A fat gerbil sure looks fluffy and adorable, but being overweight is not fun even for small animals since they lose some of their mobility capabilities and it can lead to other health issues.
Gerbils can get fat especially in captivity where food is abundant and the need to forage for it is minimal while in the wild a fat gerbil is a rare sight. A fat gerbil is not easy to notice for a new gerbil owner and it’s even harder to deal with if you have no experience with rodent pets.
How to spot a fat gerbil and how to make it lose weight are the key questions we’ll be answering in detail in this article so keep reading.
Can gerbils get fat?
Let us go back to the basic question can a gerbil get fat? Gerbils are animals that eat food like all other animals to survive, and every animal that eats food to grow is susceptible to getting fat if it consumes more than its needs.
Fat gerbils are very common especially when the owner is inexperienced with rodents. However, most gerbil owners aren’t really good at noticing it.
It’s fun to feed a gerbil and watch him gnaw on food that’s why it is unadvised to keep gerbils as pets for kids without supervision since one of the main problems is overfeeding them.
Why do gerbils get fat?
There are multiple reasons why gerbils get fat, some are very common like overfeeding and the lack of exercise, and some are relevant to rodents specifically.
Overfeeding a gerbil
Overfeeding your gerbil would certainly cause it to be overweight, gerbils love to hoard food and in the wild, they do so because they never know if they’ll find any the next day. This behavior is also observed in captivity and they’ll hoard food even if given food every day.
Knowing how much you should feed your gerbil is important so they get the nutrients they need and nothing more.
If a gerbil gathers a large stock of food he’ll start consuming more than he’s used to and keep doing it as long as his stock is full.
New gerbil owners need to know that a gerbil would never say “no thank you I’ve had enough” as long as you give him food he’ll keep eating it.
Watching a gerbil gnaw on food is fun but you need to feed it responsibly that’s why adult supervision is important when the pet owner is a child.
Gerbil not exercising enough
In the wild gerbils have to forage for food escape predators and dig tunnels, so they keep busy and have a mandatory daily exercise, however, in captivity, gerbils don’t really have to work for it so the only exercise they have is when playing around.
If the gerbil doesn’t have enough space and toys to run around climb and burn energy, he could gradually get fat.
Just like us if a gerbil eats too much and doesn’t move around as much to burn the extra fat he gets fat and the more weight he gains the harder it is for him to make move around and make an effort so the less he exercises and it goes on until he gets really overweight.
Making sure your pet gerbil is having enough room and toys and actually moving around is important, that’s why you always need to keep an eye on his daily activities to look for potential changes.
Low-quality seed mix
Gerbils feed on seeds in nature but fattening seeds like sunflowers are rare but in some low-quality gerbil foods they can have more than the normal amount of these seeds.
Another thing to know about gerbils is that they are picky eaters and would pick the fat seeds and leave the rest if given plenty.
Choosing a healthy seed mix for your gerbils is important to avoid gerbil obesity, and it would be even better to choose a pellet food that has no apparent seeds your gerbil could choose from.
The healthy food we use and recommend for gerbils is the Oxbow Garden Select Gerbils Food (check the price on Amazon) it’s surely not the cheapest but it only contains 5% treats and you can use the fat seeds as treats for other activities which is great for a healthy gerbil.
Dominant gerbils eat more
Most animals consider feeding as a survival race where the strongest only get the best and the most, that’s why dominant strong gerbils will eat first and more than the rest of the group potentially choosing the fat seeds and eating more of them.
Making sure each and every member of your gerbil group is having enough food is important to prevent the dominant gerbils from getting too fat and the weaker ones from getting fewer nutrients than they need.
This is not always the case for every group of gerbils but it has been noticed in some, so always know your gerbils and make sure they eat enough but not too much don’t just toss the food in their cage and leave.
How to tell if my gerbil is fat?
To be able to tell whether your gerbil is fat or not you need something to compare it to, experienced gerbil breeders, and long time gerbil owners can tell only by looking at it or holding it.
A new gerbil owner needs something more specific than holding it in his hand, so how can you tell if you have a fat gerbil.
What’s the normal weight for a gerbil?
In order to tell if your gerbil is overweight, you need to know the average weight of a regular healthy gerbil.
Male gerbils weigh around 65-100 grams (~2.30-3.5 oz) while female gerbils weigh 55 to 85 grams (~1.95-3 oz).
So should you get a scale to keep track of your gerbils’ weight? We would say you don’t have to but if you can it would be great especially that you only need small food scales that cost less than 5$.
Is your gerbil just fluffy?
Some gerbils do have fluffy fur that would make them appear larger than they actually are, but that is easily detectable when handling the gerbil.
