Gerbil epithelium

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Code: e209
Latin name: Meriones unguiculatus
Family: Cricetidae
Common names: Gerbil, Mongolian Gerbil, Sand Rat
The Mongolian Gerbil is the species commonly kept as a pet in homes and classrooms, but there are around 90 species of Gerbils and Jirds (Gerbils' relatives in the genus Meriones).
Direct or indirect contact with animal allergens frequently causes sensitisation. Animal allergens are major components in house and animal laboratory dust.

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution
This small rodent is found throughout the hot arid regions of Africa and Asia. Gerbils have large eyes, powerful, elongated hind limbs, and, unlike Rats and Mice, a fully furred tail, with a tuft at the end. Gerbils are 7.6 to 12.7cm long, excluding the tail, and are sandy, gray, brown, or reddish in color with white underparts. In recent years Gerbils have become popular as house pets. They are odorless, easy to raise, and usually gentle. Females may bear as many as 15 litters in a lifetime; each litter may contain up to 10 young. Because of the threat of escaped Gerbils breeding prolifically and becoming serious crop pests in a congenial climate with large food sources, their keeping is banned in some parts of the US.
They live in dry grasslands and desert fringes, or are kept as pets or laboratory animals.
No allergens from this animal have yet been characterised.

Potential Cross-Reactivity


Clinical Experience

IgE-mediated reactions
Asthma and allergic rhinitis may occur from exposure to Gerbils (1, 2) .
Nine cases of Gerbil allergy have been described in two publications, but the authors warn that allergy to Gerbil may be more common than is apparent. Typically, patients present with a persistent cough, intermittent dyspnoea and/or nocturnal wheezing. Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis may be present. Rhinitis and sneezing may be prominent symptoms. Onset of allergic illness may occur some years after a Gerbil is acquired as a pet, but once the illness is developed, symptoms occur rapidly following contact with the animal (1) .
Other reactions
Allergic alveolitis has been described (3).
Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman,


  1. McGivern D, Longbottom J, Davies D. Allergy to gerbils. Clin Allergy 1985;15(2):163-5
  2. Rudolph R. Frequency of animal sensitization. Proceedings 11th International Congress of Allergology and Clinical Immunology. Macmillam Press, London. 1983;437-444.
  3. Korenblat P, Slavin R, Marks E, Wenneker A. Gerbil keepers lung - a new form of hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Ann Allergy 1977;38:437


As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.