Illustrated Articles

Small Mammals

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

  • Mast cell tumors are the most common skin tumor found in ferrets. They can also be found internally on the spleen. They arise from a cell type called a mast cell. In dogs and less so in cats, these tumors can vary from benign to highly malignant.

  • Flea infestation is a common problem in pet ferrets, especially in ferrets that go outdoors or live in a house with dogs, cats, or other animals who have fleas. Affected ferrets may or may not be itchy depending on the sensitivity of the individual animal to flea bites. Early in the infestation, there may be no signs that your ferret even has fleas. Young ferrets with heavy infestations may even become anemic as the fleas feed over time. Some topical medications used to treat fleas in dogs and cats appear to be safe in ferrets but should only be used under the guidance of a veterinarian familiar with ferrets.

  • Hedgehogs can acquire external parasites. Flea infestation is not a common problem in pet hedgehogs. Fleas are a small insect parasite that may take up residence on your hedgehog, especially if exposed to fleas outdoors or in a house with dogs, cats or other animals who themselves have fleas.

  • Rabbits can become infested with fleas, especially if they go outside or live in a house with other pets that have fleas. Rabbits with fleas may show no signs or may bite, lick, or scratch themselves. Young rabbits with heavy infestations may become anemic. There are no rabbit-specific drugs for managing fleas. Certain topical cat medications appear to be safe but should only be used under the guidance of a veterinarian familiar with rabbits. It is very important to treat the environment, as well as the pet.

  • Fluconazole is an antifungal medication used off label in cats, dogs, and small mammals to treat fungal infections, especially those in the brain and spinal cord. It is given by mouth in the form of a tablet or liquid suspension, and is also available as an injection for hospital use. Common side effects include gastrointestinal upset such as decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea but liver toxicity can also occur. It should be used with caution in pets with liver or kidney disease, or pregnant or lactating pets. If a negative reaction occurs, call your veterinary office.

  • Gastrointestinal disease occurs commonly in ferrets - from dental disease, through gastrointestinal foreign bodies to persistent diarrhea. Some, such as foreign bodies, are readily prevented, while others require considerable diagnostic investigation and may need long-term treatment.

  • Rabbits that are not eating may have developed gastrointestinal (GI) stasis. GI stasis is typically caused by a physiologic change in bacteria. Rabbits may stop eating because they are sick with other diseases, such as dental problems or kidney disease, or when they are stressed, overheated, painful from injuries or arthritis, or uncomfortable from other gastrointestinal problems such as bacterial, viral, or parasitic intestinal infections. Some rabbits get GI upset when they are eating too much carbohydrate and not enough fiber. Supportive care treatment either in or out of the hospital will be prescribed for a rabbit with GI stasis. Prevent GI stasis by feeding your rabbit a high-fiber, hay-based diet with supplemental vegetables, a small amount of pellets and fruit. Have your rabbit checked regularly by a veterinarian who can monitor for the occurrence of other underlying diseases that may contribute to the development of GI stasis.

  • 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.