Do you notice changes happening in your pet gerbil every time there’s snow outside? During wintertime, your critter may suddenly appear lazy, slow, and even inactive.
Gerbils don’t exactly hibernate, but they do enter a hibernation-like state when the temperature doesn’t agree with them.An animal that is in hibernation will experience dramatic slowing in their heart rate and breathing. Their body temperature will drop, sometimes below freezing levels, in order to match the temperature around them.
In this article, we’ll talk about gerbils and hibernation and what you can do to prevent your beloved pet from falling into this state.
Why do animals need to hibernate?
Hibernation is an important survivor instinct in animals.
When winter comes in the wild, food tends to be scarce, and thus animals have a much harder time sustaining their daily needs. Even rivers and lakes can get frozen over, removing their much-needed source of fresh water.
In this harsh and desperate weather, animals resort to hibernation in order to stay alive.
An animal that is in hibernation will experience dramatic slowing in their heart rate and breathing. Their body temperature will drop, sometimes below freezing levels, in order to match the temperature around them.
Until they come out of hibernation, they won’t have to eat or excrete during this time, thus saving them from the scarce winter weather.
Animals will remain in this sleep state for up to half a year at most, usually from September-October to March-April. Smaller animals tend to resort more to hibernation as their bodies are much less likely to survive in the winter, but even bigger animals like bears experience something akin to light hibernation called torpor.
Do gerbils hibernate?
Unlike many other small animals, gerbils don’t actually need to hibernate. They can maintain a lower than average temperature in cold weather, thus lessening the need to burn more energy than usual.
One rather controversial case is the case of hibernating gerbils at the Moscow Zoo in Moscow, Russia.
Since gerbils do not naturally hibernate, zookeepers keep the poor critters in a quiet, dark fridge without food and water.
Apparently, this ‘state of despair’ is to keep them from believing that there’s still a chance to find food, as even the slightest hope is enough to keep them going.
Understandably, many found the practice inhumane and cruel when the news made rounds online. According to the zookeepers though, this is done for the gerbils’ health, as well as to prepare them for breeding.
When do gerbils become lethargic?
However, that’s not to say that gerbils don’t go into a hibernation-like state, even when they’re under normal human care.
During wintertime, or whenever it gets too cold, you may notice a change in your pet gerbil’s behaviour. He might start becoming more lazy, refusing to move for long periods of time. If he is moving, it may appear like his body is heavier than usual.
At the same time, you may notice a spike in his normal food portions. Gerbils tend to eat a lot during this time, since instinct tells them that they need to stock up on plenty of food and thus, energy, in case the weather gets worse later on.
The colder the temperature gets, the more you’ll see these changes in your critter. In fact, once it gets too cold, you might notice other signs like slight spasm and stiffness in your gerbil’s body.
Your gerbil may even appear to fall into a comatose-like state during this time.
Many owners, especially newbies, may think that their gerbils have passed away, but don’t worry, that’s not the case.
How long do they stay in this state?
Gerbils will stay in this state as long as the temperature is still too cold for them.
While they can handle slightly cold temperatures, they can’t handle temperatures that are lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit or 13 degrees Celsius.
To get your gerbils out of this lethargic state, simply move him to a warm area and do your best to keep him warm. Since it’s not a true hibernation, it should be fairly easy to get him out of that state.
If you see spasms or other signs and they don’t stop even when you already moved your critter to a warmer area, it’s best to go to a veterinarian.
How to help them prevent hibernation?
Obviously, gerbils and cold weather don’t match. They simply aren’t able to function once the temperature goes down to a level that are much too cold for them.
The best way to help prevent your gerbil from hibernating is simply to keep the temperature comfortable for him at all times. Ideally, this is somewhere between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, or 18 to 24 degrees Celsius.
Other than that, you should also make sure that your gerbil never gets in contact with the cold draft from outside. Cool gusts are never good for gerbils since their tiny bodies aren’t able to properly handle that sudden change in temperature.
This is especially crucial during the winter, as the air is also much colder during this season. A simple cold gust might cause them to get sick, if not outright fall into this lethargic state.
Conclusion: Do gerbils hibernate?
Gerbils don’t hibernate, at least not like their fellow small animals, but they do go into a similar state when it gets too cold for them.
If you notice your gerbil in a lazy, almost inactive state, this is most likely what they’re experiencing.
To prevent this from happening, make sure to always keep your gerbil in a comfortable home temperature-wise, away from windows where cold air could blow in.
Keep this in mind, as your pet’s health should always be top priority as a pet owner.