Types of Gerbil Diets
Seed Mixes: These are loose mixes of seeds, sometimes with pellets or dried vegetables added. Most of these will be nutritionally balanced, but only if your gerbil eats everything in the mix. The downside: many gerbils will pick out their favorite bits and leave the rest, which can lead to a dietary imbalance if there are components your gerbils consistently avoid. This may be expecially true if there are lots of sunflower seeds in the mix, which are often favored but are quite fatty and alone are not a good diet. Because loose seed mixes don't insure a complete and balanced diet, they are not ideal as the sole component of the diet.
Pellets or Lab Blocks: these have the advantage of being nutritionally balanced. Pellets are smaller and lab blocks are the larger chunks of food. Both are good, although some people believe the lab blocks are the most ideal because of thorough scientific research behind them, and the lab blocks are now being packaged for the pet market. Unlike loose mixes, the gerbils can't pick and choose which components they eat so the blocks and pellets assure a balanced diet. However, this type of diet offers little variety or interest so while pellets or blocks make a good basic diet, some supplementation is recommended.
A Varied Diet is Best
Feeding pet gerbils a combination of foods helps to overcome the disadvantages of the different kinds of diets. A pelleted or block diet can form the balanced base of the diet, while a loose seed mix and other treats add interest and variety. You want to make sure gerbils eat enough of the pellets or blocks to get the nutritional benefit, so don't feed too much of the seed mix or other treats though. I would also recommend avoided seed mixes with sunflower seeds and reserving those as special treats (very helpful in taming and training).
Treats and Supplements
- Small amounts of fresh vegetables or fruits, in very limited amounts at first to prevent diarrhea. Make sure all vegetables and fruits are well washed and pesticide free. You can try items such as carrots, broccoli, dandelion greens, apples, and berries. Avoid raw kidney beans, raw potato, onion, potato leaves, or rhubarb leaves.
- nuts (sparingly; high in fat)
- sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (sparingly; high in fat)
- whole grain bread (plain or toasted)
- breakfast ceral (unsweetened types only)
- raisins, currents
- small bits of cheese
- small amounts of egg (scrambled or boiled)
- occasional mealworms
- occasional dog biscuits (good for chewing)
How to Feed
The best bet is to use a heavy crock made of ceramic or heavy duty plastic. Place the block or pelleted diet in the dish, and add a bit of seed mixture if desired. Once you have a feel for how much they eat, try to feed approximately the amount your gerbils will finish in a 24 hour period (but not too little), and remove any uneaten food before feeding again in case it is damp or soiled. Establish a routine where they are fed at about the same time each day; evening works well. Feed any treat items in a separate bowl and remove after a couple of hours if uneaten to prevent spoilage. Alternatively, you can feed the treats by hand, as this is a great way to earn your gerbils' trust.
Because gerbils come from dry climates, they do not need a lot of water, but don't make the mistake of thinking water is not important. Make sure they always have a supply of fresh, clean water in a sipper bottle.