Posts Tagged ‘Gerbils’

First Aid Kit for Gerbils

Keeping a first aid kit stocked with supplies for your gerbil is a good idea, and the more pets you have the better it is to ensure that you have the things you need on hand in case of illness or injury. Before using any medication on this list talk to your veterinarian, if used for the wrong illness some things can make the situation worse.

Styptic powder or Styptic pencil Can be used when cutting nails if you cut the quick as well as for other small skin wounds that aren’t deep.
Cotton swabs/Q tips Variety of uses
Cotton balls
Vet wrap Self-adhesive bandage, sticks to self but not to fur or skin. Good for holding gauze on a wound
Gauze Non-stick to stop bleeding as well as cover wounds
Saline Solution Contact lens cleaning saline solution can be used as it’s sterile. Used to flush out wounds
Feeding syringes in a variety of sizes Used for force feeding/hand feeding as well as medicating
Acidophilus capsules Powder used to replenish “good” bacteria in intestinal tract.
Baby food Used to build up strength as well as if your gerbil won’t eat. Be sure there is no garlic or onions in the ingredients.
Pedialyte Electrolyte replacement fluid for a gerbil who isn’t drinking/eating. Also good to add a second water bottle during hot summer temperatures.
Critical Care Force feeding formulation created by Oxbow, can be obtain through some vet clinics.
Small Towels or face cloths Can be used to restrain, keep warm, or to stop bleeding
Ice pack Used for heat related illness (e.g. heatstroke), do NOT put directly on animal
Small hot water bottle Used to help warm gerbil, do NOT put directly in cage or on animal
Stethoscope Can help in hearing respiratory issues
Hand warmers Used for camping there’s a pouch inside that you break and it stays warm for hours, DO NOT put anywhere the animal can get to it they are toxic!
Small flash light Can help to see wounds or other issues.
Magnifying glass Can help to see wounds or other issues.

Common Illnesses Seen in Gerbils

Illness Signs and Description
Tyzzer’s Disease Tyzzer’s disease is a serious and often fatal disease in gerbils. Symptoms include a ruffled look to the fur, hunched posture, and watery diarrhea.Veterinary care is required immediately if there is to be any chance of recovery.

Products such as “dri-tail”, sold in pet stores should not be used. In fact, it can make matters worse as it’s a weakened version of an antibiotic which may mask symptoms.

Giving water and pedialyte will help to combat this. Do not feed any treats or vegetables during this time, although vegetables will provide water, they can also make diarrhea worse.

Ensure that you follow any directions from you veterinarian and if you have questions about treatment call and ask.

Diarrhea; Soft Stool If there is any doubt that it may be Tyzzer’s, do not wait, see a veterinarian right away.Some common causes are a change in food, food that was “off”, too many vegetables or fruit, or infection.

Sometimes diarrhea will be secondary to another issue, such as an infection or other illness.

If it is just a couple of softer fecal pellets stop feeding vegetables, fruits, new treats or new food and monitor. Adding a second water bottle with a 50/50 mix of water and pedialyte will help with dehydration.

Veterinary treatment is required if it is severe, if the animal is dehydrated or if it persists for more than a day.

Upper Respiratory Infections (URI) Upper Respiratory Infections are usually noticed because of the gerbil breathing faster than normal or a clicking/squeaking sound with each breath.A vet should examine your pet to determine if the issue is an URI which requires antibiotics. URI’s can be fatal if not treated.

Respiratory issues can also be caused by bedding allergies, as well as other allergies.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) A urinary tract infection often presents with frequent urination, sometimes containing blood. There also may be urine staining the fur.UTI’s require a veterinary exam and antibiotics.

If you notice that your gerbil cannot pass urine it should be treated as an emergency.

Lumps and Swellings Lumps and swellings can be anything from cysts, to abscesses, to tumours. Any unusual lump needs to be examined by a veterinarian.
Tail Missing The tail of a gerbil can very easily be pulled off. This is defense mechanism in the wild in order to survive is something grabs them by the tail. Sometimes you will find your gerbil with only part of his tail missing.Shedding of the tail can occur if the gerbil gets his tail caught somewhere, such as in the rungs of an inappropriate wheel, if a toy falls on it and traps it, or if someone attempts to pick him up by the tail.

If the tail, or part of the tail, comes off it will usually heal on it’s own. Make sure you keep the exposed bone clean, which is easily done by keeping the gerbil’s living area clean. Check daily for infection. If in doubt if there is an infection present, have a veterinarian examine your gerbil.

