BASIC REPRODUCTIVE INFORMATIONMating and Birthing
Your gerbils will most likely mate at about three months of age. If one of the pair is older and especially if one is an experienced breeder, mating is likely to occur within a couple of weeks. Gerbils usually mate in the early evening and it is a two hour ritual of chase, "tag", and each checking their undersides. A female gerbil will produce pups until she is two years old. A male gerbil will produce babies throughout his lifetime.
If this is a first litter or your gerbils are not raising/nursing pups when they mate, the gestation will be 24 days. Mark your calendar! The pregnancy might go as long as 28 days.
When the babies are being birthed it is best not to disturb the parents. You might watch from a distance; but not too close and do not disturb the tank or handle the parents or babies. A female gerbil will reach down from underneath, pull out the baby, clean it, and eat the placenta. During the birthing or immediately after the gerbil pair will mate, again this may last for a couple of hours. Do not worry about the babies being neglected for that time, they will do fine. The mother gerbil should gather the babies into a nest, but sometimes might not do this until after the birthing and mating is complete.The First Few Days
Most gerbils are excellent parents and would never cannibalize their babies (unless their water source ran dry). However, if a baby is stillborn or dies shortly after birth, the parent’s instinct is to "clean up" to keep the tank sanitized, if you do not remove the body right away.
If only one pup is birthed or only one pup survives the birthing, it normally cannot stimulate enough milk flow on its own. The best thing is to foster with a litter of young pups. After the birthing the father gerbil is usually kicked out of the nest for 24-48 hours while the mother attends to the babies. On occasion a dad gerbil will sneak a pup or two into his nest for company. I generally will return those to mom.
Always wash your hands before you handle the pups – though gerbils usually don't mind the smell of their people, foreign smells such as soot, strange gerbils, stale litter, etc. could make the gerbils reject or even attack the babies.
If the mother seems to be distracted and is running around, digging, or scratching in the corners, leave her alone in a quiet room, drape a towel over half the tank, and give her some unscented toilet tissues. You may want to warm one corner of the tank, but not too hot! I use a clamp lamp and a 40 watt grow light positioned several inches from the tank. Use a thermometer to make sure the temperature is not any higher than 85 degrees F.
A mother gerbil may move the litter from one corner of the tank to the other, especially if she feels nervous or threatened. This is normal and nothing to worry about. Usually after a few days this behavior will stop and the mother will keep the gerbils in one corner of the tank.
It is important in the first several days after the pups are born that you do not to change anything about the environment. Do not clean out the tank, do not move the location of the tank, do not give them cardboard or new toys, and do not take anything out of the tank. Most definitely do not remove the father gerbil. Any change may cause the mom to spend several hours putting the house back in order, neglecting the gerbil pups.
When breeding gerbils, I check on the babies two or three times a day from day one, but try to leave raising the litter to the mom and dad without interfering. Female and male gerbils are usually wonderful parents. Sometimes in the first couple of days a pup will get separated from the nest. Put the pup back into the nest, but make sure to wash your hands first (or cover your hand with a plastic baggie).The First Few Weeks
Before I handle the pups, I give the parents just a bit of cardboard to distract them and keep them busy for a few minutes. Or I give them some food.
I start taking the babies out of the tank starting when they get a light coat of fuzz – at about day 5-7. Be careful! Even at this age gerbil babies crawl fast, and being blind they will crawl, wiggle, and flip right out of your hand which could result in severe head injury. Always take gerbil pups out of the tank completely enclosed in two hands and hold them directly on top of a pillow or blanket.
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