There are many reasons why you may notice your gerbil getting skinny. This is worrying because losing weight can be a sign of poor health in gerbils.
It’s not eating, which could be because it’s ill, it doesn’t like its food, its teeth are too long, or it’s old and dying. Diagnose the reason by examining your gerbil’s behavior and environment. If your gerbil is eating but still losing weight, you’re feeding it the wrong type of food or your gerbil is severely ill.
If you think your gerbil has lost weight, don’t rely on your instincts. Start weighing them using basic kitchen scales and you can start to better your pet’s health.
Why Do Gerbils Lose Weight?
According to PeerJ, gerbils can experience similar weight issues to people. Gerbils lose weight if they don’t eat. This means they don’t get any calories into their systems. There are many reasons why gerbils would refuse food, including:
- Wrong kind of food. Your gerbil may not recognize what you’re offering as food.
- You feed your gerbils with a food bowl. Dominant gerbils restrict access to the food bowl, which can lead to other gerbils not getting any food at all, or hardly any.
- Your gerbil can’t eat for some reason. It could be ill, for example.
- You aren’t feeding your gerbil frequently enough. Many gerbils are neglected, and aren’t fed as often as they should be.
- A big group of pets all in one enclosure. Your math may have been wrong, and you aren’t leaving enough food each morning. This would cause most of the gerbils to lose weight.
However, a lack of food isn’t the only reason that gerbils can lose weight. But before we come to understand what causes weight loss in gerbils, we have to look at what a gerbil’s average weight is.
What’s a Healthy Gerbil Weight?
The difference between a healthy and a sick gerbil can be as little as half an ounce. Male gerbils weigh between 80 to 120 grams, while females weigh between 70 and 110 grams.
However, this doesn’t apply across the board. A male gerbil which weighs 75 grams isn’t necessarily unhealthy. All gerbils are different, and some have bigger frames than others.
Some gerbils are naturally smaller than others. They may become small because they’re the runts of the litter, for example, and don’t eat enough when they’re young. You may also have misidentified the sex of your gerbil, which leads to inaccurate estimates of healthy weight.
If you’re worried your gerbil may be over or underweight, look for other signs of ill health as well. Underweight gerbils are often ill for other reasons, like dental or gut problems.
Gerbils Lose Weight when Ill
When gerbils get ill, they experience a range of symptoms depending on the issue. Common symptoms include lethargy, sleeping too much, a runny nose and eyes, and wheezing.
However, the relevant symptom here is weight loss. Weight loss is associated with many different gerbil health conditions, including:
- Respiratory infection
- Infection by parasites
- Digestive problems, like persistent regurgitation/vomiting
- Excessive seizures
It seems to be an evolutionary adaptation. If a gerbil that’s about to die eats food, it’s essentially wasted. That food could have gone to feed another, healthier gerbil. So, gerbils avoid food when they’re ill and especially when they’re about to pass away.
Gerbil Teeth Too Long
Gerbils have special teeth which are unique to rodents. They have long incisors at the front of their mouth, which are perfect for gnawing at food or tree roots when burrowing.
Because these teeth are so important, they keep growing throughout the rodent’s life. However, this can mean that they grow too long. When they do, they can pierce through your gerbil’s mouth, even into its brain.
Another problem with these teeth being too long is that they can make eating more difficult. While rodents do have small molars, their incisors are the teeth they use to crack open seeds and nuts. If they can’t do this, they can’t eat as much or as easily.
Old Gerbil Losing Weight
Once your gerbil reaches two years old, it is reaching the end of its natural lifespan. It will then start to show the signs of aging.
All animals lose weight as they get old—it’s a natural part of getting to that stage of life. It occurs because older animals begin to eat less, which leads to muscle loss and fat burn. It’s a cycle that results in lower weight.
If this is happening, you may want to offer your gerbil something new to eat. This could be beneficial in the short term. This will prevent your gerbil from losing weight too quickly, which can be an issue.
But bear in mind that you won’t stop your gerbil from losing weight entirely. That’s because you can’t reverse aging. All gerbils that reach this age will lose weight, and there’s nothing you can do to stop that.
Gerbil Eating but Losing Weight
This can happen when gerbils are eating the wrong food. A gerbil will happily eat lots of vegetables, because many vegetables are sweet and tasty.
But gerbils need a varied diet which includes fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as grains, seeds, and nuts. Like all animals, they need a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. They also need vitamins and minerals which can’t all be gained from vegetables alone.
