We have gerbils
February 23, 2011 7:15 PM   Subscribe

How can we contain our gerbil population?

A few months ago, we found that some gerbils had been abandoned on our property. They were in a tiny cage in a plastic bag hanging on our fence.

So we took the gerbils in. Read everything we could find on sexing gerbils, and tried to separate them by gender into two cages. But we missed something in that process, and ended up with babies.

So apparently gerbils tend to mate the day after the female gives birth. (Also, the male is super-helpful in taking care of the little ones, and we didn't want to deprive the mother of this help.) We had another batch of babies a few weeks later (and moved the papa to another cage after that).

We've given some of the little gerbils away to a good home. But last night, we discovered yet another new litter. We have three cages of gerbils already; obviously, we can't keep this up! Sexing gerbils is notoriously hard, and obviously we fail at it.

I've asked around at local pet stores to see if they accept gerbil donations, with little luck.

So, my question: what would be the most humane way to, um, euthanize baby gerbils? I know this question will be offensive to some, but please, please hold the hateful answers; we're just not equipped to handle dozens of gerbils. I hate to ask this, because the baby gerbils are so damn cute and we like them...but I'm not sure what else to do. Waiting for them to get old enough to take to a shelter doesn't work so well, either, because they start mating so fast!
posted by torticat to Pets & Animals (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know anyone with a pet snake?
posted by item at 7:27 PM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Could you explain the situation to a veterinarian and ask them to help? The vet may not like this, but, believe me, vets often put down healthy animals because they figure it's better than someone neglecting them or botching the job themselves. Not sure how much it would cost, but you know t would be done right.

I imagine the most humane way would be to inject the baby with an overdose of anesthetic - they just go to sleep and their hearts stop. Not sure you could or would want to do that themselves.

Another option? Use nitrogen to displace the oxygen without having carbon dioxide build up. This is a painless way for humans to accidentally kill themselves, so be careful.

May I suggest that before you do this, you see if you can give these animals away. The Toronto Humane Society, for instance, accepts donations of rodents. There ought to be somewhere in NYC that will take them.
posted by Dasein at 7:28 PM on February 23, 2011

could or would want to do that themselves.

posted by Dasein at 7:29 PM on February 23, 2011

Snake is a really good answer here. Put an ad on Craigslist for gerbils for a snake and likely someone would come and take the whole lot.
posted by jessamyn at 7:30 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agree with the snake answer, just in case you think that was a joke. We had a snake for a while when my son was young, and finding live food was not always easy.
posted by raisingsand at 7:53 PM on February 23, 2011

You don't even need to mention snakes in your ad. 3/4 of the responses will come from snake owners. (That's what happened when I used CL to find my rats a new home)
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:54 PM on February 23, 2011

I know that snakes are the right answer. I just can't bear it! And my 15yo son, who has primary care of the gerbils, would sooner have them put down then fed to snakes. I know we're kind of in defiance (or denial) of the normal cycle of life, here.

Dasein, yes I'm sure we could find a place to donate them; but finding the sweet spot between taking them away from their mother and when they start mating is hard! I mean we're three generations in, now, and we only inherited the gerbils a few months ago.

Regarding the vet: I'll ask ours. When we first got the gerbils, I called to ask if we could get them checked out, and was told the exam for the first gerbil would be $80, and we'd get 50% off for the others. Yeah, right. Anyway, I suspect having the vet putting them down would be expensive, and I was looking for a cheaper solution.
posted by torticat at 7:59 PM on February 23, 2011

Here's some professional guidelines for mouse euthanasia in labs. They recommend CO2.
posted by pombe at 8:06 PM on February 23, 2011

If you can't care for them, there are small/furry rescue agencies out there. Like this one in brooklyn. I say this not for the baby gerbils just born, but for those that you have, because unless you can safely and reliably sex them such that you don't get anymore gerbilsplosions you really need to get rid of them. Euthanasia is not really cool for lives that could have been prevented.
For the new litter, if you must euthanize them (i'm quailing as i write this) i would suggest putting them in the freezer, or putting them outside. They will die pretty quickly and purportedly painlessly. If there are small children or sensitive persons around, don't tell them what you're doing.
But unless and until you can prevent endless gerbil litters, I would suggesting taking the whole lot to a rescue center similar to the one I linked to above.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:06 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I grew up with several cats. Part of owning outdoor cats (yes yes yes...outdoor cats=bad...cats are no longer outdoors) involves coming across partially chewed up and, occasionally, living little creatures.

At my house we kept a spray can of starter fluid, which my father always told us was basically ether. It displaces oxygen, and basically they fall asleep, and shortly after their heart stops.

Not pleasant, but effective, and cheap.

