Persian Jird Information.
Much of the information on this page comes from an Article that I wrote for the RAG Times published by the The Rodent Appreciation Group.
What are they?
Persian Jirds (Meriones persicus) are large relatives of the Mongolian gerbil commonly sold in pet shops. I'm going to write a bit here about our experience with our pair that we bought in February 2000 from Chris Henwood who breeds and writes about exotic rodents. There are lots of links on my Persian Jirds Links page for information on their general care and I don't really want to reproduce the information there so I've just put the information that I have learnt from keeping them here.
A Persian Jird is similar to a large Mongolian Gerbil. However, it is an altogether more elegant animal with a grace of movement almost like that of a cat. Persian Jirds are nocturnal and h
ave large eyes and ears that are very sensitive to noise. These ears can move around in the direction that noise is coming from, or can be laid flat against the head if some inconsiderate person makes a lot of noise by, say, hoovering around their cage. They are very good climbers and their most obvious feature is the most beautiful tail that is about one and a half times as long as the Jird. It is used for balance when climbing and also for communication - an irritated Jird will swish its tail at you in an s-motion which is amazing to see.
One of the other outstanding things about Persian Jirds is their temperament. They are colony animals and are very good natured with each other. I have never seen a disagreement between our two and the male even puts up with having his tail used as a toy by the babies. They now have the male baby living with them - baby is not the right word for him as he's now a hulking great adult. I was a little bit nervous as if you did this with Mongolian gerbils there would be big trouble but they all get along fine. Once they are used to their environment they can become almost fearless with people.
In the wild their distribution is Iran, Trancaucasia, Turkey, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here is some information on the Persian Desert Basins where they live. They live in large colonies in rocky environments storing large amounts of seed and flowers in their rather basic burrows. The speed and grace of their movement and their love for live food such as meal worms suggests that they hunt small insects in the wild to supplement their diet. In the wild these colonies will self limit their breeding to what the environment can support. This useful in harsh environments because otherwise the colony can all starve because there are too many animals feeding from the food store in winter.
After the pet show where we first saw one, my husband had set his heart on having some so I did a bit of Internet research and tracked down a Persian Jird breeder. I was offered an adult pair who became known as Amy and Eric. They now also live with one of their babies, Bob, who is now pretty much full grown.
We feed them on hamster /gerbil food, bits of vegetable and fruit and meal worms /wax-worms. Before I managed to find a good source of meal and wax-worms I used to feed them occasional (twice a week or so) small amounts of cheese and cooked meat such as chicken or bacon. They are very partial to small bacon sarnies and will come and beg when bacon is being cooked!! They are particularly fond of Broccoli (as you can see from the picture above) and banana.
Persian Jirds are great hoarders. The first thing that they will do upon being fed is to collect all of the food and move it to their food store. Then they sit in the cage and look at you as if to say "look - we've got no food at all and we're starving". This only fools you for a while - usually until the first time you clean them out and find half a ton of stored food. In order to encourage more natural behaviour all food is hidden around the cage, under toys and in corners and even buried in the sawdust. This can keep them busy for a while searching for all of it and putting it away. We also have what we call "starve night" when one day a week they get no food so that they use some of the food store.
This hoarding behaviour has caused some small problem to archaeologists in their natural environment. There was quite a well-publicised theory of ritual Neanderthal Burial. The presence of large amounts of pollen of different species of plants in a soil sample from around Neanderthal skeleton was taken as evidence of deliberate ritual burial on a bed of flowers more than 50,000 years ago. However a recent theory concludes that this could be the work of colonies of Persian Jirds storing seeds and flowers in their burrows around the skeletons! If you are interested in reading more about this there are articles in About Archaeology, Physical Anthropology online and Geoworlds
My suspicion is that they hunt insects in the wild from the big eyes and pointy nose and the way that they move like cats. They are lightning fast when they pounce on you when you change their food bowl.
At the Luton show we met a man whose gerbils had beautiful shiny coats. He told us that his secret was millet so we started feeding the Jirds on bit from a spray each every day. They like it and they certainly seem to have shinier coats!
My Wax and Meal worms come from a bird food supplier. You can order from CJ Bird foods online. Your Robins will love you as well if you put some out for them!!
They are fairly bright compared to small other rodents and I have taught them to jump on the item in their cage that I tap for sunflower seeds. My female hadn't been handled much when I got her and could nip in her hurry to get at the food. She very rarely does this now and the babies never ever nipped at all so I think it was just a case of getting them used to being handled. She got very tame after having the babies - I think she was starving hungry all of the time and so the need for treats overcame her natural fear. Now both parents are actually tamer than Bob, who was handled from 3 weeks of age. We had two very tame babies, that were chosen by the first lady that had some and two that were less tame. I don't know why this is the case - I guess they just had different personalities.
