why do gerbils bury their food

Why Do Gerbils Bury Their Food?

Have you ever experienced preparing some delicious food for your gerbils only to find that they don’t eat it right away? Instead, they bury it in a corner of their cage or take it to their nest? Are you puzzled and curious about why your gerbils do this and what benefits it holds for them? If you have these questions, you’re not alone. Many gerbil owners face similar challenges and seek solutions. The purpose of this article is to help you understand and address the behavior of gerbils burying their food, allowing you and your gerbils to live together happier and healthier.

Instinctual Behavior of Gerbils

Gerbils are intelligent and lively animals with a strong instinct for digging and burying, which is a crucial survival strategy in their natural habitat. Originating from arid and cold regions like deserts and grasslands, gerbils face limited food sources and numerous predators such as foxes, owls, and snakes. To adapt to these conditions, gerbils have developed a unique lifestyle, creating complex tunnels and burrows underground for storing food, evading enemies, staying warm, and communicating with their companions. These tunnels usually have multiple entrances and exits for easy access and escape. Gerbils use their front paws, teeth, and tails to dig and clear soil, transporting and burying food. The highly flexible tail aids in balancing their bodies and erasing traces of digging. This instinctual behavior enables gerbils to survive and thrive in challenging environments.

Reasons for Burying Food

Food Preservation: Gerbils bury food underground to prevent it from spoiling or drying out, maintaining its freshness and moisture. This way, gerbils can dig out the food when needed, ensuring its quality and taste without worrying about degradation. This is an effective method of food preservation for gerbils, especially in arid and cold regions where securing food is crucial for survival.

Food Concealment: Burying food helps gerbils avoid detection or theft by other animals, ensuring the safety and quantity of their food supply. By doing so, gerbils can enjoy their food without competition, safeguarding against scarcity and loss. This method is highly effective for food concealment, especially in areas with many predators where hiding food is essential for survival.

Food Reserves: Gerbils bury food to prepare for seasons or situations with a shortage of food, maintaining a balance and adequacy in their food supply. This allows gerbils to use their reserves during times of scarcity, preventing hunger without worrying about insufficient food. This strategy is particularly effective in areas with an unstable food supply, serving as a guarantee for gerbil survival.

Burying Behavior in a Domestic Setting

Despite having a stable and abundant food source without threats from predators in a domestic environment, gerbils still exhibit the behavior of burying food. This is because their instincts and habits persist, unaffected by changes in the environment. Gerbils may bury food in various scenarios:

Burying Excess Food: Some gerbils bury most or all of the food given by their owners instead of consuming it immediately. This behavior may stem from dissatisfaction with the quantity or quality of the food, concerns about the food supply, or a lack of trust in the safety of the food. In such cases, owners should monitor the gerbils’ appetite and weight, along with the freshness and diversity of the food. If any abnormalities are observed, adjustments should be made promptly to improve the gerbils’ diet, making them more satisfied and at ease.

Selective Burying: Certain gerbils bury food selectively based on its type or quality rather than burying randomly. This behavior may result from different preferences and needs for food, or varying perceptions and evaluations of the food. Owners should pay attention to the gerbils’ food preferences and requirements, as well as their understanding and evaluation of food. If any unique or distinct behaviors are noticed, owners should respect and understand the gerbils’ choices, providing an environment where the gerbils feel more liberated and joyful.

Burying Unsuitable Food: Some gerbils bury any food given to them, regardless of its type. This might be due to a polite and appreciative attitude towards food or a habit of thriftiness and cherishing. Gerbils bury food they don’t like or find unsuitable as a way of expressing respect and gratitude. In such cases, owners should observe the suitability of the gerbils’ food and their reactions, as well as their attitudes and habits towards food. If any discomfort or displeasure is detected, owners should promptly replace and adapt the gerbils’ food, ensuring their comfort and well-being.

