As gerbils are social creatures, it is important for them to live in pairs or groups. It is best to introduce a younger gerbil (preferably under 10 weeks old) to an adult gerbil. Males are easier to pair as males are naturally nurturing. The adult male will take care of the younger male. Females can be bonded as well, but as they are more territorial, they may take longer to warm up to each other. Again, having a younger gerbil introduced to an adult gerbil will have the best chance of success.
Introducing a new gerbil to your pet is not difficult but must be done correctly to ensure the safety and happiness of your pets. The technique we use to introduce gerbils is called the “split cage” method.
Setting up the split cage
- Clean out your gerbil’s tank, wiping down the sides.
- Insert a “split.” You can make your own out of wire mesh. Just cut it down to size so there is enough on each side to fold over and tape to the bottom and sides of the tank. You could also build a wooden frame that fits your tank, with mesh inside the frame.
- Put fresh bedding on both sides of the tank.
- Scatter food in both sides of the tank and add a water bottle to each side.
- Add cardboard that will be quickly chewed up (toilet paper roll, etc.)
- Putting an exercise wheel on each side will keep them entertained. If you only have one wheel, that is ok. Just leave it on the same side so the gerbils can take turns exercising.
Putting your gerbils into the split cage
- Place your gerbil(s) on one side of the tank.
- Place your new gerbil on the other side of the tank.
- Switch them every few hours so they can get used to each other’s scent. This way when you do introduce them to each other, they will recognize the other gerbil’s scent as part of their territory. (You don’t have to wake up at night to switch them – just a few times each day is fine.)
- When the gerbils are first put into their split cages, it is natural for them to be very curious about each other, and perhaps even look like they are attacking each other through the mesh. They are trying to establish their territory and may see the other gerbil as an intruder. It is possible your gerbils may have little interest in each other as they are exploring their territory and, most likely, scent marking their side of the tank.
How to tell if your gerbils are ready to meet
First of all, DON’T RUSH THIS PROCESS, even if your gerbils seem to be getting along well. It is better to wait longer initially than to try to introduce them too soon, which could result in fighting and you having to start all over. If you are not experienced with introducing gerbils, you should expect this to take about a week. When you see some of the following signs (and it has been at least 5-7 days), your gerbils may be ready to meet.
- Mutual grooming through the mesh
- Lying next to each other at the mesh divider
- Sleeping in each other’s “beds”
- General interest in each other
After the week-long split cage method, and if your gerbils are showing the signs above, it is time to remove the split! This is an exciting day!
You will need to be able to observe your gerbils for a few hours, so plan to remove the split when you have enough time. It would be best to have the gerbils swap sides in the morning as they have been on their “own side” all night long. Give them a couple of hours to mark their “new side.”
Have a pair of thick gloves (gardening gloves should be fine), just in case you need to break up a fight.
Remove the split and mix up the bedding a bit, so both gerbils scents are scattered throughout the tank. Then observe your gerbils interacting with each other.
What should I watch for?
While it is normal for the gerbils to chase and sniff each other, and even try mounting each other as hierarchy will need to be established between the gerbils, if they start really fighting, where they are actually in a “ball,” biting each other, you will need to separate them immediately (with your gloves on). Replace the split and continue the split cage method for a few more days (perhaps longer than a week this time, if they seemed pretty aggressive) to let them cool off before introducing them again. Other signs of aggression are loud squeaking noises, boxing each other and staring each other down.
If your gerbils are grooming each other and cuddling up together, they are most likely ready to live together. Keep watching them for a few hours to be sure they continue to get along.
If you are at all unsure if they are ready to be together, you may want to put in a temporary split when you aren’t able to supervise until you are one hundred percent certain the gerbils are living happily together.