Many people know that gerbils and mice are related to some degree. And probably even more people know that mice have a varied diet that includes animal foods. But what about gerbils? Are gerbils omnivores?
Gerbils are omnivores. While they feed primarily on plant products, they do not disdain insects. In fact, these animal proteins are important for a balanced diet. If they do not get them, deficiency symptoms can occur. The most important source of protein for gerbils is insects.
Now let’s take a closer look at animal foods for gerbils. But before that, we would like to clarify what kind of food their wild relatives usually have.
We will also discuss whether gerbils absolutely need animal proteins and which animal proteins are suitable for gerbils. After that, we would like to clarify if there are alternative protein sources for gerbils.
Finally, we take care of the special protein sources milk and egg, and answer the question if gerbils are allowed to eat dairy products or eggs.
What Do Gerbils Eat in the Wild?
In the wild, gerbils are omnivores and eat both plant and animal foods. They feed primarily on dry grasses, grass seeds, herb seeds, herbs, and various roots of steppe plants.
However, they do not spurn insects either. They take what they can get. Worms, as well as small beetles, larvae, and grasshoppers, are on their menu.
Their digestion is therefore designed for a rather meager diet. You should also keep this in mind if you keep gerbils as pets.
Give them a balanced, but low-fat diet. Otherwise, your gerbils could become overweight.
Do Gerbils Need to Eat Animal Protein?
Gerbils should eat animal protein regularly for several reasons.
On the one hand, they are not vegetarians, their digestive system is designed to eat animal food as well. On the other hand, it is also simply that they like it.
They love to hunt and catch insects. This not only enhances their natural instincts but also gives them the nutrients they need.
In fact, the most important reason gerbils need animal protein is to provide them with important nutrients to prevent deficiencies. It is not only their digestive system that is designed for animal food but also the nutrients they need can be obtained from it.
You can replace these animal proteins to some extent with other foods, but the natural lifestyle of gerbils includes the consumption of insects.
What Animal Food Can Gerbils Have?
You can feed your gerbils with a wide variety of animal proteins. It does not matter much whether you feed live or dry food.
Live food has the advantage for the gerbils that they can follow their natural hunting instinct and thus maintain a natural behavior. But dry food also works as a pure food source.
But which animal proteins are recommended for gerbils? In the following list, we show you the most important options together with further tips on what to look out for if necessary.
- Cat treats: without added taurine, very little
- Cheese: only very mild types like young Gouda, without mold, feed only rarely
- Cottage cheese: low-salt from the health food store, preferably lactose-free
- Cricket: preferably live, but also dried
- Curd cheese: lean curd cheese, no cream curd cheese, can lead to diarrhea in large quantities
- Dog biscuits: sugar-free, 22 % crude protein and 4 – 5 % crude fat
- Eggs: read below for important details
- Fruit yogurt: no sugary or sweetened varieties, only homemade and preferably lactose-free
- Gammarus: dried or fresh
- Mealworms: are very fatty (~40%), only 2 – 4 a week per animal
- Shrimps: untreated, dried or fresh
- Skim milk yogurt: can cause diarrhea in large quantities, choose lactose-free varieties
- Zophobas: are very fatty (~40%), give rarely
Are there Alternative Protein Sources for Gerbils?
If you do not want to give your gerbils animal foods, there are alternatives. However, you should know that these alternatives cannot completely replace the nutrients that gerbils would take in through their animal food.
So, if possible, you should treat your gerbils to the animal proteins they need for their health and well-being. Gerbils are omnivores and cannot escape their fate either. They are adapted to eat animal proteins.
However, if for some reason it is impossible for you, you can choose tofu and similar products as a protein source. However, it would be best if you give the tofu only as a supplement or as a substitute for part of the animal meals.
Giving pure soy as a substitute for animal protein is not a convincing idea. The proteins in soy are not quite the same as animal proteins in terms of their structure.
Therefore, it is not conclusively known whether gerbils tolerate these proteins as well as animal proteins. And above all, whether they can meet their nutritional requirements just as well.
So you see, there are many good reasons to actually give gerbils animal proteins and thus provide them with their natural diet.
Can Gerbils Drink Milk?
Almost all mammals have lactose intolerance. They can only break down and digest lactose in very small amounts after weaning. This also applies to gerbils.
If they consume a lot of lactose, it causes them to have diarrhea and bloat. Therefore, normal milk, cream, and canned milk are taboo.
Lactose is also present in low-fat curd cheese, cottage cheese, and also skim milk yogurt, but only in small amounts. They tolerate these products quite well.
The Bifidus bacteria contained in them break down lactose, so the lactose contained in them has already been broken down to a large extent and the bacteria help to digest these dairy products.
So, in small quantities, these products even have a positive effect on digestion due to the bacteria. Since yogurt is relatively low in fat compared to insects and other protein foods, it is a good alternative, especially for overweight gerbils.
Therefore, you can definitely use skim milk yogurt as a protein source. However, you should not give more than one level teaspoon per week. And you should still choose the lactose-free option if possible.
Can Gerbils Eat Eggs?
Gerbils can eat eggs, but be sure to take certain precautions. You should only feed hard-boiled eggs to gerbils, and only after they have cooled. You can give them both yolks and whites.
Cut the eggs into fingernail-sized pieces and give them to your gerbils. However, you should give them eggs no more than once a week.
A very important point is that you must make sure that the egg is not bunkered! The egg can spoil quickly and is then unhealthy for your gerbils.
Conclusion: Are Gerbils Omnivores?
So gerbils are indeed omnivores. They need a balanced diet not only their plant food, which consists mainly of grasses and seeds.
They also need animal protein. This is important to prevent deficiency symptoms.
Gerbils get their animal protein mainly from insects such as grasshoppers, worms, larvae or beetles. However, there are also other sources that gerbils can tolerate.
A vegetable substitute for animal proteins can be given by tofu. However, it is not certain that gerbils can handle this as well. And it is also not clear whether they can absorb the required nutrients from it just as well.
Two rather unusual but partially possible protein sources for gerbils are dairy products and eggs. With both, however, you have to be very careful and follow the rules mentioned above.
As long as you follow the points we have listed in this article, your gerbils should get a good and balanced omnivorous diet.