Can Gerbils Eat Cheese?

Cheese is a food that a lot of us absolutely love to eat, while others can’t stand it. Regardless, it’s a food that contains great nutrients such as protein, calcium, riboflavin, zinc, phosphorous, vitamin A, and vitamin B12. Due to the fact that it’s a relatively cheap food that’s tasty and nutrient-rich, you may be wondering: Can gerbils eat cheese?

Due to a gerbil’s sensitive digestive system, you can feed your gerbil cheese in small amounts. An occasional piece of cheese could make for a tasty snack for a gerbil. However, more than that could result in mild to severe digestive problems that are otherwise easily avoided.

What Do Gerbils Eat In The Wild?

In order to better understand why cheese isn’t great for gerbils, it helps to know what they would eat in the wild. Gerbils only recently became an animal that’s kept as a pet, so for thousands of years, they roamed free throughout African, the Middle East, and Central Asia. During this time, they would frequently be exposed to the same kinds of food, so their digestive systems would change to better digest and process this food.

This is why it’s very important to match a gerbil’s diet to that which they would eat in the wild — it’s what their bodies are optimized for!

Gerbils are omnivores that primarily stick to a herbivore diet. This means that gerbils eat a large variety of different foods, but their circumstances would frequently have them eating a lot of plant matter. So, gerbils are able to get most of their essential nutrients through eating the proper mix of grains, fruits, and vegetables.

In the wild, gerbils would scavenge around for food and eat whatever they could find around them. The exact foods eaten vary by region, of course, but the same trends exist world-wide. Some of the most commonly eaten foods by gerbils are nuts, seeds, fruits, roots, grasses, bulbs, insects, and bird eggs. 

Why Isn’t Cheese The Best For Gerbils?

After analyzing what gerbils would normally eat in the wild, it’s quite clear why cheese isn’t the best for them. Gerbils primarily eat plant matter but occasionally eat animal products through insects and eggs. Therefore, they’re really not exposed to dairy a lot, meaning that their bodies are not used to digesting and processing it.

It’s frequently stated that gerbils are actually lactose intolerant, meaning that their bodies can’t fully digest the lactose present in dairy products. Now, this isn’t just true for gerbils — many small animals are lactose intolerant and should avoid dairy for the most part. So, this means that small amounts of cheese would be okay, but any more than that could cause intestinal distress.

On top of the fact that gerbils can’t successfully digest the lactose present in cheese, cheese simply isn’t good for gerbils. While it does contain a lot of vitamins, cheese can’t be thoroughly processed by gerbils, making it almost worthless for them to eat. Not only is it worthless, but it’s actually quite high in fat — especially for gerbils!

However, just because cheese isn’t the healthiest thing for gerbils, doesn’t mean that they don’t love it!

How To Properly Feed Your Gerbil Cheese

Many gerbil owners say very confidently that their gerbils absolutely love cheese. That’s not too different from how humans are – indulging in things that we know we shouldn’t. However, just because gerbils want the cheese doesn’t mean that you should constantly feed it to them.

When feeding your gerbil cheese, you need to do so in very small amounts. A tiny piece given once or twice a week won’t harm a gerbil, and it’s a nice way to diversify their diet. The cheese that you give your gerbil should be a fairly standard cheese, such as cheddar or Swiss. Cheeses with additives can be dangerous for gerbils, as it’s not guaranteed that they could digest said additives.

If you do opt to feed your gerbil cheese, you need to make sure that everything else that they’re eating is healthy. Seed blends are, by far, the best option for food for your gerbil. These blends (that should specifically say that they’re for gerbils) can contain a mixture of grains, pellets, and dehydrated vegetables.

Quality seed mixtures closely mimic what gerbils eat in the wild, which means that they’re getting most of the nutrients that they need to be happy and healthy. In addition to this mixture, certain vegetables can be fed once daily, and select fruits can also be fed less frequently.

Making sure that your gerbils meet their nutritional needs though a combination of different foods is one of the most important tasks of gerbil ownership. Once those needs are being met, tasty treats such as tiny pieces of cheese can be given to gerbils occasionally.

Healthy Cheese Alternatives For Gerbils

Although cheese isn’t the worst thing that you can give your gerbil, it certainly isn’t optimal. Gerbils are lactose intolerant and aren’t used to cheese, so it’s overall not a great snack. Fortunately, there are other foods out there that are healthy and safe for gerbils. Below, we’ve listed out a few of our favorites. Note that the vegetables should be fed once a day max, while the fruits can be fed 2-3 times a week.