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Bowmanville Veterinary Clinic

Gerbil Information Package


We are extremely proud of our clinic and of our team consisting of over 20 caring and experienced staff. We are dedicated to providing excellence in care for our patients and their families since 1972. Our entire team cares deeply for your pet and will treat them with caring hands and a tender voice; their comfort and well-being is why we are here every day.

We are also very involved in our community through our popular Junior Vet program which has been running since 2003, and wildlife triage that we offer at no cost. We are delighted to be one of the veterinary clinics providing patient care for the Northumberland Humane Society. 

Please check out our website at for more information on these programs and on our clinic and staff. We look forward to being your other family doctor!

Beyond What You See

Both Doctors and Staff have your pet's best interest at heart and strive to make their stay with us as pleasant as possible. We encourage you to accompany your pet to their kennel to allow you the opportunity to see where they will stay and to help them to settle in. Every pet has his or her own separate kennel or run, furnished with a clean, dry, comfy towel or blanket. If your pet has a "special toy” or “security blanket" feel free to bring it in with them.

If your pet is to have a general anesthetic we would like you to know that we minimize the risks by providing exemplary care during their stay. We highly recommend a pre-anesthetic blood screen prior to a general anesthetic. Just as your doctor would run a blood test before your procedure we do the same for your pet. A pre-anesthetic blood test is like an internal physical exam that will check organ function and help identify unknown diseases. For this blood work, we collect a small sample of blood that is sent to an outside lab. Blood work must be submitted at least 24 hours before the procedure.

Veterinarians will do a physical exam the morning of surgery to ensure that your pet is healthy before undergoing general anesthetic. Patients are assessed individually to determine which anesthetics will be safest for them. We have anesthetics available for all ages, from the very young to our senior patients. We also carry anesthetics specific to our work with exotic pets.

The doctors adhere to strict sterile techniques, complete with a cap, mask, sterile gown, and gloves when performing surgery. A separate sterile surgical pack is used for each procedure to avoid infection and cross-contamination. The animals are surgically prepared both at their incision and intravenous sites. This involves first shaving the hair, then cleaning the skin with antibacterial solutions.

Prior to the anesthetic, every animal is placed on intravenous fluids. Intravenous fluids are important to help maintain optimal blood pressure during surgery as well as provide access that will allow us to administer drugs if an anesthetic emergency arises.

While under anesthesia, every pet is connected to a Cardell monitor for carbon dioxide, blood pressure, and heart monitoring. Each pet is provided with a warming blanket to manage its temperature during the anesthetic. As well, our Registered Veterinary Technicians continually assess the animals, during both the anesthetic and recovery periods. During recovery one of our technicians or assistants sit with your pet to comfort them as they recover from the anesthetic.

We are acutely aware of the level of pain of our patients and have very current protocols in place to help manage their pain while in the hospital as well medications for use at home to keep them comfortable.

Uncomplicated surgery cases are discharged the same day. This allows the animal to rest at home, which is usually less stressful for both patient and owner. We do keep some animals overnight if they require bandaging after surgery. We recommend that more complicated cases be transferred to the Animal Emergency Clinic in Whitby for overnight observation.

If you have any questions or would like to tour our facility, please ask any one of our staff members. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome as we strive to provide the best service possible for you and your pet.

General Information

Scientific Name: Meriones unguiculatus

Life Span: 2–4 years

Environment Temperature Range: 65F - 85F

Relative Humidity Range: 30–50%

Breeding Range: 10-12 weeks

Estrous Cycle: 4-6 days

Gestation Period: 24–26 days -- 27–48 days (with lactation)

Litter Size: 3-7 young

Weaning Age: 21 Days

The color variety is mixed brown with dark, pigmented skin, light brown to white ventrum (chest and abdomen) and darker dorsal (back) coat. Other color varieties that exist include black, white and cinnamon. Color combinations of black or brown with a white band over the chest area are also common. Gerbils have a marking scent gland, which appears as a tan colored hairless area in the middle of their abdomen.

The gerbil is a curious, friendly and nearly odorless rodent, which makes it a very popular pet. They have adapted well to captivity and tend to be relatively free of naturally occurring infectious diseases. These rodents rarely bite or fight, are easy to keep clean and care for and are relatively easy to handle. These qualities make the gerbil an ideal pet.


