Not only is it heartbreaking when a pet gerbil dies, but it can also be a time of great confusion. It’s not always easy to know what to do with the body.
The most common way to dispose of a dead gerbil is to bury it in the back yard, marking it with a memorial feature. Similarly, vets can take care of your dead gerbil for you, sending it to be cremated. You may also be able to get your gerbil’s ashes back. Otherwise, a pet cemetery is a good option if you don’t have a back yard.
What you choose to do with your gerbil is up to you. As long as you follow all guidelines and use gloves when handling the body, saying goodbye is an essential part of the grieving process, so it has to be right for you.
How To Check Whether Your Gerbil Is Dead
Before attempting any type of body disposal, you must check that the gerbil’s dead first. Gerbils can die suddenly, taking their owners by surprise.
Gerbils also play dead to hide from predators, according to Biological Psychiatry. As a result, you’ll need to ensure that your gerbil isn’t protecting itself from a larger threat.
When a gerbil dies, it may twitch for a few minutes. While these are normal nerve spasms, they can make it seem like the animal’s alive.
Similarly, gerbils sometimes let out a gasp of air when they’re moved. Again, this isn’t the animal returning to life, but the air is emptying from its lungs.
Pets often empty their bladders or bowels after death as their muscles relax, giving the illusion that the animal is coming back to life.
As a result, some pet owners feel confused as to whether their gerbil is really dead or not. To check, follow these steps:
- Check for signs of breathing, monitoring whether the body moves up or down. Similarly, hold a mirror close to its nostrils to see whether condensation forms.
- Feel for a heartbeat, placing two fingers on your gerbil’s chest near to where the heart’s located. If you don’t feel anything, your gerbil has died.
- Take a look at the eyes to see if they’re open. Dead gerbils will stare into space with large, black pupils.
If you’ve checked the above and there are no signs of life, your gerbil has unfortunately passed away. You’ll now need to think about preparing the body for disposal.
How To Dispose Of A Dead Gerbil?
When getting rid of your dead gerbil, you’ll need to do it quickly so that there’s no risk of disease or contagious conditions spreading to other rodents in the gerbilarium. This is even more crucial if your gerbil died of an illness involving bacteria or parasites.
Similarly, it won’t be long before the body begins to give off a foul odor, making living conditions unpleasant for the other gerbils in the enclosure.
While you’re deciding what to do with your deceased gerbil, put it into an air-locked bag and place it in the freezer. This prevents bacteria from decomposing the body, making it possible to dispose of the gerbil in one piece. There are many ways you can dispose of your dead gerbil, including:
Back Yard Burial
Many owners like to bury their gerbil in their back yard where they can mark the burial spot and visit their deceased pet. This brings comfort to many people, though it’s not everyone’s disposal method of choice.
When burying a gerbil in the back yard, owners can plant a tree or shrub where their pet rests. Similarly, you could place a bench where the burial site is located, allowing you to visit your pet on a warm day.
To protect your gerbil from other animals, such as foxes and cats, you’ll need to dig several feet into the ground. Wrap the gerbil in something biodegradable, such as newspaper or cardboard, and place it gently into the ground. Wrapping it in plastic delays the decomposition process, preventing the body from breaking down naturally.
Once you’ve covered the gerbil with soil, you might want to put something heavy on top at first to prevent animals from digging. This could be a heavy plant pot or concrete slab.
However, if your gerbil was euthanized or given drugs to monitor a health condition, then you shouldn’t bury your pet in your back yard. That’s because it poses a health risk to the environment and other animals should they get hold of the body.
Let A Vet Take Care Of It
If your gerbil died at the animal hospital or you took it there to be euthanized, your vet can dispose of your gerbil’s body for you. Dead animals are usually picked up by a crematorium and cremated.
If you’ve opted for a private cremation for your gerbil, the vet will return its ashes to you. While this is more expensive than a group pet burial, it means you’ll get only your pet’s ashes back.
It’s not advised to cremate your gerbil yourself at home. It’s a more complicated process than simply setting it alight in a fire-proof pot and can be distressing for pet owners to witness. Similarly, it’s also a fire risk.
If you don’t have a yard or don’t wish to bury your gerbil at home, you can take it to a pet cemetery. Many offer a full burial or cremation service for you to choose between, depending on your personal preference.
You’ll also be given an individual grave and marker for your gerbil, allowing you to visit it whenever you like. Pet cemeteries are known to be quiet and peaceful, allowing many owners to find comfort.
Most owners prefer not to dispose of their gerbil this way, but may have no other option. As a result, you can put your gerbil in your waste bin.
Before you do, wrap it in newspaper or place it in a cardboard box to protect it against flies, particularly on a hot day. Otherwise, your bin will become infested with maggots. If you can, wait until bin collection day to place your gerbil in the bin.
