Small & Exotic Pets

As a small animal Veterinary practice, we welcome small and exotic pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs

Below you will find some useful information on our smaller friends to help you look after your pet or if you are looking to get a new pet.

The animals we cover here are:

 
 

 

If you have any questions that you don't see answered here, please don't hesitate to contact us and we will help if we can.

Birds

There are many types of birds that can be kept as pets.

Some of the more common ones are...

Canary
Cockatiel
Macaw
Budgies

The male canary is a very popular choice of pet as it has a beautiful song. Canaries are small birds (up to 7 inches long) and can live for up to 9 years. They are normally, predominantly yellow.

The cockatiel is a very friendly and intelligent and popular bird. They need a lot of companionship and can suffer from boredom if they are not paid enough attention. Cockatiels can grow up to 14 inches long and can live for up to 25 years.

Macaws are incredibly beautiful and intelligent birds who easily learn to mimic speech. They require a lifelong and intense commitment from the owner and can be temperamental and aggressive - potential owners should think long and hard before committing to purchase these birds. Macaws can grow to 40 inches long and can live for up to 50 years.

One of the most popular pet bird species for many years has been the Budgerigar, or "Budgie. Budgies are among the smallest parrot species. They come in many different colours and may learn to talk.

  • Cage

    Select a cage that provides room to fly for exercise. The cage should be as large as your space and budget allows and wider than it is tall.
    If your bird type enjoys walking around the cage (e.g. a Parakeet or a Cockatiel) choose horizontal bars to enable the bird to exercise. If your bird likes to fly from perch to perch (e.g. Canary) pick a cage with vertical bars.
    Special cage requirements
    Have a number of differently sized perches hung at different heights. This allows the bird to exercise their feet. Macaws like perches made of natural twigs and branches but you should be aware that some wood can be poisonous. Get advice before introducing natural perches of your own.
    Placement of the cage in front of a window can result in wide fluctuations in temperature, and should be avoided. Birds benefit most from being placed high up in a room which is used often.
    The cage should be cleaned frequently to provide a healthy environment for you and your pet.
  • Feeding

    It is important to provide your bird with a balanced diet. The easiest way of ensuring that your bird gets a correct balance of nutrition is to purchase ready-mixed feed from a good pet shop. Some birds will eat fruit, such as apples and oranges - this helps introduce some variety into their diet.
    Ensure that a supply of clean water is always available. This water supply should be replaced daily to ensure that it remains fresh.
    Cuttlefish provide a source of calcium which is an important part of a bird's diet.
  • Companionship

    Depending on both the owner and the bird, you may develop a bond which allows you to handle and let the bird out of its cage for a period of time. In this case, ensure that the bird has a safe environment before release (e.g. no open windows, predators, fires etc.).
  • Toys

    All caged birds enjoy toys. Many pet shops cater to pet birds, and offer a wide variety of safe toys. The bird will eventually destroy the toy but that is part of the fun. Select toys that do not have small pieces that can be swallowed or sharp edges. Avoid anything that can become caught on the leg band.
  • Bathing

    Birds are incredibly clean creatures and need an occasional shower or bath to have healthy feathers. Offer a shallow (about an inch) dish of water several times a week for them to bathe in. Alternatively, spray the bird with cool water to improve the condition of the feathers
  • Health Problems

    Getting used to your bird - pay attention to its normal appearance and behaviour - will help you spot potential problems (changes) at an early stage. A dull and lifeless bird, who has ruffled feathers and often stays in one position for a long period of time is often a sick bird.
    Watch out for the following indicators:
    • A change in appearance or behaviour
    • Sneezing
    • Irregular breathing
    • The bird plucking it's own feathers out
    • Looser droppings
    • Loss of appetite
    • Watering eyes
    • Sitting on the bottom of the cage
    Consult a veterinarian if these symptoms should appear. Periodic visits to the veterinarian for beak trimming or wing clipping will provide an opportunity for a visual health check.

Ferrets

It is not too far in the past that "ferreting" was a popular country occupation.

In rabbit infested areas the use of nets and working ferrets gave the younger generation hours of harmless fun and often a tasty meal for the family afterwards. As habits and trends change the pet ferret population has diminished significantly. So of course has the rabbit population since Myxomatosis swept the UK.

