Make Surgery More Safe and Less Scary

Maine Coon kitten

Oh wow! Anesthesia can be so scary! How do you know your pet is going to be ok? Will they wake up? How does a pet owner make certain their pet is receiving the safest surgical care possible?

What you should look for:

  • Take a tour of the facility. Check out the surgical suites. Do they have up to date anesthetic machines, monitoring and warming equipment?
  • Do they stress the importance of pre-surgical bloodwork? Pre-anesthetic testing is what determines if your pet has health problems that would make anesthesia unsafe or if they require special anesthetic drug protocols.
  • What type of anesthesia is used? There is a huge difference between cheap injectable first generation anesthetics and the newer generation of drugs and inhalants that can be specifically tailored to an individual animal’s needs.
  • What kind of staff do they employ? Are the surgical staff highly trained Veterinary Technicians or poorly paid lay persons who learn their trade on the job and with your pet? The best equipment in the world is no good if there is no one who understands what the readings mean.
  • Do they have complete monitoring systems in place? This should include heart rate, blood pressure, carbon dioxide levels, oxygen levels, respiration, body temperature.
  • Do they employ intravenous catheters, IV fluids and endotracheal tubes needed to control blood pressure, oxygen and anesthetic delivery? Or do they use an injectable anesthetic and hope for the best?
  • Do they keep their staff up to date through continuing education? Technology is improving and changing all the time. Make sure the clinic you use keeps their staff current and well trained.
  • Is it clean? Does the clinic smell clean? Believe it or not there are clinics that will use the same surgical pack on more than one animal. Are all the instruments, including those used in dentistry sterilized after each procedure?
  • Is there a good pain management protocol in place? Or will your pet lay in a kennel with no relief once surgery is complete.

What you can do to make anesthesia safer for your pet:

  • Make certain that your veterinarian is aware of all medications, supplements and over the counter drugs your pet is receiving. Then follow their instructions about how and what to administer before anesthesia.
  • Don’t feed your pet if your veterinarian tells you not to. Ignoring this can cause vomiting and aspiration pneumonia. Conversely, if you have an exotic pet, feed them if you are instructed to do so. They have different requirements than dogs and cats.
  • Tell your veterinarian if your pet has ever had any reaction to any type of medication. If your pet has a seizure disorder or is diabetic, please make sure to share this information. This is especially important if you are new to the practice.
  • Don’t let your pet become overweight. It makes anesthesia much less safe.
  • Make sure your pet stays healthy by staying up to date on all routine health care.
  • Don’t wait too long to spay or neuter. Large, overweight females that have been through several heat cycles are every veterinarians least favorite surgical patient. Everything is bigger, with more surrounding fat, more friable, harder to ligate and more prone to bleeding.
  • If you’re not sure, ask questions. We don’t mind.

The Amazing Truth About Rabbits

Bunny Collage

 

 

  1. Rabbits belong to the order Lagomorph along with hares and pikas (looks like a big mouse).

  2. However, rabbits are the most similar to horses in that they have continually growing teeth, almost 360 degree vision, one way digestion (they can’t throw up) and a similar diet. However, at an average of 11oo pounds, horses are a little larger.

  3. Rabbits come in many different sizes. The largest rabbit recorded is Darius. He weighed 50 pounds and is 4 feet, 3 inches tall. Columbia River Pygmy rabbits are some of the smallest, barely reaching a pound at adulthood.

  4. Rabbits are very quiet animals which makes them great pets for apartment dwellers but a happy rabbit will sometimes make a lovely humming sound.

  5. A REALLY happy rabbit will “binky”. This behavior involves lots of running, jumping and spinning.

  6. Rabbits generally live 6 – 10 years but we have seen a few 12 year olds at Animal Family. The oldest rabbit recorded according to Guinness was “Do” a Mini-lop who reached the ripe old age of 17.

