Posted: September 27, 2008, 5 a.m. EDT
Q: We have two female gerbils. Within the last 10 days we noticed that one of our gerbils is very lethargic and had some reddish secretion from her eyes. We chose to just watch her because she was still eating and drinking somewhat normally. She now seems to be even more lethargic and stumbles a bit when she walks. We've also noticed that she either doesn't want to open her eyes or can't. We don't know which. She doesn't seem to be getting better, but doesn't seem to be getting significantly worse either. She's paired with one of her litter mates, and they both are about 2 years old. Her litter mate seems to be doing well, although we've been a little concerned that the disease may be transmittable to the other gerbil, or worse, to one of the family members or other pets. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Everything you mentioned is possible. Your gerbil may have an internal disease that is not transmissible to the other gerbil or to family members, but she could have an infection that can spread to other animals or people. There is no way to know from this description.
The signs you are seeing tell us that your gerbil is so sick she is too weak to move around correctly or even open her eyes. She is probably undernourished and dehydrated secondary to what is making her sick and not eating and drinking just makes her sicker – a very viscous cycle.
If you have a veterinarian who will see gerbils, consider taking her there right away. At the hospital, they can give her fluids with electrolytes that, if nothing else, will make her feel much better. If it is appropriate, they can also give antibiotics.