A brief summary of the sick gerbil

Gerbils can often present with some quite challenging problems. Here are a few of problems you’re likely to be presented with in practice.

Posted: 14 September 2017

A brief summary of the sick gerbil

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Gerbils can often present with some quite challenging problems. Here are a few of problems you’re likely to be presented with in practice.

Tyzzer’s Disease

  • Caused by a bacterium called Clostridium piliforme.
  • Probably the most common infectious disease in gerbils affecting the young, old and stressed.
  • A very contagious, so sick gerbils must be kept away from others.

Signs of infection include;

  • Dull poor looking coat
  • Diarrhoea - usually watery in appearance
  • Quiet depressed and hunched appearance

Salmonella

Gerbils can be infected with several strains of Salmonella.

Signs of Salmonella include;

  • Diarrhoea
  • Weight loss and dehydration
  • Salmonella is a serious zoonotic disease and can be transmitted to humans, even if the infected gerbil does not seem unwell.

Top tip: Never be complacent with small mammals with diarrhoea.

Hair Loss and Tail-slip

Gerbils can lose hair on the face and around the tail and the hindquarters. This may happen from rubbing on cage feeders or burrowing. It can also occur from stress caused by overcrowding, resulting in fights and chewing.

Picking up a gerbil by the tail can result in the skin on the tail to slip off. This is called tail-slip. The portions of the tail that are exposed by skin slippage often rot, and they must be treated by amputation. Never pick a gerbil up by the tail.

Red-tears

Environmental stress caused by overcrowding and high humidity can cause gerbils’ tear glands to secrete a red protein porphyrin around the nostrils and eyes. If this accumulates, it can cause skin irritation, itchiness, redness and hair loss. The sore skin can become can become infected and start bleeding.

Prevent this condition by keeping the humidity below 50% and avoid overcrowding and stress.

Kidney disease

Gerbils over 12 months are susceptible to developing a kidney disease called glomerulonephritis. Glomerulonephritis can progress to cause kidney tumours.

Signs include;

  • Weight loss
  • Drinking more
  • Urinating more frequently

Fits and epilepsy

  • Gerbils can spontaneously develop fits.
  • Sometimes these are inherited, but fits can also be caused by stress.
  • Signs begin when gerbils are just 2 or 3 months old.
  • The fits can last several minutes and the signs can vary from twitching ears and whiskers to severe muscle convulsions.
  • Death from seizures is rare.

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