How to Care for Gerbils With Broken Teeth
I've been using these methods to care for and feed my gerbils. They work quite well.
Gerbils are popular pets for people of all ages, and they are generally easy and inexpensive to keep. A typical lifespan for domesticated gerbils is two to three years, with some pets living up to four or five years.
As gerbils age, they face various common health issues, one of which is broken teeth. Broken teeth can lead to illness and weight loss in a gerbil without the pet owner’s proper care and attention. If your gerbil suffers from a broken tooth, it is possible to make sure they stay healthy and happy with a little work on your part.
Gerbils’ teeth are regenerative, meaning broken teeth will grow back, usually in about four days. However, until the tooth has grown back, it will be necessary to help your gerbil by preparing a special diet for them.
How to Feed Gerbils With Broken or Missing Teeth
Here are some steps you can follow to grind up food for your gerbil. The goal is to make the food easy to chew and swallow for the gerbil.
Here are the items you’ll need to help prepare your gerbil’s soft food diet:
- Mortar and pestle
- Dry gerbil food mix
- Fresh fruit, such as an apple
- Baby food
- Shelled peanuts
- Sunflower seeds
Here are some steps you can follow to grind up food for your gerbil. The goal is to make the food easy to chew and swallow for the gerbil.
- Grind up the gerbil’s normal food: Pour 1 tablespoon of dry gerbil food into the mortar. Next, use the pestle to grind up the dry gerbil food, but make sure not to grind it too small. The ground-up food should be rougher than rough ground coffee in size. It is necessary to leave the ground food in a rough state in order to help the gerbil keep his remaining teeth worn down. Gerbils’ teeth grow continuously, and the teeth need to be worn down to keep them from growing too long.
- Mix the ground gerbil food with 1 tablespoon of whole, un-ground gerbil food. Put this mix into your elderly gerbil’s food dish in his cage. Your gerbil will be able to pick and choose the foods they can more easily chew, while leaving whole foods for any companion gerbil.
- Fresh fruit or vegetables: Wash, peel and slice a piece of fruit, such as an apple into ½ inch or smaller portions. Serve your elderly gerbil one portion of fruit every other day. Wash and slice carrots and broccoli into ½ inch or smaller portions. Put these foods into your gerbil’s feeding dish, and then put the dish into his cage. Serve one of these fresh foods every other day. Feeding fresh food to your gerbil more often might cause them to develop diarrhea, which can be deadly to gerbils.
- Babyfood: Serve your older gerbil sugar-free and fat-free baby foods 1/8th of a teaspoon or less per day; don’t give them more as it could lead them to have diarrhea. Baby food fruits safe for gerbils include puréed apples, bananas, and pears.
- Grind up seeds: Pour in one peanut, 2 to 3 each of sunflower and pumpkin seeds into the mortar and pestle. Grind this mixture into a rough grain size, leaving the ground mix a little bigger than rough ground coffee. Feed this mixture to your elderly gerbil every other day as a treat. This will help your gerbil to have some familiar treats he's used to, while also adding a little variety to his diet.
- Give your elderly gerbil only one portion of fresh fruits or vegetables every other day. If given every day your gerbil could develop diarrhea which can be deadly.
- Wash the fresh fruits and vegetables before feeding them to your gerbils. It’s important to wash all fresh fruits and vegetables in order to avoid transmitting harmful bacteria and chemicals to your gerbils.
- If you don’t have a mortar and pestle to grind dry gerbil food, use a rolling pin, meat hammer, or a heavy glass jar. Put the dry gerbil food in between two layers of wax paper, and use the rolling pin, hammer or heavy glass jar to crush the food.
- Be sure to remove all uneaten fresh food from your gerbils’ cage every day in order to avoid food rotting in the cage or bedding.
- My gerbil’s broken teeth did grow back, and he was able to eat normal food again. Once you notice your gerbil is able to crack open a seed, it’s time to go back to your gerbil’s normal diet.
