Q: My gerbil, Sparkles, has had a tumor on his scent gland for more than a month. He is approximately 2½ years old. We have been giving him antibiotics for 25 days, but he doesn’t seem all that better. Do you think we should put him down because of his age? We’ve tried to wash him off every day, but it isn’t easy. Should we spend the money on the operation at this point, or put him down? We love him dearly.
A: Unfortunately, tumors near or associated with the scent gland in gerbils are common. They can become raw, red and infected. For that reason, these masses are treated with antibiotics and sometimes an anti-inflammatory medication to help with the discomfort these can cause.
By just looking at a tumor, it is very difficult to almost impossible to determine the type of neoplasia that is causing the changes in the scent gland. It is important to know which type of cancer is present before deciding on the best course of action. In some cases, removal of the tumor cures the disease. But if the tumor has already spread (metastasized) or if the tumor is part of a generalized organ system, such as a vascular system, then removing this one mass will not help your gerbil very much; it will not slow the spread of disease.
I would speak with your veterinarian about the next step to take for your gerbil. It could be that removal and biopsy are exactly what is recommended. Perhaps removal is not going to be helpful, but other methods might control the discomfort your gerbil may be feeling.
If you are not sure about surgery, and if you believe you should euthanize your gerbil, that is a very personal decision that is rarely ever easy. In general, I suggest that a pet owner is typically the best judge of when it is time to euthanize. If you believe that your gerbil can no longer do the daily things that gerbils do — such as eat, drink and exercise — and if your gerbil spends most of its time sleeping, then it might be time to discuss the decision to euthanize with family members and your veterinarian.