing is chewing up the hay and then spitting it out, that’s okay, too.


Thank you for visiting for the best information to help you enjoy the life of your pocket pet companion in a fun, safe & healthy way.




My name is Anna and I work full time in my local pet shop where we sell many animals that I write about on this site. I love all animals and love writing about them.