As with any pet, good quality food and clean, fresh water must be provided at all times. In the wild, these animal feed on leaves, seeds and roots. Current recommendations for feeding in captivity are pelleted rodent ration containing 20% - 22% protein. These rations are typically processed as dry blocks or pellets designed for rodents. Seed diets are also “formulated” and sold for gerbils, but these diets should only supplement the basic rodent pellet. Gerbils prefer sunflower-based diets to pellets, but these seeds are low in calcium and high in fat and cholesterol. When fed alone, seed diets often lead to obesity and potential nutritional deficiencies. Other supplements to the diet may include sugarless breakfast cereals, whole wheat breads, pasta, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables; all fed in moderation. Gerbils eat approximately 5 to 8 grams of food daily; eating both day and night.

Although gerbils in the wild require little water to drink since they derive most of their fluid from the foods they ingest, caged gerbils must be provided with a continuous source of clean water. Inadequate water consumption can lead to infertility, lower body weight and eventually death. Water is easily provided in water bottles equipped with sipper tubes. This method also helps keep the water free from contamination. Always make sure that the tubes are positioned low enough to allow the pet easy access. The average adult gerbil drinks approximately 4 to 10 ml of water daily. Although this amount is only a fraction of the total bottle volume, fresh water should be provided daily, not only when the bottle empties.


The gerbil’s natural curiosity and friendly disposition makes it fairly easy to handle. Most gerbils will approach a hand introduced into their cage and can be easily scooped into the palm of the hand or picked up by grasping the base of the tail. Be careful only to grasp the gerbil by the base of the tail, for the skin over the end of the tail is easily pulled off. Gerbils not accustomed to being handled may jump and run, but rarely turn aggressive.

Once picked up, the gerbil can be restrained by one hand with the over-the-back grip. This is done by scruffing the loose skin over their neck between your thumb and index finger while the base of the tail is held between your fourth and fifth fingers. The gerbil may struggle when held on its back or manipulated, so be careful not to let it escape.


Several types of cages are available which are suitable for housing gerbils. Many of these units come equipped with cage “furniture’ such as exercise wheels, tunnels and nest boxes as added luxuries. Such accessories, as well as sufficient litter depth within which to burrow, are desirable for the pet’s psychological well-being.

Cages should be constructed with rounded corners to discourage chewing. Gerbils will readily chew through wood, light plastic and soft metal; so recommended caging materials are wire, stainless steel, durable plastic and glass. Beware that glass and plastic containers drastically reduce ventilation and can lead to problems with temperature and humidity regulation. These materials make suitable cages when at least one side of the enclosure is open for air circulation. In addition, make sure that the enclosure is escape proof.

Gerbils thrive in solid bottom cages with deep bedding and ample nesting material. Bedding must be clean, non-toxic, absorbent, relatively dust free and easily acquired. Shredded paper or tissue, pine shavings and processed corncob are preferred beddings. Be sure that the wood shavings and ground corncob are free from mold, mildew or other contamination before using. Do not use cedar chips or chlorophyll impregnated shavings since they have been associated with respiratory and liver disease. Provide at least two inches of bedding in the cage to allow normal burrowing behavior. Cotton and shredded tissue paper make excellent nesting materials.

Adult gerbils require a minimum floor area of 36 square inches and a cage height of 6 inches. A breeding pair of gerbils requires a much larger area, approximately 180 square inches. Optimal temperature range for gerbils is between 65 and 76F. The relative humidity should be between 30% and 50%. Twelve hour light cycles are preferred, with gerbils being roughly equally active day and night.

Gerbils are social animals that tend to cohabitate well together. The typical social interactions consist of grooming, wrestling and communal sleeping. However, gerbils may become aggressive to intruders, and they may fight when crowded or mixed as adults. Breeding pairs are kept together, with the male even helping to raise the young.

As a rule of thumb, the cage and accessories should be thoroughly cleaned at least once weekly. An exception to this schedule is when newborn babies are present, then wait until they are at least two weeks old. Other factors that may require increased frequency of cleaning are the number of gerbils in the cage, the type of bedding material provided and the cage design and size. Cages are sanitized with hot water and nontoxic disinfectant or detergent then thoroughly rinsed. Water bottles and food dishes should be cleaned and disinfected daily.

