Gerbils are cute little rodents with shiny, fluffy fur. In nature, gerbils are sand-colored to camouflage perfectly in the environment they live in. Gerbils live in sandy regions such as steppes, semi-deserts, and deserts. All of these environments are very dry with limited access to water, but with lots and lots of sand instead. Instead of washing themselves in water, such as many other animals do, gerbils clean themselves with sand.
As a whole, Yes, gerbils need sandbaths in nature as well as in captivity. They come from very dry areas without a lot of water and only clean themselves with sand. It is necessary to provide gerbils with a sandbath, in order to keep themselves clean.
Sandbaths are essential for gerbils. They use the sand to get rid of any dirt or access oil in the fur. Sandbaths are also called dust baths. It helps the gerbils to keep their fur shiny and clean. They don’t ever need water baths, and it will stress them if you wash them.
Every gerbil cage should contain one sand bath where the gerbils can clean themselves whenever they want to.
Sandbaths do not only serve as a place to clean themselves, gerbils will also use the sandbaths in the cage as a toilet. This is why the sandbaths should be cleaned with a sieve every day. But it also means that the rest of the cage will stay clean for a very long time.
What Can I Use For a Gerbil Sand Bath?
Gerbils are very clean animals. They are not smelly and as long as they have a sand bath, they won’t even poop anywhere else in the cage.
As a whole, it is possible to use a glass bowl, a ceramic bowl, or some kind of wooden container as a sand bath. A wooden ladder can help the gerbils enter the sand bath if the walls are too high. Chinchilla sand is a good option for gerbils.
What Container Can Be Used for a Gerbil Sand Bath?
You can use any kind of container as a sand bath, but since gerbils love to chew on basically everything, a plastic bowl might now last for too long.
The material you choose is not too important. You can go for dog bowls, glass jars, or any other kind of bowl or container you can find in your home.
There are also plenty of options if you want to buy a purpose-built gerbil bath in a pet store. You can acquire a wooden container with a glass wall so that you can watch your gerbils clean themselves.
You can also get a rabbit litter box and remove the grill. Keep in mind that gerbils might make a mess while cleaning themselves, and sand will fly around everywhere. If the walls of the container are not high enough, the sand from the sand bath will get into the bedding.
Which Sand is the Best for a Gerbil Sand Bath?
The sand for a gerbil bath should be acquired at the pet store.
You can use sand for chinchillas. It is perfect for gerbils.
Do not use sand from the beach as it is not appropriate for pet gerbils.
Make sure that the sand is not dyed and contains no shell pieces. Sand that is used for pet birds often contains tiny shell pieces that can harm gerbils.
Sand for gerbils should also not contain calcium.
Even though sand baths are also called dust baths, you cannot use any kind of dust for gerbils. Any kind of dust can cause respiratory problems for gerbils.
If you want to, you can also use dried play sand for children. It is also high-quality sand that can be a good option for gerbils.
If you want to be extra careful, you can clean the sand by washing the sand in boiling water and then baking it to kill any potential bacteria or bugs.
I personally never went that extra mile and always used the chinchilla sand from the pet store without any issues.
Do Gerbils Like Water Baths?
Gerbils have adapted perfectly to the extremely dry environment they live in. Gerbils don’t need a lot of water to drink and get most of the moisture they need from the food they eat. And they do not need a water bath, nor do they like them.
As a whole, gerbils do not like or need water baths. They have adapted to their dry environment and their fur does not need any contact with water (or soap) to stay clean. The only bath they need is a sand bath.
Since gerbils are not meant to be washed in water, it is not healthy for them at all. A wet gerbil can easily get cold and get sick. Water also washes out the natural oil in their fur that keeps the fur protected from dirt. Gerbils do not like to be in the water. They will be stressed out, which can even lead to seizures.
If your gerbil got dirty for any reason, and they cannot clean themselves in a sand bath, you can use a damp cloth to clean the gerbil if it is necessary. But in most cases, a gerbil can take care of him or herself and will take a nice sand bath to be shiny and clean again.
Do Gerbils Prefer Sand or Sawdust?
Gerbils need different areas in their cage. The majority of the cage should be filled with dust-free bedding that can be used for tunneling and playing. In addition to the bedding, gerbils need a container that serves as a sand bath.
As a whole, sawdust cannot be used for gerbils because it can irritate their respiratory system, eyes, and noses.
You cannot use sand in the entire cage because gerbils need to build tunnels and nests underground and need some kind of bedding that will stay in shape.
Sawdust is not an option for gerbils because it will irritate their eyes, and noses, and can even cause respiratory problems.
The sand should only be used inside of their sand baths, while the rest of the cage is filled with proper gerbil bedding. The substrate you use should be dust-free, non-toxic, ink-free (if you use shredded paper), and absorbent.
Can I Use Sand in My Gerbil Cage?
Sand does not stay in shape and gerbils need to build tunnels. In nature, gerbils use the roots of plants as part of their tunnels and nests because the roots keep the soil in place.
Even though gerbils love sand to bathe in, they need a different kind of substrate in the rest of the cage to be able to thrive.
As a whole, it is not possible to use sand in the entire gerbils’ cage instead of proper bedding. They need some kind of bedding that stays in the shape of the tunnels they build.
You can use a combination of hay, aspen shavings, and shredded paper (ink-free if possible) as a substrate in the cage for your gerbils. It will keep your gerbils warm and is sturdy enough to stay in form.
Lisa is one of the two founders of Animal-Knowledge. She has been very interested in animals and insects from a very young age and has owned different kinds of pets such as snails, ants, fish, turtles, mice, rats, hamsters, rabbits, a dog, … you get the idea 🙂