Are Gerbils Cannibals? (11 Surprising Reasons)

Cannibalism is a horrible idea for us humans. In the animal world, however, it occurs more often than one might think. But not in gerbils? When you look at these cute little fellows, you can’t imagine that they could be cannibals. Or could they?

Are gerbils cannibals? Gerbils can be cannibals. They have this in common with most small mammals. There are several reasons for cannibalism in gerbils, but it usually happens when food or water is scarce or there are problems with their litter.

So gerbils can actually be cannibals for a variety of reasons. We will take a closer look at the reasons for cannibalism among gerbils below. After that, we will also discuss how to prevent cannibalism in your gerbils.

We will then talk about whether gerbils will also eat their conspecifics as carrion after they have died. And we’ll eventually look at what other species are cannibals.

Why Are Gerbils Cannibals?

Cannibalism occurs in the animal world for various reasons. It is the same with gerbils.

Even though they can be aggressive to some extent, gerbils do not become cannibals without reason. Something usually has to happen for them to attack and eat their conspecifics.

Mostly this has to do with the food or water situation. If a gerbil is afraid of its survival because food or water is scarce, it may try to get its needed proteins by eating another gerbil.

A mother gerbil may also become cannibalistic after giving birth to her litter because she feels that not all of her cubs can survive on the supplies available.

She will then kill the weakest cubs in the litter to give the other cubs a higher chance of survival. And maybe she will even eat the killed cubs.

This can also happen if there are sick or deformed animals among the young. Since these would probably not survive in the wild, the mother saves the energy she would waste on these young and kills them.

There are also several other reasons why gerbils can become cannibals. Many of these reasons are somehow related to offspring. The most common reasons for cannibalism are:

  • Food or water is too scarce
  • The litter is too large to be completely carried through
  • There are sick or deformed cubs
  • Too many adults are housed together
  • A new adult joins an existing group
  • The young mother is disturbed or stressed after giving birth
  • The father remains in the cage for more than a week after birth
  • A human touches a young animal that is less than 10 days old
  • The nesting material is not adequate
  • Lack of privacy or too much stress
  • Negative environmental influences

Are Fights of My Gerbils Signs of Cannibalism?

Fighting gerbils are usually not a sign of cannibalism. Fighting is part of the normal social behavior of gerbils.

Even though gerbils are very social animals that should never be kept alone, they are also very territorial animals. They defend their territory against any intruder, even against foreign gerbils.

Within a group, there is a fixed hierarchy, with high-ranking animals and animals that are subordinate. This ranking is also determined by fights.

If a foreign gerbil is placed in the territory of an existing group, it is not simply accepted by the gerbils living there. It smells wrong and is therefore fought.

Even if the gerbils are open to the foreign gerbil, the new animal must subordinate itself and must first fight for its rank within the pack.

However, it is not advisable to give a new animal just like that into an existing group. Often this leads to severe rank fights and in the worst case even to the death of an animal.

How Can I Prevent My Gerbils From Becoming Cannibals?

If a mother gerbil has begun cannibalism, it is likely that she will kill and eat her entire litter. At that moment, it is difficult to stop her.

The best thing you can do is make sure she has a stress-free and private environment to give birth to her litter and raise her young.

It is also very important that you remove the male from the cage no later than the days following the birth. To be on the safe side, you should relocate the male at the time of birth.

Do not, under any circumstances, place the pregnant female in another cage. Not even after the birth. It must always be the male that gets a new home.

A few more helpful things you can do to prevent cannibalism can be found in the following list:

  • Provide the female with something to nest and hide in.
  • Give the mother plenty of food and water
  • Do not touch the mother or babies for at least the first 10 to 14 days after birth
  • Do not clean the cage for at least the first 7 days after birth
  • Remove dead or deformed kittens from the cage immediately
  • Do not introduce new gerbils into an existing group
  • Avoid bedding of cedar chips or sawdust in the cage
  • Completely cover any wire flooring that may be present in the cage

These tips may not prevent all causes of cannibalism among gerbils, but they will at least prevent the most common causes.

It is still possible for cannibalism to happen. In that case, it is best to remove the cannibalistic animal from the group if you can figure out which animal it is. It can otherwise easily lead to further cannibalistic attacks.

Are Gerbils Scavengers Towards Their Conspecifics?

Gerbils may actually act as scavengers towards their conspecifics. Many gerbil owners report that when one of their gerbils died in the cage, it was nibbled or partially eaten.

However, this is nothing to be concerned about. In fact, this behavior is appropriate for the species. Even wild gerbils would sometimes eat deceased conspecifics.

This is also because while gerbils are social animals and absolutely need to live in a group, they do not form emotional relationships with the other animals in the group like we humans do.

When another animal is deceased, gerbils see it more as a source of protein and less as a deceased comrade. And since foraging is the most important issue with most animals, an easily obtainable protein source is a cause for celebration for gerbils.

So to avoid such behavior, remove deceased gerbils from the cage as soon as possible. Of course, it is not always possible to witness the passing away faster than the other gerbils.

Therefore, you should also be comfortable with the idea that the sight of a nibbled dead gerbil is within the realm of possibility.

What Other Animals Are Cannibals?

Cannibalism occurs in many animals. Especially in small mammals, it is almost a common behavior. Therefore, it is not surprising that the following small rodents can all be cannibals:

  • Gerbils
  • Hamsters
  • Guinea pigs
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Rabbits

But there are also other cannibalistic animals. Some of them you may already know are cannibalistic. For others, it is quite surprising. Here is a selection of animals that may be cannibalistic:

  • Spiders
  • Snakes
  • Prairie dogs
  • Freshwater shrimp
  • Chimpanzees
  • Praying mantises
  • Pigs
  • Hedgehogs
  • Sand tiger sharks
  • Ladybugs
  • Frogs
  • Chickens
  • Tiger salamander
  • North American red squirrels
  • Earwigs
  • Hippos

Quite a long and varied list, isn’t it? Would you have thought that chimpanzees could be cannibals? Or ladybugs? There are always surprises when you delve into the incredibly interesting world of animals.


So gerbils can be cannibals. However, they are not without reason. Usually, it has something to do with food supply or offspring when gerbils become cannibals.

Therefore, it is important to know the reasons for cannibalism among gerbils. This way you can eliminate most of these reasons. And this is how you can prevent cannibalism from occurring.

This way your gerbils can live a peaceful and happy life. And you will have much more fun with them if your gerbils don’t have cannibalistic moments.