why does my gerbil not like being held

Why Doesn’t My Gerbil Like to be Held?

If you’re a gerbil owner, you might want to pick up your gerbil to make it feel your love and warmth. However, you may find that some gerbils don’t enjoy being held – they may struggle, bite, or make displeased sounds. This can be confusing and disappointing, leading you to wonder if your gerbil really likes you or if you’ve done something wrong.

In fact, there are many reasons why gerbils may not like being held, and it’s not necessarily because they dislike or distrust you. To understand their behavior, we need to consider their instincts, personalities, and habits, and understand their preferences and needs. In this article, I’ll explore possible reasons why gerbils don’t like being held and how to improve the relationship between gerbils and their owners.

Instincts of Gerbils

Gerbils are rodents originally from desert and grassland areas, and their survival instincts and social behaviors in the wild significantly influence their characters and habits.

Survival Instincts in the Wild

In the wild, gerbils face various dangers, such as predators like foxes, cats, and birds. To protect themselves, gerbils dig underground burrows as their homes. They maintain a certain distance and vigilance towards any large animals, including humans, to avoid being preyed upon or harmed.

Therefore, gerbils are naturally timid and sensitive. They don’t like to be suddenly grabbed or lifted high, as it makes them feel fearful and uneasy. They also dislike being confined in a small space, as it makes them feel trapped and helpless. Gerbils prefer to run freely and explore on the ground, aligning with their instincts and needs.

Social Behaviors of Gerbils

Gerbils are highly social animals, forming small groups with relatives or friends, living together in burrows. Their social structure is relatively equal and harmonious; there are no clear leaders or subordinates. Gerbils communicate and interact through scent, sound, and physical contact, engaging in activities like grooming, huddling, playing, and protecting each other.

Therefore, gerbils are naturally friendly and gentle. They won’t easily attack or bite unless they feel threatened or in pain. Gerbils can develop affection for their owners through regular interaction, considering them as part of their group and expressing trust and affection. Gerbils prefer playing with their owners rather than being held, aligning with their social habits and preferences.

Individual Differences in Gerbil Personalities

While gerbils share common instincts, each gerbil has its individual personality traits influenced by genetic factors, growth environment, and experiences.

Personality Traits of Gerbils

Activity Level: Some gerbils are more active, enjoying running and exploring, while others are lazier, preferring sleep and rest.
Curiosity: Some gerbils are curious about new things, while others may be fearful of the unfamiliar.
Courage: Some gerbils are brave and unafraid of strangers and new environments, while others are more timid and easily startled.
Gentleness: Some gerbils are gentle and enjoy being touched and approached, while others may be more rough and dislike being disturbed.
Gerbils’ reactions to human contact depend on two main factors:

Establishing Trust with Owners: Building trust with gerbils takes time and patience. If you’ve recently adopted a gerbil, it may feel unfamiliar and scared, reluctant to let you pick it up.
Adaptation to New Environments: Gerbils’ adaptability to new environments also affects their response to human contact. If your gerbil experiences frequent cage changes or location shifts, it may feel uneasy and nervous, making it reluctant to be held.
Therefore, the gerbil’s response to human contact should be assessed based on their individual differences and circumstances. It’s essential to respect their feelings and wishes, giving them enough time and space to gradually acclimate to you and your environment.

If you want to pick up your gerbil, follow these steps to ensure both you and your gerbil are safe and comfortable:

Steps for Safely Picking Up a Gerbil:

1. Gentle Touch:

Before picking up your gerbil, let it know you’re present. Gently tap its body with your finger or use food or toys to get its attention, creating a positive association. You can also lightly press its back with your palm to make it feel secure and relaxed.
2. Dual-Hand Support:

When your gerbil shows no signs of resistance or escape during your touch, use one hand to support its chest and front legs and the other to support its abdomen and hind legs. Lift it out of the cage while ensuring both hands can fully support its body, avoiding discomfort or panic.
Avoid Actions that Could Harm the Gerbil:

1. Avoid Sudden Grabs:

Don’t attempt to grab the gerbil suddenly with one hand or two fingers. This may make it feel attacked or threatened, leading to resistance, biting, or injury. Also, avoid disturbing the gerbil when it’s sleeping or eating, as it may become displeased and uneasy.
2. Avoid Squeezing:

Avoid squeezing the gerbil’s body forcefully, as this can cause pain or suffocation, leading to internal injuries or death. Don’t place the gerbil in your pocket or clothing, as it may experience oxygen deficiency and excessive heat, risking heatstroke or suffocation.
Building Trust and Interaction:

If you want your gerbil to enjoy being held, focus on building trust and interaction, convincing it that you’re a friend, not an enemy. Enhance your relationship with your gerbil using the following methods:

1. Connect through Feeding:

Feeding is an effective method to build a connection. Offer your gerbil some of its favorite foods using your fingers or a spoon. Let it feel your goodwill and generosity. Place food in your palm and let the gerbil eat from your hand, establishing trust and closeness. Ensure you provide suitable and healthy food to maintain its well-being.
2. Allow Gerbil to Explore Outside the Cage:

Allowing your gerbil to explore outside its cage is an engaging way to enhance interaction. Release it in a safe and clean space, such as your room or living room, and provide toys or obstacles on the floor for fun and challenge. Play with your gerbil by using your fingers or toys to grab its attention, engaging in games like chase or tug-of-war. Ensure your gerbil doesn’t run into dangerous or dirty areas, such as wires, sockets, or trash bins, to protect its safety and health.
3. Gradually Increase Physical Contact:

Gradually increasing physical contact is crucial for getting your gerbil used to being held. Occasionally pick it up while it explores outside the cage, let it feel your warmth and breath, and then put it back to continue playing. Gradually extend the duration of holding from a few seconds to several minutes, allowing it to adapt to your holding style and posture. When holding, gently stroke its head or back to make it feel comfortable and relaxed. Avoid forcing it or holding it for too long, as this may cause discomfort or resistance.
By understanding and respecting your gerbil’s instincts, personality, and preferences, and by gradually building trust and interaction, you can improve the bond between you and your gerbil. With patience and care, you’ll create a positive and enjoyable experience for both you and your furry friend.

