If you only see a photo of gerbils, at first glance they look like peaceful, cute fellows. However, they are very active and also interact socially very strongly in their group. But are gerbils aggressive pets?
Gerbils can be aggressive. They live in a strict hierarchy in their group, which is fought out through aggressive, combative behavior. They can also be aggressive for other reasons, such as when kept alone. Gerbils are very territorial animals. Under certain circumstances, they can behave aggressively towards other animals and even towards humans.
Now that we know that gerbils can be aggressive, let’s take a closer look at why they behave aggressively. We will address the question of if and when they become aggressive towards other gerbils and whether they can also be aggressive towards other animals and towards humans.
Then we will also look at whether the aggressive behavior has anything to do with the gender composition in the gerbil group and what composition of a group is ideal.
Why Are Gerbils Aggressive?
There are several reasons for which gerbils can behave aggressively. Some reasons are part of their normal behavior. However, aggressive behavior can also occur due to physical or psychological problems.
Normal Aggressive Behavior in Gerbils
It is important to know that gerbils are both social and territorial animals. They can live in groups of at least two animals.
Within their group, they will establish a hierarchy. So there are higher-ranking animals and others that are subordinate.
The gerbils must of course first determine the rank order. It is common in the animal world to establish a rank order through fighting. The strongest animal has the highest rank.
This is also the case with gerbils. They determine the social ranking by fighting with each other. Sometimes this can even go so far that a gerbil dies. Do not be alarmed then if cannibalism occurs in your gerbils. This can also have natural causes.
By the way, it is difficult to impossible to integrate a new gerbil into an existing group. If you try it just like that, without the necessary knowledge and preparation, there will be severe fights that can lead to the death of the gerbil.
Problematic Aggressive Behavior in Gerbils
The other category of reasons gerbils can become aggressive are physical or psychological problems. Here you can often stop the aggressive behavior by eliminating the reason for the aggressive behavior.
Often these reasons have something to do with the husbandry of gerbils.
You should never keep gerbils alone. They need a partner in their enclosure to live out their natural social behavior.
If gerbils are kept alone, they cannot lead the life they instinctively want to lead. This leads to psychological problems in the gerbil. And these can then also manifest themselves in aggressive behavior.
In the same way, it is also not good if too many gerbils are kept in too small a space. It is cramped, they have no space to live out their active nature.
This can also cause gerbils to become aggressive. It is important to give gerbils enough space or keep the group size suitable for the space available.
Sometimes it also happens that a gerbil behaves aggressively within a group without any apparent reason. If this condition persists, it may be best to separate the aggressive gerbil from the group.
Nevertheless, you should not keep this gerbil alone either. If you proceed gently and carefully, you can try to accustom it to a new companion. Then you will have two groups of gerbils, but this could solve the problem with the aggressive.
Are Gerbils Aggressive Toward Other Gerbils?
You will see aggressive behavior mostly within the gerbil group. However, it is not a reason to worry in most cases.
It is part of the social behavior of gerbils to have a hierarchy within their group. To establish this hierarchy, gerbils fight with each other.
Normally these fights are not so violent that it leads to injuries or even death of a gerbil.
The situation is different when a new gerbil is introduced into an existing group. The new gerbil has an unfamiliar, foreign odor to the group members.
Gerbils have a very territorial behavior. They defend their territory against other animals, even against other, unknown gerbils.
In such cases, it may well come to more serious fights in which an animal is injured. It is also not impossible that a gerbil dies in such territorial fights.
Therefore, you should not introduce new gerbils into an existing group. It is generally possible to accustom the group to a new gerbil. However, this requires a lot of experience. You must be able to understand the gerbils’ body language and behavior and need a lot of patience.
Are Gerbils Aggressive Toward Other Animals?
We have already learned that gerbils have a very territorial behavior. They not only try to drive away foreign gerbils from their territory. They also defend their territory against other animals that invade it.
This, of course, has implications for whether gerbils can be kept with other pets. The simple answer is that they should not be kept with other pets. At least not in the same cage.
Gerbils just like to keep to themselves. You have to accept that as a pet owner.
This also applies to pets that look very similar to gerbils. Some people might think that gerbils could be kept together with mice or degus.
This is not the case. They should not even be together outside the cage. The animals would chase each other and probably bite each other to death.
Also, gerbils should not live together with hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, or chinchillas. While there are isolated cases of guinea pigs and gerbils accepting each other, there is no guarantee.
Are Gerbils Aggressive Toward Humans?
Gerbils do not normally attack humans. However, in certain cases, they may bite people.
If you try to pick up or lift a gerbil, it may try to bite you. You should be prepared for this. Do not, under any circumstances, simply let go of the gerbil if it bites you. It will hurt itself if it falls down.
To avoid being bitten, you might think of grabbing the gerbil by the tail and picking it up. Do not do that! This will cause the animal great pain and may injure it. A gerbil’s tail may even break off if you try to do this.
Likewise, if you try to manually separate two gerbils that have become entangled, you could be bitten. They will be agitated and would bite anything that gets in their way.
It is not a good idea to manually separate two gerbils that have bitten into each other anyway. Gerbils are very vulnerable and you can hurt them a lot in the process. It is better to try to separate them with a piece of cardboard, for example.
Do the Genders of Gerbils in a Group Influence Aggressiveness?
If you want to keep a group of gerbils, you should also pay attention to the composition of the genders.
It is possible to keep mixed-gender pairs of gerbils. But for this, the male should be neutered, because gerbils reproduce very extensively.
Gerbils have a gestation period of about 25 days and give birth to a litter of usually 4 to 7 young. Only 45 days after birth the female can be pregnant again.
So you see that your gerbil pair can very quickly become a very large gerbil family. You will not be able to keep all the young yourself. So you would have to think in advance about where you can accommodate the young animals.
So if the male cannot be neutered, it is better to keep same-gender pairs of gerbils. Experience shows that a couple of male gerbils live together more peacefully than a couple of female gerbils. But of course, there are exceptions, not all females are aggressive towards each other.
So gender does play a role in terms of aggressiveness, but not as big as with other pets. Nevertheless, the issue of gender should be kept in mind when acquiring gerbils. Less because of aggression problems, but more because of diligent reproduction.
What Is the Perfect Group Size for Gerbils?
One hears again and again that gerbils should live together in larger groups. But this is not the whole truth.
In the wild, it is actually the case that gerbils always live together in groups of two. They share a burrow, but otherwise, no other gerbils co-inhabit it. Even the litter stays with the parents only over the first winter and then builds up its own life.
So the natural group size for gerbils is two animals, one male, and one female. However, we have already explained above why this is problematic in pets.
Nevertheless, the ideal group size for gerbils is two animals, even if it is two males or two females.
Gerbils can behave aggressively. However, this is usually part of their normal social behavior.
They have a fixed ranking, which is determined by rank fights. They are also very territorial, so they defend their territory against intruders.
All this belongs to gerbils.
Aggressive behavior becomes problematic when it is caused by physical or psychological problems. Gerbils cannot live alone. And if a gerbil is kept alone after all, this can lead to psychological problems, which show themselves in aggressiveness.
Other animals in their territory can also lead to aggressive behavior. Gerbils would also defend their territory against other gerbils, as well as against other animal species.
Therefore, do not keep other animal species together with them. And it is also best not to try to integrate a new gerbil into an existing group.
If you take the tips in this article to heart, you should have no problems with aggressive gerbils. Except, of course, the aggressive behavior they naturally exhibit.