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Where Do Gerbils Like to Be Petted? 9 Tips To Safely Handle a Gerbil


Apr 11, 2023



In the pet world, few small animals are as adorable as gerbils. Gerbils make wonderful pets, especially for kids. They’re entertaining, don’t make a huge mess, and don’t smell terrible if their pen is kept clean. One question many people ask about gerbils is where they like to be petted. The best place to pet or stroke a gerbil is on the sides and back of their heads. Petting them in these places reminds them of grooming, which is a natural behavior.

Now that you know where gerbils like to be petted, we’d be willing to bet you have more questions about this cute little creature.  Do gerbils like to be stroked, for example, and how can you bond with a gerbil? To find out, and learn more fascinating facts about keeping gerbils as pets, read on!


Do Gerbils Truly Like to Be Petted?

The answer to this question is a definite maybe. One thing you need to remember when handling gerbils is they don’t have the same intelligence level as cats or dogs. For example, a gerbil may become scared and slightly aggressive when petted. An aggressive gerbil isn’t going to kill you, of course, but if it bites hard enough, it can be painful, especially for a small child.

If you’ve just adopted a gerbil, the best thing to do is not handle it for a few days until it’s used to its new surroundings. Then, start handling it very gently and infrequently. This will give the animal time to get used to you or your kids. Once that happens, most gerbils will be okay with being touched and handled.

Gerbil close up
Image Credit: milivigerova, Pixabay

How Often Should You Hold a Gerbil?

Once a gerbil is used to being touched and held, you can hold them as often as you like. The more you gently handle your gerbil, the more used to you they will become, and the fewer aggressive reactions you’ll see. However, forcing your gerbil to be handled is never a good idea because it can stress them out.  Also, a predictable handling routine is always a good idea. That way, your gerbil will get used to being handled during specific times of the day.

It’s best to avoid touching your gerbil for more than 30 seconds the first time you bring them home. After that, gently place them back into their pen and offer them a small treat. Every time you handle your gerbil can be a little longer. However, one important thing to remember is that it’s almost impossible for a gerbil to stay still while being held. They’re nervous little creatures and constantly move around, so don’t expect them to sit like a cat or dog while you pet or hold them.

How Much Attention Do Gerbils Need?

As for how much attention gerbils need, the answer is very little. Gerbils do just fine if they’re given adequate food and water daily. They don’t need to be handled, but some gerbils like the attention.

Honey Dark-Eyed Gerbil
Image Credit: Svetlanistaya, Shutterstock

Do Gerbils Like to Be Stroked?

Although some gerbils will let you pet and stroke them, most prefer sitting in the palm of your hand more than anything else. Gerbils are not domesticated animals like cats and dogs. In the wild, they’re a food source for larger predators like hawks, foxes, wolves, and snakes. Yes, some will get used to their owner’s touch, but as for being stroked, they typically will tolerate it more than enjoy it.

Can Gerbils Live Alone?

Many new gerbil owners make the mistake of adopting one gerbil rather than a pair. The problem is that, in the wild, gerbils are social animals and live in large groups of up to 15. For that reason, a single gerbil living alone will not do well, and many will die due to loneliness, frustration, and anxiety.

Gerbils really shouldn’t live alone, and it’s much better to adopt at least two gerbils at a time. The good news is that whether you adopt one, two, or several gerbils, the cost to keep them all won’t be much higher than keeping only one.

Image Credit: nidan, Pixabay

Can You Bond With a Gerbil?

While bonding with a gerbil is much different than with a cat or dog, it is possible. After enough time has passed and enough gentle handling, most gerbils will recognize their human parents. Many, but not all, gerbils will then approach their owners and allow themselves to be picked up and petted.

However, bonding with a pair of gerbils is easier than with a single gerbil. That’s because a single animal will likely be stressed and nervous, but if its mate is along for the ride, its anxiety level will drop significantly. Unfortunately, some gerbils will never get fully accustomed to being handled by humans.


The 9 Tips for Handling a Gerbil Safely

If you have just adopted gerbils and have never handled them before, here are a few helpful tips.

1. Leave Your Gerbils Alone for a Few Days

This will give them time to get used to their new living area and human companions.

Image Credit By: auenleben, pixabay

2. Sit Next to Your Gerbil’s Cage but Don’t Touch Them

This allows the gerbils to get used to you in a non-scary or traumatic way.

3. Speak Softly to Your Gerbils

Remember, they are tiny creatures that are used to being chased and eaten. If you talk too loud, you can scare them.

4. Use Treats to Win Over Your Gerbils

Like all animals, you can bribe them with something yummy.

brown and white gerbil eating a pipe
Image Credit: DMegias, Shutterstock

5. Offer Treats Through the Cage’s Bars at First

Your gerbils will be less anxious this way.

6. Offer Treats on Your Palm

Once your gerbils are used to eating from your fingers, let them climb into your palm to get their treats.

7. Start Petting Your Gerbils Gently

If they’re okay in your palm and don’t skitter away, it’s time to pet and stroke your gerbil on the top and sides of its head.

8. Handle Your Gerbils Gently and Often

The more often you handle them gently and carefully, the more your gerbils will come to you and let you pet them, pick them up, and hold them.

9. Never Handle a Gerbil Where It Can Fall

Keeping the gerbil over a table or close to the floor is better, as a fall from high enough can injure or kill it.


Last Thoughts

Gerbils sometimes like to be petted on the top and sides of their head. However, it takes a lot of time, patience, and gentle handling for a gerbil to feel safe enough to allow you to pick them up and pet them. They really aren’t accustomed to being handled by another animal, let alone an average human!

Also, adopting two or more gerbils at once rather than one is best. Gerbils are social animals and will be happier and healthier if they can live with other gerbils. Whatever you decide, best of luck with your new gerbil buddies!

Featured Image Credit: auenleben, Pixabay

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