Why Do Gerbils Scratch Their Cage: Understanding Their Behavior

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Gerbils are popular pets for small, active rodents because they are playful and curious. They are known to be active climbers, burrowers, and chewers.

However, one common behavior that can be puzzling for pet owners is when gerbils scratch their cage.

Scratching is a natural behavior for gerbils and can serve several purposes. One reason why gerbils scratch their cage is to maintain their sharp claws.

In the wild, gerbils use their claws to dig burrows and tunnels, and scratching their cage can help them keep their claws in good condition.

Another reason why gerbils scratch their cage is to mark their territory. Gerbils have scent glands on their feet, and scratching can help them leave their scent on their cage, signaling to other gerbils that the space is already claimed.

While scratching is normal for gerbils, excessive scratching may be a sign of stress or boredom.

Gerbils are social animals and need plenty of mental and physical stimulation to stay healthy and happy.

Providing them with plenty of toys, hiding places, and opportunities to burrow and climb can help prevent excessive scratching and keep them content.


Scratching As a Sign of Boredom


Gerbils are active animals that require stimulation and exercise to stay healthy and happy. When they are not getting enough of these things, they may exhibit boredom, such as scratching their cage.

Scratching can be a way for gerbils to release pent-up energy and frustration. They may scratch at the walls, floor, or bars of their cage to find a way out or create a new space to explore.

This behavior can be particularly common in gerbils kept in small or unstimulating environments.

To prevent boredom and excessive scratching, providing gerbils with plenty of toys, exercise opportunities, and playtime outside of their cage is essential.

Running wheels, tunnels, and climbing structures can provide much-needed gerbil enrichment and stimulus.

In addition to physical activities, mental stimulation is also crucial for gerbils. Providing them with puzzle feeders or hiding treats throughout their cage can encourage them to use their instincts to forage and explore.

Overall, scratching can indicate that a gerbil is not getting the exercise, playtime, and enrichment they need.

By providing them with a stimulating and engaging environment, owners can help prevent boredom and promote a happy and healthy life for their furry friends.


The Role of the Cage Environment


The cage environment plays a crucial role in the behavior of gerbils. Gerbils are active and curious animals that require adequate space and stimulation to thrive.

Inadequate cage size and lack of environmental enrichment can lead to boredom, stress, and undesirable behaviors such as excessive cage scratching.

When selecting a cage for gerbils, choosing a spacious gerbilarium that provides enough room for exercise and exploration is essential.

A glass tank or Savic Habitat Gerbil Cage are popular options providing the necessary space and ventilation for gerbils. The location of the cage is also essential, as gerbils prefer quiet and low-traffic areas.


Gerbil Cage From Amazon

In addition to cage size, the cage environment should be enriched with toys, hiding places, and chew items.

Gerbils are natural burrowers and enjoy digging, so providing a deep bedding layer can also be beneficial. Toys such as tunnels, wheels, and chew blocks can help keep gerbils mentally stimulated and prevent boredom.

It is important to note that excessive scratching of the cage can also be a sign of health issues such as skin irritation or parasites.

Regular veterinary check-ups and proper hygiene practices can help prevent these issues and ensure gerbils’ overall health and well-being.

In summary, the cage environment plays a crucial role in the behavior of gerbils and should be carefully considered when selecting a habitat for these animals.

Adequate space, environmental enrichment, and proper hygiene practices can help prevent undesirable behaviors such as excessive scratching and promote gerbils’ overall health and well-being.


Scratching and the Need for Escape


Gerbils are known to scratch their cages for many reasons. One of the primary reasons is the need for escape.

Gerbils are active animals and need much space to run around and play.

When they feel confined in their cages, they often scratch the bars to escape.

The desire to escape is an instinct for gerbils. In the wild, they constantly move, searching for food and avoiding predators.

When kept in cages, they do not have the same freedom of movement, which can be frustrating.

Cage bars are often the target of gerbil scratching. The bars provide a surface for the gerbil to grip, allowing them to climb and move around the cage.

However, the constant scratching can damage the bars, causing them to bend or break.

To prevent gerbil scratching, providing them with a larger cage that allows for more movement is essential.

Gerbils also enjoy having toys and tunnels to play in, which can help keep them entertained and reduce the need for escape.

In conclusion, scratching is a natural behavior for gerbils, often indicating a desire for escape.

Owners can help reduce the need for scratching and keep their gerbils happy and healthy by providing them with a larger cage and plenty of toys and tunnels.


Health Implications of Scratching


While scratching is a natural behavior for gerbils, excessive scratching can signify stress or other medical issues.

Gerbils that scratch their cage too much may develop skin irritation or injuries from the constant rubbing against the cage’s rough surface.

Stress can also weaken the immune system, making gerbils more susceptible to illnesses. Additionally, stressed gerbils may exhibit other signs of stress, such as decreased appetite or lethargy.

In rare cases, excessive scratching may be a symptom of seizures or other medical conditions. If a gerbil is scratching excessively and showing other unusual behaviors, it is recommended to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical issues.

While scratching is a natural behavior for gerbils, monitoring their behavior and noting any excessive scratching or other signs of stress is essential. If necessary, seek medical attention to ensure the health and well-being of your pet gerbil.


Importance of Bedding and Substrate


Gerbils are burrowing animals that require a suitable substrate to dig and create tunnels. Bedding and substrate play a crucial role in the health and well-being of gerbils, as it provides them with a comfortable and safe environment to live in.

Bedding material should be soft, absorbent, and dust-free. Pine and cedar shavings are not recommended as they contain harmful oils that can cause respiratory problems in gerbils. Instead, grass or paper-based bedding is preferred as it is safe and comfortable for gerbils to burrow in.