Overgrown / Misaligned teeth As with all rodents, gerbils’ teeth grow constantly. In some cases either due to a genetic jaw deformity, or injury a hamster can develop overgrown teeth or misaligned teeth.Signs that there may be a teeth issue include drooling, dropping food, weight loss, and in serious cases the gerbil will stop eating completely.

A veterinary visit is needed in order to find out how bad the issue is, and what can be done about it.

Treatment consists of anything from a quick trim in the vets office every few weeks, up to surgery if the molars are involved. Sometimes one trim will do the job and everything is fine from that point, but often it does become a regular occurrence needing regular vet care.

Caring for a Sick Gerbil

If your gerbil becomes sick there are several things that you can do to help him feel better and to help him get well.  The most important things, other than making sure he gets any medication your veterinarian prescribes, are making sure that he’s eating, drinking and warm enough.  In some cases you may also want to limit certain activities.

As always follow your veterinarian’s instructions first and foremost.


If your gerbil becomes dehydrated it will cause him to become weak and will, in a short time, be the cause of death.  No living thing can live without water.  To tell if your gerbil is dehydrated gently pinch the skin in the scruff area, if it appears to ‘tent’ then he is dehydrated.  Even if he isn’t, it doesn’t hurt to offer extra fluids in times of illness.  Your veterinarian can inject fluid subcutaneously (under the skin) which will help.  At home you can help by making sure your gerbil has access to fresh, clean drinking water in his bottle and making sure that he can get to it.
Moving the bottle closer to his nest will allow him to get to water without having trek across the entire cage when he’s not feeling well.

You can also offer water via oral syringe (without the needle!), taking care not to cause him to take water into his lungs, which will just cause more problems.  Take a 1 cc syringe, which is available from a pharmacist or your veterinary clinic, fill it with water and offer it to your hamster.  It is safest to put the syringe in the side of his mouth just behind his teeth to reduce the risk of aspiration of fluid into the lungs.  He may start drinking from it himself, slowly depress the plunger making sure he has enough time to swallow any fluid, 1 cc syringes will generally allow you to drip water drop by drop.

Another way to rehydrate is to use a children’s electrolyte solution, such as Pedialyte.  Mixing it 50/50 with water works well.  You can again syringe this to your gerbil, or add a second water bottle with the 50/50 mixture.  It is not recommended to change his main water bottle to this as some animals will stop drinking if there is a change in taste to their water.  Flavoured Pedialyte is OK but avoid those with citrus or lemon juice.


Sometimes gerbils will stop eating when they are not feeling well.  This can become serious quickly due to their size and fast metabolic rate.  Moving his food dish closer to his nest will give him access to his food without having to go too far.  The addition of higher protein foods will also help build up some strength.  Plain scrambled eggs, tofu and milk soaked bread are some easy to eat favourites.   Baby food that is free of onion, garlic and lemon juice is a well liked addition to their diet and can be syringe fed.  Gerbils are desert animals and care should be taken when feeding baby food that it does not cause diarrhea due to the high moisture content.

Syringe feeding with baby food is done in the same way as giving fluids.  Put the syringe in the side of the mouth behind the front teeth and slowly depress the plunger.  Many times the gerbil will wrap his paws around the syringe like a baby with a bottle and will eat on his own.  Generally speaking they will stop eating when they are full, but if he seems to be eating a great deal give him a short break and then offer more.

Yoghurt can also be fed in smaller amounts during illness to counteract the effect of antibiotics on the intestinal tract.  The yoghurt should contain active pro biotic cultures and should not be fed within 2 hours of the antibiotic.

Keeping Your Gerbil Comfortable

If a gerbil is dehydrated or not eating, they often feel cold.  That being said you also don’t want to over heat him as this can cause heatstroke..

Making sure that he has plenty of plain, unscented toilet paper in his nest is a good way of making sure he can wrap himself in as much or as little as he needs to.  Often they will snuggle into a huge mountain of toilet roll.

If you have a small hot water bottle you can fill it up and put it under the cage in an area near the nest, this will allow him to move closer to it if he’s cold, but still get away from the heat if he gets too warm. Note: if you are treating for heat related illness such as heat stroke, use an ice pack in place of the hot water bottle in the same way. Place it under a part of the cage so that he can lie near it to cool off, or move away from it if he gets too cool.

