All pets need time and care from their owners, not to mention some investment in products to keep them healthy and happy. Here are some top tips for caring for your rabbit, guinea pig, hamster or gerbil.
o Need special care when handling - if they are in pain or frightened, they may bite.
o Rabbits should NEVER be left unsupervised with children for this reason! Only ever allow supervised, gentle handling, to keep both the rabbit and child safe. Rabbits have suffered broken limbs due to suddenly being dropped - and a sudden bite might make a child - or adult quickly 'let go'.
o Pick up gently by supporting the frontquaters in one hand and rear end in the other.
o Rabbits who have been picked up in other ways have sustained spinal injuries.
o NEVER pick a rabbit up by his or ears - this can definitely cause severe injuries.
Rabbits require regular gently brushing. Buy a special soft rabbit brush, brush gently from the back of the head to the tail. Use grooming as a once-over check time - things to look out for include:
o Bald patches
o Sore patches
o Fur with diarrhoea on it (especially at the feet and rear end)
o Overgrown nails, which your vet will show you how to trim
These need veterinary attention. Be especially aware to check their rear end daily for flystrike. This happens when flies lay eggs around the bunny's bottom, which hatch within hours into maggots. The maggots then eat into the rabbit's skin. Apart from the gross-out factor for bunny owners, this causes illness, as the maggots release toxins and encourage bacteria growth. Any rabbit with flystirke, or any unusual sore patches, must be taken to the vet immediately.
Tips against flystrike:
Hang fly strips near their home
Clean the home regularly using special rabbit-safe disinfectants
Have your vet recommend special anti flystrike preventative products.
This list is of course, not exhaustive - if in doubt, always consult the vet. If you're considering getting a rabbit, bear in mind despite only being little, they are known to be one of the more demanding pets to properly care for.
These little critters generally take good care of their own coats. However, try these tips to help you carry on hearing those delightful happy squeaks when you come home:
o Regular brushing can help to keep the hairs clean and remove any old, loose hair
o Longhaired varieties may need daily gently brushing to stop their coats becoming tangled and matted. If you cannot gently tease out matted hair, go to the vet - they're very used to dealing with these problems.
o You can encourage your guinea pit to let you groom her by feeding small guinea pig treats for a while
o Next, gently pick them up, with one hand supporting their rear end and the other supporting their back
o Only use a special guinea pig brush from a pet store; your vet will be able to recommend one as their needs obviously vary by coat length.
Look out for:
o A lot of scratching - it could be caused by mites or lice and this needs vetinary treatment
o Bald patches on the face - this can indicate ringworm (actually a fungal condition rather than caused by wriggling worms!)
o Check also for overgrown claws and teeth (which a vet can safely cut back for you)
Ask your vet to examine for the cause. Longhaired guinea pigs are especially vulnerable to flystrike -flies lay eggs onto the skin, which hatch within hours into maggots and then literally eat into the skin, causing ill health:
o Check fur all over daily, especially under the tail
o Keep their homes very very clean - clean it every day and change the bedding frequently.
o If you see sore patches or maggots in your pet's skin, you must take it immediately to the vet - the condition can become very serious.
For dental health, give them a wooden toy to gnaw on - their teeth constantly grow, and gnawing helps keep them in check. Make sure the wood is 'untreated' (no chemicals used).
o Need to be gently brushed very day.
o If they're not used to being handled, encourage them by giving them tasty hamster treats for a while, then gently picking them up
o NEVER pick them up by their little tails
o Support them gently
o Hold them for just a few moments at first
o When they have become more used to you, you'll find they allow you to pick him up for longer
o Now use a special hamster brush - your vet can recommend, as this will vary by breed as to what type of brush is needed.
Use grooming and play time to check for any changes that need vet care. Things to look out for include:
o Skin sores - bathe sores in warm water with a mild, hamster-safe antiseptic. Ongoing sores need a vet to examine them.
o Multiple sores, or bald patches- take your hamster to the vet - it could have parasites or ringworm (this is a fungal, rather than 'true' worm disease)
o Sore eyes - this could be due to dust in bedding, simply aging or sometimes breathing problems - again, this needs a vet to examine the hamster
o Overgrown claws and teeth, which the vet can trim - their teeth constantly grow. Give them wood to gnaw on - it must not have been treated with any chemicals, as this could be dangerous for them to ingest.
o Look out for the state of their cheek 'pouches' (where they store food) - the pouches can easily be hurt by rough splinters or sharp-edged food. If anything becomes embedded in the pouches, take the hamster to the vet immediately.
Generally, gerbils aren't brushed but when you're handling or observing them, you can use the time to also check for any changes that need vet care or living adjustments. Things to look out for include:
o Sore noses and eyes - can be caused by chewing wire or dust in their home
o Overgrown teeth - their gnashers grow constantly, and you can prevent overgrowth by providing wood to gnaw on. It must be untreated, as chemicals used for wood could be dangerous to your gerbil - smaller pets are quite sensitive as gram for gram body weight, their toxic tolerance is probably lower than bigger animals. Vets can also check for and trim overgrown teeth
o Take special care handling your gerbils - the thin end of their tails is delicate and easily injured.
For more info & advice goes to Comet Bay Vet Hospital.