Substrate, bedding & nest boxes


In the wild, Gerbils live underground, digging an amazing network of elaborate tunnels. To recreate a similar environment, you’ll need to provide them with plenty of digging material – or what we call “substrate”. It’s here where Gerbils will tunnel and sleep, allowing them to retreat underground when spooked by something. Gerbils are incredible engineers: we’ve lost hours watching them create a complex network of tunnels.

With this in mind, it’s important not to disturb their digging area more than is absolutely necessary. A dust-free, paper based substrate is best. Wood shavings and sawdust often cause breathing difficulties and skin irritations, so should never be used. Please note that occasionally we have had experience of Gerbils having a medical issue called nasal dermatitis, which appears to be exacerbated by woodshavings, sawdust and stress. If you notice a problem with a red, sore and balding nose, remove any possible irritants to see if it improves the condition. If no improvement seek the advice of a vet as further medication may be needed.

Georgie, who arrived to us in Rescue with Nasal Dermatitis and hair loss. This was due to a stressful environment and being housed in woodshavings.
Georgie, after being housed in Finacard and vet treatment. The redness has gone and her fur has grown back. A very different Gerbil to the one that had arrived!

We’ve found that the finacard gerbil/mouse bale is brilliant – just one batch will see you through for over six months. Not only is it economical, it’s also dust extracted and has no odour. You can also use carefresh, fitch, kaytee clean & cozy, Megazorb, among other similar paper-based beddings. However, we find that the finacard is the best value and provides the best type of digging (the tunnels hold better than the lighter substrate types above).

We add timothy hay which gerbils use to bind their tunnels and forage through.

Shredded paper from a home shredder can be added to the rest of your substrate to make it last longer.

For the best tunnels and happiest Gerbils, ensure the substrate is at least 8-10 inches (20 – 25cm) deep (although deeper is always better).

At least 20cm substrate depth for Gerbils to satisfy their natural burrowing instrincts.
Clare terraforming

Nesting Material

Gerbils need nesting material in their beds to provide comfort and warmth. We use plain, unscented toilet paper as nesting material. Simply throw some sheets daily into their tank, and your Gerbils will do the rest. Rather than shop bought nesting material, toilet paper sheets allows your Gerbils to collect and shred them themselves, which keeps them busy and active, as they would be in the wild.

Never use fluffy bedding (sold as a cotton wool type product), as small furries get tangled up in it, resulting in broken limbs and in severe cases, death.

Mandy constructing her nest
Barry & Lyndon sleeping in their toilet tissue nest

Nest Boxes

Nest boxes can be placed under their substrate. We often use a corner cabin for small pets, which is a good size for up to 3 gerbils. We place it at the bottom of their tank and cover in deep substrate. It also gives them something to gnaw. Plain cardboard boxes without sticky tape or labels can also be placed underground, but your Gerbils will likely gnaw through these far quicker than the wooden hideouts.

Gerbils are fussy creatures and will choose to make their nest where they feel safest and most comfortable. (This may not even be the box you originally gave them). Gerbils re incredibly active engineers and always on the go, so don’t worry if you see them moving nests around regularly.

Placing a nest box (with toilet sheets) at the bottom of the tank before filling with substrate.
The same tank with the nest box buried under 20cm+ of substrate.