why is my gerbil sleeping out in the open

Why is My Gerbil Sleeping Outdoors?

Have you ever experienced the sudden change in behavior where your gerbil no longer curls up with its companions in the nest but instead sleeps in a corner of the cage or outdoors? Does it make you worry that your gerbil might be sick or have a falling out with its cage mates? If you have these concerns, read on as I explain the possible reasons behind gerbils sleeping outdoors and how to address this issue.

Introduction to Gerbil Social Characteristics

Gerbils are highly social animals that prefer living with their kind, forming stable groups. Typically, a gerbil group consists of an adult pair and their offspring, collaborating to construct and maintain an intricate underground burrow system for dwelling, storing food, and evading predators. Communication among gerbils involves various methods such as sounds, scents, body postures, and touches. Their social behaviors, encompassing both cooperation and conflict, significantly impact their health and happiness. When caring for gerbils, it’s crucial to consider their social needs, providing appropriate companions and environment.

General Description of Gerbil Daily Behavior

Gerbils are crepuscular animals, active during dawn and dusk, while sleeping most of the day and night. Their activities include foraging, exploring, grooming, playing, and engaging in social interactions. As omnivores, gerbils consume seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and insects, collecting and storing food in their cheek pouches for later. They exhibit curiosity, regularly exploring their surroundings for new things and potential dangers. Gerbils maintain cleanliness in their burrows, discarding unnecessary items to keep the habitat comfortable. Playing with toys like wooden blocks, cardboard boxes, and plastic tubes is also a part of their routine. Social activities involve mutual grooming, cuddling, kissing, roughhousing, and mating, fostering bonds and regulating hierarchy within the group.

Abnormal Phenomenon of Gerbils Sleeping Outdoors

Typically, gerbils sleep together in a warm, huddled group. However, there are instances when you may observe your gerbil choosing to sleep alone in a corner of the cage or outdoors. This behavior might seem peculiar, leading to concerns about illness or conflicts with other gerbils. In reality, gerbils sleeping outdoors may be attributed to two main reasons:

Declanning – Exclusion by Peers
Despite being social animals, gerbils possess individual personalities and preferences, and not all gerbils get along. Conflicts can arise, leading to a phenomenon known as declanning, where one or more gerbils are ostracized from the group. The reasons behind declanning may include the introduction of a new member, challenges from younger gerbils to the established leader, or competition for mating rights among males. This exclusion is detrimental to the health and happiness of the isolated gerbil.

Signs of Declanning:

Solitary sleeping: Ostracized gerbils may choose to sleep alone in a corner or outdoors to avoid conflicts and reduce the risk of attacks, a common reason for gerbils sleeping outdoors.
Reduced social interactions: Isolated gerbils lose intimacy with others, becoming lonely and depressed, decreasing activities like mutual grooming, cuddling, and playing with cage mates.
Chasing and attacks: Ostracized gerbils often become targets of hostility from other gerbils, leading to stress, injuries, and potential health issues.
Temperature Variations Impact
Gerbils are temperature-sensitive animals, adjusting their sleep positions and postures to adapt to environmental temperature changes. Their body temperature fluctuates with ambient conditions, and they regulate it by altering their sleep positions to maintain comfort and health.

In conclusion, understanding gerbil social dynamics and their response to temperature variations can help address concerns about gerbils sleeping outdoors. If you notice signs of declanning, consider reintroducing gerbils gradually or providing separate living spaces. Ensuring a suitable environment with proper companionship helps maintain the well-being of these social rodents.

The sleep position of gerbils is influenced by temperature, and they choose different locations to sleep for optimal temperature effects. Here are the choices gerbils make in various temperatures:

Low Temperature:
In colder temperatures, gerbils prefer sleeping in the deepest part of their burrows. This helps utilize the insulating effect of the burrow, maintaining their body temperature. They might also sleep in a group, forming a warm ball to share body heat. Choosing soft materials like cotton or tissue increases their comfort and reduces the feeling of cold.

Moderate Temperature:
At moderate temperatures, gerbils choose to sleep in the middle of their burrows, maintaining a balance in temperature. They may sleep together but not too closely, preserving personal space. Selecting common materials like wood shavings or hay helps maintain cleanliness and health.

High Temperature:
In warmer temperatures, gerbils opt for sleeping on the outer edges of their burrows or in open areas to utilize air circulation and lower their body temperature. They might sleep separately from others to reduce heat, choosing hard materials like stones or plastic to enhance heat dissipation.

The sleeping positions of gerbils also change with temperature:

Low Temperature:
Gerbils curl into a ball, reducing their surface area to minimize heat loss. They tuck their heads and tails into their bodies to protect sensitive areas and press their ears against their bodies to decrease heat dissipation.

Moderate Temperature:
Gerbils relax into a semi-spherical position, maintaining temperature balance. They expose their heads and tails, ensuring proper breathing and blood circulation, and open their ears to preserve hearing and balance.

High Temperature:
Gerbils stretch into a flat sleeping position, increasing surface area for better heat dissipation. They straighten their heads and tails to enhance air circulation, and erect their ears to improve heat dispersion while sensing the surrounding temperature and wind direction.

Gerbils’ sleep habits result from their natural sleep patterns and behaviors in different environments, varying their sleep duration and cycles accordingly. Understanding gerbil sleep habits aids in better care and interaction.

Natural Sleep Pattern of Gerbils:
Gerbils’ natural sleep pattern aligns with their circadian rhythm, being crepuscular animals active during dawn and dusk. This pattern adapts to their desert habitat, avoiding extreme temperatures during the day and night. Respecting this natural sleep pattern is crucial for their health and happiness.

Gerbil Sleep Behavior in Different Environments:
In their natural habitat, gerbils sleep in secure, clean, and comfortable burrows. They adjust their sleep times and locations based on the day-night cycle and temperature changes. In captivity, they adapt sleep patterns to the caregivers’ routines and conditions, with varying sleep durations and cycles.

Dealing with Gerbils Sleeping Outdoors:

Observe Behavioral Changes:
Check for unusual behavior, signs of aggression, social withdrawal, decreased appetite, increased respiratory rate, sweating, or drooling.

Separate Ostracized Gerbils:
If a gerbil is isolated due to social issues, separate it into a dedicated cage. Provide ample food, water, and toys, regularly checking for injuries or illnesses.

Introduce New Social Companions:
Provide a new social companion for the isolated gerbil, considering age, gender, and breed compatibility. Gradually introduce them to prevent conflicts.

Adjust the Environment to Reduce Stress:
If the issue is related to temperature discomfort, adjust the environment by regulating indoor temperature, avoiding direct light, and providing diverse sleeping options.

In conclusion, whether gerbils sleeping outdoors is normal or abnormal depends on the context. Observing and addressing their behavior, providing appropriate companionship, and ensuring a comfortable environment contribute to their well-being.


Do gerbils always sleep together?
Gerbils generally sleep together, but individual preferences, moods, and circumstances can lead to solitary sleeping. It’s essential to observe behavior changes and respond accordingly.

Why does my gerbil sleep alone?
Gerbils may sleep alone due to personal preferences, mood, or social dynamics. However, isolation could also be a result of rejection by other gerbils or discomfort. Understanding the cause helps determine the appropriate response.

How many hours do gerbils sleep each day?
Gerbil sleep duration ranges from 8 to 14 hours daily, divided into several cycles. Factors like season, age, and gender influence sleep patterns, with longer durations in winter, more sleep in youth, and variations between males and females.

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