Possible Reasons Why Gerbils Don’t Like Being Held

If, despite your efforts using the methods mentioned above, your gerbil still doesn’t enjoy being held, there might be several reasons for this behavior. It’s crucial to observe and analyze these factors carefully to identify and address the underlying issues.

Gerbil’s Health Condition

The health of your gerbil is a significant factor influencing its acceptance of being held. If your gerbil is sick or injured, it may experience pain or discomfort, leading it to resist being held or touched. You can assess your gerbil’s health by examining its body and behavior:

Physical Examination: Check for any signs of swelling, bleeding, hair loss, fractures, or unusual odors in your gerbil’s eyes, nose, ears, mouth, teeth, fur, tail, and paws.

Behavioral Changes: Observe any abnormal changes in your gerbil’s activity level, appetite, excretion, sleep, breathing, or vocalizations, such as unusual quietness, weight loss, constipation, snoring, or coughing.

Gerbil’s Age

The age of your gerbil is another crucial factor influencing its acceptance of being held. Different age groups have varying needs and responses to being held:

Young Gerbils: Gerbils under six months old are considered young. They are curious and lively but can be timid. Their need for being held is relatively low. Gradually accustom them to your scent and touch without excessive holding, allowing them time and space to explore and grow.

Adult Gerbils: Gerbils between six months and two years old are considered adults. They are brave and stable but can be playful and independent. Their need for being held is higher. Hold them moderately, allowing them to feel your love and warmth while respecting their preferences for freedom and choice.

Senior Gerbils: Gerbils older than two years are considered seniors. They tend to be lazy and quiet but affectionate and dependent. Their need for being held remains high. Hold them more, providing care and comfort while being cautious not to cause harm.

Therefore, the age of your gerbil determines its attitude and preference towards being held. Adjust your holding methods and frequency based on your gerbil’s age to ensure comfort and happiness.

Gender Differences in Gerbils

Male Gerbils: Males have obvious external genitalia, larger size, and can display dominant and aggressive behaviors. Their need for being held is relatively low. Hold them with respect and leadership, avoiding excessive handling to maintain their self-esteem and confidence.

Female Gerbils: Females lack obvious external genitalia, have a smaller size, and exhibit gentle and friendly behaviors. Their need for being held is relatively high. Hold them appropriately, providing love and care while being careful not to cause harm, ensuring a comfortable and safe feeling.

Gender differences play a significant role in determining your gerbil’s attitude and preference towards being held. Adjust your holding methods and frequency based on your gerbil’s gender for comfort and happiness.

Improving Gerbil’s Acceptance of Being Held

Importance of Patience and Time:

Patience and time are crucial factors in improving your gerbil’s acceptance of being held. Expecting immediate affection is unrealistic. Give your gerbil sufficient time and space to gradually adapt to you and your holding techniques. Avoid forcing acceptance and respect your gerbil’s feelings and willingness to be held. Building trust and an intimate relationship with your gerbil takes patience and love, proving to be the most effective method to make them enjoy being held.

Providing Appropriate Stimulation and Environment:

Offering suitable stimulation and environment is essential in enhancing your gerbil’s acceptance of being held. Provide a comfortable and interesting living space with a spacious and clean cage, sufficient food, water, and toys for nutrition and entertainment. Allow your gerbil to explore and play in safe, clean spaces outside the cage with obstacles or tunnels for added fun and challenge. Include gentle and calming sounds, such as piano, harp, or wind chimes, to create a cozy and relaxed atmosphere, avoiding harsh or noisy music.

Observing Behavioral Signals:

Signals of Enjoying Being Held:
If your gerbil enjoys being held, it may exhibit signals such as partially closed eyes, relaxed ears, slightly open mouth, protruding tongue, relaxed body, curled tail, and purring sounds. These are indications that your gerbil is comfortable and happy. Continue holding or reward it with treats or toys to express praise and encouragement.

Signals of Disliking Being Held:
If your gerbil dislikes being held, it may show signals like widened eyes, erect ears, tightly closed mouth, exposed teeth, stiff body, raised tail, squealing, or biting. These are signs that your gerbil is uncomfortable or unhappy. Immediately release it or provide comfort through petting or apologizing to convey your remorse and concern.

Observing behavioral signals is a crucial method for better communication and understanding between you and your gerbil. Adjust your holding methods and frequency based on your gerbil’s signals to ensure comfort and happiness.


There are various reasons why gerbils may not enjoy being held, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they dislike or distrust you. Understanding gerbil behavior requires consideration of their instincts, personalities, and habits. In this article, I’ve introduced possible reasons why gerbils may not like being held and provided guidance on how to improve the relationship between gerbils and their owners.

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