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 slight variation in the diet. Lemons are known for their high amount of vitamin C but have a sour taste. Can gerbils eat lemons, or are there better alternatives?

Gerbils should never eat lemons, not even small pieces of lemon. Lemon is a fruit that has high acidity (pH level between 2 and 3). High acidity combined with a high water content can cause health issues. For this reason, gerbils should never eat lemons.

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 such as apples or bananas. Lemons have a lot of nutrients but are one of the few fruits that are unsuitable for gerbils. They should never be given to gerbils. You can give far better alternatives to your gerbils.

Do Gerbils Eat Lemons 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 a lemon tree wouldn’t grow well in this region.

Fresh lemons growing on a tree

Lemon trees need water to grow and the desert doesn’t have enough water or rainfall to sustain lemon trees. Only an oasis can sustain lemon trees. Lemon trees are best grown in tropical climates. The natural habitat of gerbils doesn’t fit this profile. This means that no lemons 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. Lemons aren’t available to them, but this doesn’t mean that a gerbil won’t try a lemon if you leave it in its enclosure. We’ll discuss why you shouldn’t do this in a few minutes.

Nutritional Value of Lemons (Analysis)

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

NutrientAmount (per 100 grams)
Water89 g
Protein1.1 g
Fiber2.8 g
Sugars2.5 g
Calcium26 mg
Magnesium8 mg
Phosphorus16 mg
Vitamin C53 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 lemons have around 3 % fiber per serving, which is a bit lower than 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.

Lemons contain around 8 mg of magnesium per 100 grams, which equals 0.08 grams per kilogram. Most quality seed mixes and pellet diets will contain enough magnesium to keep your gerbils healthy. Lemons won’t do too much but can add a little bit of magnesium.

Vitamins

Lemons are rich in several vitamins and have a 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 lemons contain approximately 89% of water. So when you give too many lemons or give them too many times in a week, your gerbil can get health issues such as diarrhea.

Sugar

Fresh lemons contain around 2.5% sugar per piece. They aren’t too sugary for gerbils. Most fruits contain much more sugar.

Calcium to phosphorus ratio of lemons

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 lemon’s calcium to phosphorus ratio is [1.6]:[1], which is a good ratio for gerbils. However, they are too acidic to feed to gerbils.

Acidity (pH scale)

According to Healthline, lemons have a pH level of 2 to 3. This means that lemons are highly acidic. In humans, they can cause reflux symptoms.

Can Gerbils Eat Lemons? (Why They Are Bad)

Lemons are, besides limes, fruit that has a very low pH level which makes them highly acidic. Therefore, although they have some beneficial vitamins and minerals, you should never feed them to gerbils. The main reasons for this are:

  • high percentage of water
  • very high acidity (pH level)

Several reputable sources mention citrus fruit, including lemons, as food to absolutely avoid.

This post on ‘The Gerbil Forum’ mentions a list of safe and unsafe food and concludes that lemon is an unsafe food that should never be fed to gerbils.

The American Gerbil Society and WebMD teach us that citrus fruit should be avoided. However, there is no detailed explanation for why they should be avoided. This is possible because of the high acidic content of citrus fruit, which can cause indigestion and other health issues in small animals.

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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