The substrate should be 4 inches deep to allow gerbils to dig and create tunnels. Gerbils are active diggers requiring a substrate to withstand their digging behavior. A deep substrate also helps to maintain a stable temperature and humidity level in their enclosure.

Regular cleaning and changing bedding and substrate are essential to prevent the buildup of bacteria and ammonia, which can cause respiratory problems in gerbils. It is recommended to spot clean daily and change the bedding and substrate every two weeks.

In conclusion, providing suitable bedding and substrate is crucial for the health and well-being of gerbils.

A comfortable and safe environment will allow gerbils to exhibit their natural digging and burrowing behavior, which is essential for their physical and mental health.


Gerbil’s Need for Chewing


Gerbils are natural chewers that need to chew to keep their teeth healthy. Their teeth never stop growing, so they need to wear them down regularly to prevent them from growing too long. Chewing also helps to keep their teeth clean and healthy.

In the wild, gerbils have access to a variety of materials that they can chew on, such as branches, seeds, and grasses. In captivity, providing them with appropriate chew toys to satisfy their chewing needs is essential.

Gerbils will often gnaw on their cage bars or other items in their cage if they do not have access to appropriate chew toys. This behavior can lead to dental problems and damage to their cage and toys.

Chew toys made of safe materials, such as untreated wood or cardboard, are great gerbil options. These toys provide a safe and appropriate surface for them to gnaw on, which helps to keep their teeth healthy and their minds stimulated.

It is essential to monitor chew toys regularly to ensure they are not becoming too small or damaged, which could pose a choking hazard. Providing a variety of chew toys can also prevent boredom and encourage natural behaviors.

In summary, gerbils need to chew to keep their teeth healthy, and appropriate chew toys are essential for their well-being. Providing safe materials for them to gnaw on will keep their teeth healthy and prevent destructive chewing behavior.


Addressing Parasites and Mites


Mites and parasites are common culprits for gerbils scratching their cages. These tiny organisms can cause discomfort and irritation to gerbils, leading to excessive scratching.

Mites are microscopic arthropods that can infest gerbil cages and cause skin irritation. On the other hand, parasites live on or inside the gerbil’s body and can cause various health problems. Both mites and parasites can be contracted from contaminated bedding, food, or water.

To address mites and parasites, it is essential to maintain a clean and hygienic environment for gerbils. Regularly cleaning the cage, replacing bedding, and providing fresh food and water can help prevent infestations.

Additionally, treating gerbils with anti-parasitic medication can help eliminate any existing mites or parasites.

It is important to note that over-the-counter medications may not treat mites and parasites effectively. It is recommended to consult a veterinarian specializing in exotic animals for proper diagnosis and treatment.

In summary, mites and parasites can commonly cause gerbils to scratch their cage. Maintaining a clean environment and seeking proper veterinary care can help address these issues and improve gerbils’ overall health and well-being.


Observing Other Signs of Stress


While cage scratching is common among gerbils, it is not the only sign of stress. Observing other signs can help you identify if your gerbil is experiencing stress and take appropriate action. Here are some other signs to look out for:


Loud Noise


If your gerbil is making loud noises, it could be a sign of stress. Gerbils can make various sounds, including chirping, squeaking, and hissing. If your gerbil is making a lot of noise, it could be a sign that they are feeling threatened or uncomfortable.




Gerbils are social animals and usually get along well with each other. However, if they are fighting, it could be a sign of stress. Various factors, including overcrowding, territorial disputes, and lack of resources, can cause fighting.




It could be a sign of stress if your gerbil is acting aggressively towards you or other gerbils. Aggression can take many forms, including biting, scratching, and lunging. If you notice your gerbil acting aggressively, it is important to address the underlying cause of the behavior.




Grooming is normal for gerbils, but excessive grooming can be a sign of stress. If your gerbil is constantly grooming themselves or another gerbil, it could be a sign that they are feeling anxious or uncomfortable.

In conclusion, observing other signs of stress besides cage scratching can help you identify if your gerbil is experiencing stress. By addressing the underlying cause of the behavior, you can help your gerbil feel more comfortable and happy in their environment.


Providing Comfort and Care for Your Gerbil


Gerbils are active creatures that need plenty of space to move around and explore. They also need a comfortable environment that meets their basic needs. A happy and healthy gerbil is curious and playful, so providing them with the right conditions to thrive is essential.


Cage Size and Comfort


The size of the gerbil cage is one of the most important factors to consider. A cage that is too small can cause stress and discomfort for your gerbil, leading to scratching and other unwanted behaviors. A cage that is too big, on the other hand, can be overwhelming and cause anxiety.

A good rule of thumb is to provide at least 10 gallons of space per gerbil. This means that a pair of gerbils should have a cage of at least 20 gallons. The cage should also be well-ventilated and provide plenty of hiding spots and burrows for your gerbils to explore.


Food and Water


Gerbils need a balanced diet that includes a mix of grains, seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables. A food bowl should be provided and filled with fresh food daily. It’s essential to avoid overfeeding your gerbil, as obesity can lead to health problems.

A water bottle should also be provided and checked daily to ensure it works properly. Gerbils need access to fresh, clean water at all times.


Handling and Interaction


Gerbils are social creatures and enjoy interacting with their owners. However, it’s essential to handle them gently and with care. Never pick up a gerbil by its tail, which can cause serious injury.

Instead, place your hand in the cage and allow your gerbil to approach you. Once they are comfortable with your presence, you can gently scoop them up and hold them close to your body. Always supervise interactions between children and gerbils, and teach them how to handle them gently.



Providing a comfortable and stimulating environment for your gerbil is essential for their health and happiness. By following these simple tips, you can ensure your pet gerbils are well-cared for and thriving in their home.

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