Hibernation is often associated with rodents which are considered deep hibernators because they enter a phase characterized by low body temperature, slow breathing and heart rate, and low metabolic rate.
This phase often occurs during winter months when sufficient food is unavailable to conserve energy, and prior to hibernation, animals need to store enough energy to last through the duration of their dormant period, possibly as long as an entire winter.
Do gerbils hibernate? No, gerbils unlike most rodents do not hibernate, during winter months their bodies maintain a normal level of body temperature, heart rate, and metabolic rate. Instead of stacking energy, gerbils hoard food packing away a massive reserve of food, and bunker down in their burrows that provide shelter and safety from the cold.
However, in some cases of despair especially when the temperature is too cold and they don’t have a warm refuge and little to no food some gerbils might go into a state of lethargy, but this case is mostly observed in captivity.
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Why don’t gerbils hibernate?
Unlike most rodents, gerbils’ natural environment is the desert where they are able to build very sophisticated and complex underground burrows that could stretch for miles, these well built-burrows have different levels of temperature.
The shallow ones are cool and provide instant relief from the burning sun in the desert while inside the deepest levels they’re well insulated from the frozen ground above, the cozy nests provide added warmth allowing the gerbils to stay in regular condition all year long while on the surface the weather changes radically.
Gerbils are renowned hoarders, during the warm season they hunt and gather food for the cold months, they shuttle in and out of their subterranean retreats to stock supplies, packing amazingly large reserves of food.
Food stores as large as 1 meter high and 3 meters across have been observed which is very large for a small rodent.
Abundant food and the warmth of their burrows allows gerbils to stay relatively active during the cold season even if they don’t venture outside.
These factors make the low body temperature, slow breathing, heart-rate, and low metabolic rate pointless for gerbils, and this is why gerbils do not hibernate.
Do gerbils hibernate in extreme conditions?
There have been some reports about gerbils going into a hibernation state to survive extreme conditions of cold, these cases are all observed in captivity but, when you look into them it’s not really a hibernation but rather a lethargic state to preserve energy.
In the wild, gerbils are not subjected to cold weather since they’re always in their burrows, but in captivity, if they are not given a proper setup with enough space and material to make their burrows and are subjected to the cold climate and lack of food, they tend to get lazy and in the worst cases go into a comatose-like state.
Many new gerbil owners get confused and think their gerbils are dead while they’re actually in a lethargic state that allows them to preserve energy.
However, even in the lethargic state gerbils can’t be considered hibernators since the body changes associated with hibernation are absent.
How to prevent gerbils from going into hibernation (lethargic state)?
Like we’ve explained earlier the reason gerbils go into a lethargic state is the lack of food and cold weather, so basically all you have to do to prevent such a condition is to provide enough food and warmth.
The gerbil’s body is not equipped to deal with very low temperatures, they do not have slow metabolic rates and can not regulate their body temperature and slow their heart rate and breathing.
The only way a gerbil’s body adapts is by preserving energy and reducing activity to the minimum, they rely more on their environment than their bodies.
So maintaining relatively similar environmental conditions to the ones in the wild is the best way to prevent gerbils from comatose stats.
How do gerbils preserve body heat in the cold?
The most effective way for gerbils to keep their bodies warm in the cold is their burrows, they play a huge role in regulating their temperature, the deeper you go the warmer it gets.
Their cozy nests inside the burrows provide additional warmth keeping them safe from the freezing weather above.
Gerbils live in groups and there are good reasons for that, one of them is keeping their bodies warm in the cold season.
Gerbils often sleep in piles one on top of the other to stay warm and the ones in the top switch places inside the pile to get enough warmth in small cycles.
How to keep your gerbils warm in the cold?
Like we’ve seen gerbils in the wild rely on their burrows and each other to keep warm, but as pets, it is your responsibility to make sure they stay safe.
Replicating their natural environment would be the best way to do it, so you have to provide a deep enough tank with material to make solid and deep burrows to keep them warm.
