Gerbils: parasitic diseases

Luckily gerbils generally don’t suffer from parasitic diseases, especially if they are kept in a clean, dry, warm environment. However there are some that you should keep an eye out for, just in case.

Although parasitic diseases are rare in gerbils, they can occur, however parasitism of the gerbil rarely causes clinical disease problems.

Problems seen include mange mites, blood lice, ringworm and intestinal worms.

Alopecia in aged or debilitated gerbils may be due to mange mites.

These mites are microscopic, so your vet will have to take a skin scrapes of affected areas which may reveal hamster demodectic mange mites, Demodex aurati or Demodex criceti.

Blood lice (also known as bird lice) are very small and are either red or brown in colour. They are often brought in by birds, or are found in contaminated bedding. Blood lice can also bite humans and other animals in the household.

To avoid your gerbil from becoming infested with blood lice, ensure it doesn’t come into contact with birds, and ensure your bedding is fresh and clean.

Blood lice can be treated with treatments available from your local pet shop.

Ringworm is a fungal disease of the skin, similar to Athlete’s foot in humans – it’s not a worm. Ringworm in also contagious for humans.

It is recognised by obvious red patches of circular hair loss. Your vet will be able to confirm the ringworm by looking at the bare spot with a fluorescent lamp, they can also take a few hairs from the affected area and place them inside a culture jar, fungus will grow over the next few days and then ringworm fungus can be detected.

Ringworm can be easily treated with cream and usually resolves within a week. Make sure to disinfect the cage, and wash your hands very well after handling your gerbil, if you suspect it has ringworm.

Intestinal parasites seen in gerbils may include mouse pinworms (Syphacia obvelata) which can be found in the caecum, and a small intestinal gerbil pinworm, Dentostomella translucida.

Syphacia eggs can be recovered on a cellophane tape test, while Dentostomella ova are identified by the faecal flotation test, used to determine the presence of roundworm eggs in faeces.

Gerbils are also commonly colonised by intestinal flagellated protozoa (Giardia and Tritrichomonas spp). No clinical signs of disease are usually associated with naturally occurring parasitic worm infections in gerbils.