You may have noticed your gerbil is very interested in their bedding and nibbles at it. This is despite having a well-balanced diet that you provide them.
This is one of the many strange gerbil behaviors and there is an explanation for this as well.
In this dedicated article, you will learn the reason why a gerbil may turn to eat its bedding, and what you can do about it.
Why is my gerbil eating its bedding?
A gerbil eating its bedding is an instinctual habit they have of chewing on things in their environment. It is normal behavior and chewing helps them to trim down their continuously growing teeth, reshape their bedding for comfort and ease of tunneling when the bedding is composed of different substrates.
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The root of the behavior
Gerbils are chewers by nature and will chew or gnaw at anything in their surroundings. Chewing is important and beneficial to them and if they cannot chew, this leads to dental disease.
In the wild, gerbils chew on wood, tree barks, and small branches. Therefore do not be alarmed by this behavior because they will chew on everything in their cage.
This natural habit helps them to:
Trim their teeth
A gerbil’s front teeth, that is the incisors, and the cheek teeth at the back of the mouth grow continuously throughout their lives.
If not trimmed down, the teeth tend to overgrow leading to breakage or non-alignment where they overgrow and look like tusks.
The natural need for chewing on things helps to file down their teeth and prevent them from overgrowing.
Breakdown of the bedding
Eating or chewing on the bedding and spitting it out is also a simple act of a gerbil breaking down their bedding into smaller pieces.
This is a way gerbils continue to make their living space in their cage more comfortable to sleep in by reshaping the bedding. The breaking down of the bedding material also helps in easier tunnel building.
Mix the bedding substrates
If you happen to have different bedding materials in your gerbil’s cage, you will notice that they will actively chew on it.
Gerbils use the bedding material to make tunnels.
The drier the gerbil bedding is, the more difficult it is for them to build stable tunnels, therefore mixing the bedding material helps them build stable tunnels.
The activity of chewing on the different bedding material is an effort of making the bedding more uniform, study, and less likely for it to cave in when moving through their built tunnels.
Is it okay if my gerbil eats his bedding?
It is okay for your gerbil to eat his bedding because eating, chewing, and gnawing is a natural habit and as long as the bedding is not a harmful substrate to them, they are safe.
Gerbils will nibble on any bedding material therefore ensure that the bedding you provide is not toxic to them.
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What if your gerbil swallows its bedding?
As long as the gerbil bedding is made from safe material when your gerbil swallows its bedding, they will be fine. They will digest it and eventually excrete it.
The danger comes in if the bedding material used is harmful to them and they swallow it.
Gerbil Bedding: Safe and harmful materials
The qualities of good gerbil bedding include bedding that is dust-free, digestible, non-toxic, and easy for building tunnels or tunneling in.
These qualities of gerbil bedding materials ensure the safety of a gerbil even if the material is eaten or swallowed and does not cause health problems for a gerbil.
The best gerbil bedding includes Aspen wood shavings, Kaytee Clean and Cozy, CareFresh bedding, ink or dye-free shredded paper, cardboard shavings, and hay.
What bedding is bad for gerbils?
Not all bedding materials are safe for gerbils. The beddings that are bad for gerbils and which must be avoided include:
Pine and cedar bedding
Pine and cedar bedding are not safe for gerbils. The material usually breaks down into small pieces and is aromatic which when inhaled causes irritation and allergic reaction in gerbils.
This makes a gerbil highly susceptible to the development of respiratory infections.
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Wood shavings from painted wood
Wood shavings from wood that has been painted or treated should be avoided. These wood coatings are toxic to a gerbil and the wood shavings should not be used as gerbil bedding.
Materials made from long fibers are harmful. This includes materials such as wool or cotton. When a gerbil eats and swallows these, the material can cause life-threatening intestinal blockages.
A gerbil can also get entangled and trapped when tunneling through the fluffy bedding.
Magazine or newspaper cuttings
Magazines and newspapers have dyes and inks which are toxic to a gerbil. When these are shredded and provided as bedding, a gerbil will chew and swallow them.
This is harmful to a gerbil and must be avoided.
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How do I get my gerbil to stop eating their bedding? (Should I stop it?)
A gerbil eating their bedding is driven by a natural force that cannot be stopped. This is how they are and therefore you cannot stop it because of the natural need for it.
Other solutions and alternatives
Instead of fighting or stopping this natural urge of your gerbil, what you can do is provide your gerbil alternatives to chew on.
This supports their need to chew and at the same time provides the beneficial value of chewing as well as keeping them busy.
Providing alternatives to chew on does not entirely stop a gerbil from chewing their bedding but gives them other substances that they can also chew on.
The alternatives include providing your gerbil:
Tree barks. Wild gerbils chew on tree barks which helps them to naturally trim and file down their teeth and prevent them from overgrowing.
Provide your gerbil tree barks from non-toxic trees. This includes tree barks from the Magnolia, Mulberry, and Poplar trees.
You can purchase these from your local pet store or if you have these trees in your backyard, you can simply cut small pieces from them.
Remember to wash and dry the barks before giving them to your gerbil to nibble on.
Chew toys. Provide your gerbil chew toys that they can chew on to achieve their heart’s desire. Toys that are made of rope, wood, or leather are great for them.
Materials such as toilet paper rolls and cardboard boxes are also good.
Balanced diet. A balanced diet consisting of a variety of food types for a gerbil is also helpful in providing them food sources that they can nibble on.
This includes hard foods like seeds, nuts, and hay pellets. This also helps in trimming down their teeth.
A gerbil eating its bedding is purely natural and common because it is an instinctual habit. They love to chew therefore do not worry if you see them doing this.
Ensure that you provide safe non-toxic bedding that will not be harmful to them when they chew and swallow it.
Several bedding options are available to choose from to provide safe bedding for your gerbil.
Avoid toxic bedding materials which are harmful to them and also cause health problems.
I hope this article helped you understand more why a gerbil may turn to eat their bedding and also other alternatives you can give them to satisfy their chewing habit.