Gerbil Dietary Questions: Can Pet Gerbils Eat Berries?

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 savory snacks, berries come to mind. But can gerbils eat berries, or are there better alternatives?

Gerbils can eat fresh and dried berries but only as a treat. You should feed only small pieces because of the high percentage of water. While dried berries contain less water, they do have more sugar per piece. Therefore, only feed berries (such as blackberries) as a treat once or twice a week.

Berries – 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, so an occasional berry won’t hurt your gerbils. However, you should only give small amounts. There are also several ways to feed berries to gerbils (fresh, dried, dehydrated) and some are better than others.

Do Gerbils Eat Berries 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 a berry bush wouldn’t grow well in this region.

However, there are berry bushes that can grow in the desert. According to this article by Amicus Mongolia, the Gobi berry (Kharmag) is used by people in the Gobi desert to make jams, drinks, and even sweet wines. The Gobi berry is a kind of blackberry that’s rich in vitamin C.

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and Goji berries can also grow in a hot and dry climate given the right conditions.

Mongolian gerbils will eat seeds, roots, bulbs, and herbs. Depending on the time of year and their region, gerbils will also eat fruit and insects when they’re available. Although it is unlikely that wild gerbils will feed on berries, they can grow in their natural habitat.

Nutritional Value of Berries (Analysis)

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

Blackberries (FoodData)

NutrientAmount (per 100 grams)
Water88.2 g
Protein1.39 g
Fiber5.3 g
Sugars4.88 g
Calcium29 mg
Magnesium20 mg
Phosphorus22 mg
Vitamin C21 mg

Blueberries (FoodData)

NutrientAmount (per 100 grams)
Water84.2 g
Protein0.74 g
Fiber2.4 g
Sugars9.96 g
Calcium6 mg
Magnesium6 mg
Phosphorus12 mg
Vitamin C9.7 mg

Raspberries (FoodData)

NutrientAmount (per 100 grams)
Water85.8 g
Protein1.2 g
Fiber6.5 g
Sugars4.42 g
Calcium25 mg
Magnesium22 mg
Phosphorus29 mg
Vitamin C26.2 mg

Strawberries (FoodData)

NutrientAmount (per 100 grams)
Water91.1 g
Protein0.64 g
Fiber1.8 g
Sugars5.34 g
Calcium12 mg
Magnesium11.8 mg
Phosphorus20 mg
Vitamin C56 mg

Red and white currants (FoodData)

NutrientAmount (per 100 grams)
Water84 g
Protein1.4 g
Fiber4.3 g
Sugars7.37 g
Calcium33 mg
Magnesium13 mg
Phosphorus44 mg
Vitamin C41 mg

Blackcurrants (FoodData)

NutrientAmount (per 100 grams)
Water82 g
Protein1.4 g
Calcium55 mg
Magnesium24 mg
Phosphorus59 mg
Vitamin C181 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.

Berries have between 1 and 6% fiber per serving. These percentages are less than the fiber content of seed mixes and pellets for gerbils. Therefore, gerbils won’t have too many problems digesting berries.

I would suggest choosing berries that have a higher fiber percentage such as raspberries and blackberries.

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.

Berries contain around 6 to 22 mg of magnesium per 100 grams, which equals 0.06 to 0.22 grams per kilogram. Most quality seed mixes and pellet diets will contain enough magnesium to keep your gerbils healthy. But blackberries and raspberries can also help to add – a small amount of – magnesium to the diet.

Vitamins

Berries are rich in vitamins. Vitamins play an important role in keeping gerbils healthy and preventing 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 berries contain between 80 and 90% water. So when you give too many berries or give them too many times in a week, your gerbil can get health issues such as diarrhea.

Sugar

Fresh berries contain around 5% sugar per piece and dried berries contain more 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 berries

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, gerbils’ correct calcium to phosphorus ratio is around [1.7]:[1].

Most berries have a bad calcium to phosphorus ratio of up to [1]:[2], which indicates that it isn’t good as part of the main diet. But as a treat, it can be given just fine. Blackberries have a good calcium to phosphorus ratio of [1.3]:[1]. So considering the other benefits of blackberries, I would highly recommend giving blackberries when you do decide to give berries as a treat.

Can Gerbils Eat Berries? (Feeding Instructions)

Based on the nutritional value of berries, we can conclude that gerbils can eat berries. 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 berries, we’re going to learn how many berries they can eat and how many times a week you can give berries to gerbils.

What kind of berries can you give?

Berries are edible fruit and you can find berries almost anywhere in the world – even in hot and dry climates. You and your gerbils can eat them in different ways:

  • fresh
  • dried or dehydrated

You can also mix berries into juice, but juice is low in fiber and high in sugar and should be avoided.

There are also different kinds of berries:

  • strawberries
  • blackberries
  • blueberries
  • raspberries
  • red currants
  • white currants
  • blackcurrants
  • Goji berries

Fresh berries and dried berries

Fresh berries are more popular than dried berries, 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. On the other hand, dried berries have less water but contain much more sugar, which is something you want to avoid.

Berry-flavored treats

You can find treats that contain berries in pet stores and online. However, sometimes there are additives or excess sugar in these products. My favorite berry treats are from Versele-Laga, an established Belgian brand. You can also buy their berry treats (only multiple bags) on Amazon.

How many times can you give berries?

Gerbils can eat berries once or twice a week. However, if you routinely give more than that, the diet of your gerbil will become out of balance. (Fresh) berries contain a lot of water and can cause health issues when you give too much.

How many berries can you give?

Gerbils should only eat small to medium-sized berries (up to 10 grams) per gerbil per serving. If you give dried berries, you should give even less (up to 5 grams) because of the higher sugar content.

TypeAmount per gerbil (grams)Amount per gerbil (oz.)
Fresh berry10 grams0.36 oz.
Dried or dehydrated berry5 grams0.18 oz.

Gerbils have a small stomach and giving too many berries 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.

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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