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Small mammals: handling, husbandry and health

Rats, hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas, degus and mice are often kept as ‘children’s pets’; however, successful care is not child’s play and proper housing and nutrition are essential. Ferrets are kept by a wide range of people and when kept as pets have their own unique challenges and pleasures. A basic knowledge of their husbandry and specific diseases is required by vets.

Information sources

Rodents

Manual of Rodents and Ferrets Chapter 1

Ferrets

Manual of Rodents and Ferrets Chapter 17

Handling

R(D)SVS Small mammals handling collection

How to hold and restrain a rat

How to hold and restrain a hamster

How to hold and restrain a mouse

The BVA Animal Welfare Foundation also has this tutorial which is very useful though the background is laboratory animal welfare.

Note on sources. Apart from the BSAVA there are relatively few non-commercial sources of information on small mammals. The following three websites are hosted by companies and are good starting points. Burgess and Supreme are two UK firms specializing in small mammal care and nutrition. Their websites have a considerable amount of advice and information for pet owners that is useful for vet students wishing to become more familiar with these species. Lafeber are a USA based, veterinary-owned company specializing in avian species but have a lot of information on small mammals as well. There are other firms in the USA and UK that may also offer advice.

https://www.burgesspetcare.com/

https://supremepetfoods.com/

https://lafeber.com/

Suggested work

(1) Read the chapters suggested and watch the videos.

(2) Consider what advice you would offer to an owner whose children are being bitten by the family’s pet ferret. Euthanasia is not an option. You might want to consult this resource.

(3) It is well known that cats cannot be vegetarians. What about ferrets – can they be kept as vegetarians?

(4) Your veterinary practice has had a chinchilla donated to them. A young student veterinary nurse wishes to take care of this chinchilla in her flat. What advice would you give her?

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