Gerbils are normally very healthy animals and are very resistant to diseases and infections. The first thing to take into consideration is prevention: a safe place for them to live in, water and good quality food must never be absent. Some symptoms that may be a warning are an increase in the time they spend sleeping, weight loss, more aggressiveness, loss of appetite, bad posture, dirty fur, wheezing or rapid breathing.
The following is a list of the most frequent problems:
- Falls do not often create problems for gerbils, but if it falls from a considerable it may suffer from shock. In this case, it is recommended that you put the animal in its cage, keep it under observation and call the veterinarian to check it for broken bones.
- Heatstroke may be fatal. The symptoms are trembling and lethargy. In this case, it is recommended that you put the gerbil in a well ventilated quiet place and call the veterinarian.
- In the event of wounds disinfect the affected area and call the veterinarian. The wounds may be caused by fights but also by the conditions that can be found in the cage. Gerbils will continually gnaw anything it finds in their cages, the repeated rubbing of the muzzle against hard objects such as bars or dividers etc. while they are doing this, may cause lacerations.
- You may find your gerbil with a damaged tail. There are various causes (including an attempt to pick up the animal by its tail) and, when this happens, there are no remedies. The detached part is formed of skin, which will leave the muscular and boney part of the tail exposed. When this part dries it will fall off. If this gets infected, call the veterinarian.
- Stress, fear or surprise may cause convulsions. In this case, immediately place the animal in its den.
- Teeth that are too long may create serious problems for chewing and their length must be monitored regularly.
Small rodents may also fall victim to the following diseases:
- Diseases of the respiratory system such as common colds and allergies to the litter material (never use pine or cedar). Runny noses and sneezing, are signs that something is wrong and a visit to the veterinarian is recommended.
- Diarrhoea may be caused by too many fresh vegetables in their diet and, in this case, the quantity must be drastically reduced. Other causes may be viruses or bacteria and, obviously, you should consult your veterinarian.
- Mycosis, fleas and mites may infest gerbils. The loss of hair in spots, reddened skin, itching, white dots in the fur (the eggs of parasites) are the clearest evidence. A vet should be contacted and after handling the animal you must immediately wash your hands.
- Cysts and cancer may appear in older gerbils. They may appear anywhere but often afflict the abdominal gland. A swelling may suggest the presence. The solution is surgery.
- Tyzzer’s Disease is caused by clostridio piliforme, a bacterium that enters the body through the contact between infected faeces and mouth, or the presence of its spore in cage litter. Inside the animal, the bacterium attacks first the intestine, followed by the liver and finally the rest of the body, including the heart. The symptoms are ruffled hair, apathy, depression, very runny diarrhoea, residues of faeces in the perineal area and loss of appetite. It is deadly when it affects infants or stressed animals.