If you had a pet, or your class had a pet, when you were younger, there is a good chance it was a gerbil. What you might remember about these cute, tiny creatures is that they always seemed to be pooping. You may wonder if the gerbil was pooping a lot or if it just seemed that way.
Do gerbils poop a lot? No. Gerbils poop every day, but so do most other animals and even most humans. Gerbil poop is small, hard, and pellet-shaped. Gerbils often poop when they are scared or excited.
Gerbils are often scared or excited when handled by people, which may make it seem as if gerbils’ poop more than other animals. In reality, their pooping habits aren’t too different from other animals. Ready to learn more about those droppings?
What Are Gerbils’ Pooping Habits Like?
Gerbils are clean animals. Pet gerbils often poop in the same place each time, making it easy to clean the cage. This is a big reason that gerbils make good first pets for young children.
Gerbils are known to poop when they are stressed, scared, or excited, so you may notice that your gerbil poops when you take it out of its cage to let it run around. Usually, a gerbil does not poop all over when this happens. It is usually just a few droppings.
What Should Gerbil Poop Look Like?
Gerbil poop should be hard and dark in color. It is small and shaped like a pellet. Gerbil poop does not generally smell since it is firm and not runny. If your gerbil’s poop is watery, soft, or lighter in color, then your gerbil has diarrhea that should be treated immediately.
Diarrhea is often caused by diet (too many fruits and vegetables) or environment (cage bedding) and can kill a gerbil within a few days if it is not treated. If changing the gerbil’s diet or environment does not work, then you should take the gerbil to the vet.
Gerbils May Eat Their Poop.
You may be disturbed to see your gerbil eating its poop or the poop of another gerbil in the cage. While you may find it gross, it is a common behavior, and there is no need to worry. You should not stop gerbils from doing it.
The scientific terminology for eating feces is called coprophagy. It is thought that animals who practice coprophagy do it for two reasons:
- Diet. A gerbil eating poop may be a sign that it is not getting enough vitamins and minerals. Eating poop is a way for gerbils to get the vitamins that they need. By eating their poop, gerbils re-digest vitamins and nutrients. They also break down hard to digest plant matters to get more out of them than the first time they ate them.
- Survival. Gerbils may eat poop for survival reasons. It is thought that gerbils in the wild eat their poop to stop predators from finding them. Pet gerbils do not have predators, but this behavior is instinctual, so it may be the reason your pet gerbil is eating its poop.
You may want to prevent gerbils from eating poop because you think it is disgusting. However, you should not stop them because it is a natural and healthy habit.
Why Don’t Gerbils Smell Bad?
Gerbils are less smelly than many of their rodent relatives. If your gerbil does smell, it may be a sign that your gerbil is sick, scared, or stressed out. A healthy gerbil is not smelly for several reasons:
- Their small, hard poop is one of the reasons. Poop smells worse when it is bigger and runnier. Even if you see a lot of gerbil droppings in a cage, the odor will not be overwhelming.
- They do not urinate as much as other rodents. Urine is one of the main reasons animals smell bad. Gerbils do not urinate as much because they are desert animals and do not need much water.
- Gerbils also do not “mark” their territory with urine like many animals. Gerbils use ventral marking glands on their stomachs to achieve this. If you see your gerbil rubbing its belly on objects, it is perfectly normal; they are just marking their territory.
- Another reason an animal smells bad is its fur. Luckily, a gerbil’s fur just doesn’t smell bad. Another plus for gerbil owners!
How to Keep Your Gerbils from Smelling Bad
While gerbils are not as smelly as some other animals, there are things you can do to ensure they stay that way.
- Clean the cage or enclosure regularly. Cleaning out the bedding frequently, especially where the gerbil poops and pees will help keep odors at a minimum. The cage should be completely cleaned out and wiped down about once every week.
- Put enough bedding in the cage. Bedding is what absorbs the urine and catches the gerbil droppings. Not enough bedding can cause the bottom of the cage to fill with waste and cause unwanted odors. We recommend this bedding material from Chewy.com
- Feed your gerbil fresh, healthy food to help keep your gerbil regular and avoid smelly diarrhea. Pet stores carry pre-mixed gerbil food, such as these, that is fine for gerbils. You can also include fresh fruits and vegetables in moderation. Too much fruit and vegetables can cause gerbils to have diarrhea.
- Keep your gerbil healthy. A bad odor may be a sign of a sick gerbil. If you notice a change in smell, diet, or activity, it may be a sign of a health condition that should be checked out by a veterinarian.
How Often Does a Gerbil’s Cage Need to be Cleaned?
Pet gerbils live in cages, and those cages must be cleaned out regularly to keep your gerbil healthy. The general guidance is that if you have one or two gerbils, the cage should be cleaned out once a week. If you have more than two gerbils in a cage, it should be cleaned out twice a week.
It is possible to extend the time between cleanings if you can spot-clean the cage. Spot cleaning means cleaning and changing out bedding only in the portions of the cage that have poop and pee.
Gerbils do not have a lot of urine. Also, gerbil droppings are usually dry, making them easy to clean up. Spot cleaning may enable you to extend the time in between full cage cleanings by a few days.
Gerbils Should be Socialized
Gerbils are social animals. If you are thinking of getting a gerbil for a pet, you should consider getting two. The maintenance and upkeep of more than one gerbil is not much more work or cost than having one gerbil. It is best to get two gerbils of the same sex to avoid the complications of breeding, but it can sometimes be difficult to tell the sex of a gerbil.
If you buy two gerbils, it is important to make sure they get along. Gerbils from the same litter will likely get along better. If you do not know what litter the gerbils come from, there are steps you can take to ensure a smooth introduction:
- Introducing gerbils in a split cage will help ensure that they will get along. Switching the gerbils from one side to the other will help the gerbils get used to each other’s scents.
- Monitor the gerbils closely. Observe them for one day when you introduce them in the same cage. If you observe fighting, then you will need to separate the gerbils and try again.
- Know when it’s time to quit. If, after three attempts, the gerbils do not get along, it is unlikely that the pair will work out.
Gerbils Make Good Pets!
Gerbils are a popular choice as the first pets in families. Gerbils are often chosen by families for these reasons:
- Gerbils are low maintenance. Gerbils require their cages to be cleaned once a week. Gerbils do not need to be walked like dogs.
- Gerbils are clean. As stated above, gerbils are clean animals. They do not smell bad like some other animals. If you clean the cage out regularly, gerbils will not overwhelm your house with their stench.
Gerbils are fun. Gerbils are active animals. They like to play, roll around on wheels, and dig in their bedding. They are most active during the day, so you can witness them in action.