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Educational Articles

Small Mammals + Care & Wellness

  • Many owners of small mammals are surprised to learn that all pets need at least an annual checkup. Exotic pet veterinarians typically recommend check-ups at least once a year for young, healthy pets and twice a year for geriatric animals. During a check-up your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic testing, including blood testing, fecal analysis, microbiological testing, and radiography. While most of diagnostic tests can be performed on awake animals, depending on the species and temperament of the pet, some exotic pet veterinarians recommend performing these tests under short-acting gas anesthesia.

  • Chinchillas require a high fiber diet and should be offered grass hay (such as Timothy hay or other low calcium hays such as orchard grass, oat hay, or meadow hay) free choice (available 24 hours a day). Hay should be the main component of their diet. Fresh clean water must be available at all times.

  • The cage should allow the chinchilla to move around a lot, as they are very active, agile, and acrobatic animals. Multilevel cages, similar to those designed for ferrets, work well, as long as there are no areas where a chinchilla could get its limbs or feet caught. Most owners house one or two pets in a cage; often the two pets are mates. Chinchillas require a dust bath for normal grooming. Cages should be emptied and cleaned at least weekly with soap and water.

  • Chinchillas can make fun, enjoyable pets. The chinchilla is a rodent closely related to the guinea pig. They originate from South America where they live in the Andes Mountains.

  • Generally speaking, chinchillas are fairly hardy animals. However, they do have several unique problems, and understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems. These include fur slip, antibiotic sensitivity, teeth problems, heat stroke, skin problems, and dust bathing for normal grooming.

  • Ferrets are true carnivores and cannot handle a diet containing more than 4% fiber. There are several good commercial ferret foods available that are dry foods. Ferrets have a very quick gut transit time (the time from eating to defecating) of three to four hours, so they appear to eat and defecate constantly. Fresh water should be available all the time.

  • The preferred basic diet for guinea pigs is unlimited amounts of Timothy or other low-calcium hay, supplemented with smaller amounts of a commercial, high-fiber, Timothy-hay based guinea pig pellets. The diet should be supplemented with a variety of fresh, well-washed, leafy greens or colored vegetables; especially those high in vitamin C. Guinea pigs cannot manufacture their own vitamin C, therefore it is important that guinea pigs receive a vitamin C tablet or liquid vitamin C directly by mouth every day. Provide fresh clean water in a sipper bottle and check the tube for blockages each day.

  • All pet rodents must be fed a good, high quality rodent chow available at pet stores. Many veterinarians also recommend offering hay and fresh vegetables to rodents to encourage chewing and the wearing down of their continuously growing teeth. Diets containing seeds and nuts are not recommended, as they are high in fat and low in nutrition. Water may be offered in a bowl or in a sipper bottle. Seeds, nuts, pasta, unsalted popcorn, or a whole grain cracker can be offered as occasional treats. You can also feed your rodent fresh, well-cleaned vegetables daily and occasionally give a small amount of fruit. Unlike most pets, guinea pigs do not make their own vitamin C and should be fed a commercial high fiber guinea pig pellet with added vitamin C. Chew toys made from hard wood are commercially available in pet stores for rodents and should be offered to help prevent overgrowth of the incisors.

  • Rabbits are herbivores and are considered grazers. Rabbits should have a daily diet of mostly hay, a smaller amount of fresh vegetables, and a limited number of pellets. Hay is the most important part of a rabbit's daily intake. A common cause of obesity and soft stool is over-feeding pellets. Rabbits should be fed and provided with fresh water daily; hay should be available at all times. A pet rabbit’s diet should be supplemented with a variety of leafy green vegetables every day. The high sugar content in fruits (and even carrots) may upset the normal GI tract bacteria if given in excess. Rabbits engage in coprophagy, which means they eat their own feces at night. These fecal pellets are called cecotropes and serve as a rich source of nutrients, specifically protein and vitamins B and K.

  • Due to their well-deserved reputation as escape artists, ferrets should be housed in a cage that can be securely closed and/or locked. The cage should be as large as you can afford; a suggested minimum size might be 24 x 24 x 18 high (60 x 60 x 45 cm).