Nasal Dermatitis in Gerbils Explained
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Nasal Dermatitis in Gerbils Explained

Gerbils are native to extremely dry and arid areas of the world and not at all used to humid conditions in which they are often kept as pets. Gerbils are fun creatures to have around, they're always busy and can be quite comical. In the wild, they never stop burrowing in the dry soil and sand found in their natural habitats. As such health issues like nasal dermatitis does not naturally happen that often. The condition can be very painful, especially when the nose gets really sore, red and infected.

What To Look Out For

As with any illness or health problem, the earlier it's discovered the better chance there is of treating it without causing too much stress and discomfort to a pet. Which is why discovering the cause of nasal dermatitis and eliminating what might be causing it from your gerbil's environment is crucial.

However, it's really important to treat the pet's condition with the right kind of medication prescribed by a vet as soon as you spot there's a problem. Your vet would more than likely prescribe an antibiotic cream if it's needed because gerbils don't tolerate oral antibiotics that well. The antibiotic cream when rubbed on will be an affective way of dealing with any external infection.

The Early Signs of Nasal Dermatitis

Catching the onset of nasal dermatitis early prevents it from spreading into the animal's mouth, to its front legs and chest. This does usually happen if the gerbil is not treated with the right kind of veterinary treatment and leads to all sorts of other health issues, including malnutrition and dehydration.

The very first signs you'll notice is that your pet will start to lose fur at the top of their noses resulting in a bald patch that gets sore quite quickly. As the skin breaks down you may notice a crusty type of spot developing. If untreated, the infection spreads rapidly to your pet's nose and mouth, often resulting in bleeding. This is apparent in your pet's nasal mucus discharge.

Because your pet will feel extremely uncomfortable, they will try to groom themselves more than usual which just makes the problem even worse. However, the next stage is a bacterial infection that's really hard to treat, which is why the earlier the symptoms are treated the better the outcome.

What Causes Nasal Dermatitis?

Although there can be several reasons why a gerbil catches nasal dermatitis, all the causes are pretty easy to prevent from happening again further down the line once they have recovered from it. Below are a few causes of nasal dermatitis:

  • Gerbils love chewing on things and may have been gnawing at the bars on their cage. If they continue to do this for any length of time, the repetitive action rubs the fur found at the top of their noses resulting in a bare patch with a sore soon developing that's very painful
  • Your pet gerbil might be allergic to the bedding you're using. Some woods, like cedar or pine contain oils that are too strong for smaller animals to cope with, so they should never be used as bedding
  • It could be that your pet has been a little too busy burrowing. Some gerbils get a little over enthusiastic about burrowing when kept in captivity and as a result they could have rubbed their noses very raw on the bottom of their cages as they continually try to burrow down
  • Lastly, it could be your pet has a problem with their Harderian gland which is a gland that secretes a fluid many animals including gerbils, rub all over their faces with their front paws when they are grooming themselves. If a gerbil doesn't groom themselves enough or the gland is over active, this fluid drains into the animal's nose. The result is the fluid builds up around the nostrils which then remains damp and eventually a sore develops

The problem can really start if any bacteria gets into the sore which then causes a more serious infection that can spread really fast. Because gerbils are so intolerant to antibiotics and the need to keep the infected area clean can be challenging which means it can be hard to treat the condition if it gets to this stage.

Prevention Rather Than Cure!

It is far better to keep a watchful eye on your pet because nasal dermatitis is a very painful condition and if not treated quickly can seriously affect your pet's general health. Your gerbil may soon stop eating and drinking because it hurts too much for them to do so. This naturally results in sudden weight loss as well as dehydration.

As soon as you do notice there's a problem, you need to do two things. First, get your pet to the vet and second to find out the root cause of the problem and put it right. Some allergies may raise their ugly heads out of the blue, but this is very rarely the case with gerbils.

Finding the Right Solution

If your pet gerbil just won't stop chewing and gnawing on the bars of their cage, then the best solution is to invest in a gerbil tank instead. Another important thing to do is offer your pet lots of toys they can chew on and play around with in their cages. The toys will alleviate any boredom your pet may be experiencing and will keep their teeth in much better condition too.

If the condition is being caused by constant burrowing, it may be that your pet is searching for an escape from bright light or a draft. Just by moving the cage to a darker area in the house might solve the problem. Another idea is to create lots of tunnels for your pet to use, or you can buy ready made ones from most good pet shops.

However, if the problem is being caused by the Harderian gland, the solution is not as simple to resolve. You can have the gland surgically removed, but the operation is a difficult procedure which means the majority of vets won't even attempt it.

Offering your pet a sand bath in their cages is another very effective way of encouraging gerbils to groom themselves. As a bonus it would also lower the humidity levels that might be contributing to the problem.

What's the Prognosis?

Although not considered a life threatening condition in itself, nasal dermatitis is a very painful condition for your pet to have to go through. As long as you get your gerbil to the vet as soon as you notice there is a problem, they will be able to easily treat the condition with an antibiotic cream before it spreads anywhere else on the body. As such early detection and treatment is crucial for your pet to make a full and speedy recovery.

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