Nasal Dermatitis (Sore Nose) of Gerbils
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith

Nasal dermatitis, also referred to as "sore nose," "facial eczema," or "facial dermatitis," is a very common skin condition of adult gerbils.

What causes nasal dermatitis?

Gerbils have a Harderian gland (close to the eye), which excretes substances called porphyrins. Porphyrins are thought to be a means of chemical communication between gerbils. The contents of Harderian glands are secreted onto the eyeball and then travel down the tear duct to the nose. Porphyrins can be very irritating to the skin around the nose. Stress, such as overcrowding or high humidity, may increase these secretions from the Harderian gland. Trauma to the nose from burrowing may also contribute to the development of this disease. The irritated and traumatized skin becomes susceptible to bacterial infections, and nasal dermatitis results.

What are the signs of nasal dermatitis?

The first signs of nasal dermatitis are a loss of hair and the formation of crusts on the nose, near the nostrils. Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva) with increased drainage from the eyes can also occur. The lesions may spread to the rest of the face, paws, and even the abdomen. The lesions may begin to look moist and ooze.

How is nasal dermatitis diagnosed?

The diagnosis by the veterinarian is made through examination of the cage and the animal. Other causes of hair loss and/or crusty lesions, such as ringworm, need to be ruled out.

How is nasal dermatitis treated?

If the condition is severe, antibiotics are given to treat the bacterial infection. The cage environment is improved through reducing overcrowding, maintaining proper humidity (less than 50%), and using less abrasive substrate (using sand instead of wood chips). The gerbil's face should be cleaned gently with a mild disinfectant, making sure to protect the eyes.

References and Further Reading

Donnelly, TM. Disease problems of small rodents. In Quesenberry, KE; Carpenter JW. (eds.) Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 2004.

Harkness, JE; Wagner, JE. The Biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents. Williams & Wilkins. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 1989.

Keeble, E. Gerbils. In Meredith, A; Redrobe, S. (eds.) British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) Manual of Exotic Pets, Fourth Edition. BSAVA. Quedgeley, Gloucester, England; 2002.

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