Having multiple gerbils in the tank is the best option, they are social pets that live in groups and they sleep in piles and that’s very important to get through the cold season.
Placing the gerbilarium in a warm spot is also necessary, and this is a common mistake made by new gerbil owners, it needs to be away from doors and windows, gerbils do not smell so you do not have to worry about that.
If your home is way too cold in the winter you need to consider other options to maintain their environment warm enough and prevent them from going into a lethargic state.
What are the optimal temperatures for gerbils?
The perfect temperatures for gerbils are between 65 and 75 degrees ( 18 and 24 Celsius), at these temperatures gerbils are most active and happy anything below 55 degrees (12 C) is just too cold for them and laziness is observed.
The more the temperatures drop the less active gerbils become, and the more food they consume as they always assume it only going to get colder and they stack energy.
Bellow certain degrees gerbils start sleeping for longer and longer periods until they reach a comatose-like state in which they’ll become unresponsive.
Heating pads can be used if it gets too cold in your place, they are commonly used for other pets but they work great for gerbils you can check out this pad at Amazon.
The best setup for keeping gerbils warm
Gerbils rely mainly on burrows and they need to be in groups at least in pairs since they need more space than most small rodents, so your best option is to get a deep cage allowing the gerbil to make deep enough burrows.
Gerbil cages are the hardest to find and most new gerbil owners make the mistake of buying those small colorful cages you find at pet stores which are not gerbil cages.
Another criterion when choosing the gerbil cage is avoiding all plastic items and toys since gerbils tend to gnaw a lot on anything they can get their teeth on so it could be dangerous for them, instead use metal or wooden toys.
The cage we recommend is the Prevue Gerbil Cage (check the current price at Amazon) it comes with a 6″ deep base and it is large enough for two to three gerbils, it is also safe and easy to move around.
We also recommend the Prevue wire training wheel (check the current price on Amazon) it’s perfect for gerbils, especially that their tails can get caught in bigger wheels and can easily get injured.
Using a good quality bedding that holds its form will make it easier for your gerbil to maintain nice and cozy burrows the one we recommend is the Carefresh Small Pet Bedding (check the current price on Amazon) We’ve had better results when we mixed it with a handful or two of aspen and hey, so you might want to give it a try yourself.
Is my gerbil dead or hibernating?
It is hard to tell especially for newbies if the gerbil is in a lethargic state or is he dead, gerbils in extreme cases become unresponsive to outside stimuli and would appear dead.
The best way to check if your gerbil is in prolonged sleep due to the cold or is he dead is by warming his body, it is usually enough to wake them up if they were in a lethargic state but would take longer if they’ve been exposed to the cold for extended periods.
An easy and quick way to tell if the gerbil is “hibernating” is by the look and feel of its body if it’s stiff and hard and solid when you touch it then the poor little guy is probably dead. You should however warm their body and give it enough time before doing anything.
How to wake up a gerbil from “hibernation”?
It would be best to prevent your gerbils from going to a comatose-like state in the first place by making sure the temperatures are within what they can tolerate.
But if they do get to the point of hibernation then they are consuming their body energy to survive and they need to be taken care of as soon as possible.
The quickest and most effective way to wake the gerbil from a hibernation-like state is to warm his body, since they are in prolonged sleep and not hibernating it is fairly easy to wake them up once exposed to warmth.
If they do not wake up or you notice any unusual behavior spasms or disorientation after they wake up it would be better to see the vet.
Do gerbils hibernate? Conclusion
Gerbils are not hibernator animals and are not very tolerant of extremely cold weather, in the wild their burrows provide shelter and warmth in the cold season, so, you have to provide the same conditions in their cage.
Always make sure they have a deep enough cage to build their burrows and use good quality bedding and place the cage in a warm spot away from windows.
If you maintain the cage temperatures within the normal range they would never have to go into hibernation or a comatose-like state.References