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Small Mammals + Care & Wellness

  • 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).

  • Ferrets have several unique problems; understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems.

  • Guinea pigs are generally hardy, healthy animals but are susceptible to certain diseases. They cannot make their own vitamin C and require supplementation or they may develop scurvy. Guinea pigs get various tumors, particularly skin and mammary tumors. Guinea pigs also get abscesses (accumulations of pus and bacteria) in lymph nodes, skin, muscles, teeth, bones, and internal organs. They are very prone to development of urinary calculi that form in the bladder, kidneys, or ureters which may become lodged, causing a life-threatening obstruction. In addition, guinea pigs often are affected by ringworm and can get fleas and lice. Barbering is a problem, usually associated with boredom, in which the guinea pig chews or barbers its own hair or the hair of its cage-mate. Pododermatitis, or bumblefoot, in which sores develop on the bottom of the feet from pressure, is common in overweight animals housed on wire-bottomed or dirty cages that abrade the feet.

  • Rabbits have unique gastrointestinal tracts and need a high-fiber, low-carbohydrate diet to help keep the normal GI bacteria fermenting their food. When they are fed a diet high in carbohydrate, administered certain types of antibiotics, or undergo a rapid diet change, they can develop life-threatening GI stasis. Rabbits with GI stasis become lethargic, dehydrated, weak, lose weight, and must be treated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Only rarely do rabbits develop true GI tract obstructions from ingesting foreign objects and require surgery to remove the obstruction. Rabbits are coprophagic, consuming cecotropes overnight that serve as a source of critical protein and vitamins. Rabbits that eat high calcium alfalfa-based diets or high-calcium vegetables are prone to developing bladder stones that must be removed surgically. Bunnies housed at temperatures over 80°F are subject to heat stroke, since they cannot sweat and should be housed inside in a cool place, or if outside, should have plenty of shade and water.

  • Rodents commonly develop certain health problems. Rabies is very unlikely in pet rodents (especially those housed inside, away from other animals). Many rodents barber their own hair or the hair of a cagemate as a result of stress in the form of overcrowding, fighting, or boredom. Foot necrosis is caused by fine fiber or thread nesting material wrapping around toes or feet and cutting off circulation. Guinea pigs cannot make their own vitamin C, so they must receive it as a supplement in their diets. All pet rodents, but especially guinea pigs and chinchillas, are very susceptible to life-threatening heat stroke from high ambient temperatures (greater than 80°F or 27°C). Certain antibiotics should never be used in rodents, as they upset the normal bacteria that live in rodents’ gastrointestinal tracts and favor toxin-producing bacteria that can be fatal to rodents. Chromodacryorrhea is seen in mice, gerbils, and most often in rats Diarrhea can have several different causes in rodents including infections with different bacteria, parasites, or viruses. Rodents also commonly get fractured bones from mishandling or falls, bacterial skin infections (dermatitis) on their faces, and may also experience seizures.

  • In the wild, hedgehogs eat a diverse selection of insects as well as some plant material and very occasionally small or baby mammals (like pinkie mice). Hedgehogs usually eat at night.

  • The cage should be large enough to allow the hedgehog to move around. 2 x 3 feet (61 x 91cm) should be the minimum floor space provided. Walls must be high enough to prevent escape, as hedgehogs are good climbers. A glass aquarium or smooth sided cage is a reasonable choice for many owners.

  • Relatively new to the pet industry is the African hedgehog. Hedgehogs can make interesting, somewhat challenging, yet fun and enjoyable pets. They are mammals whose entire back is blanketed with spines like a porcupine.

  • Hedgehogs have several unique problems Understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems.

  • Any cage used to house a pet rodent must be easy to clean, as poor husbandry and hygiene can contribute to illness in these animals. The bigger the cage, the better, as rodents need room to exercise and explore. While some species of rodents may be housed in pairs or groups, unneutered males and females should not be housed together, or they will breed. Different species should not be housed together. Rodents love to dig and bury and should be provided with paper bedding or shredded or recycled paper in their cages. The cage should be spot-cleaned daily and the bedding changed completely at least weekly. Toys provide enrichment and psychological stimulation, as well as exercise, for pet rodents. Since rodents like to burrow, they should have a hiding place in the cage, and chinchillas should have a box containing special, fine particle sand in which to bathe.

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