Are Gerbils Illegal in California? (Legality of Gerbils)

If you’re interested in getting a gerbil as a pet, you want to ensure that a gerbil is legal to keep where you live. The State of California, for example, has strict policies and restricts ownership of a lot of pocket pets. So, are gerbils illegal in California?

Gerbils are illegal pets in California. The legislation protects agriculture and the ecosystem. The natural habitat of gerbils is similar to the environment in California. There is a risk that escaped or abandoned gerbils could reproduce and damage the Californian environment.

The Californian state regulation contains a few exceptions that non-native rodents can’t be kept as legal pets. So domesticated species of the chinchilla and the guinea pig can, for example, be kept. But no such exception exists for gerbils!

Why are gerbils illegal to keep as pets in California? And what is the reasoning behind allowing exceptions of guinea pigs and hamsters but not for gerbils?

In this article, you’ll learn why gerbils are illegal pets in California and if there’s a remote chance that they’ll become legal pets in the (near) future. I will also give you more examples of pocket pets you can keep as pets.

Regulatory Basis

You can find the regulatory basis for the illegality of gerbils in California in the California Code of Regulations (CCR). Section 671, Title 14 of this Code determines that importing, transporting, or possessing gerbils is illegal.

This means that you won’t be able to buy gerbils as pets in this state and can’t import your gerbils if you move to California. There are exceptions to this ban for research purposes (with a special permit). But you won’t find any pet stores selling gerbils or gerbil breeders in the area.

Why Are Gerbils Illegal in California?

Protection of agriculture and natural resources

The main reason gerbils and some other non-native pets are illegal in California is to protect the Californian environment. So, the purpose is to protect native wildlife and natural resources

Because a gerbil population can increase in a short time, it’s also important for Californian agriculture to ensure that no gerbils are abandoned or escape into the wild. The best way to do this is to make it illegal to keep gerbils as pets.

Gerbils can reproduce very fast. They have an average litter of 5 and an average gestation period of only 25 days. They can breed until they’re 20 months. So, even a single gerbil pair or an abandoned pregnant female would be able to reproduce very fast.

When gerbils would gain a foothold in the Californian deserts, they would compete with other native species and could disrupt the ecosystem and hurt agriculture.

Californian environment

The Mongolian gerbil is the most common gerbil species that’s being kept as a pet. The Mongolian gerbil’s natural habitat shows a lot of similarities with the environment in the Californian deserts.

Californian desert regions

There are three desert regions in California:

  • Mojave Desert
  • Colorado Desert
  • Great Basin Desert

Similarities with natural habitat of gerbils

As I already mentioned, Mongolian gerbils’ natural habitat shows remarkable similarities with the Californian desert regions. Below you can find a quick visual comparison between the environment, although these are just snapshots, and no single area is the same.

According to Animal Diversity Web, Mongolian gerbils live in the highlands in Inner Mongolia. The temperatures vary from extreme cold (up to -40 °C) in the winter to extreme heat (up to 50 °C) in the summer. The annual rainfall in the region is low (less than 230 mm a year).

Natural Habitat GerbilsCalifornia desert regions
desert / grassland / valleysdesert / valleys
low rainfalllow rainfall
grass, shrubs, bushesgrass, shrubs, bushes

Like the Californian deserts, gerbils’ natural habitat consists of sandy deserts, grasslands, and mountain valleys. The Californian deserts have many types of grass, small shrubs, and bushes for gerbils to feed on.

Needless to say that it would be possible for abandoned or escaped gerbils to survive in the Californian deserts. A gerbil wouldn’t have a lot of trouble finding tasty food sources and can thrive in these environments as it’s adapted to extreme temperature changes and can live in an environment with low rainfall.

There are currently no intentions to change the legal status of gerbils. Gerbils could potentially be dangerous for Californian agriculture and wildlife. As such, I wouldn’t expect the legislation to change soon. The risks outweigh the benefits of allowing gerbils as pets.

What Pocket Pets Can You Keep in California?

Although you can’t keep gerbils as pets in California, there are plenty of other (domesticated) pocket pets that you can keep:

  • golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus)
  • dwarf hamsters (Genus Phodopusare)
  • fancy rats
  • fancy mice
  • guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus)
  • chinchillas (Chinchilla laniger)

Always be sure to research the pet you want to keep before buying one and don’t buy a pet as an impulse (for example, as a Christmas present). Make sure that you can provide good care for the pet for its entire lifetime.

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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