Can Gerbils Eat Lettuce – Risks and Benefits of Lettuce


Sometimes foods that we consider as perfectly safe, perhaps even very healthy, are not always the best thing to feed our pets.

Foods that we typically consider healthy are not always the best options for our pets, especially small animals who don’t need much of the ‘wrong’ food to start experiencing negative health effects.

In this article, I’m looking at whether gerbils can eat lettuce. Are there health risks or benefits for gerbils eating lettuce and which lettuce types are the best for gerbils?

There’s a bit more detail to the answer than you might expect!

Gerbils can eat lettuce; however, certain lettuce varieties should be avoided. Light-colored lettuce like iceberg lettuce contains little nutritional value so they aren’t really worth feeding to your gerbil, there are some better lettuce types which I’ll discuss in the article.

Which types of lettuce should gerbils avoid

Certain lettuce types are high in a chemical called lactucarium.

Lactucarium can be harmful to a gerbil in large enough quantities and can cause issues with their digestive system such as diarrhea.

You should generally avoid feeding any high lactucarium content foods to small animals.

Light-colored lettuce such as iceberg lettuce should not be fed to your gerbil as it has very little nutritional value and lots of lactucarium. These lettuce types are distinguished by their light color and watery texture.

These lettuce varieties have hardly any nutritional benefits but they are high in dangerous lactucarium.

That makes them unsuitable for small animals, including gerbils.

All lettuce contain some level of lactucarium so even the nutritious ones should only be given in moderation, let’s talk about those next.

Which types of lettuce can gerbils eat

The best types of lettuce for your gerbil are darker color varieties.

The leaves will be more fibrous and not as watery as the high lactucarium content lettuces.

Not all the nutritious varieties will be a dark color, but that’s generally a good indication.

These nutritious lettuce varieties are less likely to have that rubbery, water filled texture that iceberg lettuce has.

I would suggest taking a look at the varieties I’ve listed below when you’re next at the store, you’ll quickly get a good idea of which lettuce varieties are the best.

These varieties of lettuce contain less harmful lactucarium and more beneficial nutrients.

The best types of lettuce for a gerbil include:

  • Green leaf lettuce
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Lamb’s lettuce

Health benefits of lettuce for gerbils

If you feed your gerbils the low lactucarium varieties of lettuce thatI’ve laid out above there are lots of health benefits they can get from them.

Vitamin A

This is the vitamin that you’re parents told you would let you see in the dark, the one packed into carrots.

Well, it really does help support eyesight and is a great addition to your gerbil’s diet.

It is also great for young gerbils as a vitamin A deficiency can actually stunt growth. On top of that, it helps to support god immune and cell function.

Vitamin K

This is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps with blood clotting. It also aids bone metabolism and supports the regulation of blood calcium levels.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are believed to reduce the risk of a wide range of diseases.

These include heart disease and cancers. Antioxidants reduce the number of free radicals in your gerbil’s body.

Free radicals are atoms that attach themselves to cells in the body.

These cells are then identified as an invader and damaged or destroyed, hence leading to serious diseases.

Calcium

Calcium is a double-edged sword, of course, it has plenty of health benefits, but too much can also be harmful to your gerbil (we’ll discuss that later).

Calcium helps to build strong bones and teeth, as well as thick fur with that lovely shiny look.

In addition to that, calcium also helps to ensure the blood clots effectively and helps to regulate muscle contractions, that’s important for vital bodily functions such as ensuring a strong regular heartbeat.

Fiber

Fiber is essential for healthy digestion. It has two categories, soluble and insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber helps to control the blood sugar level of the body and aids in ridding the body of fatty substances such as cholesterol.

Insoluble fiber helps to keep the digestive system moving, it will add weight but also softens to your gerbil’s stools which in turn will help the digestive system to work effectively.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is vital for maintaining the structure of your gerbil’s cell membranes and is necessary for amino acid metabolism.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential macro-mineral.

It helps to maintain good nerve and muscle function, supporting the immune system, keeping bones nice and strong and maintaining a steady heartbeat.

Phosphorus

This is a mineral that works alongside calcium to help maintain strong bones and teeth in your gerbil.

Potassium

Potassium helps to maintain a healthy heart and good blood pressure.

Potassium has also been shown to support bone and muscle strength as the body ages.

Health risks of lettuce for gerbils

Light colored watery lettuce like iceberg lettuce shouldn’t be fed to your gerbil as it has pretty much no nutritional benefit but all the health risks.

Even the nutritious lettuce varieties I’ve listed above should only be fed in moderation, otherwise, they can lead to the following issues.

Excess amounts of calcium

I’ve listed calcium as a benefit of lettuce above, but excess calcium can quickly become a problem for gerbils.

When there’s too much calcium in a gerbil’s diet their urine can thicken. This can cause urinary tract infections and can cause bladder stones.

Little gerbils can easily absorb too much calcium, so it’s important to not frequently feed your gerbil calcium-rich foods.

Lactucarium

This chemical is probably the main issue with lettuce and is found in high quantities in light-colored, watery lettuce like iceberg lettuce.

It is naturally occurring but too high a quantity can harm your gerbil’s health.

Lactucarium is also found in the more nutritious varieties I’ve listed above, although in much lower quantities than iceberg lettuce.

Excess amounts of lactucarium can result in diarrhea and so light-colored lettuce should be avoided altogether.

Some lettuces have little nutritional value

This is again mostly attributed to light colored and watery lettuce types.

Ones such as iceberg lettuce have very little nutritional benefit and mostly consist of water.

Combined with the high amount of calcium and lactucarium, there is not really any point in feeding your gerbil these types of lettuce, they have high health risks and very low nutritional value.

Can gerbils eat iceberg lettuce

Gerbils should not eat iceberg lettuce.

Iceberg lettuce is very high in a chemical called lactucarium which can cause your gerbil digestive upset.

Iceberg lettuce is also mostly water, with little to no nutritional benefit.

That means there is no real benefit to feeding your gerbil iceberg lettuce and it should be avoided.

There are more nutritious lettuce varieties that gerbils can eat which I’ve listed above.

Can lettuce harm my gerbil

Lettuce can cause your gerbil to have digestive issues but is not toxic in itself.

The most dangerous effect is likely to be diarrhea.

Very bad diarrhea can be life-threatening to any animal as their body is unable to absorb the required nutrients and dehydration can quickly set in.

However; generally diarrhea will pass over the course of a day and don’t usually have any long term health impacts.

If your gerbil has only eaten a small amount of lettuce then serious impacts are unlikely.

If they have eaten a lot of lettuce and begin to show signs of diarrhea then you should make sure they have plenty of water and give them some high water content foods like bell peppers to ensure they stay hydrated.

Lettuce can rot in the cage

One risk of giving your gerbil any fresh food is that they may burrow away and excess and it could start to rot.

If it’s there for long enough it may start to rot and harmful bacteria could grow on it.

The best way around this is to give them the lettuce outside of their cage.

However; if you do want to give your gerbil lettuce in their cage then don’t give them too much, and make sure you keep an eye out for them storing it away.

If they don’t eat the lettuce within 30 minutes I would recommend removing it from the cage.

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