At some point in the care for your gerbils you’ll need to clean the gerbil cage and the interior. This might not be your favorite activity but it’s necessary to keep the cage from smelling. Gerbils aren’t really smelly pets but males and females will use their glands to mark their territory which can cause a bad smell.
Cleaning a cage of a gerbil isn’t that different from cleaning the cage from a hamster, rabbit, or any small pet that lives in either a wire cage or a vivarium.
The basic principles are the same and the differences are in the details. If you’re a new small pet owner be sure to read the entire article from start to finish. However, if you’ve already had or currently have such pets you can skim the content and look at potential differences in approach.
In this article, you’ll learn how to clean a gerbil cage and the accessories. You’ll get a practical guide for cleaning the entire cage with tips and tricks.
Guidelines for Cleaning a Gerbil Cage
Necessary cleaning supplies
You can’t clean a cage with just soap and water. You’ll need a wide range of cleaning tools to clean the cage and its decorations. As you’re going to buy gerbils, make sure that you have prepared yourself and got yourself a cleaning kit.
The cleaning kit consists not only of cleaning equipment but also a temporary cage to keep your gerbils in while you’re cleaning. The cleaning kit itself should contain the following tools:
- brushes: decorations often have a lot of edges and details. To get into all crooks and crevices and to give a good scrub you should use toothbrushes. Make sure these toothbrushes are kept in the cleaning kit and that you don’t put it back with other toothbrushes that you still use for yourself.
- buckets or small tubs: you should never wash the decorations in the kitchen or bath sink or in the bathtub. You should rather use a large bucket or a small tub to soak the decorations and clean them.
- pet-safe cage cleaner (disinfectant): a cage cleaner should be pet-safe or pet-friendly and not contain any harmful chemicals. Get a safe alternative and don’t risk the health of your gerbils.
- (paper) towels: (paper) towels can be used to wash the cage and dry it and to dry the decorations.
- cotton swabs and toothpicks: as I already mentioned, decorations can have tiny details that contain dirt. Even the cage corners can contain hard to remove dirt. To remove these hard-to-remove stains you can use cotton swabs and toothpicks.
- soap or dishwashing detergent: as is the case with the cage cleaner, use a product that doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals.
- sponges: sponges can be used to wash the cage and give it a good scrub.
How to protect yourself while cleaning?
Since you’re dealing with a cage and there can be bacteria, you should take some caution when cleaning the cage of your gerbils. One of the best ways to prevent contamination with bacteria is by using rubber gloves, goggles, and a mask when cleaning.
Another safe way to prevent contamination is by just using rubber gloves or by using antibacterial soap after you’ve cleaned the cage and the decorations.
How often do you have to clean the cage?
You should spot clean the cage daily and remove uneaten food the day after you fed it. Some foods get bad faster and need to be removed a few hours after giving them. Gerbils urinate only a little and the urine is highly concentrated so cleaning is usually only needed once a month (some might even say once every three months).
A lot will depend on the size of the gerbil cage and the number of gerbils you keep. For a pair of gerbils, you can usually only spot clean and clean thoroughly once a month. If you notice that the cage smells, it might be necessary to clean the cage more often or refresh a part of the substrate.
The thorough (monthly) cleaning will consist of:
- clearing out the entire gerbil cage
- cleaning and disinfecting the cage
- cleaning the decorations, toys, food bowls, water bottle
- refreshing the entire substrate and bedding
You should clean the following accessories at least once a week:
- sandbath: the sand bath that gerbils use is often used as a toilet area. It’s recommended to spot clean this sand bath (sift) and clean it more often by changing the sand regularly (at least once a week).
- water bottle and food bowl: to prevent the buildup of bacteria it’s best to clean the water bottle and food bowl each week.
Where to clean the cage and accessories?
For hygienic reasons it’s recommended to clean the cage and accessories in a place where no food is made, so not in the kitchen (sink). You should also never clean the cage and accessories in the bath tub or the sink in the bathroom. Make sure that you got a separate bucket to clean them or clean them outside.
Which cleaning products are safe for gerbils?
When you clean the cage and the accessories you should always make sure that you use cleaning products that don’t cause toxic fumes and that the product is safe to use for pets (so pet-friendly).
Household cleaners can contain the chemical formaldehyde, which is toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin. There’s also research that shows that formaldehyde causes cancer in animals. It’s not hard to see that if you use a cleaner with formaldehyde your gerbils are in danger. They can inhale it or come in contact with it in the cage.
Other dangerous ingredients that can be found in common cleaning products are bleach, ammonia, chlorine, and glycol ethers. These chemicals are extremely dangerous for your gerbils and can cause serious health issues (including cancer).
Always use detergents and disinfectants that are safe to use with (small) pets and that are made for cleaning cages and pet supplies.
Spot Clean the Gerbil Cage
The easiest way to prevent a smelly cage is to spot clean the cage daily and remove uneaten food. Spot cleaning means that you take away leftover food in the cage and clean the top layer of the substrate (bedding) when you notice feces or urine. You can do so by removing that part of the bedding.
Make sure to check each day that your gerbil isn’t hoarding food. Gerbils in the wild are known to forage and hoard many kilos of food. In captivity it’s possible for this instinctive behavior to occur. The bad thing is that food can go stale and start to smell.
Step-By-Step Cleaning Checklist
A thorough cleaning of the cage of your gerbils can be difficult if you don’t know where to start. So, to help you through the process and not forget anything, you can find a step-by-step list of the different steps in the cleaning process.
