how do gerbils die

How Do Gerbils Die?

Gerbils are adorable small rodents known for their intelligence, lively personalities, and social behaviors. Many people enjoy keeping gerbils as pets, sharing joyful moments with them. However, gerbils have a relatively short lifespan and face various risks of death. As a responsible gerbil owner, it’s crucial to understand common causes of gerbil death, how to assess, handle, and care for a dying or deceased gerbil. This way, you can provide a peaceful farewell for your gerbil and prepare yourself emotionally.

I. Common Causes of Gerbil Death

Natural Aging
This is the most common and natural cause of death. Gerbils typically live around 2-3 years, with proper care extending their lifespan to around 5 years. As they age, gerbils may experience organ failure, reduced vitality, decreased appetite, dry fur, and blurry eyes. These are signs of natural aging. Providing a comfortable environment, nutritious food, and gentle interactions can enhance their quality of life and extend their lifespan.

Heart Attacks
A relatively dangerous cause, as heart attacks in gerbils can occur suddenly and are challenging to prevent or treat. Gerbils have a high heart rate, ranging from 300-500 beats per minute, making them susceptible to heart issues. Obesity, extreme stress, or fright can lead to heart attacks, with symptoms such as rapid breathing, fatigue, foaming at the mouth, and seizures. Controlling their weight, avoiding high-fat or high-sugar foods, maintaining mental health, and reducing fear or anxiety can help prevent heart issues.

Although rare, strokes in gerbils are severe and result from blood clots causing blockages in the brain’s blood vessels, leading to oxygen deprivation. Symptoms include limb paralysis, complete paralysis, protruding eyes, and head tilting. Providing clean drinking water, avoiding iron or calcium supplements, regularly checking their teeth, and preventing self-inflicted injuries can help prevent strokes.

A saddening cause, as it’s entirely avoidable. Incorrect living conditions and improper diet can lead to the neglect-related death of gerbils. Inadequate cage size, poor ventilation, or lack of timely cleaning can result in death due to oxygen deprivation or infections. Providing a sufficiently large cage, maintaining appropriate temperature and humidity, regularly changing clean bedding and water, and offering a balanced diet with fresh fruits and vegetables can ensure their health.

Tyzzer’s Disease
This deadly bacterial disease spreads through fecal contact, causing intestinal inflammation, severe diarrhea, dehydration, and ultimately death. Symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss, scruffy fur, and lethargy. Providing clean drinking water, avoiding lactose-containing foods, isolating affected gerbils, and administering antibiotics can treat or prevent Tyzzer’s Disease.

Scent Gland Tumor
This tumor, resulting from constant rubbing of the abdomen, can be benign or malignant. Gerbils have scent glands in their abdomen, producing an oil used for marking territory or mates. Overuse or external stimuli can lead to tumors. Symptoms include red or black lumps on the abdomen, affecting movement or defecation. Providing enough toys and play space, reducing stress and anxiety, regularly checking their abdomen, and promptly taking them to the vet for surgical removal can prevent or treat scent gland tumors.

Fatal Gerbil Fights
This is caused by the social and territorial nature of gerbils. They have clear social hierarchies and may fight for dominance or mates. Overcrowding, imbalance in gender ratio, insufficient food and water, or external disturbances can lead to intense fights, resulting in infections or excessive bleeding. Symptoms of gerbil fights include bites, scratches, hair loss, and increased vocalizations. Preventing or reducing fights involves separating different gerbil groups, providing enough space for each gerbil, and ensuring adequate food and water to prevent disturbances during their rest.

Respiratory Infections
A common cause due to gerbil’s sensitive respiratory systems, susceptible to bacterial or viral invasions. Causes include overly humid or dry living environments, dust or debris, parasites, or climate changes. Symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing, similar to a human cold. Preventing respiratory infections involves maintaining suitable temperature and humidity, regularly cleaning the cage, providing fresh air, and administering antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs to treat or prevent respiratory infections.

II. Methods to Determine Gerbil Death

At times, you may find your gerbil motionless and seemingly lifeless. It’s essential not to panic and carefully assess the situation, as gerbils may enter a dormant state rather than actual death. Here are methods to determine whether your gerbil is dead:

Check for signs of breathing, heartbeat, and movement: Gently touch the gerbil’s chest to feel for breathing and a heartbeat. Lightly tap the gerbil’s body and observe for any response. Additionally, examine the eyes, ears, and nose for any signs of movement.

Seek veterinary assistance: If uncertain about your gerbil’s status or if the condition seems severe, consult a vet for professional evaluation. Vets have the necessary equipment and expertise to accurately determine whether the gerbil is alive and can provide advice on treatment or humane euthanasia.

Consider a post-mortem examination: If your gerbil has passed away, you might want to know the cause of death to prevent similar issues in other gerbils and find closure. Opting for a post-mortem examination by a vet can help identify diseases, injuries, or genetic defects. This examination also aids in determining the time of death and assessing whether the gerbil experienced pain before passing away.

III. Handling Deceased Gerbils

Promptly remove the deceased gerbil: If your gerbil died due to illness, promptly remove its body from the cage to prevent potential contagion to other gerbils. Wear gloves to avoid direct contact and place the gerbil’s body in a plastic bag or cardboard box, seal it, and store it in a dry place for further handling.

Thoroughly clean the cage: Regardless of the cause of death, thoroughly clean the gerbil’s cage and disinfect all items, including bedding, water bottles, food bowls, and toys. Clean the cage with hot water and soap, then disinfect using bleach or alcohol, and finally rinse with clean water. This ensures the elimination of any bacteria or viruses left behind by the deceased gerbil, protecting the health of other gerbils.

Choose cremation or burial: If you wish to give your gerbil a dignified farewell, consider cremation or burial. Cremation can be done at a professional pet cremation facility or using a small furnace or pit in your backyard. Burial allows the gerbil’s body to return to the earth and provides a designated place for mourning. Dig a small hole in a quiet park or your garden, bury the gerbil, and adorn the grave with flowers, stones, or a written note expressing your feelings.

Show proper respect: Regardless of the chosen method, show proper respect for your deceased gerbil. Hold a simple ceremony, express gratitude, reminisce about fond memories, and pray for its happiness in another realm. You can write a poem, create artwork, sing a song, or craft a memorial item to commemorate your gerbil in your own way. Share your grief with family or friends, seek their comfort and support, and take the time to heal emotionally.

In conclusion, understanding the common causes of gerbil death, assessing their status, and handling their remains with care are crucial aspects of responsible gerbil ownership. Providing a loving and healthy environment, regular veterinary check-ups, and immediate attention to signs of illness or distress contribute to ensuring a longer and happier life for your gerbil. Additionally, being prepared for the inevitable end-of-life stage and handling it with sensitivity and respect allow both you and your gerbil to part ways peacefully.

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