You want to make sure that your gerbil is healthy. A gerbil health check, which is a thorough once-over to look at every part of your pet, is the best way to do that.
You can check your gerbil’s health by checking if it seems lethargic. Then, pick your gerbil up to examine its nose, teeth, belly, paws, and rear. Listen to its breathing and check its fur for parasites. Check around its cage for clear signs of illness, such as diarrhea.
Gerbil health care is relatively straightforward, provided that you catch conditions early. Tyzzer’s disease, scent gland tumors, and respiratory infections can all kill, but can all be prevented with prompt vet care.
Common Gerbil Health Problems
There are many health conditions that might affect your gerbil. Some are more likely to be serious than others, too.
- Tyzzer’s disease. According to MSD Veterinary Manual, it is a bacterial infection that attacks the internal organs, causing diarrhea.
- Parasites. Gerbils can have several kinds of parasites, including fleas, mites, and worms.
- Respiratory infection. Respiratory infections are like colds and flus.
- Heart disease. Gerbils can have heart attacks, and will experience subsequent heart disease.
- Stroke. A stroke is where a blood vessel bursts in the brain and causes damage. Causes subsequent paralysis. As demonstrated by Surgical Neurology, because gerbils are susceptible to strokes, they are a model for research.
- Scent gland tumor. Gerbils have scent glands on their bellies which commonly get tumors. These are small, hard lumps under the skin.
- Wet tail in gerbils. Wet tail is a condition that affects other rodents, but not gerbils. Gerbils can get a similar condition, though, characterized by diarrhea.
- Ingrown claws. A gerbil’s claws grow continuously, and can curve back on themselves. This causes cuts.
- Damaged teeth. Gerbils can crack, break or lose their teeth like any other animal.
Several of these issues are life-threatening. Strokes and paralysis, for example, stop a gerbil from eating. Tyzzer’s disease destroys internal organs. Only by frequently checking can you prevent these issues.
Gerbil Health Check: A Step-by-Step Guide
Gerbils frequently experience health issues, and these problems range in severity. The gerbil may overcome it on its own, or it may require a vet’s intervention. Or, the condition may be fatal.
So, to avoid these issues becoming any worse, you must perform regular checks. These aren’t complicated and can be done easily at home. If you can handle your gerbil, you can perform these health assessments.
It makes sense to first check your pet’s breathing and whether its nose is clear. At the same time, you can check its teeth. Because it’s easy to have your pet on its back when you check its teeth, you then check its underside.
1/ Observe Your Pet’s Behavior
Before beginning the health check, you should observe your gerbil’s behavior. Many symptoms of different health problems are related to behavior. There are several kinds of behavior that are affected:
- Amount of movement
- Speed of movement
- Ability to move limbs
- Lack of desire for interaction with other gerbils, or with people
To observe your pet, sit near its enclosure, but not close enough that you make your gerbil feel uncomfortable. Across the room would suffice. Make a note of anything unusual that it does.
However, this will only be effective if you’re used to your gerbil’s behavior. You need to compare your gerbil’s unusual behavior to its regular behavior to make meaningful conclusions.
2/ Pick Up Your Gerbil
To take a closer look at it, you must pick your gerbil up. Follow these guidelines to ensure a minimum of fuss and worrying:
- Don’t reach in to pick your pet up from above. Instead, scoop it up with a hand on both sides.
- Don’t grip your pet too hard in your hands. This will make it panic.
- Don’t hold onto your pet if it clearly doesn’t want to be held. You could further injure your gerbil by doing so.
If your gerbil doesn’t want to be handled at the current time, leave it alone for a while. This will ensure that you don’t stress your gerbil out and make it dislike you. Besides, if it’s wriggling to get away, you might drop it and hurt it even more.
If your gerbil never wants to be picked up, this may indicate that it’s in pain. So, if after the third time it won’t allow you, pick it up and take photos. So, even if it gets away, you can still see if anything’s the matter.
3/ Listen to Your Gerbil’s Breathing
Your gerbil’s breathing is a key part of its health. Every animal needs to breathe to take in oxygen, so that it can function. Breathing can be affected by different conditions, including:
- Respiratory infection. Respiratory infection is like a cold or flu, but which affects gerbils.
- Heart failure. Gerbils are susceptible to heart failure and heart attacks. One symptom of heart failure is difficulty breathing.
The problem is that your gerbil finds it difficult to breathe. This can result in a wheezing noise, which is where your pet’s windpipe is constricted. It can sound like a whistling noise.
Alternatively, your gerbil’s nose may be blocked. It may have to breathe through its mouth, which gerbils prefer not to do. This won’t hurt your pet, but it indicates your gerbil is quite sick.
Breathing should also not be too shallow. Check a healthy gerbil to see how deep it takes its breaths. Shallower than this can indicate heart failure.
You may also notice your gerbil’s heart beating abnormally. According to Physiology & Behavior, a gerbil’s heart beats fast (between 250 and 300 beats per minute). But it shouldn’t be irregular.
4/ Check Your Gerbil’s Nose
Check your gerbil’s nose. This should be the quickest part of the overall check, because your gerbil will be looking around from inside your hands. This will enable you to look at its nose easily.
The health conditions which affect your pet’s breathing also affect its nose. A respiratory infection will leave your gerbil’s nose stuffed with mucus. It’s the same as a respiratory infection, i.e. a cold, in people.
Your gerbil could also have an allergy. Gerbils are allergic to certain kinds of wood, which are used in wood chips for bedding. When a gerbil has an allergy, a red mucus-like substance called porphyrin will seep from its nose. This fluid also appears around the eyes.
