Manual restraint of exotic companion mammals is a challenging but necessary part of veterinary practice. In the recording of this R.A.C.E.-approved webinar, Ms. McClellan reviews the approach to predator and prey species as well as the principles of capture and handling of several species of small exotic companion animals in a hospital setting including from rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas to small rodents, hedgehogs, and sugar gliders.
Released for National Veterinary Technician Week 2014, Nursing Care for Exotic Companion Mammals is part of an Exotic ICU series providing advice on the management of small exotic companion mammals in a critical care setting. Specific recommendations on caging, medicating, feeding, and monitoring the critical small mammal are explored as well as important potential sequelae to the stress of hospitalization.
Should I have my pet rabbit “fixed”? In most cases, the answer is an unqualified YES. In this client education handout, the benefits to spay or neuter of the house rabbit are explored. Recommendations for pre-surgical preparation for companion animal castration as well as aftercare are also discussed.
The following chart shows the calcium content in 1 cup of selected foods. Select treats for adult rabbits and rodents that are high in fiber, low in calcium, and low in carbohydrates and sugars.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and the majority of total body calcium is found within bones and teeth. Most mammals make only one or two sets of teeth in a lifetime, however rabbit teeth continually grow throughout their lifetime. This continual tooth eruption plays an important role in the rabbit’s long-term calcium needs.
Neurologic diseases are relatively common in companion rabbits, and recognition of these conditions by the exotic animal clinician is very important. Encephalitozoonosis is endemic in the pet rabbit population worldwide, and is an important cause of neurologic disease in this species.
Urolithiasis is characterized by single or multiple calculi throughout the urinary tract or by the presence of sandy material within the bladder and urethra. Uroliths are fortunately more of a historical disease in the ferret, while calculi are still an important problem in rabbits and rodents.
Antibiotic therapy is a challenge in rabbits. The rabbit digestive system depends upon a healthy population of microbes to function properly. In normal circumstances, normal commensal bacteria completely overwhelm the small numbers of opportunistic pathogenic bacteria present and keep them safely in check. Certain antibiotics, particularly when given by the oral route, however, have the potential to disturb this crucial balance by killing off the commensal bacteria…
Although some diseases are merely arranged alphabetically, other lists are based on the mnemonic acronym DAMNIT. This commonly used veterinary medical record scheme divides disease mechanisms into the following categories: degenerative, anomalous, metabolic, neoplastic or nutritional; infectious, inflammatory, idiopathic, immune-mediated, or infarct/vascular; and traumatic or toxic. Exercise professional judgment when evaluating this information. Differential Diagnosis in Rabbits is designed as an aide or reminder system for use by qualified veterinarians and should never be used for diagnostic decision-making.
As in other species, to manage pain successfully, one must know when pain might occur. Several common medical disorders can result in acute pain such as otitis, conjunctivitis, and acute gastrointestinal disease. Chronic pain can arise from conditions such as arthritis, which commonly develops in older…
Herbivore nutrition separates animals into two main categories, depending on where food particles are broken down and fermented prior to absorption. The categories are foregut and hindgut fermenters, with the hindgut group being broken down into colonic and cecal fermenters.
A variety of agents may be used in small mammals with ectoparasites. Download this easy-to-use table for a list of agents used to manage lice, flea infestation, mange or acariasis.
The American Rabbit Breeder Association recognizes 47 unique rabbit breeds. Many house rabbits have several different breeds in their background, however varieties commonly seen in practice include…
Rabbits are prey species. Their survival depends on the ability to be alert and respond quickly, and they possess acute senses of smell and hearing. Approach rabbits in a calm, quiet manner. Stressed or critically ill rabbits may not tolerate prolonged handling. Evaluation and treatment may need to proceed slowly in stages.
Small mammals, such as rabbits and rodents, are stoic by nature and have evolved to mask their illness to avoid predation. This behavior can create a false sense of security in owners and a clinical challenge for veterinarians. In some cases, an animal that appears clinically normal may in fact have a terminal illness. Use hematology and biochemistry analysis to characterize the true physiological status of these species and aid in disease diagnosis.
Rabbits and rodents may suffer from a wide range of dental problems. Although the vast majority of cases are related injury or to lack of wear and tooth elongation, dental caries, a bacterial plaque-associated disease, may also be seen.
Lethargy, total or partial anorexia, a reduction in fecal output, or scant fecal size can all indicate critical illness in rabbits. Problems that slow the gut are often uncomfortable, however rabbits tend to mask pain and discomfort, especially when frightened. Signs of fear and pain in the rabbit can include…
Providing nutrition to the hospitalized small mammal is a fairly straightforward process. Encourage owners to bring their pet’s “regular” diet to minimize the risk of food refusal or gastrointestinal upset. Also consider keeping the following food items available…
Abnormal urine in the rabbit typically appears white and chalky or pigmented. These changes can be related to the unique metabolism of calcium in the rabbit. Rabbits absorb nearly all calcium ingested; therefore blood levels vary substantially with the calcium content of the diet…
Insufficient dietary fiber can turn a happy, healthy rabbit into a HUGE, potentially catastrophic, clinical problem. Read about the basis for a healthy diet in Hay: Feeding Small Herbivores, reviewed by forage extension specialist, S. Ray Smith.
