Contagious Bacterial Disease Due to Salmonella in Gerbils

By PetMD Editorial on Jul. 19, 2010

Salmonellosis in Gerbils

Salmonellosis is a contagious disease caused by infection with the Salmonella bacterium. It is quite rare in pet gerbils and is usually spreads due to the ingestion of food or water that has been contaminated with the infected feces or urine of wild rodents. Infected bedding material can also act as a potential source for transmission of salmonellosis disease in gerbils.

An infected gerbil that is being treated for salmonellosis may still continue to infect other animals even thought it does not appear to be sick. It is important to note that this disease has known zoonotic potential, and an infected gerbil can act as a source for the spread of salmonellosis to humans as well. Hence, salmonellosis needs to be managed with caution.

Treatment is generally not effective for the control of salmonellosis. Taking steps to prevent the spread of this bacterial infection is the best way to manage salmonellosis in gerbils.

Finally, infected gerbils can act as potential sources for the spread of salmonellosis infection to each other, and to humans as well, making this a disease with zoonotic potential. Hence this condition should be managed with caution, with disposable medical grade gloves used for cleaning and handling all things gerbil related (including the gerbil itself), sanitizing or disposing of all gerbil equipment and bedding, and care taken when going from the gerbil to other gerbils, people, or even to other animals.

Symptoms and Types

Salmonellosis is often fatal for gerbils. The symptoms which may be observed prior to it becoming severe include:

  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • Rough hair coat
  • Distended abdomen
  • Diarrhea and resulting weight loss
  • Miscarriage (in pregnant gerbils)


Ultimately it is the Salmonella bacteria that causes this condition. It is typically transmitted through the ingestion of food or water that has been contaminated by the feces of infected animals or insects. However, bedding and other materials in the gerbil's cage may also be contaminated by infected insects or wild rodents.


You will need to provide a thorough history of your gerbil's health leading up to the onset of symptoms. Observing the clinical symptoms exhibited by the infected gerbil will help your veterinarian to make a tentative diagnosis, but laboratory work will be necessary for making a confirmed diagnosis. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile and a urinalysis. Collecting fecal samples for culturing will also be necessary for identifying the bacterial species that is responsible for the bacterial infection. Only then will your veterinarian be able to conclusively identify the Salmonella bacterium as the underlying cause for your gerbil's condition.


Unfortunately, treatment is not an effective option for salmonellosis. Broad-spectrum antibiotic drugs may be used in some cases, but mainly, supportive therapy with fluids and electrolyte supplements are the only medicines administered to gerbils suffering from mild cases of salmonellosis.

Living and Management

Segregate any gerbil that has been affected with salmonellosis from other animals. Take special care in disinfecting and discarding cage and bedding materials, and in preventing incidental spreading of the bacteria by wearing medical grade disposable gloves. Food dishes and any other climbing or exercise equipment will also need to be thoroughly cleaned, and toys will need to be discarded if they cannot be properly sanitized .

While recovering from the infection, your pet gerbil will be very weak and require an isolated area to rest. To assist in the recovery, consult with your veterinarian as to the best diet during this period.


Salmonellosis infection is highly contagious and is mainly transmitted through the ingestion of food and water that has been contaminated with infected feces and/or urine. Therefore, properly cleaning the cages regularly and removing any feces and urine, along with changing soiled bedding material routinely, are essential. As much as possible, try to avoid housing gerbils of different age groups together, and keep your gerbils in a place where wild rodents cannot gain access to your pet’s cage. Following these simple steps will go a long way toward preventing the spread of salmonellosis infection in your gerbils.

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