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Chinchillas

A grey chinchilla

Chinchillas: feeding a healthy diet

When chinchillas were first imported from South America - into the United States initially, and then into Europe - people found it really difficult, at first, to keep them alive in captivity. This was mainly because of a lack of understanding of what wild chinchillas eat. Chinchillas are entirely herbivorous (they only eat vegetable matter) and where they live in the wild, most of the vegetation is quite fibrous and dry, not lush and juicy! They eat grasses and other low-growing greenstuff, and chew the bark off trees.

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Chinchilla with a miniature log bridge

Chinchillas: routine health care

We are all familiar with the phrase "A healthy pet is a happy pet" - but there is probably also something to be said for keeping your chinchilla happy in order to maintain its health. If you know your pet you will probably quickly recognise the signs that suggest it is not well.

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Gerbils

Gerbil peeking out of a hole

Gerbils: a history

Gerbils, i.e. Mongolian gerbils, are small rodents with long furry tails that have a tuft of fur at the end. They are larger than mice, but smaller than typical hamsters (syrian hamsters, not dwarf hamsters).

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A pair of gerbils

Gerbils: behaviour

Gerbils make nice pets and are fascinating to watch. Gerbils are very social animals, and it is not a good idea to keep them singly. Pair bonded or family units of gerbils are usually quite affectionate with each other.

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Close up of a gerbil

Gerbils: epilepsy

Gerbils can suffer from spontaneous epileptiform seizures (epilepsy). These seizures may be precipitated by sudden stress, handling or introduction to a novel environment. Incidence of this syndrome is about 20% in natural populations.

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Gerbil eating a piece of carrot

Gerbils: feeding a healthy diet

In the wild, gerbils live partly on dry seeds, but these are emergency rations for when something more nutritious is not available. Gerbils need some animal protein in their diet, so they will eat insects; but also eat fresh vegetable material.

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Duprasi fat tailed jird in a tank

Gerbils: housing

In the wild gerbils live in burrows and spend the most of their time foraging for food, so you should try to mimic this environment for your gerbil when creating a home for him. Your gerbil will need plenty of room to eat, sleep and run around.

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Holding a gerbil

Gerbils: how to give a health check

Gerbils are generally very healthy robust little creatures who never have a day's illness in their lives, however just occasionally they do suffer from various ailments. If recognized early, your vet can treat most of these successfully. Gerbils are incredibly healthy compared to most other pet rodents, and 90% of them never need veterinary treatment. If you spend a lot of time with your pets, then it is likely that you would soon notice if anything were wrong.

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Holding a gerbil

Gerbils: how to handle

Generally, frequent handling will keep your gerbil quite tame. If your gerbil is difficult to handle, and all else fails, bribery with their favourite food, for example sunflower seeds, can help make a gerbil more amenable to handling. Gerbils are particularly difficult to catch if they escape from their cage, so bribery with their favourite food will definitely help in this situation!

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Offering a gerbil a treat

Gerbils: how to tame

Taming a gerbil requires some patience to gain their trust, but it will make handling your gerbils much easier and it is also extremely rewarding.

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Gerbils

Gerbils: miscellaneous health problems

Two medical conditions of gerbils that demand special mentions are nasal dermatitis and Tyzzer's disease, therefore these are covered in separate factsheets. However, there are other medical conditions that affect gerbils that are briefly covered here.

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Close up of a gerbil's nose

Gerbils: nasal dermatitis

Nasal dermatitis is also known as "sore nose", "facial eczema" and "facial dermatitis". Incidence of the disease is higher in weanlings than in adults, but is a fairly common condition seen in gerbils.

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Two gerbils huddled together

Gerbils: parasitic diseases

Luckily gerbils generally don't suffer from parasitic diseases, especially if they are kept in a clean, dry, warm environment. However there are some that you should keep an eye out for, just in case.

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Gerbils with a toy house

Gerbils: routine health care

We are all familiar with the phrase "A healthy pet is a happy pet" - but there is probably also something to be said for keeping your gerbil happy in order to maintain its health. If you know your pet you will probably quickly recognise the signs that suggest it is not well.

