Gerbils are wild animals, even in captivity. This means they sometimes bite. A gerbil bite doesn’t always draw blood, but it can be painful and come as a bit of a shock when it happens.
When a gerbil bites, it’ll either bite down hard because it’s threatened or give a gentle nip to warn you away. In most cases, the bite won’t puncture the skin. However, if it does, the wound can become infected. Look out for signs of redness, swelling, or pus. In severe cases, gerbils can transfer Salmonella or lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), but this is rare.
Don’t get angry if your gerbil bites you. Instead, clean the wound with warm water and apply an antiseptic solution to it to kill infection-causing bacteria.
Do Gerbil Bites Hurt?
Gerbils have sharp teeth that continuously grow, so their bites can be very painful. However, a gerbil’s bite force depends on how angry or scared the animal feels. As we’ve mentioned, gerbils either bite hard or produce a slight nip as a warning, depending on how threatened they feel.
For example, if you handle your gerbil too rough, it may bite down hard to protect itself because it thinks you’re going to kill it. On the other hand, if you’re being mildly annoying, the gerbil will only nip at you, which is your pet’s way of telling you to stop what you’re doing.
Of course, how painful the bite feels depends on your pain threshold. If it’s low, expect to experience a significant amount of discomfort. It shouldn’t last for too long, but running it under cold water can help numb the pain.
Can Gerbil Bites Be Dangerous?
Gerbil bites themselves aren’t dangerous, but they can cause an infection if bacteria enter the wound and you don’t clean it properly. This is because gerbils harbor lots of bacteria in their mouths, which are easily transferred through their saliva when they bite. However, if your pet didn’t break the skin, the bite can’t become infected. Signs of a gerbil bite infection include:
- Redness around the edges
- Pus inside the wound from where the white blood cells fight the infection
To clean your bite wound, rinse it under a tap and cover it with a bacterial ointment and bandage. In the event of an infection, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to clear it. Similarly, several types of wounds can occur from a gerbil bite, including:
- Bruises: with this, there’s usually no break in the skin or risk of infection
- Scratch: depending on how your gerbil has gripped you, you may be left with a scratch
- Cut: this risks infection, even if it’s only tiny
- Puncture wound: this type of wound is most susceptible to infection
Keep an eye on your wound to ensure it doesn’t develop into something worse.
Can You Get a Disease from a Gerbil Bite?
The good news is that gerbils don’t carry rabies, according to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. However, they may carry illnesses, such as Salmonellosis. This is a bacterial infection of the intestines caused by the Salmonella bacteria.
The bacteria are shed through an infected animal’s stool or through the shared use of food and bedding, where it’s passed onto other gerbils. The MSD Veterinary Manual explains that even if the gerbil doesn’t appear sick, it can still transmit Salmonella bacteria to humans. Signs that gerbils have Salmonellosis include:
- Weight loss
- Poor fur quality
- Swollen or bloated abdomen
- Fetal death in pregnant gerbils
Another condition humans can become infected with is lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). While rare, it occurs when gerbils come into contact with a wild mice’s droppings, saliva, or nesting materials. Gerbil bites aren’t the predominant cause – humans catch LCMV through open skin wounds after touching an infected gerbil’s:
If your gerbil’s just bitten you, there’s a considerable risk you could touch something that’s contaminated, catching the viral infection. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, most people only develop mild flu-like symptoms, which include:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle aches
Do I Need a Tetanus Shot for a Gerbil Bite?
If the gerbil bite breaks the skin, there’s a chance of tetanus – although this is rare. It’s not the bite that causes tetanus but the bacteria (Clostridium tetani) that enter the wound.
As soon as they get into the body, they produce a toxin that causes muscle contractions. It’s also known as lockjaw because the neck and jaw muscles lock into place, making it difficult to eat, drink, or swallow.
