Tail Slip in Gerbils

Catherine Gose, CVT
By Catherine Gose, CVT. Reviewed by Melissa Witherell, DVM on May 22, 2023
Gerbil held in cage

In This Article


What is Tail Slip in Gerbils?

Tail slip in gerbils occurs when there is an injury or trauma to the tail. The injury can cause the skin of the tail to pull away from the underlying muscle and bone. The gerbil may lose part or all of their tail, which will not re-grow. Tail slip is not very common and can be avoided by practicing proper handling techniques and providing a safe enclosure.

Symptoms of Tail Slip in Gerbils

Hair loss: The first sign of tail slip is often subtle and appears as a bald spot or hair loss on the tail.

Loose skin: Soon after, the skin of the tail may become loose because the underlying connective tissue is damaged.

Exposed tissue: Because the loose skin is separated from the normal blood supply, it will begin to die and can fall off, leaving the muscles and bones of the tail exposed.

Infection: Without the protective cover of the skin, the gerbil's exposed tail tissue can become infected and start to decay.

Causes of Tail Slip in Gerbils

Tail slip in gerbils is a built-in defense mechanism. When a predator in nature chases a gerbil and grabs their tail, the skin will come off, but the gerbil survives and escapes to freedom.

As pets, the most common reason gerbils lose their tails is improper handling. An adult gerbil's tail is approximately four inches long, and because gerbils are so fast it can be tempting to grab them by their tail. However, it is important to always use your hands to scoop up your gerbil. Never pick up a gerbil by their tail.

Gerbils are communal animals and are usually happiest living in the company of other gerbils. However, occasional fighting can happen, resulting in bite wound on the tail.

Tail injuries can also occur within your gerbil's cage. Ensure the exercise wheel is solid, such as the Kaytee Silent Spinner Small Animal Wheel, as a gerbil's tail will often get caught in wire or mesh exercise wheels. Inspect your gerbil's cage regularly, looking for sharp edges or other hazards that may cause injury.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Tail Slip in Gerbils

While tail loss itself is not fatal for a gerbil, the resulting infection can enter the bloodstream and cause sepsis. Sepsis (a system wide bacterial infection) can kill a small animal within days. Therefore, it is vital to have a veterinarian examine your gerbil at the first sign of a tail injury. During the physical exam, the veterinarian will assess the gerbil's overall health and check for other possible causes of hair loss. In some cases, a skin scraping test may be recommended to rule out skin mites. Be prepared to discuss your gerbil's diet and general care at home as poor nutrition or husbandry can also lead to hair loss.

Treatment of Tail Slip in Gerbils

Once other health issues have been ruled out and the veterinarian diagnoses a tail injury, the treatment is often to amputate part or all of the tail. Amputation will prevent infection from spreading to the body and also prevent further trauma from the gerbil chewing at the injured site. The veterinarian will likely prescribe an oral antibiotic to address infection and prevent sepsis.

Recovery and Management of Tail Slip in Gerbils

If you notice a tail injury on your gerbil, immediately separate him from other animals in a clean tank with plenty of soft bedding such as Carefresh small animal bedding. Avoid wood-based bedding as it can harbor bacteria and contribute to infection. This same set up can then be used as a recovery cage after your gerbil is treated.

Call your veterinarian and ask if they can examine your gerbil and assess his tail injury. Many animal hospitals only see cats and dogs, so be sure to find an exotic pet veterinarian that is knowledgeable about gerbils.  

It is important to limit physical activity while recovering from a tail injury. Do not allow access to exercise wheels, tunnels, ramps, or ladders. Ensure bedding is clean, and food and water are easily available. You will likely have to administer a liquid antibiotic into your gerbil’s mouth with a syringe twice a day. Other than giving medications, keep handling of your gerbil to a minimum to reduce stress and allow him to rest. Once medications are finished and your gerbil is healed, he can return to his regular enclosure.

Tail Slip in Gerbils FAQs

Can a gerbil regrow its tail?

Unfortunately, gerbils do not regrow their tails. Most gerbils adapt quickly and live a normal life.

Can you pick up gerbils by the tail?

Gerbils should never be picked up by their tail. Instead, scoop your gerbil in your hands when handling them.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Coral Hernandez

Catherine Gose, CVT


Catherine Gose, CVT

Veterinarian Technician

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