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Rodents are susceptible to a lot of infections, so you'll need to line up a veterinarian before your pet gets sick. It is advisable to take your small animals for a vet visit when you first obtain them to make sure they don't have any underlying diseases and infections or chronic conditions. Beyond this initial visit, your pets don't need annual check-ups, just care for health problems.
While there are no national standards for vaccinating small animals or routine vaccination protocols, there may be reasons to vaccinate pets for certain infections in your area. Talk to your vet about whether or not your small animal pets need to be vaccinated to keep them healthy.
Sexual maturity among small animals can cause a variety of social problems. In some cases, males and females cannot live together once they reach sexual maturity or one sex will kill the other. Aggression and territorialism also increase once the reproductive period begins. Additionally, most rodents live relatively short lives and tend to have short reproductive cycles and sizeable litters (see the chart below). Their ubiquitous availability, prolific natures and increased aggression are all good reasons for having your small animals spayed (for females) or neutered (for males). Spaying and neutering can occur at a very young age and should take place before your bring your pets home. So be sure you purchase rodents that are spayed or neutered.
|Animal||Gestation Period||Litter Size|
|Chinchillas||111 days||1-5, with an average of 2|
|Gerbils||24-26 days||4-6 pups|
|Guinea Pigs||63-70 days||1-6, with an average of 3-4|
|Hamsters||15-16 days||5-10 average|
|Mice||21-35 days||10-12 average|
|Rats||21 days||6-12 average|
The most common health problems for small animals tend to be respiratory infections, gastrointestinal problems, cancers, hair loss and diseases of the feet and tails. Symptoms of illness are loss of appetite, lethargy, diarrhea, tearing of the eyes, slobbering or drooling, difficulty breathing, shaking the head, hunching, remaining still, sneezing, breathing problems, lesions on the feet or rough, matted or loss of hair.
The chart below specifies the leading health issues for each common small animal. This is followed by a brief description of some of the most significant health issues for all species.
Scurvy (Vitamin C Deficiency)
Respiratory Diseases (Sendai Virus, Sialoacryodenitis)
Respiratory Diseases (Sendai Virus, Sialoacryodenitis)
Dental Problems. A rodent's teeth never stop growing. That's why it is important for them to chew ― to keep their teeth strong and in alignment. However, it is not uncommon for misalignments or overgrowths to occur. Dental problems lead to loss of appetite and weight loss, so it is important to take your pet to the vet as soon as you identify a dental problem. Slobbering and watery eyes may also be symptoms of dental problems. In many cases, the vet can cut or remove teeth or even out surface areas to correct the problem or use antibiotics to treat tooth infections.
Footpad Infection. While guinea pigs are most susceptible, any rodent can have bacterial pododermatitis, also known as footpad infection. This usually occurs in wire cages that have not been kept clean. The animal steps on bacteria caused by the feces and develops an infection that leads to swelling of the feet, lameness and a reluctance to move. To correct the problem, first take your pet to the vet for a treatment of topical bandaging and antibiotics. Second, remove everything from the cage and clean and disinfect it thoroughly. Clean the food bowls and water bottles as well. Then put in a thick, new layer of substrate and nesting material that fully covers the bottom of the cage so that your pet's feet don't come into contact with the wire cage. Then, make a habit of removing soiled substrate and feces daily as well as uneaten food.
Fur Slip. Fur slip is the loss of patches of hair that usually occurs from rough handling. You may think you're touch is normal, but sometimes it still may be too hard for your pet. Fighting among pets can be another cause of fur slip. Once the hair loss occurs, it generally becomes permanent. Pay close attention to your pet's coat and watch for early signs of hair loss to prevent future problems.
Hair Loss. Hair loss is an early symptom for a number of health concerns among small animals. It may indicate stress or anxiety. It could also indicate harmful obsessive behaviors, like rubbing a head against the cage. Sometimes, hair loss occurs when the materials used for substrates aren't soft enough for your particular species. If you see signs of hair loss, take your pet to a veterinarian to rule out any health issues and then try to find the source of the problem.
Heat Stroke. Because they have little body mass and coats of hair or fur, it is easy for these little creatures to overheat in the summer. You need to be vigilant about your pets' water intake whenever the temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit to help prevent heat stroke. This also is why it is important to keep your rodents' cages out of direct sunlight. When heat stroke occurs, rodents stop moving and pant heavily. If this occurs, spray your pet with cool water to help bring down its body temperature. You can also rub alcohol on its footpads. Then take your pet for immediate medical attention. Given their small size, it doesn't take long for heat stroke to become fatal.
Infections. Rodents are more susceptible to both bacterial and viral infections than many other animals. Contaminated foods and unsanitary care are the most frequent causes. In fact, rodents can contract salmonella or e-coli from the same contaminated foods that lead to serious illnesses among humans. There are also infections that are specific to each species. Their little bodies don't have enough resistance to fight off intensive infections. That's why it is important to get your pet to the vet whenever you observe a symptom that may indicate a health problem. You also need to isolate any small animal that may have an infection to protect your other pets from contracting the same illness.
Respiratory Diseases. Pneumonia, colds and other respiratory ailments are commonly experienced by rodents. Bacterial infections, like salmonella, often lead to respiratory problems. But disease isn't the only cause -- keeping your pet's cage in a drafty area, cold temperatures, humidity levels outside the normal range of 30-70% or exposure to constant moisture can all lead to respiratory problems for rodents. Be sure you maintain the environment that small animals need for healthy living to reduce the incidence of respiratory diseases.
Runny Eyes. Watery, running eyes among rodents is often a symptom of a respiratory problem, like a cold. But because of the proximity of molars to nasal passages and the eyes, it may be a sign of dental problems as well. Whenever this symptom appears, it indicates some kind of health problem, so get your pet to vet as quickly as you can.
Tyzzer's Disease. This disease unleashes bacteria that infect living cells in some rodents and can affect the heart, liver, lymph nodes and digestive tract. Although it can be treated with tetracycline antibiotics, if not caught early enough it can be fatal. Tyzzer's disease is also highly contagious. If you have more than one pet, it's likely to spread to all of them. The most common symptoms are poor appetite, lethargy, ruffled fur or a hunched posture. Prevention is the best strategy and is well within your control. Tyzzer's Disease is caused by unsanitary living conditions and high levels of stress. That's why daily and weekly cleaning protocols must be observed religiously -- with daily cleaning of food and water containers and removal of soiled substrates and feces and weekly removal of all materials, cleaning and disinfection of the cage and placement of completely fresh substrate layers. It is also why you need to give your pets time to acclimate to any changes in their environments -- from new foods or substrate materials to new people or seasonal changes. Most importantly, it is the reason for you to treat your pets gently and protectively at all times.