I'm currently using this method of feeding our three-year-old gerbil, Kat'a. She lost her upper teeth due to age. We have to clip her lower teeth about every six weeks.
Kat'a's been on this soft and ground diet for about three 5 months and is doing great! She's active on her wheel, and she enjoys running up and down her tower cage (actually a ferret or chinchilla cage).
Gerbils do like to have fresh food in their dishes every day. We give Kat'a about 1 tablespoon of fresh-ground food each day, along with 1/8th of a teaspoon of baby food fruit and 1/8th of a teaspoon of fresh peanut butter. This keeps her interested in her food and helps keep her appetite up. It's important to change the water in her water bottles every day, too.
I am not a professional gerbil breeder, but I have experience with keeping pets of all kinds, including gerbils. One of my older gerbils did develop a broken tooth, and my veterinarian gave me the advice presented in this article.
This information is provided only as an aid and guide to possible solutions to help a pet gerbil. I have made every effort to provide reliable and helpful information.
© 2011 Sherry Vacik
How to Care for Pet Gerbils
Gerbils are one of the most popular pet rodents, and they can provide a lot of fun and entertainment. These little creatures can live about three to four years as long as you care for them properly. This includes giving them the right kind of home, a healthy diet, some entertainment and affection, and veterinary care as needed. If you can provide all of this, a pet gerbil might be right for you.
How To Check A Gerbil's Teeth
Gerbils’ teeth are central to their health. As rodents, gerbils' teeth grow constantly, and are worn down by the hard foods they nibble. If the teeth become damaged or grow too long, your pets will have trouble eating and grooming, so you need to keep an eye on them.
Gerbils' teeth are really important to their wellbeing
To check a gerbil's teeth, hold the pet on your lap, and very gently try to open their mouth. If this is too triky, slowly lift their lip a little so that you can see the state of their teeth. Below are some things to be on the lookout for:
- Check the length of the teeth
Gerbils' teeth should be pretty even in length. If one is noticeably a lot shorter than the other, it means it must have broken. A pet with uneven teeth needs to be taken to the vet for treatment.
Overgrown teeth is another rodent-specific problem that gerbils sometimes face. It's difficult to tell if this is the case, so you'll need to check whether or not your pet has any difficulty eating. Offer them a favorite treat - if they are interested but seem unable to eat it, there may be a tooth problem. Again, consult a vet.
Your gerbils' teeth are really important, so it's good to keep a close eye on them
Gerbils' teeth should be textbook examples - straight, even-lengthed, and not misaligned
Are the teeth properly aligned? Are they growing in the same directions as the ones next to them? If not, this could indicate a problem such as bar rub - misaligned and differently-shaped teeth can cause problems when it comes to eating and grooming.
Check that your pet can eat
Ultimately, one of the most important aspects of your pets dental health is that they are able to eat properly. It’s wise to be constantly aware of how much your pets eat - this is one of the big, obvious indicators of their dental (and general) health.
Common Gerbil Illnesses
Abscesses are swellings that form as a response to bacteria. They can be hard or soft, and are formed when there has been an injury which has subsequently been infected with bacteria. In an attempt to stop the spread of the bacteria the animal's body forms an abscess capsule around the afflicted area. This will be full of pus, and can be painful to the touch. Abscesses can form anywhere, but a symptom to look out for is localised hair loss above the lump. If you notice that your pet has an abscess, it’s best to take your pet to the vet to get it treated so that the infection doesn’t spread or cause your pet more pain.
If the abscess has already burst before you notice the problem, rinse it out with a gerbil antiseptic, and dress it with gauze and micropore tape, to stop other gerbils from nibbling at it. If you haven’t done this before, or if you feel nervous about the procedure, visit a veterinary nurse for a demonstration.
