Illustrated Articles

Small Mammals + Care & Wellness

  • 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.

  • Hedgehogs living in the wild are often infested with ticks, fleas and mites, which are small insect parasites causing itchy, irritating skin issues. The same goes for pet hedgehogs.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Guinea pigs live, on average, 5-6 years; although some can live to 8-10 years of age. Their teeth grow continuously, throughout life, and it is critical that they eat grass hay, such as Timothy hay, every day to help them wear down their teeth as they grow. Young guinea pigs display a unique behavior called popcorning when they are happy, in which they jump straight up in the air and let out squeals of delight. Guinea pigs reach sexual maturity at around 3-4 months of age; therefore, if young males and females are housed together, they should be separated by this age, otherwise they are likely to breed. The average gestation period for guinea pigs is 63 days. If gestation continues over 70 days, the guinea pig should be seen immediately by a veterinarian, and it is likely that the entire litter will be stillborn.