Dental problems in rabbits and rodents are often related to either trauma or lack of normal wear and tooth elongation. When herbivores like rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas receive concentrates, in the form of grain or pellets, with only limited access to hay and natural vegetation this diet provides too little tooth wear to compensate for the natural growth of the teeth.
Physical examination in exotic small mammals is performed similarly to examinations in dogs and cats, however many small mammals can easily become stressed. Approach these patients calmly, gently, and quietly. Gather all items that may be needed during the physical exam beforehand since it is essential to keep time to a minimum. Ideally schedule examination of nocturnal species such as sugar gliders, rats, and mice during the evening hours. It can also be helpful to dim the lights while examining these species.
The principles of fluid therapy are basically the same in exotic companion mammals as in other species. The biggest difference is that changes can occur very rapidly in these tiny patients. For instance, fluids should almost always be warmed or your patient will cool down quickly. Intraosseous or intravenous fluids can be heated with…
Encephalitozoon cuniculi is an obligatory intracellular microsporidian parasite that can infect a wide range of mammals, including humans. The primary host for E. cuniculi is the rabbit. Infections in rabbits are typically subclinical…
Eye problems are common in both laboratory and pet rabbits, and flushing of the nasolacrimal ducts is frequently performed in rabbits with heavy tearing or epiphora. The goal of a nasolacrimal flush is…
More hay please…Prolonged chewing of tough, abrasive foods such as hay causes rapid tooth wear in rabbits and herbivorous rodents. To compensate for this, these species have permanent teeth that grow and erupt continuously, never producing anatomical roots. Learn more in Dental anatomy of rabbits and rodents by Dr. David Crossley.
Hematological and serum chemistry tests are considered part of the minimum database, yet collecting blood samples from small mammals can be extremely challenging. To become proficient in small mammal venipuncture, understand the anatomic location of the vessels and their associated landmarks and then practice, practice, practice. Veterinary health professionals should also be aware of the potential risks associated with blood collection from these small species, especially those presenting in advanced diseased states.
Rhinitis or sinusitis, sometimes called “snuffles” in laymen’s terms, is usually characterized by unilateral or bilateral, mucopurulent nasal discharge, sneezing, and congestion. A subtle sign of upper respiratory tract disease can be discharge matted on the paws or the medial aspect of the forelimbs. Discharge may collect here as the rabbit fastidiously cleans its face with its forepaws. In the early stages of disease, discharge may not be evident on the nose or even on the paws, however close examination of…
The most common presentation of P. multocida infection is upper respiratory tract disease. Pasteurella multocida was identified as a cause of mucopurulent rhinitis in rabbits or “snuffles” in the 1920s. Clinical signs include mucopurulent nasal discharge, sneezing, congestion, and/or snoring. Infection of the nasolacrimal duct may extend to the conjunctiva causing ocular discharge and nasolacrimal duct obstruction. Affected rabbits may also have…
External reproductive anatomy is obvious in some adult small mammals such as the ferret, sugar glider, hedgehog, rat, guinea pig, and hamster. Gender determination or sexing can be challenging in some species like the chinchilla, and in many neonatal rodents. In these cases, reliance on anogenital distance or the distance between the rectum and the urogenital region is considered best practice.
Download LafeberVet’s Rabbit Dental Chart for use during clinical procedures ranging from standard dental examination to major orofacial surgery.
Most species of mites are host-specific, however take special precautions, such as wearing exam gloves, to minimize the spread of potentially zoonotic pathogens. Humans that become infested with Sarcoptes scabei may develop wheals, vesicles, papules, and intense pruritus. Pet owners, especially children, may become infected with…
Can’t quite recall the dental formula of the African pygmy hedgehog–or perhaps you never knew? Use LafeberVet’s “Small Mammal Dental Formulas: Cheat Sheet” as a quick and easy clinical resource.
Acquired dental disease is an important problem in pet rabbits and rodents. Clinical management of dental disease is complex, frequently involving invasive technical procedures, therefore it is preferable to promote dental health, rather than treating dental disease.
This brief article was created to serve as a synopsis of LafeberVet’s longer, more detailed “Analgesia in Small Mammals” authored by veterinary anesthesiologist, Dr. Paul Flecknell.