Gerbils sometimes need a bit of medical care
Like humans, gerbils can sometimes have allergic reactions to materials found in and around the home. If your gerbil has a runny, red nose, crusty or watery eyes, wheezing breaths, or is sneezing a lot, it may be an allergic reaction. As a first action, change the type of bedding you are using in the enclosure. Take the gerbil to the vet for further diagnosis and advice. The allergy-like symptoms could possibly be a symptom of an underlying condition, rather than an allergy.
Gerbil's limbs are fragile, and a fall or a panic-induced tussle with ladders or other cage fittings can lead to breaks. A broken limb will be visible as distorted legs, limping, an unwillingness to move, or unusual sounds - i.e. of pain and discomfort. A trip to the vet is essential.
Coughs and Colds
Gerbils occasionally catch a cold, and the symptoms are similar to the ones we experience when we have colds. In other words, sneezing, runny noses, and wheezing. Colds can develop into more serious illnesses in gerbils, so it’s good practice not to handle them if you have a cold yourself.
Coughs and colds are sometimes transferred from human to gerbil
They may have evolved as desert animals, but gerbils still need constant access to fresh water in captivity. If they don’t have enough they will become dehydrated. A suffering gerbil will sit or lie limp in the cage.
This is a condition that it is very easy to prevent - simply make sure there's always water available. Keep your gerbils out of very warm places - direct sunlight, hot radiators, or fireplaces, for example. Regularly check that your pets’ water bottle is not only full nut is not blocked. To check the latter, run your index finger over the ball in the water bottle spout. If the finger becomes wet, the bottle is working but if the spout is dry then the bottle has a blockage and will need to be replaced. Give the gerbils a shallow bowl of water as a temporary substitute while you sort out a replacement.
Diarrhea can be a life-threatening condition in gerbils, as it may be a sign of Tyzzer's Disease. Any animal showing signs of diarrhea should be separated from your other gerbils. A vet will need to treat all your gerbils with antibiotics. The infections that cause this problem are easily passed on, and the others might have been infected without yet showing the obvious signs. Everything that has come into contact with the gerbils, including your hands, should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Not all gerbils with Tyzzer's Disease will have diarrhoea as that is only one of many symptoms. Paralysis is another.
Diarrhea isn't always a sign of Tyzzer's Disease - it could be Listeria or Salmonella. These problems should be treated in the same way as Tyzzer's Disease. Both can be passed on to humans and in some circumstances can be serious, underlining the message that diarrhea in gerbils should never be ignored.
An ear problem can result from excessive cleaning or mites. Mites can be treated with the sprays or Ivermectin, available in pet stores. Serious infestations may need veterinary treatment. Gerbils can sometimes develop benign growths on their ears, and these can grow quickly. It often resembles a tiny pink cauliflower. If the gerbil catches this growth with a claw when cleaning, it can bleed. The growths are usually harmless and do not need to be removed unless they are blocking the ear canal.
Inner Ear Problems
This is more common in older gerbils, and is recognisable when the gerbil has a head tilt. This is caused principally by a cyst in the ear known as a cholesteatoma. These cysts are common in gerbils and are untreatable. However, the chronic condition caused by these cysts, where the gerbil loses balance and often circles whilst holding its head at a very unusual angle, is treatable using antibiotics. This chronic condition is caused by an infection that is secondary to the cholesteatoma. The best treatment is an anti-inflammatory injection administered by your Vet, and treatment with antibiotics such as Baytril. In the majority of cases a reduced head tilt remains even though `the chronic phase of the condition has passed, but your gerbil will adapt to this and will enjoy life as much as he ever did. Be aware that this problem can reoccur. If the chronic phase of this condition is not treated then the gerbil will often become totally incapable of caring for itself, it will collapse and quickly die.
If your gerbils’ eyes are swollen, puffy, red or runny, they might be suffering from an eye infection. This could be due to your pet having something stuck in its eye - a piece of hay, for example.
