Gerbil Dietary Questions: Can Pet Gerbils Eat Apples?

Gerbils love to eat all kinds of seeds and need a balanced diet to keep them healthy. However, an occasional (healthy) snack can bring a little bit of variation in the diet. When we think of healthy snacks, apples come to mind. So can gerbils eat apples, or are there better alternatives?

Gerbils can eat fresh and dried apples but only as a treat. You should feed only small apple slices because of the high percentage of water and sugar. Dried or dehydrated apples contain little water but have more sugar per piece. Therefore, only feed apples as a treat once or twice a week.

Apples – and fruit in general – should never replace the main diet of gerbils. Gerbils are desert animals and they naturally feed on seeds and grasses. Specially formulated seed and pellet mixes contain all nutrients that your gerbil needs to live a long and healthy life. 

Many seed and pellet mixes contain a small percentage of fruits (like apples and bananas), so an occasional apple slice won’t hurt your gerbils. However, you should only give small amounts. There are also several ways to feed apples to gerbils (fresh, dried, dehydrated) and some are better than others.

Do Gerbils Eat Apples in the Wild?

Gerbils live in arid regions and Mongolian gerbils are no exception. Mongolian gerbils live in an area with grassland, shrubland, and desert and are used to living with only a limited amount of water.

The temperatures in the natural habitat of these gerbils can get up to 50 °C (122 °F), although usually, the temperatures are lower. Water is scarce in this region and you would think that an apple tree wouldn’t grow well in this region.

Apple trees need water to grow and the desert doesn’t have enough water or rainfall to sustain apple trees. Only an oasis can sustain apple trees. This means that there are no apples available in the natural habitat of gerbils.

Mongolian gerbils will eat seeds, roots, bulbs, and herbs. When they’re available, gerbils will also eat fruit and insects, but this depends on the time of year and their region.

So, wild Mongolian gerbils don’t have apples or apple seeds on their plate but this doesn’t mean that pet gerbils won’t eat apples when you give them. However, gerbils don’t get a lot of nutritional value from them and don’t need them to stay healthy.

Nutritional Value of Apples (Analysis)

You can find the nutritional value of apples on FoodData Central, a database of the US Department of Agriculture. Below you can find the most important data:

NutrientAmount (per 100 grams)
Water85.1 g
Protein0.27 g
Fiber2.5 g
Sugars10.6 g
Calcium5 mg
Magnesium5.1 mg
Phosphorus10 mg
Vitamin C4 mg

Fiber

Gerbils have a very simple stomach and don’t have a well-developed cecum and colon. According to the book Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals, this suggests that they are adapted to mostly eat low-fiber foods such as seeds.

Fresh apples have less than 5% fiber per serving, while dried or dehydrated apples have around 7 to 9% fiber per serving. These percentages are similar to the fiber content of seed mixes and pellets for gerbils. So, gerbils won’t have too many problems digesting apples.

Minerals

Gerbils are prone to seizures and there is an elevated risk when gerbils are fed a low-magnesium diet. However, according to a study from Harriman in 1974, this risk was eliminated when magnesium was added to the diet at 1.39 grams per kilogram. Magnesium also plays a role in preventing alopecia and weight loss. The recommended dietary magnesium concentration is 1.5 grams per kilogram, while the minimum is 1.0 grams per kilogram.

Apples contain around 5 mg of magnesium per 100 grams, which equals 0.5 grams per kilogram. Most quality seed mixes and pellet diets will contain enough magnesium to keep your gerbils healthy. But it’s good to know that apples can also help a bit.

Vitamins

Apples are rich in several vitamins and have a very high concentration of vitamin C. Vitamins play an important role in keeping gerbils healthy and can prevent certain health issues.

Water

Gerbils don’t drink a lot of water, but they should have access to water at all times. They’re desert animals and can survive a long time without water. In captivity, you should provide fresh water daily.

A gerbil’s body isn’t adjusted to drinking a lot of water and apples contain approximately 90% of water. So when you give too many apples or give them too many times in a week, your gerbil can get health issues such as diarrhea.

Sugar

Fresh apples contain around 12% sugar per piece and dried or dehydrated apples even contain around 60% sugar per piece. Gerbils aren’t used to eating many sugary foods and their sugar intake should be limited. Too much sugar is bad for your gerbil’s teeth and their body will have problems digesting it.

