why is gerbil twitching

Why Do Gerbils Have Seizures?

When you’re holding your gerbil or watching it play in its cage, have you ever noticed its body twitching involuntarily, or even rolling and making sounds? Does it make you panic, worry, or question if your gerbil is sick or has been exposed to some stimulus?

If you’ve experienced this, there’s no need to fret too much, as seizures in gerbils are a relatively common phenomenon and don’t necessarily indicate a severe problem. However, it’s also not something to be completely ignored, as gerbil seizures can have various causes—some preventable, some requiring professional intervention. Understanding the reasons behind gerbil seizures and how to deal with and prevent them is essential knowledge for every gerbil owner.

In this article, based on my years of experience raising gerbils, I’ll share insights into the common causes, types, impacts, and potential solutions for gerbil seizures. Hopefully, this information will assist you in providing better care for your gerbils, ensuring their health and happiness.

Common Causes of Gerbil Seizures

Gerbil seizures can stem from multiple factors, but based on my observations and understanding, there are three main contributors:

Genetic Factors: One of the most common reasons for gerbil seizures is genetic predisposition. Some gerbils may inherently have a tendency towards epilepsy due to their genetic makeup. In such cases, seizures are unavoidable, and there’s no specific treatment. If you purchased your gerbil from a pet store or unreliable source, they might have a higher risk of genetic seizures since these gerbils may not undergo proper screening and breeding. To minimize this risk, consider buying gerbils from reputable breeders who provide health certifications and family histories.

Environmental Changes: Another prevalent cause of gerbil seizures is environmental changes. Gerbils are highly sensitive animals, reacting strongly to alterations in their surroundings. If you change their cage, introduce new toys, or handle them excessively, it may stress them and trigger seizures. It’s not that you shouldn’t provide a comfortable and stimulating environment; just ensure they have time to adapt gradually without overwhelming stimuli.

Age Factors: The final common cause of gerbil seizures is age-related. Gerbils between 2 to 6 months old, a critical period for their growth and development, may experience seizures. During this time, their nervous system is not fully mature, making them more prone to seizures. Fortunately, these seizures are a normal physiological phenomenon and tend to diminish as gerbils grow. If your gerbil experiences seizures during this age range, there’s no need for excessive worry—provide a safe and comfortable environment, allowing them to naturally grow.

Types of Gerbil Seizures

Hypnotic Seizures: These are mild seizures that typically occur when gerbils are asleep or in a semi-conscious state. During these seizures, their bodies remain still, eyes half-closed, mouth slightly open, and sometimes emitting faint sounds. These seizures last for a few seconds, and gerbils don’t experience pain or discomfort. Likely caused by abnormal brain activity during sleep, these seizures are common and don’t adversely affect gerbil health. Just let your gerbil sleep peacefully.

Grand Mal Seizures: These are more severe seizures that occur when gerbils are awake or active. During grand mal seizures, gerbils experience intense convulsions, sometimes rolling, jumping, or hitting surfaces, with wide-open mouths and vocalizations. These seizures can last for more than a minute, causing significant distress and fear for the gerbil, possibly leading to loss of consciousness. Grand mal seizures are rare but may have an impact on gerbil health, requiring special attention and timely intervention.

The Impact of Seizures on Gerbil Health

Physical Injuries: During grand mal seizures, gerbils may inadvertently cause harm to themselves due to intense movements, resulting in injuries like bumps, scratches, or even fractures. These injuries may lead to infections or bleeding, affecting their overall health. To mitigate this, it’s crucial to protect gerbils during seizures, minimizing the risk of further harm. After a seizure, inspect their bodies for wounds, promptly address any injuries, and seek veterinary assistance if necessary.

Dehydration and Malnutrition: Grand mal seizures can lead to significant loss of fluids and nutrients through sweating and heavy breathing, affecting gerbils’ metabolism and immune system. This may leave gerbils feeling weak and uncomfortable, impacting their growth and development. To counter this, provide gerbils with water and nutritious food during seizures, ensuring they recover strength. If needed, consult a vet for assistance.

Psychological Stress: Gerbils experiencing grand mal seizures may feel frightened and uneasy due to the lack of control over their bodies. These emotional responses can lead to nervousness and anxiety, affecting their behavior and temperament. To alleviate psychological stress during seizures, soothe gerbils by offering warmth and a sense of security. Gentle strokes or providing favorite toys can help them relax and feel content. If stress persists, consult a vet for guidance.

How to Handle Gerbil Seizures

Provide a Quiet, Stress-Free Environment: Gerbils are highly sensitive during seizures, requiring a calm and stress-free environment to navigate through the episode. Reduce external disturbances such as turning off the TV, music, and lights. Place their cage in a quiet, dark location, avoiding proximity to other animals or people. This creates a safe and comfortable space for gerbils during seizures.

Avoid Excessive Handling and Sudden Environmental Changes: Gerbils are unpredictable during seizures, and excessive handling or sudden environmental changes can exacerbate or prolong the episodes. Refrain from overly handling them, such as picking them up, shaking, or tapping, as it may intensify fear and discomfort, adding to their stress and pain. Additionally, steer clear of sudden environmental changes, such as introducing a new cage, toys, or food, to prevent heightened unease and nervousness, triggering seizures.

Monitor Seizure Frequency and Duration, Seek Vet Help When Necessary: When gerbils experience seizures, closely observe the frequency and duration, key indicators of the severity of the condition. Occasional seizures lasting less than a minute may not be a cause for excessive concern if proper care measures are taken. However, frequent seizures lasting more than a minute, or even several minutes, require special attention. This may indicate a more serious issue, necessitating timely veterinary assistance. Vets can conduct examinations and diagnostics to determine the cause and severity of gerbil seizures, providing appropriate treatment and medication to alleviate symptoms and improve their condition.

Preventive Measures to Reduce Seizures

Ensure a Stable Living Environment: Gerbils are highly sensitive to environmental changes. Providing a stable environment—maintaining consistent temperature, humidity, lighting, and minimizing noise and odors—reduces stress and the risk of seizures. Choose an appropriate cage, keep it clean, and place it in a warm, dry, quiet, and dark location, creating a conducive space for gerbils to rest and relax.

Offer Adequate Exercise and Proper Nutrition: Gerbils are active animals that require sufficient exercise to expend energy and promote overall health. Lack of exercise may lead to lethargy and obesity, increasing the risk of seizures. Provide engaging toys and opportunities for exploration, allowing gerbils to play and exercise freely. Additionally, offer a balanced diet with fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts to ensure they receive essential nutrients and hydration. Avoid foods containing sugar, salt, or caffeine, as these may impact their nervous and digestive systems, elevating the risk of seizures.

Minimize Handling During Gerbil’s Juvenile Stage: The critical growth period of 2-6 months is when gerbil’s nervous system is not fully mature, making them more susceptible to seizures. Excessive handling during this stage, such as frequent picking up, shaking, or tapping, can add unnecessary stress and stimuli, increasing the likelihood of seizures. Minimize handling during the juvenile stage, allowing gerbils to adapt to your scent and touch gradually. Lightly stroking or using fingers to touch them can foster a sense of safety and trust, reducing the probability of seizures and strengthening the bond between you and your gerbil.


Understanding the causes, types, impacts, and preventive measures for gerbil seizures is crucial for ensuring the health and happiness of your gerbil companions. I hope this article provides valuable insights to help you take better care of your gerbils, fostering a strong and positive relationship between you and your furry friends.

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