Children often want a small pet that they can call their own. Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and rats are fun additions to the family. They are generally low maintenence making them perfect as an introduction to proper care of animals. Each of these species has their own special considerations, but a common theme is that their water is changed daily, they should be fed a well balanced food, and their cage cleaned at least weekly. For the more social species (rabbits, guinea pigs and rats) daily handling and play is also important to their well being. With patience, hamsters can also be trained to accept handling, but for these little creatures, making sure their environment is stimulating is more important. Find your species in the links below to learn more about proper care.
Rats are easy to care for and friendly. Read on for health tips.
Diet: Rat pellets are complete and balanced. Mazuri is a good brand. The seed mixtures can be fed as a treat. Fruit and vegies in small amounts are enjoyed. Rats don't have problems with overgrowth of harmful bacteria like the guinea pigs and rabbits have, but it's best not to over feed any one type of fruit or vegetable.
Cage: Plastic bottom and wire upper, multiple levels are enjoyed. Hidey hole. Large plastic wheel that can be attached to the side of the cage for support. Wire wheels can cause foot and leg injuries including fractures. Care Fresh bedding changed weekly. They produce a lot of stool and urine. Water bottle changed at least 2X weekly.
Very smart, so they need things to play with in cage and interactions with other rats and people to be happy. Cheap replaceable “toys” such as toilet paper tubes are fun to chew on.
Diseases: Upper respiratory infections and pneumonia from a combination of bacterias such as strep pneumonia and mycoplasma are a serious problem in rats. Mammary tumors are common and can get very large in a few weeks to a month, necessitating surgical removal. Skin problems from lice are common and treatable, not contagious to people. Lice are species specific.
Medications are usually easy to give. If difficult, can use a piece of cake donut or angel food cake and put the liquid dose on the food; it usually soaks in well and most rats will take meds that way. We make suspensions of antibiotics in FlavorX compounding solution and add flavors that rats like.
Rabbits that are well socialized make great family pets. Below are some important care instructions for rabbits.
Feed timothy hay based rabbit pelleted food free choice until full grown, then ¼ cup per 5# rabbit per day. You can feed an alfalfa based pellets until 6 months old, but avoid afterward
as it can cause sludgy urine and bladder stones due to the high calcium content. The exception to this rule is for breeding females.
Feeding timothy hay free choice will provide the essential fiber needed for normal GI motility and also promote healthy bacteria which is needed to help digest food. Most importantly, it will also reduce bad bacterias that produce toxins and disease. Alfalfa hay can be fed until 6 months old, but avoid afterward unless the does are used for breeding. Oxbow on-line www.oxbowhay.com is a good source of hay and pellets. Oxbow hay and pellets can be found at the larger stores such as Pet Smart also. Hay should feel soft to the touch like dried grass, as stems and rough hay can cause wounds in the mouth which lead to infection.
Fresh vegies daily, about 1-2 cups, are also important. Ideal vegies are parsley, cilantro, beet tops, kale, collard greens, romaine lettuce; avoid light colored lettuces. Carrots are fine in small amounts, but it is a vegetable with a lot of sugar compared to leafy green vegies. Remember the size of the rabbit compared to the size of the carrot – compare to feeding a carrot to another herbivore such as a horse with a similar digestive tract – even a baby carrot is quite large in comparison.
Foods to avoid are: grains (wheat, corn, rice, seed mixtures), yogurt drops (rabbits don't eat yogurt and sugar in the wild), treats in general from the pet stores. These things will feed bacteria that are usually in small numbers in the GI tract, leading to overgrowth, toxin production, diarrhea, shock and death.
Fruit can be given in small amounts ie one blueberry, one strawberry, one grape, a piece of apple the size of a grape. Because fruits contain sugar and carbohydrates, too much will again feed the bacteria that produce toxins.
Good things to chew on: hay cubes (timothy), timothy hay
Fresh water in large sipper bottle – rinse and give fresh daily.
How to feed a sick rabbit: Oxbow Critical Care, soft timothy hay, carrot tops, shaved carrots, cilantro, parsley, pellets.
How to medicate a sick rabbit: Wrap in towel and hold in lap. We usually make the prescriptions in a liquid formula called FlavorX that tastes good or compound it into carrot baby food. Bad tasting liquid medications can be mixed with some carrot baby food and given with a syringe. Giving antibiotics orally can cause suppression of the normal good bacteria, leaving room for the harmful bacteria to multiply, so only certain antibiotics are “safe” and we use a promotility drug called metoclopramide or Reglan to ensure that we don't have slowdown of the GI motility which can contribute to problems. Any rabbit taking even a “safe” antibiotic can have serious side effects, so stop antibiotics and call your vet if a rabbit isn't eating normally, has soft stool, or isn't acting right when taking antibiotics.
Bedding: Care Fresh – change cage once a week. Litter – change twice a week.
Inside- Electrical cords, ingestion of rug or other fibers, trauma from other pets, household toxins.
Outside – heat stroke, fly strike (maggots), fleas, virus transmission from wild rabbits, trauma, toxic plants.
Health care: Clip toenails once a month.
Vet preventative care: spay females to prevent common uterine cancer; exams once a year when young, twice year when >5 yrs old. Lab work (blood and urine and stool) as necessary on sick rabbits and on geriatric rabbits every 6 months. Recommended to neuter males to reduce territorial marking and aggression.
Illnesses: “Snuffles” Pasteurella sp.; dental problems; torticollis; sludgy urine; bladder stones; GI motility problems from hair and carpet fibers; abscesses; liver disease.
Funny websites: www.disapprovingrabbits.com
Hamsters are furry, cute and entertaining to watch. They do have a short life span only 12-18 months for the dwarfs; 2 yrs for the Teddy Bears.
Cage – plastic bottom, wires spaced safely for the size of the hamster. The dwarfs can get their head through some bars and get caught. Use Care Fresh bedding. They need a wheel to run on – use the kind that are solid plastic, so they don't get a foot caught and break their leg. Hidey hole made of safe wood. Sipper bottle for water. Change bedding every 2 weeks.
Diet: Pelleted food that is a complete and balanced diet. Some brands are Mazuri. The seed mixtures you see can be offered as a treat but are not complete and balanced.
Offer small pieces of carrot, dark leafy lettuce, 1 blueberry, leafy top from strawberry.
Guinea Pigs are wonderful little pets, and who can resist their sweet little squeaks? Read on for important information on the proper care of your guinea pig.
Diet: Pelleted food for guinea pigs has some Vitamin C added, but it's never enough, so it's recommended to feed a source of Vitamin C daily. Oxbowhay.com makes a good daily Vitamin C chewable tab. Alternatively, you can feed a few leaves of kale and/or green pepper slices every day to provide natural vitamin C. Don't use oranges. After full grown, limit pellets to ¼ cup per day. Guinea pigs get Scurvy if not given enough Vitamin C.
Free choice (ie as much as they want to eat) of timothy hay. oxbowhay.com or buy Oxbow Hay at Pet Smart. Make sure the hay is soft, avoid stems and rough hay to prevent wounds to the mouth.
No more than 1 baby carrot per day. Carrots are high in vegetable sugars which cause elevated blood sugar levels and can lead to overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
No cereal grains i.e. seed mixture toys, crackers, Cherrios, which cause overgrowth of harmful bacteria that produce toxins and can cause sudden death. Avoid yogurt drop treats.
Limit fruits to ½ grape, 1 blueberry, tiny amount of apple.
Bedding: Use Care Fresh bedding. Scoop out soiled spots and refresh. Clean entire cage once a week. Guinea pigs produce a lot of stool and urine.
Cage: Plastic bottom with sides that are about 4” deep. Guinea pigs like to kick up their bedding and without sides, it's a mess all around their cage. Have a box or plastic igloo for them to hide in.
Water bottle – fresh water daily. Don't add vitamins to the water. They drink a lot of water and like to spit into the sipper tube, so watch carefully that the bottle is working well and not clogged.
They are susceptible to heat stroke.
Guinea pigs are very fast, be prepared if you put them down on the ground. Kids like to take them outside and play with them in the grass, but they can take off and escape, get under decks, into other people's yards, etc. Have a safe cage for outside.
Trim nails once a month.
Diseases: Skin mites causing scratching and hair loss; overgrowth of the molars; upper respiratory infections and pneumonia; scurvy. There are specific antibiotics to use for guinea pigs and we use a promotility drug called metoclopramide or Reglan to reduce the change of disruption of the normal bacterial flora which can lead to harmful bacterial overgrowth and toxin production. Any guinea pig on antibiotics that doesn't want to eat or is lethargic or has loose droppings may have a problem, so stop antibiotics and call your vet. Feeding a sick Guinea pig is the same as with a sick rabbit – Oxbow Critical Care Formula, fresh carrot tops, soft hay.
Giving medications: Wrap Guinea pig in small towel like swaddling a baby. Use a small syringe and enter the mouth from the side behind the front teeth, give slowly to allow swallowing. We compound medications in either FlavorX formula or carrot baby food.
Special considerations when breeding guinea pigs or preventing your kid's guinea pig from becoming pregnant: If a female has not had her first litter by 6 months of age, the pelvic bones will fuse and she will have to have the pigs delivered by C-section.