Gerbils have few ailments provided they are housed in clean, dry cages, fed sensibly, kept away from draughts and not exposed to extremes of temperature. This is all to the good, because it is not easy to doctor small animals. Gerbils may have their “off” days when they are quieter than normal but they soon recover their old active selves. Any obviously sick animal should be immediately isolated.
The points to watch for in diagnosing a sick animal are listless behaviour, dull eye, unkempt coat and diarrhoea. Loose droppings may be due to nothing more than a tummy upset. The food may be contaminated or consist of too many green leaves. Greater care should be taken with the diet, and green stuff withheld.
Watery, smelly diarrhoea, particularly if the vent is inflamed, is a more serious complaint. In bad cases the animal will become thin and miserable looking. If recovery does not occur within a few days, after a change of bedding and fresh food (feed only grains or pellets, no greens or roots), it should be painlessly destroyed by a vet. The cage should be disinfected with Lysol solution (made up according to the instructions on the bottle) before another gerbil is placed in it.
Running noses, snuffles or “colds” may be due to irritants in the sawdust or hay. These materials may be tested by breathing deeply over them to see if your own nose is affected. If so, then they should be replaced. Draughts or too dry an atmosphere may cause similar symptoms. Conversely, excessive dampness can also bring on snuffles or chesty breathing. None of these troubles need arise, however, if a little thought is given to the siting of the cage. Do not place the cage over a hot radiator, for example, in the belief that the gerbil requires a warm temperature.
Injuries of the face or body may be due to fighting or over-excited play. Paired gerbils rarely fight although there may be occasional tussles. Should continuous fighting occur, however, the animals should be separated because they can inflict serious injury upon one another. Most injuries arise from play and the cage, as well as the playthings within it, should be examined for sharp edges. The wounds should heal naturally quite quickly. Should these become infected, dabbing with a mild antiseptic may help or, if not, the animal should be taken to a vet.
Fleas and mites do not trouble gerbils as a rule but if these are suspected, a dusting powder which is safe for hamsters should be used. It will probably be difficult to hold the animal for dusting but if the powder is sprinkled in the nest, some will find its way into the coat.