Where Do Gerbils Like to Be Petted? Vet-Reviewed Tips & Infographic

In the pet world, few small animals are as adorable as gerbils. Gerbils make wonderful pets, especially for kids. They’re entertaining, don’t make a huge mess, and don’t smell terrible if their pen is kept clean. One question many people ask about gerbils is where they like to be petted. The best place to pet or stroke a gerbil is on the sides and back of their heads. Petting them in these places reminds them of grooming, which is a natural behavior.

Now that you know where gerbils like to be petted, we’d be willing to bet you have more questions about this cute little creature.  Do gerbils like to be stroked, for example, and how can you bond with a gerbil? To find out, and learn more fascinating facts about keeping gerbils as pets, read on!

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Do Gerbils Truly Like to Be Petted?

The answer to this question is a definite maybe. One thing you need to remember when handling gerbils is they don’t have the same intelligence level as cats or dogs. For example, a gerbil may become scared and slightly aggressive when petted. An aggressive gerbil isn’t going to kill you, of course, but if it bites hard enough, it can be painful, especially for a small child.

If you’ve just adopted a gerbil, the best thing to do is not handle it for a few days until it’s used to its new surroundings. Then, start handling it very gently and infrequently. This will give the animal time to get used to you or your kids. Once that happens, most gerbils will be okay with being touched and handled.

Gerbil close up
Image Credit: milivigerova, Pixabay

Do Gerbils Like Being Cuddled?

Gerbils are social animals and, if you have more than one, will play, romp, wrestle and otherwise engage with each other. Gerbils also love sleeping together in big piles to stay warm; when they do, you’ll often see them cuddling. Of course, gerbils cuddling with other gerbils is one thing, but cuddling with a human is another. Remember, gerbils are tiny, and cuddling could be dangerous for them.

Gerbils will instinctively run away from you, at least until they’ve grown accustomed to you touching them. At that point, many gerbils will allow light petting and touching. However, actual cuddling by holding your gerbil close and tight to your face or body might never be possible since most gerbils will be too afraid. You may adopt a gerbil that likes to cuddle, but it’s best to let them cuddle other gerbils instead.

How Should You Pick Up a Gerbil to Pet It?

While most people, especially children, try to pick gerbils up to pet them, it’s better to let them come to you first. To do that, put your hand in their pen and open it up so that your gerbil can hop onto it. You’ll need to be patient, especially while your gerbil is getting used to you.

One trick you can use to get your gerbil to climb into your open hand is to place a few sunflower seeds in your palm ahead of time. Gerbils love sunflower seeds and will eagerly climb in your hand if they see the tasty treats waiting for them.

gerbil mice
Image Credit: sonjafurter1, Pixabay

Only Pet Your Gerbil Low to the Ground or Over a Table

Even if your gerbil is friendly and allows you to pick it up, hold it, and gently pet it, you must always be careful. If, for example, you’re holding your gerbil a few feet off the floor and it jumps out of your hand, it could be severely injured or run away and get lost.

The best way to hold your gerbil while you pet it is to hold it while you’re sitting on the floor or over a table. That way, if it jumps out, the fall will be very short, and the chance your gerbil will be injured will be much lower. Also, hold your hands close to your body, cupping your gerbil so there’s no space between your hands and body for your gerbil to fall.

How Often Should You Hold a Gerbil?

Once a gerbil is used to being touched and held, you can hold them as often as you like. The more you gently handle your gerbil, the more used to you they will become, and the fewer aggressive reactions you’ll see. However, forcing your gerbil to be handled is never a good idea because it can stress them out.  Also, a predictable handling routine is always a good idea. That way, your gerbil will get used to being handled during specific times of the day.

It’s best to avoid touching your gerbil for more than 30 seconds the first time you bring them home. After that, gently place them back into their pen and offer them a small treat. Every time you handle your gerbil can be a little longer. However, one important thing to remember is that it’s almost impossible for a gerbil to stay still while being held. They’re nervous little creatures and constantly move around, so don’t expect them to sit like a cat or dog while you pet or hold them.

