Educational Articles

Small Mammals + Medical Conditions

  • Generally speaking, chinchillas are fairly hardy animals. However, they do have several unique problems, and understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems. These include fur slip, antibiotic sensitivity, teeth problems, heat stroke, skin problems, and dust bathing for normal grooming.

  • Common conditions of pet chinchillas include bite wounds, respiratory diseases, overgrown and impacted teeth, gastrointestinal stasis, bloat, diarrhea, skin problems, and heat stroke. Any deviation of your chinchilla's behavior from normal should be a cause for concern and requires immediate evaluation by your veterinarian.

  • Rabbits have incisors plus molars in the back of the mouth for grinding and chewing. Rabbits also have two small, tube-shaped incisors (peg teeth) behind the large upper incisors. Since the teeth continuously grow, the upper teeth must meet the lower teeth to allow for proper wearing of tooth surfaces, preventing overgrowth. All teeth must meet and wear at the same rate as they are growing, or malocclusion with resultant improper tooth wear, and overgrowth of the incisors and/or molars, can occur. Overgrown teeth can cause many problems. leading to pain and infection. Rabbits with chronic dental problems need regular veterinary care including repeated dental filings. Feeding rabbits a diet of mainly high-fiber hay to promote chewing and teeth wear may help reduce the development of dental problems.

  • Common conditions of pet ferrets include diarrhea, intestinal foreign bodies, parasites, heart disease, and various types of tumors. Any variation from normal should be a cause for concern and should be immediately evaluated by your veterinarian.

  • Common conditions of pet rabbits include upper respiratory tract infections, internal and external parasites, dental disease, GI stasis, uterine problems, and pododermatitis. Upper respiratory infections are often caused by bacteria including Pasteurella multocida. Rabbits can become infected with various intestinal parasites, as well as external parasites such as ear and fur mites, fleas, and occasionally ticks. Rabbits’ teeth are continuously growing but chewing food, as well as chewing on wooden blocks, branches, and toys, helps them wear their teeth down at a rate equal to their growth. Occasionally, tooth or jaw trauma or disease causes misalignment of the upper and lower jaws and overgrowth of teeth results. Regular yearly check-ups enables early diagnosis and treatment of some rabbit diseases. Whenever a rabbit stops eating, for whatever reason, it is important to take her to see your veterinarian immediately for an evaluation.

  • Common conditions of pet rodents include respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal problems, dental problems, and tumors. Signs of respiratory disease in rodents include nasal and/or ocular discharge in mild infections, and wheezing, coughing, and open-mouth breathing in severe infections. Gastrointestinal disease, including diarrhea from various causes and gastrointestinal stasis is common in pet rodents. All rodents have teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives. Occasionally, these teeth grow too long and cut into the gums, causing pain, or prevent the mouth from closing properly, which often makes the pet stop eating. Just as in people, cancer is often seen in pet rodents, especially mammary (breast) tumors in rats and mice. Rodents with signs of respiratory or GI disease or evidence of a tumor should be seen by a veterinarian who can properly diagnose and treat the underlying condition.

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

  • 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.