Educational Articles

Small Mammals

  • 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.

  • Common conditions of pet hedgehogs include external and internal parasites, ringworm, cancer, gastrointestinal diseases and pneumonia.

  • 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.

  • There are four major hormonal diseases in ferrets. This handout covers adrenal gland disease and diabetes mellitus. Adrenal gland disease occurs in a large number of ferrets in North America, while diabetes mellitus is a rare, but an important problem.

  • 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.

  • A large, well-ventilated cage with a plastic bottom and wire walls and top is suitable. Wire bottom rabbit cages are acceptable, but to decrease foot trauma, at least half of the wire floor should be covered with plastic, Plexiglas, or untreated wood. The bottom of the cage can be lined with hay or commercially available recycled paper products. Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box. Since rabbits like to dig and to chew, offer cardboard boxes, paper tubes, paper bags, and hard plastic baby toys for entertainment. Rabbits should never be allowed to run loose in the house unless they are supervised or contained in a rabbit-proof room as they love to chew and can be destructive. Offering your rabbit chew toys may prevent your him from chewing inappropriate objects. Rabbits tolerate cold better than heat and are very sensitive to heat stroke. Keep their environmental temperature at or below 80°F (26°C), and make sure their enclosure is well ventilated.