They are very popular with visitors because they are so beautiful and graceful and will always come out and say hi - well if I'm honest they always come out in the hope of a treat..
The long tails are very beautiful and they swish them when upset which is cute. They can swish them in a s-curve. I am always very careful of the tail when holding them and in fact our female appears to have broken her tail at some time in the past before we had her as she has a little lump half way down. They are not at all fond of being picked up but I try to pick each of them up every day so that they are used to being handled. This is a good idea for all animals in case they ever need to go to the vet. When we still had the climbing cage on, they would run out of the cage and up your arms at the slightest excuse.
They started off in a four-foot tank but it soon became obvious that this wasn't large enough for them. Because of their self-limiting colony size they will not produce babies unless they have plenty of space and despite plenty of trying of no babies were born the first summer. I had a large wire climbing extension built for the top of the cage. They loved this and spent many happy hours racing up and down the sides, lobbing chewed up bits of wood on the carpet, and hanging on to scrounge titbits from any passing mug.
I had the cage extension built but you could do your own. Go to the Jird Cage Page for more information and pictures on the new cage and some cute pictures of them nesting in it.
We've built them a nesting box out of a pine bread bin that I bought from Woolworths. We took the lid off, cut an entrance hold and turned it upside down in the tank. They build a great nest in there but often choose to just sleep outside in their cardboard roll or, now that they have the cage extension upstairs they build a nest in there. The nest box has been relegated to food store! The photo below shows the great nest that they have built out of bits of chewed up box and toilet roll.
The large orange cardboard rolls sold in pet shops are very popular and I know that they are safe for them to chew. The also get cardboard boxes - I choose to use only boxes that have contained food for my rodents as I assume that they would not use harmful dyes on something that contains food. They do not seem to be as destructive and single minded chewers as the gerbils are but boy can they get through things quickly when they put their mind to it.
In addition they have two upturned flower pots to jump on and off of (or they did have until Amy got herself trapped underneath one), a bird perch attached to the roof and a hollowed out coconut shell.
Go to the Environment Enrichment page for more ideas on keeping them amused.
The tank is only cleaned out every 6 weeks or so. They did tend to use one of the shelves as a toilet, until we discovered the dust bath toilet trick (see below), so that got wiped off regularly. The top of the cage gets done every couple of weeks. They do tend to get very, very stressed when they are cleaned out, but they always settle down overnight. Sometimes when we clean them out completely we leave their bed intact as it is often completely clean and a small work of art, and helps reduce the stress.
Russel Home Help small animal disinfectant is very useful as it can be sprayed into the corner of the tank and on the nesting box and wiped off without having to worry about rinsing it all off.
They were originally on wood shavings with toilet roll for them to tear up as bedding.They do not seem to suffer from the sore noses that gerbils often get on sawdust which is good. Sometimes they will dig all of the sawdust up one end of the tank but they are not great diggers like gerbils preferring to climb instead. However I developed problems with the dust and moved them onto Megazorb and then Ecobed. See the bedding page for more details.
Their coat seems to get a bit greasy so I provide them with a large dish full of chinchilla dust which they seem to enjoy and keeps their coat shiny. All of the animals get dust baths which they all love. Having discovered that they like to use this as a toilet, I now have them litter trained to and old chinchilla dust bath. I just change the dust twice a week and it really cuts down on the cleaning out of the tank.
They generally breed in the summer months and by late August the year that Amy was 3 years old I assumed that we would never have any babies. Imagine my surprise when I arrived home from work one day to find Eric unceremoniously chucked out of the marital nest and four small pink pups there.
The babies were great fun. We didn't see a great deal of them for the first few weeks. Mum moved them around the cage regularly, burying the nest hole whilst going out to forage. This may be a defence against predators in the wild. Dad kept well clear and did not help out raising the babies - he was asking to get his nose bitten if he got too interested. He looked positively wretched for the first couple of weeks alone in his nest. I think he may have had cause look back fondly on that time of peace when the babies got older and used him as a climbing frame.
The minute the babies eyes opened at about 3 1/2 weeks they were everywhere. It was a small litter, perhaps due to mum being quite old, as they can have up to 10 young. This meant that they had plenty of attention so grew up little porkers. It was great watching them transform slowly from little pink squiggles into proper Jirds. They started to groom before their eyes were open, learnt to climb as soon afterwards, were swishing their tails when annoyed by about 6 weeks and by 9 weeks were joining in creating the family food store.
