As with all animals, there are some common health problems that gerbils may suffer from. Learn to give them a regular weekly health check – and if you have any concerns, always go direct to your vet.
Gerbils require company from other gerbils. It's better to keep two or three of the same sex littermates together. Introducing gerbils who are older than 10 weeks means that they are more than likely to fight.
Get into the habit of examining your gerbils carefully every week. It’s a good idea to weigh them too. The idea is to catch any problems early.
General – their coat should be sleek and shiny and happy gerbils will be active and playful. Look out for a matted and greasy coat, limping and signs of listlessness.
Tail – check that their tail is fully covered in fur. Hairless patches could be due to mites, or could indicate over-grooming, which is a sign of boredom.
Mouth and nose – the nose should be clean with no discharge (which might indicate infection). Most gerbils will happily let you check their teeth and you should see that they haven’t grown too long and that they’re not misaligned or chipped. Losing weight and loss of appetite can be a sign of problems here. A healthy gerbil’s teeth are yellow, not white.
Gerbils can also develop sores around their mouth and nose from burrowing in material that is too rough, or from rubbing against their cage. To avoid this happening, keep the burrowing material in the tank beneath their cage nice and soft and make sure your gerbils have plenty of toys.
Nails – like their teeth, gerbils’ nails grow continuously. Playing with wooden toys will keep them short, but you should still check to see they haven’t become overgrown. If they have, your vet can clip them safely.
Scent gland – this is a small, bald patch on your gerbil’s underside which it rubs against things to mark them with scent. Males in particular can be at risk from tumours in the scent gland, so feel gently to see if there are any lumps. Tumours grow very quickly, but can easily be removed by your vet if they’re found early enough.
Bottom – make sure it’s free from discharge or swelling. Staining or stickiness around the bottom can be a sign of diarrhoea or infection. A trip to the vet is essential.
Gerbils are expert diggers, so make sure they have plenty of areas where they can hide away if they wish.
Its whole body (including the tail) is covered in fur, which protects against sunburn.
Dental problems – your gerbils’ teeth will grow throughout their life, so they’ll need plenty of things to gnaw on to keep those teeth ground down. Cardboard, wooden toys or healthy snacks like Excel Gnaw Sticks are all excellent.
Overgrown teeth can cause discomfort and stop your pet eating, and that may lead to malnutrition. Older gerbils might not gnaw as much as they used to, so you might need a vet to clip the teeth safely and painlessly.
Colds – gerbils can catch a cold from humans, so if you have one, don’t handle your pets. Their symptoms are similar to ours too, like sneezing and a runny nose. If one of your gerbils catches a cold, isolate it from the rest to stop it spreading.
Keep the poorly gerbil in a warm room and if the symptoms haven’t cleared in two or three days, visit your vet – colds can easily become something more serious, like pneumonia.
Tyzzer’s disease – this is a very serious bacterial disease that causes diarrhoea and can often be fatal if left untreated. Other symptoms are loss of appetite and tiredness. You must take your gerbil to the vet as soon as you spot any of these signs.
The condition is picked up from diseased bedding and can be avoided in two ways: maintaining good hygiene and using good quality bedding. An outbreak is often caused when something stressful happens – such as when the gerbil is introduced to a new environment.
If you have a question, please email us or call us on 0800 413 969. Our dedicated consumer care team are available to answer any questions you may have. If you are concerned about the immediate health of your pet, please seek the advice of your vet as soon as possible.Email us