Gerbils tend to be pretty healthy little pets as long as you take good care of them. Learning to identify signs of sickness in your gerbil and getting him to the vet at once can keep your little friend around for his expected life span of three to four years. Inspect your pet at least once a day for signs of illness.
If your gerbil develops signs of a respiratory ailment, the bedding in his cage could be at fault. Gerbils can respond with respiratory reactions to cedar shavings used as bedding. He needs soft, deep non-cedar bedding to burrow in. Symptoms of respiratory disease include runny nose, which might resemble blood since gerbil mucus is red; sneezing; difficulty breathing; and appetite loss. Take your pet to the vet for examination and diagnosis.
Gerbils have a genetic predisposition to developing epileptic seizures. According to the website Veterinary Partner, between 20 percent and 40 percent of gerbils are affected by this disorder, which ranges from slight tremors to convulsions. Rarely, a seizure causes death. Since loud noises, handling and other frightening experiences can set off seizures in affected animals, keep your gerbil in a quiet environment and socialize him early on, so he's used to gentle handling. There's no treatment for gerbil epilepsy.
Older gerbils are prone to cancer. This is especially true of females, who may suffer from ovarian cancer. Both sexes might develop melanomas, or skin cancer, generally around the tail, feet or ears. Gerbils have a ventral marking scent gland located in the middle of the abdomen. If your pet appears to have an abscess in this area, it's more likely to be a tumor. However, this growth might not be malignant. Surgical removal can be an option.
Tyzzer's disease, a bacterial infection, has a high mortality rate in affected gerbils. While symptoms include diarrhea, by the time your gerbil produces loose feces it might be too late for him. Early warning signs include hunching over, appetite loss and lethargy. Inside, the bacteria is eating away at his organs. If there is any hope at all for your gerbil, he must receive immediate veterinary attention. It's possible that with antibiotics and fluids therapy, a gerbil can pull through. However, he remains infectious for as long as two weeks, so you must separate him from any other gerbils, throw out his old cage and purchase new equipment for him.
Older gerbils might experience strokes, ending up paralyzed on one side. While your pet may die, with good nursing care he can recover. Another common illness in the older gerbil is kidney failure, for which there's no cure. Head tilt, another common problem in the elderly, usually means your gerbil's suffering from an ear infection. Your pet requires prompt veterinary care.
While you can't prevent every gerbil illness, taking good care of your pet goes a long way toward keeping him well. Make sure he always has fresh, clean water available. Give him good-quality timothy or grass hay to munch on and to keep his teeth in good condition. Like all rodents, gerbil teeth grow continuously, so your pet needs that fiber to wear them down. Without it, his teeth become overgrown and cause chewing and digestive difficulties, not to mention pain. Along with a commercial gerbil diet, feed him a small amount of fruits and vegetables every day -- about a teaspoon. Keep his cage, his food bowl and water bottle very clean. Inspect him every day for any signs that's he not well. That includes taking note of his food and water consumption. Any changes could signal something is not right with your little buddy.
gerbille image by jÃ©rÃ´me caffin from Fotolia.com
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.