When we first bring our newly adopted gerbils home, we are eager to handle our new family members. This reaction is very natural and is most keenly felt by younger members of the family. But, there is a need to restrain our enthusiasm, in the interests of building a lasting relationship with our new family members. As this article will hopefully show, our patience will be rewarded many times over in the coming months.
I have broken the process of handling your gerbils down into a number of stages, starting from when you first bring them home onwards to the prize of fully handling them
Stage 1: Settling In
When you first bring your gerbils home it is always a good idea to leave them alone for the first few days. This will enable them to find their way around and settle into their new home.
Stage 2: Hygiene
Always wash your hands, both before and after handling your gerbils. Never use soap or detergents when you wash your hands prior to handling gerbils, because these may prove harmful to them. If your gerbils can detect smells that are on your hands this may make them cautious about exploring further. We use an antibacterial soap after having any contact with our gerbils, to ensure the removal of harmful germs.
Stage 3: "Oh Boy, Its A Giant!!"
Bear in mind that to your gerbil, you are an almighty giant. This should help you to recognise the need to take a few precautions when being around your gerbils. Imagine how you would feel, coming face to face with something the size of a skyscraper - surely it would be a daunting experience. To gerbils anything going on over their heads is intimidating, because in the wild they would associate this with danger.
Stage 4: Hand = Food
The more contact you can have with your gerbils the more they will become accustomed to you. So, every day make sure you take the old food out of their home and replace it with some new food. By smell, your gerbils will come to recognise you, with your hand, and come to associate your arrival with new food.
Stage 5: Bribery & Exploration
While you are giving your gerbils their food leave your hand into the enclosure and let your Gerbils wander over it. Try to do this every day so that your hand, and scent, become part of the furniture, so to speak. Maybe you could put treats into your hand, like peanuts or sunflower seeds. Again this will help your gerbils accept your hand.
CAUTION: Cleaning Out Gerbils
Cleaning out your gerbils, can be a fairly stressful time, because their cosy little home is being turned upside down. Before you have successfully built up a handling rapport, it is a good idea not to lift them up by hand. We use fairly large jam-jars and gently guide each gerbil in and then gently move them over to the small temporary pen. When the cleaning is done put the temporary pen into their normal enclosure and let them scamper back on their own. Later on, when you are handling your gerbils freely you can just move them by hand.
CAUTION: Gerbil Pups
You need to be very careful when handling gerbil pups. Out of defence, pups can jump out of your hands very easily and fall right to the floor, resulting in stress and possible injury. We usually only pick up pups in the confines of their enclosure and even then only for a short period of time.
Stage 6: Petting & Stroking
Stroking your gerbils is the next natural progression to letting them climb over your hand. This will also build upon the trust that you have so far developed. Gerbils love to be stoked just behind their ears and also on their sides. When one of your gerbils takes a sunflower seed from the palm of your hand, use this time to give them a tender little stroke.
Stage 7: Lifting Your Gerbils Up
After a month or so your gerbils should be treating you with less and less caution. It is at this point, and not before, that you can attempt to lift your gerbil up - while your hand is still in their enclosure. Your gerbils should be coming onto your hand and when they do, gently lift your hand and then lower it, without removing your hand from the enclosure. Persevere with this until your gerbils feel happy about being picked up. While they are in your hand give them treats to further increase their confidence.
CAUTION: Gerbil Tails
Try to avoid picking up your gerbils by their tails, because this area is very delicate. If you do pick your gerbil up by their tails it can result in part of their tail coming away. This mechanism is designed to help a gerbil escape a foe in the wild.
Stage 8: Outside Their Enclosure
By now a few months should have passed and your gerbils should be fairly tame. It is at this point that you should attempt handling your gerbils outside of their enclosure. When you do, ensure that there is nowway for them to fall to the floor and injure themselves. We like to handle gerbils while sitting at a table or on our bed. Your gerbils should now be more than happy to come onto your hand and sit there surveying their surroundings and enjoying your company. Your patient perseverance has repaid you many times over. Now you need to keep up your contact with your gerbils to maintain the bond.