Irritation of the Face and Nose in Gerbils

Porphyrin Deposits in Gerbils

Porphyrin is a pigment, a component of blood cells that functions to bind metal in the blood cells such as iron and magnesium). It is also recognized for being the major component in the the coloring of blood, as porphyrin is a deep purple pigment. In gerbils, in times of stress, the unbound porphyrin can leave deposits in the tear ducts, causing red colored stains around the eyes and nose as the tinted tear fluid leaves the eyes. These stains are often mistaken for blood, and must be differentiated.

Porphyrin deposits cause skin irritation and the gerbil may scratch incessantly to relieve the itching. The causes for porphyrin deposits are related to stress and nutrition, which can generally be easily remedied, but complications can arise due to secondary bacterial infections that result from scratching at the skin until it is bleeding, leaving open sores.

Symptoms and Types

  • Reddish-brown deposits of porphyrin around the eyes and nostrils (may be mistaken for blood)
  • Skin irritation
  • Constant scratching of the face
  • Hair loss on the affected area
  • Red and inflamed skin around the face
  • Scabs/sores on the face
  • Bleeding from sores due to severe scratching
  • Secondary infections of the sores


  • Environment stress – not comfortable due to location; sudden move in location; temperature (too high or low) or light related
  • Humidity higher than 50 percent in the living area
  • Nutritional deficiency
  • Underlying illness
  • Inability to get along with cage mates – due to either incompatibility or aggression
  • Overcrowding – cage is not large enough, or there are too many gerbils in the same living space


Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your gerbil, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible underlying or environmental conditions that might have led to this condition. You will need to provide a thorough history of your gerbil’s health leading up to the onset of symptoms. If secondary skin infection is present due to scratching induced sores, your veterinarian will need to take fluid and tissue samples for bacterial cultures in order to identify the specific bacteria for treatment.


Something that is related to the whole body and not just one particular part or organ


A passage in the body with walls

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