how long can gerbils go without food

If you’re planning to be away for a while, how should you take care of your gerbils? How long can they be left alone, and how long can they go without food?

Gerbil Dietary Habits

Gerbils are omnivores and can consume a variety of foods, including grains, seeds, nuts, hay, vegetables, and fruits. Due to their continuously growing teeth, they need to chew on hard items such as wood and mineral stones to wear down their teeth and prevent dental issues. Gerbils also have a habit of hoarding food in various corners of their cage or transporting it to their burrows using cheek pouches, a behavior developed in the wild to cope with food scarcity. However, in a domestic setting, this can lead to spoilage or theft by other gerbils.

Dependency on Food and Water

While gerbils can eat various foods, they have specific requirements regarding the quality and quantity of their diet. They need a balanced intake of proteins, fibers, vitamins, and minerals daily to maintain normal metabolism and bodily functions. Feeding them excessive sugary or fatty foods can result in obesity or digestive issues. Fresh, uncontaminated food is essential to prevent poisoning or infection.

Gerbils have a relatively low water requirement as they can absorb moisture from their food, and their kidneys efficiently regulate water excretion. Though they can go for extended periods without drinking in the wild, in a domestic setting, providing clean drinking water daily is necessary to prevent dehydration or urinary stones.

Preparing for Short-Term Absence

Prepare a Week’s Worth of Food:
Gerbils consume around 10 to 15 grams of food daily, equivalent to one tablespoon. For a week-long absence, prepare approximately 70 to 105 grams of food, divided into a large bowl or scattered in different areas of the cage.

Set Up Two Water Bottles as a Precaution:
Gerbils drink about 5 to 10 milliliters of water per day, approximately one teaspoon. For a week away, provide around 35 to 70 milliliters of water, using one or two water bottles positioned in different areas of the cage.

Maintain a Consistent Temperature:
Gerbils are sensitive to temperature changes, and their ideal range is between 18 to 24 degrees Celsius. Ensure the room housing the gerbil cage maintains a constant temperature, using devices like air conditioning, heating, or fans. Avoid exposing the cage directly to strong winds or sunlight.

Risks of Gerbils Being Alone at Home

Risk of Injury:
Gerbils are active animals and may get injured while playing or exploring their cage. Sharp objects, loose items, or damaged toys can pose threats. In your absence, timely detection and intervention become challenging, potentially leading to infections or bleeding.

Risk of Illness:
Gerbils are susceptible to various diseases, and their weak immune systems can be compromised by infections. Recognizing symptoms such as lack of appetite, difficulty breathing, sneezing, diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, trembling, or lethargy becomes difficult when you are away, potentially leading to severe health issues.

Shortage of Food and Water:
Despite their ability to hoard food, gerbils need a consistent supply to survive. If food or water becomes scarce, spoils, is wasted, or is contaminated, gerbils can face hunger or dehydration, risking their health and even survival.

Territorial Fights Among Gerbils:
Gerbils are social animals, but conflicts may arise over territory, food, or mates. While occasional disputes are normal, prolonged or intense fighting can result in injuries or even death. Intervention becomes challenging when you are not present.

Escape Risks:
Gerbils are curious and intelligent, with strong biting and digging abilities. They may attempt to escape their cage, exposing them to dangers such as hostile animals, humans, vehicles, or an inhospitable environment. Ensuring the cage is secure is crucial.

Effects of Extreme Temperature Changes:
Gerbils are highly sensitive to sudden temperature fluctuations. In extreme conditions, such as unexpected weather changes or power outages, their health may be compromised. Advanced measures, like using a thermostat or providing insulation, should be taken to maintain a comfortable environment.

Gerbils Alone at Home – Limits

Considering the risks outlined above, gerbils ideally should not be left alone for more than a weekend, approximately two days. They thrive on human care and companionship, and extended absences can lead to loneliness, boredom, and potential emotional distress. Additionally, regular cleaning and inspection of their cage are vital for hygiene and health.

In emergencies, gerbils can be left alone for a maximum of one week, around seven days. Beyond this period, the diminishing quality and quantity of their food and water, coupled with increased health and safety risks, make it imperative to have someone trustworthy check on them regularly. Adequate preparation, including sufficient food and water, two water bottles, removal of some bedding, and monitoring devices, should be in place to ensure their well-being.

If you decide to leave your gerbils alone for a period, thorough preparation is crucial to meet their survival needs, health, and safety. This includes cleaning the cage, providing adequate food and water, and implementing measures to maintain a consistent environment. Regular checks by a reliable caretaker or monitoring devices are advisable for prolonged absences, ensuring your gerbils’ well-being.

Setting Up a Thermostat

Before you leave, set up a thermostat to control the temperature in the room where your gerbil cage is located, keeping it between 18 to 24 degrees Celsius, the ideal temperature range for gerbils. Avoid exposing the gerbil cage directly to strong winds or sunlight, as this can make them uncomfortable or dehydrated. Provide items for warmth or cooling, such as blankets, ice packs, or bottles, allowing them to regulate their body temperature according to their needs.

