Fleas are irritating parasites that leave behind itchy, red bite marks. Gerbil fleas don’t go away on their own, so you’ll need to get rid of them with the right type of treatment.
Spot on treatments kill gerbil fleas with pesticides, and anti-flea shampoo and anti-flea powder are also effective. Sand baths and cleaning your gerbil’s enclosure will help to control an infestation.
Not all pesticides are suitable for gerbils/rodents. You should pick one that your vet recommends or which is made specifically for gerbils. Others may contain the wrong pesticide, which can be harmful.
Can Gerbils Get Fleas?
Fleas are a small flightless insect that lives on animals and humans. They are about the size of a tiny grain of rice and drink blood to survive. They cause red, inflamed spots when they feed on a host.
There are over 2,500 species of flea known to science, many of which specialize in feeding on one species or one family of animals. There are no species that exclusively feed on gerbils, but there are many species that will.
What Do Gerbil Fleas Look Like?
Fleas are dark brown to black in color, and they are visible to the naked eye. They’re big enough that you can make out their body shape.
Fleas are a unique narrow shape. Their bodies are tall and long but not wide at all. They have thin but noticeable legs underneath their bodies. If you catch one, you can crush it between your fingernails. But they’re hardy and can survive even that.
The precise species that affects your gerbil doesn’t matter. All fleas look the same, move in the same way, and have the same effects.
How Do Gerbils Get Fleas?
Fleas are good at getting from one host to the other. They spread by jumping from one host to the next. They’re famous for how high and how far they can jump. Your gerbil could have caught fleas from other gerbils.
It’s also possible that your gerbil caught fleas from a different pet. Fleas are indiscriminate and will feed on almost any warm-blooded host. So, if one of your other pets has fleas, your gerbil could have caught them that way.
Fleas can hide in your pet’s environment, too. If your pet has ever had fleas, you may have noticed them spread into the carpet, into your clothing, or even into your bed. Your gerbil could have caught them from being loose and running around the room.
Symptoms of Fleas on Gerbils
Hold your gerbil in your hand. Take a section of fur and push it away from the direction in which it naturally sits. This should expose a small section of skin, as well as the undersides of the hairs.
This is where you’ll find fleas. So, repeat this process all around your gerbil’s body. It may not be possible to do this for every inch of your gerbil’s fur because your pet will dislike it.
You can also use a flea comb. These are combs with tightly spaced teeth, which pick up fleas, mites, and other small pieces of dirt. Check the comb after each time you drag it through your pet’s fur.
Flea Dirt in Gerbil Fur
Look for flea dust/flea dirt. This is the feces that fleas leave behind. Fleas feed on blood and have to excrete it once they’ve digested it, like other animals. This dirt is small, black, and will crumble/disappear like dust when rubbed.
Fleas are only one of many gerbil parasites your pet can play host to. Gerbils can also have mites, which look quite similar to fleas. You may want to take your pet to the vet for a proper diagnosis.
Flea Bite Marks
When a flea bites a gerbil, it leaves a small mark. These marks are the result of the body’s defense mechanism. According to BMC Genomics, the flea uses a small amount of saliva to numb the bite site. The body detects it and a spot swells up for the body to fight off the ‘foreign’ substance.
If a mosquito or flea has bitten you, you’ll recognize these bite marks. They’re like small pimples but without a white point. They’re red swellings that take a week to go away. It’s difficult to spot these on a gerbil because your pet’s fur will be in the way. But they will be underneath.
These marks can also be a sign of other bites. They aren’t definitive proof of fleas but are proof of an infestation. But if you find all of these signs together, they mean your gerbil has a flea infestation.
How to Get Rid of Fleas on Gerbils
Fleas don’t go away on their own, and your gerbil can’t groom them all away. There’s also a high risk that they’ll spread to all the other gerbils in the same cage.
Spot-On Flea Products for Gerbils
Spot-on formulas are the method of choice that most people use for killing fleas. They contain pesticides and are applied directly to your pet. The pesticide will harm the fleas, but not your gerbil.
They work by entering your gerbil’s bloodstream. Any flea that feeds on your pet will then accidentally ingest pesticides too. Here’s how to use them:
- Use the spot-on product prescribed or recommended by your veterinarian.
- Pick a time of day to apply the product. You want a time of day that’s quiet, and when your gerbil/gerbils are calm.
