Gerbils are very small creatures that, frankly, don't look very threatening at all. Their soft fur and big dark eyes make them seem like a little critter that simply cause any harm. For the most part, that observation is correct! However, you're likely to hear about some owners getting bitten by their gerbils. This can be concerning to hear as a potential gerbil owner, so we're going to provide you with the most information possible about this topic.
Do Gerbils Bite?
Yes, gerbils do bite, although it isn't a very common occurrence. It's quite rare for a gerbil to bite their owner, and even rarer for them to have a consistent biting problem.
Despite popular belief, gerbils don't depend on their teeth and bite strength for protection. Instead, they rely on their smaller size and surprising speed for that! These creatures are used to running around from shelter to shelter, working to avoid conflict so that they never have to have a physical altercation.
This is quite the opposite of hamsters -- an animal that doesn't hesitate to bite anything and everything that comes near their mouth. So, if your gerbil has a biting problem, there's good chance that your gerbil is either very nervous or very sick.
If you've ruled out a scary environment and an unhealthy gerbil, then there are a few measures you can take to stop your gerbil from biting you. There's also steps you can take to avoid getting randomly bitten in the first place!
How To Avoid Getting Bitten By Your Gerbil
The best way to stop biting in your gerbil is to prevent it in the first place! There are a few things that you can do to make sure that your gerbil doesn't have a reason to bite you. Doing these things will give you a much better chance of avoiding your furry little friend drawing blood from your finger.
Move Slowly & Don't Disturb Your Gerbil
As stated, gerbils have survived for so long due to their wariness and ability to stay out of harm's way. Even when your gerbil is in the safety of your own home and you're the only living creature around them, sudden movements can cause them to become stressed or frightened and bite you in retaliation.
Reaching for your gerbil quickly, especially right after they've woken up, is a great way to frighten your gerbil and cause them to bite you. Also note that if you place your hand into your gerbil's tank and they actively avoid your hand, don't chase them around their tank. This will also stress them out and get them thinking "Can I please just get some peace and quiet around here?".
You'd be surprised at how well moving slowly and being respectful of your gerbil deters them from biting you.
Don't Be Restrictive When Holding Them
The previous tip applies for moments when you're trying to pick up your gerbil in the first place. But what about when you're already holding your gerbil? How do you get them to stop biting you then? Fortunately, it's also as easy as simply respecting your gerbil's space and desire for some kind of control.
A mistake that owners make is holding their gerbils too tightly in their hands. This results in a gerbil feeling trapped, and they don't like that feeling one bit. Don't squeeze your gerbil, and don't surround them with your hands. Both of these things can result in your gerbil biting you to try to escape.
Instead, what you'll want to do is hold your gerbil in a flat or slightly-cupped open hand. This may be a bit scary for you, as it may seem like your gerbil will fall or jump out of your hand and hurt themselves. Don't be afraid! Most gerbils will be able to judge the height from your hand to the floor and know not to jump down. If you're nervous, you can start by holding them a bit above a flat surface and work on holding them higher up as you gain confidence.
This hand positioning doesn't make the gerbil feel trapped, and it also makes your hand a lot harder for your gerbil to bite.
Give Them Time To Trust You!
It's already been stated a few times in this post, but it's worth saying again: Gerbils are cautious creatures. If you have just gotten your gerbil, then you need to give them adequate time and reason to trust you! If these small creatures let their guard down around every creature that they just came in contact with, they probably wouldn't be around for very long.
It's recommended that you take things slow with your new gerbil. Keep handling to a minimum, and instead let them become comfortable with their surroundings and your general presence. Make contact with them in their tank a little bit, but don't rush into handling them.
Over time, you'll start to notice your gerbil becoming more comfortable around you. They may even crawl onto your hand when you place it in their tank! If you go to grab your gerbil and they bite you, simply put them down and wait a little bit longer. All gerbils are different, so some may begin to trust you very quickly and others may take a substantial amount of time.
How To Stop Your Gerbil From Biting You
If your gerbil is currently biting you -- don't worry! There's a very good chance that there's an explanation for that behavior and a solution that you can utilize to stop it. If your gerbil's bad behavior has been going on for a while or if you just got your gerbil recently, improvements may take a little bit of time to see. It's important to be consistent with these measures and to not give up on trying, though.
Utilize Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement has proven time and time again to be the best way to train an animal to do what you want them to do. This is how you'll have the best chance of making your gerbil behave the way that you want it to.
Get some treats that your gerbil absolutely loves, and use those to begin the training. When you see your gerbil acting calm or behaving well, slip them a treat. You'll especially want to give them a treat when you're handling them and they don't bite you. This will help them associate good behavior with food, so they'll behave better.
This is a lot better than punishing your gerbil when they bite you, as punishment can actually make your gerbil fear you and behave worse in some cases. Never hit or yell at your gerbil, as these can make them extremely fearful. The extent of punishment that you should use is blowing a small amount of air into your gerbils face if they bite you. They will find this slightly unpleasant, but not necessarily scary.
Stop Handling Your Gerbil When It Bites You
As soon as your gerbil bites you, the best thing that you can do is to put them down calmly and quickly. This allows them to get off of your hand and helps them calm down quickly. Pulling away quickly or reacting unpredictably can actually scare your gerbil and cause them to bite you again.
After a bite, it's generally a good idea to let your gerbil decompress in their safe and secure tank. Most gerbils bite when stressed, so some alone time will help them to calm down and behave better later on when you handle them again.
Know That Some Gerbils Won't Stop Biting
An unfortunate reality is that some gerbils will simply never stop biting! All gerbils are different, and most are relatively docile and will never bite you when being handled. However, some gerbils have had a stressful past or currently have an attitude that results in them biting you.
Now, this isn't to say that you should give up on training your gerbil if they're a frequent biter. It's absolutely recommended that you keep promoting positive behavior and dealing with negative behavior appropriately. What this is saying, though, is that some gerbils will simply need to be held less than other gerbils.
If you have a gerbil that can't stand being held, that's okay! You can still get hours of entertainment out of watching your gerbil play around in their tank, and you may be able to sneak in some handling when they're worn out from a day of play.