  7. Did you know that it was rabbits legendary ability to reproduce (in a single year one rabbit can produce over 800 children, grandchildren and great grandchildren) is how they became associated with fertility and spring. Yep, that’s where the idea of the Easter Bunny came from.

  8. Rabbits have very fragile skeletons and must be handled gently

  9. Rabbits have two different kinds of poop. The hard little pellets you see in the cage and the softer cecotropes. Cecotropes are rich in nutrients so rabbits actually eat them to capture all the nutrients. Gross but efficient. The regular poop is a great fertilizer for your garden.

  10. Rabbit pregnancies last from 28 – 31 days. The average litter size is 6 – 10 kits

  11. Girl rabbits are called does. Boy rabbits are called Bucks. Just like dogs and cats, rabbits can be spayed and neutered.

  12. Rabbits prefer a companion.

  13. Rabbits are very trainable. Not only can they learn to use a litter pan but they can also do other tricks. Some people have rabbit races where bunny athletes compete over jumps.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qM9YWm6T_hc

  14. Rabbits like to dig. Even pet rabbits enjoy a safe area to dig and a place to hide.

  15. Rabbits can jump up to 36 inches. Hares can jump even further.

  16. Rabbits have 28 teeth 

  17. Rabbits are scary fast. They can reach up to 30-40 mph.

  18. Rabbits also have very fast heart rates. Most we record at Animal family are in the 200-300 range.

  19. Rabbits require grooming. 

  20. Rabbits make AWESOME pets. They can be found at shelters, pet stores and from private breeders. Remember, just as you should with any other pet, do your research before you get a bunny.

An Exotic Pets Primer

Animal Family_iStock_000056319428_LargeMaybe a dog or cat just isn’t your style. Worry not; you may be one of the many Americans who enjoys exotic pet ownership. Whether it be a rabbit, ferret, parrot, or lizard, exotic pet ownership is more popular than ever.

Animal Family Veterinary Care Center is your resource to learn all you need to know about exotic pets and their care. Keep reading to find out of exotic pet ownership is for you. Continue…

Birds and Biting

 

 

Ask any bird owner and they will probably tell you that the most serious bird behavior problem is biting This is especially true with the larger birds whose strong jaw and hooked bills can inflict considerable damage and pain.  Most biting behaviors can be classified as fear, aggression, territorial, conditioned or mate related.

Fear Biters:

When most birds were wild caught, fear biting was a bigger problem.  Today, most birds are raised in captivity.  However, birds that have been raised with little human interaction in captivity will still have fear problems.  Finally, even birds that are hand reared and more acclimated to human beings can still develop fear related behaviors.  Some, such as African Grays, seem to be naturally more cautious and fearful around humans.

Fear biters can be recognized by their attachment to the cage.  They are unwilling to leave that safe environment and when approached, may run away from or scoot past your hand.  They get very stressed when handled and may squawk, fight, and even pant.  Excessive wing trims and the inevitable clumsiness and falls that accompany them are a good way to create a fear biter.  Careful trims and lots of treats and patient handling can sometimes help a fear biter become more social.

Conditioned Biters:

Birds are highly intelligent and will learn to manipulate their owner quickly.  An owner who withdraws their hand the first time a bird offers to bite will condition the animal to bite to get their way.  Not surprisingly, the bigger the bird, the more common the problem seems to be. As with many other species of animals, if you don’t appear to be in control, birds will be more than happy to take over.

Conditioned biters need to have their wings trimmed both figuratively and literally. In addition, they should never be allowed to ride on the owners shoulder.  One way to prevent this behavior is to place a towel on the shoulder and use that to safely remove the bird if needed.  If you are too afraid to offer a hand, than gloves or a perch should be used to practice step up without biting.  Do not hit the bird on the beak.  Instead, redirect biting behavior by giving another command which can be rewarded when obeyed.  If the owner is unable to establish control, the bird may have to be rehomed.

Territorial Biters:

These are the birds that defend their cage by biting.  Territorial aggression should occur only when the bird is in or on the cage.  Consistent training and handling are an important step in curing this type of biting.  More time spent with the owner and less time in the cage will help as well.  Use of a separate cage for night time sleeping and daytime play can also be helpful.

Bonded Biters:

Many birds bond closely with one person in the family.  They may consider this person to be their mate and behave aggressively if they feel other family members are competing for “their” person.  Again, training and consistent handling by all family members will help to decrease bond related biting.  Unpleasant jobs should be done by the favorite and treats doled out by others. Again, these birds should be kept off the shoulder. Play is good but too much cuddling can be misinterpreted.

Grumpy Biters:

Just like us, birds need to get a good night’s rest.  A bird kept up late watching television, could turn into a tired, grumpy biter.  Birds need to have at least 10 hours a day in a dark, quiet room. Owners need to keep that in mind when deciding where to place their bird’s cage.

Remember, if the biting is extreme, use gloves, perches or towels. Also, changing established negative behaviors requires plenty of time, patience, confidence and consistency on the part of the handler.  In the worst cases, where the owner is unable to establish a safe relationship, a new home may be the best choice for everyone.

Reptile Husbandry Series

 

As much as we love our four legged, furry friends, sometimes it’s fun to go off the beaten path in our pet ownership journey. You’re heading to the pet store to pick up some food for Fido when you run into the Herps/Reptiles section and see this adorable pile of bearded dragons or the cutest little snake in the corner (yes…snakes can be cute).  You think to yourself, “How freakin’ awesome would it be to have a little dinosaur of my own? How hard can it be…they just hang out in their cage and bask on rocks!” While I’m in full agreement with the dinosaur love, it’s also important to know what you’re getting yourself into! As a new reptile owner (proud new owner of an adorable ball python named Kreacher), I began to delve into the depths of reptile husbandry and realized that information isn’t as easy to find as one may think. I decided for the next few blog entries to give some us scale lovin’ folks some direction. 

Let’s start out with one of my favorite, docile, legless friends, the ball python.

Natural history: Ball pythons (Python regius) can be found in the forests of Central and Western Africa, on the ground or in the trees. Typically they are active at dawn and dusk (Crepuscular). They earned their name from their tendency to curl themselves up into a tight coil when they’re nervous, hiding their heads in the center of the coil. There are several different morphs or color patterns, but you may need to find a reputable breeder if you’re looking for a very specific type!

The facts and stats:

  • Body length: 36-48 inches
  • Body weight: Variable with length, age
  • Maximum life span: 50 years
  • Average captive life span: 20-30 years
  • Daytime temperature: 80-85 F
  • Nighttime temperature: 75 F minimum
  • Humidity: 60-80%
  • Hot spot (basking area): 90 F

Unique features:  Pythons (and boas) are equipped with anal spurs near the cloaca. These are said to be remnants of hind limbs that snakes lost during their evolution from lizards. The cloaca is a common exit of the urinary, digestive, and reproductive tract. In the wild, ball pythons consume a variety of prey including amphibians, lizards, other snakes, birds, and small mammals. Young ball pythons will typically grow a foot during the first there years. Snakes only have 3 chambers in their heart (us humans have 4) and one main functional lung (the other lung is present, but doesn’t work as hard as its partner!).

Husbandry: What do I need and why?

  • Smaller, young snakes tend to do well house in 10 or 20 gallon aquariums. As your snake grows, he/she may need an upgrade to a larger enclosure. Many owners custom build enclosures as their snake gets larger. Pet stores tend to have example set ups for you to see, or you can come in and visit our corn snake, Checkers, to check out her enclosure!
  • Bedding material should be easy to clean and nontoxic to your snake. Newspaper, butcher paper, paper towels, or Astroturf are recommended. When using Astroturf, buy 2 pieces and cut to fit in the bottom of the cage, this way you’ll always have a clean piece to change out.  Clean soiled areas with soap and water or other mild cleaners (ask your veterinarian for cleaning advice!).   AVOID SAND, GRAVEL, WOOD SHAVINGS (CEDAR, ASPEN, PINE).  These can be ingested when your snake is going to feed and CEDAR shavings are toxic to reptiles!
  • Young ball pythons enjoy climbing and exploring, so natural branches can be a great addition to the cage. Ideally, the branch should slope from the bottom of the enclosure to the top and allow the snake an area to bask if it chooses.
  • Hiding places are necessary for many reptiles and should be readily available. There are many logs, rocks, or even plastic pet bowls that work well for hiding spots in the cage.
  • A heat source is necessary for the majority of reptiles, which are ectothermic (cold blooded) and need a range of environmental temperatures to regulate their internal body temperature. Ideally, you want to create a gradient in the cage with one end being warmer than the other, this way your snake has a choice for their personal temperature regulation. It is important to place your heat source outside the cage so the snake doesn’t burn itself. Hot rocks should be avoided for this reason. At night, heat isn’t necessary as long as temperatures remain 65-70 F. You can use lamps or heating pads for your heat source. There are a wide variety of heat sources available and you can consult with your veterinarian about which may work best for you.
  • UV light is constant topic of debate for snake owners since they consume whole prey for their diet, making it more nutritionally balanced. It won’t hurt to add this lighting to your enclosure, but it may not be necessary
  • Some of these little guys are stronger than you think, so securing your top screen with cage clips is a must, especially if your husband is worried the snake is going to get out and eat the dog like my husband is! (My ball python is 73 grams and my dogs are 80 pounds PLUS just for some perspective…)

Wait….you said WHOLE PREY!??!?

That’s right. You now own a predator! Snakes eat whole prey items including mice, rats, gerbils, and hamsters. Larger snakes are capable of eating whole rabbits! Since snakes eat entire prey items, this makes things much simpler for the owner and can help decrease the likelyhood of dietary related diseases that we can commonly see in other reptiles. Ideally, your snake should be provided a thawed (previously frozen) prey item or a freshly killed one. It isn’t recommended to feed live prey to snakes for several reasons. Prey knows it’s prey unless killed and eaten immediately, so you’ll be stressing out your feeder animal in the process if not previously killed! Amazingly, even a small mouse can cause major injury to the snake itself if the snake isn’t hungry! For humane reasons, strongly consider feeding previously killed prey.

How often you feed your snake totally depends on the age and size of the pet. Smaller snakes usually eat twice a week and larger snakes eat once every week to every few weeks. Ask your veterinarian for guidelines and feeding advice! Although snakes can go a long time without feeding, too long can be a sign of serious disease and you may want to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.

WATER!

Fresh water in a crock or bowl that won’t easily tip over should be available at all times. Snakes will not only drink from the water bowl but will often bathe in it as well. Make sure the water stays clean since many snakes feel this is their personal toilet!

Coming up next…

I think I’ve given you all a great place to start if you’re interested in our legless friends!  Next blog we’ll be discussing common diseases of pet snakes so get your learning eyes and ears in gear!  And don’t forget, if you have any questions or would like some one-on-one advice before you go snake hunting, feel free to stop in and visit Dr. Kathy or Dr. Lauren!

Guinea Pigs

 

Cavia porcellus, better known as the Guinea Pig is a South American Rodent that has been domesticated for around 3,000 years.  They are used primarily for food in South America but are beloved as pets here in North America.  Guinea pigs are generally easy to handle, non-aggressive, come in a variety of coat types and colors and are a favorite small companion for children of all ages.

Guinea pigs live an average of 5 – 8 years.  Thick bodied with short limbs they can weigh anywhere from 700 to 1200 grams. Pigs are a social animal and prefer to have a housemate.  Females become sexually mature at the tender age of 6 weeks of age so if you have a mixed group, neuter your male. Gestation is about 4 weeks. Guinea pigs produce “precocious” young who are eating solid foods within 5 days of birth.  One important thing to know is that if females do not give birth before 6 months of age their pubic symphysis will mineralize rendering them unable to deliver a baby.

Guinea pigs can be kept in a wire cage with a solid bottom and shredded paper bedding.  Avoid wire bottom cages since they can cause injuries and other foot problems. The same goes for aromatic shavings which cause skin irritation and respiratory problems. Guinea pigs prefer to have a hiding place or hutch for privacy and an exercise area. Do not use an exercise ball. They are not climbers and do not need a cage top.  Just make certain that the sides are high enough to keep them in.  As their name suggests, Guinea pigs can be quite messy and should have their enclosure and feed dishes cleaned frequently. One final point to remember is that these mountain dwellers do not tolerate high temperatures or humidity.  Try to keep temperatures between 61 to 75 degrees.  Anything above 80 degrees can cause heat stroke.

Guinea pigs are vegetarians and need a diet comprised primarily of timothy hay, a commercial pelleted feed with added vitamin C and fresh vegetables such as dandelions, parsley and kale.  A small amount of fresh fruit is OK but only as a treat. Guinea pigs cannot synthesize vitamin C so great care must be taken to ensure that they receive an adequate (10mg/kg/day) amount in their feed.  Vitamin C tablets are also available.

The most common problem we see in Guinea pigs at the Animal Family is dental disease caused by malocclusion of the molars.  If your pig is not eating well or simply looks poor it is important to have the teeth checked. 

Guinea pigs are very sensitive to changes in diet and environment.  Because of this, they are prone to GI problems due to an over growth of “bad bacteria”.  Use of the wrong type of antibiotic can also cause GI problems in pigs.  Signs may include bloating, diarrhea and loss of condition.

We see urinary calculi and bladder infections more than we would like too.  It is more common in pigs on a high calcium diet like alfalfa, but some may simply be genetically predisposed to developing urinary tract problems. Signs may include, frequent urination, straining to urinate, blood in the urine and vocalizing while urinating.

Their small lungs and sensitivity to Bordatella bacteria make pneumonia a particular problem for Guinea pigs.  Stress, exposure to dogs and other Bordatella carriers and poor ventilation can all cause disease.  Signs include nasal discharge, sneezing, rapid respiration and lethargy.  Severe cases can cause death.

Bumble foot or Pododermatitis is seen in animals kept on wire flooring.  This problem can be quite severe if it goes untreated.  Swelling, ulceration and secondary infection can render your pig unable to bear weight.  If your pet develops this problem even though you have proper flooring, you may need to check your source of Vitamin C. 

Mites and ringworm are another common problem of Guinea pigs. You may see intense itching and hair loss.  The good news is both are also easily treated. Your pig will love for helping him with these nasty critters.

Our blog is only meant to be an introduction to Guinea pigs. More information is available through your veterinarian, the library or on-line.

How Do I know if My Bird is Sick?

 

The practice of keeping birds has been around for centuries.  People the world over have brought birds into their homes to enjoy their lovely colors or perhaps, as with canaries, to revel in their beautiful songs or  maybe just for companionship. We humans have benefited from birds in many ways. The key as an owner is to make sure our birds benefit as well.

Bird ownership can be quite challenging.  Captive birds can suffer from boredom, too little or too much food. Maybe it’s just the wrong foods. They are affected by stress, loneliness, allergies, arthritis, injuries, respiratory problems and more.  The list is almost endless. On top of that, birds often mask their illnesses and often, by the time we notice things aren’t right, they are already very sick.  New owners quickly learn that caring for a bird is not as easy as it seemed at first glance.

