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 Ounce of Prevention…

 

 

I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with the entire collection of animals on grounds at Niabi Zoo as well as their dedicated zookeepers and staff at least once a week.   Even though this part of my life is “scheduled,” I never know what my day will entail.   It’s the constant variety of daily tasks in zoological medicine that makes it that much more interesting for me:  the never ending challenge of diagnosis, developing treatment plans, and, most importantly, annual wellness and preventative medicine.  Preventative medical care and annual wellness screening is one of the most overlooked areas of zoological medicine in the public eye.  Not only is preventative medicine essential for the animal’s health and well being, it is also necessary for the safety of the staff and the visiting public.  However, depending on the animal we’re working on in the collection, this may be a challenge.

What does preventative medicine in a zoo entail?

Preventative medicine examinations performed on zoo patients are very similar to those performed on your own four legged friends, and equally important.  Much like our own four legged friends, obesity can affect animals in captivity, so accurate weight logs and body condition assessments are kept by keeper staff and the veterinarian. Many of the animals in Niabi Zoo’s collection are trained with positive reinforcement and operant condition to willing stand or sit on a scale on command to maintain accurate records of their weights. Any major changes can then be reported to the veterinary staff and further measures can be taken. This may seem like a small detail of an exam, but the zookeepers are the eyes and ears of the veterinary department and work tirelessly to help prevent disease outbreaks and illness in the animals they oversee.

Another important area annually assessed is the animal’s mouth. Dental disease is one of the most common pet health problems diagnosed at Animal Family and is also common in zoo collections due to some undesired, stereotypical behaviors. The challenge in a zoological collection is that the animal’s mouth can also be it’s most dangerous weapon! Some of these animals require sedation to have their teeth examined.  Other animals are trained with hand signals and will hold open their mouth open on command for visual examination.  Just like in dogs and cats, the veterinarian looks for tartar, gingivitis, signs of periodontal disease, fractured teeth, or missing teeth, and develops a treatment plan accordingly.

Fecal examination and intestinal parasite screening is one of the most frequent tests performed at Niabi Zoo.  There are several intestinal parasites such as roundworms and hookworms are considered zoonotic, meaning they can pass from animals to people and cause disease. Not only is it important to screen fecals for the health of the animal, but we also screen for the public’s health! The Centers for Disease Control estimates that almost  14% of the population of the United States is infected with roundworms!  If any animal comes back positive, a deworming treatment is developed.  The zoo animals are on similar monthly, year round prevention products like Frontline and Heartgard for treatment of intestinal parasites, fleas, ticks, and heartworm disease.  

Speaking of heartworm and tick-borne disease,  the very same test 4DX Snap Test and Blood Parasite Screen  that is recommended for your domestic animal is used on several animals at Niabi Zoo! Prevention of heartworm disease is key in a zoological collection, especially since the disease can be life threatening and extremely expensive to treat.  Due to the importance of conservation in a zoo collection, a life lost due to heartworm disease could mean a drastic blow to a genetic line under conservation.

Last, but not least, the animals at Niabi Zoo also undergo an annual vaccination routine, which is extremely important due to the exposure of these animals to wildlife and the public. Animals in the collection are routinely vaccinated for Rabies and Distemper annually since their risk of exposure is so high. These vaccines can be done every three years in our domestic dogs and cats.

The bottom line is preventative medicine is the most important medicine and can save your animal from having to suffer from illness long term. For some of our pets and the zoo collection, this means every year we need to make a thorough assessment, nose to tail, to keep our animals as healthy as possible.

 

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.

 

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 Greys, 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.

 

10 Questions for Dr. Kathy Van Buer

1)  How old were you when you knew you wanted to become a veterinarian?

I knew that I wanted to go into medicine since I was about 3 years
old. My mom was a nurse and I was always treating all of my dolls,
stuffed animals, live pets and other critters that I would find. I
decided specifically on veterinary medicine in college, although spent
a lot of time with animals throughout my childhood.
2)  What is the best thing about being a veterinarian?

The best part is actually getting to work with a huge variety of
critters from tiny animals like hummingbirds and sugar gliders to
turtles, dogs, cats and guinea pigs to really big animals like
elephants and giraffes! I only wish unicorns and dragons were real! I
find the wide variety of animals and various adaptations to their
various environments absolutely amazing and am honored to get an
opportunity to work with them all.
3)  What have been your most interesting cases?  

I’ve had lots of really cool cases over time.
The penguins from a zoo had been getting sick and dying and we found out
they were eating the lead pellets that were dropping out of the lead
belts the pool cleaners were wearing…or

 The case of a missing snake
(We found that the other snake in the cage had eaten it- radiographs
showed a snake in a snake)!…or

 The case of a dog from Florida with a
rash that turned out to be an unusual parasitic worm that had formed
inside blisters in it’s skin, easily treated with dewormer medication
once we knew the cause.
4.  What  is the most difficult part of being a veterinarian?

 When there really isn’t anything much that I can do to help a patient, as I really like to fix things and make the animals all better. Oh, and paperwork- yuck!
5. Why did you become a veterinarian instead of a human doctor?

 As a veterinairan every day is different. I get to be actively involved in all aspects of care of each animal from birth to death including preventative care, surgery, and diagnositics and am able to be a part of the pet’s family as well. No two days are ever the same and life is never boring!
6.  Aside from loving animals, what other unique qualities do you think it takes to become a veterinarian?

Learning to read and interpret the animals’ symptoms since they can’t talk. In addition, you have to be rather creative, thinking outside the box, finding new uses for items, etc.  Constantly learning new things and adapting old things to new situations.  Problem solving and extrapolating from one species to the next.
7.  What changes have you seen in veterinary medicine since your parents time?

There have been huge advances in human and animal medicine. Pets are more a part of the family. Increased technology in information sharing and diagnostics. More specialists available and referrals. Increased interest in exotic and nontraditional animals.
8.  Other than species , what do you think the main differences are between human and veterinary medicine?

 Patients can’t talk so  you need to read signals, pay attention to small details, listen to owner observations to get information. Pets are the property of owners so treatment depends on owner decisions,  there are few pets with insurance so may have limited resources despite ability to treat problems. There is a
lot of emotional attachment to pets. Degrees of pet care expectations
vary with the owner. Many costs regarding patient care and equipment
are the same but much lower fees can be charged for pets. Few
medicines are actually made specifically for animals. Euthanasia is an
option.
9. What do you think the new horizons in veterinary  medicine will be?

 Advances in human medicine will also allow for advances in animal medicine especially regarding cancer treatments. More referral and specialty practices. Gene studies are likely to play a role in animal health futures as they will in human health.
10. If you could wave a magic wand and do it all over again, would you?

 Yes- being a veterinarian has allowed me so many unique and amazing opportunities that I wouldn’t want to miss them by doing something else!

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, Iowa Veterinarian Itching to teach you about Fleas

 

Who hates fleas?  Everybody hates fleas!  Ctenocephalides canis or felis better known as the common flea is not a visitor anyone ever welcomes to their home.  For those of us who have had to deal with a flea infestation- once is definitely enough! Aside from the obvious “yuck” factor, there are a lot of good reasons to avoid this hopping, biting scourge of the insect world.

  1.  Fleas make their living by biting other animals and feeding on their blood.  When fleas bite they inject saliva into the skin of their host which can cause inflammation, itching, allergic dermatitis and hair loss.  Even worse, if the host is small enough or the number of fleas’ large enough, anemia can result from blood loss.
  2. Fleas don’t just bite your pet.  They bite you.  They bite your children.  Everybody gets itchy.
  3. A single female flea can lay up to 50 eggs each day and up to 2000 eggs in her short life time!!!  Of course by the time you discover that your pet has fleas, there are most likely eggs and larva throughout your home.
  4. Fleas act as a transport vehicle for the aptly named “Flea” tapeworm.  Pets ingest fleas as they groom.  Once the flea is in the digestive system, the larva breaks free and finds a home in your pet’s intestines. An adult tapeworm can grow up to 75 cm (29.5 inches).  According to CPAC (Companion Animal Parasite Council), “Infections of children with D. caninum following ingestion of an infected flea are occasionally reported. The disease induced in the child is generally mild, confined to the intestinal tract, and readily treated, but can still be distressing to the family.”
  5. Fleas carry the Plague – the Bubonic Plague.  This is particularly important in the Rocky Mountain States.
  6. Fleas carry Typhus and yes it can be transmitted to humans.  According to Pubmed Health, “Typhus is caused by one of two types of bacteria: Rickettsia typhi or Rickettsia prowazekii.” The form of typhus depends on which type of bacteria causes the infection. Murine typhus occurs in the southeastern and southern United States, often during the summer and fall. It is rarely deadly. Risk factors for murine typhus include:
    1. Exposure to rat fleas or feces
    2. Exposure to other animals such as cats, opossums, raccoons, skunks and rats
  7. Fleas can help to transmit “Cat Scratch” disease from one cat to another.  We humans get Cat Scratch Fever when we are scratched by an infected feline.
  8.  Fleas can transmit  Mycoplasma haemofelis a blood borne parasite that can cause damage to the red calls which results in anemia in your pet.
  9.  Even if your pet never goes outdoors, you can carry fleas into the house on your pants legs. Fleas can survive the winter just fine as long as you continue to heat your home. 
  10. Once there is an established flea infestation, it can be time consuming and expensive to resolve.  Like so many other problems fleas are much easier to prevent than alleviate.

 

I don’t know about you but I’m going to go make sure my dog is up to date on his flea prevention.

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.