This is a picture documentary of gerbil pup development. The pictures on this page follow the growth of pups from their very first day, until 5 weeks of age.
If you would like to see the pictures of the developing pups in a larger size, just click on the link below the thumbnails. Be aware that the pages may take a few moments to load on a slow modem.
The First Two Days of Life
When pups are first born, they are completely naked and bright red. They are unable to regulate their temperature. Both their eyes and ear flaps are closed, so they can neither see nor hear.
They are born with both claws and whiskers, but the claws are quite soft so that they do not injure the mother during birth.
They have no teeth yet and all they can do is squeak to get their Mom's attention.
A few hours after birth, you should sneak a peak at the new pups. Their skin is very thin at this point and so you should be able to see their stomachs full of milk. They look like little white beans inside the pups' tummies. In the picture to the right, the very bottom pup has a belly full of milk.
Many people do not pick up their pups in the first few days. If you do decide to pick them up, wash you hands very well with unscented soap. Make sure to pick up the pups with both hands and hold them over a soft surface. Even though they cannot move right now, the pups are very fragile and you must be careful! Do not hold them for more than 15 minutes at this point, because Mom may get upset. If the mother gerbil winds up moving the nest every time you handle the pups, do not pick them up as often. Sometimes the new mother needs a blanket put over half the tank to make her feel more secure.
If you look at their eyes, you will be able to tell the eye colour even before they are open. If the eye patches are red, then your pup will have red eyes, if the patches are dark, they will have black eyes. Their umbilical cords are still attached and can be seen as small, dry, black segments on the middle of their tummies. You can see the umbilical cord clearly in the first picture of Day 1. In picture 2 of Day 1, you can see a newborn pup nursing if you look very closely.
Days 3 and 4
The ear flaps begin to open on days 3 and 4 and the pups' umbilical cords have fallen off. You will also see a light fuzz beginning to cover your gerbils.
If you are familiar with the colours your breeding pair will produce, you may be able to tell what colours your pups are now.
The pups have also gained a layer of fat, and so do not look as helpless as they did when they were born.
Their eyes are continually developing and you can now see the eyelids forming.
They can be seen as a prominent crease over the developing eye patch.
Because the pups I bred were siamese and burmese, you can already see the tails darkening at 3-4 days. This is less obvious on the siamese pups, who still remain quite pink.
Days 5 through 7
The hair is really beginning to grow in now and you can easily tell the colours apart. The whiskers are growing longer and the pups continue to gain weight. Their ears are becoming more developed everyday.
Days 6 and 7
Days 8 and 9
The pups are finally becoming mobile. They walk like little crocodiles, with their legs splayed out on either side of their bodies.
They especially enjoy crawling up the inside of your sleeve and using it as a tunnel.
They will sleep in your hand because it is so warm.
Now that the pups can actually move, you need to be careful with how you pick them up. Your pups cannot see right now and will walk off of your hand if you are not careful. Always pick up the pups with both hands, and hold them over a soft surface in case they fall.
After day 9, the pups become too hard to photograph because they are motoring along very fast despite their lack of eyesight. This accounts for the reduced number of pictures. I prefer to photograph still-life!
Very soon you will be able to sex your pups using the nipple method. I find it easiest about day 11. If you would like more information on sexing pups using the nipple method, click here.
The Eyes Begin to Open
Between days 17 and 20, your pups will begin to open their eyes. Usually one eye will open first and the next day, the other will open.
The pups will scratch their eyes with their front paws when they begin to open. In the picture on the left, the pup still has both eyes closed, and in the pic on the right, one eye is open.
Now that they can see the world for the very first time, the pups will be extremely frightened by your hand in their tank. Pups that once ran up your sleeve as a tunnel and slept at your elbow are now horrified by the big pink object that keeps entering their tank. You especially have to be careful now to pick the pups up with both hands. They will jump out of your hand and go sailing. Make sure to hold them only a few inches above a soft surface in case they do fall. Many people, including myself, have accidently dropped pups at this age, so be extra careful!
The pups are now completely covered in fur, including their ears. The time to sex your gerbils by the nipple method has come and gone. You will have to wait a few more weeks before you can sex them the traditional way.
The pups are starting to get their teeth in and are worrying little bits of cardboard and chewing on the shavings in the tank.
Their bodies are more round now, and they look like little bullets dodging all over the tank.
The pups are starting to eat solid food, but are still drinking a lot of their Mom's milk.
The pups also learn to use the water bottle at this stage. Make sure it is hung low enough for them to reach it. Check the water bottle every day to see if it works, because the gerbils often kick bedding against the spout causing the water to drain out.
The pups are becoming more elongate and less bullet-shaped. They have mastered the water bottle and have been almost completely weaned.
The pups are now playing fairly rough with each other. You will see lots of boxing and gerbils flipping each other over.
You may occasionally see one of the pups try this on Mom or Dad. It is very funny to see them playing with their full-grown parents.
The pups now look like perfectly formed gerbils, albeit much smaller. They are completely weaned and so can now be rehomed.
I like to wait until 6 weeks, however, to give the pups a chance to learn all of the nuances of gerbil behaviour.
The next litter arrives sometime this week and so the older pups get a chance to care for the newborns.
You can sex your gerbils using the traditional method now, unless some of your pups are underdeveloped. If you would like to learn how to sex your gerbils at this age, click here.
If you have a colourpoint gerbil or a nutmeg, the pups will molt at about 8 weeks to show their adult colouring. The nutmegs go from a bright orange to a sandy brown, and the points of the colourpoints will darken.