How to Deal with Gerbils Burying Food

While the behavior of gerbils burying food is a natural and rational survival strategy, it can sometimes pose challenges and concerns in a domestic setting, such as food waste, spoilage, cage contamination, and potential impacts on gerbil diet and health. To ensure a happier and healthier coexistence between gerbils and their owners, it’s essential to address and minimize the behavior of burying food. Here are some methods to help manage gerbil food burying:

Provide Adequate Food to Prevent Over-Burying: One significant reason gerbils bury food is their uncertainty about food supply or dissatisfaction with the quantity or quality of the provided food. To reduce the desire for burying, it’s crucial to supply gerbils with sufficient food, ensuring they feel satiated and content. Typically, gerbils require a daily food intake equivalent to 5-10% of their body weight, consisting of a variety of foods such as hay, seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, along with clean water. Regularly replenishing food and water while observing their appetite and weight helps prevent over-burying and promotes the health and happiness of gerbils.

Regularly Clean Gerbil Cages to Prevent Rotten Food: An inherent issue with buried food is the potential for spoilage or drying, leading to odors, bacteria, and cage contamination. Regularly cleaning gerbil cages, removing buried food, and maintaining cleanliness are crucial. Daily checks for buried food, feces, and urine, along with thorough weekly cleaning, including changing bedding, food, water, toys, and monthly cage disinfection, ensure a hygienic and safe environment, promoting gerbil comfort and well-being.

Reduce Burying Opportunities by Scattering Food: Gerbils enjoy exploring new environments, searching for food, interacting with other gerbils or humans, and this can lead to burying for the thrill of exploration and play. To meet this need, scattering food around the gerbil’s cage can reduce the opportunities for burying. Distributing food in different areas such as the wheel, tunnels, houses, blocks, paper boxes, tissues, and cotton provides a playful and exploratory element for gerbils. This way, gerbils view food as entertainment and reward rather than concentrating on burying it, resulting in a happier and more satisfied experience.

The burying of food by gerbils is a natural and reasonable survival strategy driven by instincts and habits developed in arid and cold environments with limited food sources and numerous predators. While this behavior persists in a domestic setting, it can be managed by providing adequate food, regular cage cleaning, and implementing strategies to make feeding a more engaging and enjoyable experience for gerbils. These methods enhance our understanding and care for gerbils, fostering a happier and healthier life for both gerbils and their owners.


Does gerbil food burying indicate unhappiness?

Not necessarily. Gerbils burying food does not always imply unhappiness; at times, it’s a result of instinct, habit, exploration, or playfulness rather than dissatisfaction with food or the environment. However, in some cases, burying behavior can be an expression of discomfort or unease, such as when gerbils find the food less fresh or diverse or perceive the environment as unsafe or uncomfortable. Therefore, evaluating gerbil happiness should consider overall behavior and responses, not solely based on the burying behavior.

How can one determine if gerbils are over-burying food?

Generally, gerbil burying behavior is a normal and rational survival strategy. However, if burying becomes excessively frequent or extensive, it may lead to issues such as food waste, spoilage, cage contamination, and potential impacts on gerbil health. To identify over-burying, observe the frequency and quantity of buried food. If gerbils bury most or all provided food daily, instead of consuming it, or if the quantity buried far exceeds their normal needs, it may indicate over-burying behavior. Additionally, monitoring changes in appetite, weight, mood, and cage conditions can help identify and address over-burying concerns.

How does gerbil food burying affect their health?

The act of gerbils burying food itself does not have negative health implications; in fact, it may have some positive effects, such as exercising their bodies and minds, boosting confidence and stress resilience, and enhancing immune system and adaptability. However, excessive or frequent burying can lead to potential health issues, including impacts on diet and nutrition, weight loss, spoilage or drying of food, digestive or respiratory problems, and cage pollution or odors. Therefore, it’s crucial to monitor gerbil health, seek professional veterinary assistance if any abnormalities arise, and ensure timely and appropriate diagnosis and treatment.


Gerbils exhibit a strong instinct for digging and burying, developed as a crucial survival strategy in their natural habitats. This behavior persists in a domestic environment, driven by gerbil instincts and habits. While gerbil food burying can pose challenges, adopting methods such as providing sufficient food, regular cage cleaning, and engaging feeding strategies can effectively manage and reduce this behavior. These approaches contribute to better understanding and care for gerbils, promoting a happier and healthier life for both gerbils and their owners.

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