my gerbils tail fell off
Gerbil Health

Do Gerbils’ Tails Fall Off?

My gerbil’s tail fell off suddenly. Losing a tail, or the tip of a tail, is a common health issue in gerbils.

Gerbils can lose their tails, usually due to ‘tail slip.’ This occurs when you pick the gerbil up by its tail, causing damage. You’ll notice hair loss before the skin comes away, revealing that the area is infected. The infection eats the tail tissue until it rots and dies. The gerbil will chew off its tail if this happens. Infection may also occur after tail-biting between two gerbils during a fight.

While your gerbil will survive, the wound can become infected and cause complications. You may need to take your gerbil to the vet to clear up the infection.

Why Do Gerbils’ Tails Fall Off?

There are two reasons why gerbils lose their tails:

  • Tail slip. This is where damage to the tail causes baldness. If the condition gets bad enough, the tail’s skin will eventually fall off. This causes infection, which makes part of the tail rot away. It will then need to be amputated. Antibiotics and proper care will help.
  • Fights. Gerbils can also lose their tails because of fighting. Gerbils are social animals and need to live in groups. They can interact both positively and negatively. When they fight, they may bite each other’s tails. Again, this can lead to infection.

What people don’t appreciate is that a rodent’s tail is important. It performs several key functions, such as regulating heat loss (because rodents don’t sweat). They contain lots of nerves and blood vessels, which makes the tail highly sensitive.

Gerbil Lost Tip of Tail

It’s common for your gerbil to lose the tip of its tail in an accident. This occurs much more frequently than the entire tail falling off. You won’t see that happen unless the tail is cut, because it’s filled with bones along its length.

These accidents can occur when the tail gets stuck in something, e.g. the gate on the gerbil’s enclosure, or its running wheel. What happens is that the delicate skin is pulled from the tail. It may come off completely, or still be attached in some places.

When this occurs, the tip of the tail will become exposed. The bone may be poking out, which is distressing to see. However, this isn’t usually a significant issue because gerbils are good at healing.

Why Is My Gerbil’s Tail Going Bald?

Loss of hair (alopecia) is a common issue in gerbils. It’s a noticeable condition which can be either symmetrical on each side of the body, or irregular.

Alopecia is a symptom, but not a condition in itself. This makes it similar to a headache, for example. A headache is a sign of something else that may be more serious.

In gerbils, alopecia is a sign of a lack of vitamins or severe trauma. If these issues cause alopecia, it means they are already advanced. Your gerbil’s issue must be diagnosed and treated quickly.

Aside from this, gerbils don’t go bald for many other reasons. Overgrooming may be an issue. According to Experimental Dermatology, rodents only rarely go bald because of genetic reasons.

What Is Tail Slip in Gerbils?

Tail slip is a common gerbil condition. This is where the tail starts to lose fur in one area. Your gerbil’s skin on its tail may start to come off too. This causes pain and distress.

There are four symptoms associated with tail slip in gerbils. These are:

  1. Loss of fur (i.e. a bald tail). Gerbil tail fur is short and difficult to see, so this may not be immediately obvious. However, it’s the first sign of tail slip, so keep an eye out.
  2. Slipping of the skin around the affected area. The skin becomes loose because the underlying tissue is damaged.
  3. Exposure of the underlying tissue. Once the skin slips away, the tissue underneath will be visible. The skin won’t grow back.
  4. The eventual destruction of the tail tissue. The infection will eat away at the tail until some of all of the tail falls off.

Losing a tail isn’t a fatal condition for a gerbil. What can be fatal is the infection, which can spread to the bloodstream. This is called sepsis, and it can kill an animal within days.

gerbil lost tip of tail

What Does Tail Slip Look Like?

Tail slip is a gruesome sight. When you see it, it’s understandable why infection can occur. Rodent tails are a lot like human digits, i.e. fingers and toes. There isn’t much muscle and fat under the skin.

Therefore, when tail slip occurs, you’re likely to see your gerbil’s tail bones sticking out. They will be surrounded by soft pink muscle and flesh, although not much of it.

The early stages of tail slip are less easy to spot. The earliest sign is baldness. Since the hairs on your gerbil’s tail are thin and wispy, it can be difficult to spot when they fade and die.

It’s only after this occurs that you might notice the skin sloughing off.

Why Does Tail Slip Occur in Gerbils?

Tail slip is usually the result of poor treatment. Gerbil tails are sensitive like those of other rodents. Therefore, if the tail is subject trauma, tail slip may occur.

According to the Journal of Visualized Experiments, rodents don’t like being picked up by their tails. When this is done, the rodent will begin exhibiting escape behaviors.

