Care and attention
Gerbils are small creatures and must be handled gently. They can be picked up by their tails but always at the base, near the body, not from the tip as this can cause damage. They can nip, but with regular handling should rarely do so (always wash your hands before handling incase they smell of food). Gerbils are active during the day and require stimulation. They will appreciate regular handling as it gives them a change of environment and something new to do.
To start with your gerbils will be scared of you and run away from your hand. If you get them used to seeing your hand, they will become braver. When opening the cage, let the gerbils hear you coming so that you don't make them jump. Use a side door rather than a top door. A giant hand suddenly appearing from above will scare the gerbils more than a hand appearing slowly from where they can see it. Leave your hand in the cage for a while where they can see it . If they come towards it, don't move at all. Just let them sniff and they will probably then walk off. Place their dry food in the food pot, so that they can see you doing so, and they will connect being fed with your hand and see it as a good thing. After a while, hold the food out on the palm of your hand. When they have enough courage they will eat from your hand and soon have no fears at all. To encourage this, pick out the gerbil's favourite food item, usually a peanut or sunflower seed, and offer this. Never make any sudden movements as this will scare them away. If you do get bitten, try not to get angry and shout, as this will make things worse. Also, try not to be nervous as they will sense this from you and feel nervous too.
To get them used to being touched, gently stroke them with one finger while they are eating. Don't cover their head or make any sudden movements. Approach slowly and gently. Try talking to them to reassure them - they will soon get used to the sound of your voice. Once the gerbils are used to your hand and being touched, they are quite tame and safe to pick up. This must be done very carefully, since the gerbil will be scared at first. Before picking one up, put the cage on the floor, and sit beside it on the floor. This way, if the gerbil falls it won't fall too far. The correct way to pick up a gerbil is this: gently grip the tail at the base, near the body, and lift the gerbil slowly to the palm of your other hand. NEVER hold a gerbil by the tip of its tail! At first you should keep a hold on the tail to maintain control and let the gerbil get used to sitting on your hand. After a while, you can let the gerbil sit freely on the palm of your hand and let it run wherever it wants. Do not hold a gerbil dangling by the base of its tail for longer than necessary. If the gerbil gets scared and bolts or jumps, try to gently trap it in your hands - sitting in the palm of one with the other covering it - and put it back in the cage. Make sure you spend equal amounts of time with both gerbils to make sure that they are both completely tame. Gerbils should be handled every day.
Although gerbils do not require extra exercise, it is a good idea to build an exercise pen as a change of scene for the gerbils. It is very simple and very effective to use cardboard boxes linked by tunnels and ladders. It imitates the Rotastak system but is much cheaper! First, get hold of some boxes. They can be found at supermarkets, and should be cubes or rectangular boxes with high sides. These will form the separate rooms of the pen. To connect the boxes, cut a small hole about the diameter of a toilet roll inner tube near the base of one side of the box. Cut another hole in the adjoining box in the same position. Use a toilet roll to connect the boxes. As many boxes can be linked in this way as you want. Holes higher up the side of the box can be reached via ladders. An old fish tank can be used for a digging area. Fill it nearly to the top with shavings and put a wire-mesh lid on the top to stop them escaping. Each box should have a layer of shavings on the bottom. Toys can be placed in each box. Platforms can be added, simply cut up a spare cardboard box into sheets and fix them to the wall of a box in the exercise pen. Gerbils can jump high, so always watch them while they are in the pen incase they jump out. Your gerbils will love to run around and play in this home made pen!