Why Do Gerbils Die Suddenly?

If your gerbil died suddenly, no doubt you’re sad and want to understand why it happened. There are many reasons why gerbils die, and some have noticeable symptoms.

Strokes and heart disease cause sudden death in gerbils. Their symptoms, like seizures and swelling, have a quick onset. Shock or fright can also cause death through seizures. Death by old age can be sudden too, as gerbils only live for about 2-3 years.

If your gerbil dies suddenly, remove it from its cage, get rid of any bedding, and clean the enclosure with antibacterial spray. By learning more, you can prevent sudden death in your other gerbils.

Do Gerbils Die Suddenly?

Gerbils only live to about three years old on average. While they do show signs of aging, these aren’t as obvious as they are in people. And many health conditions are tricky to spot with an untrained eye. So, when a gerbil dies, it can take you by surprise.

Also, many owners don’t spend much time with their pets. If this is the case, they may not notice that their pet is bloated, inactive, or has a dull coat. To these owners, any time their gerbils die comes as a surprise.

Many conditions have a slow onset. They may have noticeable symptoms, like weight gain. But gerbils can take you by surprise in that way, too.

Why Do Gerbils Die All of a Sudden?

There is no specific health issue called ‘gerbil sudden death syndrome.’ However, gerbils can die suddenly when their owners least expect it.

There are many reasons why gerbils pass away. Like people, these pets can experience many health issues. These issues relate to the environment, diet, exercise, and transmittable diseases.

The issue is that you may not know why your gerbil died. If you didn’t spot any symptoms before your gerbil’s passing, then you can’t tell what killed it. This is an unfortunately common circumstance that owners find themselves in.

This is a problem because good care is key to good health. If you have other gerbils, you should try to learn why your gerbil got sick and died. But this may not be possible. In many cases, you’ll never know what killed your gerbil.

Do Gerbils Die of Old Age?

A gerbil’s natural lifespan is around three years, but gerbils have been known to live for five years. Good care is key to prolonging your gerbil’s life.

Either way, gerbils regularly die of old age as the body begins to break down. Over time, your gerbil’s organs like its heart, kidneys, and liver will begin to fail. You may not notice the behavioral signs of this occurring.

However, death by old age is noticeable. So, it’s likely that your gerbil died of something other than age-related issues.

Gerbil Seizures (Contracting Muscles)

If you’ve never kept gerbils before, one thing that might surprise you is their seizures. Most gerbils have seizures from a young age (two to six months). For some gerbils, they stop, and for others, they don’t.

The first time you see your gerbil have a grand mal seizure, it’s exceptionally worrying. You may think your gerbil is dying or already dead. Symptoms include:

These seizures can last up to a minute, so it’s no wonder an owner might think their pet is dying. However, these seizures don’t kill gerbils. They don’t result in brain damage and have no other long-lasting effects.

Gerbils get these seizures because of genetics. Almost all U.S. gerbils are descended from only 20 breeding pairs. That’s how these seizures became common because the gene pool is so small.

The only exceptions are seizures later in life. These may be unrelated to seizures caused by genetics. A gerbil may have a seizure if it’s critically ill with some other condition. If that happens, then your gerbil may die suddenly.

gerbil sudden death syndrome

Can Gerbils Die of Shock or Fright?

Gerbils can die of shock, although not quite in the way that you might imagine. Repeated shocks and stress can kill a gerbil over time, although they won’t kill your gerbil suddenly.

If you’ve ever met somebody with epilepsy, you might know that epileptic fits have ‘triggers.’ These are things like flashing lights, for example, which directly cause a seizure. People with epilepsy try to avoid these triggers.

Seizures in gerbils are essentially the same as epilepsy. Your gerbil’s seizures can be ‘triggered’ by many different things, including:

  • Loud noises and bright lights
  • Over-excitement
  • Other gerbils playing or fighting with it
  • Being moved around too quickly when you handle it
  • According to the Italian Journal of Neurological Sciences, blowing in your gerbil’s face causes seizures

So, when your gerbil is in a highly stressful environment, it may have frequent seizures. While each seizure won’t cause lasting damage, their continuation can cause issues. Your gerbil can’t feed or care for itself because it has so many seizures.

Your gerbil can also become stressed because of other reasons. If it lives with other gerbils that reject it, this can cause repeated fighting.

It can also make it difficult for your pet to eat because the other gerbils hoard the food for themselves. The loud noises and bright lights of a house can also cause stress.

Over time, your gerbil will decline and die because of these repeated stresses. However, what doesn’t happen is your gerbil dying suddenly because of shock.

Do Gerbils Get Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a condition that can affect any animal with a heart. More commonly known as a heart attack, heart failure means that one of the arteries in the heart has become blocked. Because the heart can’t pump blood, the affected animal experiences severely negative effects.

