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Gerbil Curled Up In A Ball: Why + What To Do

There are different gerbil behaviors that you will observe from your gerbil. Some may not be of major concern but others require immediate attention.

As a gerbil owner, it is important to be aware of this change of behavior to know how to better care for your pets.

In this article, learn the reasons why a gerbil curls up in a ball, when to worry and what to do about it.

Why is my gerbil curled up in a ball?

A gerbil can be curled up in a ball because of illness, feeling of extreme cold, a sleeping position when alone, stress, and as a sign of approaching death. Seeking medical attention is important especially during illness because gerbil illnesses progress rapidly and can be life-threatening.

Establishing the reason behind your gerbil being curled up in a ball is the first step in implementing the appropriate action. 

Let’s look at these reasons more in-depth to help you understand more why these factors contribute to your gerbil curling up in a ball.

gerbil curled up in a ball

Reasons why a Gerbil curls up in a ball

The reasons why a gerbil curls up in a ball include:


Illness can cause a gerbil to curl up in a ball or be in a hunched-over position. A healthy gerbil is usually very active with playing, digging, and exploring activities within their environment. 

It is unusual for them to be inactive and hunched over in one position. 

The signs of sickness or illness can be hard to notice. Gerbils do not show signs of illness until the illness is quite advanced.

In addition to curling up, check your gerbil to see whether they also have the following symptoms which indicate the presence of an illness:

  • Change of behavior if in pain (they may nip or squeak at you)
  • Fur loss observed as bald patches
  • Runny nose or eyes with a reddish tint
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite

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Curling up in a ball is also a sign that your gerbil is feeling cold. This indicates that they need warmth and curling up helps them to keep warm with their own body temperature.

You will observe this especially if you have a single gerbil. In extreme cold, gerbils in groups huddle together to keep warm with their body temperatures. 

But if you have a single gerbil, you will notice this behavior which shows that they are trying to keep warm by themselves.

The optimal living temperature for a gerbil is between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, however, if temperatures are too low your gerbil will feel cold. 

Sleeping position

Gerbils in a group normally sleep together by snuggling next to each other or lying on top of each other.

If you only have one gerbil, they will tend to curl up in a ball as a sleeping position due to the lack of a partner or group to cuddle together when sleeping.


A stressed-out gerbil will tend to hide out more in its tunnel or nest and can be curled up in a ball during this distressing period.

Stress may be caused by something in their environment such as loud noises, loneliness if they are alone without a partner, boredom, or even illness. 

If your gerbil is not playful or active as usual and constantly stays curled up, this can be a sign of stress. 

A sign of being close to death

Curling up in a ball is also one of the signs that a gerbil is about to die. Gerbils that are close to death are inactive and have the tendency to stay in one spot in their cage more often. 

Analyze your gerbil’s behavior to determine other signs that indicate they are close to death. 

These signs include loss of appetite, difficulty in breathing, weight loss, decreased drinking of water, urinating, or soiling on themselves. 

When to Worry

If you notice your gerbil has other symptoms in addition to curling up in a ball, this indicates signs of illness. This is a serious situation that needs medical attention. 

Contact your veterinarian and let them know of your gerbil’s symptoms. The veterinarian will determine the underlying cause of the illness and also advise on the treatment.

Another cause of concern is when your gerbil is nearing death. This is a sad moment and requires preparation for what is to come.

If they present signs of dying, also talk to your veterinarian for a checkup to confirm and to prepare for the next steps. 

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What to do

When you notice your gerbil curled up in a ball, you can do the following to help them depending on the reason why they are in this position:

Seek medical attention

If you notice additional symptoms indicating your gerbil is ill, immediately seek medical attention from your veterinarian. 

The veterinarian will further assess their health condition and provide recommendations based on their findings. 

Keep them warm

Your gerbil could be too cold and just needs a better environment to be warm. There are many ways you can help them to keep warm. 

First, you can place their cage in a room where there is no cold air in the room. Cold air can be from windows in the room or open doors that let in cold drafts.

You can also move the cage to a different room, an air-conditioned room, or another room that is near a heat source.

During winter, increase the room temperature to warm the room. 

Second, you can get them a partner gerbil if they are alone. During the cold season, they can snuggle together to keep warm. However, ensure you pair same-gender gerbils to prevent breeding. 

Third, add more bedding. Provide an extra layer of bedding in their cage to provide a place they can snuggle to keep warm. This will help to trap heat and will minimize quick loss of their body temperature. This keeps them warm.

Pair your gerbil

Gerbils are social animals and it is not recommended to have them alone because this causes loneliness. 

They thrive when paired up which helps them to enjoy their time by playing, grooming, and sleeping together.

Their sleeping position will change to their natural position of sleeping next to each other or being curled up together.

Relieve stress

To relieve a stressed gerbil, remove the sources of stress to calm down your gerbil. You can do this by removing your gerbil’s cage from the room that is near loud noises.

Move them away from other loud pets, machines, TVs, computers, running water, and also if you have children, advise them not to shout when near the gerbil. 

This minimizes environmental stressors from their room which reduces stress.

To overcome stress caused by loneliness, pair gerbils of the same gender. They will enjoy each other’s company. 

A bored gerbil will also experience stress therefore provide them with toys to occupy them such as exercise wheels, tunnels, or chew toys. 

Also provide enough space within the cage area, at least 10 gallons of space with bedding that is at least five inches deep. This will allow your gerbil to dig and tunnel well.

Read more: Why is my gerbil eating its bedding?

Be aware of signs of approaching death

When you notice any of the signs of your gerbil nearing death, immediately seek medical attention.

The veterinarian will examine them and may rule out disease as the cause for their curling up behavior, confirming an end of life period. They will advise you on how to take care of your gerbil to make them comfortable during this process until their demise. 


Gerbils are very active and playful pets and a behavior change can indicate something is wrong. Therefore it is important to always monitor your gerbil’s behavior to notice any changes. 

Talk to your veterinarian about these changes so that the cause can be determined whether it is as a result of illness or a behavioral change due to external factors.