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If Your Gerbil is Allergic

You probably knew that humans can be allergic to gerbils, among a variety of other things, but did you know that gerbils can have allergies too? Don’t worry—they’re not usually allergic to humans! But whether it’s you being allergic to pollen in the spring or your gerbil allergic to something in her food, you can be sure you’re both going to feel miserable until you take steps to prevent or treat the allergy.

There are three primary allergies in gerbils: allergies to wood shavings, food and inhalant/contact materials. Let’s take a look at the causes, symptoms and treatment for each:

Allergies to Wood Shavings

Cedar shavings are a primary culprit in the area of gerbil allergies. Because of their natural odor-masking qualities, cedar is a popular choice from the human point of view, but it may cause the following symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Skin irritation
  • Runny eyes
  • Fur loss
  • Irritated feet
  • Upset stomach

Since your gerbil does need shavings, one choice for treatment include going to pine shavings, which seem to be less allergenic, but not completely allergen free. The best choice would be to replace wood shavings with paper-based ones instead.

Food Allergies

As much as she loves to eat, your gerbil’s food may not love her; she may be allergic to an ingredient in her food. The primary sources of food allergens for gerbils are high-energy foods, such as oats, corn and maize.

The symptom to watch for is scratching. Food allergies go straight to your gerbil’s skin, irritating it and causing her to scratch excessively.

To determine which food is the cause of the reaction, feed your gerbil a plain diet, such as dog biscuits, for a few days. If she begins to improve, you’ll know you have a food allergy on your hands, and you can begin to trace the source. Try introducing one of the potential problem foods back into her diet. If she reacts, then she’s allergic to it, and permanently removing that food from her diet will be all the treatment she’ll need.

Inhalant/Contact Allergies

These are airborne allergens that your gerbil either inhales or comes into contact with by having them settle in her fur or in her cage. The materials that cause your gerbil to react to her environment include dust, bedding material or cage cleaner.

Symptoms of inhalant/contact allergies include:

  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Skin irritation
  • Runny eyes
  • Fur loss
  • Irritated stomach and feet (in the case of cage cleaner allergies)

The first step in treating these types of allergies is to remove the bedding from her cage and replace it with paper tissue, as well as trying a different cage cleaner. If significant changes in her cage cleaning routines don’t improve her health within a few days, it’s time to look at the larger picture. Move her cage to a different room to see if she improves there, which indicates a problem allergen in the previous room. It may be that the original room has more dust or a buildup of the chemicals in the cage cleaner, and round-the-clock exposure is making your gerbil ill.

Fortunately, gerbil allergies are easily treated once pinpointed. It’s all a matter of remove and replace—and your gerbil will thank you for it.