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Do Gerbils Eat Each other? (Gerbil Cannibalism Is Real)

If you’ve ever heard a story about gerbils eating each other, I imagine you’d be pretty horrified. Believe it or not, despite being a major taboo for humans, cannibalism in the animal kingdom is surprisingly common. It can be pretty disconcerting to think about but many species do eat their own kind.

So, do gerbis eat each other? As awful as it sound to us as Humans, yes Gerbils are cannibals and do eat each other. It is a totally natural and instinctive act to them for several reasons such as food shortage, removing the dead from predators or even mating purposes. Gerbil mothers are even known to eat their own offspring.

The reasons why gerbils eat other gerbils

There are many reasons why gerbils might eat each other. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons:

  • Not enough food

This reason is simple enough – if there is a lack of food, gerbils will seek any source of nutrition they can in order to survive. In the wild, if food was scarce, stronger gerbils might be tempted to eat their weaker mates.

When housed as pets, gerbils need adequate nutrition. If they are not given enough to eat they too might turn to eat one another and as before, it’s usually the weakest that succumbs to the strongest.

  • Too much stress

Gerbils can be jumpy, especially when they are stressed. You’ll notice if your gerbil is stressed as soon as you approach their home to feed them. Even just being present in the same room might be perceived as a threat and could cause lots of stress.

If you notice your gerbil is showing signs of stress, limit visiting to providing water and food only and be sure not to be too noisy around them. If the stress is too great, you might find your gerbils fighting. If one gets injured or killed, this might mean the other will eat the corpse.

As humans, we know that stress can make us behave differently. For animals, it’s the same. Gerbils can be stressed for lots of reasons. These include:

  • Bright lights
  • Loud noises
  • Close contact with humans or excessive handling
  • Too many people near them or their cage
  • Too many animals in the same cage 
  • A cage that’s too small for the number of gerbils in it
  • Fighting (declanning)

Most types of stress on this list can be dealt with and you should act as quickly as possible to rectify the situation. 

  • Lack of space

Whether you’ve got a pair of gerbils or more, you’ll need to make sure they have enough space. Without adequate space, you might force the gerbils to feel unhappy and stressed, which might lead to them instinctively deciding to decrease their numbers by killing and eating.

  • They have become used to meat

Adult gerbils can eat meat like chicken but if they are given it too often (i.e. more than once per week), then they might turn to each other to satisfy their habit. 

  • It’s in their nature

Gerbils eating other gerbils happens instinctively. A lot of the time, it’s adults that eat young gerbils and usually, this is because there are too many for them to survive and be healthy or because one of the babies is weak or has already died.

  • Removing the dead

If a Gerbil does of natural causes the other Gerbils will often eat the corpse to get rid of any smells that a predator could pick up on. They do this for the safety of the rest of the Gerbils.

Are gerbils cannibals?

It’s not a pleasant topic but cannibalism sometimes happens among small mammals like gerbils. Typically, cannibalism is seen among new mothers and/or stressful situations.

As we’ve already said, gerbils do eat each other and as such we can consider them to be cannibalistic. It’s worth noting, however, that most cannibalism amongst gerbils is instinctual and evolutionary. 

Are gerbils safe to have cage mates or will they eat them?

Gerbils can and do get along with each other a lot of the time. If you notice your gerbils fighting, though, you should really try and keep them separated. If you don’t, it’s likely that one will kill the other. When this happens, the dead gerbil might be eaten by his cage mate. 

Gerbils that usually get on fine can suddenly start fighting. One reason for this might be a difference in their bedding after it’s been changed.

When gerbils have new bedding, it will smell different and they might not recognise it. This could mean that the animals become hostile. It’s always a good idea to leave a small amount of the old bedding alongside the new one.

It’s not a problem to have two same-sex gerbils in the same cage together. As long as they are well known to each other, they will likely get on fine.

This pairing is encouraged unless breeding is something you’re interested in. If you do end up with a mixed pair, you will end up with many more gerbils. The numbers can grow very quickly too as female gerbils are able to breed a mere 8 hours after birthing their previous litter!

Do Gerbils eat their own babies?

As distressing as it is for us, gerbils do eat their own babies. There are many reasons behind this behaviour and they’re all instinctual. 

Firstly, pregnancy can take it out on the mother gerbil and she might be starving or suffering from a pregnancy-related illness which makes her decide to eat her young for nutrition.

Another reason could be that the mother has had a large litter or finds herself pregnant again and so needs to ‘downsize’ for the best chance of survival. By killing a pup or two, the mother can make sure that the rest of the litter can survive.

In the wild, this is due to food source availability, but the instinct will still be there for new mothers in caged environments. Also, if a pup is ill, has lost a lot of weight or is the runt, the mother might decide to end its life and eat it.

It’s important to note, however, that gerbils won’t kill all of their young. After all, they want their species to survive. The gerbil’s drive to eat its young is evolutionary and they don’t kill without reason. 

It’s not just mothers that kill babies, fathers also kill and eat their young. Because of this, they should always be removed from the cage before the babies are born. Male gerbils may eat a pup just because of hunger or because they see the babies are a threat to food sources in the future.

Nature often means that some baby gerbils die of natural causes. If you notice a dead baby among a litter, you should take it away immediately to prevent it being eaten by the adults.

This is for health reasons as it could make them sick. When removing a dead pup, be sure not to get your scent on the other babies as this could mean they are eaten too!

Conclusion

Cannibalism occurs naturally in the animal world for many reasons. For many small animals like guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, rats, hamsters and gerbils, cannibalism occurs most often due to a lack of water and food.

Gerbils seek out the best way to survive and typically this involves reducing their numbers. As we’ve seen in this article, gerbils eat other gerbils for a number of reasons including problems with their cage size, bedding or stress.

It’s worth remembering, however, that even though cannibalism can happen amongst gerbils, it’s still very rare. If your gerbils have enough food, water and quiet space, the chances are they’ll be just fine.

 

A photo of a Gerbil with teeth showing
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