There are quite a few things you may notice about your gerbil that may alarm you at first. Below is a list of common “scare” ailments that are not actually as bad as they seem.
Consistent goop on the eye – This is actually mucus that naturally occurs within a gerbil’s body. Occasionally your gerbil’s eye may appear to be stuck shut, or have goop on it. This is just something similar to the crusty eyes we often have in the morning. If you are concerned about the eye being shut, take a q tip and gently rub it on the shut eye, and that should loosen the eyelid enough that your gerbil will open its eyes.
A “bloody” running nose – Many owners often confuse this for blood and are immediately alarmed. Unlike humans, the mucus that comes from their nose is a dark red color. This definitely isn’t a normal thing to see, but it certainly isn’t as bad as you probably thought it was. It is recommended that you call your local vet at this point and see if they recommend treatment, as this could be a sign of a cold or another underlying illness.
Seizures – Although they are a scary thing to watch, seizures are often more stressful for the owner than the gerbil! If this happens, your gerbil may suddenly lie still and stay that way for a short period of time. More severe seizures often include twitching or shakes before they freeze for a while. If this happens while you are handling your gerbil, place it back in its cage and make sure there are no distractions (flashing lights, loud music, dog barking, yelling…) and that your gerbil looks comfortable. Chances are this will pass in a moment’s time. They are very common in gerbils and most outgrow them. They are seen more often in elderly gerbils 3 years or older.
Below is a list of some common illnesses that do require veterinary attention. If you notice any of the following, please contact your vet immediately. Also note that I am not a vet and in no way should this information substitute for proper medical care. Some of this material was borrowed or rephrased from The Complete Guide To Gerbil Care, written by Donna Anastasi.
Respiratory Infection – Your gerbil may have a respiratory infection if you hear clicking noises or labored breathing. This needs immediate medical attention. If left untreated, a respiratory infection will most likely cause your gerbil to pass away. Other warning signs to look for include puffed up fur, “sleepy” looking eyes, and your gerbil may feel cold to the touch. If you have a low wattage heat lamp or a heating pad, please use these to keep your gerbil warm until you can seek medical attention.
Dehydration – The common reason for this is a water bottle that isn’t working and has gone unnoticed. Check the water bottle every day to ensure that it works and has enough water for your gerbil. You may notice your gerbil licking the sides of the cage or objects within the cage. This is often a sign of dehydration. If you believe it is very severe, mix an equal amount of warm water and corn syrup to feed to your gerbil. If your gerbil appears thin, cold, and sleeps a lot more than usual, you should immediately contact your vet.
Diarrhea – Symptoms include a watery stool and occasionally you may notice more liquid on the running wheel than normal. Many kinds of watery foods, greens, or veggies can cause diarrhea. Try not feeding them as often and see if it clears up. If diarrhea is ever noticed and other symptoms are present, call your vet immediately as this may be a warning sign of a very serious illness.