Small pets like gerbils require bedding with good quality so they can have a healthier life in their homes (I preffer saying home because cage is an ugly word).:) The bedding is used for urine absorption, as well as for digging because gerbils in the wild live in tunels, so it is in their nature to dig. The bedding is also used for nest building.
Gerbils don’t urinate a lot and their urine doesn’t have a strong smell, so the bedding doesn’t have to be fragranced (perfumed / scented). There are many different kinds of beddings for small animals available, but there still isn’t a perfect bedding made for gerbils, so mixing some of the beddings can give better results.
How much bedding to use?
How much bedding you should use really depends on the size and type of a gerbils home. If you have an aquarrium / terrarium with a topper, then a third (1/3) or half of the tank would be enough for their tunels and burrowing. This alows that gerbils have a lot of space to play and burrow.
Keep in mind that by putting more bedding in their home you are in fact recreating their natural enviroment and too much of it can cause them to go wild. If you are breeding gerbils then 2“ (about 5 centimeters) of bedding should be enough.
When to change bedding?
This depends on how much and what kind of bedding you use. The average 10-15 galon
(about 38 – 57 litres) tank should be cleaned at least every month or two and not more than every two weeks.
If you clean on a daily basis the tank should never smell, but too much cleaning can cause loosing of a gerbils natural scent, with that they can forget their inmates and get in fights. I personally like to clean their homes every month. If watter is spilled just take out the soaked bedding and replace it with a bit of the clean one.
What beddings not to use?
Avoid using Cedar or Pine wood shavings because they have a strong smell and contain phenol, which is a natural bactericide produced by those trees. This can be dangerous for all kinds of animals, especially the small ones who are kept for a long time in that kind of bedding. It can cause respiratory and eye infections, liver damage, allergic reactions, and many other health problems. If you can find the bedding treated against phenol, dust-free and dried then it would be fine, if not you can still use it but avoid especially if breeding.
Sawdust is cheap and easy to find, but it can cause respiratory infections and eye irritations.
Do not use shreded paper which has some print on it (newspapers and similar), the ink used for printing can be very dangerous.1
I don’t recommend fluffy bedding like cotton similar materials, because they can swallow it and get bowel blockage.
I heard people using dry alfalfa or lucerne which i would recommend only in situations where you can’t find any other bedding until you find it, because it is not a good type of bedding to be used by itself but combined with other beddings. It is better for nesting.
Don’t use grass picked from outside because it can be full of bacteria.
Straw for bedding may be uncomfortable for your gerbils because of the sharp edges.
Use toilet papper only if your gerbils are allergic to other materials and only as a temporary bedding until you find a suitable one. When shreded it makes a lot of dust, and gets wet and smelly fast, so it must be changed almost every day, but it makes a good nesting material.
I heard that cat litter can be used too, but I don’t know what the pros or cons from it are, if you have any expirience with it let me know in the comments i really would like to know about it.
What beddings to use?
By most experts Carefresh, Aspen or Corn Cob beddings are most recommended. Those are the most safe and healthy beddings for gerbils and can be found in many pet stores. Some countries don’t have those kind of beddings, but you can still get them online or find some good replacements at your pet stores.
Aspen is one of the most recommended beddings by breeders and veterinarians. Aspen shavings are soft and economical. It is a good nesting material too, but it is more expensive than other bedding materials listed above in what bedding not to use.
Right out of the bag Aspen shavings provide poor coverage for thiner layers of bedding and are a bit difficult for gerbils to walk on, but after a few days gerbils will chew larger pieces of shavings to smaller ones, so it is not a permanent issue, or if you can find some brands that have smaller pieces of shavings.
You can mix Aspen with other beddings like Carefresh, so you can get a more cozy and good for tunels material. There were reports that Aspen caused allergies in some gerbils, so if you notice that your gerbil has an irritated red nose discontinue the use of Aspen.
Carefresh is made from natural reclaimed paper fibers. It has a really good absoprtion and is almost 100% dust free.
It is good for small animals like gerbils because it is soft and doesn’t colapse easy when tunels are made, but for better effect and to save up a bit you can combine it with other beddings like Aspen for example.
I’ve heard that Carefresh too can cause allergies to some gerbils, so be carefull and if you notice signs of allergies discontinue using it.
Corn Cob is also recommended by most experts.
It has a better absorption than shavings and can eliminate almost all odor. I personally wouldn’t use it for the whole tank but only to cover the glass bottom of the tank or to mix it with another bedding.
It gives some good coverage for the bottom glass, has low dust, but it is a bit expensive and isn’t as comfortable as the shavings. As the name says it is made from corn.
Gerbils can eat it and it can cause digestion problems, so if you notice anything weird visit the vet as soon as possible. Corn Cob needs to be changed about every month because it can produce amonia which can cause health issues.
Can I mix different beddings together?
Yes, you can mix different beddings together. Some beddings are even better when combined with others. Try different combinations until you find something that suits you gerbils best.
When it comes to bedding choosing it doesn’t necessary mean that you have to do and use what experts recommend. If you see that your gerbils are feeling good in their home with the bedding they have and that there are no health problems or allergies, then everything should be just fine. These are just recommendations, because we only want the best for our pets, don’t we.:)
I personally use pine bedding, which is dust-free and treated against phenol, because I couldn’t find any other better bedding in my country and my gerbils are feeling great and playfull as always, and I didn’t notice any problems. I hope this post helped you a bit in any way.
If you have experience with any of the above listed beddings please let me know in the comments, I would love to read about others opinions, and if you have any questions feel free to ask!