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Gerbils as pets are great because they are generally very healthy with very few problems. One of the biggest appeals of these delightful creatures is their adorable appearance, and sweet, soft fur. Owners love to nuzzle their furry little companions. However, gerbils can still suffer from an occasional gerbil disease, such as hair loss (alopecia), just like a dog or a cat. Hair loss or “alopecia” can occur on one part of the body or appear in patches over the entire body.
Causes and Diagnosis
Gerbil hair loss can be caused by a variety of things. For instance, if you have more than one gerbil in the same cage, the hair loss may be the result of fighting wounds from over-crowding, or a cage mate who likes to chew on more than just his food. Another cause of hair loss may be due to a poor diet, or a nutritional deficiency, which might require the addition of vitamins or special supplements or a change in diet to correct it. Although ringworm in gerbils is uncommon, occasionally this skin disorder does occur. If your veterinarian determines that ringworm is the cause, you will need to isolate the affected gerbil if you have more than one, because it is highly contagious.
Stress also causes hair loss in gerbils. Any number of things could stress your pet, such as mites or parasites, boredom or even depression from loneliness or lack of interaction with their handlers. Because gerbils like to burrow, the hair loss may also be the result of an injury from scraping themself against an object you have placed in the cage, or even trying to burrow through the bars of the cage.
Your veterinarian will diagnose the cause of your gerbil’s hair loss through a thorough examination, blood tests, scrapings from the skin, and important feedback from you:
- When the hair loss began
- Any changes in your gerbil’s mood or personality (which would indicate depression)
- Changes in habitat or living environment
- Addition of cage mates
Signs and Symptoms
Alopecia is a common disorder in gerbils which can be treated and managed quite successfully. The key to quickly and successfully treating hair loss is to recognize the symptoms and determine the underlying condition. Noticeable symptoms can include:
- Inflammation of the skin
- Weight loss
- Extreme itching and redness of the skin beneath the fur
Treatment and Prevention
Once your veterinarian determines the cause of your gerbil’s hair loss, he can decide the course of treatment. When the hair loss is accompanied by dry skin and excessive scratching, the alopecia may be due to fleas, parasites or mites (which may be too small to see without the use of a microscope). Your veterinarian may prescribe a topical agent to help eliminate any infestation. Making sure the cage is kept fresh and thoroughly cleaned weekly will help prevent a parasite infestation.
As with most illnesses and conditions, its always easier to prevent an outbreak or episode than it is to treat one. However, even when the best care is given, a condition can’t always be prevented. To reduce the risk of hair loss due to behavioral problems, such as excessive chewing or boredom, try to provide wooden chew toys, twigs or cardboard tubes to provide your gerbil plenty of things to chew on and help keep him active and stimulated. Regular interaction with your gerbil will help keep him happy and prevent depression from loneliness.
Did your gerbil ever suffer from Alopecia? What was the cause? How did you veterinarian treat it? Let us know the story in the comments!