Below is a list of signs indicating that you need to call your veterinarian:

  • Your bird has its feathers fluffed most of the time and may be sitting on the cage floor.
  • Your bird appears sleepy and uninterested in usual activities.
  • Your bird has discharge from the eyes, nostrils or debris stuck to the beak.
  • Your usually vocal bird has stopped singing or talking.
  • Your bird is not using his legs or wings normally.
  • Your bird keeps falling off its perch.
  • Your bird is eating less or no food.
  • Your bird appears to be bobbing on the perch.  This can be a sign of respiratory distress.
  • You have noticed a change in the consistency of your birds stool or you see caked feces near the vent.
  • You have seen your bird regurgitate food or think you have seen regurgitated food on the bottom of the cage.
  • Your bird is picking feathers from its body.  This can be a sign of mites but can also be behavioral.
  • Your bird has a head tilt..
  • The keel bone on your bird’s chest has become more prominent. 
  • Your bird’s beak has become overgrown. 
  • Your bird has thickened areas that may or may not be raw on the bottom of its feet.
  • Your bird has swelling around the lower leg. This can be a sign of gout.
  • Your bird has tremors or even seizures.
  • Your bird is bleeding.  Birds can damage blood feathers and most are ill equipped to deal with much blood loss. 

These are not all inclusive but are some of the main signs of illness require veterinary care.

 

Davenport, Iowa Veterinary Clinic Lists 10 Reasons People Take Pets to the Humane Society.

 

According to the ASPCA, “approximately 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, and approximately 3 million to 4 million are euthanized (60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats). Shelter intakes are about evenly divided between those animals relinquished by owners and those picked up by animal control. These are national estimates; the percentage of euthanasia may vary from state to state.” 

That is a really sad statistic.  We work closely with many of our local shelters at Animal Family and are always surprised at the quality of the pets we see.  These animals are neither worthless nor dangerous.  In fact, often the opposite is true.  Many are pure bred and almost all are loving, healthy animals who through no fault of their own end up homeless.

The 10 most common reasons owners give when surrendering a pet at the Humane Society of Scott County are:

  1. The owner is moving and is not able to take their pet with them
  2. The pet is too active for the owner to handle.
  3. The owner does not have enough time to devote to pet care
  4. The owner has encountered problems with housebreaking
  5. The animal is too expensive to care for.
  6. The animal is too young, too old or has developed health issues.
  7. The owner or a family member is allergic to the pet.
  8. The pet does not get along with another animal in the household.
  9. The pet belonged to a child who no longer lives in the home.
  10. The pet has become pregnant

Do you see a common thread among many of the reasons for pet relinquishment listed above?   How many of these problems could be avoided by a little research and planning before acquiring a pet.  For all the information on specific breeds that is available, it seems that people still jump into pet ownership on impulse.

So, please, before you bring a pet into your life, do your research. Think about your lifestyle, future plans, and overall health.  How busy are you?  Can you even afford a pet at this time?  Do you have the time or interest for training, walks and general health and coat care.  Don’t pick your pet based on looks.  Don’t assume you have to have a puppy and never, ever give a pet as a gift without a thorough discussion with the prospective new owner first.

Next week, we will go over what you need to think about before you add a new pet to your family.

Davenport IA, Veterinarian Talks Explains Diseases You Could Share With Your Pet…but Shouldn’t

 

According to the AVMA, in 2007 there were 72 million pet dogs, 82 million pet cats and over 4 million pet birds. At least 3% of the US households own a reptile. Almost one half of those pet owners consider their pets to be a member of the family. We are a pet loving country. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that we can share more than love with our pets. Did you know that according to the Center for Disease Control that almost 14% of the US population has been infected with Toxacara (roundworm of dogs and cats). That’s because up to 30% of dogs fewer than 6 months of age and 25% of all cats are infected with roundworms.

Cats and dogs can carry Roundworms, Tapeworms, Hookworms, Leptospirosis, Ringworm and Rabies to name a few. Pocket pets and reptiles can carry Salmonella. Birds can also carry Salmonella as well as Psittacosis (a bacterial disease).

Who is most at risk? According to our friends at CAPC (Companion Animal Parasite Council), it is generally those who come in contact with the soil the most often. That includes, gardeners, plumbers, sunbathers and of course children. Immune compromised individuals need to be particularly careful.

So should we get rid of all of our pets? No need to get so carried away. Following are some relatively simple measures you can take to control the risk of zoonotic transmission in your family.

  1. Wash your hands after handling pets, soil and feces. Be especially vigilant with youngsters.
  2. Don’t eat or smoke while you handle your pet. Especially if it is a reptile, bird or pocket pet.
  3. Pets and food preparation do not go together.
  4. Keep your pets on a regular schedule of deworming. Dogs and cats should be on broad spectrum, year round anti-parasitic products.
  5. Get annual fecal parasite checks. That’s because you may give your pet his preventative but he may either spit it out or throw it up later on.
  6. Treat pets and their surroundings for fleas.
  7. Dispose of pet feces on a daily basis.
  8. Cover up your children’s sandbox when it’s not in use.
  9. Feed only cooked, canned or dry dog and cat food.
  10. Don’t allow birds or reptiles to roam loose in the house.
  11. If you are scratched by your pet, wash the area thoroughly.
  12. Vaccinate. Yes, there is some risk (1/10,000) of soft tissue sarcomas in cats with the use of Rabies and Feline Leukemia vaccines. We try to make it safer by vaccinating every 3 years. However, our biggest concern is that Rabies is out there and it kills all of us all the time.
  13. Immune compromised individuals should not own reptiles or amphibians.
  14. Don’t let your dog or cat drink from the toilet bowl. According to CAPC this can spread human adapted strains of parasites to pets

Davenport Veterinarian’s Guide to Pocket Pets, Part 2

Last post, we covered some general information on pocket pets.  This week we are introducing you to some of the small but mighty critters we see at Animal Family Veterinary Care Center.  Of course, this is just an introduction, so, if you’re interested,  feel free to facebook us with any questions you may have at Animal Family

Each type of pocket pet has its own requirements.  Hamsters are nocturnal and sleep through much of the daylight hours.  In addition, many don’t get along well with others of their kind and will need to be housed separately. Hamsters will bite if frightened.  Our experience at the clinic has been that the larger Teddy Bear hamsters are generally much easier to handle. Most hamsters live 2 – 3 years.   Like all rodents, hamsters can be prone to respiratory and GI troubles.  All rodents have teeth which grow continually which causes dental problems when malocclusion is present. Rodents with malocclusions will eventually stop eating if their teeth are not cared for.

Gerbils and mice are both a little friendlier than hamsters although again, in our experience, both will bite if frightened.  They are small, fast and agile and can easily slip through your fingers making them a poor choice for small children.  They are susceptible to the same health issues as hamsters and have about the same life span.  All of the pocket pets which were originally bred to be used as lab animals are especially prone to tumors as well

Rats are extremely smart, gentle and social.  Most can be taught to perform tricks and can become quite attached to their owner.  Rats generally get along great with each other as well but it is a good idea to house same sex pairs unless you want a lot more rats.  Sadly, rats are more prone to develop tumors than any other pocket pet. We don’t see as many dental problems with rats but they can be susceptible to respiratory infections.  The average rat lives to 2-3 years of age.

Guinea Pigs make wonderful pets.  Nonaggressive and social, they will quickly become accustomed to handling. Unlike other rodents, guinea pigs must receive supplementation of Vitamin C on a daily basis or they become ill.  Even though most foods formulated for guinea pigs contain added vitamin C you need to make certain it is fresh or the Vitamin C will degrade.   Guinea Pig’s larger size means that they require more room to move around. However, unlike mice and gerbils, guinea pigs are not climbers.  They come in a large variety of different coat types and colors.  On the down side, guinea pigs have very small lungs for their size and will become quite sick if they contract any respiratory disease.  In general guinea pigs live 5 – 6 years.