Physical damage to the nose can also occur. The most common is when your gerbil rubs its nose against the cage bars. It can do this if it doesn’t have anything to do, specifically anything to chew on.
When healthy, your gerbil’s nose will be clear. Your pet should breathe through it. Its color is pink, no matter what color the rest of your gerbil is.
5/ Check Your Gerbil’s Teeth
Your gerbil can also have health problems related to its teeth. A gerbil’s teeth are vital. Gerbils like to eat solid foods like seeds, roots, leaves, grains, and nuts. To eat these things successfully, gerbils have to break into them with their four large, sharp front teeth.
Because they’ve worked so hard, these teeth can easily break. They can crack slightly or fully. Or, they can fall out entirely. When they do, your gerbil can’t eat and loses weight rapidly as a result.
Your gerbil can also have the opposite problem. Your gerbil’s teeth will continuously grow throughout its lifetime. They’re like its claws. They do so because they’re needed both for eating and for self-defense.
But they can grow too long. If your gerbil can’t wear them down on food or toys, they keep growing and growing. Eventually, they can pierce through the gum on the opposite side of the mouth. This wound can get infected, or the tooth can go through into the skull.
To check for either of these problems, hold your gerbil on its back. Scoop it up in both hands before moving your hands slowly so that your gerbil’s back faces downwards. You should see your pet’s teeth from here. If you can’t, gently move its cheeks out of the way.
6/ Check Your Gerbil’s Belly
The gerbil’s scent gland is roughly oval-shaped, and appears in the middle of the gerbil’s belly like a long belly button. It should be tan or yellow. Your pet will use it to make its enclosure/environment smell like itself. This is how it marks its territory.
However, if it uses its scent gland too much, it can become irritated. If it does so constantly, it can cause an open wound. While these small wounds will heal, they cause cumulative damage to the skin. This is the cause of a scent gland tumor. The symptoms of a tumor include:
- Swelling underneath the skin
- Slight amounts of bleeding
- Increased size and number of hairless patches
- Red, irritated patches
- Scaly dry skin
The lump will be obvious to the touch, and will feel hard. If you find one, you must take your pet to the vet. The vet will remove the tumor using painless surgery, with your gerbil under anesthetic.
7/ Check Your Gerbil’s Paws
Your gerbil can also have a problem with its paws, which grow continuously throughout its life.
But as is the case for many pets, a gerbil’s claws can grow too long. This happens when your gerbil doesn’t get enough chance to wear them down, e.g. by running around, digging in sandy soil, or scratching on toys.
When the problem gets bad enough, the nails can turn back in on themselves. The nail can get long enough and curved enough that it turns back in and creates a small scratch, then a wound, in your pet’s paw.
This issue is easy to spot. You will see that your gerbil’s claws are too long, and curved backwards. If they are long, but not curved in, this indicates that the problem may happen soon without intervention. A gerbil’s claws should be around ⅕ of an inch long.
If left untreated, the wound can become infected. You can see the signs of this when the wound is:
- Has small amounts of pus inside or around it
- Has old or fresh blood nearby (but not always)
If your gerbil has claws that are painful to walk on, you can clip them at home or take your pet to the vet. But if the wound is infected, a vet’s visit is necessary for antibiotics.
8/ Check Your Gerbil’s Behind
Your pet can also get health conditions that affect its behind. Diarrhea is the main issue, which can be indicative of several different problems.
Diarrhea in gerbils is the same as it is in people. It consists of loose stools, usually passed frequently, or at least more frequently than usual. Diarrhea leaves noticeable signs:
- Your pet’s behind will have stains on it from the diarrhea
- Your pet’s enclosure will have diarrhea stains
- Your other gerbils may get diarrhea, too
Diarrhea can indicate Tyzzer’s disease, which is a communicable bacterial infection. Tyzzer’s disease attacks the internal organs, and is fatal if untreated. It can even kill a gerbil if it gets treatment from a vet.
Diarrhea can also occur if your pet has too much water. When a gerbil eats lots of fruits and vegetables, it ingests too much water and has to get rid of it. Diarrhea is the natural result. This won’t be fatal, unless it continues and your gerbil doesn’t get any proper food.
Reproductive problems aren’t common in gerbils. Female gerbils may have a certain amount of discharge associated with their reproductive cycle, which is similar to menstruation, but not quite the same. However, this is nothing to worry about.
9/ Check Your Gerbil’s Fur
Your pet’s fur can also bear signs that it’s sick. What you may notice is that it has parasites, specifically mites or fleas, in its fur. Mites can spread from gerbil to gerbil, and won’t be fatal, but can cause general ill health.
To check for mites or fleas, take your gerbil in your hand. Begin by running your thumb through its fur. Take a section of its fur under your thumb and hold it in the opposite direction that it runs, so that you can see the skin and the underside of the hair.
Repeatedly do this until you have checked most of your gerbil’s fur. You can also use a flea comb or mite comb to check your pet’s fur, too. You’re looking for:
- Small black dots. These are pieces of feces left behind by mites and fleas.
- Slightly larger black or brown dots, which can move. These are mites and fleas. Fleas can jump, while fleas can’t.
Your gerbil’s fur should also be in generally good condition. Healthy fur is smooth and soft, as if it’s been combed or brushed. That’s from your pet grooming it. If it isn’t, this is a general sign of ill health.
A mixture of at-home checks and regular vet visits is the best way to keep your gerbil healthy.