Try spraying a paper towel until damp, placing it in the bottom of a coffee can, and then capping it back up with a creature inside. Just make sure to keep it on for several minutes so that you don't have any zombie gerbils on your hands.
posted by aloiv2 at 8:10 PM on February 23, 2011

My siblings and I went through a similar gerbil phase growing up, and we simply sold the extras to a local pet store, so maybe check around if that is an option? The store actually preferred having a local source for friendly, hand-raised gerbils over their normal supplier, and would give us a modest amount of store credit for them.
posted by susanvance at 8:21 PM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

We had the same problem a few years ago. Cinnamon and Sugar produced upwards of 60 offspring in their short, happy lifetime. I learned that if you call the pet store, they will most likely say no thanks, but if you just show up with a bucket o' gerbils and a desperate demeanor, they'll take them off your hands. Once, they even "paid" me for them with a bag of gerbil food.
posted by SamanthaK at 8:27 PM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know that snakes are the right answer. I just can't bear it! And my 15yo son, who has primary care of the gerbils, would sooner have them put down then fed to snakes. I know we're kind of in defiance (or denial) of the normal cycle of life, here.

Not only that, but gerbils are such fast and prolific breeders because they make such tasty meals.
posted by sbutler at 8:39 PM on February 23, 2011

I guess it depends on what you're used to. I've seen a constrictor (a ball python, specifically) um, constrict and then swallow a rat, and it's really not bad. But the idea of putting them in a freezer makes me want to cry. I would go with calling a vet for advice or with aloiv's idea.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:53 PM on February 23, 2011

Please don't do the home euthanasia bit. None of the methods are good. Not kind or humane. At all.
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:58 PM on February 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Zoos use for feed; raptor and other bird of prey rehab folks do too.

If the euthanasia is unsettling; it is a problem that will become exponential as you have more and more gerbils to deal with as time goes by. Best to take a moment to deal with it now rather than when you have 50+ gerbils later.
posted by buzzman at 9:06 PM on February 23, 2011

Can you get a whole bunch of little gerbil houses, and separate everybody? Granted, this would have been easier two generations ago.

Then you can give them away on Craigslist one at a time. Also check with schools to see if anyone is looking for a class pet.

For gerbil comfort, allow them to play in the (empty) big cage. Confirmed females and males can stay together for social interaction.
posted by charmcityblues at 9:29 PM on February 23, 2011

It might be worth your while to contact a vet that sees exotics (sadly "pocket pets" like gerbils fall into this category despite being rather common). Try being really nice and seeing if you can get a technician appointment to sex the lot of them. Many practices offer appointments with vet techs for easy stuff like suture removal, medication administration, etc. These appointments, because they are not with a doctor are often about twenty bucks. If the staff is familiar with gerbils they can probably handle this without an actual doctor which would make it much less expensive. Alternatively, you could try bringing them to a pet shop that sells gerbils as, again, the staff would be quite a bit more experienced at sexing. If you go this route and they help you out, please tip whoever helps you as this is not a part of their job. As far as the babies go, call your local SPCA/rescue/what-have-you and ask them the proper age to separate mom and young and follow that advice. Bring the babies to a shelter. They will be adopted out if possible and humanely euthanized if not. Don't fumble it at home.
posted by troublewithwolves at 10:13 PM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

They were born to be food for something bigger. That's why they exist. Why take that one thing away from them? What else do they have?
posted by amethysts at 10:45 PM on February 23, 2011

Anybody who recommends gassing with carbon dioxide as a humane way to kill something has clearly never huffed carbon dioxide. Doing so causes instant massive panic and an overwhelming desire to BREATHE! ANYTHING ELSE! NOW! I would not wish that, as a last experience, on anything sentient.

If you're strong, healthy and open to hideous experiences, a balloon over the mouth of a bottle of Coke will get you more than enough gas to verify that.

Gassing with something inert like nitrogen, which shuts down the brain through lack of oxygen without causing the increase in blood CO2 that triggers the breathing reflex, is far, far kinder. But you do need to be sure that it's only the target organisms who get exposed to that kindness. Helium is safer than nitrogen in that regard, since leaks from the killing zone will tend to rise harmlessly toward the ceiling instead of diffusing evenly outward in all directions.
posted by flabdablet at 11:56 PM on February 23, 2011

I know that snakes are the right answer. I just can't bear it!

But you'd rather do an inhumane job yourself? Unless one of you has been properly trained and certified in small animal euthanasia then you *will* be doing an inhumane job, none of the options given here are acceptable. Following some written instructions from a lab isn't good enough by the way (it's very easy to get this wrong), and any animal researcher trying something like putting them in a freezer or using lighter fluid would lose their job immediately. As they should, that's barbaric. Using them as live feed is really, genuinely a better option. If you happen to have any links to a small animal researcher then they can do it for you (maybe contact a local university?), otherwise you need to get your vet to do it.