Calcium to phosphorus ratio of apples

The calcium to phosphorus ratio is a ratio between two minerals. It’s vital for bone growth and bone health in humans and rodents. According to the book Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals, the amount of calcium that gerbils need is 5.0g/kg diet and the amount of phosphorus is 3.0g/kg diet. Based on this data, the correct calcium to phosphorus ratio for gerbils is around [1.7]:[1].

An apple’s calcium to phosphorus ratio is [1]:[2.0], which is also an indication that it isn’t good as part of the main diet. But as a treat, it can be given just fine. 

Can Gerbils Eat Apples? (Feeding Instructions)

Based on the nutritional value of apples, we can conclude that gerbils can eat apples. However, they shouldn’t be the main diet and should only be given occasionally. Most herbs and vegetables are better alternatives to feed more regularly.

Now that you know that gerbils can eat apples, we’re going to learn how many apples they can eat and how many times a week you can give apples to gerbils. But first, let’s watch one of my gerbils (Red) trying an apple for the first time (and not having much of an appetite for them).

What kind of apples can you give?

Apples are edible fruit and you can find apples almost anywhere in the world. You and your gerbils can eat them in different ways:

  • fresh
  • dried or dehydrated

There are, of course, also baked and fried apples but these should never be given to gerbils. You can also mash apples into apple sauce, but apple sauce is low in fiber and high in sugar and should also be avoided.

Types of apples

Gerbils can eat all types of apples (from green to red), but a small taste difference can influence whether your gerbils like the apple. Green apples tend to be less sweet than red apples, so it’s possible that your gerbils would prefer red apples. You can try both kinds of apples and see which one has the preference of your gerbils.

Fresh, dried or dehydrated apples

Fresh apples are more popular than dried or dehydrated apples, but they contain more water and less fiber per serving. Fruits high in water content can cause minor health issues, especially when too much is given.

Dried or dehydrated apples go through a process where most water is removed from the apple. The result is a smaller piece of apple that looks wrinkled. Dried or dehydrated apples are sometimes also called apple chips (but are not baked or fried as other chips).

There is a notable difference between fresh and dried/dehydrated apples:

NutrientFresh appleDried/dehydrated apple
Fiber2%7 to 9%
Sugar12%60%
Water90%15%

You can buy dried and dehydrated apples (such as these tiny apple cubes) or you can make them yourselves with a food dehydrator.

Apple-flavored treats

You can find dried or dehydrated apple chips in pet stores and online. However, sometimes there are additives or excess sugar in these products. My favorite apple-flavored treats are from Versele-Laga, an established Belgian brand. You can also buy their apple treats on Amazon.

How many times can you give apples?

Gerbils can eat small pieces of an apple once or twice a week. However, if you routinely give more than that, the diet of your gerbil will become out of balance. Apples contain a lot of water and sugar and can cause health issues when you give too much.

How many apples can you give?

Gerbils should only eat a small piece of fresh apple (up to 10 grams) per gerbil per serving. If you give dried or dehydrate apples, you should give even less (up to 5 grams) because of the high sugar content.

TypeAmount per gerbil (grams)Amount per gerbil (oz.)
Fresh apple10 grams0.36 oz.
Dried or dehydrated apple5 grams0.18 oz.
Apple core (and seeds)0 grams (never)0 oz. (never)

Gerbils have a small stomach and giving too much apple might lead to your gerbil not eating its daily seed or pellet mix. This would be similar to eating only snacks the entire day and not having the appetite to eat a nutritional meal.

Related Questions

Can gerbils eat cooking apples?

Cooking apples have a sour taste and should not be given to gerbils. These apples can also cause digestive problems because of their higher acidity.

Can gerbils eat apple sauce?

Apple sauce has a higher percentage of sugar than fresh apples and doesn’t contain many nutrients and fibers. For this reason, you shouldn’t give apple sauce to gerbils. Store-bought apple sauce also contains additives that aren’t healthy for gerbils and shouldn’t be given.

Can gerbils eat apple seeds?

You should never give apple seeds to gerbils. These seeds contain the chemical compound amygdalin, which is composed of cyanide and sugar. When your gerbil chews on the seed it will release the cyanide. Cyanide is poisonous and will cause to death of your gerbil quickly, even in small amounts.

Can gerbils eat apple peels?

Gerbils can eat apple peels and you can leave the peel on when you give fresh or dehydrated apples. The peel contains fiber and will help your gerbils with digesting the apple.

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 read our beginner’s guide to keeping gerbils as pets and our gerbil care guide.

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