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Longtime Gerbil Cagemates Now Fight

What should be done if longtime gerbil cagemates start fighting?

Donna Anastasi
Posted: October 10, 2013, 6 a.m. EDT

two gerbils in a box
A change of scent or dominance structure or a health issue are some reasons why gerbils might suddenly fight. 

Q: I have had two male gerbils for three years. This morning I walked by and they were fighting, so I split them up and washed them to get some of the blood off. I separated them because I didn't want them killing each other. Is it safe to put them back together? This I the first time this has ever happened.

A: I am sorry to hear that your boys are no longer getting along, especially at the ripe old age of 3 years. Gerbils identify each other by scent. Sometimes if a strange smell gets on them, like from when they are running outside of the cage, they can be confused and squabble. Also, given that your gerbils are older, perhaps one has a health issue that is making him smell different.

Another reason gerbils will fight is if the dominance structure shifts. It's possible the more dominant of the two is aging and becoming feeble, and the other gerbil is making a play to be in charge.

The third reason gerbils might fight is if there is something in the cage that one is getting territorial over, or if the cage has a complicated setup causing them to establish separate residences. There should be one and only one nest box or hiding structure in the cage for them to sleep in together.

You did the exact right thing to separate the gerbils. Once gerbils start fighting it can turn deadly. Never touch fighting gerbils with your bare hand. They will indiscriminately chomp anything that touches them when they are in this mode.

As far as getting them back together, you might first try having them live in their housing setup split by a wire mesh divider so they can become reacquainted with each other’s scent. After a week, remove the divider and see if they get along. If they continue to fight, I recommend that you keep them in separate housing but close to one another so they have a neighbor if not a roommate.

See more gerbil questions and answers, click here>>
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Posted: October 10, 2013, 6 a.m. EDT

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Reader Comments
I had 3 gerbil brothers until yesterday when one unexpectedly passed away (rip Channie), but I've noticed that my two remaining gerbils have been a little awkward around each other and this morning I had to break up a fight between them. I separated them for a bit and now they're back together in the cage, but they aren't as playful as normal.

They're almost two years old and this is the first time I've had issues with them as far as fighting goes. I'm sure it has to do with the fact that their little buddy is gone and they are having a hard time adjusting, but I'm not sure if there is anything I can do to help out. I don't want to separate them from each other if I don't have to, but I'd hate for them to fight again when I'm not there and come home to another gerbil that's passed away.

Aside from seeming more aggressive it also seems like they don't really know what to do with themselves when they're in their cage-they aren't nesting or burrowing like they used to, and they aren't running in their wheel as much, although they are eating and sleeping regularly, and they still pile on top of each other and groom each other. They don't really seem to have any issues when I take them out of the cage either. When they have their out of cage play they seem to enjoy it.

This is my first time with gerbils, so I don't know if this is a normal process or not for gerbils who have lost part of their social group. Any suggestions?
Katy, Charlotte, NC
Posted: 4/30/2015 1:16:34 PM
I'm had the same problem but with females. I get in my room and find one basically attacking the other and going into their sleep hole. I get the one that was attacking and put it into a separate cage and find the other one barely moving. The 'attacker' had blood near its mouth and seemed chubbier than usual. The 'attacked' was really skinny and had blood in between her legs and wasn't moving but still alive. Any idea why this happened?
Jenny, Fond du Lac, WI
Posted: 4/11/2015 4:17:49 PM
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