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Gerbil Care Handbook

Health Issues

Gerbils are robust animals, and with good care and attention may very likely never be ill. However, there are a few illnesses and disease that a gerbil owner should be aware of. If your gerbil is seriously ill, and not eating and drinking take them immediately to a veterinarian.

Respiratory Problems:

Young pups, elderly,or gerbils under stress are most susceptible to respiratory infections. There are a number of causes from viruses, bacteria, to environmental. Two common irritants are the use of cedar or pine bedding. Pups having respiratory problems during weaning can be treated with Ornyclycline in the water. Purchase this in the bird section of a pet store and use the dosage for a small bird (canary). Treat the water for at least ten days. Supplemental feeding with Kitten Replacement Milk can help keep up the strength of weaning pups with respiratory infection.

Symptoms to watch for are rumpled coats, a clicking noises, Sick Pupsand hunched in a corner. Gerbils are small and their health can deteriorate quickly. If you have a seriously ill gerbil, not eating, drinking, and diarrhea, take him immediately to a veterinarian.

These five pups that had a respiratory infection, and were treated with Ornacycline and supplemental Kitten replacement milk (KMR) feedings. Four of the five pups survived.

Scent Gland Tumors:

A scent gland tumor is the most common tumor found in gerbils, and occurs most often in elderly gerbils. The scent gland is a small bare patch of skin on the gerbil's belly. First noticeable as a small hard lump the tumor will continue to grow is not treated. This type of tumor occurs most often in males, but is occasionally found in females.

Take you gerbil to an experience small animal veterinarian. Scent gland tumors are usually operable, and there is a high likelihood of a full recovery.

Broken Tails:

A totally avoidable problem there are several causes; getting caught in a cage, wheel, or by being grabbed by the tail. This leaves behind an ugly, skinless, but it doesn't require a vet's attention unless it becomes infected. The exposed bone will dry up and fall off within a few weeks.

WARNING: A gerbil should never be picked up by its tail, not even at the base.


Strokes are characterized by paralysis, usually down one side. They are most common in elderly gerbils, but sometimes-young gerbils with health problems will suffer from them. A gerbil may experience a series of strokes, and not live long. In other cases they may make a full recovery. Keep them comfortable, and be sure they have food and water.

Seizures (or "going limp"):

Quite often found in younger gerbils, these seizures/fits are usually triggered by an unfamiliar stimulus (like being placed in a new environment), or by being overexcited. Many young gerbils eventually grow out of these seizures. In mild cases they will go limp when you startle them or place them in a new cage, but in severe cases the gerbil will begin to freeze or twitch at the slightest excuse. Simply put the gerbil back in its cage and leave it alone for a few minutes. It is strongly discourage to breed a gerbil that has had a seizure disorder as the tendency will be passed on to offspring. (In rare cases a gerbil may pass on from a severe seizure.)

Red Noses:

You often hear a gerbil owner concerned that their gerbils has blood around its nose. Many owners are concerned that gerbils are fighting, but this is not the case (wounds on the tail or rump are signs of a victimized gerbil). Also, gerbil's mucus is often mistaken for blood, as it is a reddish color. The most common cause for a true bloody nose is an allergy. If you are using pine or cedar bedding, switch immediately to aspen, Carefresh, or corncob bedding. Occasionally a gerbil may be allergic to aspen.

Gerbils kept in a cage will often spend hours chewing on the cage bars, and this will rub off fur and irritate the nose. The simplest solution to do is keep your gerbils in an aquarium.

If it appears that the gerbil's nose is infected take him to a veterinarian for treatment.


To check for mites take a few sheets of unscented white toilet tissue and swaddle your gerbil in it leaving their head out. Wait for a minute or two then open the wrapping and inspect it closely and carefully for either dust specks or tiny red blobs.

If you do discover that your gerbils do have mites you will need to check a pet store or your vets office for hamster & gerbil mite and flea spray; Pyrenthin spray at 0.66% concentration.

First thoroughly clean the tank/cage with bleach and soap, and anything that is going back into the tank. Next, spray the tank inside and out and everything going into it. (Spray the outside of the water bottle.) When you put in the fresh bedding give it a good squirt.

Spray down the old bedding and put it in a garbage bag. Seal it and spray the outside of the bag well. Put it in a garbage can with a secure lid.

Spray the gerbils, and make sure you wet them from their ears to their tail. Now spray your hands, getting them wet, and carefully work the medicated spray into the fur of their heads. Gently massage your gerbil working the spray all the way down to the skin.

Repeat the tissue test daily, and spray every time you find more crawlies. You may need to follow all of the steps listed above several time, before you can successfully get rid of the infestation.


Too many greens and vegetables in their diet can cause diarrhea. If your gerbil has a diet high in vegetables remove them and they should be OK.

Tyzzer's is a deadly and highly contagious disease whose symptoms often include diarrhea. Death usually occurs 24 hours after symptoms appear. Antibiotic treatment may not save your sick gerbil, but it may prevent the spread to your other gerbils.

If you gerbil/gerbils have unexplained diarrhea place your entire clan on antibiotics. Gerbils are small and their health can deteriorate quickly. If you have a seriously ill gerbil, not eating, drinking, and diarrhea, take them immediately to a veterinarian.

Overgrown Teeth:

Gerbils' teeth are continually growing, and it is vital that they have something good to gnaw on. You can get a nice apple or cherry branch for each of my tanks. Freeze them for 72 hours to kill any bugs that might be present.

Overgrown teeth most often occur in elderly gerbils that are no longer chewing frequently. Make it a point to check all your gerbils' teeth at least once a month.

If your gerbils' teeth do become too long, your vet will trim them for you. Once this becomes an issue your gerbil may need to have their teeth trimmed on a regular basis.

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The Gerbil Care Handbook may not be copied, in whole or part, without prior written permission from the American Gerbil Society.

Note: The Gerbil Care Handbook is provided for informational purposes only. Diagnosis and treatment of specific conditions should always be in consultation with one's own veterinarian. The AGS disclaims all warranties and liability related to the information contained on these pages.

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