It’s important to not try to remove things that are caught in your pets eyes by yourself - this can often do more harm than good. If your pet appears to be in pain then we recommend taking them to the vets so that they can get the proper treatment.
A gerbil's eyes should be clear and bright - even when they're feeling sleepy!
Some gerbils have fits. In most cases these are due to stress. Things that can stress out a gerbil include strange surroundings, excessive handling, nearby predators (e.g. dogs and cats), and too much fuss and noise. Stress is commoner in younger gerbils. The symptoms start with a twitch, the ears are then folded back, and the gerbil may start to drool at the mouth. If this happens, get the gerbil back in its enclosure and remove any of the offending stress factors.
After a few minutes the gerbil will calm down and be back to normal. Your pet will generally grow out of these fits as they get older. The 'nervous gene' can be passed down from generation to generation, so it's best not to let nervous animals breed. There have been cases where the gerbil has unfortunately died, but these are extremely rare and the animals usually recover very quickly. In fatal cases the issue may have been linked to some other ailment such as a brain tumor.
A gerbil with this condition may have labored breathing and there may be swelling in the abdominal area, sign of a build up of fluid. You should consult a vet at once, and they may be able to draw off the excess fluid and make the gerbil more comfortable. Unfortunately the prognosis is not good in these cases.
Hypothermia is the state in which your pet becomes very very cold - too cold for it to function properly. If your pet is in a cold place, in a draft, or is damp then they are at risk of developing hypothermia.
This is fairly common and often caused by an allergy. Gerbils' nasal passages are easily irritated by aromatic oils produced in cedar shavings, or household air fresheners. Some are also allergic to pine. Using Aspen or paper-based bedding is much better for gerbils that have allergies.
Another cause for sore gerbil noses is Staphylococci bacilli. Your vet can easily treat this and prescribe an antibiotic ointment. Gerbils kept in a cage will very often get sore noses. This is because they chew constantly at the bars, often rubbing all the fur off around the nose area. Provide the animal with some wood-based chews to take its attention from the bars, or, if your cage is the problem, invest in a modern model such as the Qute, or relocate the gerbils to an old glass aquarium without the metal bars.
These are confined to older female gerbils and it will look like the gerbil is pregnant with a swollen abdomen or look like there is a bulge on one side. This is normally an ovarian cyst. These can get very large, but are usually harmless and can be ignored. There can be problems where the cyst presses against a nerve or organ and stops it working properly. If your gerbil appears to be less active than normal or otherwise unwell consult your vet. It may be possible to remove the affected ovary, but this is a major procedure and your vet will be best placed to advice you of the best options in each case.
Since gerbils are kept in captivity, their nails don’t usually experience the wear and tear of their wild counterparts. This means that their nails are unlikely to wear down naturally, meaning that they are at risk of becoming overgrown. If your gerbils’ nails are long enough to start curving back towards their foot, it’s time to give them a trim. We’ve created a page to help - have a look at our How To Trim Gerbils’ Nails page for more information.
Many rodent species have teeth that grow throughout their lives - gerbils are no exception. Since they eat very tough foods in the wild, their teeth need to keep growing to keep up with the wear and tear. In captivity, they sometimes don’t get all the rough foods and materials they need to keep their teeth worn to a reasonable length.
Symptoms of overgrown teeth involve the inability to eat, as well as the presence of small nicks and cuts over their body. These are caused by little teeth grazes as they try groom themselves with overly-long teeth. If your pet’s teeth get too long they will need to be taken to a vet to get them treated.
To prevent your pet’s teeth from becoming overgrown in the first place, many owners have had a lot of success with gerbil chews and gnaws. These are specially-made wooden items that are safe for gerbils to chew on, enabling your pets to regulate their own tooth length.
