Gerbil and Degu Care In Temporary Shelters

DIET:  Feed gerbil or commercial rodent chow, either pellets or grain mix, daily.
Can use guinea pig or rabbit pellets, or Cheerios, in emergencies if no gerbil pellets are available. Dry or moistened dog or cat food is a last resort.
Offer a teaspoon of timothy hay, vegetables, or fruit daily. Degus need hay at all times.
Do not feed seeds, nuts, or dried fruits unless no other food is available.
Water must be available at all times in both bottle and bowl, watch for clogging of tube.

HOUSING: Minimum temperature 60 degrees, maximum 80 degrees. Move to indoor climate controlled facility if needed to prevent heat stroke over 80 degrees.
Use original cage if possible to decrease stress.  
Wire cages with maximum 1/2 bar spacing, aquariums with lids, or plastic totes at least 18 inches tall if there are no holes they can reach to chew and escape. 
Escape artists need extra latches on all potential escape routes.
Use bedding of paper towels, aspen or pine shavings, hay, or recycled or shredded paper. Clean out urine daily. Deep bedding to allow burrowing is preferred.
Do not use cedar shavings, corn cob, cat litter or straw as bedding. 
Provide a cardboard or commercial hiding box to decrease stress.
House alone or with same sex cage mate if no fighting is observed.

RESTRAINT: May bite, use gloves, will panic if approached from above.
Scoop from underneath, then use one hand over shoulders and one under hindquarters
Wrap in a towel like a burrito or place inside a small container like a cup.
Never lift or restrain by the tail.

COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS:  Overgrown teeth may cause drooling and loss of appetite.
Overgrown nails are common.
Wet tail, or diarrhea with staining of the fur near the anus can indicate a life threatening illness. Can result from stress, overcrowding, shipping, diet change, or various diseases. Requires immediate attention from an experienced exotic mammal veterinarian.
Never use antibiotics without consulting an experienced veterinarian to avoid toxicity.
Can catch cold viruses from humans!
Many gerbils may have brief seizures when handled, no treatment is needed.

OTHER:  Chewing on plastic is dangerous, provide cardboard paper towel tubes for chewing.
Fruit tree branches (not sprayed with pesticides) are safe chew toys.
Do not disturb female with babies, and do not place male with them.
An orange or tan bald spot on the abdomen can be normal.
Gerbil urine is normally very thick and the feces are very dry.

Compiled by Julie Burge, DVM, Burge Bird Services and Burge Bird Rescue, August 2016

Immediate Intake Care of Small, Unusual & Exotic Pets by Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary
Exotic Companion Medicine Handbook for Veterinarians by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Diplomat ABVP-Avian