Gerbils can become like family members. So, when they get old or ill and begin to die, you’ll want to ensure they’re comfortable until the very end.
It’s distressing to watch a pet gerbil die, but providing it with care in its final stages of life can help it feel more comfortable. To do so, ensure your gerbil’s at the right temperature and has somewhere quiet to sleep. Encourage it to keep eating, providing treats if it refuses pellets. Some dying gerbils enjoy being handled by their owners, but some will only want you to sit nearby. Provide medication if your gerbil’s in pain.
The best way to comfort a dying gerbil is to ensure its environment is as stress-free as possible. If you have other pets or small children, limit their access to ensure that they don’t cause any further stress.
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What Are The Signs My Gerbil Is Dying?
While some gerbils die suddenly and unexpectedly, others spend a few days deteriorating and display symptoms that make it obvious they’re in their last few days of life.
Gerbils are healthy animals, but they are prone to a few fatal health conditions, including heart failure, seizures, strokes, and respiratory disorders.
However, gerbils only have a lifespan of approximately 3-5 years, depending on the species. Therefore, natural deaths are common. A dying gerbil displays the following signs:
- Loss of appetite
- Drinking less frequently
- Staying in one spot more often
- Labored breathing
- Dull fur
- Weight loss
- Urinating or pooping on itself
When your gerbil starts to die, you must keep checking in on your pet to ensure it’s not in pain and has everything it needs to be comfortable.
How To Make A Dying Gerbil Comfortable
When gerbils start dying, they lose many basic functions. The deterioration is usually quick, meaning it sometimes takes owners by surprise.
However, as the owner, you’ll want to keep your gerbil as comfortable as possible while it’s dying. As a result, you can give your pet a loving send-off by following these steps:
When gerbils start dying and their bodies shut down, they struggle to regulate their body temperature.
The optimal temperature for a gerbil is between 65-75 degrees. If they get too hot, they’re at risk of heatstroke, which speeds up the dying process. Similarly, if they’re too cold, they’re at risk of hypothermia.
As a result, you’ll need to ensure that your gerbil’s kept at the right temperature and isn’t at risk of getting too hot or cold. To prevent your gerbil from getting cold:
- Ensure the room it lives in is kept between 65-75 degrees. Turn the heat on if need be to a more comfortable temperature, especially in winter.
- Provide an extra layer of bedding to trap heat and offer gerbils a place to bury into for warmth.
- Keep the enclosure’s lid on to trap warmth if it’s not already.
- Ensure the cage is out of the way of drafts.
- Take the gerbil out of an air-conditioned room if it’s in one. Alternatively, switch it off for a few days.
Similarly, to stop your gerbil from getting too warm, follow these steps:
- Reduce the room’s temperature if it’s higher than 75 degrees.
- Find a fan or move the gerbil to an air-conditioned room.
- Remove excess bedding to prevent too much heat from being trapped.
- Keep the enclosure away from direct sunlight.
According to Popular Science, glass traps light and heat. Once it hits the bedding, it’s absorbed, becoming hot. This is why it’s essential to move the bedding out of the sun.
Dying gerbils need to conserve their energy and will sleep more often to do so. As a result, you can make your gerbil feel more comfortable by providing a dark, quiet space to live in, where it won’t be disturbed.
If you have multiple gerbils in the cage, it’s a good idea to isolate your dying gerbil. This allows it to get some rest. Otherwise, it may become disturbed by the constant burrowing and exercising of its cagemates.
However, if separating the gerbils isn’t possible, place a nesting box inside the tank so that your dying gerbil can separate itself and find some peace.
As previously mentioned, children and other pets should be supervised whenever they’re in the same room as the gerbil. This prevents them from disturbing the animal or making it stressed.
Your gerbil may find comfort in hearing your voice and sensing your presence, especially if it’s attached to you.
According to Physiology, when animals are petted, oxytocin is released in their brains. This is a neurochemical that’s also known as the “love hormone.” It lowers blood pressure and decreases cortisol, helping gerbils feel more relaxed.
Read your gerbil’s cues to understand how much affection it’s looking for. Some will want to curl up on their owners’ lap. Others will simply enjoy having you sit next to the cage.
As a minimum, talk to your gerbil using soft, high-pitched tones. This should offer some comfort and helps to let your pet know it’s not alone. The best time to do this is when you’re reading a book or magazine and have time to spend with your pet.
Not only is this good for your pet, but it’ll help you to find some peace and say your goodbyes.
Give Your Gerbil Space
This may seem contradictory when we’ve already talked about showing your gerbil affection in its final days, but you must understand when your gerbil wants to be alone.