If your gerbil is not heavier than normal but only looks larger and has fluffier fur than the other gerbils you don’t have to worry much.
Is your gerbil having difficulties moving around?
One of the most obvious ways to tell if a gerbil is fat is to observe his movements, and if he’s experiencing limitations in mobility then he’s certainly fat.
You can easily notice the difference in behavior and we’ve experienced the same thing with one of our gerbils who was used to climb over my leg up to my hand and then as he got fatter he would only make it to the knee level and give up.
Fat gerbils are not as tempted as a regular gerbil to climb over things or to produce any physical effort, they even don’t dig as deeper tunnels as they used to.
So you want to keep an eye on your gerbils for any lack of mobility or laziness it will help you notice any potential obesity problems.
Is your gerbil too big compared to the others?
A fat gerbil would be larger than the others, although some gerbils are naturally larger but a fat gerbil is easily detectable compared to regular ones.
You can also notice that their bellies are bloated even before feeding them so just keep track of how much they eat and if they’re picky eating fat seeds.
Is your gerbil overeating
You can tell a gerbil is overeating if he finishes his daily ratio way too early, and you can also see that the gerbil is not hoarding any food which they love doing when they get extra food.
If your gerbil is always looking for more and stealing food from other gerbils he’s probably overeating.
If your gerbil is finishing his food way too early compared to what he’s used to just a few weeks before then he’s overfeeding.
How to tell if a female gerbil is pregnant or fat
It’s not easy to tell if your female gerbil is pregnant, weight is the only way to tell, but that doesn’t help you much since you don’t know if she’s getting fatter or pregnant.
Pregnant gerbils only show at the late stages of pregnancy and you can tell by observing small movements in her little stomach but this can only be noticed a couple of days before it’s her due time.
The shape of the body becomes pear-shaped when the female is pregnant, while a fat gerbil will just take a ball-form where every part of the body gets larger.
So basically your only option with a female gerbil if you notice a constant increase in weight is to wait it out.
Pregnancies in gerbils take less than a month, and you don’t want to bother a pregnant gerbil anyway, so if after a month your female gerbil is still gaining weight she needs to get on the wheel.
Can a fat gerbil stay healthy?
Whenever we talk about obesity as a health issue the true danger isn’t obesity itself but the chorus of health issues related to it.
The question is do fat gerbils experience any health issues caused by obesity or are they just going to have some difficulties with mobility.
We went out of our way to look for valid studies that show any direct correlation between obesity and health issues in gerbils but we found none that are significant.
There were some studies were gerbils were used for medical experiments and showed that the consumption of a fat diet (in great quantities with no other nutrients) lead to adipose tissue inflammation, hepatic steatosis, and oxidative stress. But the conditions of these experiments were extreme and no gerbil is exposed to such conditions in the wild nor in captivity.
So, yes a fat gerbil can maintain an acceptable level of health and still enjoy his time with you.
How to prevent a gerbil from getting fat?
The best way to deal with a fat gerbil is preventing it from happening in the first place, we are the ones in control of their diet and their setup so we can make sure our gerbils maintain a healthy level weight.
The best way to prevent your gerbils from getting fat is to:
- Feed them a healthy diet, your food mix or pellets need to be diversified and of good quality.
- Avoid sunflower seeds and fat seeds and only use them as treats occasionally.
- Make sure your gerbils are not picky eating the fat-rich seeds and leaving the rest.
- Don’t give your gerbils free access to food all the time and respect the daily ratio.
- Keep an eye on your gerbils’ weight and make changes when you notice any sudden increase.
- make sure your gerbils have access to toys and enough room to play and run around.
- Make sure the strongest gerbils aren’t eating too much and taking other gerbils food.
Food you should not give to a fat gerbil
Fatty seeds like sunflower seeds and linseed are gerbils’ favorites, they also like millet but all of these seeds contain large quantities of fat and will make your gerbil overweight.
These seeds are great as treats but if given with other foods gerbils will choose them to the detriment of other foods so it is up to you to regulate their diet and only use these as treats.Sunflower seeds nutrients:
|Total fat, which includes:||14 grams|
|• Saturated fat||1.5 grams|
|• Polyunsaturated fat||9.2 grams|
|• Monounsaturated fat||2.7 grams|
|Vitamin E||37% of the RDI|
|Niacin||10% of the RDI|
|Vitamin B6||11% of the RDI|
|Folate||17% of the RDI|
|Pantothenic acid||20% of the RDI|
|Iron||6% of the RDI|
|Magnesium||9% of the RDI|
|Zinc||10% of the RDI|
|Copper||26% of the RDI|
|Manganese||30% of the RDI|
|Selenium||32% of the RDI|
How to make a fat gerbil lose weight?