The ferret is descended from the wild European polecat but many generations of breeding in a domestic environment has made the ferret into a very intelligent and rewarding pet that will provide hours and hours of fun. They come in a variety of colours from pure white (albino) to polecat. Like all animals they will develop trust in their owners if handled in a friendly and sympathetic way and are given clean and comfortable living quarters together with a suitable diet. They are not vicious animals but must be handled carefully and there are times (particularly during the breeding season) when ferrets like some privacy.

Regular handling from an early age establishes confidence and ferrets will learn very quickly. They can even be trained to walk on a lead and will live to about 10 years of age.

Like all intelligent furry animals they should not be spoilt and children should not be encouraged to let their ferrets roam unattended in the house. Ferrets are experts at hiding away in a dark corner or finding interesting areas to explore. Their sharp claws will quickly take them up the curtains and there is nothing more that a young ferret will enjoy than playing hide and seek. Being very small they can easily disappear for hours into a bed or down the back of a sofa.

  • What about the odour?

    Ferrets do have a distinctive odour and the male of the species particularly so! However, clean bedding at all times and attention to hygiene will greatly reduce any unpleasant smell. Keeping their fur clean and free of any fleas should be a daily routine.
  • Housing

    Their cage should be stoutly built about 4 feet by 2 feet, a depth of 2 feet and have a private nesting/sleeping area out of view. It should have a roof that is waterproof and legs to keep it about 3 feet off the ground. It should be in a sheltered spot. A nesting area is particularly important for any breeding ferret as they are very sensitive to having their young disturbed at an early age. Ferrets will be healthier if kept outside with plenty of fresh air and with warm bedding will be happy during the winter months. Like any other animal they hate damp conditions.
  • Exercise

    Ferrets are very active and need time spent on a daily basis. They cannot be left like a hamster or a guinea pig unattended for any period of time. They like to be on the move, are very inquisitive and of course their natural instinct is to hunt and "ferret about". If you are not prepared to spend time and take a great interest, ferrets are not for you! The time spent is amply rewarded as ferrets are affectionate, sociable, clever and fun. Lack of exercise and being confined to a small space for long periods of time is probably the cause of bad temper, nervousness and the reason why a ferret might not be averse to the odd painful bite. They are intelligent animals who do not like being neglected. With the right introduction they will happily interact with other family pets such as cats and dogs.
  • Diet

    Ferrets are natural carnivores and there is nothing they love better than to get their face embedded in a piece of raw meat. Tinned specialist pet foods are fine and also cereal biscuits help to keep their teeth and gums healthy. Under no circumstances should ferrets be introduced to sweet foods as tooth decay will result. Plenty of fresh clean water should be available at all times. A simple diet and regular meal times with plenty of exercise forms the basis of good health.
  • Neutering