Place your gerbils in a temporary cage
You don’t want to be cleaning your cage with gerbils in it. So gently take your gerbils out of their cage and place them in a separate cage like an old tank, a tank with a cage topper, or a large faunarium. These enclosures are not large enough too permanently keep gerbils but can be used as a temporary cage.
To keep your gerbils busy while you’re cleaning:
- fill the cage with a small layer of bedding of at least 7.5 cm (3″)
- place some basic chewing toys in it
- add some hiding places (for example toilet rolls)
Remove the cage accessories
Remove all cage accessories (toys, food dishes, water bottles, hides,…) from the cage and place them in a separate bag like a shopping bag or small trash bag. This makes it easier to take them to the cleaning area without risk of contaminating with bacteria.
Remove the substrate and bedding
You should at least have 20 cm (8″) of the substrate in the cage. Depending on the length and width of the cage this can be a large volume of substrate. When you thoroughly clean the cage you should remove the entire substrate and bedding. You can do this by shoveling up the substrate and putting it in a trash bag. Tiny amounts of substrate, that are still left, can be vacuumed.
Pro tip: keep a tiny cup of the old substrate (to mix it later with the new fresh substrate).
Clean and disinfect the cage
When your gerbil cage is free of accessories and substrate you should wash the entire inside and outside of the cage with luke-warm water and a sponge.
Next, spray some cage cleaner (and disinfectant) on the different sides of the cage. Let it work in for a few minutes (see the cage cleaner for the exact time). Wipe it off with water and a sponge. Dry it with a (paper) towel.
Clean the cage accessories
You’ve taken all accessories from the cage. After you’ve cleaned the cage it’s time to clean these accessories. Wash them in a separate tub or bucket that you use only for this purpose. It’s highly recommended not to wash the accessories in the bath or sink of your bathroom or kitchen to prevent contamination with bacteria.
Add fresh substrate and bedding
When the cage of your gerbils is dry and odor-free, add a new layer of at least 20 cm (8″) in the cage. You can add a cage liner or paper towel on the cage floor to absorb any water but this is usually not necessary because gerbils don’t urinate a lot and will usually do this on the top layer of the substrate.
Gerbils depend a lot on smells and a familiar smell will help reducing the stress for your gerbils. It’s for this reason recommended to add a little bit of the old substrate or bedding to the fresh substrate. Divide it on the top layer of the substrate.
Put the cage accessories back
Place all cage accessories, freshly washed and dried, back in the cage. You can make changes to the setup of the cage or add new accessories, like a new toy. Don’t forget to add water to the water bottle and sprinkle a bit of food around the cage.
Place your gerbils in their cleaned cage
After the cleaning is done, you place the gerbils back in their freshly cleaned cage. Watch them for a bit to ensure there are no problems, like stress. The cleaning of the cage can also be an opportunity to hold your gerbils for a bit and to take some measurements (weight and size).
Clean your cleaning supplies
As you clean with supplies like a bucket or sponge these supplies can become contaminated with bacteria. Wash the cleaning supplies with water and detergent so you can safely use them the next time. Keep these supplies (especially the detergents and cage cleaner) out of reach of pets and young children.
How To Clean Accessories
Cleaning instructions for food bowls and water bottles
There are two ways to wash a food bowl and water bottle:
- dishwasher: if the bowl is dishwasher proof you can put it into the dishwasher separate from your own dishes or together (if you got a sanitizing feature on the dishwasher).
- handwashing: you can also handwash the bowl and use a detergent (and disinfectant) that is safe for pets. Rinse the bowl with water and dry it with a (paper) towel.
For the water bottle, use a bottle brush cleaner (if you handwash) and make sure to clean the nozzle of the bottle. This is also an opportunity to make sure that the nozzle still works properly.
Cleaning instructions for rocks
Rocks are generally avoided because they can topple and crush your gerbils. However, if you do use rocks you should make sure that they’re clean. You can clean a real rock by boiling them in water for 30 minutes. Good instructions can be found on Hunker.
Cleaning instructions for branches
Branches can be cleaned by washing them and then putting them in a heated oven. The oven should have a temperature between 200 and 250 °F for 2 hours. You should, however, check every 10 minutes if there’s no charring. The heat will kill the bacteria and microbes on the wood. After 2 hours you should take the branches out of the oven and let them cool down.
Recommended Cleaning Supplies
To clean your gerbil cage (wire cage, tank with cage topper, gerbilarium) and the accessories in a safe way, I recommend using the following supplies (not including gloves, tubs,…):
- Nature’s Miracle Cage Cleaner
- Nature’s Miracle Small Animal Cage Scrubbing Wipes
- No Scent Small Animal – Odor Eliminator & Cleaner (odor-control)
- Water Bottle Brush Cleaner
- Cold Life Non-Abrasive Cleaning Sponges
Tips and Tricks for Cleaning
Now you know all about cleaning the cage of your gerbils, I leave you with some extra handy tips and tricks:
- place several sheets of paper towel under your substrate: you’ll be removing a lot of substrate and some substrate can stick to the corners. You can use paper towels on the bottom of the cage to prevent sticky substrate and hard to remove substrate in the corners.
- get two sets of food bowls and water bottles (f you use a dishwasher): while you clean one set you can use another set of bowls and bottles so your gerbils don’t need to go without food and water.
- place some of the bedding in the temporary cage: this will make your gerbils feel a little bit at home while you’re cleaning their normal cage.
- don’t clean the cage when your gerbils are stressed, pregnant, or have a new litter: gerbils can get stressed when you clean their cage and it’s best to avoid any stress. Look at signs of stress and wait with cleaning the cage when your gerbil is pregnant or just had a litter.
Want to Learn More?
If you’re interested in learning more about gerbils as pets (or other pocket pets), please read the following articles: