Ferrets Closeup

Ferrets and Their Special Needs

Ferrets and Their Special Needs

American ferrets have an average life span of 5 to 7 years. Ferrets start to show old age or geriatric problems after they are 3 years of age. We feel that this is a good time to recommend some extra veterinary care as well as special home care to try to catch disease problems early, so they can be eliminated or treated. With this “geriatric program”, as we call it, we have been able to prolong life in many pets in a quality manner.


The pads of the feet in the older ferret may become hard and dry and develop little horny growths. A small amount of Vitamin E creme or oil or vaseline rubbed on the pads daily will help to keep them soft and remove the excess tissue.

Older ferrets like to sleep for longer periods, so be sure they have a cozy spot to do so in. Please respect that they need more sleep and don’t make them play when they don’t want to. However, if you should notice a sudden change in sleep habits that seems unusual, please contact you veterinarian.

The hair coat may become drier and more brittle with age. Some diseases can contribute to this, but aging can also cause it. Don’t bathe your pet frequently, as this may strip the natural skin oils and worsen the condition. Bathe your pet as infrequently as possible, but no more than once a month (unless you have medical directions to do otherwise), and use a gentle oatmeal pet shampoo. You may also use special preparations to add moisture back to the skin, such as emollient sprays (Comfi-Spray is a good choice), right after or in between baths. Using a fatty acid supplement, such as Ferotone or Missing Link for cats,  can also be very helpful. Use 1/8 tsp per ferret per day on the food. If you notice hair loss, skin changes, growths, or excessive scratching please have your pet examined by your veterinarian.

Older ferrets may have less control over their bladder and bowels as they age, so make sure that the litter box or papers are easily available. Put out a few extras if they roam around so they won’t have far to go to the litter box.

Senior citizens may become weak in the hind legs for a variety of reasons, so make sure that they can easily get in and out of their cages and litter boxes. Use ramps, if necessary to help them. Any sudden or unusual weakness or loss of balance should, of course, be brought to the attention of your veterinarian.

Your veterinarian may recommend changing your pet to a lower protein high quality adult cat food or maintenance diet after the age of five. This puts less stress on the kidneys. The change over can be gradual by mixing the original kitten formula with the adult formula over several days. Ferrets will usually convert if you use the same brand of food.

Use a cat hairball laxative at least every third day to help prevent the formation of hairballs in the stomach. Use about 1 inch out of the tube. Brushing your pet will also help to cut down on the amount of hair swallowed.

Make sure that food and water are always available. Going without food for too long could cause the onset of severe weakness or a seizure if your pet is dealing with a blood sugar disorder or kidney disease.


More frequent checkups are recommended, which include a thorough physical exam. We recommend that this be done every six months. Ferrets develop disease rapidly, especially cancer, kidney and heart disease, and waiting an entire year between visits could prevent the early detection and management of these diseases.

Starting at three years of age, we recommend some additional laboratory work be done. On a healthy animal, we recommend a complete blood cell count and a fasting blood glucose as the minimum work-up (a “mini” geriatric). The pet should be fasted 4 to no more than 6 hours prior to the blood tests being taken. This routine laboratory work should be done at least once a year.

Your veterinarian may also wish to do additional laboratory work such as a blood chemistry profile and/or x-rays for additional information, particularly if your pet is exhibiting signs of illness. Sedation may be necessary for the x-ray. We use isoflurane gas anesthesia on our ferret patients which is very safe and eliminates the stress the pet may feel with these procedures.

After the age of 7, diagnostic testing may have to be done every 6 months along with the semiannual exam. These laboratory workups have been INVALUABLE in detecting many disease early and thus facilitation treatment.

Please keep up with the annual canine distemper vaccination. The older ferrets can contract distemper just as easily as the youngsters. Continue with annual rabies boosters also.

Regular dental cleanings should be done as needed to keep the teeth and gums healthy.

Unfortunately, neoplasia (cancer) is the most common cause of disease and death in the older American ferret. We estimate that well over 75% of all ferrets in our area will develop some form of cancer in their life time. The only way to combat all forms of cancer is with early detection and then appropriate therapy. We must emphasize the EARLY detection is the key, which emphasizes the need for frequent exams and laboratory work. Below are outlined four of the most common types of cancer seen in the older pet.


