Gerbil Chewed Dead Companion – Why?

We had two female gerbils, less than six months old. Last night, one of them was very listless, barely breathing, stumbling around the cage with her eyes closed. She would not eat or drink. This morning, she was dead, with a dime-sized hole in her side, around the right shoulder area. Her internal organs were visible, and her right front leg appeared to be gone - all that was left was a thin string of skin with the paw intact at the end. What happened?? My 9-year old is beside herself. Should we replace the gerbil? You mention how territorial they are and that females may have difficulty living together.

While I’m not exactly sure what happened to your deceased gerbil, it would seem likely that she was suffering from a severe condition that affected her coordination and ability to fend for herself. Since many conditions could cause this I can only speculate, but stroke, meningitis and epilepsy are some relatively common conditions which would eventually have resulted in these symptoms. I do not think that your gerbil was harmed by the other one.

With regards to how you found your gerbil the morning after she died, it is not as bad as it seems. Mot gerbil owners who keep pairs and have lost one will have experienced this, but probably to a lesser degree. For some reason gerbils gnaw and pull at their deceased companions. This usually results in the owner thinking that they were cannibalizing.

But while its probable that your gerbil did eat the parts of the other one which were missing, she will not have done so until the gerbil was dead, and some hypothesize that this is in an effort to revive the dead gerbil. You probably found that the she was also partly buried – another sign that gerbils respect their dead.

I’m not sure whether it would be a good idea to replace the gerbil. You are right that they are normally very territorial, but your gerbil is still young and may accept a younger female. If you are prepared to house them separately if need be, I think it might be worth a try.