One of the female babies went to a lady to go with her two males. There aren't many species where two males would live happily with a female but I also have this arrangement as I kept the male baby in with his parents. She has successfully raised 3 litters this summer totalling 15 babies. I don't think that Amy was the best female that the guy who sold her to me had - he wouldn't have parted with her if she had of been. However he assured me that she was as unrelated to Eric as it was possible to manage and so it looks like at least this baby is a better breeder than she is. Of course there may also be environmental circumstances involved such as having two males competing for her attention or a more experienced owner doing something that I am not.
For more information and to see some lovely pictures and video clips of them growing up see the Baby Jird pages.
I have had my Jirds for four and a half years and they have been robust little creatures for most of their life. Amy has had a few problems in her old age, but she is still with us. I have not been able to find any information on any particular conditions that they suffer from over and above gerbils - take a look here for information on Gerbil Health. The males do not, however, have the prominent scent gland which causes so much trouble in male Gerbils.
Injuries, particularly broken tails, can occur and it is important to make sure that their cages present as few opportunities to trap legs and tails as possible. Wire spoked wheels are a definite no-no.
One recent and very nasty problem was that Amy developed Pyometra which is an infection of the womb at the age of 4. This is a nasty condition that requires a full hysterectomy in cats and dogs. Here is an article about the condition in cats. She became very lethargic and lost frightening amounts of weight very quickly and appeared to be having difficulty eating. This led to an initial suspicion of teeth problems. Luckily the locum vet (my usual one was on holiday) spotted that she had pus draining from the uterus and she was treated with baytril antibiotic injections and antibiotics in the water. It took 3 injections and about 10 days for her to get a better and sadly the infection came back within 3 days of Amy coming off of antibiotics. My normal vet had come back from holiday and cheerfully announced that he could Spay her. Despite my misgivings I let him do the operation and it was successful. I really would not have believed that it would be possible to carry out such a major operation (a full hysterectomy) in such a small animal. But the fur grew back on her tummy and she put on weight and seemed happy. Another side effect was that the males no longer hassled her which she must be glad of at her age!! I don't think that she would have survived the operation in the state that she was in when we first took her in so clearing up the worst of the infection with antibiotics first was probably a good idea.
After a few more weeks Amy continued to be a little underweight and I wasn't entirely happy that she has 100% normal use of her back legs as she sometimes wobbles a little. However she was bright and zooms around and begged for titbits as normal and has a good quality of life so it was all a success. The photo below shows her about a month after surgery. She actually survived for the best part of two more year and diet from something completely unrelated.
One of the other outcomes of this was the fact that both of the males became obese due to the amount of extra food and titbits being fed. It is important with all animals to ensure that they do not become overweight as this is very bad for their health. Healthy Persian Jirds should be lean and fast looking - not chunky like a Shaw's Jird. It is not a kindness to overfeed titbits as it can stop them getting the nutrients they need from their main diet. With a diet consisting of only gerbil food with the raisins taken out and only a small piece of green stuff they started to slim down. Eric did eventually die suddenly, possibly from a heart attack, but he was 5 1/2 so it didn't kill him young.
At the age of about 3, Bob developed a growth in his ear. The first sign of it was that he was scratching his ear like mad, and then one evening he was soaked in blood all down his face. I immediately suspected ear mites and took him down the vet. I was quite concerned when the vet showed me the small growth blocking up his ear. These growths, that look like little cauliflower, are common in gerbils and often appear on the nose and ears. They are not malignant but can cause problems as the animals often scratch them, and then they bleed profusely. In the past they were also dangerous to remove as they would bleed like mad after surgery - we had a very sick gerbil after having one removed and another gerbil that died after having one removed in combination with a scent gland tumour. Luckily surgery techniques have moved on in the last couple of years. My vet now has a Radio frequency surgery kit, which I believe uses radio waves and cauterises the wound immediately. Despite not being very impressed with us for a few days afterwards, Bob recovered extremely quickly and had no further problems with his ears.
As with all animals, Persian Jirds can get a range of internal tumours. Amy was diagnosed with what is probably a benign tumour near to her bladder. As this grew it pressed on her bladder and caused her to leak small amounts of urine. She also had protein in her urine, which indicates that her kidneys were failing. She got quite thin despite eating a lot. There is very little that can be done about this sort of problem. I considered having her euthanised, but she was keeping herself clean and eating well, and still destroyed boxes with enthusiasm. So I chose to give her a tiny dose of metacalm (a painkiller) every day and to watch her carefully. A note on the use of painkillers though - this painkiller is not tested to use with small animals and judging the dose is very hard. Do not try to give painkiller to any of your pets without advice from your vet. Amy carried on for many months and was eventually put to sleep when she got wobbly on her feet at the grand old age of 6 1/2. At this point the vet thought that she may also have a brain tumour (see below).