This cancer is not restricted to old ferrets. It also may occur in young animals. In many ferrets it tends to hide unnoticed with no signs for months or years and then suddenly appear in a variety of forms. It is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system. The cause is suspected to be a virus. Although much is still unknown, the theory is that the virus is initially transmitted from mother to kit where it may lay dormant for a long period before causing a problem. Transmission between adult animals may also be possible, but the method of transmission is not completely understood. At this point in time it does not appear to be highly transmissible between adults.

Signs vary, and as already stated, many animals have no outward signs for a long period of time. Disease in these animals may be detected by abnormalities in the complete blood cell count. Noticeable changes in other animals may include any of the following signs: Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged spleen(there are many causes of enlarged spleens, and in some cases it may be “normal”), wasting, lethargy, frequent illnesses (such as “colds”), poor appetite, difficulty breathing, chronic diarrhea or hind limb weakness.

The diagnosis is made from a combination of a complete blood cell count and either a biopsy of a lymph node, a bone marrow biopsy, x-rays, or biopsies of other affected areas.

Treatment is achieved through chemotherapy, the details of which can be discussed with your veterinarian. We have had about a 50% success rated with chemotherapy with life being prolonged for 6 months to 5 years post treatment. Most ferrets tolerate the therapy very well and have few side effects. Even those cases that are not good chemotherapy candidates may be helped to continue a quality life with the use of nutritional therapy and corticosteroids.


This is one of the most common cancers that we see. At least 50% or more of the ferrets over three years of age will develop this disease. It is a cancer of the beta cells of the pancreas (the cells that produce insulin). This cancer causes these cells to produce abnormally high levels of insulin. This increase in insulin has the effect of driving the sugar out of the blood stream and into the body’s cells at too rapid of a rate. This causes a dangerous decrease in the blood sugar level. The brain, which needs a constant large supply of sugar, then becomes sugar starved and begins behaving in a erratic manner. The abnormally functioning brain provides most of the signs that we see with insulinoma. Early in the disease, the body counteracts the sugar drop by producing more sugar from the liver which then temporarily corrects the problem, so symptoms are very subtle. As the disease progresses, and the body is less able to cope with the situation, the signs become more severe and last longer.

Early signs of the disease are usually no more noticeable than seeing the ferret stare blankly into space for a few seconds and then return to normal. He may be a little more difficult to awaken from his naps. As the disease progresses, however, the signs become more specific and may include the following: drooling or salivating, pawing frantically at the mouth (all these signs are probably caused by a feeling of nausea when the sugar drops), extreme lethargy, seizures and finally coma and death. The diagnosis is based on a fasting blood sugar level. The pet should be fasted for a minimum of 4 to no longer than 6 hours. Occasionally it may also be necessary to run blood insulin levels at the same time.

Treatment depends on the stage of the disease and the overall condition of the pet. Usually, surgery is the first treatment choice. The tumor or tumors are removed and further medication may be unnecessary or at least delayed for some time. When surgery is not possible for whatever reason, or in cases where the disease returns despite surgery, then medical management is indicated. This involves a good quality, high protein diet always available, and the use of protein snacks such as cooked meat and egg scraps or strained meat baby food. The addition of Brewer’s yeast in the amount of 1/8 to ¼ tsp of the powder or 1/8 to ¼ of a chewable tablet two times daily with food has also been helpful to stabilize glucose levels. Brewers yeast contains chromium which is known as the glucose tolerance factor because it helps to stabilize blood glucose and insulin swings. No sugary treats should be given, as this may make the problem worse. When diet no longer controls the signs, then the pet may have to be put on corticosteroids and/or Proglycem which is an insulin blocking agent. Treatment will be for life.

If you should notice any of the signs listed above, especially the serious ones such as seizures and coma, you can help bring your pet out of this condition by administering some honey and water by mouth until the pet is more alert or has stopped seizuring. As soon as he can swallow, administer some of his normal food or a meat type strained baby food to get protein into his system. Of course, contact your veterinarian and have your pet examined as soon as possible.


This cancer is as common as insulinoma and frequently occurs along with it. This is a cancer of the adrenal glands, which are very tiny organs about the size of half a pea, located near the kidney. They produce very potent hormones that control a number of metabolic functions in the body. Ferrets may develop adenoma, which is the benign form of the disease (which means that it does not spread to other organs of the body) or adenocarcinoma, which is the malignant form. They may develop disease in either one or both glands.

