Illness

Please do note, this is not a list of every ailment and if you are the slightest bit unsure of the illness and treatment you should contact your veterinarian.

Allergies

The gerbils mucus is red and can be confused with blood. A red, runny nose without any other symptoms is most likely an allergy.  Most common allergy is in bedding.  Make sure you are not using a bedding with high amounts of dust, scents added, dyes or chemicals.  Gerbils are also highly allergic to the oils in cedar shavings and pine shavings, and some individuals are allergic to aspen shavings as well.  Make sure you find the issue or seek a veterinarian if it does not clear up as this can lead to bigger issues.

Detached Tail / Degloving

This is caused from mishandling a gerbil.  Never grab a gerbil by the tail it will detach and will NOT grow back!!  Always scoop up a gerbil from the sides with both hands.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is often caused by too much wet food in the gerbil’s diet such as fruits and vegetables.  However, diarrhea is also a common symptom of more serious viral and bacterial infections, the most common being Tyzzer’s Disease (see below), Salmonellosis, E. Coli infection and Listeria Infection.  Salmonella, E. Coli and Listeria are dangerous to humans and can be fatal to young children, elderly or those with compromised immune systems.  If diarrhea is the only symptom present, stop feeding wet food.  If it does not clear up or becomes worse or other symptoms appear you need to see your vet for a proper diagnosis.   If you are dealing with a disease, their tank mate most likely has it as well, do not split up the clan.  If you have more then one clan (multiple tanks) you will need to isolate the sick clan from the healthy clan(s).  Make sure you clean everything that comes into contact with the sick clan, especially your hands.

Ear Infection 

Symptoms may be loss of balance, head tilt or walking in circles. Veterinarian attention is needed to treat the infection.

Hyperthermia (Heat Stroke)

Signs of heatstroke are lethargy, panting, unconsciousness, stretched out laying on belly and wetness around the mouth.  Remove your pet from the heat and place him in a cool, not cold, location and supply water.  In the future keep your gerbils in a room below 75˚F, make sure their tank is not in direct sunlight and away from heating vents.

Hypothermia 

This occurs when your gerbil has been exposed to low temperatures (below 50°F) or from being wet. Symptoms include huddling, feeling cold to the touch, lethargy and being unresponsive. Slowly warming a gerbil with your body heat or a small animal heat pad may help.

Mites

Mites are parasites that can cause you or your pet to have an allergic reaction. Treating your gerbil and cage with mite spray over many weeks and replacing all bedding, food, and toys is required.  If you’re not sure if you have a mite problem, do a tissue test.

  • take a piece of white toilet paper.
  • wrap it around your gerbils body and gently rub.
  • if the tissue has black or red dots – you have mites.

Your gerbil can get mites from anything brought into the house and especially their cage.  It is always best to freeze all bedding, food, chews, toys etc for no less than 48 hours – 72 hours preferably.

Respiratory Infections

Heavy breathing, half closed and dull eyes, as well as feeling cold to the touch, lethargic, rumpled coat as well as a “clicking” sound when a gerbil breathes are signs of infection.  This is caused by fluid in the respiratory system.  You will need to see your vet for treatment, left untreated will be fatal to the gerbil.

Seizures:

Some gerbils are more prone to seizures.  Seizures are seen more common in younger gerbils and become less frequent as a gerbil ages.  Seizures seem to be triggered by stress due to handling, environment, bright lights, loud noises, other animals, being scared etc.  The best thing you can do is leave them in their tank to recover and move them to a dark quiet room.  It is unusual for adults to suddenly start having seizures, if this is the case there is most likely an underlying issue such as a brain tumor.  There really is little you can do aside from keeping them in a low stress environment.

Strokes

Weakness, paralysis on one side, or difficulty walking can be signs of a stroke. A gerbil may recover from a stroke, but there is no treatment.  Strokes are more common in older gerbils as they age, however younger gerbils with other health issues may experience them as well.  The only thing you can really do is keep the gerbil warm and comfortable.  Make sure they can reach their food and water bottle until they have recovered enough to feed themselves.

Teeth

Loss of appetite and weight loss may be noticeable.  Overgrown teeth happens more often in older gerbils who are not gnawing as frequently or with gerbils who are not given adequate gnawing materials.  If one tooth is broke the opposite tooth can grow too long without the missing one to grind against.  You will need to see your veterinarian and soft feed your gerbil frequently.  Gerbils teeth should be checked at least once a week to catch any problems before they affect their ability to eat.

Tumors

Some gerbils can develop a tumor on the scent gland. Tumors are often not life threatening and some can be surgically removed. See your Vet.

Tyzzers

Tyzzer’s affects rats, mice, hamsters, and guinea pigs as well as gerbils.  This bacteria is highly contagious among gerbils and causes lethargy, sometimes diarrhea, refusing to eat and in most cases death.  See your Vet immediately as antibiotics can treat the visible symptoms of Tyzzer’s, but will not eliminate the contamination. All exposed gerbils need to be kept isolated from other animals, permanently.   Anything that came in contact with the infected group needs to be sterilized at 200˚F to kill off spores.  Furniture surfaces can be disinfected with the 5 minute bleach treatment.