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Small Mammals

  • Many owners of rodents, sugar gliders, and hedgehogs are surprised to learn that all pets need an initial examination by a veterinarian and at least an annual check-up. Many veterinarians who treat exotic small animals recommend check-ups at least twice a year to allow for early detection and treatment of potentially life-threatening diseases. During this visit, your veterinarian will perform a physical examination and various diagnostic tests, such as blood work, fecal analysis, microbial testing, and X-rays, to determine your pet's state of health and to see if your pet might be harboring any diseases that require treatment.

  • Nystatin is an antifungal, given by mouth in the form of a tablet or liquid suspension, and used off label to treat Candida fungal infections in dogs, cats, birds, and reptiles. Side effects are rare, but at high doses could cause stomach upset or mouth irritation. It should not be used in pets that are allergic to it. If a negative reaction occurs, please call your veterinary office.

  • Omeprazole (brand names Gastrogard® and Prilosec®) is used to off label to treat ulcers in cats and dogs. It is also used to treat gastritis in dogs and gastroenteritis in ferrets. Side effects to omeprazole are not common, but can include vomiting, decreased appetite, gas, and diarrhea. Other drugs may interact with omeprazole so it is important to tell your veterinarian about any medications or supplements that your pet is taking.

  • Orbifloxacin is given by mouth and is used on and off label to treat certain susceptible bacterial infections. Give as directed by your veterinarian. The most common side effects include vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite. Do not use in pets that are allergic to it or other quinolones, in growing pets, or in conjunction with cyclosporine. If a negative reaction occurs, please call your veterinary office.

  • The ferret has been domesticated for over 2000 years. It was originally used for pest control and hunting in Europe (the polecat). They are members of the weasel family (Mustelidae), which includes skunks, otters, mink, weasels and badgers.

  • Gerbils generally make good family pets but should never be left unsupervised with small children. If well-socialized from a young age and treated gently, they can be wonderful pets. They tend to scurry and scamper about, making them challenging to hold. Therefore, children should be older than 10 years of age before getting a pet gerbil, as children younger than this will have difficulty restraining them. The incisors (front teeth) of all rodents grow continuously throughout the animal's life. When they are excited or frightened, gerbils will thump their back feet – a behavior called foot-drumming. Gerbils do not require vaccines, but they do require annual examinations.

  • If well socialized from a young age and treated gently, hamsters are generally slow moving, reasonably easy to handle, and affectionate. Hamsters generally make good family pets but should never be left unsupervised with small children. Hamsters may bite if restrained forcefully or frightened while being held. Hamsters live, on average, 18 to 24 months (some may reach 36 months). They have large cheek pouches which they can fill with bedding material or large amounts of food that they then carry off to deposit in a corner to use or consume later. The incisors (front teeth) of all rodents grow continuously throughout the pet's life. Hamsters have a hip or flank gland on their sides, and female hamsters produce a profuse vaginal discharge around the time of ovulation. Hamsters require annual physical examinations and fecal tests for parasites.

  • Rats are extremely intelligent, inquisitive, interactive, and social. If well socialized from a young age and treated gently, they are easy to handle, affectionate, and rarely bite unless provoked. Rats generally make good family pets but should never be left unsupervised with small children. Rats live about 2 to 3 years. The incisors (front teeth) of all rodents grow continuously throughout the pet's life. Rats should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year and twice a year as they get older.

  • Prairie dogs (most often black-tailed prairie dogs) are becoming popular as pets. Like all rodents, they have teeth that continually grow throughout life. They are active, playful and sturdy rodents and can make wonderful, affectionate pets if purchased young, socialized properly and given lots of attention.

  • If properly handled and socialized, rabbits make curious, sociable, pleasant, docile, quiet, and gentle pets. They rarely bite but can scratch with their sharp claws and powerful hind legs if improperly handled. If held improperly, a rabbit can kick hard and dislocate or break its back, resulting in severe chronic disabilities that may even necessitate euthanasia. Their average life span is 5-8 years old (small breeds can reach 10-14 years old), and they reach breeding age at 6 months. Rabbits pass cecotropes at night which are softer, stickier, and darker than normal fecal pellets and contain important nutrients. Providing your rabbit with unlimited amounts of hay and blocks of wood to chew helps prevent overgrown teeth, a common condition in pet rabbits.

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