Signs are fairly specific and are related to an overproduction of hormones, particularly androgens (precursors to the sex hormones… they act in the same manner as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone). The most common sign seen is a hair loss over a portion or all of the body. The hair loss may come and go over a period of time. In spayed females, the vulva may swell as if they are in heat again. Other signs may include one or any combination of the following: intense itching, dry brittle haircoat, thin skin, red scaly skin, weakened muscles with hind limb or generalized weakness, increase in body odor (as if the pet was not neutered), anemia and lethargy. The diagnosis is based primarily on the signs. However, if the diagnosis is in doubt, your veterinarian may recommend submitting a blood sample to a lab for hormone level evaluation.

The treatment of choice is the surgical removal of the affected adrenal gland. Since this disease and insulinoma frequently occur at the same time, insulinomas can also be removed. In cases where adenoma is diagnosed, and in the absence of insulinoma, a drug called Lysodren may be used to chemically destroy the overactive parts of the adrenal. This drug is not effective against adenocarcinoma.


Skin tumors in older ferrets should be surgically removed as soon as possible because of the possibility that some are malignant and can spread to other areas of the body. The most common type of skin tumor in the ferret is the mast cell tumor which appears as a round raised button-like lesion. They may be quite itchy and often have a crust of dried blood over the top. They are usually benign, but may metastasize to internal organs including the lungs.

Other common skin tumors are adenomas and adenocarcinomas. They are cancers of skin glands and can occur anywhere. In males they occur frequently at the tip of the prepuce and appear as a bluish colored lump. Adenocarcinomas are highly malignant and should be removed as soon as possible.

Although ferrets in this country are plagued with a variety of illness as they get older, frequent examinations and laboratory testing as needed can greatly improve their chances of survival and prolong their lives in a quality manner. Enjoy your pet, give them love and attention and they will reward you with endless hours of laughter and love.


(Reprinted with permission from Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital)


Gastrointestinal Stasis in Rabbits

Gastrointestinal Stasis in Rabbits

Gastrointestinal Stasis in Rabbits
Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians: aemv.org

Gastrointestinal stasis is a potentially dangerous condition in rabbits, where muscular contractions of the stomach and intestines are reduced, and normal bacteria in the digestive tract become out of balance.  Rabbits can quickly become lethargic, may exhibit signs of pain such as teeth grinding and a hunched up posture, and begin to produce excessive gas, and sometimes soft stool or diarrhea.  Left untreated, severe cases of gastrointestinal stasis can be fatal.
There are many causes of gastrointestinal stasis, including stress, dehydration and anorexia from other underlying medical conditions, or gastrointestinal blockage.  A common cause is lack of crude fiber in the diet, most specifically hay.  Hay is essential for normal gastrointestinal function.  Pellets contain hay, but some brands contain many other types of ingredients, and are chopped and processed to a finer, more easily digested product, which is actually not to the rabbit’s overall benefit.  Hay also provides the best environment for growth of the beneficial bacteria growing in the rabbit’s digestive tract, and allows passage of hair that is normally ingested by the rabbit during. Without adequate fiber, hair may accumulate in the stomach, causing a partial or complete blockage, since rabbits are unable to vomit.  The rabbit may feel “full” and appetite often decreases.  When the bacterial population in the digestive tract changes, gas-forming bacteria may proliferate, causing painful, excessive gas accumulation. Some gas-forming bacteria produce deadly endotoxins that can cause rapid death.

Treatment of gastrointestinal stasis varies depending on severity and underlying cause.  Recovery is often slow and may take several days to weeks.

  1. Fluid therapy: Many affected rabbits are dehydrated or suffering from electrolyte imbalances.
  2. Simethicone: This medication helps to reduce the amount of gas in the digestive tract.
  3. Gastrointestinal motility drugs: These drugs can help stimulate the digestive tract to begin working again.
  4. Pain relief: This is important to relieve discomfort associated with gastrointestinal stasis and distention.
  5. Hand feeding: Many rabbits with this condition have decreased to no appetite.  It is often important to hand, or  force-feed liquid hay products with a syringe (Critical Care, Oxbow Pet Products).
  6. Hay: rabbits that will eat on their own must be encouraged to eat grass hay.
  7. Treatment of other underlying medical problems: If examination and testing reveal additional medical problems, these must be treated as well.

If you would like to check out more rabbit care check out this website:     http://rabbitessentials.org/


Gerbil Care Basics

Gerbil Care Basics


Gerbils are very social animals and are active day and night. They are curious, friendly and nearly odorless, and love to burrow. They make extensive burrows in the wild consisting of multiple entrances, nesting rooms, and food chambers.

