Gerbils are popular small pets because they are relatively easy to keep, care for, and feed.
As natural herbivores or plant eaters, gerbils don’t have a complicated diet. In fact, the majority of their daily nutrient needs are readily met with a commercial complete and balanced gerbil mix food.
But gerbils also need enrichment and dietary variety, which helps make their lives feel more naturalistic. A wild gerbil will readily nibble on a tasty plant such as lettuce if the opportunity presents itself.
So can gerbils actually eat lettuce? Is lettuce a good green to feed your gerbil? If yes, how much lettuce should you let your gerbil eat? Let’s find out now!
Can Gerbils Eat Lettuce?
The fast answer to the question can gerbils eat lettuce is yes. However, there are some caveats to that.
You will want to limit the quantity of lettuce you allow your gerbil to eat. And you shouldn’t feed lettuce every single day. Also, some varietals of lettuce are more nourishing than others.
Read on to learn all the details about when what kind, how much, and how often to feed lettuce to your gerbil.
Watch a Gerbil Eat Lettuce
As you can see in this adorable YouTube video, gerbils love lettuce!
It is really cute to watch a gerbil daintily nibbling away around the edges of a crunchy, crispy piece of green lettuce.
What Types of Lettuce Can Gerbils Eat?
As the American Gerbil Society points out, gerbils will happily gobble down a wide variety of leafy greens, including kale, spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, green and red leaf lettuce, and romaine lettuce.
Not only do these leafy greens provide some valuable nutrients to your gerbil, but they are crunchy, which helps keep your pet’s constantly growing front teeth filed properly.
As a general rule, the darker the lettuce type, the more nourishment it is likely to provide to your gerbil.
According to Moonstone Gerbils, these are all appropriate types of leafy greens that your gerbil can enjoy as part of a varied diet:
- Romaine lettuce.
- Carrot tops.
- Dandelion greens.
- Field greens.
- Lettuce (not iceberg lettuce).
- Spring greens.
Endive, butter lettuce, mustard greens, parsley, collard greens, turnip greens, and similar dark leafy greens are also safe to feed to your gerbil as part of a regular weekly treat rotation.
What Kind of Nutrition Does Lettuce Offer to Your Gerbil?
The specific nutrients your gerbil gets from eating lettuce will depend on what varietal, or cultivar, of lettuce you are offering.
For simplicity’s sake, we will offer a profile of romaine lettuce, which is a good middle-of-the-road dark leafy green varietal to examine.
Healthline states that one cup of romaine lettuce contains the following nutrients:
- 8 calories.
- 2 grams of carbohydrates.
- 1 gram of fiber.
- 0.6 grams of protein.
- 0.1 gram of fat.
- Vitamins: C, K, B9 (folate).
- Minerals: Phosphorus, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium.
Take Caution Before Feeding Your Gerbil These Types of Lettuce
Many types of lettuce contain various properties that may make your gerbil temporarily uncomfortable. As such, you may want to limit or even avoid offering these types of lettuce to your gerbil.
Try your best to avoid feeding iceberg lettuce, which is not just one of the lightest lettuce types in terms of coloring but is also very low in nutrition.
Iceberg lettuce gets its name from its high water content. While gerbils need fresh water just like other pets, their gastrointestinal tract is not used to a high-moisture diet.
As such, eating any iceberg lettuce will likely result in an upset tummy and/or loose stools for your gerbil.
Not all lettuce varietals are as high in water content as is iceberg lettuce.
But many different lettuce varietals, including iceberg lettuce and romaine lettuce, also contain a naturally-occurring chemical compound called lactucarium.
As the Journal of Food Science and Biotechnology reports, lactucarium produces a sedating effect, not unlike a milder version of morphine.
Rabbits in particular seem to be very sensitive to lactucarium and can go into a stupor after eating too much lettuce. People are also not immune to the effects – and some people deliberately seek out foods with lactucarium for this reason.
For people, the most well-documented side effects of ingesting too much lactucarium include euphoria, sweating, nausea, dizziness, hallucinations, anxiety, and decreased consciousness, according to IFL Science.
While the effects do wear off over time, they may be particularly terrifying to a tiny animal like a gerbil and as such are best avoided.
One particular type of lettuce, Lactuca virosa, or wild lettuce, has particularly high quantities of lactucarium.
While a gerbil foraging in the wild might certainly nibble on Lactuca virosa if they found some, it would likely produce toxic effects that would quickly teach the gerbil to avoid that plant in the future.
Should You Even Feed Your Gerbil Lettuce?
As the New England Humane Society explains, gerbils in a wild setting seek out vegetables, fruits, and seeds for their daily nutrition.
Lettuce is certainly on the menu for wild gerbils and there is no reason to avoid feeding all types of lettuce entirely.
Hallam Veterinary Centre recommends offering pet gerbils small amounts of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including lettuce.
Just be sure that the high water content lettuce provides is balanced out with other treat foods that are less hydrating to these desert rodents.
How to Feed Your Gerbil Lettuce
As Durham Veterinarian explains, pet gerbils should be fed a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables each week.
Not only does this add fun and variety to your gerbil’s daily menu, but it can also provide extra vitamins and minerals to promote good health.
Perhaps most importantly, gerbils need to forage for food and chew constantly to keep their long front teeth appropriately filed down. So the more different textures your gerbil has to chew on, the happier and healthier your pet is likely to be.
You definitely don’t have to do anything fancy to feed your gerbil any varietal of lettuce. Because gerbils forage naturally, you can just put the lettuce leaf, sprig, or stalk into your gerbil’s enclosure on a flat surface or on top of clean bedding.
Whenever possible, try to feed your gerbil organic lettuce that won’t have pesticides. But when this isn’t possible, just be sure to wash the lettuce thoroughly first to remove any dirt or toxins such as pesticides or insecticides.
You may wonder if you should cook the lettuce before offering it to your gerbil. Gerbils in the wild only eat a raw diet – they would never have the opportunity to eat cooked food. So you should definitely offer raw, fresh lettuce only.
Make sure never to feed your gerbil lettuce from your own salad, since it may have salad dressing oil, vinegar, seasonings, salt, pepper, sugar, onion, garlic, or other ingredients gerbils should not eat.
Lettuce Can Be Good for Gerbils
In moderation, adding different types of lettuce to your gerbil’s regular treat food rotation can provide important health benefits.
For best results, offer lettuce to your gerbil no more than twice per week and spaced at least a day apart to avoid placing any stress on the digestive system.