    In recent years the advice regarding neutering of ferrets has evolved. It is now known that neutering can predispose to the onset of adrenal gland disease and therefore is no longer routinely recommended. However, when we keep ferrets in captivity we need to control their reproductive biology to avoid life threatening anaemia in females and to reduce body odour.
    Females:
    Signs of Oestrus: Ferrets are seasonal breeders and start breeding as day-length increases in the spring. The vulva of female ferrets will become markedly swollen when she comes into oestrus. If the jill is not mated, then she will stay in season until day-length shortens. However, if this happens there is an extremely high risk that the high levels of oestrogen associated with this continual oestrus will result in a life threatening anaemia. It is therefore very important that we control the length of oestrus in ferrets.
    Ferret Oestrus Control: There are a number of choices available to control oestrus (season) in ferrets if you do not want to breed:
    Mating with a “teaser”: A “teaser” is a vasectomised male ferret that can mate with a female ferret and take them out of season without them becoming pregnant. Mating in ferrets can be quite violent, with the male inflicting damage to the skin at the back of the neck. Therefore this method of heat control tends to be used by working ferreters rather than to control heat in pet or show ferrets. It is not advisable to share “teaser” hobs between ferreters due to the risk of disease transmission.
    Surgery :Spaying will stop oestrus and reduce body odour, but it is now known to be associated with an increased risk of developing adrenal gland disease. The earlier a ferret is neutered, the sooner the likelihood of adrenal gland disease developing. If you plan to have your ferret surgically neutered then we would suggest your jill has her first season and then has a jill jab before her spay operation as this is thought to minimise the risk.
    Jill Jabs: A hormone injection (proligestone) is given under the skin at the start of breeding season in February/March. Most jill jabs will take the ferret out of oestrus for the full breeding season, but occasionally some individuals will need a second jab around September time. Ferrets don’t like these jabs as they sting! There may also be a transient reaction at the site of the injection. Very occasionally they can result in skin complications or womb infections.
    Hormone Implant: A hormone implant (GnRH analogue) can be given to stop signs of oestrus. It is implanted under the skin at the back of the neck and usually lasts for eighteen to twenty-four months. Jills should be monitored closely from eighteen months after the implant is given and another implant given when any signs of oestrus show. Ferrets given implants in the autumn are more likely to come back into season after eighteen months.
    Males:
    During the breeding season male ferrets tend to become very smelly and have an unattractive “sticky” feel to their coats which does not make them welcome in the home! Therefore it is often necessary to consider sex hormone management in these entire males. We have the following options:
    Hormone Implant: The hormone implant used to control oestrus in females can also be used effectively in males. Again it is implanted every eighteen to twenty-four months.
    Castration: As long as we bear in mind the increased risk of adrenal gland disease in surgically neutered ferrets, then castration can be performed. However the surgery should not be performed until after puberty in order to delay the possible onset of adrenal disease.
    Neutered Ferrets:
    If your ferret has already been neutered and is not showing any signs of adrenal disease then it is recommended to use a GnRH hormone implant every two years to reduce the risk of this developing. This applies to both male and female ferrets.
    NB: Please note that some of the above products are not licensed for use in the ferret and careful discussion with your veterinary surgeon should be undertaken before using them.
     

Fish

Aquarium owners often talk of spending hours on end being mesmerised by their pet fish.

Certainly, keeping fish as pets can be fascinating and aquariums can add an interesting centre-piece to your room.  There are three type of aquarium fish...

Coldwater
 
Tropical
 
Marine

These fish are probably the easiest choice if you are looking to keep fish for the first time. One complication, that of keeping the water in the tank heated, is removed with these fish.

If you are looking for variety and colour for your aquarium, tropical fish may be the best choice. You will need to control the temperature of the water and understand which species can be housed together.

Marine fish require more care than the other types of fish and therefore should be considered very carefully before deciding that this is the type of fish for you to keep. Something for experienced fish owners only.

Caring For Your Fish - The Basics

The three major things to consider when caring for your fish are water, light and food.

  • Water

    Fish use the oxygen in water to breathe and, therefore, ensuring the quality of the water in the tank is of paramount importance. Use a filter or pump to ensure that the water contains enough oxygen for your fish. You may need to test the water for ammonia, nitrites and ph levels.
    Change the water in your tank at monthly intervals or when the water looks cloudy.
  • Light

    Your fish require a controlled-light environment to thrive. You will need to use aquarium lights to ensure that your fish get the light they require.
  • Food

    There is a large variety of food available and this can be confusing. The simplest way of choosing an appropriate food is to find a feed which is specially made for them.
    Generally speaking, you should feed your fish each morning and evening. It should take your fish only a few minutes to eat all of the food. If it takes longer, you are probably feeding them too much which will, in turn, adversely affect the quality of the water in the tank.

Exotic Pets

Probably more than for any other pet, before you buy an exotic animal, you should do a lot of preparation.

Begin by finding out as much as you can about the animal - read books, talk to other owners. Whilst time consuming, this preparatory work will help both you and the animal in the long run. To get you started, consider the following topics:

  • Choosing an Exotic Pet

    One of the first decisions you need to make is which type of exotic pet do I choose. Consider your experience, the help available and the environment you are able to create for your pet before choosing. Obviously you also need to consider the animal itself. Some are relatively easy to care for where others should be avoided at all costs. Again, plenty of research is required.
  • Feeding

    Ensuring that your exotic pet receives a balanced diet which provides all the nutrition it needs is vital.
    On the whole, exotic pets which eat whole vertebrates are less of a worry as the get all of there nutritional needs from their prey. Insect or fruit eating pets may need extra vitamins added to their diet.
    The key once again is good, solid research. Find out what diet your pet requires and how often it should be fed.
  • Environment