Gerbils rarely bite or fight and are easy to handle and care for as pets. They are relatively free of infectious disease.


High quality rodent pelleted food containing 20%-22% protein , this can be supplemented with sugarless breakfast cereals, whole wheat breads, pasta, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables: ALL FED IN MODERATION. Gerbils eat approximately 5-8 grams of food a day. A common commercial food for gerbils are seed base but these do not provide adequate calcium and are high in fat and cholesterol and if fed alone will lead to malnutrition and obesity.

Fresh water should be provided daily and the water bottle and sipper tube should be cleaned daily to prevent blockage of food particles in the tube.


Gerbils are generally docile and friendly in nature and usually will approach a hand placed in their cage and can be gently picked up. They can also be picked up grasping the base of the tail. Just the base of the tail should be grasped because the skin on the end of the tail will easily pull off. They can also be restrained by scruffing them– that is by grasping the skin over the back of the neck. They are very fast so be careful not to let them escape.


Cages with tunnels, exercise wheel, and nesting boxes are good for the gerbils mental well being. The cage should be a minimum of 36 inches square and 6 inches high with a secure top. The material should allow good air circulation and be easy to clean and not allow escape.

Bedding should be clean, non-toxic, absorbent, and relatively dust-free. Shredded paper, recycled paper products, aspen shavings and processed corn cob bedding are recommended. DO NOT USE CEDAR OR CHLOROPHYLL SHAVINGS since they have been associated with respiratory and liver disease. Provide at least 2 inches of bedding so they can burrow. The cage should be cleaned at least once weekly.


Epilepsy: gerbils have a genetic tendency to develop seizures. These can be mild to very severe. The convulsions appear not to have long term effects. Frequent handling, during the first few weeks of life and providing a stable environment with a complete, balanced diet can help suppress the seizures in genetically predisposed gerbils.

Tail Sloughing: improper handling of gerbils can result in the loss of fur from the end of the tail.

Nasal Dermatitis: gerbils commonly develop hair

loss on the nose and muzzle with open lesions and crusting. This can be due to coarse bedding or rough surfaces in the cage. This can also be due to the Hardarian gland malfunctioning, which is located behind the eye and produces a porphyrin secretion.

Renal disease: Old gerbils, 2.5-4 years of age, often present with weight loss, poor appetite, lethargy and increased drinking.

Neoplasia: Gerbils have a relatively high incidence of cancer after 2 years of age. Ovarian tumors may present with early cessation of reproduction, decreased litter size, or distended abdomens. The skin can also be affected by tumors. Squamous cell carcinomas and melanomas are most common. The ventral marking scent gland is another site for tumors. This is located in the mid-abdominal area and it produces an orange– colored secretion for marking territories. Tumors can appear as abscesses.

Tyzzer’s Disease: This is the most common infectious disease in gerbils and is caused by a bacteria. It can cause a high death rate. Clinical signs include ruffled fur, lethargy, hunched posture, poor appetite and diarrhea. Prevention is the key to this disease. High level sanitation and minimal stress can reduce the occurrence of this disease.


Provide an adequate sized cage with good ventilation and one that is easy to clean

Safe bedding that is non-toxic, absorbent, clean and relatively dust– free; DO NOT USE CEDAR OR CHLOROPHYLL BEDDING

Provide a well balanced diet with clean water daily

Hamster being examined at Aspenwing

Hamster Care

Hamster Care Basics


Hamsters were introduced into the United States in 1938. In the wild, the Syrian hamster was found from Rumania and Bulgaria through Asia Minor, Israel, and northwestern Iran.


The young are born hairless and blind with closed ears. Teeth are present at birth. Fur begins to grow at 9 days of age. Pups are able to eat hard food at 7-10 days of age and open their eyes at 14-15 days of age. Weaning occurs at 21-25 days of age.


Hamsters may hibernate in response to lowered environmental temperatures (below 40 F). The duration of hibernation is generally short, usually 2-3 days, but may be up to 5-7 days.

Hamsters have large cheek pouches in which they store food long enough to find a good hiding place for it.

Hamsters are nocturnal and can be very aggressive if suddenly disturbed out of a deep sleep. Take care to waken slowly!

They also need exercise and this can be supplied with a rodent wheel or rodent ball. The wheel should be solid. They can get foot and leg injuries in wire wheels. Be sure when using a rodent ball that the animal is supervised closely and all doors and stairways are blocked.