If your gerbil bites or scratches you when you attempt to handle it, leave it be. Depending on why your gerbil is dying, handling could be a painful experience. It’s also likely your gerbil simply wants to sleep.
It’s also unlikely they’ll have the energy to fight back, so they’ll get stressed out quickly. Stress can speed up the process of death and make the gerbil uncomfortable in its final hours.
When your gerbil is in the final stages of life, you can be a bit more relaxed with the number of treats you feed it. It’s also a nice thing to do for your gerbil while it’s dying.
While you’ll need to be careful of any health conditions, feeding your pet its favorite treats is an excellent way to provide it with some enjoyment in its last days.
Treats are also handy if your gerbil refuses to eat. Feeding treats is better than nothing and allows them to receive some sustenance to keep their energy levels stable. It also prevents them from becoming malnourished, which can make death a more uncomfortable experience.
However, even if your gerbil isn’t touching its normal food, it’s still worth encouraging it to eat by replacing stale food and water each day.
You may even need to start hand-feeding the gerbil for a short while so that it gets the nutrients it needs. Not only can this prevent hunger, but it gives you a final chance to bond. Gerbils love the following treats:
- Apple slices
- Banana (fresh and dried)
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Wholegrain bread
- Small pieces of cheese
- Unsweetened cereal
- Small amounts of scrambled egg
Feeding treats sparingly can give your gerbil a much-needed energy boost.
Gerbils that are dying of old age may not need pain relief, and it can even make them more lethargic.
But animals suffering from a painful or uncomfortable health condition may need medication to help them feel more at ease with their problem.
However, never self-prescribe, as you may make your gerbil’s condition worse. If necessary, vets will administer painkillers or a course of antibiotics to treat a painful infection. Signs of pain include:
- Loss of appetite
- Labored breathing
- Cries of pain
- Sleeping more than normal
If your gerbil displays any of these signs, take it to the vet to see if pain medication can help. However, you must bear in mind that the kindest course of action may be to euthanize your gerbil to stop it from suffering, especially if it’s already close to death.
Can You Save A Dying Gerbil?
Some gerbils only live for a few years, so it can be a shock when they deteriorate before their expected lifespan. As a result, it’s natural for pet owners to wonder if there’s a way to prolong their gerbil’s life.
Unfortunately, because gerbils only have a short lifespan, there’s not a lot you can do once their bodies start to shut down. In most cases, nature will take hold and run its course.
However, don’t leave your gerbil to suffer. If your gerbil starts showing signs of pain, you must manage your pet’s discomfort. The gerbil could also have an infection, injury, or treatable healthy condition, especially if the animal is still young.
You mustn’t give your hopes up, though. While your vet may be able to recommend a treatment, it’s more likely to be a palliative measure rather than a life-saving one.
What To Do When Your Gerbil Dies
Once your gerbil dies, you’ll need to deal with the body quickly. While you need to allow yourself time to grieve, it’s best to do so once you’ve disposed of the dead gerbil. This is because the body will decompose and attract bacteria. It will also start to smell, drawing the attention of pests and tainting your home.
If you have other gerbils in the enclosure, a dead tankmate risks their health, especially if the gerbil had a contagious condition. However, before you arrange a burial for your gerbil, make sure it’s definitely passed away. You can do this by:
- Checking whether the gerbil is breathing. Observe for several minutes in case the breathing has slowed to an unnoticeable rate.
- Checking the gerbil’s heartbeat by feeling for a pulse with your forefinger.
Once you’ve determined for sure that your gerbil has died, it’s time to say your goodbyes. This is a difficult process, and one that will take time.
Many owners take comfort in burying their pet gerbils in their back yard or another special resting spot where they can visit them often. Place your deceased gerbil in a box and give it the send-off it deserves.
You could also cremate the gerbil, but be careful to do it in a safe, controlled environment that reduces the fire risk. Afterward, to clean and sanitize the cage, follow these steps:
- Take the gerbil out of the cage when you notice it’s passed away.
- If you have gerbils, place them in a safe, separate location.
- Remove the tank’s bedding and dispose of it.
- Spray and clean the enclosure with an antibacterial spray.
- Replace the bedding and place your gerbils back in the enclosure.
If you have other gerbils, keep an eye on them in case they show any signs of illness, especially if your gerbil died from something they can catch. Other gerbils may grieve the loss.
When a much-loved pet dies, it’s the worst feeling. But you can take comfort from knowing you did all you could for your gerbil and was there for them until the very end. Even though gerbils can’t talk, they’re aware of when they’re loved and understand that their human owners care for them.