With any new pet, the first consideration is its preferred and natural diet. Diets for common pets such as dogs and cats have been improved over many generations, to the point that today's pets are much healthier than any of their domestic or wild ancestors.
Did You Know?Gerbils come from arid deserts. As a result, they subsist on very little water. But they still need a permanent source of freshwater. This need can be taken care of through a sipper bottle.
Gerbils are still relatively uncommon, though they are steadily becoming more popular. So what do these adorable and affectionate rodents eat?
Gerbils, like most rodents, should be fed a commercial premix. The variety in a premix eliminates the risk of saturation of particular nutrients and deficiency of others. This is particularly important for gerbils and other small rodents.
However, premixes come loaded with a problem. Gerbils can be incredibly finicky eaters, and if they pick one particular favorite food from a premix, they will stubbornly refuse anything else.
For this reason, food pellets are an oft-employed choice. Since the pellets can't be broken down into their constituent ingredients, gerbils get the required diversity. Pellets, though, can get boring very soon, and need to be supplemented by a large variety of fresh foods.
► Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are a particular favorite. Sunflower seeds are often found in seed mixes. However, sunflower seeds are extremely fattening for gerbils, and should only be provided as a rare treat. Pumpkin seeds can be given fairly regularly, but in small amounts. Both these seeds should be fed by hand, one by one. Apart from preventing overeating, this will also help strengthen your bond with the gerbil.
► Fruits such as apples and berries can be provided occasionally. Apples should be given in big chunks that the gerbils can gnaw on, rather than small, directly eatable pieces. Small pieces can get lost in the gerbils' bedding and rot. Gerbils love to gnaw, and will spend a long time happily chipping away at half an apple. Berries should be given whole.
► Vegetables such as carrots and broccoli can also be given in a manner similar to other fruits. The main precaution to take with fruits and vegetables is to thoroughly wash them before serving them. Even tiny amounts of pesticides (which wouldn't be noticeable to us) can harm tiny animals such as gerbils.
► Nuts, like sunflower seeds, are high in fats, and should only be given very rarely, and in small amounts.
► Raisins and currants can be provided infrequently.
► Small chunks of toasted bread (preferably whole-grain bread) can be given.
► Unsweetened cereals and dog biscuits are a great addition to the regular diet. Both are suitably chewy and nutritious.
Occasional treats should be given in a separate dish, and should be removed after some time. Gerbils don't like stale food, and if the treats are left untouched for a considerable time, they can become a health hazard. It is very important to establish a feeding routine for gerbils; they can get anxious if they don't find food on time.
It is important to introduce a gerbil to a variety of foods, and not let it establish a firm favorite. A gerbil starved of its favorite food becomes incredibly miserable, while a variety of nutritious foods is one of the more important factors in keeping a gerbil happy.