If he’s comfortable with it, and not fighting you, then holding him wrapped in a small towel will also warm him.  Due to feeling ill many gerbils become very lethargic and will simply curl up and sleep on you.  Your body heat, plus the warmth from being wrapped in a towel will warm him.

Limiting Activity

The only time it is recommended to take a gerbils’ wheel out of the cage is when he’s ill or injured.  Due to their nature of trying to hide illness they may run on their exercise wheel when they are too weak to be doing that.  Removing the wheel for a week or so can help your gerbil to take the time he needs to rest and recover.

If you have a multi level cage, and are able to, cut it down to a single level to prevent too much activity and also to prevent falls.  If the cage does not allow removal of levels make sure that all food and water is brought to the lower level, or whatever level the gerbil has his nest on.  If he uses a litter box or gerbil potty make sure to move this also.

As gerbils are social creatures it is often asked “should I separate my sick/injured gerbil from his cage mate?”  This often depends on the situation.  If the injury was caused by a fight between the gerbils, then you should separate them immediately and they should not be returned to the same cage.  In most other circumstances it is better to leave them together unless the one who is ill is being bullied.  If the illness is contagious there is a good chance the other gerbil(s) are already affected and should be treated.  Being separated from his cage mate will only stress your gerbil out more and make him lonely.  The other gerbil(s) will help in keeping the ill one warm, will provide comfort and it has been observed that the others will bring the injured/ill one food and/or bedding.  If you feel that the situation may warrant separation, check with your veterinarian for advice.

General Health and Illness

Just like any other pet, gerbils sometimes require veterinary care. This is something to consider before making a gerbil, or any pet, part of your family. Your commitment should be for life and must always include proper veterinary care.

You should find a least one clinic that deals with pocket pets or exotics, as not all clinics do, preferably before you bring your pet home. It is best; however, to know of several clinics in case you cannot get to your regular veterinarian, always have a backup plan. It is also a good idea to have the emergency vet clinic number and address on hand, and make sure they see exotics. Gerbils, while not strictly nocturnal, are often active in the evening, so many times problems will be noticed outside of regular clinic hours. Also keep in mind that emergency clinics are usually a lot more expensive than regular clinics so make sure that you factor this in to your pet care budget.

Gerbils, as prey animals, tend to hide illnesses very well, so in many cases symptoms will not be visible until the illness is quite serious and needs quick treatment.

Symptoms Requiring Immediate Emergency Care

  • Diarrhea
  • Lying around the cage limply, many times they will feel cold Respiratory Problems – any trouble breathing
  • Bleeding – bleeding from anywhere is a bad sign, including vaginally – females do not show when they are in heat
  • Not eating or drinking
  • Rectal, or vaginal prolapse; a male can also have a prolapse of the penis where he is unable to get it back into the prepuce or ‘sheath’
  • Anything that may be causing pain

Symptoms Requiring Vet Care in General

  • Eye discharge
  • Lumps or swellings
  • Over-grown teeth
  • Weight Loss

If in doubt always call and talk to your veterinarian, make an appointment, or go to the emergency clinic.

Food List for Gerbils

Gerbils should be fed a gerbil mix or lab blocks as their main diet. The following list of foods may be given as a treat. Introduce any new foods very slowly to avoid stomach upset. Fruit and vegetables may have more of an upsetting effect on your gerbils’s digestive system due to higher water content.

Safe Fruit, Vegetables and Herbs

Additional Information / Instructions
Apple No seeds as they contain cyanide, higher sugar content
Apricot No pit/stone, high sugar content
Banana May cause constipation, do not feed when giving antibiotics, higher sugar content
Broccoli May be gas causing
Cabbage Small amounts, rarely, too much can cause illness, may be gas causing
Carrots Higher sugar content
Cauliflower May be gas causing
Celery Only in very small pieces due to choking hazard from string
Corn Higher sugar content
Dates Higher sugar content
Grass Avoid ornamental grass
Green Beans
Kidney Beans Must be cooked only
Kiwi Higher sugar content
Lettuce Small amounts on occasion, may cause liver problems, no iceberg.
Mango No pit/stone, higher sugar content
Melon Higher sugar content
Peach No pit/stone, higher sugar content
Peas Higher sugar content
Pear Higher sugar content
Plum No pit/stone, higher sugar content
Potato Cooked only, raw is toxic
Raspberries Leaves are edible, higher sugar content
Strawberries Higher sugar content
Sweet Potato