Gastrointestinal problems are common in the pet rabbit. A thorough history, including a detailed dietary history, can provide invaluable clues to the problem at hand. Signs of gastrointestinal discomfort in the rabbit may include bruxism, reluctance to move, and anorexia. If there is a history of anorexia, it is imperative to differentiate whether the rabbit is not eating because it has no interest in food, or if it is showing an interest in food but unable to eat. A complete lack of appetite is most commonly seen with physiological problems such as renal failure, whereas a reluctance to eat is a classic presentation in rabbits with dental disease.
An important differential for lumps and bumps: Mammary gland tumors are relatively common in rats and mice, and are also seen in African pygmy hedgehogs and guinea pigs. Get the facts about mammary tumors in small mammals. Review diagnostics, management, prognosis and prevention of this important condition.
Exotic animal practice is challenging! To approach any exotic animal patient requires a balancing act between the principles of “One Medicine-One Health” and species-specific information.
All mammalian herbivores lack the enzymes necessary to break down cellulose in their plant-based diets so they must rely on symbiotic microorganisms. The main site of fermentation in most rodents and lagomorphs is the cecum. The hamster is an exception to this rule of thumb because it is a..
It is critical to approach the dyspneic rabbit quietly, carefully, and gently. Many rabbits with respiratory disease are unstable upon presentation, given the stress of their condition compounded by the stress of transport and the strange smells, sights and sounds of the veterinary clinic. In many cases, it is prudent to delay handling the patient. Transfer the rabbit to…
Tularemia is a highly pathogenic disease of animals and humans that has been reported throughout the northern hemisphere including North America, Europe, and Asia. In the United States, naturally occurring infections have been reported in all states except Hawaii.
Epaxial musculature is a relatively large in the rabbit, and this muscle mass is a popular site for intramuscular injection in the conscious rabbit. To perform an epaxial injection, select a small-gauge needle (25-27 gauge). An assistant then restrains the rabbit in sternal recumbency with one hand against the rump and another…
Cystocentesis may be performed in the conscious rabbit, however it is not unusual for the rabbit to jump or flinch strongly when the needle enters the abdomen. In some individuals, it may help to restrain the rabbit in dorsal recumbency while the nose or head is stroked. If the rabbit resists manual restraint or is particularly high strung or nervous, then sedation or general anesthesia is indicated.
Normal chest radiographs can be challenging to evaluate and easy to over interpret in the rabbit. The thoracic cavity is small relative to the abdomen, and the heart takes up a large portion of the thorax. The cranial border of the heart is less distinct due to the presence of the thymus, which persists throughout the life of the rabbit. The cranial lung lobes are small and are obscured by a wide mediastinum. The caudal lung lobes have a pronounced vasculature. Additionally rapid breathing makes it difficult to obtain an inspiratory film unless the rabbit is anesthetized and intubated.
The pathogenesis of otitis is often multifactorial in the rabbit. Predisposing factors such as ear conformation increase the risk of otitis in certain breeds. All rabbits have a relatively narrow ear canal, however in Lop-eared rabbits the fold in the ear cartilage is such that the lumen is entirely closed off preventing normal drainage of cerumen from the ear.
Intravenous catheters are commonly placed in rabbits to administer fluids, medications, induce anesthesia, and for delivery of analgesic drugs during the perioperative and postoperative periods. Catheterization techniques used in dogs and cats can also be used for rabbits. To reduce the time in handling and reduce stress, supplies needed for catheterization should be set out and ready to go, prior to removing the patient from the cage.
There are at least 42 pet rabbit breeds. Popular breeds include the Dutch, Netherland dwarf, and rex rabbit.
Hay is essential to a rabbit’s health. Rabbits should also be fed a small amount of high fiber pellets, and a variety of vegetables including leafy green like…
Head tilt or torticollis, also known as “wry neck”, is a common emergency presentation of the pet rabbit. There are many other potential causes of head ataxia including: otitis externa, cerebral larval migrans caused by Baylisascaris procyonis, listerioisis, toxoplasmosis, rabies virus infection or other conditions affecting the central nervous system such as trauma, lead toxicity, or neoplasia.
No single hospital environment can meet the needs of every exotic animal and caging systems must be tailored to meet the specific needs of each patient. Read about those caging requirements that remain constant among exotic animals as well as the species-specific needs of each taxa from birds and small mammals to fish, amphibians, and reptiles.
In no way, should the reader believe the use of tracheostomy tubes is common in exotic companion mammals like the guinea pig. This technique is exceedingly rare. However given the frequent lack of airway control and the particular concerns when anesthetizing guinea pigs, those concerned with emergency and critical care should be aware of this technique as a “back up” option. In most instances, use of this surgical approach would mean that the clinician has failed to exercise foresight and planning for their patient’s airway control. Nevertheless anyone who sees rodents, particularly on an emergency basis, should consider compiling a tracheostomy kit and practicing this technique on cadavers.