When he was about 4 Bob developed breathing problems. He was diagnosed with pneumonia, but we knew that small rodents rarely get pneumonia unless it is secondary to another problem. He seemed to be doing well on antibiotics but sadly I came home one day two weeks later to find him struggling to walk and quite cold. It broke my heart, but I rushed him to the vets and knew that the kindest thing was to let him go. His heart was failing and the vet thought it was likely that he had a tumour in his lungs because of the way that he was breathing.
At the age of about 5 Amy developed epilepsy. The first signs of it where that she was injured twice in short succession. The first time I saw her limping, I assumed that she had caught herself, and since she was getting around and using the leg, which got better in a few days, I was not too concerned. However, it happened again a couple of weeks later and I started to think about removing the climbing cage. She would also sometimes be sitting on a shelf in a complete trance. I put this down to old age and being asleep on her feet. However, a few days later I was feeding them waxworms, which always cause a great deal of excitement, and Amy fitted. It was very alarming as she jerked violently and rolled around the cage. I got her out and put her into a smaller tank, where she couldn't injure herself asap (and got bitten, which is very unusual so she much have been very distressed). We removed the climbing cage immediately, and arranged the tank so she could not injure herself if it happened again. While I didn't see her fit again, I could tell when she has, as she sits in a trance for a while afterwards, and her back end was very stiff. Amy had a range of problems but pootled on quite happily to a grand old age. However once she started being wobbly on her feet I made the kindest decision to have her put to sleep - the vet thought that she may have a brain tumour.
There are a number of different possible causes for fits. The first, and least likely in this case, is hereditary. Some mutation colours of gerbils are very prone to stress fits, but these tend to be much less violent. There are a number of nutritional deficiencies quoted for fits in Chinchillas such as low thiamine, calcium or blood sugar. This sort of thing is a possibility as she has now been diagnosed with kidney failure (see below) and this sort of problem can cause all sorts of metabolic imbalances. The third possibility is a brain tumour and finally Toxicity - if she had eaten something posinous. I was initially worried that there might be a problem with the sunflower seeds I was supplementing her with at the time (certainly peanuts can have alflatoxins which can cause fitting), and this sort of thing is always worth considering if you get this problem. Another possibility is that the kidney failure is causing a buildup of toxins in her system. For more information see V.C.G Richardson - Diseases of Small Domestic Rodents or the National Gerbils Society seizures page. I have since spoken to a couple of people who have had fits in Persian Jirds so there is a possiblity that this is something they suffer from.
The Elderly Persian Jird.
Many sources quote the life expectancy of a Persian Jird as being 6 or 7 years. The females generally seem to stop breeding between 3 and 4 years. At time of writing, based on the ages we were given for them when we got them (1 and 18 months), Eric reached 5 1/2 and Amy has reached 6 1/2, despite her health problems. Sadly Bob only lived to just over 4 despite always being a large, healthy looking Jird.
One of the first signs of old age seems to be stiffness in the morning. Both of my elderly gerbils tend to leap out of bed, stretch and then fall over sideways sometimes. Once they are awake and moving they seem to be fine. You could try a drop of evening primrose oil, or cod liver oil on a seed to see if that helps their joints! If they suffer from this, try to ensure that they have less things that they could fall off as they get older. Extremely elderly jirds may need to be moved into a tank, rather than a wire cage that they can climb.
Another problem, is that elderly males seem to loose fur in patches. Eric had this problem at one point but it seems to have cleared up. Additional oils, such as evening primrose oil on a treat, linseed or millet, may help with this. Also some extra protein in the form of Waxworms also might help.
Sadly in August 2004 we found Eric had passed away at the age of about 5 1/2. I had seen him running around a few hours earlier and as far as we could tell he had just passed away in his sleep, curled up with the others. We had only been commenting the day before that you couldn't tell that he was an OAP - he looked so well. Particularly compared to Amy who has been frail for a long while. My suspicion is heart failure but it isn't easy to tell. Eric spent nearly five years living with us, and in that time he never went to the vets (at least not for himself - he went with Amy and Bob a few times) and passed away peacefully at a good old age - all any of us can ask for. Amy also sadly was put to sleep in February 2005 after hanging on for longer than we could have thought. She did seem to have some form of neurological problem that affected her balance and gait. She managed fine and had a reasonable quality of life for a long time with it and was just a bit wobbly, however in degenerated after Christmas and when she began to have difficulty getting up and with falling we made the sad decision that it was kindest to let her go. As also mentioned above we lost Bob to a lung condition (possibly a tumour) in October 2005 at only 4 years of age. We no longer have Persian Jirds which is an enormous loss.
Persian Jirds make friendly and fascinating pets. As long as you are willing to spend a bit of money and effort on a nice large cage I cannot recommend them highly enough.