Gerbils are small mammals from a subfamily called Gerbillinae. These cute rodents that are closely related to mice and rats are commonly found in arid habitats. Usually, all gerbil pets belong to the Mongolian species which is a gentle and resilient type of gerbil that has become a popular small house pet. While usually, people love to give water baths to their dirty pets, gerbils and water just don’t mix! Wait, no water? So how does one keep a gerbil clean and tidy? sand? do gerbils really need sand baths?
Yes! gerbils do need sand baths. The idea seems rather contradictory but having evolved in arid climates, gerbils often use sand to clean their fur. Gerbils have sand baths, which are also referred to as “dust baths.” These are containers filled with sand that your gerbil can roll around in. The sand helps dislodge dirt and parasites from gerbils’ delicate fur and also soaks up any excess oil. In fact, gerbils are so used to sand baths that water baths can actually be harmful to their skin. Water can wash away vital skin molecules and it may hurt them. Interesting, right?
Now that we know that sand is the way to go with gerbils, let’s find out what type of sand these cute little critters prefer, how often they can be given baths, and how to go about it, to keep your gerbil’s fur looking sleek, shiny, and healthy-looking.
Do Gerbils Like Baths?
Certainly! Gerbils love baths but not the conventional water baths you may be thinking. They prefer sand, yes, sand baths.
In their natural habitat, gerbils use sand to clean their fur, since water is scarce in the arid climates they naturally inhabit. Just how do sand baths keep their coats clean? While they’re busy scrabbling through the sand, it keeps them clean in two of the following ways:
- Sand dislodges any dirt, poop, parasites, or food that is stuck in the gerbil’s fur
- Sand soaks up any excess oil coating the gerbil’s fur
In case you’re wondering if gerbils clean themselves in any other way, you’re not far off as gerbils also groom themselves using their tongues. Licking is a habit that some gerbils display more than others. Sometimes, they groom each other as a sign of trust. Overall, if your gerbil grooms itself, it means that it is relaxed and happy.
There are, however, certain instances where gerbils may require assistance with their personal hygiene. Such is often the case for older critters or those ones who might be under the weather. As gerbils generally prefer to self-clean, it is important to determine whether your pet gerbil needs your assistance and if so, for what reason.
Further Reading: “Can Gerbils Eat Almonds?“
Helping Your Gerbil Clean Himself
Trouble cleaning itself could be a sign of an underlying health problem. If you suspect that to be the case, check your gerbil’s fur to see whether it may be thinning prematurely or if there may be small creatures in their fur. Another issue could be its skin. In such cases, determine if the skin is scabby and sore-looking. It might also be an emergency, such as a toxic inedible spill on your gerbil’s coat. In such a scenario, a lukewarm water bath might be necessary to wash the substance off. Just bear in mind that water baths should only be used as a last resort, as water tends to do more harm than good to gerbils.
What Kind of Sand do Gerbils Need?
We can purchase sand for our pet gerbil at any good pet store. While browsing through your local pet retailer, go for chinchilla sand for a dust bath. This chinchilla sand is made from 100% natural volcanic mountain pumice and is virtually dust-free which is great for our gerbil. Avoid the temptation of using normal sand or dust for a gerbil’s dust bath as this can cause respiratory problems. Indeed, gerbils are very much like humans in this sense!
How Often Should I give my Gerbil a Dust Bath?
Gerbils need a dust bath at least once a week, but it’s advisable to give them the option of taking more dust baths if they want to. It’s a fun play for them.
This is why the dust bath should always be left out for them. Some gerbil owners prefer the sand bath to be a permanent fixture in the gerbil’s living quarters. While this will do no harm to your gerbil, it may be inclined to use it as a toilet, so remember to remove and clean it regularly.
Ensure that you use a bowl that won’t tip over easily since your gerbil will be rummaging around in the sand. A flat-based container is best, preferably one made of clay, ceramic, or glass. These types of sand trays will remain immobile, compared to plastic ones which will likely shift around the cage or be chewed. Gerbils are homewreckers so avoid lightweight trays that can be damaged or chewed by your furry friend!
A little sand goes a long way to fill the tray or container to no more than halfway full.
Once you have your dust tray set up, there’s really not much for you to do except place your gerbil gently into the dust tray. Avoid pouring any sand over it. Your furry critter will sort itself out. Gerbils will flip and roll around in the sand to cover their coats and remove any dirt and parasites.
It’s not necessary to be a peeping Tom on your gerbil while it bathes, but you can if you wish. You can leave the bath in the enclosure for about 10 to 20 minutes, then remove it and clean it.
Please see here the exact steps for bathing your gerbil.
Can You Give Gerbils a Water Bath? (Do They Like to Play in The Water?)
Absolutely not. Only in an emergency, when your pet has some toxic ingredient on his fur and you must wash it out of him. In general, gerbils, unlike Michael Phelps, are not fond of water. It gives them the hibby jibbies and actually may hurt them.
Submerging them in water can irritate and stress them out and actually end up killing your cute furry animal, which can also become prone to seizures.
Aside from the stress, washing gerbils also removes the natural oil that coats and protects their fur and skin. So bathing a gerbil in water can cause their skin to over-produce oil, and irritate it.
Then there’s the issue of their size. Being tiny critters means that they get cold faster than other larger animals. Getting our gerbil wet could cause him to freeze or develop respiratory issues.
Sensitive pets aren’t they? Indeed! Better keep things safe with a sand bath than risk the potential death and illness that water, even if warm, can cause your pet gerbil.
Gerbils are wonderful pets. We need to remember: skip the soap and water as it may be harmful to our lovely gerbil. They love their sand so we should always have a dust bath set up. Your gerbil, which is attuned to arid habitats, will love rolling around cleaning itself. Believe me, you’ll definitely enjoy watching its entertaining flips and flops! This is not to say that you should skip out on water completely. However, water baths should only be used during emergencies. For instance, when a gerbil has something potentially harmful stuck to its fur. In such a case, using a damp cloth would suffice. The dust bath routine is not only a self-cleaning behavior; gerbils also love it!