When Do Gerbils Hibernate: Understanding Gerbil Hibernation Behavior and Prevention Measures

When Do Gerbils Hibernate: Understanding Gerbil Hibernation Behavior and Prevention Measures

Gerbils are adorable small rodents known for their lively nature, love of digging, and chewing habits. They make great pets due to their easy care, minimal space and food requirements, and friendly demeanor. However, do gerbils hibernate? If so, when do they enter this state, and how does hibernation affect their health? As a gerbil owner, how can you prevent and handle gerbil hibernation? This article aims to answer these questions, providing you with insights to better understand and care for your gerbil.

Gerbil Hibernation Phenomenon

First and foremost, it’s crucial to clarify that gerbils typically do not hibernate. Originating from desert areas, gerbils have adapted to extreme temperature changes. They tend to stay in underground burrows during the day to avoid high temperatures and bright sunlight, becoming active and foraging at night. While their body temperature fluctuates with environmental changes, it does not drop to extremely low levels. In normal conditions, gerbils remain active and alert.

However, under extreme cold conditions, such as temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius), gerbils might enter a state resembling hibernation, known as torpor. Torpor is a physiological mechanism that helps gerbils conserve energy, reduce heat loss, and protect themselves from the cold. During torpor, gerbil body temperature drops to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), breathing becomes slow and shallow, heart rate decreases, activity ceases, and responsiveness dulls. Gerbil torpor usually lasts for a few hours until the environmental temperature rises or the gerbil is awakened.

Gerbil hibernation differs from that of true hibernating animals like groundhogs or brown bears. True hibernators store large amounts of fat before winter and remain in hibernation until spring, with body temperature dropping close to freezing, extremely slow breathing and heart rate, and complete inactivity. True hibernation lasts for several months and is challenging to interrupt.

Therefore, gerbil hibernation is a short-term and reversible response to sudden cold conditions, rather than a long-term and fixed strategy. While gerbil torpor does have some impact on their health, prompt detection and intervention usually prevent severe consequences.

Gerbil Natural Behaviors

To better comprehend gerbil hibernation behavior, understanding their natural behaviors in the wild is essential. Gerbils, originating from desert regions, have bodies and behaviors adapted to the dry and unpredictable environment. Desert temperatures can range from 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) during the day to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) at night. Water and food are scarce in these areas, requiring gerbils to continuously search for and store these resources.

In the wild, gerbils cope with cold environments by:

  • Adjusting Activity Times: Gerbils adapt their activity times based on seasons and temperature changes. During summer, they are active in the early morning and late evening, avoiding the midday heat. In winter, they are active during midday, taking advantage of sunlight. Gerbils’ activity usually does not exceed four hours to conserve energy.

  • Digging Burrows: Gerbils create complex underground burrow systems serving as shelter and storage. These burrows can reach depths of two meters, maintaining a stable temperature and humidity, unaffected by external conditions. Gerbils rest, sleep, and store food and water in these burrows.

  • Storing Food: Being omnivores, gerbils eat various plant seeds, roots, stems, leaves, insects, and small animals. They consume more when food is abundant, storing excess in specialized food chambers within their burrows. These chambers can hold several kilograms of food, ensuring a sufficient energy source during food scarcity.

  • Regulating Body Temperature: Gerbils use their fur to regulate body temperature. In low temperatures, they raise their fur to create an insulating air layer. In high temperatures, they flatten their fur against their bodies to dissipate excess heat. Gerbils also use their tails to regulate temperature, curling them for warmth in cold conditions and stretching them for cooling in warm conditions. Group living helps gerbils maintain body temperature by sleeping together for warmth.

Gerbil Hibernation in Captivity

While gerbils have natural strategies for dealing with cold in the wild, captivity might present different challenges leading to gerbil hibernation. Factors triggering hibernation in domestically raised gerbils include:

  • Temperature: Temperature is the primary factor influencing gerbil hibernation. If the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius), gerbils might enter hibernation. Temperature in gerbil housing can be influenced by factors such as seasons, climate, air conditioning, and heating. Sudden drops in environmental temperature can make gerbils feel cold, triggering hibernation.

