How animals live differs from one species to the next. While some prefer solitude, others live in groups. Gerbils are sociable animals who live in groups called clans in the wild and prefer not to live alone in captivity. While it is best to keep a pair or small group of gerbils together rather than a single gerbil, it is possible that conflict can occur.
What Is a Declan?
A declan is when one of the gerbils decides they are no longer happy with their living arrangements and decides they want to separate themselves from their pairing or group. When a gerbil decides to declan, it leads to a fight between that gerbil and its cage mate. Gerbils can seem quite happy living together and then suddenly things can change. An important aspect of declanning is the desire of a gerbil to have a new boss or to become the boss themselves as dominance plays a big part in the social behavior of gerbils.
How Do Gerbil Clans Work?
In the wild, gerbils live in groups called clans. These clans will usually consist of family members and can include as many as 20 gerbils. A clan will live in the same area, share a territory, and socialize together. The younger gerbils will often play with other young gerbils in the group and members of the clan will hunt for food together. The dominant male and the dominant female of the clan will mate as they are the only members of the clan that will breed.
Why Does Declanning Happen with Gerbils?
There are many reasons for declanning that apply to both wild gerbil clans and gerbil clans living in captivity. Some of these reasons include the following:
- Mating rights- Only the most dominant male has the right to breed, so this can cause fighting and a desire to declan.
- An ill or weak leader- Sometimes the natural leader of the group is weak or ill and this causes other members of the clan to either want to replace the leader of to leave the clan.
- A reluctant boss- A boss is sometimes only the boss by default. For example, if you have a single male gerbil and later introduce a younger male, they will become the dominant male even if they do not want this role. And the other gerbil matures, they may realize that their boss is not actually dominant and want them to step down as the leader. When they cannot do this as they cannot leave their habitat, it leads to declanning.
- Enemy threat- Introducing a new gerbil is seen as an enemy threat by a gerbil as they do not recognize their scent. For this reason, it is important to introduce your gerbils in a split tank or split cage.
- Introduction of the opposite sex- If you have a same-sex pairing and then introduce a gerbil of the opposite sex, it will almost always result in a fight and declanning.
What Happens and How Bad Is It?
Declanning involves one gerbil wanting to get rid of another gerbil out of the clan so they can take the leadership role for themselves. The declanning process happens in stages, so it is not just all about the fight.
The first stage is to exclude the other gerbil and prevent them from doing things. This can involve forcing them into corners, trapping them in a tunnel, or stopping them from getting to their feeding bowl or water bottle.
The second stage involves chasing and biting. The uprising boss will chase the old boss in an attempt to bite them and the other gerbils runs away and tries to hide to avoid confrontation and fighting. During the chasing, the gerbil being chased will breathe heavily with their mouth open as they are extremely stressed.
Fighting is the final stage of declanning and this is the most serious. While the fights do not usually end in death, gerbils will bite each other and draw blood. In the wild, a boss that realizes he has lost his position will retreat before the fighting. However, domestic gerbils are confined to their habitat. This means they are forced to fight as they cannot leave.
What Are the Chances of Gerbils Declanning?
Gerbil declanning is extremely common and is part of natural social behavior among gerbils in the wild. Declanning is most common among pet gerbils if new gerbils are introduced to the cage. It is less likely to happen with same-sex pairings that are from the same litter and have always lived together. This is because dominance is established in the early stages of their relationship and their status is unlikely to change. However, this does not mean that declanning will not occur even if they have previously been happy together.
If Gerbils Are Always Fighting, Does It Mean They Are Affected by a Declan?
Gerbils fighting does not necessarily mean a declan is inevitable as there are many reasons that gerbils may fight. Just like humans, they can become irritated with each other and fight before going about their daily business just as they did before.
It is also important to note that you may sometimes mistakenly believe they are fighting when they are playing or grooming each other. Both these activities involve physical contact that is easy to mistake as fighting.
What Should You Do If Your Gerbils Declan?
Once a declan has taken place, it is best if the gerbils no longer live together. Once they have drawn blood on each other, it is highly unlikely that a reconciliation will take place. It is best to separate them permanently and look for another pairing for each of them. It is best to find a same-sex gerbil and introduce them gradually using split tanks or split cages.
How Can You Avoid a Declan?
To a certain extent, you cannot entirely prevent declans as this is completely natural social behavior for gerbils. However, having the right pairing will help to reduce the likelihood of this happening. For example, same-sex pairings that have always lived together and are from the same litter rarely declan.
Although you cannot stop declanning, you can stop it from getting to the final stages where the gerbils cause each other harm if you know the signs to look for. By recognizing these signs, you can separate the gerbils before the real fighting begins.
Recognizing the signs is somewhat tricky as the behaviors you need to look out for are also part of normal behavior. The first is a gerbil being excluded by its clan mate. This is hard to notice unless you observe your gerbils’ behavior regularly.
The second sign of declanning is the chasing. However, gerbils often chase each other during play. However, there is a difference between the two types of chasing that can help you to identify which it is you are seeing. In playful chasing, each gerbil will take a turn at chasing and neither will appear stressed. With declan chasing, the pursued gerbil will try to get away quickly and will often run into the side of the habitat, which creates a bang. They will also appear stressed and out of breath, possibly with their mouth hanging open.
If you notice these signs, it is possible to prevent the final stages of the declan taking place. The only way to do this is to permanently separate your gerbils.
A declan is a normal social behavior among gerbils where one gerbil becomes unhappy with their living situation and wants to rid the clan of the leader and possibly take the position themselves. This takes place both in the wild and in captivity. Although you cannot stop a declan for happening, you can keep an eye out for the signs and stop the declan before it reaches its final stages to prevent serious injuries or even the death of one of your gerbils.