Non-Infectious Conditions


The gerbil has a genetic tendency to develop epileptiform seizures. The occurrence rate for the general pet populace is 20 to 40%. These seizures may be initiated by fright, handling or exposure to a new environment.

The attacks can be mild (slight shaking) to very severe (violent convulsive body jerking, erratic movements and collapse). The convulsions appear not to have any long-term effects. In some instances, however, death may result following very severe seizures, but this is rare. Anticonvulsant therapy is possible and should be discussed with your veterinarian. Frequent handling during the first few weeks of life and providing a stable environment with a complete, balanced diet can help suppress the seizures in genetically predisposed gerbils.

Tail Sloughing

Improper handling of gerbils can result in the loss of fur from the end of the tail. This occurs when the animal is grasped by the tip of the tail. The skinless tail dies off and sloughs, with the stump usually healing without complications. In some instances, the tail may need to be amputated.

Nasal Dermatitis (Bald Nose)

Gerbils commonly develop hair loss on the nose and muzzle with open lesions and crusting. This condition is often attributed to abrasions from coarse bedding or rough surfaces within the cage or environment, but the Harderian gland may also be involved. The Harderian gland is located behind the eye and produces a secretion that empties onto the globe. From the eye, this material is drained into the nose by way of the nasolacrimal duct. This secretion is mixed with saliva and spread over the hair coat during grooming. This condition can arise if this material is over produced or not used.

Nasal dermatitis tends to affect young, mature gerbils most often. It spreads from being a localized nasal hair loss to involving the face, legs and ventral body surfaces in advanced cases. Cedar shavings used as bedding tend to worsen the condition. In severe cases, secondary bacterial infections may occur. If treated early in the course of the disease with appropriate antibiotics, this condition often resolves; but if not attended to early, the treatment may be unrewarding. Surgical removal of the Harderian gland results in recovery of the condition, but the procedure is rarely performed. A veterinarian may recommend the use of sand baths to aid in removing the excessive secretions, thus resulting in partial recovery.

Disease Conditions

Renal Disease

Old gerbils 2 1/2 to 4 years of age, often present with a history of weight loss, loss of muscle mass, poor appetite and lethargy. In addition, an increase in water consumption may be observed. These are all signs consistent with renal disease in old gerbils. Treatment is only supportive in rodents, with emphasis on providing ample fresh, clean water and food at all times to prevent stress that may trigger full renal failure.

Neoplasia (Cancer or Tumors)

Gerbils have a relatively high incidence of cancer after they reach 2 years of age. The organ most affected is the ovary. Ovarian tumors are common in female gerbils with poor reproductive performance. They may present with early cessation of reproduction, decreased litter size or distended abdomens. All of these signs may also be present with cystic ovaries as well.

The skin is the second most affected site for tumors in the gerbil. Squamous cell carcinomas and melanomas are most frequently encountered. Melanomas gave a tendency to develop around the ear, foot or base of the tail.

The ventral marking scent gland is the third most common site of neoplasia. This gland is located in the mid-abdominal area. It is a hairless, oval tan structure, which tends to be more prominent in males. The gland produces an orange-colored secretion, which is used to mark territory. Tumors of this gland appear as “abscesses” on the abdomen. Usually the tumor is not malignant, but may have a secondary bacterial infection.

Many other organs may be affected by cancer, but much less often. Where possible, surgical intervention as early as possible is the treatment of choice.

Tyzzer’s Disease

The most commonly reported infectious disease of gerbils is Tyzzer’s disease, caused by Bacillus piliformis, a gram-negative bacteria that infects living cells. The disease causes a high death rate especially in young male gerbils. Clinical signs are nonspecific, primarily consisting of ruffled fur, lethargy, hunched posture and poor appetite. Diarrhea may also be present. The disease causes changes in the heart, liver, lymph nodes and digestive tract which can be observed at post mortem. Special stains of tissue samples from dead rodents can confirm diagnosis.

Treatment of affected colonies with tetracycline antibiotics in the drinking water may be of some benefit in an epidemic. Supportive care with fluid therapy is often necessary in affected animals.

Prevention is the key to this disease. High-level sanitation and minimal stress greatly reduces the occurrence of this disease in colony situations. Tyzzer’s disease typically affects gerbils that are stressed by weaning, shipping and adjusting to new environments. Strict sanitation prior to the introduction of new animals is important in preventing outbreaks.