Gerbil wheels are a great way for your gerbil to get exercise. The vast majority of gerbils that we have had love to run in wheels and will often run in them for hours. Wheels can also help gerbils to become more dexterous, as it will teach them to run in a straight line. One of the funniest experiences you may ever see is watching a gerbil run in a wheel for the first time. Never having the experience of running in a straight line, they will run for a few seconds and then slip right out. After a day or so of trying they'll finally catch on, and from then on they'll experience the joy of running for as long as they want.
There are two main types of gerbil/hamster wheels currently on the market. The first has open spaces between the bars of the wheel, and the second is solid all around. The wheels with spaces in between the bars can be very dangerous for gerbils, since their tail or leg can get caught in between them and can be broken or even amputated1. If you decide to get this kind of wheel, make sure to place tape around the outside (I have found that duct tape usually works best) and slowly spin some bedding onto the inside of the wheel so that your gerbil's feet won't get stuck to the tape2. The downside to doing this, though, is that you will have to replace the tape often. Wheels that are solid all around are really the best way to go. They may be a little more expensive, but you'll never have to worry about your gerbils breaking their legs or tail, and you won't have to worry about changing the tape frequently.
Always be careful when keeping a wheel in a tank with younger gerbils. Being as curious as they are, younger gerbils may try to jump into a wheel when it is occupied by an adult and get thrown out by the centrifugal force. They also may get caught in between the wheel and axel. The best thing you can do is simply not keep a wheel in with your gerbil pups until they are older, or if you do, hang your wheel from the top of your cage so that the pups cannot get into it until they grow a little3. A lot of breeders recommend hanging the wheel from the top of your gerbil's cage anyway, as it will give your gerbils more space to run around in their tank4.
If you've ever seen a rodent running around a room in one of those gerbil balls I'm sure you've wondered, as have I, if they really enjoy being put in one of those things. Well, the best answer I can give you is that it really depends on the gerbil. While some of them love running around the room and love learning where all your furniture is so that they can avoid it, others will simply curl up and refuse to go anywhere. If your gerbils love running around in their ball then it is usually okay to keep them in it for about a half an hour5. Make sure to block off all stairways and rooms that you don't want your gerbils getting into, and be sure to watch your gerbil at all times so that they don't get harassed by your larger pets. Also, make sure to tape the lid of your gerbil's ball so that it won't come off if they decide to try and get out6. If your gerbils really don't like being in balls, don't try to force them. Simply find another form of exercise for them that they enjoy more like a wheel or a pen.
Gerbil pens can be a fun, inexpensive way to give your gerbils a nice open space to run around in. You can buy them at a pet store, on-line, or even make one of your own. Although I have never personally seen one for sale in a pet store, I have been told that they are sold in many parts of the U.S. and Canada. If you buy one on-line, first make sure that the pen is high enough so that your gerbils can't jump out, and make sure that the bars are close enough together so that your gerbils can't squeeze between them and get out. A lot of people build gerbil pens out of cardboard but if you do this, make sure there are no edges for gerbils to chew on, or they will chew through the cardboard and get right out. Also, make sure that the sides of your pen are weighted down somehow so that the gerbils cannot crawl underneath it.
No matter what kind of pen you decide to use, make sure that your gerbils are supervised at all times whenever they are in it. Some gerbils are so clever that they can find their way out of even the most secure of pens. Also, if you have more than one tank of gerbils, make sure to move your pen to a new location on the floor every time you put gerbils from a new tank in the pen. If you don't, the gerbils from the new tank may smell the scent of the gerbils from the other tank and think that their cage-mates are hostile gerbils.
Some gerbil owners like to let their gerbils get exercise by running free in a room for an hour or two. If you decide to do this, make sure that your room is completely gerbil-proof. Make sure that all exits are blocked off and towels are placed under all of the doors. Also, make sure not to have any boxes or furniture that the gerbils can run into and get lost or stuck and make sure that your gerbil is supervised at all times7. Finally, good luck catching your gerbil when you want to put them back in their cage.
Page last updated: Wed. Sep. 21, 2005