However, heart failure specifically affects gerbils more than other animals. That’s because of the gerbil’s genetics. According to PLoS One, some species of gerbil are particularly prone to both diabetes and obesity.

Besides that, a gerbil’s heart has to work harder than a human heart. The average resting heart rate of a person is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM). But that of a gerbil is higher, which puts increased stress on the heart muscles.

According to Physiology and Behavior, a female gerbil’s heart rate is around 300 BPM during pregnancy. This drops to around 250 during lactation. However, this is still far higher than that of a person. And during stress, a gerbil’s heart can beat 600 times per minute.

This high level of activity, plus the gerbil’s natural susceptibility to heart disease, means that the condition is common. The symptoms of heart failure in gerbils include:

  • Sudden weight gain
  • Swollen abdomen, caused both by weight gain and bloating
  • Labored breathing and wheezing
  • Constipation
  • Low energy levels
  • Blue or gray gums and tongue

So, if you noticed any of these symptoms before your gerbil passed away, the issue may have been heart failure. If your gerbil is alive and exhibits these symptoms, take it to see a vet.

Do Gerbils Have Strokes (Brain Aneurysms)?

Strokes, also known as brain aneurysms, occur when a blood vessel bursts in the brain. They are a leading cause of injury and death in older populations. They occur in both people and gerbils (as well as other animals).

The cause of a brain aneurysm is a burst blood vessel. These occur when blood pressure gets too high and when the walls of the body’s blood vessels become rigid and old. Being overweight and a lack of exercise are two risk factors for strokes in gerbils.

A brain aneurysm looks like a seizure when it occurs. Your gerbil will lose control of its body and may collapse onto its side or back. It will only gradually recover the use of its limbs.

Strokes affect other animals in the same way that they affect us. Where the blood vessel burst in the brain, the local brain tissue will be affected. This can result in symptoms such as:

  • Loss of use of a limb, like a leg
  • Loss of sight in one eye
  • Difficulty controlling one side of the face, and subsequent difficulty eating and drinking
  • Complete paralysis
  • Sudden death

A gerbil that has a stroke will often lose the use of one of its front legs. Its body may also twist in an odd shape. However, it will still move around, albeit not as quickly as before. In more severe cases, your gerbil may be entirely paralyzed.

A gerbil can die from a stroke, so take your pet to the vet. Unfortunately, there is nothing that you can do to help a gerbil that has a stroke. There are no reversing the effects.

Gerbil Respiratory Infections

RIs are like severe colds, where your gerbil’s nose and throat become blocked with snot. If you don’t get to spend much time with your pet, you may not notice these conditions developing. And depending on the conditions your gerbil lives in, RIs can appear suddenly. The symptoms include:

  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Labored breathing (wheezing, with a clicking noise)
  • Decreased appetite and activity levels

Respiratory infections can be cured, as vets provide antibiotics that can reverse these symptoms.

Can Gerbils Kill Each Other?

Both in the wild and in captivity, gerbils are prone to violence. That’s because of the social structure of gerbil groups. Gerbil groups have one dominant pair, which breed together, and several other subordinate gerbils surround them.

These dominant gerbils can frequently fight with others. For example, if there is a limited food resource, the dominant pair will hog the food for themselves. Or, if another gerbil challenges the dominance of the ‘alpha’ male or female, a fight will surely follow.

You can spot these fights before they occur. The two fighting gerbils will stand facing each other, perhaps pressing noses. They will make loud squeaking noises at one another. You may also notice them intermittently stamping their feet.

The unfortunate outcome of these fights can be sudden death. Gerbils will fight to the death to ensure their dominance. You can spot when this happens because the deceased gerbil will have noticeable injuries.

What to Do If Your Gerbil Dies Suddenly

If your gerbil dies suddenly, you will have to dispose of it. This is an unpleasant but necessary thing to do. You can dispose of it in the trash, although this seems heartless.

Most people would rather give their pet a proper send-off. Burying your gerbil in the backyard is the best way to show it respect and say your goodbyes.

Whatever you do, though, do it quickly. If your gerbil died of something contagious, the problem could affect your other gerbils. To prevent this from happening, follow these guidelines:

  • Remove your gerbil from its enclosure immediately once you notice it’s passed away
  • Take your other gerbils and put them somewhere safe, e.g. in an empty bathtub
  • Remove the old bedding from your gerbil’s cage
  • Clean the walls of your gerbils’ enclosure with antibacterial spray
  • Replace the bedding with new, clean bedding, and only then put your gerbils back inside their enclosure

If the gerbil died from an issue related to its health, you should consider changing your gerbils’ food. Your pet may have been overweight or experienced heart failure because of its diet. So, ensure you feed a good gerbil food mix at regular intervals instead.

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