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. For example, dates are high-fiber fruit that contains several vitamins. But can gerbils eat dates, or are there better alternatives?

Gerbils should never eat dates, not even small pieces of dates. Dates contain a lot of sugar (above 60% per serving). Gerbils shouldn’t eat sugary foods and there are healthier treats that you can give to gerbils such as seeds and herbs.

Fruit 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 apple or banana won’t hurt your gerbils. However, you should only give small amounts. But dates contain a lot of sugar and aren’t suitable for gerbils. There are far better alternatives.

Do Gerbils Eat Dates in the Wild?

Gerbils live in arid regions and Mongolian gerbils are no exception. Mongolian gerbils live in grassland, shrubland, and desert areas 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 date palm wouldn’t grow well in this region.

Date palm tree with fresh dates

Date palms need water to grow and the desert doesn’t have enough water or rainfall to sustain date palms. Only an oasis can sustain date palms. Date palms are best grown in tropical and subtropical climates. The natural habitat of gerbils doesn’t fit this profile. This means that no dates are available in the gerbils’ natural habitat.

Mongolian gerbils will eat seeds, roots, bulbs, and herbs. When they’re available, gerbils will also eat fruit and insects, depending on the time of year and their region. Dates aren’t available to them but this doesn’t mean that a gerbil won’t try a date if you leave it in its enclosure.

Nutritional Value of Dates (Analysis)

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

NutrientAmount (per 100 grams)
Water21.3 g
Protein1.81 g
Fiber6.7 g
Sugars66.5 g
Calcium64 mg
Magnesium54 mg
Phosphorus62 mg
Vitamin C0 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.

Dates have 7% fiber per serving, which is similar to the fiber content of seed mixes and pellets for gerbils.

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.

Dates contain around 54 mg of magnesium per 100 grams, which equals 0.54 grams per kilogram. Most quality seed mixes and pellet diets will contain enough magnesium to keep your gerbils healthy. Dates can help add some magnesium to the diet but won’t be necessary if you feed a balanced gerbil diet.

Vitamins

Dates are rich in several vitamins but have only a very low amount 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 always have access to water. 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. Dates contain a low amount of water compared to other fruits. Your gerbil won’t get diarrhea from them, which is a risk when you feed fruit that contains a lot of water.

Sugar

Dates contain around 67% sugar per piece, which isn’t healthy for gerbils. 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 dates

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].

A date’s calcium to phosphorus ratio is [1.03]:[1], which is not a good ratio for gerbils but also not as bad as some other fruit.

Can Gerbils Eat Dates?

Based on the nutritional value of dates, we can conclude that gerbils should never eat dates. They contain too much sugar to be given as a treat. An accidentally given date won’t cause serious harm. But don’t give dates regularly and give healthy treats instead.

Healthy Treats (Alternatives)

There are a lot of safe and healthy treats available for gerbils:

  • seeds
  • nuts
  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • plants & herbs
  • mealworms
  • crickets
  • scrambled or boiled eggs
  • unsweetened breakfast cereal

If you want to give ready-to-go snacks to your gerbils I would recommend the following snacks:

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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