Choosing A Healthy Gerbil or Jird
The information below can also be used when giving your Gerbils or Jirds a weekly health check
Always seek the advice of a vet if you suspect your pets may be ill or have suffered an injury.
Is the Gerbil's coat smooth and glossy with no patches of hair missing?
Patches of fur missing could indicate problems with mites, infection, or bullying from other Gerbils. Feel under the fur for any tell tale signs such as bites or scabs. Blowing gently against the fur can also show signs of bites and scabs. Providing chinchilla sand once a week for bathing will help keep the coat in good condition.
Are the eyes bright and shiny?
Excessive red coloured discharge from the eyes usually indicates the Gerbil or Jird is stressed for one reason or another, or has an underlying health problem. Excessive discharge may indicate an eye infection and excessive tears may lead to nasal dermatitis. Cataracts can form in older animals and can be recognised as cloudiness in the eye, although cloudiness in the eye can also indicate an injury so should be checked by a vet to obtain a correct diagnosis.
Can you see discharge or missing hairs?
The nose should be clear of discharge and there should be no hair loss around it. Discharge can indicate an infection and hair loss could indicate mites, allergies, infection or excessive grooming.
Are the teeth ok?
Check to see if the teeth are growing straight and are not mis-aligned or overgrown. Because rodent teeth grow continuously all their life, checking the length and alignment of the teeth often is very important. If teeth grow too long the gerbil will starve. The top incisors should meet the bottom incisors but be slightly forward. They should not overlap or grow at different angles.
The gerbil should be able to eat easily, and be able to chew and hold things in its mouth. Providing wood and good gerbil food should maintain a gerbil’s teeth for most of its life. Checking the teeth is fairly simple, some gerbils will let you open their mouth to examine them, and less tolerant ones will usually allow you to apply slight pressure to their cheeks, which makes their teeth visible. If you are unsure, ask a vet to check, and if they are ever too long, get your vet to clip them carefully, do not attempt to do so yourself unless you have the proper equipment and have been shown how to do so.
If you notice your gerbil is losing weight, test if they can successfully nibble a piece of cardboard, and if it has difficulty in doing so, a vet trip is in order.
Healthy gerbil teeth should be coloured yellow and not white
Does the head tilt?
Usually the first sign you will notice that indicates there is something wrong with a gerbil's ear will be a head tilt or spinning in circles. Many ear infections are in the inner ear, nevertheless the ears should always be checked for any visible blockage, mites, infection or cuts from scratching.
Middle ear infections due to staphylococcus can be problematic too and can sometimes be caused by mites. If a Gerbil or Jird is seen excessively shaking its head or yawning, there may be an infection in the middle ear or eustachian tube. Seek the advice of a vet for a correct diadnosis.
Are the nails overgrown?
Gerbil and Jird nails also grow continuously throughout their life and wooden toys or a few clean rocks will help keep their length down. Sometimes for one reason or another, nails become overgrown and need to be trimmed down. Again a vet can do this simple procedure, but if you decide on doing it yourself be careful just to trim them and never cut into the 'quick' of the nail, or the pink medial line where there are blood vessels and nerve endings, as this area is very sensitive to pain. If this should happen it's wise to have a styptic pen or powder on hand to stem any bleeding.
Can you see missing hairs?
Always check the tail to make sure it is fully furred, if fur is missing it can be an indication of mites but it is far more likely to be due to over grooming by the gerbil. This is an indication that the gerbil is bored. Often by simply adding toys and tunnels etc into their environment can alleviate boredom.
Can you see evidence of injury or tumours?
The scent gland is located on a gerbil's abdomen, and is a bald, yellow, oval patch, which the gerbil rub against objects to mark their territory. It should be inspected for cuts caused by marking something sharp, and particularly in males scent gland tumours, which start off small but grow rapidly, and if caught early enough, should be removed via surgery by a competent vet. If it is inoperable, the tumour will need to be cleaned regularly as it will bleed when the gerbil marks its territory. Sometimes the gerbil will also try and bite off the external growth itself and this may cause excessive bleeding.
Is the anus/genital area clean?
Staining around this area on young Gerbils or Jirds could indicate that they have been living in poor dirty conditions or that the Gerbil or Jird may have recently recovered from a bout of diarrhoea.
Is the animal alert, active, and friendly?
Only purchase the animal if it is. A listless animal is often accompanied by an underlying illness. A nippy animal makes both a poor pet and/or poor breeding stock.
The gerbil itself should be observed behaving in its environment. Limping, reluctance to come out or exercise, and hiding away in a corner would indicate the gerbil has an ailment. If you feel your gerbil is unwell and you are unsure of the cause, or if you know the cause and it needs treatment, do not hesitate to bring the gerbil to your vet for the appropriate care, and ask the vet to check the gerbil over.
Are there any deformities?
Kinks in the tail or fixed wrists could indicate close inbreeding or genetic problems within the stock