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SMALL MAMMAL HEALTH SERIES
By Susan Brown, DVM

In Veterinary Partner.com's Small Mammal Health Series, renowned exotic animal veterinarian Dr. Susan Brown covers general husbandry and proper diets - as well as specific common (and not so common) medical disorders in rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, etc.

Rabbits can form abscesses in nearly any organ of the body as well as in skin, tooth roots and bone. The most common causes of rabbit abscesses are bite wounds that become infected and infections in tooth roots and tear ducts. Most facial abscesses are the result of dental disease.
Aleutian Mink Disease and its associated virus - What is it and what should you know?
Canine distemper is a contagious disease caused by a virus. CDV can be transmitted to ferrets directly from infected animals of other species, or through contact with infected material such as shoes or clothing. In other words, you can bring CDV home if you are in contact with infected material in places such as the woods a pet store or a breeding facility. Using a canine distemper vaccine that is not approved for use in ferrets can also transmit CDV.
It may surprise you to find that rabbit mothers nurse their young for a total of about 5 minutes a day and leave the nest alone most of the rest of the time. This means that most of the time you should not step in when you find a bunny nest but what are the exceptions to this rule and what should you do for a true orphaned bunny?
The chinchilla is a rodent which is closely related to the guinea pig and porcupine. In the wild state, they live at high altitudes in rocky, barren mountainous regions. They tend to be fairly clean, odorless, and friendly pets but usually are shy and easily frightened. They do not make very good pets for young children, since they tend to be high-strung and hyperactive (both the child and the pet).
Can you recognize an emergency when it comes to your ferret? Are you prepared?
Pet ferrets require very little routine grooming. In fact, excessive grooming can lead to health problems and should be avoided. If we think about how the ferret lived in the wild it wasn't necessary for them to go to a ferret “beauty shop” to stay neat and tidy! Ferrets are fastidious and clean creatures and we need to complement and not interfere with that habit.
Planning a new ferret for the family? Time for the ferret shopping list. Here is a list of what to get and what not to get for those fond of ferrets.
Ferrets are inquisitive, lively and charming little creatures that have captured the hearts of thousands of people around the world.
Let’s take a look at how fleas can be safely controlled in ferrets using the products available on the market. Remember to always check with your veterinarian first before using any new product on your pet to ensure its safe use.
A variety of signs can indicate that your ferret likely has some sort of GI disease, such as vomiting, diarrhea or abnormal stools, tooth grinding, weight loss or a thin body. The most helpful thing you can do as a pet owner is to be observant of any changes in your pet’s behavior.
The gerbil is a curious, friendly and nearly odorless rodent which makes it a very popular pet. They have adapted well to captivity and tend to be relatively free of naturally occurring infectious diseases. These rodents rarely bite or fight, are easy to keep clean and care for, and are relatively easy to handle. These qualities make the gerbil an ideal pet.
They're not from Guinea and they aren't pigs. They are, however, cute, easily handled, and quiet. If you are thinking of adding a guinea pig to your home, here's a primer.
A very popular pet for decades, hamsters are peculiar little rodents with large cheek pouches and short stubby tails. Since their domestication, several color and hair coat varieties have arisen through selective breeding. The three basic groups which now exist include the common 'golden' hamster, colored short-haired 'fancy' hamster, and long-haired 'teddy bear' hamster. All three varieties are popular as pets.
Head tilts in rabbits are seen with some frequency and can be caused by a variety of diseases. Another common name for head tilt is “wry neck” and the “scientific” name is vestibular disease (which can include other signs besides the head tilt). Rabbits exhibiting a head tilt also experience a loss of balance. They may fall over or walk in circles.
Hind limb weakness is a clinical sign, meaning that it is an indication of a problem, but not an actual disease entity itself. There can be varying degrees of weakness from a mild, transient unsteady gait, to complete loss of function of the hind limbs.
There are many possibilities for hind limb weakness in a rabbit and often the diagnosis cannot be reached without some investigative work. Some of the conditions discussed are treatable and others are not. You can help tremendously by being observant and even taking notes so you remember the details of your pet's illness or unusual behavior. This information is invaluable in determining a diagnosis, a treatment regimen and ultimately the prognosis for your pet.
The domestic ferret has been a useful member of the human household for a few thousand years. Today they have reached true companion animal status and are appreciated thoughout much of the world.
This condition is the cause of numerous euthanasias and surrenders to shelters due to the high maintenance involved in cleaning the pet and the environment on a daily basis. In a nutshell, the problem is not the production of soft stool (the waste material that makes up the round, dry droppings) but that the cecotropes, the nutrient-rich droppings produced by the cecum, are abnormally liquid and cannot be eaten.
It is quite common to find unusual lumps and bumps on any area of the ferret's body, particularly as they age. Cyst? Abscess? Tumor? Lymph node? It's a mystery that needs to be promptly solved.
