Are Gerbils Cuddly Pets? (Tips to Bond With Your Gerbils)

Most people buy pets because of their cuddly and cute look. The gerbil is such a pet rodent that looks cute and is fun to watch. But not all pet rodents like being cuddled and some even dislike it. So, what about gerbils? Are gerbils cuddly pets?

Gerbils aren’t cuddly pets, but they do show affection in other ways. A gerbil is a very active (sometimes even hyperactive) pet that can’t stay still for a long time. They would rather explore their surroundings and run around instead of being cuddled. Only some gerbils will like to be cuddled.

If you’re looking for a cuddly pet, you should look for a more suitable pet like a dog or a guinea pig. Gerbils are friendly pets, but they’re too active to stay still for a long time. Instead of long cuddles, they like brief contacts (scratches behind the ears or pets on the head).

In this article, you’ll learn how gerbils show their affection and how you can bond with your gerbils so they get used to some basic forms of affection. You’ll also learn why it’s possible that your gerbil doesn’t like to be pet or held and what you can do about it.

How Do Gerbils Show Affection?

Gerbils show affection towards each other in different ways. They will groom each other and cuddle together when they sleep. Gerbils also like to play (wrestling and boxing). Towards humans, gerbils will mostly show their affection by letting them be pet, be held, or (in some cases) be cuddled.

Are Gerbils Affectionate Pets?

Gerbils are affectionate pets that show affection towards other gerbils and humans. You can show affection by petting, holding, or cuddling your gerbil. Most gerbils will like a basic form of affection, like being pet or held. You can even cuddle some gerbils, but only for a short time.

Do gerbils like being pet?

Most gerbils can be pet and like it. Petting an animal is one of the most basic forms of close contact attention that you can have. Gerbils are small pets and it’s best to be very gentle when petting or stroking your gerbil’s head and body. You can also scratch your gerbil behind its ears. 

Do gerbils like being held?

Gerbils can be held when they trust you. Let your gerbil come to you and wait until it’s in your palms. Don’t squeeze your gerbil and be gentle when you handle it. Gerbils are very active creatures and won’t like to be held for a long time. They would rather explore their surroundings.

Do gerbils like being cuddled?

Gerbils usually don’t like to be cuddled. Cuddling involves very close contact and most gerbils won’t like it. They’ve got no chance to run away and a cuddle can also feel like a tight squeeze for a gerbil. Never force your gerbil to cuddle and only do it when your gerbil allows it.

How To Get Your Gerbil To Like You?

Males are more friendly than females

Anecdotal evidence (for example on this gerbil forum) suggests that male gerbils are friendlier than female gerbils. They also seem to be more affectionate towards their owners and build a bond faster. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t handle female gerbils. But it can be easier to bond with males.

Build a strong bond with your gerbils

Bonding with a gerbil doesn’t happen overnight. It is a slow process that involves getting your gerbil to trust you. Below you can find the necessary steps in bonding with your gerbils (for a full guide, please read our article about getting a bond with your gerbils).

Never cuddle a gerbil on the first contact and always make sure that it is comfortable with being pet, held, or cuddled. If you notice that it feels scared or uncomfortable, you should place it back in the cage.

Each step has to be repeated several times (at least five times before proceeding to the next stage). Don’t forget that gerbils are small pets and that you are much bigger than them. From a gerbil’s perspective, it can be very scary to be handled by a human. With time and effort, you can bond with your gerbil and handle it.

Step 1

The first step in the process is to get your gerbil used to you. Sit each day near the gerbil cage for several minutes and talk to them. Watch how they react to your presence and if they’re curious or scared.

Step 2

The next step is hanging your hand in the gerbil cage for a few minutes. Don’t try to grab a gerbil, but let them sniff and explore your hand. 

Step 3

If your gerbils aren’t afraid of your hands, you can take the third step in creating a bond with your gerbils. Give a small treat to your gerbils by hand. You can also put a treat in the middle of your palm and see if they crawl on your hand. Again, don’t try to take your gerbil outside the cage with a first success.

Step 4

When your gerbils are used to getting towards your open hand and gladly crawl on it, you can try to pet it with your other hand. Most gerbils also love being scratched behind their ears.

Step 5

A gerbil that is comfortable with being on your hand and being pet, can be gently taken out of the cage. Use both hands to carry your gerbil outside the cage. 

Make sure that your gerbil can’t fall, so sit down while handling. There’s a high chance that your gerbil will want to explore their surroundings and won’t stay still for a long time. So, only handle in a gerbil-proof room with no possibility of escaping.

Step 6

When your gerbil is used to being handled you can try to cuddle your gerbil. Never squeeze your gerbil too tight. And be aware that most gerbils won’t like being cuddled. But perhaps, with enough bonding and a really affectionate gerbil, you can give it a nice cuddle.

Keep your gerbils happy

One of the keys to bonding with a gerbil is keeping it happy. You should make sure that your gerbil has a comfortable and exciting life. 

There are several things you can do to provide such a life:

  • keep gerbils in a group: gerbils are social pets and need to be held in a pair or small group. A single gerbil will, in most cases, become sad and depressed.
  • provide a large enough cage: gerbils love to run around, forage and dig in a deep layer of bedding. It means that you have to get a large enough cage with plenty of room to keep your gerbils busy.
  • give plenty of toys and exercise: not only do gerbils need to be kept in a large cage, but they will also love chewing and playing with all kinds of toys. Provide an exercise or running wheel to allow them to run at their own pace.
  • provide playtime outside of the cage: gerbils are very curious and will love to spend time outside the cage. Let your gerbils play outside their cage in a special playpen (or hamster ball). 

Reasons Why Your Gerbil Doesn’t Like Affection

Gerbils are social pets and typically show a lot of affection towards their gerbil friends and humans they trust. However, there are some reasons why your gerbil might not show (a lot of) affection towards you.

Bad experience with humans

Perhaps the most common reason why a gerbil doesn’t like to get pet or held by humans is that they have previous bad experiences with humans.

If a breeder or previous owner mistreated a (baby) gerbil, it’s no wonder that it doesn’t trust humans. It will usually not come freely to humans and can even run away and hide when you try to go near.

The only thing you can do is try and get the mistreated gerbil to gain its trust back in humans. Being friendly towards the other gerbils will go a long way in showing that you pose no danger. 

Also, try to get the mistreated gerbil to show interest in you by sitting near the cage and slowly trying to give a treat with your hands.

Asocial gerbil

Just like humans, gerbils also have their personalities. Some are affectionate, and others not. In most cases, gerbils will at least allow some basic form of affection (like being pet or scratched behind the ears).

If you’ve got an asocial gerbil, it can show asocial behavior towards you. Your gerbil won’t like being pet or held and certainly won’t like being cuddled.

There’s little you can do about this if it’s the personality of your gerbil. You could try to take more time to bond with it. But the chances are high that the furthest you can go is hand-feed a treat to it.

Health issues

When your gerbil is sick and doesn’t feel well, it won’t like being pet or held. Such behavior is expected. Humans that don’t feel well also won’t like a lot of close affection.

Closely watch your gerbil for signs of health issues. If you notice any symptoms that can indicate health problems, seek the help of an experienced vet. The most common symptoms are lethargy, diarrhea, runny eyes, fur loss, and weight loss. 

Want to Learn More?

If you’re interested in learning more about gerbils as pets, please read the following articles:

If you’re interested in getting gerbils as pets you should also definitely read our beginner’s guide to keeping gerbils as pets and our gerbil care guide.

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