Wet tail is a condition characterized by diarrhea and emaciation. It affects rodents, and can kill within 24-48 hours. So, immediate treatment is vital.
Wet tail is an epizootic bacterial disease caused by the bacterium Lawsonia intracellularis, which doesn’t affect gerbils. But gerbils can get repetitive diarrhea caused by stress, which is essentially the same condition by a different name. The cure is removing stress from your pet’s living environment.
To remove stress, move your gerbil’s cage somewhere more peaceful. Avoid loud noises and bright lights, and don’t handle your pet too much
What Is Wet Tail in Gerbils?
Wet tail is a condition that affects rodents kept in cages. It’s also known by the scientific term ‘proliferative ileitis,’ and transmissible ileal hyperplasia. It’s caused by stress, and can kill an animal in as little as 24-48 hours.
Wet tail is a bacterial infection. The name is descriptive, because the issue affects the base of the tail, which becomes wet. It causes diarrhea/loose stools, although it should be noted that not all instances of diarrhea are related to this specific condition.
It’s caused by a specific kind of bacteria called Lawsonia intracellularis which is present in a rodent’s gut. It’s a condition that primarily affects hamsters, as well as other rodents like mice and rats.
Wet tail in rabbits is also reasonably common. But as is frequently the case, gerbils are different from other rodents. Gerbils can’t get wet tail, because they aren’t affected by the same bacteria as hamsters are. They don’t have the same bacteria in their guts.
However, that doesn’t mean gerbils can’t get severe and repetitive diarrhea. They can also experience diarrhea as a result of stress. The only difference is that the bacteria that causes the issue is different in gerbils than in hamsters.
Because the difference is only technical, the rest of this article addresses the condition as ‘wet tail.’ The symptoms, treatment, and prevention are all the same.
What Causes Wet Tail?
Wet tail is a stress-related condition. It occurs when a rodent’s bacterial flora overpopulates. The bacteria break down the food in the rodent’s gut until it’s loose and fluid (diarrhea).
Because the rodent experiences constant diarrhea, this affects its anus and tail. The fur around its behind is almost constantly wet and smelly. This can create open wounds and infections. Things that can stress a rodent out include:
- Moving from one enclosure to the other
- Picking up your gerbil when it makes clear that it doesn’t enjoy handling
- Being around loud noises and bright lights
- Being moved around too quickly when handled
The bacteria present in the diarrhea can then pass on to other rodents in the same cage. Wet tail frequently spreads through families or clans of rodents. But because the disease is caused by stress, it doesn’t necessarily spread.
Gerbils can’t get the same kind of wet tail that hamsters do. But they can get diarrhea. Diarrhea in gerbils has many causes, but the main three are stress, poor dietary choices. and bacterial infection e.g. E coli.
Can Gerbils Die of Diarrhea?
Today, we don’t think of diarrhea as a serious issue. Modern medical science understands that you have to replace lost food, lost electrolytes, and lost fluids. You can also easily get antibiotics from any doctor, and in some places, even over the counter.
But the effects of diarrhea on the body are severe. The most immediate effect is that the body loses lots of nutrients. An animal with diarrhea is, essentially, getting rid of lots of undigested food. These nutrients have to be replaced, but if diarrhea is consistent, they can’t be.
Diarrhea also depletes the body of fluids quickly. For people, this isn’t much of a problem. But gerbils have evolved to conserve their water, hardly using any. They don’t naturally drink a lot. So, diarrhea is a big problem for them.
These issues won’t kill your pet immediately. It takes time, over which your gerbil will gradually lose weight. Coupled with poor health, though, losing weight over time can kill.
Besides that, wet tail can create open sores that become infected. Because diarrhea is continual over a long period, your pet’s behind will get and stay wet. This causes sores that are like ulcers. Untreated infection of a sore like this can lead to sepsis, which is fatal.