Ensure an Adequate Food Supply

Before leaving, ensure your gerbils have enough food based on the duration of your absence. Generally, gerbils need to consume about 10 to 15 grams of food per day, equivalent to a tablespoon. Place food in a large bowl or distribute it in various areas of the cage, providing them with choices. Additionally, offer some hay as bedding and food, aiding in dental care and digestion without quick spoilage. Avoid perishable or insect-attracting foods like fresh vegetables or fruits, reserving them as occasional treats when you’re at home.

Remove Some Bedding to Prevent Water Bottle Blockage

Before departure, remove some bedding, such as wood shavings or paper, to prevent them from blocking the water bottle outlet. This ensures the water bottle functions properly, avoiding leaks and excessive cage humidity that could lead to bacterial or mold growth. Keep some bedding, like hay, for comfort and warmth, but not excessively to hinder water bottle access.

Install Two Large Stable Water Bottles

Before leaving, install two large stable water bottles at different locations in the cage to ensure your gerbils have enough water to drink. Ensure the water bottles are clean, leak-free, and easily accessible for the gerbils. Provide an ample supply of water, calculating their needs based on your time away. Typically, gerbils need to drink about 5 to 10 milliliters of water per day, equivalent to a teaspoon. You can also give them some moist cotton as a water source and toy, but in moderation to avoid interfering with water bottle usage.

Set Up a Monitoring Camera

Before leaving, set up a monitoring camera near your gerbil cage, allowing you to check on them through your phone or computer. Monitor their food and water consumption, activities, behavior, health, and safety. Ensure the camera has a clear view without any obstructions or disturbances, ensuring it doesn’t cause discomfort or harm to your gerbils. Use the camera for interactive activities like talking, singing, or playing music to alleviate their loneliness and boredom.

Ensure the Safety of the Gerbil Cage

Before leaving, ensure the safety of your gerbil cage by eliminating gaps, cracks, sharp or loose items, wires, plugs, flammable or explosive materials, and other potential hazards. Place the cage in a quiet, clean, and well-ventilated area, away from other animals, humans, or vehicles to prevent disturbance or attacks. Lock the gerbil cage to prevent escapes or unauthorized access.

Options for Gerbil Care During Your Absence

You can ask friends or neighbors to help care for your gerbils, having them visit daily or every other day to replenish food and water, clean the cage, check on their health, and engage in interactive play. Choose someone trustworthy, familiar with gerbils, and willing to assist. Communicate your gerbils’ situation, needs, your contact information, and emergency contacts in advance. Provide them with compensation or gifts to express gratitude and respect.

Hire a Professional Gerbil Sitter

Consider hiring a professional gerbil sitter to provide daily or alternate-day care for your gerbils. Ensure they are qualified, experienced, and have positive reviews. Discuss your gerbils’ situation, requirements, your budget, and the terms of the contract. Offer reasonable compensation to ensure the quality and safety of your gerbils’ care.

Gerbil Boarding Services

Opt for gerbil boarding services where your gerbils stay in a specialized environment with other gerbils, receiving professional care, including feeding, water changes, cleaning, health checks, and playtime. Choose a qualified and well-reviewed boarding service, communicating your gerbils’ needs, your budget, and contract terms. Provide reasonable compensation for quality and safety. The advantage of gerbil boarding services is that your gerbils can enjoy high-quality care and socialize with other gerbils, enhancing their social life and enjoyment. However, they may feel somewhat distant or uneasy about the new environment and may be exposed to potential influences or attacks from other gerbils or infectious diseases.

Traveling with Your Gerbils

You can also choose to travel with your gerbils, allowing them to join you on your journey, exploring new places together. Prepare a travel-friendly gerbil cage, a carrier suitable for cars or planes, and essential gerbil supplies such as food, water, toys, and medications. Before traveling, research the weather, laws, culture of your destination, and transportation regulations to ensure your gerbils’ adaptation and safety. Monitor your gerbils’ needs during the journey, providing sufficient food and water, rest, and playtime, along with comfort and encouragement. The advantage of traveling with gerbils is the shared experiences and memories, witnessing new landscapes and animals, expanding their knowledge and experience. However, disadvantages include potential discomfort or fear during travel and unexpected situations such as loss, injury, or illness.


In summary, gerbils are adorable pets that require human care and companionship. If you’re leaving for a while, how can you take care of your gerbils? Leaving them alone is possible as long as you make necessary preparations, such as providing enough food and water, setting up a thermostat, and cleaning the gerbil cage. Ideally, gerbils shouldn’t be left alone for more than a weekend, with a maximum of one week in emergencies. There are various gerbil care options, including seeking help from friends, finding a professional gerbil sitter, using gerbil boarding services, or traveling with them. Choose the option that suits your gerbils’ needs, your absence duration, and purpose, ensuring their happiness and peace of mind, making your time away worry-free.

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