Other Treats That Are Safe

Additional Information / Instructions
Babyfood Free of onion and garlic
Beechnuts Unsalted only, higher fat content
Brazil Nuts Unsalted only, higher fat content
Bread Can get stuck in pouches if too soft
Cereal Beware of high sugar content
Cashews Unsalted only, higher fat content
Chicken/Turkey Cooked and unseasoned
Cheese Avoid strong cheeses, higher fat content
Crackers Unsalted only
Dog Biscuits No charcoal (black)
Egg Scrambled or boiled, no seasoning
Fish Cooked and unseasoned
Hazel nuts Unsalted only, higher fat content
Pecans Unsalted only, higher fat content
Peanuts Unsalted, roasted never raw, shelled or unshelled, higher fat content
Pine Nuts Unsalted, high fat content
Pistachios Unsalted, higher fat content
Pumpkin Seeds Unseasoned, higher fat content
Tofu Packaged only, never raw
Walnuts Unsalted, shelled or unshelled, higher fat content

Never feed a gerbil anything containing onion, garlic, chocolate or excess salt or sugar. If you are unsure if something is safe, do not feed it.

A big Thank You to Jenna of Critterscoop as most of the information on this page was collected during her research for a safe food list.

Social Behavior of Gerbils

The most commonly kept gerbil is the Mongolian Gerbil. Technically speaking the Mongolian Gerbil is actually a Jird, which are closely related to true gerbils. Regardless, both gerbils and jirds are social creatures. This means that they should be kept together in pairs or groups, preferably same sex groups as rodents breed extremely quickly due to their short life span.

The simplest pairings are with siblings of the same litter. This way there is no introduction necessary as they have grown up together. The next simplest is an older gerbil with a young pup or a pair of young pups.

Gerbils can and do grieve if they lose a cage mate, and in some cases can become severely depressed, sometimes to the point of not eating. This is the only time that it is acceptable and necessary to forgo quarantine.

Should you find yourself in the situation in which one of a bonded pair passes and your gerbil seems depressed, the simplest solution is to introduce two young gerbils. The reason for a pair is so that you aren’t faced with the same issue when the older gerbils passes on.

Gerbils are best introduced in a split cage. The cage that they will be sharing should be cleaned out completely in order to remove as much scenting as possible. The cage should then be split down the middle using some sort of strong mesh, a search for split gerbil cage will show examples of some setups. Each side should have a wheel, food, water, etc. The gerbils will interact through the barrier, picking up each other’s scent without being able to harm each other. You may also wish to have them switch sides a few times. Once they appear to be interacting positively the barrier can be removed during a time when they will be well supervised. There may be a dominance battle, consisting of chasing, squeaking, and mounting, if at any time blood is drawn they need to be separated. Gerbils do not “fight out” dominance.

Some gerbils are fine kept on their own after a cage mate passes, but they will require a lot more interaction from you. There are also a few gerbils who just are not social. You should not try to force them to live with another as it will lead to bloodshed. For those who are not social a split tank may be the way to go permanently, or even a second tank/cage near by so that he can see another gerbil and knows he isn’t alone.

Providing at least 2 water bottles, food dishes, wheels and sleeping areas will also help keep the peace between pairs and groups also.

Bathing and Grooming Gerbils


Sometimes a gerbil’s nails will get too long causing them to snag or get caught on things.

Nails can be trimmed using human nail clippers or guillotine style clippers commonly found in pet stores. Some people find one easier than the other, it is mostly down to preference. Be sure not to cut the nail too short or it may bleed. Because gerbils are so small it can be difficult to cut their nails yourself. If you don’t feel that you will be able to do it without hurting your gerbil then a veterinarian can do it for you.


Gerbils are very clean animals and you will see them grooming themselves and each other quite often.

Unless directed by a veterinarian, gerbils should NEVER be gotten wet. They can catch a chill very easily which can turn into pneumonia, becoming fatal very quickly. Bathing in water also removes oils from their fur that keeps it in good condition. If your gerbil has gotten into something he shouldn’t have you can use a damp face cloth to wipe the fur, making sure to dry him off after.

Gerbils do enjoy digging and rolling in a sand bath. Placing a dish of chinchilla sand (NOT dust) or sterilized, silica free, children’s play sand in their cage will allow them to do this safely. It also helps keep the fur grease free.