People envision many different things when thinking about rats and mice. Some consider them as vermin or pests, many envision laboratory specimens, others think of them as snake food, while a chosen population treasure them as pets. These rodents make excellent pets if they are cared for properly.
When a death occurs, grief is fresh and the thought of postmortem examination could be unthinkable. It is important to realize, though, that this is your last chance to get the answers that might be important to you years from now and might be crucial if there are living pets at home who may yet benefit from the information. This article has more information to help with this difficult decision.
Rabbits make intelligent, friendly and quiet house pets. The average life span for a bunny is 7 to 10 years with records of up to 15 years of age reported. How can you provide the best care for your bunny?
No matter what kind of pet you have, if there are teeth present, you can bet they require some care. Dental disease in the pet rabbit remains one of the most common problems seen by veterinarians. In recent years we have come to a better understanding of causes, prevention and treatment of these diseases.
Most of us are familiar with a soggy bit of food-stained fur left on the floor by a generous cat. The rabbit's inability to produce such a gift may be part of one's motivation in owning a rabbit in the first place. Still, "wool block" is a serious condition in a rabbit and understanding it is vital to rabbit care.
Don't expect your new rabbit to act like a puppy or kitten. Remember, how they live in the wild and what they are naturally adapted to do. Have fun with your bunny and enjoy the species you have chosen to take into your home. We are blessed to be able to share our space with a creature that is in reality little changed from its wild ancestors, but has adapted to life with us crazy humans in spite of it all!
Can rabbits eat cat or dog food? What do rabbit owners need to know before visiting the veterinarian? How can you tell if your rabbit is overheating, getting the right diet, or is healthy? Get your questions answered!
Exercise is vital for a rabbit's health. All too often we hear well meaning, but poorly informed, people describe rabbits as easy to keep because “they can be caged and don't take up much space!” This idea has led to many rabbits being caged most of their lives with the distinct possibility of developing both physical and behavioral disorders.
If your rat’s teeth do not meet properly (malocclusion), keeping teeth trimmed to a normal length is necessary to maintain normal function. Some overgrown teeth will block the ability to eat properly, but others can grow outward and make it easy to snag the tooth and break it.
Sometimes it seems like life just isn't fair to the ferret. All sorts of Animal Regulation Departments regard the ferret as an Enemy of the State. If you are a ferret owner it is important to know the law in your area and consider the liabilities.
A nutritious and balanced diet is the foundation of good health for all creatures including ferrets. Ferrets have been kept in captivity since 300 BC, but it is only in the last 40 years that we have changed their diet from raw foods to commercially processed foods. We have made the change primarily because we, the public, have demanded a uniformly easy to feed and hopefully nutritious food that allows us to successfully keep ferrets in our homes. But the question is are we really providing a healthy ferret diet using processed foods?
Selecting a veterinarian for your pet, whether it is a rabbit, ferret, dog, cat or a bird, can be often be a difficult task. The following information will give you some useful guidelines when making this important choice.
Diet is an important part of the care of these pets and each species should have its own specific nutritional needs met. A rabbit is not a rodent is not a ferret, and so on.
Fresh foods are also an important part of your rabbit's diet and they provide additional nutrients as well as different textures and tastes. Fresh foods also provide more moisture in the diet, which is good for kidney and bladder function. The bulk of fresh foods should be made up of leafy greens (about 75% of the fresh part of the diet). Any leafy green that is safe for a human or a horse to eat is safe for a rabbit to consume.
Anesthesia is the subject that is probably the most frightening to rabbit owners because of misinformation, myths and possibly some previous unpleasant experiences. If anesthesia is not allowed, then obviously all surgical and some diagnostic procedures become impossible. We hope to arm you with not only good information to increase your understanding of what is happening when your pet undergoes anesthesia/surgery, but also give you guidelines to use when communicating with your veterinarian on these important subjects.
The vast majority of veterinarians are caring professionals that are truly concerned about the health and welfare of their patients, however, some practitioners still do not use pain-relieving medications in their rabbit patients even though they routinely use these drugs in dogs and cats and surely even themselves!
Everyone knows about neutering and spaying for cats and dogs, but isn't it going too far to spay or neuter a rabbit? Absolutely not. It may even be more important to for the rabbit's health to be sterilized at a young age.
Small as a ferret may be, it is not really legal to just pop him in your handbag and get on the local public transport system and go. Here are some things to consider before traveling with your ferret friend.
Did you know the guinea pig has special vitamin C needs? Well, whether you have a guinea pig or just curiousity when it comes to Vitamin C, you'll find this table useful.
Guinea pigs who do not receive enough vitamin C in their diet can suffer from vitamin C deficiency (commonly known as scurvy in humans). What foods and supplements are best sources of vitamin C for your guinea pig?