A high quality commercial pelleted rodent diet containing 15-20% protein should be available. This can be supplemented with small amounts of fresh dark green vegetables, apple, squash and items such as sugarless breakfast cereals. The fresh foods and bread products should be offered only in small amounts and changed daily so they won’t hoard it in their pouches and allow it to spoil.

Fresh water is provided in water bottles with sipper tubes. This should be cleaned daily to ensure the tube has not clogged and clean water is available at all times.

DO NOT CHANGE THE DIET SUDDENLY– this can cause GI upset.


The hamster can be caught by gently cupping both hands around it, taking care not to startle it.


Floor space of at least 19 in square per adult with a height of 6 inches is recommended. The habitrail type cages are not recommended for hamsters due to inadequate ventilation and the height of the upper levels. Hamsters have poor depth perception and can get injured falling from the tubes to the lower levels.

Bedding should be clean, nontoxic, absorbent and relatively dust free. Recommended types include recycled paper products, pelleted litters, or aspen wood shavings. The bedding should be at least 2 inches deep. A hide box should be provided. The cage should have adequate ventilation and be easily cleaned. Cleanliness of the cage is important to the health of your pet.

Hamsters are generally solitary animals and do better housed singly.


  • Diarrhea
  • Wetness around the anal area
  • Lack of appetite
  • Bloody urine
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Swelling anywhere
  • Lethargy
  • Hair loss
  • Abnormal teeth

If you see any of these signs or notice anything abnormal about your hamster, you should contact your exotic animal veterinarian.

Hamsters are nocturnal. They can become aggressive if awakened suddenly from a deep sleep. They will normally become active and playful at night.


  • Provide a clean, well ventilated cage
  •  Provide a high quality pelleted diet
  • Provide adequate, safe exercise
  • Provide adequate burrowing spaces and materials
  • Prevent escape
Two Hedgehogs in hands

Hedgehog Care Basics

Hedgehog Care Basics

Natural History

Hedgehogs are nocturnal insectivores (insect eating). There are a several species of hedgehog. The African Pygmy Hedgehog is the most popular pet in the United States and is smaller than the European Hedgehog. The  European Hedgehog is commonly seen in gardens in Europe and the Egyptian long eared hedgehog is bred and sold as pets in the UK. There are many differences between the species including size and personality.

Biological Facts

  • Life Span: Up to 10 years
  • Sexual Maturity: As early as 2 months
  • Principal Breeding Period: African Pygmy Hedgehogs breed year round. The European species generally breed May-July.
  • Gestation Period: 30-40 days.
  • Litter Size: 1-7 pups with an average of 3


As with any pet, their natural environment and daily activities need to be considered. A hedgehog in its natural environment will forage and hunt for food all day so before bringing one into your home it is best to have a minimum space of 18″ X 24″.  Without exercise, hedgehogs tend to become obese which leads to serious health problems therefore a solid bottom wheel, a safe space outside of its cage or a much larger cage should be provided. The hedgehog will need stimulus and places to dig for food, climbing opportunities and hiding. This can be accomplished by providing various tubes, boxes, untreated fruit tree logs, flower pots, cat toys, and ferret toys.There are also a variety of grass based balls and tubes now available for these and other small mammals. The material in the bottom of the cage should be absorbable and nontoxic such as processed paper products at a depth of several inches, be kept dry and changed frequently. Do not use a clay cat litter product in the litter boxes as they can ingest it and become impacted. Your hedgehog should be maintained at a temperature of 75-85 F.

They should also be provided with a shallow pan or tub of ambient temperature water for swimming, as well as smooth clean rocks that they can lay on, or rub and scratch on.


They should be provided with clean fresh water daily from a sipper bottle or crock. Hedgehogs are omnivorous therefore their diet should be high in protein and low in fat. A high fat diet can lead to obesity and will decrease your pets health and longevity. They should be fed once a day, preferably in late afternoon or evening as that is when they are most active. This portion of food should be mostly consumed by morning. A small snack can be provided during the day. They should be provided with 2-3 Tbsp of a dry food that is approximately 30% protein and 15% fat, 1-2 Tbsp of a variety of vegetables a day, and 3-5 insects 3-4 times a week. The insects are important and may include mealworms, earthworms,  and crickets. Evaluate the dry diet carefully and understand the protein and fat content. The diet should not include peanuts as these can get caught in the mouths of the hedgehog and cause serious problems. Peanuts are also too high in fat for the pet.