If you only feed your gerbil vegetables, it misses out on most of the calories of its diet. So, if you mostly feed your gerbil fruit and veg, start feeding it a gerbil food mix instead.
How to Track a Gerbil’s Weight
To keep track of your gerbil’s weight, weigh it regularly and keep a record. This can be difficult on a general-purpose scale. That’s because gerbils are so light, and small differences can mean a lot.
Digital kitchen scales are a good choice for weighing gerbils. These let you weigh things in multiple different denominations (e.g. metric and traditional) so you can easily compare with results of other owners online. Using grams is best because grams are more precise than ounces.
They also are accurate to within small margins. They have to be because gerbils are already light, so any weight changes are tiny. Digital scales are also easier to read, so make much better scales overall.
But as you know, gerbils may be difficult to handle. They love to scurry about. So, to weigh your gerbil, follow these guidelines:
- If your gerbil is cool and calm, put it directly on top of the scales in a bowl.
- If your gerbil is too excitable, put it inside a breathable box or carry case.
- Place the tub on top of the scales and take your reading.
- Write down your gerbil’s name and weight clearly in a book, or on your smartphone.
- Repeat the process for all of your gerbils.
Repeat this process once every two weeks. With most gerbils, you should see that their weight stays roughly the same over the course of weeks and months.
Should a Gerbil’s Weight Fluctuate?
All animals’ weights naturally fluctuate throughout the day, and throughout the year. There are several reasons why your gerbil’s weight will change over time, including:
- When your gerbil last ate
- When your gerbil last went to the toilet
- What time of day it is
- What time of year it is
- Whether your gerbil has been recently sick
These factors will make your gerbil’s weight vary each time you weigh them. A variance of around five grams each week is normal. It’s likely that your gerbil will gain the weight back, or lose it again, by next week.
Changes bigger than this aren’t normal. That’s the case if your gerbil has been gaining or losing weight consistently each week. If that’s the case, there may be a health issue you have to diagnose.
How to Help a Gerbil Gain Weight
If your gerbil is losing weight because it’s sick, treat the illness first and foremost. By treating the illness, your gerbil should get its appetite back.
So, for example, if the issue is a respiratory infection then ensure that its cold doesn’t get any worse. Over the next few days, your gerbil will likely start eating again. There are also several steps you can take at the same time or afterwards that will help.
What to Feed a Gerbil That’s Losing Weight
You can also try offering your gerbil treats. Gerbils love treats, especially those that are high in fat and protein. In the wild, these foods are rare compared to roots and grains, so gerbils like to eat lots of them when they can.
Gerbils will eat almost anything you offer them. So, try offering your gerbil lots of different foods. Stick to foods that you know won’t poison it. Things like nuts, seeds, and berries are fine. Avoid garlic and onion, as well as grapes.
A good food to feed a thin gerbil is sunflower seed. According to Chemistry Central Journal, sunflower seeds are high in calories, and especially high in fat. This means your gerbil won’t have to eat many of them to gain its weight back.
According to PLoS One, pumpkin is another food that has lots of calories and a decent amount of fat. The seeds, which normally go to waste when you cook with squashes or pumpkins, have a high fat content like sunflower seeds do.
So, feed your gerbil lots of high-fat foods rather than vegetables alone.
Can You Force Feed a Gerbil?
Your last resort should be feeding your gerbil by hand. To be clear, you shouldn’t force-feed a gerbil. If you do, you could accidentally hurt it or even damage its teeth. This would only make the situation worse. To hand feed a gerbil, follow these steps:
- Take some regular baby food. Check that the ingredients are fine for gerbils to eat first. Pick one that has lots of vegetables in it rather than meat.
- Suck some up into a syringe (not the kind with a needle). Instead of a needle, there’s a round piece of plastic that the contents can squirt through. They’re used for administering medicines like antibiotics.
- Pick your gerbil up in your left hand, and hold it gently. Don’t move quickly or do anything to panic your pet.
- Take the syringe and place it at the side of your gerbil’s mouth. Don’t force it inside, but allow the gerbil to accept it. Then, squeeze some of the food out.
Your gerbil should eat baby food happily enough. Don’t offer too much food at any one time otherwise your gerbil could choke. Go slowly and gently instead. Repeat this process several times over the course of a week. This will help your gerbil gain its lost weight back.
Record your gerbil’s weight at the end of the week, and see if your efforts helped. If your gerbil has gained a few grams, that’s more than enough. Continue with the same process until your gerbil is happy enough to eat food on its own again.