Posted: December 27, 2009, 5 a.m. EST
Q: Our two female gerbils died last night. Out of the blue, they were dead in their cage. The only unusual activity I noticed was that they were drinking a lot the last week; they were otherwise active and seemed normal. Three weeks ago we had company over and a 2-year-old boy let the gerbils out of the cage. The cat had one of the gerbils in his mouth, but we never saw any puncture wounds and the other gerbil was not touched that we know of. Could this have had something to do with it? We want to get new gerbils, but before I do that I'd like to figure out what happened to these two.
A: I’m sorry to hear about your loss. The only way to know exactly how and why your gerbils died is to have brought them to your veterinarian as soon as you found them dead. Your vet could have performed a necropsy (called autopsy in people) and that may have given you some clues as to the cause of death.
Frequently, veterinarians need to send off pieces of tissue from a pet’s body to get the final answer on what caused its death.
It is unlikely that the cat caused a problem, because you did not see any puncture wounds and only one gerbil was touched by the cat.
Is it possible there is rat or mouse poison in your house that the gerbils got into when they were out of the cage? Are there any other toxins they could have been exposed to while they were roaming free? That said, three weeks is a long time between roaming free in the house and then succumbing to something toxic in the environment.
I do not have a solid answer for you, and I am sorry about the loss of your gerbils. I would say that you should consider getting new gerbils, but make sure the food, the cage, the toys and anything that the gerbils will be in contact with is either new or has been thoroughly cleaned.
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