    Clearly you should have understood the environmental needs of your pet and have set the environment up before you bring your exotic animal home.
    Some animals require very much more effort to house than others - requiring a greater commitment from you. The best thing, once again, is to do your homework up front. The factors you need to consider are:
    Space
    Do you have enough available space? Arboreal (tree dwelling) reptiles and amphibians need more space than terrestrial species.
    Habitat
    For some exotic pets it is necessary to simulate the habitat it would naturally encounter in the wild.
    Temperature
    You might need to provide a range of temperatures within the environment to allow the animal to control their body temperature by moving from a cold spot to a hot spot.
    Lighting
    Your exotic animal may very well require ultraviolet lighting as well as access to unfiltered sunlight.

Small Pets

Probably more than for any other pet, before you buy an exotic animal, you should do a lot of preparation.

Please see below information on some traditional small animals kept as pets.

  • Chinchilla

    Chinchillas are squirrel like rodents, available in 2 varieties. They are clean animals with no body odour, their thick coat means that they do not get parasites like fleas and ticks.
    They should be kept in a wire cage away from sunlight and noise, plastic should not be kept in the cage as they will gnaw at anything to exercise their constantly growing teeth. Only place hard materials such as wood and pumice stone in the cage for it to chew on. Also in the cage should be some bedding (white pine shavings), sleeping quarters, some branches for climbing, a hayrack, water bottle and a dust container. As chinchillas hate water they take dry baths to remove excess oils from the fur. Dust should be available from your pet shop.
    Chinchillas are vegetarians, surviving on special food pellets, hay and fresh water. They can be very frightened by noise or rough handling, and when frightened emit a pungent odour like skunks.
  • Gerbil

    Gerbils are intelligent, sociable animals that are best kept in pairs. They should be handled daily and they will be affectionate to you, make sure you wash your hand before handling them to avoid passing germs to them, also keep an eye on any other pets you have.
    They like to keep themselves occupied in a large wire cage. This should be lined with bedding and cleaned twice a week. To keep them busy and stimulated their cage should be full of toys and challenges. They also love tubes to run through and chew on.
    You will be able to find pre-mixed food for your gerbil in pet stores for a well balanced diet. This can also be supplemented with sunflower seeds, vegetables and nuts. Fresh water should be provided with daily. A sterilized bone or twig should be provided for them to chew on.
  • Guinea Pig

    The Guinea pig is a sociable and companionable animal and relish attention. It is a very vocal animal with several different sounds.
    They should be kept indoors with a secure cage. The cage should be kept clean and change its bedding often, this will help prevent against diseases. Food pellets are available for guinea pigs, but their diet should be supplemented with fresh fruit, hay and water. Make sure that fresh food is changed daily and kept separate from the pellets. It will also appreciate chewing toys like all rodents do.
    Signs of illness can include runny nose and eyes, excessive salivating, diarrhoea, skin disease and loss of appetite, they are also prone to shock and dehydration. They should also be bathed weekly, before their bath they should be groomed, long hair should be trimmed and its nails should be clipped.
  • Hamster

    Hamsters are busy animals that love exercise and play. A large metal cage should be used with an exercise wheel, tubes for tunnelling and clean shavings for bedding. The bedding should be changed every day to stop any smells forming. They also love to chew so wooden blocks are also a good idea to keep in the cage.
    A drinking bottle should be provided, with the water changed every day, it is also best check that the ball in the water bottle works often to stop your hamster getting dehydrated.
    Hamsters like a good diet, with seed bells and blends of grains. They may also like fresh vegetables and fruits.
  • Rats and mice

    Both rats and mice are relatively short-lived animals but provide good companionship during their lives.
    They should be kept in a large cage with plenty of room. An area for them to retreat to and a place for exercise should be provided. Rats, in particular like to burrow so bedding should be plentiful. It should be changed 2 to 3 times a week. The cage should be kept in area that is well light, ventilated, away from excessive noise and stresses.
    Specialist food can be bought from pet stores for your rats or mice though this can be supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables, non-fat yoghurt and whole-wheat bread. Grass hay or hay block should always be available along with fresh water, which should be changed daily.
    A general note is that small animals are expensive to treat so an early visitation to a vet is best to avoid any complications at the first sign of a problem.
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