Unusual Characteristics

Hedgehogs exhibit some unique behaviors that should not be mistaken for abnormalities. A self anointing behavior called “anting”  or “anointing” has been seen when the hedgehog encounters something new in the environment and they “taste” it and then begin salivating excessively, creating a foam which they will spit onto their spines. They are solitary by nature and therefore care must be taken if you are to try housing the hedgehog with another hedghog. Many times they will fight very aggressively potentially leading to serious injury. In general it is best to house them separately.

Hedgehogs are susceptable to obesity, dermatitis/mange mites, pneumonia, tumors (especially over 3yr of age), enteritis, fatty liver, dental problems, internal parasites and are potential carriers of Salmonella. Many of the common conditions are the result of malnutrition. By visiting your exotic animal veterinarian for routine health checks, they can help prevent many problems with your hedgehog and support you with a long and happy relationship with your hedgehog.

Ferrets Closeup

Ferret Basics

Ferret Basics

There are two types of ferrets found in the US. The domestic or European ferret and the black-footed ferret. The black-footed ferret is the only one native to the US and is highly endangered. The domestic ferret was brought over from Europe about 300 years ago by English settlers and is the type of ferret that is commonly kept as a pet.

Ferrets are becoming more popular as pets. They are small in size and easy to care for. They are very curious animals and can be very entertaining to watch and play with.

Ferrets are not recommended as pets for small children due to the severity of their bite if they are frightened or mishandled.

Ferrets are carnivores (meat eaters) similar to cats. They have highly developed anal sacs or scent glands that secrete a fluid called musk. The glands are usually removed in pet ferrets at the time of neutering. The sebaceous glands in the skin also add to the musky odor.


Ferrets can be bathed about once a month with a mild pet shampoo that has skin and coat conditioners. This will help control the musky odor. Use a soft brush on the coat. The nails need to be clipped frequently to prevent injuries. Brushing your ferrets teeth routinely will decrease tartar buildup and gum disease.


Ferrets are very active and inquisitive. They should not be housed 24 hours a day. They should be supervised in a ferret proof exercise area a minimum of 2 hours a day.

Cage size should be a minimum of 24 in. X 24 in. X 18 in high. Aquariums are not suitable due to inadequate ventilation.

Ferrets are able to squeeze through very small spaces so build a cage that has small openings that they can’t get through or get stuck in. Wire can be used if it is sturdy enough that the ferret cannot bend it. The floor should be solid and can be covered with newspaper. Remember these are very active animals with a large space requirement to keep mentally stimulated, with a large variety of play items that are safe. Anything easily torn apart and swallowed should not be provided. DO NOT USE CAT LITTER IN LITTER BOX. Use Carefresh bedding or Yesterdays News or other pelleted litter. This should be changed frequently.


Ferrets are strict carnivores (they are meant to eat whole prey items).

Ferrets should be fed a good quality commercial ferret such as Totally Ferret or Marshall  Ferret food. You should also give them a hairball remedy such as Laxatone once weekly to prevent hairballs. Avoid overfeeding fatty acid supplements which can cause obesity. Avoid treats that are high in carbohydrates.  Ferret or cat treats that are freeze dried muscle or organ meat are acceptable treats for ferrets.


Ferrets are usually friendly and rarely bite. Although, it’s not a good idea to hold them close to your face because they have poor eyesight and may mistake a nose or an eye for a play thing. The best way to carry a ferret is to place your hand underneath, between the front legs with the body stretched along your forearm. They can also be gripped by the scruff of the neck, supporting the body. This is not painful and causes the ferret to relax. They are easily distracted with food if you need to get their attention quickly.

When your ferret is out of it’s cage, be sure to watch it closely so that it doesn’t get into anything harmful. They are very quick, curious animals and can easily get into trouble if left unsupervised.


Ferrets should have a yearly physical exam just like other pets. They should be checked regularly for parasites such as ear mites and intestinal parasites. They will normally produce a lot of brown ear wax which can be wiped out with a cotton ball to keep the ears clean. They also may need annual vaccinations.

Routine teeth brushing will keep the gums healthy and decrease dental disease. It is important to have your ferrets teeth and gums evaluated at least yearly by your veterinarian to detect dental disease and address the problems with routine periodontal cleanings and possibly teeth extractions as needed.

Ferrets should be spayed or neutered. Usually this is done before they are purchased. Females that are not spayed will go into prolonged estrus causing fatal anemia if they are not bred. It is important to be sure that she has been spayed.

