Gerbils are a popular pocket pet and often the first pet children have. These cheerful little animals are usually active and healthy, but just like any other animal, they can sometimes get sick. If you are wondering what common gerbil illnesses and symptoms are, this guide is aimed at helping you.
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What Does Good Health Look Like?
Before we look at what illnesses gerbils can have, it’s helpful to know what a healthy animal looks like. A healthy gerbil will have bright, clear eyes free of mucus. Their fur should be clean and shiny, without patches of hair loss. This includes fur on the tail, as gerbils have furry tails, unlike rats or hamsters.
Gerbils normally have yellow teeth, but those teeth should not be curled around or excessively long. Their bottoms should be clean, and they should be active and alert during the day.
Common Gerbil Illnesses and Symptoms
As long as your pet’s cage is kept clean and fresh, they always have access to fresh drinking water, and they are fed a diet specifically for gerbils, most gerbils will remain healthy. Even with the best care, however, sometimes gerbils can get sick. Here are a few common illnesses and their symptoms.
The Common Cold
Did you know if you get sick, your gerbils can catch it from you? Although it is rare for diseases to be able to jump species, gerbils and humans can both share colds. If you ever get the sniffles, you should avoid handling your gerbil and ask someone else to care for it if possible while you are sick.
Symptoms of a cold include:
- Runny Nose
If your gerbil gets sick, isolate them from any other gerbils to prevent the disease from spreading. Keep the gerbil by itself in a warm room for 2-3 days. If the gerbil doesn’t get better within that time frame, you should take it to a small animal veterinarian to check for more serious conditions.
Tyzzer’s Disease is a bacterial infection that can be deadly if not treated. Tyzzer’s disease is also one of the most commonly occurring diseases in gerbils. It’s picked up through diseased bedding and sometimes occurs when gerbils are stressed, such as when they go through a move.
Tyzzer’s disease is contagious, so infected gerbils should be separated from their companions until they have recovered.
Symptoms of Tyzzer’s Disease include:
- Rough coat
- Hunched Posture
- Loss of Appetite
You can tell if your gerbil is dehydrated by gently pinching its skin. If the skin doesn’t immediately snap back into position but stays how you folded it, the gerbil might be dehydrated.
There is no known cure for this disease. Antibiotics have varying levels of success. The best thing to do is to prevent Tyzzer’s disease by using only high-quality bedding, keeping the litter clean, and reducing stress on the animals as much as possible.
When we think of illness in gerbils, we tend to think of things like coughing and sneezing. Gerbils are genetically predisposed to epilepsy. Between 20-40% of naturally bred gerbils are vulnerable to epilepsy.
Seizures can range from simply staring off into space with a dazed look on their face, all the way up to major thrashing seizures. There is no treatment, however, the good news is there is no risk of injury or danger to these seizures.
Strains of seizure-resistant gerbils exist, and buying from one of these lines is the only known way to reduce the risk of seizure in gerbils.
Nasal Dermatitis (Sorenose)
Nasal Dermatitis is a very common gerbil disease, especially in younger gerbils. It’s an itchy, painful disease characterized by a red nose and sometimes a red face. The gerbil may rub its face all over everything in its cage trying to scratch it.
The disease is caused by secretions from a gland located behind the gerbil’s eye. This gland produces a fluid that normally keeps the eye and nose moist, but when the gland overproduces fluid this can cause irritation.
If your gerbil is sick from something else or has allergies, this fluid can get overproduced. Symptoms include:
- Reddish fluid on body and face
- Red nose
- Eczema on face
Your gerbil may need to see a veterinarian to get relief. They can prescribe a soothing ointment to help make your pet more comfortable as it heals. Keeping the cage clean and dust free can also help reduce symptoms by reducing allergies.
As gerbils advance in age, they are prone to developing tumors. Gerbils over the age of two should be examined for outgrowths regularly. Common locations for outgrowths include the scent gland (located in the middle of your gerbil’s tummy) as well as on the skin in places like the ears and feet.
Tumors are common in gerbils but should be checked by a vet. If caught in time, they can be surgically removed. Anesthesia for gerbils has come a long way, and the survivability of the surgery is now very good.
Left too late, tumors can become cancerous, or grow too large for the gerbil to move around comfortably.
If you notice your gerbil has a wet, bedraggled-looking coat, it could be the humidity. Gerbils are desert creatures and do not appreciate high-humidity environments. If the humidity rises to greater than 50% in their enclosure, it can affect their coats.
Avoid using glass enclosures that trap moisture, and instead, use a well-ventilated wire cage. Keep bedding clean and dry. If the humidity in your home is high, you may need to use a dehumidifier to help your pet.
Symptoms should go away after the humidity in the cage has been addressed.
Gerbils are normally very healthy animals and require little to keep them in good shape. A clean cage, constant access to fresh water, and appropriate food are usually enough to keep your animals in good shape.
Signs of illness are usually fairly obvious, with a change in coat or huddled-up appearance. It’s always good practice to keep a hospital cage available to separate your gerbil while you figure out what’s going on. With treatment, many gerbil diseases can be cured with just a little love and care.