This is understandable, as it’s what you would do if you were picked up by an animal much bigger than you in an uncomfortable way.

You can accidentally cause tail slip by picking up a rodent by its tail. Rodents are not supposed to hang by their tail in any circumstance, either in nature or in captivity.

Unfortunately, this is the first instinct of many children who want to get a good look at their pet. If you are a parent looking after your children’s gerbils, don’t allow them to pick up their pet by its tail.

Tail trauma can also occur because of fighting. Gerbils frequently fight with one another in their gerbilarium. This can cause tail slip as well as other issues. However, the most common cause is when you pick up your gerbil by its tail.

How to Treat Tail Slip in Gerbils

The first step in treating tail slip is to have the condition diagnosed. This can be done by a veterinarian, who will take a look at your gerbil’s tail and can immediately spot the issue. They will check to see whether there are any secondary infections.

There is only one treatment for tail slip, which is amputation. Your regular vet can perform this treatment. According to the journal Laboratory Animals, this doesn’t have an effect on rodents in their future behavior or anxiety levels.

Aside from amputation, your gerbil may also require antibiotics. These will be prescribed if your gerbil’s tail is infected. Your vet will amputate above any rotten and infected tail tissue. However, sepsis is still possible (infected blood).

After amputation, check that the wound remains uninfected. This can be done by regularly cleaning it. Do so gently so that you don’t aggravate the area, and don’t pick at any scab or scar tissue. Let your gerbil heal on its own.

Other Causes of Bald Tail in Gerbils

A gerbil may lose patches of hair on any part of its body. It can lose hair on its face, for example, by excessively rubbing it against the glass of its cage. In the same way, its tail might be rubbing against things to make it bald.

Hair loss can also occur because of parasite infestation. Where parasites bite, they leave an itchy mark. Your gerbil will scratch this mark which can cause baldness. However, this is unlikely to affect the tail because parasites infest the body, not the tail.

Lack of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals can also cause alopecia (clinically diagnosed balding). This affects all parts of the body with hair, and is accompanied by depression, weight loss, skin scaling, and inflammation.

Any of these issues can cause baldness, not just tail slip.

Do Gerbils Bite Their Tails Off?

Gerbils can and do bite their tails off. They can do this either to themselves, or to other gerbils.

If you notice your gerbil chewing its tail, that’s likely because it’s in pain. Gerbils and other rodents react to chronic pain by chewing away the part that hurts. Gerbil tails are exceptionally sensitive, so even a slight injury can cause a lot of pain.

So, your gerbil may have a slight tail slip issue that it’s trying to ‘fix.’ Or, it may have been bitten by one of the other gerbils in its enclosure. Gerbils bite each other’s tails frequently.

It’s also possible for your gerbil’s tail to be damaged by its environment. For example, it may have caught its tail in its running wheel.

In the wild, this can help by getting rid of infections. The gerbil gnaws away at any dead tissue, which should prevent infection spread. But, in captivity, you should have the tail treated by a vet. If you do, your gerbil shouldn’t bite its tail.

Why Do Gerbils Bite Each Other’s Tails?

Gerbils can also bite each other’s tails, often because they’re fighting for space. Gerbils live in communal groups, and in any community, there will be frequent fighting. Gerbils can be highly aggressive with one another.

A gerbil’s only weapon is its teeth. They don’t have claws they can use to attack ‘prey,’ or one another. But their teeth are sharp and can be used in self-defense. Biting is how they fight with each other.

Fighting commonly occurs over food. This is more common if you give your gerbils a food bowl. There is only limited space around a food bowl, so all of the gerbils clamor and fight for room. Spreading food around the enclosure is a better idea.

One gerbil which is bigger than another will try to fight its way to the best feeding space. In gerbil groups, there are usually a dominant pair and many subordinates living together. The pair are often the parents of the others.

In the wild, the subordinate being bullied would go and start its own burrow. But in captivity, this isn’t an option. This can lead to prolonged fighting, some of which may involve the biting of tails.

Do Gerbils’ Tails Grow Back?

Gerbils’ tails don’t grow back, because that is a physiological adaptation unique to lizards. Mammals can’t grow back body parts that have been lost. Once the tail is lost, it’s lost for good.

However, this isn’t a major issue. Gerbils can live full and happy lives without their tails. The only issue is that it makes it difficult for your gerbil to manage its temperature. If their enclosure is the right temperature, this won’t be an issue.

What you should do is ensure that your gerbils are safe from now on. If they continue to fight, move one of them to a different enclosure. And never lift your gerbil by its tail again. Here’s some advice on how to pick up a gerbil correctly.