Are Gerbils Good with Children?

Gerbils make for excellent adult friends, but how do they fare with children? Let’s take a look!

Apr 26, 2024By Dallin Darger
are gerbils good with children

There’s no question that gerbils make for excellent house pets. Their gregarious nature, mutual love for people, and small, robust size all add up to an excellent animal companion. But do these benefits translate into a good first pet for children?

It’s a key question! Below, we’ll break down the attitude and temperament of gerbils, along with proper care and handling precautions. This will, in the end, help determine if these tiny fun-loving rodents are a safe and enjoyable choice for kids.

Temperament and Sociability of Gerbils

gerbil looking at camera
Photo by Allie Caulfield on

A perfect area to start our analysis is the gerbil temperament. You might have, in the past, heard of gerbils described by their owners as friendly, sociable, and kind. For the most part, these descriptors are totally accurate!

Gerbils are generally among the friendliest rodent species. Though they usually avoid prolonged cuddle sessions, they nonetheless show great affection for their owners and love to play and interact with people.

Their innate sociability makes gerbils a very compatible choice for children. Most kids, when owning their first house pet, want to develop a close bond with their new friend. When that pet is a gerbil, a bond is all but guaranteed.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t downsides to watch out for. Gerbils tend to get a bit stressed when adapting to a new environment, and, if handled too roughly, there’s a possibility that they might bite. This is actually common for most small pet species; for example, hamsters bite when stressed too. So, it’s essential to observe your child closely when they first meet their pet gerbil, to ensure things go safely and smoothly.

Are Gerbils Appropriate for Younger Kids?

4 gerbils side by side
Photo by Allie Caulfield on

Many parents wonder if gerbils are safe pets to adopt for smaller children. Unfortunately, in most cases, this should be avoided. Small children (roughly, under the age of 8) don’t tend to have the motor skills and dexterity required to safely handle gerbils.

As a result of these handling limitations, young kids often hold and move pet gerbils roughly and dangerously. In the worst cases, this can lead to the child accidentally dropping the gerbil, getting bitten, or even squeezing the animal to death. For the safety of both the gerbil and the child, it’s best to steer clear of interactions between the two!

Sleep Cycle and Playtime

10 gerbils sleeping
Photo by H. Zell on

Some pet rodent species have a nocturnal sleep cycle. Those who have owned pet hamsters, for instance, know that most hamsters sleep during the daytime. As you might expect, this can be a disappointment for children. Looking forward to playing with your pet only to see them fast asleep can be a huge letdown!

Are gerbils the same way? Not exactly. As a rule, gerbils tend to sleep at irregular points throughout the day, with a general preference for resting during dawn and dusk. This, effectively, means the gerbil sleep cycle is neither nocturnal nor diurnal, but rather crepuscular.

Though this unusual sleep cycle can make gerbils a bit unpredictable, it has a clear advantage for kids. There’s a good chance your child’s pet gerbil will be awake at some point when there’s still daylight out, giving ample opportunity for playtime.

Gerbils and Routine Care

gerbil on watering can
Photo by Free Nomad on Unsplash

Another concern some parents have about introducing a pet gerbil to their child is the routine of caring for the creature. It might cause you to wonder: What exactly are the requirements of taking care of a pet gerbil, and are they something a child can handle?

Fortunately, the day-to-day care of a pet gerbil is relatively undemanding. While some aspects will no doubt have to be managed by adult caretakers, children can certainly help with the more mundane tasks. Feeding the gerbil its pellet diet, washing food and water bowls, and periodically cleaning the animal’s cage probably won’t pose too many challenges. In general, this makes gerbils and other common pet rodents quite easy pets for kids.

This is in marked contrast to the care requirements for certain other house pets. Pet cockatoos, for example, demand a level of attention and maintenance that’s practically titanic compared to the less fussy gerbils. So, caring for a gerbil can actually help children develop strong habits for taking care of other, more complicated pets.

How Much Space Do Gerbils Need?

brown and white gerbil
Photo by Allie Caulfield on

Space limitations are a frequent obstacle for owning house pets, and this might give one pause about adopting a gerbil. It poses a potential worry: Do gerbils need a ton of space, or can they make do with a more compact area?

On account of their tiny size, gerbils can thrive in somewhat smaller spaces so long as their basic environmental and exercise needs are met. One average-sized gerbil can do well in a ten-gallon tank so long as there’s proper bedding and stimulation available. Since gerbils are social animals and you’ll likely want to add a companion, this usually adds up to at least a 20-gallon tank enclosure.

In this sense, gerbils are very similar to guinea pigs. Despite being quite a bit larger than gerbils, guinea pig cages are often compact and cozy.

Teaching Proper Gerbil Handling

gerbil held in hand
Photo by Tatyana Ugryumova

Introducing a pet gerbil to the home is a great opportunity to teach children how to carefully handle small pets. Owing to their natural friendliness and cooperative disposition, gerbils are one of the most ideal species to practice these skills with.

For starters, a core lesson to emphasize is that gerbils should never, ever be picked up by their tails! This can cause severe injury to the pet. Instead, gerbils can simply be held by cupping them in your palms and gently lifting them up. Likewise, lightly grabbing the scruff of a gerbil’s neck can act as an effective method to prevent them from running away.

Dallin Darger
By Dallin Darger

Dallin is a passionate, seasoned pet owner and enthusiast. He has, over the course of 27 years, owned and loved a litany of breeds, from Labrador retrievers and calico cats to angelfish and neon tetras. Much of his free time is spent researching and learning everything he can about unfamiliar and exciting types of wildlife.