Picking up and Handling Gerbils

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How to Pick up a Gerbil

Three Parts:

Although gerbils are tiny animals, they can bring you lots of joy as pets. Gerbils are very social, inquisitive animals that love human interaction. They are also low maintenance, which makes them easy to care for. Your gerbil’s small size makes him very delicate, though, so it will be important for you to learn how to hold him properly.With a little bit of time and patience, your ability to pick up your gerbil safely will help you develop a strong bond with him.


Building Your Gerbil’s Trust in You

  1. Give your gerbil time to adjust to his new home.You may be tempted to start holding your gerbil as soon as you bring him home, but he will need time to learn his new environment first. Let him explore his cage and get used to where things are. Give him at least a few hours of exploration time.
    • Gerbils can be very timid, so your gerbil may need longer than a few hours to adjust to his new home.Giving your gerbil up to one to two days to adjust is also recommended,but your gerbil may not need that long.
  2. Wash your hands.Even during your gerbil’s adjustment time, you do not need to leave him completely alone—you just shouldn’t try to pick him up. Interact with him by placing your hand in his cage and letting him learn your scent.Make sure to wash your hands first, though—he should become familiar with your personal scent, not the scent of whatever you just ate!
  3. Let your gerbil explore your hand and arm.Place one clean hand into your gerbil’s cage for two to five minutes at a time. You can have your palm facing up or down. Do your best not to flinch or jerk your hand away if your gerbil starts to nibble. The nibbling is his way of exploring. If you do not want him to nibble, blow a gentle puff of air near him and say ‘no.’
    • Keep your hand and arm as still as possible as your gerbil explores them; it may help to take all other accessories out of your gerbil’s cage so that your hand and arm are his only sources of exploration.
    • Talk to him quietly as he is exploring you.If he will let you, stroke him gently with your other hand.
  4. Give your gerbil treats.Offering treats is a great way to gain your gerbil’s trust. When he crawls onto your hand, give him a few treats (e.g., sunflower seeds, Cheerios, small pieces of bread). Remember that sunflower seeds can cause obesity in gerbils, so do not be too generous when treating him in this way.
    • You could also turn your whole hand into a food bowl by holding some of his normal food in your hand. Not only will your gerbil gladly come to your hand and start eating, but he will also learn to associate your hand with something positive, making it easier to handle him.
  5. Interact with your gerbil every day.If your gerbil is particularly timid or skittish, it may take him a while to be comfortable with you. That’s okay! By interacting with him on a daily basis, he will learn that he can trust you.
    • Gerbils are up for playing at any time of day.
    • Play sessions should last at least 15 minutes, and can be longer if your gerbil does not have a cagemate.

Picking Up Your Gerbil

  1. Gerbil-proof the room.Before you pick up your gerbil, make sure the room is free of hazards and does not have any nooks or crannies where your gerbil could run and hide. Remove or hide electrical cords and wires and close all windows and doors. In addition, block access to any radiators or vents into which your gerbil could fall.
    • In case your gerbil leaps out of your hands, you want to be sure he will be safe and that you will be able to find him.
    • You may want to practice picking him up in your bathroom.Place a few towels in the bottom of the tub and plug the stopper. Place your gerbil’s cage in the bathroom and find a comfortable way to position yourself in the tub so you can lift him out of his cage and into the tub.
    • The bathroom is a small enough space where your gerbil would not be able to escape and hide.
  2. Remain calm.By now, your gerbil is probably pretty comfortable with you and your hand. Now, it’s time to practice picking him up. Do not be nervous—your gerbil’s excellent sense of smell could allow him to smell the adrenaline in your sweat if you are anxious. When you place your hands in your gerbil’s cage, leave them still for a short while so he knows you are there; this can also let you calm your nerves before picking him up.
    • The calmer you are, the calmer he will be, and the easier it will be to pick him up.
  3. Coax your gerbil into a corner of his cage.The preferred way to pick up your gerbil is to scoop him up from underneath with your hands.This will be easier to do if you can gently nudge him into a corner with both of your hands.Cup your hands together, with fingers pressed closely together, and let your gerbil climb onto your hands.
    • Having him in a corner will prevent him from running away from you during your attempt to pick him up.
    • You may want to encourage your gerbil to climb onto your hands by holding a few small treats.
  4. Pick up your gerbil.When your gerbil is in your hands, slowly lift him up. Compared with other small pets, gerbils are not big fans of being picked up, so he will need some time to get used to the idea of being in the air.Start by lifting him up only about one inch (2.5 cm) into the air and then placing him back down. As your gerbil settles in to the idea of being picked up, gradually lift him up high enough to lift him out of his cage.
    • Do not lift him too high—he could seriously injure himself if he jumps from a high height.
    • If your gerbil does not want to climb onto your hands, encourage him to run into an empty toilet paper tube or plastic cup. Cover the open end(s) with your hand(s) and lift him up out of the cage.You can then gently ‘pour’ him into your hands.
  5. Let your gerbil move around.It may be tempting to hold your gerbil close to your chest and keep him still. However, the best thing you can do is give him the freedom to crawl on your hands and arms. Keeping him still would mimic your gerbil being trapped in a predator’s claws in the wild—you definitely do not want your gerbil to see you as a predator!
    • Place your gerbil gently back down in his cage to give him time to rest from being picked up.

