The beloved gerbil, once a little known animal, came into its own in the twentieth century and remains a popular easy-care pocket pet to this day. Once called "desert rats," the gerbil, jird, and sand rat group represents tough Old World rodents adapted to an extremely arid environment. Evolved to conserve water, they drink very little, they don't sweat, and they produce dry feces and a very small amount of urine. As a result, their habitats don't develop the unpleasant ammonia smell sometimes associated with other small pet rodents.

Gerbils would never be alone in the wild. These highly social animals thrive on companionship. If you can't dedicate lots of time to your gerbil, you may prefer to keep two females who can entertain each other. Gerbils will need plenty of tunneling material, and it can be a lot of fun watching them dig or burrow through the material in their tank.

Be aware that gerbils aren't mice, rats, or hamsters. Plastic toys and structures designed for those species can harm your gerbil. They love to chew, and they should be chewing nontoxic varieties of wooden toys, not plastic.