Shaw's Jird

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Is this gerbil right for you?

Other name(s): Shaws Jird, Shaw Gerd, Shaws

Scientific name: Meriones shawi

The basics:
The rat-sized Shaw’s Jird is an entertaining addition to the household. They have a climbing grace and jumping prowess that exceeds that of many of their gerbil cousins, and a well-socialized Shaw’s Jird is very easy to catch and handle. Unfortunately the Shaw’s Jird is not all that common in pet stores and breeders can be difficult to locate.

Though sparse in captivity, the Shaw’s Jird can be found wild in North Africa and the Middle East, specifically in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Libya. Their habitat includes pastures, coastal desert areas, and rural gardens.

Appearance / health:
The Shaw’s Jird is very similar in appearance to the Mongolian Gerbil, only much bigger. This species is about the size of a rat at 14 inches long with the tail making up about half that length. Like the Mongolian Gerbil, the end of the Shaw’s Jird’s tail is tufted. The head tapers to a whiskered nose, and they have large, round black eyes. The ears of the Shaw’s Jird are slightly larger and less hairy than those of the Mongolian Gerbil. The Shaw’s Jird has short fur with a sandy, agouti-shaded body and a white belly – they don’t come in the broad array of coat colors and patterns that the Mongolian Gerbil does.

The Shaw’s Jird is generally a robust animal with no special health-related concerns, and has been known to live as long as 6-7 years in captivity. They would be susceptible to ailments common to small mammals like colds (brought on by too much moisture or very high temperatures), indigestion (from bad food), or undue stress. In addition, care must be taken when handling a gerbil: the tail can easily be broken and skin on the tail may even detach or “de-glove”. If not given appropriate things to chew on, a gerbil’s teeth can over-grow, which results in a variety of problems.

Behavior / temperament:
Though social in nature like other gerbils, the female Shaw’s Jird may be prone to aggression and territoriality towards other female jirds and should probably be kept alone – male Shaw’s Jirds do well in pairs of groups. Their disposition can vary wildly based on their care and handling as babies, but a well-socialized Shaw’s Jird is generally very friendly with people and not prone to bite.  Because of their large size and amicable nature, the Shaw’s Jird is known to be easier to catch and handle than smaller species, and may make better pets for households with children.

Shaw’s Jirds are curious and extremely active. More than many gerbil species, the Shaw’s Jird likes to climb and jump. The Shaw’s Jird should have plenty of room to run, jump, leap, and burrow with a veriety of hidey-holes and tunnels. They often enjoy running on a wheel. The Shaw’s Jird is not particularly noisy, though they may make high pitched squeaks when playing, excited, or stressed.

Shaw’s Jirds are mighty chewers and this heavily influences the type of cage and materials you should select for them. The ideal cage is a large, glass aquarium with a secure, wire mesh lid. Plastic cages should never be used as they will not stand up to a gerbil’s need to gnaw.

In particular, the Shaw’s Jird likes to be able to jump and climb so their cage should be tall enough to provide them with a variety of levels and surfaces for them to explore. Wood, cardboard, and stone are good materials for these, as are clay flower pots. They should be made of safe, natural materials because your gerbil may chew on them!  Branches of fruit trees, birch, hazel, and beech are good for chewing. The Shaw’s Jird will also enjoy having a large exercise wheel.

They also enjoy digging and burrowing and will need a thick layer of bedding for this purpose – because of their size, at least 3 inches is a good start. Bedding can be made from a variety of natural materials including recycled paper, aspen shavings, and corncob. Cedar and pine shavings should be avoided because the aromatic compounds in the wood can cause respiratory irritation and even liver damage. In addition to bedding, your gerbil will also need nesting material. There are a variety of commercial nesting materials, but you can also use facial tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, and grass hay.

Finally, your gerbil should be provided with a sand bath. This can be as simple as a small bowl or even pie tin filled with a half-inch of clean sand, or an area of sand incorporated into the habitat.

While homemade diets can be made for the Shaw’s Jird,  commercially available foods will ensure your gerbil is getting the correct balance of nutrients. Foods with a lot of nuts, seeds, or dried fruit should be avoided as they are high in fat and your gerbil may prefer these pieces and pick them out from the more nutritious pellets. In addition, you may supplement your gerbil’s diet with oats, millet, wheat, cereal, and dry pasta. The Shaw’s Jird does well with meat occasionally provided in their diet – mealworms or even cat food work well for this. Nuts and seeds can be given sparingly and are a good source of protein. Fruits and vegetables are unnecessary to the Shaw’s Jirds health, and should be given sparingly: too much gives them diarrhea (in their natural habitat, they rarely encounter food that has too much moisture content).

Fresh water should always be available for your gerbil. Gerbils don’t drink a lot of water, so you should change the water frequently even if it isn’t low. Water dishes get dirty faster than water bottles, and should be changed daily.

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