Learning What Not to Do When Picking Up Your Gerbil

  1. Do not pick up your gerbil by his tail.This cannot be emphasized enough! Gerbils have very thin skin on their tails. If you try to lift him up by his tail, the skin would slip off of his tail, exposing the bones.If the skin comes off, your veterinarian would need to amputate that portion of the tail. Otherwise, the damaged portion of the tail would slough off.
    • The portion of the tail that you grab may actually break off as a defense mechanism. In the wild, this allows gerbils to slip away from predators that grab them by the tail. Unfortunately, your gerbil’s tail will not regrow once broken off.
  2. Refrain from picking up your gerbil from above.In the wild, a predator bird will swoop down from overhead and scoop up a gerbil with its claws. If you reach down and wrap your hand around your gerbil, he will probably think you’re a predator.To avoid being seen as the bad guy, scoop him up from underneath, rather than grabbing him from above.
  3. Avoid placing your gerbil on his back.When you have picked up your gerbil, do not try to lay him on his back in your hand. In the wild, gerbils typically do not lie down with their bellies in the air. If you try to put your gerbil in this position, it will feel very uncomfortable to him. He may struggle so much to get out of the position that he injures himself.
  4. Do not punish your gerbil.If your gerbil starts to nibble at your hand or looks like he wants to jump, do not punish him by yelling at him or flicking his nose.Punishing him will serve only to make your gerbil fearful of you, which would weaken your bond with him. Instead, give him a gentle puff of air.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    I used to hurt my gerbil taking it in the neck, and tail, and flick it on the nose. Is it to late to gain its trust? I feel really bad about it.
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You have to show it a lot of love to earn back its trust. It will take time so be patient.
  • Question
    How can you tell if your gerbil wants to play?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Usually, it would get excited, biting at bars or running around inside its cage. If you see this, it's ready to play.
  • Question
    How long do gerbils live?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Depending on breed, gerbils typically live 3 - 4 years.
  • Question
    Do gerbils ever want to be picked up?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    It depends on the gerbil. Some like contact with people and some do not.
  • Question
    How long before a gerbil will crawl on your hand?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    It depends on the individual gerbil. Go slowly with your gerbil and let it get comfortable around you.
  • Question
    My gerbil hates me. What should I do?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Your gerbil doesn't hate you, he's probably just still a little frightened of you. Slow down, and don't try to pick him up if he's not ready. Put your hand in the cage and let him sniff it. Offer him a treat out of your hand. Keep doing this a couple of times every day (don't give him too many treats) until he starts to come right up to your hand. Then you can try to pick him up. Remember, some gerbils are naturally more skittish than others, don't take it personally!
  • Question
    I've tried using all these steps but my gerbil gets into a place that I cannot reach him. How can I coax him into my hands?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Try cupping your hands, adding treats, getting a toilet paper roll or other toys and wait and see what he does.
  • Question
    My gerbil is very stubborn about being picked up. I have tried cupping my hands, adding treats, getting a toilet paper roll, adding treats to that and he still won't cooperate. What should I do now?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    It will take a lot of time and patience to gain your gerbil's trust. Work with your hamster every day at about the same time, and he'll gradually come around.
  • Question
    One of my gerbils died. I only have one left. What should I do?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
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  • Gerbils are very tame and easy to handle.
  • Be patient with your gerbil. Since gerbils are cautious animals, it may take some time for your gerbil to trust you.
  • With practice and experience, you can work towards scooping up your gerbil with just one hand.


  • Do not squeeze your gerbil.This could seriously injure him.
  • Grabbing your gerbil by the tail can seriously injure your gerbil.Take your gerbil to your veterinarian as soon as possible if his tail is injured.

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