Illustrated Articles

Small Mammals + Medical Conditions

  • Rabbits that are not eating may have developed gastrointestinal (GI) stasis. GI stasis is typically caused by a physiologic change in bacteria. Rabbits may stop eating because they are sick with other diseases, such as dental problems or kidney disease, or when they are stressed, overheated, painful from injuries or arthritis, or uncomfortable from other gastrointestinal problems such as bacterial, viral, or parasitic intestinal infections. Some rabbits get GI upset when they are eating too much carbohydrate and not enough fiber. Supportive care treatment either in or out of the hospital will be prescribed for a rabbit with GI stasis. Prevent GI stasis by feeding your rabbit a high-fiber, hay-based diet with supplemental vegetables, a small amount of pellets and fruit. Have your rabbit checked regularly by a veterinarian who can monitor for the occurrence of other underlying diseases that may contribute to the development of GI stasis.

  • Guinea pigs are generally hardy, healthy animals but are susceptible to certain diseases. They cannot make their own vitamin C and require supplementation or they may develop scurvy. Guinea pigs get various tumors, particularly skin and mammary tumors. Guinea pigs also get abscesses (accumulations of pus and bacteria) in lymph nodes, skin, muscles, teeth, bones, and internal organs. They are very prone to development of urinary calculi that form in the bladder, kidneys, or ureters which may become lodged, causing a life-threatening obstruction. In addition, guinea pigs often are affected by ringworm and can get fleas and lice. Barbering is a problem, usually associated with boredom, in which the guinea pig chews or barbers its own hair or the hair of its cage-mate. Pododermatitis, or bumblefoot, in which sores develop on the bottom of the feet from pressure, is common in overweight animals housed on wire-bottomed or dirty cages that abrade the feet.

  • Rabbits have unique gastrointestinal tracts and need a high-fiber, low-carbohydrate diet to help keep the normal GI bacteria fermenting their food. When they are fed a diet high in carbohydrate, administered certain types of antibiotics, or undergo a rapid diet change, they can develop life-threatening GI stasis. Rabbits with GI stasis become lethargic, dehydrated, weak, lose weight, and must be treated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Only rarely do rabbits develop true GI tract obstructions from ingesting foreign objects and require surgery to remove the obstruction. Rabbits are coprophagic, consuming cecotropes overnight that serve as a source of critical protein and vitamins. Rabbits that eat high calcium alfalfa-based diets or high-calcium vegetables are prone to developing bladder stones that must be removed surgically. Bunnies housed at temperatures over 80°F are subject to heat stroke, since they cannot sweat and should be housed inside in a cool place, or if outside, should have plenty of shade and water.

  • Common conditions of pet hedgehogs include internal and external parasites, ringworm, cancer, pneumonia, gastrointestinal disease, and obesity. Signs of illness or disease are often vague and non-specific, such as lack of appetite and lethargy. Therefore, any deviation from your hedgehog’s normal habits should be cause for concern and should be evaluated by your veterinarian.

  • Hedgehogs can have several unique problems, including cancer, dental disease, obesity, and foreign bodies. It is important for an owner to understand what these problems are so veterinary care can be provided to their hedgehog when needed and in a timely manner.

  • There are four major hormonal diseases in ferrets. This handout covers adrenal gland disease and diabetes mellitus. Adrenal gland disease occurs in a large number of ferrets in North America, while diabetes mellitus is a rare, but important problem.

  • The most common conditions affecting pet prairie dogs are: obesity, dental problems, cardiac disease and intestinal parasites. Regular scheduled veterinary examinations will be of great benefit to help discover problems or diseases before they cause a critical illness.

  • Telemedicine is the act of practicing medicine from a distance and your appointment will be conducted by a licensed veterinarian. Before your appointment, gather information on your pet’s history and your current concern. Look at a calendar and write down a timeline of your pet’s problems. Be prepared to answer questions that you would normally be asked at an in-person appointment. Write notes to help you remember everything. Most telemedicine appointments involve the use of some type of video chat. Conduct your visit in a quiet area with good lighting and have your pet with you before the call starts. Not all concerns can be addressed through telemedicine. If your veterinarian is unable to arrive at a diagnosis via telemedicine, he or she can help you determine the next step for your pet to ensure that he or she receives optimal care.

  • Reproductive disease in ferrets is rare today, as most pet ferrets are spayed or neutered at a young age. One disease that is still occasionally seen in pet ferrets occurs in females that are not spayed. This is called hyperestrogenemia and is a result of persistently high blood levels of estrogen in unspayed females that are not bred or fails to ovulate.

  • Respiratory disease in ferrets is common. Several infectious/contagious conditions like distemper and influenza can be life threatening for ferrets. Like dogs and cats, ferrets can develop heartworm disease, even indoors. Lymphoma, a cancerous condition of lymph organs can cause disease in the chest cavity.

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