A gerbil’s fur is constantly growing. Old hairs fall out every day, and are replaced with new hairs. But if your gerbil is losing too much hair, this could be a sign of a problem.
It’s normal for gerbils to lose a little hair every day. You might notice some hair coming off when you stroke your gerbil, or loose hairs in the cage. But your gerbil’s coat should always appear full, shiny and even, with no bald patches. Hair loss in gerbils can be caused by stress, infections, parasites, or nutritional deficiencies.
We’ll explore the gerbil hair shedding cycle, and whether gerbils molt. We’ll discuss what causes excessive hair loss in gerbils, and how much hair loss in gerbils is normal.
Do Gerbils Molt?
Most mammals shed their hair, and gerbils are no exception. Old gerbil hairs fall out every day, and are replaced with new ones. This is a process that helps to keep a gerbil’s coat in good condition.
A gerbil’s fur can become stained, worn, or damaged through day-to-day life. Hair is made up of dead cells, that can’t repair themselves or regenerate. So, each hair falls out from time to time and a fresh new one grows in its place.
Research in the Journal of Morphology found that the gerbil hair cycle lasts 26 to 28 days. For the first 10 to 11 days, the hair is actively growing. The hair follicle then begins to shut down, and eventually, the hair is shed.
Gerbils shed their fur every day, but you may notice more hair coming out in the spring. This is because gerbils’ native land, Mongolia, has extremely cold winters and hot summers. So their fur gets thicker during the winter, and thins out in preparation for summer.
If you keep your home the same temperature year-round, you probably won’t notice much of a seasonal difference. Gerbils also go through two large molts as they’re transitioning to adulthood, and these are extremely noticeable.
The Gerbil Molting Cycle
A gerbil’s baby fur is different from its adult fur. It’s softer, fluffier, and keeps them warm while they don’t have as much body fat. But it isn’t as protective or water-resistant as an adult’s sleek, shiny fur. So, all gerbils have to lose their baby fur as they transition to becoming adults.
Sometimes, a gerbil’s baby fur is also a different color to its adult fur. For example, nutmeg gerbils start off as pumpkin-colored. Their fur changes to brown as they reach adulthood.
The first molt, called the post-juvenile molt, starts when a gerbil is around 30 days old. It’s typically over by the time a gerbil is 7 weeks old.
During the post-juvenile molt, gerbils don’t shed all their fur at once. The molt starts at the head and moves down to the tail. You may notice a horizontal ‘molt line’ in your gerbil’s fur during this time. This is where the old coat meets the new.
The second molt is called the post-sub-adult molt. It’s a much longer molt, but happens the same way as the post-juvenile molt. It begins at 8-9 weeks of age and ends when the gerbil is around four months old.
Why Is My Gerbil Losing Hair?
A gerbil shedding fur is normal. If your gerbil is younger than four months of age, it may be going through its juvenile molting phase. But adults lose fur every day too, as part of the natural hair growth cycle.
As long as your gerbil’s coat is looking shiny and full, there’s nothing to worry about. But occasionally, gerbils can lose too much hair. This is called alopecia in gerbils.
You may notice a gerbil bald patch forming, or your gerbil’s coat becoming thin. Bald patches can form anywhere, but are most common on the nose, belly, back, or tail.
Bald patches in gerbils don’t always indicate something seriously wrong. They can be caused by fur getting trapped in the cage, for example. But they can also be a sign of a health or behavioral issue.
Small patches of baldness in gerbils are common, and they are often self-inflicted.
Gerbils groom themselves to keep clean. They do this by licking and nibbling at their fur, to remove any dirt or debris. But they occasionally overgroom themselves, which can lead to hair falling out.
Overgrooming in gerbils is often a symptom of stress or boredom. Boredom and stress can be caused by:
- The cage being too small
- Not enough toys
- Inadequate bedding for tunneling, or the wrong type of substrate
- No playmate (gerbils should never be kept alone)
- Lack of time to exercise outside the cage
Gerbils are intelligent creatures, and need an enriching environment to keep them stimulated. If they’ve got nothing else to do, they may groom themselves until they’re sore.
Gerbils can overgroom one another. This is called ‘barbering.’ A barbering gerbil will chew the fur off another gerbil’s body, usually focusing on the tail or head.
Like overgrooming, barbering is often caused by boredom, stress, and under-stimulation. It can also be dominance-related. The dominant gerbil may barber the others to remind them who’s boss.
Your gerbils should have plenty of time outside the cage, and lots of things to do inside. Wooden or cardboard chew toys can be helpful.
Gerbil Skin Conditions
Skin conditions can cause alopecia in gerbils. The two most common gerbil skin conditions are ringworm and allergies.
Ringworm, despite its name, is not an actual worm. It’s the name of a fungal skin infection called tinea corporis, in the same family as athlete’s foot.
If your gerbil has ringworm, you’ll notice round circles of hair loss which can be scabby. They can occur anywhere on the body. Ringworm can be treated by antifungal cream, prescribed by a vet.
Gerbils can also become allergic to their bedding, which can cause itching and hair loss. It’s not uncommon for gerbils to be allergic to wood shavings, such as aspen. Another classic symptom of an allergy is a red, runny nose.
Parasites are tiny creatures that live on or inside another animal. In the case of gerbils, certain parasites can cause hair loss.
According to the Journal of Small Animal Practice, gerbils can get a type of mite called Acarus Farris. The primary symptom of gerbil mites is skin irritation, which can lead to hair loss.
If mites are the answer, bald patches will be accompanied by redness, irritation, and dryness. You may notice your gerbil scratching a lot, or dust on your gerbil’s skin which looks like dandruff. It might look white or dark, depending on your gerbil’s fur color.
Gerbil hair loss can also be a result of dietary problems. Gerbils need various vitamins and minerals in their diet, as well as fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. An imbalanced or inadequate diet can cause a whole host of medical issues.
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, gerbil alopecia can be caused by mineral deficiencies. Diets lacking in magnesium or sodium chloride (salt) have both been linked with hair loss in gerbils. A diet low in magnesium can cause seizures, which can threaten your gerbil’s life.
Most premade gerbil food mixes contain all the minerals your gerbils need. But be wary of your gerbil picking out the tasty bits and leaving the rest. If this happens, you may want to switch to extruded pellets, which contain everything mixed together.
How Much Gerbil Hair Loss Is Normal?
All gerbils lose a little hair every day, including adults. It’s fine to notice some loose hairs when you stroke your gerbil.
Finding a few tufts of hair when cleaning the gerbilarium is also nothing to worry about. And if your gerbil climbs over you, you might see some hairs on your clothes afterwards.
Shed fur is more obvious in light and dark-colored gerbils, such as red-eyed whites and black gerbils. That’s because the hairs stand out more on any background. Brown or agouti gerbil hair tends to blend in, so shed hairs aren’t as noticeable.
So, how do you know how much gerbil molting is normal, and when you should start to worry?
The key is to examine your gerbil’s coat. You should do this every day, for example, when you refill the water bottle. Your gerbil’s fur should be:
- Shiny, with no dull areas.
- Sleek and smooth, no roughness or matting.
- Full and thick. There should be no patchiness or bald spots.
A gerbil should have an even coat all over. The only exception is if your gerbil is going through a juvenile molt. This shouldn’t last longer than three weeks.
If you think your gerbil is losing too much fur, take it to an experienced veterinarian. They’ll be able to identify the cause and will advise you on treatment options.