Ferrets over two years of age are much more prone to medical problems and your veterinarian should be consulted if any unusual symptoms occur. More frequent check ups are also a good idea to catch problems early.

Consult your veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden weakness/loss of balance
  • Hair loss
  • Itching/dry brittle hair coat
  • Weight loss
  • Abnormal lumps or lesions on the skin
  • Swollen vulva
  • Lethargy (lack of energy)


  • 8 Weeks– 1st distemper
  • 11 Weeks– 2nd distemper
  • 14 Weeks– 3rd distemper and rabies
  • Booster both distemper and rabies yearly
  • A yearly physical and dental exam is recommended at the time vaccinations are given. Routine dental cleanings should be done as needed for control of tartar buildup and gum disease.

After 2 years of age:

  • Physical exam every 6 months
  • Continue vaccinations
  • Complete blood count annually
  • Fasting blood glucose check

After 5 years of age:

  • Physical exam every six months
  • Vaccinations yearly
  • Complete blood panel every 6 months

Things to avoid:

  • Electrical cords
  • Open dryers
  • Unlatched screen doors
  • Small pipes, escape holes
  • Soft rubber or latex the ferret can chew and swallow

Safe Toys:

  • Ferret balls
  • Fabric covered cat toys
  • Knotted cotton rope
  • Socks tied in a knot
  • Empty mild jugs with ferret sized holes cut into them
  • Empty paper bags
  • Cardboard boxes with small holes cut into sides
  • PVC tubing large enough so ferret wont get stuck
  • Waste baskets containing small items to play with

Do not leave your ferret unsupervised outside of the cage. They are very quick, curious animals and can easily get into trouble.

guinea pig in hand

Guinea Pig Care

Guinea Pig Care

Care of Guinea Pigs

The guinea pig, or cavy, is a docile rodent native to the Andes Mountain area of South America. They were first domesticated by the Andean Indians of Peru, who used them as a food source and as a sacrificial offering to Incan gods. During the 16th century, Dutch explorers introduced guinea pigs to Europe, where they were selectively bred by fanciers. The guinea pig entered the research laboratory in the 18th century, and have since made significant contributions to the scientific community. To the day, the guinea pig remains a favorite pet among children due to the docile behavior, ease of handling, and clean, quiet nature.

Through selective breeding efforts, guinea pigs are found in an array of colors and coat types from which to choose. Five primary varieties are encountered in the pet industry. The Shorthair or English is characterized by having a uniformly short hair coat. The Abyssinian has whorls or rosettes in their short, rough, wiry coat. The Peruvian is recognized by its very long silky hair. These three types are most commonly kept as pets. The Silky and Teddy Bear varieties are encountered less frequently. The Silky is a large variety distinguished by its medium length silky hair. The Teddy Bear has medium length hair of normal consistency.


Good quality guinea pig pellets, fresh vegetables and fruit and free choice grass hay and fresh, clean water must be readily available at all times. A high quality brand is Oxbow Cavy Diet. DO NOT FEED RABBIT PELLETS as a substitute for guinea pig pellets. They are not equivalent in nutritive value. Unlike most mammals, guinea pigs cannot manufacture their own vitamin C, therefore must be available in the diet. Guinea pig diets are uniquely formulated with these requirements in mind, whereas rabbit pellets are not.

Good quality guinea pig pellets contain vitamin C, however, the level may be affected by storage conditions or time. You can provide supplementation with a quarter of an orange or a small amount of kale or cabbage daily to ensure adequate vitamin C intake.

The guinea pig’s diet should be composed of fresh guinea pig pellets, fresh greens or fruit, and good quality timothy grass hay.

Adult guinea pigs: Restrict pellets to 1 tablespoon daily to prevent obesity. Fresh produce with high vitamin C content ½ to 1 cup daily, free choice grass hay

Less than 4 months old: Unlimited pellets, fresh produce with high vitamin C content at ½ to 1 cup daily, free choice grass hay.

Any change in diet should be done gradually due to

their sensitive digestive systems. Guinea pigs do not tolerate changes in their food or environment. Pet owners should avoid making radical changes in the food or water containers as well.

Fresh water should be available by using a water bottle equipped with a “sipper” tube. It is important to clean this daily because guinea pigs tend to contaminate and clog their water bottles by chewing on the end of the sipper tube and “backwashing” food particles into it.