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Gerbil near burrow entrance

Gerbils: Tyzzer's disease

Gerbils can suffer from a number of health problems, but Tyzzer's disease is a very serious infectious disease that affects the liver and is usually caught from mice. Good hygiene, the use of good quality bedding and burrowing material will help prevent this disease.

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Hamsters

A hamster in a box

Hamsters: a history

Hamsters are small, virtually tailless, velvet-furred rodents with enormous cheek pouches. They originated in the Middle East and south eastern Europe. The most common and popular breeds, both as pets and laboratory animals, is the golden or Syrian hamster.

Color and hair-type varieties of the golden hamster include cinnamon, cream, white, and "teddy bear" (the long-haired variety). Most of the hamsters sold as pets or used in research are the descendants of 3 litter mates domesticated in 1930.

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Empty medication packaging

Hamsters: antibiotic sensitivity

Hamsters as a group are unusually sensitive to the potentially lethal effects of certain antibiotics, whether they are given orally or by injection. Potentially harmful antibiotics include ampicillin, penicillin, erythromycin, lincomycin and streptomycin.

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Hamster drinking from a water bottle

Hamsters: bladder stones

Hamsters are susceptible to the formation of stones within the urinary tract. The bladder is the only location within the urinary tract in which stones would likely be detected on physical examination by your vet.

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A hamster with her babies

Hamsters: breeding

The sex of adult hamsters is easy to determine. Males have very large, prominent testicles. In fact, owners unaccustomed to seeing them are often astonished at these anatomic peculiarities.

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Hamster peeking through cardboard

Hamsters: cancer

Cancer is very common in pet hamsters. The incidence increases with age, as is the case with most animals, and is higher among females than males because of the variety of cancers that involve the female reproductive tract.

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Close up of a hamster showing the teeth

Hamsters: dental problems

Hamsters' incisor (front, gnawing) teeth grow continuously throughout their life; as is true for all rodents. The incisors receive continuous wear as the uppers and lowers contact each other, preventing overgrowth.

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A hamster eating broccoli

Hamsters: feeding a healthy diet

You should ensure your hamster has access to good quality food and fresh, clean water at all times. The exact nutritional requirements of the hamster are not known, but in the wild they are 'omnivores' meaning that they eat both vegetarian food (plants, fruit, vegetables and seeds) and animal protein (usually insects). Unfortunately, most hamster mixes are entirely vegetable matter, without any animal protein; many of these mixes are also very low in some vitamins and substances called 'essential fatty acids' that are especially important for a healthy skin and coat.

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Hamster in a toy plastic house

Hamsters: housing

Proper housing is a major factor in maintaining healthy hamsters. The psychosocial well being of your hamster must be a primary consideration. Hamsters can be housed within enclosures made of wire, stainless steel, durable plastic or glass. The last 3 materials are preferred because they resist corrosion.

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Holding a hamster

Hamsters: how to handle

Hamsters handled frequently from a very young age usually remain docile and rarely bite. Those with docile temperaments and a history of not biting can simply be picked up by using one or both hands, and then held in both hands or in one hand held against the body.

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Hamster laying on its side

Hamsters: miscellaneous health problems

Two conditions of hamsters that demand special mentions are their susceptibility to bladder stones and dental problems. Therefore, these are covered in separate factsheets. However, there are other medical conditions that affect hamsters that are briefly covered here. Because hamsters are very small, nocturnal (night-active) and not closely observed, the early signs of illness are frequently overlooked or not noted at all. Hamster owners must be constantly vigilant for signs of illness and must seek immediate veterinary assistance when illness is suspected. Sick hamsters often become irritable and frequently bite.

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Hamster grooming

Hamsters: parasitic diseases

Both external and internal parasites are commonly seen in hamsters. A common external parasite problem of hamsters is caused by mites. Hamsters also frequently harbor intestinal tapeworms and, less commonly, pinworms.