There are only two ways to make a gerbil lose weight, going on a healthy diet and exercising, if done correctly you can regulate your gerbil’s weight back to normal again.
How to get a gerbil on a diet?
You can’t just stop feeding your gerbil or feed him considerably less than he needs to function, instead, you need to work on the quality of his diet.
Remove all fattening foods from his diet, treats should no longer be used only fruits like bananas that are low on fat, and sunflower seeds are forbidden at least until your gerbil’s weight is back to normal.
Change the mix you feed your gerbil if you notice any picky eating, and better if you feed mixed pellets where he can’t actually choose.
Hint: Don’t suddenly change your gerbil’s food instead do it gradually one 1/4 at a time to avoid any digestion issues as they are very sensitive to food change.
How to get a gerbil to exercise?
Exercise is what a fat gerbil needs the most, but as we’ve said before overweight gerbils tend to experience mobility difficulties. So how can you make a fat gerbils exercise?
You simply need to provide enough space and plenty of toys for him to climb and play around with.
A gerbil running wheel is a great way to make sure your fat gerbil is exercising enough, just make sure you get the right one for your gerbil.
The running wheel we recommend for gerbils is the wire one, avoid plastic at all costs since they will chew through it and might cause them to die.
This one on the picture is perfect for gerbils, especially that their tails can get caught in bigger wheels and can easily get injured.
This one is cheap and people have had it for years and it’s still going, you just might want to put some oil on the joint part to prevent any squeaking sounds.
What is the best exercise for a fat gerbil?
I would say that the running wheel is the best and most efficient exercising method for a gerbil since they really burn those calories and enjoy themselves while doing it.
So, if you can get your gerbil to exercise on a running wheel it would be best, but still, you need to install some other toys for them to climb and jump on.
Also, consider taking your gerbil out of his cage every once in a while and let it run free in a controllable environment.
What we recommend is using a rodent playpen, and yes, it’s not only for dogs, you can install one and have a large controllable environment for your gerbils to run around freely in a substantially larger play area and you can install whatever toy setups you want, you can really get creative with it just using tubes and blocks the limit is your imagination.
The playpen we recommend is the wire Tespo Pet Playpen (check price on Amazon) it’s solid and large enough and could be placed however you need since it’s made with panels and gerbils can’t chew through it.
What other toys could you use to make a fat gerbil lose weight?
The running wheel is sure great and installing a playpen is even better, but there are other ways to make the most of a playpen by installing some toys gerbils love, these toys will incite your gerbils into exercising more and therefore losing more weight.
Climbing frames and hanging bridges are a nice way to get your gerbil’s attention and a good tunnel system would be even better since gerbils love tunnels anyway.
You can make your own tunnels and creative with it using free disposable materials you can find at home. It’s much more fulfilling to see your gerbil playing in a setup you’ve made yourself just make sure you avoid any materials that gerbil could chew and would be harmful like cheap plastic.
Why is only one of my gerbils is fat?
Each gerbil is unique and some will be naturally fatter than others, in fact, this is very common even among siblings. But sometimes it could be related to the fact that they have different feeding habits.
Some gerbils would eat more than others, but as long as they’re not eating too much or showing signs of laziness and difficulties in mobility it’s fine to have a gerbil that is larger than the others.
In other cases, as we’ve explained earlier some dominant gerbils could get greedy in food and get the best seeds making them fatter and potentially growing faster than the other gerbils.
Some new gerbils owners are not aware that male gerbils are larger than females so you need to take this into consideration, and sometimes it’s just a fluffier fur that would make one of your gerbils look larger.
Can an overweight problem cause a fat gerbil to die younger?
The average lifespan of a healthy gerbil is around two to five years at most but in most cases, even a well taken care of gerbil would die on average at three years old.
We’ve had many gerbils over the years and some gotten ill(even in the best conditions gerbils can get sick) and died earlier but, the longest they’ve lived is four years and a few months, including some fat gerbils.
Being fat didn’t seem to have any effects on our gerbils’ lifespan and it’s simply because they don’t live that long to get to a level of obesity that would cause them to die.
Unless you deliberately feed your gerbil unhealthy fat food in large quantities and turn it into a furball, they’ll probably never die of obesity.
All in all, gerbils are pets with a fairly short lifespan, so unless they get ill they’ll probably die at the age of three and mostly for natural causes, so just make sure to provide yours with the best possible life as long as he’s there for you and enjoy his company.
Healthy treats for gerbils
- Apples (without seeds)
- Almonds (not bitter almonds)
- Green beans