Rabbits, like guinea pigs also make wonderful pets.  Rabbits are not rodents but lagomorphs.  They come in a huge number of varieties, coat colors and sizes.  Most housetrain easily and will use a cat litter box.  In general, females tend to be the most cantankerous but are better behaved if spayed.  Unaltered females housed together will fight.  In addition, females can develop mammary tumors and reproductive tract disease if left intact.  Unaltered males will spray urine to mark territory.  They do well on a diet with large amounts of timothy hay and small amounts of rabbit pellets and veggies.  They are susceptible to respiratory and dental problems and generally live 5 – 8 years or more.

Ferrets are a Mustelids and the clowns of the pocket pet world.  Smart, active, agile and a little stinky, ferrets are endlessly entertaining.  They require lots of exercise but can get into trouble if left out unsupervised.  Of the small mammals, ferrets are the guys we see the most often for foreign bodies. Unlike the other small pets discussed so far, ferrets need to be vaccinated for distemper and rabies.  Not everybody loves ferrets.  They are banned in some states while others require that they be registered.  Ferrets can be taught to use a litter box and will learn to walk on a leash and halter.   They are true carnivores and unable to handle fiber.  Fortunately there are several commercial ferret diets available.  Although they have a lifespan of 5 -8 years, ferrets are prone to developing adrenal tumors and insulinomas as they mature.

Chinchillas were once used for the fur trade but have recently become popular as pets.  They are considered nocturnal but can be active during the daytime.  They prefer a diet of hay and pellets with small amounts of fruit, nuts and veggies added in. They are active but enjoy being cuddled and rarely bite.  Their housing requirements are similar to a rabbit but their optimal temperature is 50 – 60 degrees.  They are very susceptible to heat stroke, and don’t do well in high humidity.  They also require access to a dust bath 2 -3 times a week.  Common chinchilla problems include dental malocclusions, respiratory and GI disease. They can live 9 -17 years.

Hedgehogs are insectivores.  We generally see the African Pygmy Hedgehog in practice.  There a few commercial diets available for hedgehogs. They require a diet that is high in protein and low in fat.  Dog and cat foods alone are not adequate and will need to be supplemented with mealworms, crickets, fruits and veggies. Don’t feed too much or leave food out all the time or your hedgehog can become obese.  Although cute, hedgehogs are solitary and generally not too happy with being held.  They require a 20 gallon or larger aquarium or other smooth sided enclosure and 75 – 85 F temperature year round. They don’t like toys but will use exercise wheels if one is provided. Hedgehogs will develop tartar and gingivitis if you don’t take care of their teeth.  We also see them for obesity, tumors and fatty liver syndrome.

Sugar Gliders are marsupials.  They are nocturnal, highly social animals.  Please don’t keep one all by itself.  If handled from a young age they can develop a bond with their owners.  They are primarily insect eaters but also consume tree sap in the wild.  They do not eat foliage or fruit in the wild. A good diet is composed of 50% commercial insectivore diet and 50% “Leadbeaters mixture “(your veterinarian can provide you with the recipe). Diced fruits, worms and crickets can be acceptable treats in captivity. Sugar gliders can be hard to keep healthy in captivity.  They suffer from stress related disorders and one of their main health problems is malnutrition.   Because they glide they are also susceptible to trauma. Pneumonia, diarrhea and blindness are other problem seen in captive sugar gliders.

One final reminder; just like your dogs and cats, pockets pets need to checked annually for parasites. It is also a good idea to bring them in yearly for an overall health check.  Since most exotic pets mask illness, this is one way to help us diagnose any medical problems early enough to treat them. Our aim is to keep them healthier and you happier.

Remember, this is just a quick overview of the world of pocket pets.  If you are considering adding one of these charmers to your home, please do your research first.  Shelters are already seeing an increase in the number of little critters that are thoughtlessly acquired then just as thoughtlessly discarded.  Please don’t add to the problem.