SPECIAL PROBLEMS OF PET RODENTS
Rodents have several unique problems; understanding these problems will allow
you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems.
Many rodents chew on the hair of their cage-mates. Separating the animals
prevents the problem.
This problem is caused by fine fiber or thread nesting material (or bedding)
commonly available in pet stores. The pets play with the material, the fine
thread gets wrapped around a toe or foot or leg, and within hours the body part
is swelling and turning red. This is similar to what happens when you wind a
thread tightly around your own finger. If not caught immediately, the swelling
progresses to death (necrosis) of the limb followed shortly by gangrene. Affected
limbs are swollen and various shades of shades of red, purple, blue and black.
In some animals, amputations might be curative. Often, the high cost of the
surgery forces owners to choose euthanasia for these pets. To prevent this condition,
DO NOT USE this fine bedding or nesting material. Shredded tissue works
Vitamin C Deficiency (Scurvy)
Unlike many pets, guinea pigs can't make their own Vitamin C. This means it
must be provided to the pet. Offering fresh green vegetables provides supplemented
Vitamin C and is without doubt the best and most natural method of providing
the vitamin. Signs of Vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) include loss of appetite,
swollen, painful joints, reluctance to move, resistance to infection, and occasional
bleeding from the gums. Since Vitamin C deficiency is so common, any sick guinea
pig should be given a Vitamin C injection as part of its treatment. Even though
guinea pig pellets are fortified with Vitamin C, owners should still supplement
the pigs with Vitamin C in the water if green vegetables are not given. This
is because Vitamin C is an unstable vitamin and quickly disappears from the
pellets. Vitamin C can be offered to the pets in the drinking water.
All pet rodents, but especially guinea pigs are very susceptible to heat stroke
from high ambient temperatures. As a rule, the temperature should be no higher
than 80°F, and the cage should be well ventilated an the humidity kept below
70%. Signs of heat stroke include panting, slobbering, weakness, convulsions,
and refusal to move. Treatment involves immediately cooling the pet with cool
water baths or sprays, and then seeking prompt veterinary care. Ideally, the
temperature should be monitored with an in-cage thermometer.
All pet rodents are sensitive to certain antibiotics. Several of these antibiotics
can be fatal; this is true whether or not the antibiotics are given orally,
by injection, or topically (on the skin). Some examples of toxic antibiotics
include penicillin and related drugs, bacitracin, erythromycin, lincomycin,
tylosin, and streptomycin. Owners should NEVER use antibiotics in or on their
pet rodents without first consulting a veterinary surgeon with experience in
pet rodent medicine.
Sialodacryoadenitis ("Red Tears")
Red tears, often seen in mice and rats, can be a result of a viral disease,
mycoplasmosis, or as a sign of stress. Often it is hard to tell what is actually
causing the problem. The condition appears as if blood is coming from the animal's
eyes. In the viral infection, usually the salivary and tear glands are involved.
Because rodents have porphyrins (pigments) in their tears, any discharge will
be seen as red tears. Treatment is symptomatic and involves topical eye medication.
Proliferative Ileitis ("Wet Tail")
The most serious intestinal disease of hamsters, wet tail is caused by a Campylobacter
bacterium. Usually, 3-6-week-old hamsters are affected and show signs of lethargy,
loss of appetite, unkempt hair coat, watery (sometimes bloody) diarrhea, and
a wet anal and tail area. This disease requires immediate treatment including
fluid therapy, antibiotics, and hospitalization. Animals may die even with early,
Fractures of the legs (broken legs) are very common and usually result from
injuries sustained on exercise wheels. Mild injuries may heal on their own;
severe injuries require amputation of the leg or euthanasia. Only solid-bottom
exercise wheels should be used in the cage.
A Staph bacterial skin infection can occur on the muzzle and nose of gerbils.
It is seen as areas of hair loss and moisture. Treatment involves antibiotics.
This is similar to, and often difficult to differentiate from, the staph dermatitis
previously mentioned. In addition to a Staph infection, muzzle alopecia (hair
loss) can result from a parasitic infection called mange, or from trauma, such
as that which occurs from the gerbil constantly rubbing its snout on the feeders
or the cage itself.
The gerbil is unique among rodents in that spontaneous, epileptic-type seizures
can occur, often after handling the pet. Most gerbils do not require medication
for the seizures.
to Rodent Information Index