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Gerbil Stretching: What It Means

Is your gerbil stretching too much? As with many behaviors (some seemingly weird) exhibited by gerbils, there is more to stretching and why gerbils do it. 

Let’s discuss the reasons behind gerbil stretching.

Why Does My Gerbil Keep Stretching?

Most of the time, gerbils keep stretching to mark their territory and also to get their muscles moving again after a period of inactivity either from resting or sleeping. Territorial marking and activation of muscles after rest are the main reasons behind gerbil stretching.

Gerbil Stretching

When Do Gerbils Stretch?

Territorial Marking

Territorial marking is also known as scent-marking involves ventral rubbing where a gerbil brings their ventral sebaceous gland (scent gland) located on their underside into contact with their environment’s surfaces.

They stretch out their bodies and rub their scent glands on these surfaces as they drag their bodies along the surfaces leaving behind a sticky orange oil that contains pheromones. This can be hard to catch since the act is normally subtle.

There are different ventral rubbing positions (as illustrated here) which include a gerbil stretching out their back legs and sliding on their belly as they spread their scent gland secretions on surfaces. 

Both male and female gerbils mark their territory within a gerbil habitat. It is an act of establishing gerbil dominance where dominant members of a gerbil group or pair claim an area.

Can gerbils mark their territory too much?

Some gerbils will mark their territory more than others, but it only really becomes a problem when they start to hurt themselves. 

Male gerbils tend to overmark their territory especially if they are in a group.

Constant dragging and rubbing of their belly on surfaces as they scent mark, leads to the appearance of bald patches on their underside because of loss of fur, drying up of the scent gland resulting in flaky skin, and development of scent gland tumors.

Scent gland tumors in gerbils are common however they are not major medical concerns because they can be surgically extracted and a gerbil tends to live a healthy life thereafter.

It is therefore important to know how to spot a scent gland tumor on your gerbil and seek medical attention when identified.

Regularly run your finger at least once a week over your gerbil’s underside to feel for small hard bumps, check for bald patches and flaking of the skin around the scent gland.

If you happen to notice any of these, immediately seek medical attention for your gerbil. 

Activation of muscles

Gerbils will also stretch their bodies after a period of inactivity, that is, after sleep or rest. Just like humans, animals stretch to activate their muscles for movement after a period of inactivity.

This is common, and should not be an issue.

During rest or sleep, a gerbil’s blood pressure as well as the blood flow decreases, their muscles become stiff, and also there is a build-up of waste products within the body.

When they wake up, they stretch to activate the muscles by increasing the blood flow and lymph circulation throughout their muscles and body.

When To Worry

If your gerbil is stretched out and not moving for a prolonged period, you should take them to the veterinarian for a diagnosis. 

Lying down flat or stretching themselves accompanied by inactivity can indicate they could be sick.

What other signs can a gerbil owner look for to see if their pet is sick?

If your gerbil’s body language is worrying you, keep a close eye on them. Several other indicators that show your gerbil may be sick include:

  • There is a change in their eating and drinking habits
  • Constant signs of stress or discomfort
  • Aggression towards other gerbils
  • They have cuts or bumps on their body
  • Their eyes are red and puffy or have discharge  

Final Thoughts

There are a few reasons why gerbils will stretch and oftentimes they will do this as a scent marking behavior as they move around their environment or when they wake up.

Where this becomes a problem, however, is when it is constant, and they are showing signs of discomfort or illness. If you find this to be the case for your gerbil, you should take them to the vet for a diagnosis.


Territorial marking in the Mongolian gerbil

Ventral rubbing of the Mongolian gerbil