   
About the author(s)
Susan Brown, DVM I graduated from Purdue University Veterinary School in 1976. I was always interested in practicing exotic animal medicine, but didn't learn much about these animals in veterinary school because this subject wasn't popular at the time. I was the caretaker of a number of unusual pets during my childhood, through veterinary school and continuing to the present including; rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, chinchillas, gerbils, hamsters, mice, rats, lizards, snakes, turtles, tortoises, parrots, doves, ducks, hedgehogs, and invertebrates along with the more common dogs and cats.

In 1980 I started practicing strictly exotic-animal veterinary medicine and in 1985 I founded the Midwest Bird & Exotic Animal Hospital (MB&EAH) in Westchester, Illinois, devoted entirely to the care of exotic pets. This was the first all-exotic animal veterinary hospital in the country and I felt strongly that our profession needed to provide the same quality of care for these special animals as it did for dogs and cats.

My partner was Richard Nye, who was well known in the avian veterinary community and who eventually became my husband. We grew from a small staff of one full time and two part time doctors and a support staff of three to a staff of three full time and two part time veterinarians and a support staff of 20. We sold the MB&EAH in October of 2004 as we were ready to retire from managing a busy, active practice and work at a more leisurely pace.

In 2007 I started the Rosehaven Exotic Animal Veterinary Services, which is a consulting service aimed primarily at helping shelters and animal control facilities manage exotic pets, including rabbit spay and neuters prior to adoptions. I am also currently interested in helping pet owners with behavioral problems in exotic pets and am working towards increased knowledge in this area.

In 1986 I co-founded the Greater Chicago Ferret Association (GCFA) and served as their medical director from 1986 to 1997. I have also served as the medical director for the Chicago Chapter of the House Rabbit Society (HRS) from 1990 to the present. I am currently the Health Director for HRS National and I serve on their board. I have lectured extensively since 1987 to veterinarians and to the general public, both in the United States and in Europe, particularly on the veterinary care of rabbit and ferrets. I have written numerous veterinary and non-veterinary articles in a variety of magazines and have published chapters in a number of veterinary texts as well as co-authoring two veterinary books on small mammals. I received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Purdue University Veterinary School in 1998.

I have greatly enjoyed taking care of these special animals and being an advocate in the veterinary profession to improve the quality of the care we give, and I am a firm believer in the power of education. I believe that the more thoroughly educated a person is about the animal for which they are providing care, the higher the quality of life for that animal. In addition, the bond between human and animal is greatly enhanced through deeper understanding of the species. Some of the articles included in this Small Mammal Series were originally written for rabbit or ferret club publications. These groups have kindly allowed me to print them here because they also believe in the power of education. We will make every attempt to keep this information as current as possible. Please remember that the ultimate responsibility for education lies with the person who is caring for the pet. This is an ongoing process for the life of the pet and involves collecting information from different sources. This area provides you with one such access to information.


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