Generally, guinea pigs are docile, non-aggressive animals. They rarely bite or scratch when handled. They usually voice their protest simply by letting out a high pitched squeal. They may struggle when being picked up or restrained. Extreme care should be taken not to injure them during handling. The guinea pig should be approached with both hands. One hand is placed under the pig’s chest and abdomen, the other hand supports it’s hindquarter. Adults and especially pregnant females, should receive careful attention to gentle, yet firm and total support.


Housing accommodations provided for pet guinea pigs are limited only by one’s imagination, ingenuity, and budget. There is no single correct way to house your guinea pig as long as the well-being of your pet is considered. Adequate housing is a major factor in the maintenance of healthy pets.

Guinea pigs can be housed within enclosures made of stainless steel, durable plastic, or glass, with a solid floor. Wire flooring is not recommended since it can cause severe foot and hock injuries that can lead to arthritis. Adequate ventilation is important so be cautious of aquariums. The cage must be escape-proof and free of sharp edges and other potential hazards. The size should allow for normal guinea pig activity and approximately 100 sq. inches of floor area per adult pig is recommended. Larger for breeding animals. The enclosure can remain opened on the top if the sides are at least 12 inches high, and no other pets are a threat to the guinea pig, such as dogs, cats and small children.

Bedding materials must be clean, non-toxic, absorbent, relatively dust-free and easy to replace. Acceptable beddings are aspen wood shavings, shredded paper, processed ground corn cob, hay and commercial pellets and recycled paper products. Cleanliness is very important to the health of your pet. Guinea pigs do well in a dry, cool environment with adequate ventilation. Guinea pigs are very sensitive to ammonia in urine. They are nocturnal so require quiet periods of rest during the day. They also appreciate a hide box or tunnel in which to hide and rest.

An annual physical examination is recommended by your exotic animal veterinarian to keep your guinea pig healthy.

Common conditions to guinea pigs:

  • Slobbers/dental malocclusion: watch for decreased eating, drooling and weight loss. Must be taken to your veterinarian and will require regular trimming or filing of teeth.
  • Scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency): poor appetite, swollen, painful joints and ribs, reluctance to move. This condition can be fatal especially in young pigs. See your veterinarian immediately.
  • Barbering (Hair chewing): occurs commonly in groups of pigs and generally done by the dominant pig.
  • Heat Stroke: Guinea pigs are very susceptible to heat stroke. Environmental temperatures above 85 F, high humidity(above 70%), inadequate shade and ventilation, overcrowding can all lead to heat stroke.
  • Pneumonia: Watch for difficulty breathing, discharge from nose and eyes, lethargy, and inappetance. Sudden death can occur without any sign. Improper husbandry, stress, and inadequate diet can lead to this disease.
  • Bacterial Enteritis (Intestinal Infection): Watch for diarrhea, lethargy and weight loss. Can be caused by contaminated water, greens or vegetables. Consult your veterinarian if this condition occurs.
  • Bacterial Pododermatitis (Footpad infection): Severe infections of the foot pads are very common among guinea pigs housed on wire flooring. Watch for swelling of feet, lameness, and reluctancy to move. Improved sanitation and cage floor alterations are important to prevent recurrence.
  • External Parasites (Lice and Mites): Watch for excess dander, hair loss, itching and weight loss. Mites can cause serious skin infections and both conditions can be treated by your veterinarian. Guinea pig mites and lice are not known to infect humans

General Care

  • Keep diet stable and minimize treat variety.
  • Provide fresh food and water daily
  • Ensure a daily source of vitamin C
  • Remove fresh food that is not eaten with a half hour
  • Visit your exotic animal veterinarian for an annual exam
  • Clip toenails regularly and comb long hair and keep it clean and trimmed
  • Check droppings for evidence of illness: abnormally dry feces may indicate dehydration, abnormally soft feces indicate diarrhea

Housing should:

  • Be in a quiet part of the house away from sudden noises.
  • Be cleaned with a change of bedding every few days
  • Be maintained in a ambient temperature between 55-85 F.
  • Offer some sunlight as long as shade is available to prevent overheating
  • Include a box or tunnel for hiding, resting
  • Include items for chewing such as branches from fruit trees
  • Be easy to clean

 It is important to prevent guinea pigs access to:

  • Wire flooring in enclosure
  • Tobacco and cigarette smoke
  • Electrical cords
  • Ingestible plastic
  • Furniture
  • Dogs, cats, and young children
  • Toxic houseplants
  • Pesticides
  • Cedar shavings, pine
  • Refined sugars
  • Leaded paint and wood varnish
  • Galvanized metal