OWNING A HAMSTER, GUINEA PIG, GERBIL, MOUSE OR RAT ( PET RODENT)
Pet rodents (hamsters, rats, mice, gerbils, and guinea pigs) are very popular
pets. They make good first pets for young children and as a rule require minimal
care. Compared to dogs and cats, they have a shorter life-span (2-5 years depending
upon the species); young children should be told this so that the "sudden death"
of a 3-year-old pet isn't unexpected. As with any pet, they do occasionally
get sick, and their illnesses are often severe. All pet rodents should be examined
by a qualified veterinary surgeon within 48 hours of purchase. This "new pet"
exam is critical to detect signs of disease and help new pet owners get off
on the right foot. So many problems are caused by misinformation; the first
veterinary visit can help prevent well-intentioned owners from doing the wrong
thing and ultimately contributing to the pet's early death.
Common to all of the pet rodents is the fact that the front teeth, the incisors,
grow continuously throughout the pet's life. Overgrown incisors are a common
problem and can be prevented by allowing the pet access to pieces of wood and
other chewing devices. Treatment involves trimming by your veterinary surgeon,
often under anesthesia.
Rodents are herbivorous animals, and the digestive tract is, in some ways
similar to that of other plant-eaters such as horses and cattle.
No obvious tail is present. Unlike other rodents, only one pair of mammary
glands is present. The guinea pig is the only pocket pet with premolar teeth.
Unlike most animals, the young are precocious at birth, meaning they are fully
developed, born with hair, and the eyes open. Guinea pigs rarely bite, which
makes them ideal pets. However, they do squeal when handled.
Porphyrin from the Harderian glands around the eyes causes tears and nasal
secretions to appear red. The mammary glands extend along the sides and back
of the pet, and therefore breast cancer can appear as a lump ANYWHERE on the
body. Young mice are born hairless with their eyes closed.
Similar to mice, rats have a Harderian gland that produces red tears and nasal
secretions. The young are born hairless with their eyes closed.
Hip glands, which appear as a black dot on each hip, are present in males.
They are used for territorial marking and are poorly developed in females. Hamsters
have a cheek pouch on each side of the inside of the mouth. Food, and even baby
hamsters, may be temporarily stored here! Hamsters are the most aggressive of
all the pocket pets and often bite. Hamsters can hibernate. A sleeping hamster
should be awakened carefully! Because of this a hamster appearing dead may merely
be in a deep state of torpor and should be warmed and awakened, not buried!
Since gerbils are desert animals, they have a very low water requirement.
Due to this low water intake, gerbils urinate small amounts.
Gerbils usually mate for life; they should be paired before sexual maturity.
Many gerbils exhibit mild spontaneous seizures (epilepsy), especially when
startled. These usually don't require treatment.
Gerbils have high blood cholesterol and lipid (fat) levels but interestingly
do not show heart disease and atherosclerosis.
Selecting Your Pet
Most owners will buy their pet rodents locally through a pet store. Avoid
sick-looking animals. Don't try to be a "Good Samaritan". Remember that, with
exotic pets, if it looks sick, it's really dying! Trying to nurse a sick pet
rodent back to health after purchasing it will rarely work. Just the stress
of the new environment and feeding is often enough to kill it. So, start out
right with a healthy pet. Always inquire about the guarantee in case the pet
is found to be unhealthy.
The pet rodent should have no discharge from the eyes, nose, or mouth. If
you can open the mouth (without being bitten!), make sure the front teeth, the
incisors, have not overgrown (they should form a nice, even fit). The animal
should seem frisky and try to run and resist handling to some extent. No coughing,
sneezing, or wheezing should be present. Examine the rectal area. It should
be dry and free of diarrhea or caked-on stool. This is especially important
for young hamsters; many baby hamsters at pet stores have a disease called "wet
tail", which is usually fatal. Ask the employee for help in determining the
animal's sex. Keep in mind that pet store employees may know little more than
you about the pet. Also the sex of a young rodent can be very difficult to determine,
especially if there are no other animals to compare the individual with. Hopefully
the sex can be correctly determined during your pet's first veterinary visit
but do not be too hard on the veterinarian if this proves difficult!
The first veterinary visit
Within 48 hours of your purchase, your pet should be examined by a veterinary
surgeon knowledgeable in the treatment of pet rodents. The visit includes determining
the animal's weight, as well as checking for lumps or bumps. The animal is examined
for signs of dehydration and starvation. A fecal test is done to check for internal
parasites. The veterinary surgeon can also attempt to determine the sex of your
pet. If all turns out well, your pet will be given a clean bill of health. Like
all pets, pet rodents should be examined annually and have their feces tested
for parasites during the annual visit.
Pet rodents do not require vaccinations.
to Rodent Information Index