By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
My grandson has a gerbil that is losing hair. I don’t know if it is pulling it out or it is falling out. I lean toward pulling, as it seems he is also pulling some of the skin (no bleeding just very raw) off has well. Any suggestions? He doesn’t act sick other than losing his fur.
You bring up an extremely important topic. When there is hair loss in a gerbil (or any of our small mammal patients), it is of utmost importance to determine if the hair loss is because the hair is falling out or because the pet is pulling it out.
Why does this make such a huge difference? The list of diseases that lead to hair falling out on its own versus being pulled out are very different. Veterinarians, once they have listened to the history and finished their physical examination, come up with a list of possible diseases and then act upon that list. The more we can narrow that list, the quicker we can figure out the cause of disease.
When I hear of hair being pulled out, I think of many behavior causes, territorial fights, itchiness and dietary deficiencies. When I hear about hair falling out on its own, I consider many different types of endocrine diseases, poor skin health, even cancer.
A visit to your veterinarian with your gerbil (and bring some of the loose hairs) can usually get you an answer. A veterinarian can do two simple tests to tell you which is occurring — if the hair is falling out on its own or if it is being pulled out by the gerbil. First, a veterinarian will very gently pull on a few of the hairs on your gerbil and if the hair is coming out on its own, the hair will come right off with no pain experienced by your gerbil. The second test is to look at some of the loose hairs that you bring in under the microscope. By looking at the ends of the hairs under a microscope, your veterinarian can tell if the hair has been chewed or fell out on its own.