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.