I had a similar problem with pet mice when I was a child and we also had three generations and several litters. You need to put every animal in an individual cage rather than hope you've got the genders correct, including isolating the pregnant females (so no getting knocked up again straight away). Do some research and find out when gerbils wean and remove the pups as soon as they get to that age, don't even wait a few days later. Yes you will have single gerbils living in ice cream containers and every other thing you can find, but it's the only way to be sure. You should be able to stop the breeding if you're really rigorous about it. Plus it's irresponsible to rely on euthanasia as a population control measure, so you need to do this anyway unless you get rid of all of them.
posted by shelleycat at 12:12 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Anybody who recommends gassing with carbon dioxide as a humane way to kill something has clearly never huffed carbon dioxide.

Actually, done correctly it's very humane and really is the preferred method these days. But doing it properly is difficult, hence the requirement for someone with the correct training. Using another type of gas isn't any better because it still has to be done correctly (in which case you might as well use CO2), so suggesting a lay person try it is never acceptable.
posted by shelleycat at 12:16 AM on February 24, 2011

Anybody who recommends gassing with carbon dioxide as a humane way to kill something has clearly never huffed carbon dioxide.

Well that's true, but the protocol that Pombe linked above was clearly designed to avoid that. They recommend introducing CO2 into the chamber at 20% of chamber volume per minute to avoid the distress that pure CO2 causes. Presumably the slower rise in concentration will start to dim their consciousness before the distress level hits. CO would be preferred since it's completely free of causing distress, but I'm not sure where you can easily get some of that...since it's a silent deadly poison to humans and all.

This ether protocol appears to be a good option, you'd just need brake fluid, a jar, and cotton balls. Just watch out though, in addition to being highly flammable ether is an intoxicant. While in school I was in a lab with 30 Grignard reactions happily percolating away and silently leaking gas. I left, nearly crashed my bike into a tree, and found myself babbling incoherently to my friend on my cell. It was just like I was drunk, but my mind was completely oblivious to the fact.
posted by TungstenChef at 12:25 AM on February 24, 2011

My father used to euthanise my pet mice when they were old and suffering from cancer by putting them in a plastic bag, putting a hose into the bag, sealing around the hose, and putting the other end in the car exhaust. Then he'd turn on the car and wait for the carbon monoxide to kill the mice. I would ring the vet if you are considering this and check whether he/she considers it relatively humane. Certainly it didn't look problematic, as the mice would just kind of fall asleep.

But yeah, I also think the snake idea is good. Snakes have to eat something. By sacrificing your gerbils you are saving something else's life, and the gerbils are going to die anyway.
posted by lollusc at 1:50 AM on February 24, 2011

Have your son read this thread. Snakes will do it more constructively than a human at home, and it will provide food for anther beautiful creature.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:51 AM on February 24, 2011

Live food fights back. Having assisted with the aftermath of herps that were live-fed and Things Went Wrong,* I advise not just eschewing home euthanasia, but following troublewithwolves's advice.

*this includes not just aggressive wounds, but even the prey moving and the snake misses the strike and...long story short, sorting out a live-feeding mishap ended up with my thumb down the throat of an angry and confused python.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 5:03 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid and my gerbils had babies, my father handed me five bucks and told me his friend Orvis had bought them from me while I was at school. What he really did was he tossed them all in a plastic bag with a rock, tied it up and winged it out into the pond in front of our house.
posted by Glendale at 7:12 AM on February 24, 2011

Maybe this will help w/ your son's aversion to the snake solution : tell him that it's not about killing a gerbil, it's about feeding a snake! Seriously, snakes gotta eat, too. Why waste perfectly good snake food? That's not very environmentally-friendly.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:54 AM on February 24, 2011

Seriously, snakes gotta eat, too. Why waste perfectly good snake food?

Well, I don't particularly care about snakes. :) And, though we are not able to keep and care for this number of gerbils, I'd prefer for their last moments not to be whatever kind of fear and adrenaline rodents experience when they are attacked by predators. I wouldn't do that to one of my cats (though I would have her put down if necessary), and I don't feel much better about doing it to a gerbil. This may be a bit irrational, but people are sometimes irrational about pets.

Anyway, thanks much to all the posters here. I marked troublewithwolves' answer best because it's the one I plan to follow up on, but I appreciate all the advice.

BTW I'm not planning to use euthanasia as a regular practice for population control. We will try to get the guys segregated as best we can. However, even our vet said there was no way he could guarantee accurate sexing (pet store said basically the same). I'll see if I can get better help from an exotic pets vet, per TWW's advice.

Thanks, all.
posted by torticat at 4:18 PM on February 24, 2011

FWIW I think you're right to get a professional. Even if a method were humane, it's hardly guaranteed to work perfectly on every gerbil the first time you try it. Also, the fact that you wouldn't do this to a cat, therefore you don't want to do it to a gerbil, is not bad reasoning simply because the gerbil is smaller. A gerbil is not as intelligent as a rat but I gather it is still pretty smart.
posted by tel3path at 2:04 PM on February 26, 2011

Way late but um, in a sock in a car tailpipe works. I know because of a friend. Not me, I swear.
posted by annie o at 6:49 PM on February 27, 2011

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