The official name for the consumption of faeces is ‘coprophagy’ and, while this is considered abnormal and abhorrent for humans, it can be perfectly normal and instinctive for certain members of the animal kingdom.
Coprophagy is common in rabbits and hares, for example, as well as certain insects. It’s thought that these animals eat faeces to obtain vitamins.
So, will a gerbil eat its own poop? Yes, coprophagy is common in gerbils and if you watch your pet for a while, you might notice him eating his own poop. There are many natural reasons why gerbils eat their own poop and you shouldn’t try to prevent them from doing so.
Is it normal for a gerbil to eat its own poop?
Rodents like gerbils eat their own poop for a variety of reasons. This is entirely instinctual and, therefore, normal for their species.
There are many times when you might witness this behaviour: gerbils will eat their own poop soon after going to the toilet and they’ll also eat poop that isn’t as fresh.
They don’t limit the practice to their own poop either and will happily eat poop from their cage mates.
Gerbils can eat poop without complication. Even though faeces contain bacteria, gerbils won’t get sick if they perform coprophagy. This is the same for whether they live in captivity or in the wild.
However, if you witness this behaviour in your gerbils, you should pay extra close attention. This is because coprophagy might be a sign that your gerbil isn’t getting all its necessary nutrition from its food.
There’s no need to be overly worried though, as this is largely normal behaviour for all gerbils and they won’t die if they eat their own poop.
Why do Gerbils eat their poop?
As we’ve mentioned above, gerbils might eat poop if they’re not getting adequate nutrition. This is because coprophagy will help them to redigest nutrients and vitamins in their poop, specifically vitamins K and B.
Also, by consuming their poop, they can get more fibre as they redigest plant matter that is difficult to digest.
Coprophagy in gerbils is part of a wider digestive process and can actually be good for them. The first stage is the gerbil eating and digesting its food as normal.
Then, this is excreted quite quickly and redigested again between 4 and 8 hours after the first time it was eaten.
Gerbils eating poop is a similar practice to cud-chewing in cows. This is where cows bring up their food to chew it again to digest it more fully.
Lack of vitamins
All animals have bacteria in their gut that help to break down the food that the animals eat. In gerbils, gut bacteria produce vitamin K and B, which are essential to their health.
However, since gerbils have quick digestive processes, they don’t have enough time to absorb the nutrients. Re-eating the food gives them another chance to get their essential vitamins.
They will also eat their poop if their diet isn’t nutrient-rich. If this happens, they will instinctively eat their own poop. As humans, we have instincts too when it comes to food.
When women are pregnant, they will often have cravings that can be unusual and these often derive from the body requiring more of certain nutrients with the demands of pregnancy.
For gerbils, it is particularly challenging to get enough vitamin B. This is because they don’t eat meat, which is high in B vitamins. There are certain B vitamins like B12 that are created by bacteria and so gerbils eating poop means they can get this much-needed nutrient.
Plant matter and gerbil digestion
A large part of a gerbil’s diet is fibrous and touch. When not in captivity, gerbils eat a lot of root vegetables as well as seeds and grains.
These foods contain a lot of fibre, which makes them more difficult to break down. Fibre is good for your digestive health because the intestines need to work hard.
The downside of a high-fibre diet is that the food doesn’t have enough time to break down before it’s released from the gerbil’s body.
Gerbils can have another chance to get nutrients from their food by eating their poop and digesting it for a second time. With this, they can absorb any remaining fat, protein, carbohydrates and fibre that they couldn’t digest at first.
So, why don’t gerbils have a slower digestive system instead? To us, this would make sense. However, gerbils need to eat a lot of food during the day.
With a slower digestive system, they wouldn’t be able to eat as much. Eating their poop is a compromise so that they can keep eating all day long.
Dietary factors aside, coprophagy occurs among gerbils instinctually to prevent them from being found by predators. Where there’s gerbil poop, there are gerbils! Even though pet gerbils don’t have predators, they will still do this instinctually.
Just like hunters and animal trackers look for animal poop, so do predators. If there’s fresh poop, predators will know that the gerbils are close by.
However, gerbils are clever enough to know this and so will try to leave no trace of their presence to avoid predators.
To avoid predators, gerbils don’t poop in or near their burrows in the wild and they will also eat their poop to conceal their presence so that it is much more difficult for a predator to know where they are.
Even though captive gerbils have no predators, they will also display these instinctive behaviours.
What should a healthy Gerbils poop look like?
Knowing what your gerbil’s poop should look like can help you know if your pet is healthy or not. Usually, changes in normal faeces can be the first sign of a health problem. Being able to recognise changes will mean you can help your gerbil get appropriate treatment.
Gerbil droppings are firm and quite dry. They’re about the size of a grain of rice and don’t have a bad odour. Since they’re dry and firm, cleaning your pet’s cage is really easy and unless your pet is ill or stressed, he will always poop in the same place in his cage.
Gerbils learn to do this when they’re really young, which makes them great animals to have as pets. If you notice your gerbil pooping in a different place, it might mean that they are stressed or stressed.
Gerbils poop multiple times a day but compared to other rodents, don’t actually poop all that much. They usually poop a few droppings each time they empty their bowels.
Poop changes and warning signs
Gerbil poop is dry because in nature gerbils live in dry desert-like environments so their bodies try to conserve as much water as they can.
Therefore, soft, messy or wet stools can be a sign of a problem. Gerbils’ digestive systems are very sensitive and they can be prone to getting diarrhoea.
One major cause of this is when their diet has changed or when they consume too many watery fruits.
The most worrying cause of diarrhoea in gerbils is Tyzzer’s Disease. This is a fatal illness and it’s usually too late to treat the disease by the time you notice the symptoms.
As with many diseases, prevention is key. Make sure to maintain their burrowing material and bedding and keep your pet separate from other animals like mice.
As disgusting as it appears to us as humans, gerbils eating their poop is entirely normal. Whether they’re eating their poop to redigest food and get missing vitamins or they’re instinctually trying to avoid predators, you should never try to stop them from doing so. As long as their poop is healthy, you can be reassured that poop-eating is not a problem.
If you though this post was a little out there, check out my post about Gerbils eating each other!
My name is Andy Baines and I am the owner and writer here at Super Crazy Pets.
For the last 20 years I have been the carer/parent of many exotic pets, from reptiles to amphibians I have cared for and looked after them all.
I created this website to share my knowledge of looking after pets with other fellow owners.
My works and articles have been shared on many online publications including The Spruce Pets.
You can read more about my story by visiting the about me page.