Tyzzer’s Disease vs. Wet Tail in Gerbils
Tyzzer’s disease is a similar condition to wet tail. It causes repetitive diarrhea, and unlike wet tail, definitely affects gerbils. According to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Tyzzer’s is common in shop-bought gerbils.
However, there are certain crucial differences. Tyzzer’s disease is caused by a different kind of bacteria to wet tail. It’s caused by Clostridium piliforme, which affects tissue in the same way as Lawsonia intracellularis. But Tyzzer’s disease kills by attacking and leaving lesions on the liver, which wet tail doesn’t do.
Of course, this is difficult to see from the outside. This means you’ll have to take your gerbil to the vet for a proper diagnosis. Both conditions can kill quickly, so don’t wait around.
Why Does Stress Cause Diarrhea in Gerbils?
Individual periods of stress don’t unduly affect gerbils. They will react by hiding, and can quickly get over a short stressful time. It’s repeated stress that won’t go away which can cause diarrhea.
Even so, the mechanism by which stress causes diarrhea isn’t immediately obvious. What happens is that stress damages the immune system. Chronic stress causes all sorts of issues, like high blood pressure. It also stops the body’s immune system from working properly.
When this happens to a gerbil, it’s gut bacteria populations start growing. Eventually, there’s so much bacteria that they could overwhelm the gut and make your gerbil sick. So, your gerbil’s brain tells its gut to get rid of all the food and bacteria inside it.
Symptoms of Wet Tail in Gerbils
The symptoms in hamsters are the same as those of repetitive, stress-related diarrhea in gerbils. That’s because they’re essentially the same thing, but caused by different bacteria.
Look for signs that the diarrhea isn’t stress-related. Diarrhea is usually caused by what your gerbil eats. Gerbils should eat gerbil food mix, not fruit and vegetables. Excess fruit or veg will cause diarrhea because it’s so watery.
If you’re feeding your pet food mix, then rotten or rancid food isn’t a possibility either. The only other issue is if you don’t use a food bowl in your gerbil’s enclosure, and the food touches feces or something else that’s dirty.
This is where your gerbil’s stool is loose, soft, and fluid. This is caused by the bacteria in your gerbil’s gut getting out of control, proliferating, and breaking down food too quickly.
Your pet’s body rejects the food because it’s full of bacteria. The same happens when your pet eats something that contains lots of bacteria. It’s also like when you eat food that’s gone bad, and your body rejects it.
This is especially noticeable because a gerbil’s poop is normally solid and small. This is an adaptation that is unique to gerbils, because they live in a part of the world that’s dry.
In stress-related diarrhea, the diarrhea is repetitive if the source of stress is repetitive. This is what sets it apart from other kinds of diarrhea, e.g. that caused by a bad diet.
According to the American Journal of Pathology, in wet tail, the inside of the colon will also become inflamed. This is known as transmissible ileal hyperplasia. This may not occur in diarrhea in gerbils.
A Wet Behind
Repetitive diarrhea isn’t only bad for your gerbil’s insides. It’s bad for your gerbil’s behind, too. If it’s frequent enough, it keeps your gerbil’s behind wet. This is bad, because wet skin develops irritation and sores over time.
This irritation makes your gerbil lick and nibble at the skin there. This compounds the issue of sores developing. If sores do develop, they can become infected, and the area as a whole becomes red and inflamed.
The area around your gerbil’s rear may also become stained and dirty. This is an obvious result of diarrhea. It should reverse once diarrhea stops.
Emaciation goes hand-in-hand with diarrhea. When diarrhea occurs, the body loses nutrients. Partially digested food is evacuated from the bowel before a gerbil can utilize its nutritional value.
If this occurs once, it’s not a problem. Your gerbil will have gotten rid of almost all the bacteria. It can then get back to normal, and eat a little more food to make up for that lost.
If the diarrhea is repetitive, it can’t. Every time your pet eats more food, it’s pooped out again. That’s because the source of the diarrhea is the bacteria in your pet’s gut, which is out of control.