Parasites and Infections
Unfortunately, gerbils can contract a number of different kinds of parasites, such as fleas, ticks, mites and fungal infections. Gerbils can suffer from both internal and external parasites, so as well as keeping an eye on your pet’s body, it’s good to keep checking its weight so that you can diagnose some problems with its stomach and digestive system too. You can read in more detail about parasites in our Gerbil Parasites page.
Respiratory infections are serious in gerbils - like a lot of other pet rodents they will attempt to hide symptoms until the disease becomes very advanced. If your gerbil is wheezing or ‘clicking’ as it breathes, then the condition is very serious and it will need to be taken to a vet immediately. Other symptoms include a lack of appetite, a temperature, a runny nose and coughing or sneezing.
Respiratory infections can be caused by various factors, from high humidity to the wrong types of bedding (many wood shavings can cause this - never give your pets pine or cedar). It’s wise to be on the lookout for symptoms of this condition so that you can take your pet to the vet promptly. It’s also important to move the affected gerbil out of the enclosure away from its friends (unless it’s a juvenile that’s not yet been separated from its mother, in which case they will all need treatment). Infections can be spread, so it’s best to keep it on its own in a separate container (with lots of food, bedding and water) until the infection has passed and they can rejoin their friends again.
These are commoner in older gerbils. The affected gerbil will develop paralysis or weakness down one side. Make the animal as comfortable as possible, keep it warm, and seek immediate veterinary treatment. In some cases another stroke follows fairly soon after and the gerbil may unfortunately die. Recovery is possible though, and in some cases and the gerbil may be left with little or no disability. The important thing is to make sure your pet gets enough food feed and drink until it recovers enough to fend for itself again.
If you think your gerbil has had a stroke, take it to the vet. The cause could be a different underlying condition, but if it has been a stroke, the vet will be able to examine the gerbil and inform you of any extra care your pet may need.
Scent Gland Tumors
Scent gland tumors are one of the most common problems with gerbils. The glands are located on the gerbil’s stomach, and the tumors will appear as lumps in that area. The problem can occur in either gender, but some reports suggest that these tumors are more common in males, possibly because their scent glands tend to be a little larger than females’.
Scent gland tumors can cause a number of problems. If left untreated the tumor can grow and spread to other areas, disrupting bodily functions and eventually proving fatal. Another problem that can occur is bacterial infection - if the gerbil tries to get rid of the tumor itself then it will scratch and bite the area, leaving the tumor susceptible to infection. If you think that your pet has a scent gland tumor, get it treated by a vet asap.
Gerbils' tails are fragile, and rough handling can cause injury. Often the tufted area at the tail's tip will come away and bone will be left behind. While this doesn't look very pleasant, the bone will dry out and then auto amputate - i.e. drop off - after a few days. The wound will then heal over naturally. Very occasionally an entire tail may be pulled off. When this drastic accident happens, get the gerbil examined by a vet to check that no other damage has been caused. The gerbil will learn to adapt to the loss and will hardly notice its injury, surprisingly.
As well as scent gland tumours (above) gerbils can develop tumors in any other area of their bodies. Some of the most common tumors are of the skin, testicles, and teats, but it’s helpful to be aware that they can develop anywhere.
Tyzzer’s Disease, like wet tail, is a bacterial infection of the digestive system. It’s a dangerous disease that will need veterinary attention as soon as possible if the animal is to survive. Symptoms of Tyzzer’s Disease include diarrhea, lethargy, untidy hair, a strange posture, pain, and dehydration.
How to Care for Gerbils
Last Updated: August 26, 2020 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS. Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.
There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 18 testimonials and 89% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.
This article has been viewed 450,292 times.
Gerbils are a popular type of pet for good reason they’re friendly, social, inquisitive, and overall just amazing creatures! They normally like to be in a same-sex pair or group (unless you want to breed) but you will possibly come across one or two that like to be by themselves. Although they are not as expensive as a cat or a dog, they will require daily attention and care. Perhaps most importantly, you need to provide a suitable habitat that will allow them to burrow as they would in the wild.