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How to Pick Up and Hold a Gerbil the Right Way

By Eddie Chevrel


Updated on

Owning a gerbil will involve picking them up at some point so they become used to being in your close company. What are the methods that you can use when picking them up? This useful guide will teach you the necessary steps to pick up and hold your gerbil correctly.

Can Gerbils Be Handled?

Gerbils need to be handled and can be easily tamed over a short period. Once they get to know you, they will make excellent pocket pets that are great fun to play with. Holding them does take some getting used to and there are many methods you can use.

Depending on how young your gerbil is, you will also learn that they can be unpredictable. Even a tame gerbil still needs to be held properly, especially if you are standing up. Your reflexes aren’t going to help much if your gerbils get spooked for any reason.

Things to remember before you pick up a gerbil

The first part of the rule in picking up a gerbil is to be gentle and careful. The second part to remember is always to have a backup safety grip when you are handling them. This way you don’t have to worry if you are moving them from one place to another.

The most important aspect you need to keep in mind is that picking up a gerbil might also cause them to bite. If you hold them wrong or they aren’t used to being held, you risk irritating them enough to be bitten. This is why you will need to go through a very extensive taming period so they will trust you while holding them.

How do you get a gerbil to let you handle it?

This is a short process that starts with your gerbil getting used to the smell of your hands. Your hands also should be freshly washed and not have held any food recently. Strange scents on your hand will confuse them and you might even be bitten as a result.

  • The very first step involves getting a gerbil to step onto your hand. You can also coax them with a treat that is in the center of your palm. This takes repeated training for a week until they do this over and over.
  • When they finally are relaxed enough to stay in your hand, you can start passing them from hand to hand. If you have gained their trust by this point, they will be tamer. The key to this is repetition that makes a gerbil accustomed to knowing they are safe in your hands.

5 ways to hold a gerbil properly

Learning the different techniques for holding a gerbil is about as valuable as you can imagine. Having a handful of holding techniques is better than only using one or two. This way you can increase the safety of your gerbil if anything unforeseen goes wrong.

1. Safe inside a container

One of the easiest ways to transport a gerbil in a hurry is using a Tupperware container or deep cup. You should use a clear plastic material so you can see where your gerbil is if they crawl inside the cup.

What you do is put a snack into the back of the cup and wait until they get inside. Then you can turn the cup upright and place your hand over the top lightly so they can’t popcorn their way out.

2. Clamshell cupping

Just like it sounds, you are putting the top of your hand over the top of your other hand. Both hands are somewhat curved so the final look is reminiscent of a clamshell shape. If you have tamed your gerbil enough to come to your hand using a treat as bait, you can carefully cover them so they can be moved elsewhere.

3. Semi-secure grasp

This is carefully closing your fingers around a gerbil to have a secure hold on them. This way you will have a gerbil that is safely held in your palm. Their head should be sticking out from between your thumb and forefinger.

4. Secure finger hold

This method is slightly different since you are using your hand like a cradle. The forepaws and head stick out from the front of your folded fingers. Your thumb and forefinger will go behind the upper back and can hold the hind leg in place.

Essentially, they will rest their front paws on your thumb and forefinger with their head looking out. This way their tail hangs downward and isn’t getting in the way. They will look like they are strapped into a passenger chair going for a ride.

5. Open palm method

This is the bravest version that is only for gerbils that are used to being handled very often. This is holding a gerbil in your hand that is either open and flat or semi-rounded. As long as you have their trust, they won’t move around while you are moving them.

Just be sure to have your second hand close by just in case they get spooked. They might be more accustomed to being moved from hand to hand without incident.

Can you hold baby gerbils?

If your gerbils have babies, you shouldn’t try touching them until the parents get used to them. It’s advised not to touch them for the first 14 days because your scent will be confusing for the mother to identify her baby. She can even kill a baby if you’ve touched them before half a month has passed already.

After that, you can start holding them more often and start training them to be held regularly. You also have to use the clamshell cupping method because they tend to be jumpy. This is because they are excited and unfamiliar with you at first.

Can you pick up a gerbil by its tail?

Picking up a gerbil by its tail should never be attempted for any reason whatsoever. These are not like mice or rats where tails are meatier. A gerbil has a very thin and frail tail that can actually break off by accident. This is a problem if you have young children that aren’t aware a gerbil’s tail can snap off with very little effort.

This can also put them at risk of infection since the broken-off section can have some bone exposed. If you have a gerbil that has lost a tail, they need to be seen by a vet to have it treated for possible infection. Gerbils have very bushy tails that look a lot thicker than they actually are. Once their tails break off, they don’t grow back at all like lizards.

Do gerbils actually like to be held?

Once gerbils have been trained to be handled, this is going to be what your gerbil expects from you. But you also need to know signs that can tell you if they are not willing to be picked up. If you haven’t learned any of these methods, you need to get familiar with their moods. They don’t often bite unless they have a reason or if they were pushed into being aggressive.

One tip is to never try to pick up a gerbil that is standing up with its hands crossed over each other. This is telling you they are not comfortable with something, which can also be caused by your presence.

Another tip is to wait for at least a few minutes after your gerbil has awakened from sleep. A sleepy gerbil might not be in the mood for anything just yet and could bite out of defense if he just does not like being handled after emerging from slumber.

How long and how often should I hold my gerbil?

You need to hold a gerbil at least once a day for a minimum of one or two hours at a time. This keeps them familiar with your scent and also tame through daily handling. The more that you handle a gerbil, the better it will get at being touched and held.

Just like any small animal, the more handling they get, the less prone they are to biting. Understandably, you might only be able to spend so much time with your pet, but the minimum needs to be 1 hour per day.

Should I let my gerbil roam freely in the house?

You can’t let your gerbil roam freely since they might climb inside furniture and get trapped. You may buy them an exercise ball that is safer for them to explore and get some exercise. The only downside is they can poop or pee in these plastic balls so they will need frequent cleaning.

Why does my gerbil try to bite me when I hold it?

If you didn’t pay attention to the warning signs that a gerbil is giving off, you could be bitten. They will have a basic set of warning signs that tell you they are not up for being held. One sign is foot thumping and another is seeing their hands folded over each other.

These physical signs and body postures will tell you that they aren’t OK with being touched. As a result of being pushed too far, you can be bitten which is a painful reminder of what not to do the next time.

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About Eddie Chevrel

Eddie Chevrel is an animal journalist and the founder of ThePetSavvy. He's very passionate about exotic pets and spends most of his free time doing research, meeting, and interviewing people working with animals. Learn more about The Pet Savvy's Editorial Process.