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Holding a hamster

Hamsters: routine health care

We are all familiar with the phrase "A healthy pet is a happy pet" - but there is probably also something to be said for keeping your hamster happy in order to maintain its health. If you know your pet you will probably quickly recognise the signs that suggest it is not well.

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Hamster peeking out of a hamster ball

Hamsters: traumatic injuries

Hamsters are easily injured. They are frequently dropped while being handled (especially by children), or after they bite. Pet hamsters allowed "freedom of the house" (even for very short periods) are often stepped on or kicked and seriously injured or killed.

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Sleeping hamster

Hamsters: viral and bacterial infections

Hamsters are susceptible to numerous infections, here are a few that you should keep an eye out for.

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Mice and rats

Mice

Mice and rats: a history

Domestically raised mice and rats are popular pets these days; they are readily available, relatively inexpensive and easy to care for, and usually enjoy human handling.

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Rat eating a piece of cheese

Mice and rats: feeding a healthy diet

The mice we keep as pets are the same species as the house mouse. They live alongside human beings nearly all over the world, eating what they can find. Rats are designed to eat plants, e.g. seeds, roots, nuts and fruit. The cheek teeth of the rat are more like our own than the teeth of rabbits or guinea pigs. They don't keep growing throughout the animal's life, but like ours, they erupt when the animal is young and have to last it all its life. The incisors are constantly growing and wearing against each other to form the characteristic chisel shape. Rats like to gnaw to keep their teeth in trim and because their natural diet would demand it; do not chop or grate vegetables too finely but let them gnaw pieces off themselves.

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Overhead view of a tank ready for housing rodents

Mice and rats: housing

Proper housing is a major factor in the maintenance of healthy mice and rats. The psychosocial well-being of the animals must be a primary consideration. Mice and rats can be housed within enclosures made of wire, stainless steel, durable plastic or glass.

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Holding a rat

Mice and rats: how to handle

Domestic mice and rats generally tolerate gentle handling, though both may bite if startled or handled roughly. Mice are more likely to bite than rats under these circumstances. In fact, mice housed alone are more likely to be aggressive with a handler than those housed in groups.

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Obese rat

Mice and rats: miscellaneous health problems

Two medical conditions of mice and rats demanding special mention are their susceptibility to tumours and Tyzzer's disease. These are covered in separate factsheets. However, there are other medical conditions affecting mice and rats that are briefly covered here. Only purchase rodents from reputable sources, and never purchase an obviously or even suspiciously ill rodent. It is never wise to purchase an animal that has been in contact with one that seems ill, even if the intended purchase appears perfectly healthy. Strict quarantine or isolation of all newly acquired rodents for at least 4 weeks greatly helps prevent disease among pet mice and rats. This recommendation is especially important for pet rodents because of the severity of certain diseases that they may harbor without showing signs of illness.

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Two mice grooming

Mice and rats: parasitic diseases

Rodents are susceptible to skin disease which can be caused by numerous infectious agents, including bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Cage mates may be responsible for hair loss and/or wounds to the skin.

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Vet holding a mouse

Mice and rats: routine health care

We are all familiar with the phrase "A healthy pet is a happy pet" - but there is probably also something to be said for keeping your rodent happy in order to maintain its health. If you know your pet you will probably quickly recognise the signs that suggest it is not well.

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Vet examines a rat

Mice and rats: tumours

Both mice and rats are very susceptible to formation of tumours. Rats over 2 years of age are reported to have an 87% chance of developing one or more types of tumours. Mice frequently develop tumours representing a wide variety of tissue types. The tumours may be external or internal.

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Mouse peeking from a knitted tunnel

Mice and rats: Tyzzer's disease

Mice and rats can suffer from a number of health problems, but Tyzzer's disease is usually seen in mice, although rats are also susceptible. It is caused by the bacterium Clostridium piliforme (formerly called Bacillus piliformis), which is usually transmitted by eating contaminated food or water.

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Sleeping rats

Mice and rats: viral and bacterial infections

Mice and rats suffer from a number of viral and bacterial infections. Here are some of the more commonly seen infections that you should keep an eye out for.

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