If this continues for a long time, your pet will essentially starve. Even if it’s eating, it won’t get any nutrition from its food. The only way to help it regain weight is to stop the diarrhea.
Lethargy is the scientific name for a lack of energy and movement. It is a hallmark of many different health conditions. It’s easy to recognize.
A lethargic gerbil will spend most of its time sleeping. Happy gerbils will spend roughly half of their time asleep: two hours or so awake, two hours asleep. A lethargic and sick gerbil may spend up to 23 hours per day asleep.
When your pet is awake, you will see further signs of lethargy. A healthy gerbil that likes you will come running when you open its cage. It will be excited to get out. If it doesn’t like you, then it might run and hide.
A lethargic gerbil might do neither. It will move slowly, and won’t appear excited or afraid. Even if you pick it up, it may not react at all. This is a sign of advanced sickness. According to PLoS One, this may be to minimize the exposure of the sick creature to cold and predation.
Gerbil Wet Tail Treatment
The condition may not get better on its own. In the worst-case scenario, your pet could even pass away. But if you follow the steps below, your pet should be fine.
Take Your Pet to the Vet
If antibiotics are required, the vet will prescribe the right ones.
Different kinds of antibiotics only work with certain bacteria. So, they will identify what type of bacteria is particularly at fault for the issue and prescribe the correct kind.
De-Stress Your Gerbil
Your gerbil will benefit from you removing any stressors from its environment. This is what’s causing your gerbil’s stress-related diarrhea. The main cause of stress is often the owner.
That isn’t to say that you’re mean to your pet. But it’s easy to scare a gerbil accidentally, and you may be doing so. To avoid stressing your gerbil out, consider the following:
- Do you pick your gerbil up from above? This makes your pet think that a bird is attacking it. Scoop it up with two hands, from below, instead.
- Do you handle your gerbil too much? If your gerbil doesn’t enjoy being picked up or cuddled, don’t force it.
There are also lots of things that cause stress, which you might not appreciate. If your gerbil is in a part of the home with lots of sound and light, this causes stress.
Your gerbil may also be fighting with the others in its enclosure. Where one gerbil is rejected from the group, this is known as declanning. Declanning can cause violent fights, lots of stress, and the gerbils can even fight to the death.
In the event of declanning, you’ll have to separate the rejected gerbil into its own enclosure. By doing this, or correcting the stressful influences on your pet’s life, you may solve its diarrhea issue.
Give Your Pet Gerbil a Sand Bath
Besides diarrhea, the second most pressing issue is the wet tail itself. This can become serious, developing sores, which can even cause sepsis.
Gerbils don’t bathe in water. Instead, they bathe in sand. The sand keeps their fur clear of grease and dirt. It also dries the fur out.
A sand bath is a perfect solution if your gerbil’s behind can’t get dry. It will also encourage your pet to groom the area and keep it clean in a positive way.
Clean Your Pet’s Enclosure
Stress-diarrhea is related to too much bacteria. While this bacteria comes from your gerbil’s gut, you also shouldn’t leave your pet’s enclosure to get dirty. That’s how diarrhea spreads between gerbils.
Begin by putting your sick gerbil in another enclosure entirely. Ensure that this cage has everything your pet needs, and is clean.
You should then take any other gerbils from the enclosure and keep them somewhere safe for the time being. The bathtub is the ideal place. They should only be in there for around half an hour, so they won’t get too stressed in that time.
Then, take the enclosure and give it a thorough clean. The dirtiest part will be the bedding. Get rid of any bedding which is soiled. Keep a small amount of clean bedding, as this will retain the smell of your gerbils and stop them fighting when you put them back in the cage.
With the bedding gone, take any toys from the enclosure and clean them with an antibacterial solution. Do the same with the walls of the enclosure. This should kill any remaining bacteria.
Put fresh bedding in mixed with the small amount of old bedding. You can then reintroduce the other gerbils to the cage. Keep the sick gerbil separated until it completes its course of antibiotics.