That being said, gerbils have never been known to transmit tetanus to humans and are rarely found with the infection. However, if you haven’t had a tetanus shot for more than five years, seek medical advice because you likely need a booster jab. It’s always best to be on the safe side.
Is It Bad If a Gerbil Bites You?
Most gerbil bites don’t even draw blood, so the chances of them becoming bad and turning into a significant health issue are slim. That being said, it’s always a good idea to be prepared with the right information so that you can look out for any signs of sickness or infection.
If your gerbil bite drew blood, there’s a slight chance that serious secondary injuries can occur, such as:
- Sepsis (blood poisoning)
- Meningitis, which is an infection of the brain’s outer layers
- Endocarditis, an infection of the heart’s inner lining
If you leave an infected bite for long enough, it can spread to the blood or other parts within the body, causing severe health conditions.
Why Does My Gerbil Bite Me?
It doesn’t take much to cause a gerbil to bite. We’re much bigger than they are, so it’s common for them to feel threatened. The main reason gerbils bite is because of self-defense. Their claws aren’t sharp enough to do much damage, so their teeth become their primary weapon of defense from predators.
Unfortunately, gerbils rarely distinguish their owners from predators, particularly when they feel threatened. The main reasons why gerbils feel they need to defend themselves include:
- Your gerbil’s new and not familiar with you
- You handle your gerbil too rough and squeeze it too tight
- You hold your pet too frequently
- You’re bigger than your tiny gerbil
- You’re not quiet enough when you’re around your gerbil
- The environment’s too loud and stresses your gerbil out
- You’ve attempted to break up a fight between gerbils
- Your gerbil feels curious
You can avoid being bitten by maintaining proper care and giving your gerbil space when it needs it. Try not to do anything that will scare or stress it out.
How to Care for a Gerbil Bite
Even if the bite hasn’t drawn blood, you should treat it as if there’s a cut or scratch. While you may not be able to see a puncture, bacteria can get into the most minor wounds, so you can never be too careful. As soon as your pet has bitten you, follow these gerbil bite treatment steps:
- Clean the wound, running it under warm water for a few minutes.
- If you see any hair or objects in the bite, remove them.
- Gently squeeze the wound to encourage it to bleed, which will help to remove dirt, debris, and germs.
- Unless the bleeding stops by itself, place a clean dressing over it and apply pressure to help stem the bleeding.
- Once the bleeding stops, dry the wound and cover it with a plaster or sterile dressing.
- If the bite wound throbs or hurts, take paracetamol or ibuprofen.
It’s unlikely you’ll need to seek medical advice, but if you see signs of infection after a few days, go to your doctor for a check over. You may need a course of antibiotics to clear it. Similarly, always wash your hands using warm water and soap every time you handle your gerbil just in case it’s carrying harmful pathogens.
What To Do if a Gerbil Bites You?
Immediately after your gerbil’s bitten you, your immediate reaction will be to drop the gerbil, squeeze it, or tell it off. Don’t do any of these things, as you’re at risk of hurting and upsetting your gerbil. You must remember your gerbil’s only trying to protect itself – it’s likely your fault it bit you, to begin with.
If this is a one-off event, proceed with caution the next time you handle your gerbil. However, if your gerbil bites you frequently, you should take steps to make it stop. You can do this by:
- Spending more time around your gerbil, allowing it to get used to you
- Being careful every time you pick your pet up
- Leaving your pet alone, especially if it doesn’t like to be handled
- Not reacting when your gerbil bites you
- Never punishing your gerbil or putting it in solitary confinement when it bites
- Gently poking it on the nose to disengage its bite
With time and patience, your gerbil should hopefully stop biting you quite as often. However, bear in mind that gerbils aren’t always trusting of humans and never will be. This is normal and something you’ll need to work around.
Gerbil bites are a normal part of pet ownership. While they’re not pleasant, it’s fair to expect to be bitten every now and then, particularly when you first get your pet. Clean the wound thoroughly to prevent further issues.