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Why Is My Gerbil Lying Flat? (Explained)

Gerbils are pretty active animals, and chances are you’ll see your gerbil running around or chewing on something if you take a look in their tank at any given time. 

Gerbils do enjoy their downtime as well and you may also see them just lying down and relaxing from time to time.

It’s common for gerbils to curl up into a ball when they want to lie down and relax, but more rarely you might see your gerbil lying flat on their stomach. So what does this mean?

In this article, we’ll go into a little more detail on what it means when your gerbil lies like this, and we’ll also go over when your gerbil lying down can indicate a problem.

Reasons Behind A Gerbil Lying Flat

A gerbil lying flat can be due to sickness, depression, overheating, and in some cases lying flat serves as a comfortable position while resting. The resting or sleeping positions can give clues on a gerbil’s health and happiness, in this case, lying flat is also indicative of this.  

Is It Normal For Gerbils to Lie Flat?

Yes and no. Gerbils don’t normally lie flat on the ground, but if yours does, there’s no cause for alarm. Simply put, some gerbils just prefer lying down in this way. However, in some cases, it can be due to factors that affect their health that compel them to lie flat.

Generally, there is nothing to worry about if you see them lying down in this position; it’s just what your gerbil happens to find the most comfortable.

When Should I Be Concerned About My Gerbil Lying Flat?

Gerbils are active little critters and they do spend some time resting throughout the day. However, if your gerbil spends TOO much time lying flat, it could indicate that there is a problem. This includes:


A sick gerbil presents many symptoms including being inactive and lying down in different positions including lying flat. 

Signs of sickness in gerbils include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Dull fur
  • Excessive sneezing 
  • Bald patches of fur
  • Watery eyes
  • Weight loss
  • Inactivity


A gerbil lying flat also indicates they could be suffering from depression. Depression can make a gerbil be inactive without enthusiasm for any activity.

Gerbils can sometimes get depressed if they’re kept in an environment that is boring, or excessively isolated without a gerbil partner. 

If your gerbil is being kept in a bare cage with no toys and they don’t have another gerbil to interact with, it’s far more likely that they’ll experience depression.

Other causes of gerbil depression include inadequate space and bedding, gerbil fights, and the death of a cagemate.

Aside from lying flat and staying still way more than normal, other symptoms of depression in gerbils include:

  • Barely eating or drinking
  • A lack of response to being picked up
  • Limpness and apathy when being held
  • Overgrooming results in bald patches
  • Scratching of the cage floor
  • Excessive sleep 
  • Decreased enthusiasm for play with other gerbils or toys


Gerbils can suffer heatstroke just like us, despite being desert animals. In the wild, their environment can reach high temperatures of 104° F(40°C). In this natural habitat, gerbils adapt by burrowing to cooler underground temperatures in order to survive the desert heat.

Captive gerbils kept as pets do not have the luxury of burrowing very far to protect themselves from the surrounding environment’s heat. Therefore they can get too hot when temperatures rise.

Temperatures above 77° F(25°C) are too high for a pet gerbil. At these high temperatures, a gerbil becomes inactive and lays spread out. 

They can suffer from heatstroke if nothing is done to cool them off and can die from it.

Signs of overheating

The signs of a gerbil with heat stress include:

  • Lying flat on the tank or cage floor while moving bedding to find a cool section of the tank floor 
  • Panting
  • Excessive salivation
  • In a serious case, they will be unconscious

What To Do

Whenever you spot anything different or unusual about your gerbil’s sleeping behavior, always contact your veterinarian to have them checked.

Other solutions that can be implemented depending on the underlying factors that cause your gerbil to lie flat include:

Prevention and control of overheating

Overheating of a gerbil can be managed by:

  • Providing them constant access to cool water.
  • Relocating them to a cool or air-conditioned room within the home.
  • Moving their tank or cage away from direct sunlight.
  • Ensuring their room is well ventilated.
  • Refrigerate a smooth stone and place it in the gerbil tank for an overheated gerbil to rest on to cool off.

Overcoming gerbil depression

Gerbil depression can be managed by providing a gerbil with what they need to make them happy and thrive. This includes:

  • Pair up your gerbil if they are single. Gerbils are social animals that thrive in the company of other gerbils.
  • Provide toys such as wheels or wooden frames that your gerbil can enjoy.
  • Providing a larger tank space and bedding. Generally, a gerbil requires 10 gallons of space to be comfortable. Therefore if you have a pair or a group of gerbils provide them with enough space to live in.

The provision of adequate bedding gives gerbils the opportunity to burrow within it. This is an activity they love to do. 

  • Properly introduce another gerbil to a lonely gerbil when one of your gerbils dies especially if they were a pair. 
  • Separate fighting gerbils. Some gerbil fights can be vicious and cause depression in gerbils because of the constant fighting and lack of a peaceful environment.

If you suspect that your gerbil is depressed, the easiest way to try and solve the issue is to just give them more things to do. 

Since odds are they’re depressed because of a lack of stimulation, giving your gerbil a more fun and interesting environment to be in and interacting with them often can do a lot to keep them happy and entertained.  


A gerbil lying flat can seem unusual because this position is not their typical resting or sleeping position. The reasons behind it vary from behavioral problems due to external factors or health issues.

Some solutions call for a change in their surrounding environment while other solutions require medical attention.

Remember, always contact your veterinarian when you see a change in behavior or the health of your gerbil so that they receive a thorough checkup.


Heatstroke in gerbils

Gerbil Illnesses