  • Lighting: Lighting is another crucial factor affecting gerbil hibernation. If lighting duration is too short, gerbils may enter hibernation. Domestic gerbil lighting can be influenced by factors like curtains, artificial lights, and TV. Inadequate lighting can make gerbils feel dim conditions, leading to hibernation.

  • Food Supply: Food supply is a secondary factor influencing gerbil hibernation. Insufficient food supply can trigger hibernation. Domestic gerbil food supply can be affected by factors like forgetting to feed, expired food, and contaminated food. Lack of food in the environment can make gerbils feel hungry, leading to hibernation.

Identifying gerbil hibernation involves recognizing certain features:

  • Behavior: Gerbils become inactive, ceasing activities like running, playing, or chewing. They may curl up in a corner or bury themselves in bedding. Gerbils become unresponsive and show no reaction to external stimuli, such as sound, touch, or food.

  • Body Temperature: Gerbil body temperature decreases, feeling cold rather than warm. Their body temperature drops to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), half the normal temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).

  • Breathing: Gerbils’ breathing becomes slow and shallow, with a frequency of around five breaths per minute, significantly lower than the normal rate of 80 breaths per minute. Breathing becomes weak and irregular, with small sounds and occasional pauses.

Preventive Measures for Gerbil Hibernation

Although gerbil hibernation is a self-protective mechanism, it is not beneficial for their health. It can lead to reduced immune function, slowed metabolism, and disrupted digestive systems. As a gerbil owner, it’s essential to prevent gerbils from entering hibernation rather than dealing with it once it occurs. Preventive measures include:

  • Maintaining Suitable Temperature: Ensure the temperature in the gerbil environment stays between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 24 degrees Celsius

). Use a thermometer to monitor temperature levels. Avoid placing gerbil housing near air conditioning or heating vents.

  • Providing Adequate Lighting: Ensure gerbils receive sufficient lighting for 12 to 14 hours each day. Use artificial lights if natural lighting is inadequate. Maintain a consistent lighting schedule to mimic natural day and night cycles.

  • Ensuring Proper Nutrition: Provide a balanced and nutritious diet to prevent hibernation due to food scarcity. Offer a mix of gerbil pellets, fresh vegetables, and occasional treats. Regularly check food supply to prevent shortages.

  • Creating a Comfortable Habitat: Set up a comfortable and enriching habitat with proper bedding, hiding places, and toys. Ensure the gerbil enclosure is large enough to accommodate their natural behaviors, including digging and burrowing.

  • Monitoring Environmental Changes: Be aware of any sudden changes in the gerbil environment, such as temperature drops, power outages, or changes in lighting conditions. Take prompt action to address these changes and prevent hibernation.

  • Regular Health Checks: Conduct regular health checks to detect any signs of illness or discomfort. Consult a veterinarian if you notice changes in behavior, appearance, or activity levels.

Responding to Gerbil Hibernation

If you suspect your gerbil is in a state of hibernation, it’s crucial to take immediate action to warm them up and bring them back to normal activity. Follow these steps:

  • Increase Temperature: Gradually raise the environmental temperature to the recommended range of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 24 degrees Celsius). Use a heating pad or heat lamp, ensuring it doesn’t cause overheating.

  • Provide Warmth Directly: Hold the gerbil close to your body to transfer body heat. You can use a warm towel or blanket to wrap them gently. Avoid sudden changes in temperature, as it can be stressful for the gerbil.

  • Offer Warm Food: Provide warm and easily digestible food, such as cooked grains or soft fruits. This helps stimulate metabolism and provides energy.

  • Monitor Closely: Keep a close eye on the gerbil’s behavior, body temperature, and breathing. If there’s no improvement or if you observe signs of illness, consult a veterinarian promptly.


Understanding gerbil hibernation behavior is crucial for responsible and caring gerbil ownership. While gerbils naturally adapt to temperature changes, sudden and extreme cold conditions can lead to a state resembling hibernation. Preventive measures, such as maintaining suitable temperature, providing adequate lighting, ensuring proper nutrition, creating a comfortable habitat, monitoring environmental changes, and conducting regular health checks, can help prevent gerbil hibernation.

In the event of hibernation, swift and appropriate action is necessary to warm up the gerbil and restore normal activity. By being attentive to their natural behaviors and needs, gerbil owners can create a supportive and healthy environment for their small, furry companions.

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