Why Does My Gerbil Scratch Its Cage & Bars {What Does It Mean?}

Why does my gerbil scratch its cage

Have you noticed that your gerbil is scratching the cage too frequently? Are you worried that your gerbil is suffering and needs help? So why does my gerbil scratch on its cage?

If your gerbil is scratching its cage too much it could be because your gerbil is unhappy as a result of boredom, a lack of activities, or unsuitable housing conditions.

Can a Gerbil Scratch Through the Cage?

Gerbil nails are not sharp enough to scratch through a cage. However, if the bottom of the cage is made of plastic and your gerbil not only scratches but also bites at the cage excessively then it might break through it eventually.

Excessive scratching should be more of a concern for you if your cage has a plastic bottom. However, If you keep your gerbil in a glass tank then your gerbil can’t scratch through the cage.

How to stop a gerbil scratching its cage

To stop a gerbil from scratching its cage, provide it with housing conditions that are close to its natural habitat. Shift your gerbil into a gerbilarium, add more bedding substrate to its cage and increase playtime to fight boredom.

Gerbils are naturally curious and active rodents that need to keep busy. In the wild, gerbils naturally dig through the ground with their claws to make burrows and tunnels. It is a gerbil’s natural need to dig and when that need is not met your gerbil feels unhappy.

When gerbils’ need to dig is not met and they do not have enough activities to keep them engaged, they begin to display obsessive, abnormal habits called stereotypy. Therefore, you must provide ample space and bedding substrate for your gerbil to dig in.

The following are some of the ways you can stop a gerbil from scratching its cage:

  • Improve Housing Conditions
  • Provide Toys
  • Increase Playtime
  • Keep Them In Pairs
  • Increase The Amount of Bedding Substrate They Have
  • Provide a Shelter

I will now go in to each point in a bit more detail below

1. Improve housing conditions

Shift your gerbil to a gerbilarium – It is not recommended to keep your gerbil in a small cage with a shallow plastic tray at the base because a shallow tray does not provide enough space for burrowing.

A gerbilarium on the other hand will provide your gerbil a home that is closer to its natural habitat. A gerbilarium usually comprises two layers; an upper portion made of a cage for ventilation and a lower section made of glass walls and base. Ideally, 10 gallons of space per gerbil is required.

The upper section can be utilized to place toys, food bowls, and water bottles. While the lower section comprising of a glass tank provides ample depth to place an adequate amount of bedding material where the gerbil can dig deep to form tunnels.

2. Provide toys

Get a running wheel of a suitable size for your gerbil to exercise in. Introduce some wooden tunnels, ropes, chew toys, and toilet roll tubes in your gerbil’s cage to keep it entertained. Since gerbils love climbing, adding wooden shelves can keep it busy as well.

3. Increase playtime

Take out your gerbil from its cage every other day to play with it and pet it in your hands.

4. Keep them in pairs

Since gerbils are sociable animals it is always better to keep them in same-sex pairs or groups in your cage so that your gerbil doesn’t feel lonely and has playmates to play with. However, the gerbils should be familiar with each other from a very early age. Preferably they should be young littermates. Introducing unfamiliar gerbils can cause aggression between the gerbils.

5. Increase the amount of bedding substrate in your gerbil’s cage

The depth of the bedding material should be enough for your gerbils to dig and create tunnels and burrows. Ideally, the bedding should have a depth of 20-30cm.

6. Provide a shelter

Place a large, dark nesting box in the cage for your gerbil to comfortably relax in.

gerbil Shelter

Is a gerbil scratching the cage a sign of stress?

It is a sign of stress if your gerbil is scratching the cage obsessively. When gerbils are not able to act on their natural instinct to dig and create burrows, they can become stressed and begin scratching the cage.

Being prey animals, it is natural for gerbils to dig the ground in their natural habitat to create a system of tunnels and burrows for safety from predators. However, Excessive repeated scratching of the cage is not a normal habit and can be a sign that your gerbil is unhappy and stressed.

As a pet parent, you should be aware of common signs of stress in gerbils. Some common symptoms of stress in gerbils are:

  • Discomfort and unease while being held, especially if the gerbil was okay with being held before
  • Isolating and hiding in a tunnel or nest for too long
  • Hypervigilance, which might include pacing or yawning
  • Seizures
  • An unusual decrease in activity
  • A reduction in appetite
  • Excessive grooming or a complete lack of it
  • Violent behavior with cagemates
  • Biting at the cage
  • Loud squeaking noise or teeth chattering persistently

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Why Does My Gerbil Lick its Cage?

If your gerbil is licking the cage it could be because it is thirsty just like in the wild, gerbils lick stones to absorb the moisture on them when they are thirsty.

In case your gerbil is too young, it may not know where the water bottle is or how to use it. Make sure your gerbil’s water bottle is not running dry and that it is somewhere the gerbil can easily access it. If your gerbil does not know how to use the water bottle you will have to spend some time training it.

Splash some water on the side of the water bottle and introduce your gerbil to it so that it associates the water bottle with water. Soon it will understand it is a water source and will start using it. In addition, you could place a shallow water bowl as well if a water bottle does not work for your gerbil.