Q: I have had my two gerbils now for two years, a male and female. They have been breeding little pups for that long as well. All has gone OK until about the past six months. The female gerbil is having smaller litters and it seems her babies are dying at about 3 weeks after birth. They start stumbling around looking very skinny, and within a few days I find them dead and buried. I thought this was caused by respiratory problems at first, because I heard a clicking noise, so I changed the bedding to aspen but it is still happening. Is the mom gerbil possibly getting too old to make healthy babies? I see the babies suckling quite often, but is it possible she is just not producing the milk anymore? I am just torn up about what I need to do to ensure our gerbil’s health and the health of her pups.
A: I think you have correctly diagnosed this problem. A female gerbil that has been producing multiple litters for about two years is probably at the point that she can no longer support the growth of healthy babies. Because the babies make it to about 3 weeks of age, as you say, there is a good chance the deaths are due to a decrease in milk production problem. She physically may not be able to produce enough milk to last the entire weaning process. Or the milk she does produce cannot support an entire litter, so all of the babies receive inadequate amounts of milk. Or, just as likely, the milk no longer contains the proper nutrients and/or immunoglobins to support healthy babies.
It is also possible that she is producing young that have insufficient immune systems, and once the immunoglobins the mom transfers to the babies wears off, their own immune system is too weak to maintain their health and they start dying at around 3 weeks of age.
No matter what the cause, whether it be improper milk production or genetically inferior pups, this is a problem you cannot easily correct. The best answer is to allow your female gerbil to live the rest of her life without the constant pressure of producing more babies. She will be both healthier and probably happier.