How Much Attention Do Gerbils Need?

As for how much attention gerbils need, the answer is very little. Gerbils do just fine if they’re given adequate food and water daily. They don’t need to be handled, but some gerbils like the attention.

Honey Dark-Eyed Gerbil
Image Credit: Svetlanistaya, Shutterstock

Do Gerbils Like to Be Stroked?

Although some gerbils will let you pet and stroke them, most prefer sitting in the palm of your hand more than anything else. Gerbils are not domesticated animals like cats and dogs. In the wild, they’re a food source for larger predators like hawks, foxes, wolves, and snakes. Yes, some will get used to their owner’s touch, but as for being stroked, they typically will tolerate it more than enjoy it.

Can Gerbils Live Alone?

Many new gerbil owners make the mistake of adopting one gerbil rather than a pair. The problem is that, in the wild, gerbils are social animals and live in large groups of up to 15. For that reason, a single gerbil living alone will not do well, and many will suffer due to loneliness, frustration, and anxiety.

Gerbils really shouldn’t live alone, and it’s much better to adopt at least two gerbils at a time. Please note that the Fat-Tailed Gerbil is an exception to this rule; females in particular are very aggressive towards other females. Other gerbils are best kept in same-sex enclosures with their conspecifics. Although males and females can be housed together, they inevitably pair off and begin mating. This can make the upkeep cost of a gerbil setup very demanding to keep up with.

Image Credit: nidan, Pixabay

Can You Bond With a Gerbil?

While bonding with a gerbil is much different than with a cat or dog, it is possible. After enough time has passed and enough gentle handling, most gerbils will recognize their human parents. Many, but not all, gerbils will then approach their owners and allow themselves to be picked up and petted.

However, bonding with a pair of gerbils is easier than with a single gerbil. That’s because a single animal will likely be stressed and nervous, but if its mate is along for the ride, its anxiety level will drop significantly. Unfortunately, some gerbils will never get fully accustomed to being handled by humans.


The 9 Tips for Handling a Gerbil Safely

If you have just adopted gerbils and have never handled them before, here are a few helpful tips.

1. Leave Your Gerbils Alone for a Few Days

This will give them time to get used to their new living area and human companions.

Image Credit By: auenleben, pixabay

2. Sit Next to Your Gerbil’s Cage but Don’t Touch Them

This allows the gerbils to get used to you in a non-scary or traumatic way.

3. Speak Softly to Your Gerbils

Remember, they are tiny creatures that are used to being chased and eaten. If you talk too loud, you can scare them.

4. Use Treats to Win Over Your Gerbils

Like all animals, you can bribe them with something yummy.

brown and white gerbil eating a pipe
Image Credit: DMegias, Shutterstock

5. Offer Treats Through the Cage’s Bars at First

Your gerbils will be less anxious this way.

6. Offer Treats on Your Palm

Once your gerbils are used to eating from your fingers, let them climb into your palm to get their treats.

7. Start Petting Your Gerbils Gently

If they’re okay in your palm and don’t skitter away, it’s time to pet and stroke your gerbil on the top and sides of its head.

8. Handle Your Gerbils Gently and Often

The more often you handle them gently and carefully, the more your gerbils will come to you and let you pet them, pick them up, and hold them.

9. Never Handle a Gerbil Where It Can Fall

Keeping the gerbil over a table or close to the floor is better, as a fall from high enough can injure or kill it.


Last Thoughts

Gerbils sometimes like to be petted on the top and sides of their head. However, it takes a lot of time, patience, and gentle handling for a gerbil to feel safe enough to allow you to pick them up and pet them. They really aren’t accustomed to being handled by another animal, let alone an average human!

Also, adopting two or more gerbils at once rather than one is best. Gerbils are social animals and will be happier and healthier if they can live with other gerbils. Whatever you decide, best of luck with your new gerbil buddies!

Featured Image Credit: auenleben, Pixabay

The post Where Do Gerbils Like to Be Petted? Vet-Reviewed Tips & Infographic appeared first on Pet Keen.

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