- Open the product before handling your pet. Have it ready and opened on a nearby surface.
- Take your pet in your hands, as you would whenever handling it.
- Apply the spot-on product as directed. It’s usually recommended to apply it to your pet’s back, between its shoulder blades, directly onto the skin. According to Veterinary Parasitology, this is where it’s placed even in experiments. Here, your gerbil can’t groom it away.
Anti-flea shampoo is like regular shampoo but contains pesticides. It’s easy to use:
- Fill a sturdy bowl, or the sink, with a little warm water. Use enough that your gerbil can comfortably stand without its head being underwater.
- Get your gerbil’s fur wet and apply the shampoo as directed.
- You usually have to leave the shampoo for a minute or two. This achieves the greatest effect.
- Rinse your pet with clean water and dry it with a towel.
Again, it’s best to use one recommended by a vet.
There are no over-the-counter flea shampoos specifically made for gerbils, so your vet’s advice is needed here. There are continually new anti-flea shampoos being tested and released, though, like this one tested in the Australian Veterinary Journal.
Powder is the same concept as shampoo. It contains pesticide, which kills any fleas it comes into contact with. Anti-flea powder is the oldest veterinarian-approved method for killing these pests.
Shake a little powder into your gerbil’s fur. The idea is that the fleas will move through it, and it will kill them. So, the more coverage you achieve, the better. Again, you should ideally get one from your vet, or at least that they recommend. But OTC gerbil flea powders are available.
Sand Bath for Gerbils
Wild gerbils have two different ways of keeping clean: grooming and sand baths.
A sand bath is where the gerbil sits in a bowl of sand and scrabbles and rolls around. This keeps it clean because the sand gets rid of oils on the gerbil’s fur. It also scrubs parasites, like fleas, free.
To set up a sand bath, you’ll need a deep bowl. It should be solid enough that your gerbil can’t knock it over, or the sand would go everywhere. You’ll also need sand, but not any sand. You’ll need either kids’ play sand or sand that’s sold for lizards to bathe in.
Put some spare newspaper sheets on the floor, with the bowl on top. Take your gerbil and place it in the bath. It will know how to bathe itself, so you don’t need to do anything.
Once your pet is done, throw the sand away. You can normally re-use bathing sand, but you can’t if it has fleas or other pests in it. You’ll need fresh sand each time. This won’t get rid of the fleas entirely, but it does help, and your pet will enjoy the experience.
Clean Your Gerbil’s Cage
Fleas can also live in the area surrounding their host. If another of your pets has ever had fleas, you’ll know this. Fleas will live on your pet but will also live in your pet’s bed, for example.
The same applies to gerbils. Fleas will happily live and lay eggs on your pet gerbil. But they will also live in your pet’s environment, such as its bedding. So, you can spend lots of time cleaning and spraying your pet. But it will get reinfested if you don’t treat the bedding.
Cleaning your gerbil’s cage is easy. Take your gerbil and put it somewhere safe for the time being. Place it in a deep dish or the bathtub rather than another cage, as it could accidentally leave fleas wherever it goes.
Then, take your gerbil’s bedding and get rid of it. You would usually want to keep some so that the new bedding smells like your gerbil. This stops your pet from becoming confused. But the bedding may be infested, so it has to go.
Wipe the cage walls with a 10% bleach solution. This is one part bleach mixed with nine or ten parts water (either will do). Leave the bleach to soak before wiping it away and replacing the bedding.
Will Over-the-Counter Medications Kill Fleas?
You can get over-the-counter medications for fleas, mites, and other pests. You can find these in pet stores and pharmacies. However, they aren’t necessarily a good idea because:
- The dosage in the product may be wrong. If it’s designed for cats, for example, then there may be too much pesticide in the product. This could be bad for your gerbil’s health.
- The pesticide may be safe for some pets, but toxic for gerbils. This could kill your pet.
- The product may not have enough pesticide to deal with the flea issue adequately. Over-the-counter products are usually weaker than prescribed ones.
If you do want over-the-counter medication, then consult a vet before buying some. They will advise you on whether it’s suitable for your pet. Only then should you consider getting some.
Use a mixture of the options in the list above: a spot-on treatment plus regular sand baths and cage cleaning, for example. This should defeat your gerbil’s flea problem.