Quality nutrition is extremely important in a gerbil's diet to ensure quality of life. An unbalanced diet can reduce their life expectancy considerably and create unhappiness in your tiny fur friend.
A gerbil's diet - grains, plants and insects
In the wild, a gerbil's diet is essentially composed of grains during the winter and autumn. In spring and summer, however, their diet consists mostly of green plants; a green diet allows them to absorb some of the water that they need to quench their thirst. Gerbils also hunt small insects such as grasshoppers.
Domesticated gerbils don't need to change their diet with the seasons so long as they are getting quality nutrition.
There are many ready-made, packaged food options available for your gerbil. While these options include a mix of seeds, and are tailored to your gerbil, they do not offer a complete solution for your animal.
A gerbil consumes between 10 and 15 grams of food each day, the equivalent of a soup spoon. The amount given should be slightly less in hotter climates.
Before buying pre-packaged food for your gerbil, always check the fat content on the label - it should be below 4%.
Putting on weight is no laughing matter for gerbils. Life expectancy can be reduced, as can the growth of young gerbils. In particular, pay attention to the quantity of sunflower seeds given; these seeds contain high amounts of fat, therefore only 2-3 sunflower seeds should be given per day.
It's important not to overfeed your gerbil at any time, but particularly in temperatures above the low-mid 20s (degrees). As temperatures increase, gerbils' digestive systems slow down as a means to control body temperature. While naturally adept at surviving in warmer climates, gerbils are likely to be enticed by tasty excess food or treats and may have trouble regulating the additional energy consumed. This can lead to heatstroke, or even death.
Mixing it up
In pet shops, you will also be able to find gerbil foods such as kibble and crackers. While these foods will fulfil many of the dietary needs of your gerbil, their uniformity, and similar smell and taste may bore your gerbil quickly. Gerbils enjoy the process of sorting their food, using their various senses to do so. Therefore, providing a diet where they can pick and choose from a range of quality foods suited to them will be of more interest.
You can also give your gerbil mealworms, dried insects, or grasshoppers. Insects are high in protein, which is good for your gerbil's health, however be careful not to overfeed as an excess of protein can increase their risk of developing a tumour or kidney inflammation. One insect per week is sufficient.
As much hay as they like
Humans might not nibble on their bedding, but it's not uncommon for gerbils to do so. Thanks to hay, they can do exactly that.
It is recommended to shake any hay before you give it to your gerbil in order to remove any dust. Whilst it can seem similar, do not confuse hay with garden grass, which can actually poison your pet. Instead, offer up a quality source of hay and your gerbil will enjoy nibbling on it for variety.
Gerbils typically don't need vitamin supplements as these are already present in commercially available foods, as well as obtained when fed a balanced diet. If determined suitable, any supplements should only be used during lactation, growth, or when general health has deteriorated. Always ask your vet before giving your gerbil any supplements.
Does your gerbil receive a balanced diet?