While this isn’t the most pleasant disposal method, it’s cheap and stops the gerbil from decomposing inside your house, which is unhygienic.
What To Do When A Gerbil Dies
Once you’ve disposed of the gerbil, the work doesn’t stop there. You’ll need to make sure conditions are sanitary for your other gerbils. This will also prevent them from becoming unwell, particularly if your gerbil died of a contagious health condition. To do so, follow these next steps:
Clean The Cage
According to Behavior Research Methods and Instrumentation, gerbils frequently scent mark. As a result, you’ll need to do a thorough clean of the gerbil’s cage to remove the smell.
Gerbils grieve and can become depressed if they’re left on their own for too long, so you should aim to remove all traces of your deceased gerbil to allow the surviving animals to move on.
Once you’ve removed the dead gerbil’s body and disposed of it, clean the cage following these steps:
- Place the remaining gerbils in a secure location. You can let them play in a hamster wheel while you clean.
- Remove all bedding and dispose of it responsibly.
- Clean the entire enclosure, including all play toys, with an antibacterial spray.
- Replace the bedding and put your gerbils back into the enclosure.
Keep an eye on your surviving gerbil for any sign of depression and lethargy. This might mean it’s feeling lonely, but it could also indicate that the deceased gerbil’s smell still lingers. In which case, clean the cage again.
Get A New Gerbil
Gerbils don’t do well living alone, even if they’re old and at the end of their life. In the wild, they live in large groups that forage and burrow together. When alone in captivity, they become depressed.
Similarly, they also display stereotypes. This is when they carry out behaviors excessively, such as biting or digging. It’s not usually a good sign.
As a result, you should try to introduce a new friend to your grieving gerbil. You can do this using the split cage method, where you divide the cage in half using a physical barrier or a split cage.
For the method to work, both gerbils must have access to everything they need, such as bedding, food, water, and toys.
Eventually, once the gerbils are used to each other’s presence, you can remove the divider and let them live together, monitoring them for any signs of aggression.
Handle Your Gerbil
To prevent your gerbil from becoming depressed at the loss of its old friend, you’ll need to spend lots of time with it with frequent handling and playtimes. This will help it get over the loss quicker and distract it from its sadness.
Eventually, once introduced to its new friend, it’ll have fun playing and socializing with it. But while you’re separating them, you must provide mental stimulation that they lack from their own kind.
Will A Gerbil Eat A Dead Gerbil?
While this isn’t a pleasant thought for many owners, gerbils will eat their dead kin to protect the nest from predators. In the wild, as soon as a gerbil dies, the rest of the colony gets rids of the body by eating it.
Foul odors from decomposing bodies attract predators, putting all gerbils at risk. As a result, eating the dead is an effective defense mechanism that prevents predators from killing the entire colony, or knowing they exist.
While not all wild gerbils will carry out this instinctual behavior, it’s essential to remove the dead gerbil as soon as you notice it to minimize the risk of this happening.
Can I Get Sick from Handling A Dead Gerbil?
There are some zoonotic health conditions that can spread from gerbils to humans. They’re even more dangerous when you’re dealing with a dead gerbil. That’s because you’re more likely to panic after seeing your pet dead, neglecting to wear gloves when handling it.
As a result, be careful of the following conditions:
As described by Vet Microbiology, Mongolian gerbils are susceptible to Leptospira interrogans, a bacterial species containing over 200 pathogenic serovars. They’re commonly referred to as Leptospirosis and can spread from gerbils to humans through contaminated urine.
Because gerbils urinate after death, humans are at risk of accidentally ingesting the bacteria after handling the dead gerbil. That’s why you must use gloves to handle dead gerbils and wash your hands with antibacterial soap afterward.
Not all humans display symptoms, but those that do will have:
- Muscle aches
- Red eyes
- Abdominal pain
The disease is easily treatable with a course of antibiotics. Still, you must exercise caution to avoid being infected in the first place.
While salmonellosis is a rare disease in pet gerbils, it’s caused by an infection with the Salmonella bacterium.
Much like Leptospira, it can infect humans through contaminated feces and urine. It remains in the gerbil’s intestines, where it’s shed every time they poop. Similarly, infected bedding harbors the disease.
Unfortunately, salmonellosis can kill gerbils. It’s also highly contagious, so gerbil owners must clean the enclosure and all removable parts with a bacteria-killing spray.
Again, not all humans develop symptoms, but some will show the following signs within 8 to 72 hours after contamination:
- Abdominal cramps
While losing a beloved gerbil is hard under any circumstances, you must act quickly to prevent your other gerbils from getting sick. Similarly, don’t wait too long before introducing your surviving gerbil to a new friend. Otherwise, it could get lonely, sad, and depressed.