The guinea pig is a gentle, highly social rodent, that commonly serves as a companion animal and an experimental model in North America and Europe. Food preferences are established early in life, and a guinea pig can refuse to eat if their food type or presentation is changed. For this reason, small mammal veterinarians recommend exposing juvenile guinea pigs to a variety of chows and vegetables. Guinea pigs also do not tolerate environmental changes well. When exposed to something perceived as dangerous, the response of the guinea pig is generally to freeze, or less commonly flight.
The guinea pig is a popular companion animal and a common research model. Guinea pigs are useful in reproductive studies because they share many reproductive traits with human beings. This article reviews anatomy and physiology of the guinea pig reproductive tract and summarizes some clinically significant medical problems.
Guinea pigs are small, docile rodents, that must be approached with great care. Accurate evaluation of patient health status requires a thorough history, careful visual examination, and a detailed physical examination. Like most prey species, the guinea pig frequently hides signs of pain and illness. To improve clinical success, take measures to minimize stress by maintaining the animal in a quiet exam room and approaching the patient in a slow, quiet manner. The hospitalized guinea pig can also benefit greatly from the presence of a bonded cage mate. Monitor appetite and eliminations carefully in the guinea pig, and offer the same diet as fed in the patient’s home whenever possible as guinea pigs establish strong food preferences early in life.
Dystocia is a common reproductive problem in guinea pigs. Many variables can increase the risk of dystocia. The most important maternal reason for dystocia is when the sow is bred too late. Female guinea pigs must be ideally mated for the first by 5-6 months, because the pubic symphysis must be open to allow normal delivery of guinea pig pups. Sows can be bred as early as 2-3 months or 350-450 grams body weight…
Proper management of the pregnant sow requires an understanding of the risk factors associated with pregnancy-related disease and an ability to recognize early signs of problems. This client education handout explains proper care of the breeding and pregnant sow and provides tips for careful monitoring. Download the PDF version to distribute to veterinary clients or modify the Word document for your hospital’s needs.
Although the principles of emergency medicine critical care are universal for all species, this approach must be balanced with an understanding of the unique aspects of small mammal medicine. Use this summary page to review the basic approach to the exotic companion mammal patient and select additional links to supplement your knowledge base.
The approach to analgesia and sedation in exotic companion mammals faces special challenges, including small patient size and unique features of the prey species mentality. Recognition of pain is more difficult in rabbits and rodents because many small mammals are very good at hiding the signs of pain commonly observed in predator species. Instead pain in a rabbit or rodent is often inferred from the patient’s clinical condition as well as the absence of normal behaviors. The diagnostic and therapeutic plan frequently requires some form of chemical restraint in exotic mammal medicine. When compared to general anesthesia, sedation is a safer option for the debilitated or critically ill small mammal.
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.
Like primates, guinea pigs require dietary vitamin C. Guinea pig treats should not only be high in vitamin C, but also low in calcium, carbohydrates and sugars, and high in dietary fiber…
High dietary levels of oxalic acid or oxalates may promote urolith or bladder stone formation in herbivores like the guinea pig and tortoise. The following chart shows the oxalate content in 100 grams of selected raw foods.
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.
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.
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 Guinea Pigs 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…
Eleven guinea pig breeds are recognized by the American Cavy Breeders Association: Abyssinian, Abyssinian Satin, American, American Satin…
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.
Guinea pigs tend to be shy, sweet-natured creatures. Guinea pigs 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 guinea pigs in a calm, quiet manner…
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.
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…
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.
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. This review article reviews the recommended venipuncture site in popular exotic companion mammals including many rodents, rabbits, ferrets, hedgehogs, and sugar gliders. Sample collection from peripheral vessels including the cephalic, saphenous, tail, jugular, ear, and submandibular vein is discussed.
Blind venipuncture sites such as the cranial vena cava and femoral vessels are also described. Veterinary health professionals are also acquainted with the potential risks associated with blood collection from these small species, especially those presenting in advanced diseased states. Tips for clinical success are also shared.
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.
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…
Although fungal disease is uncommon in small mammals, dermatophytosis is the most common mycosis seen in clinical practice. Despite the low incidence of clinical disease, rodents are common asymptomatic carriers of dermatophytes. Fungal pathogens are generally more important for their zoonotic potential. Rodents are frequently asymptomatic carriers of ringworm, and transmission of disease to human caretakers is not uncommon.
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.
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.
Most small herbivores like the rabbit, guinea pig, and chinchilla possess a simple, non-compartmentalized stomach paired with a large cecum and colon. To feed the small herbivore gastrointestinal tract, provide insoluble dietary fiber to stimulate gut motility and maintain gastrointestinal health. A balanced small herbivore diet contains adequate fiber (minimum 25%), minimal starch, and moderate protein levels. Among small herbivorous non-ruminants, the gastrointestinal tract of the rabbit is the most specialized and this manuscript will focus on unique features of this species’ anatomy and physiology.
The physical and psychological benefits of pet ownership have been well established, however close contact with pets is not without risks including the potential for transmission of zoonotic disease. Rodents can carry a number of potential pathogens including lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus is found throughout the world in wild rodents. Disease is especially common in…
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.
The guinea pig is a native of Peru, Brazil, and Argentina that was domesticated by the Inca Indians. Guinea pigs are also known as “cavies”, a term derived from the South American vernacular. Male guinea pigs are called “boars” and females are “sows”…
Why syringe fed? A cornerstone of treatment is delivery of food containing high dietary fiber. Proper syringe-feeding technique is essential..
Native to South America, the guinea pig is a lively, lovable rodent that requires relatively easy care. This client education handout reviews housing and diet recommendations as well as the basics of safe handling, enrichment, and grooming. Download the PDF version to distribute to veterinary clients or modify the Word document for your hospital’s needs.
Are you using epidurals in your practice? The epidural is a neuroaxial technique that provides preemptive analgesia by injecting drug into the epidural space surrounding the spine. Epidurals can be used for abdominal surgery, perineal surgery, and orthopedic procedures involving the pelvic limb or spine. Some opioids can also travel cranially to provide supplemental analgesia for chest and thoracic limb procedures. Epidurals serve as an adjunct to systemic analgesia, and epidural analgesia also reduces the amount of anesthetic drug needed. Epidurals can also shorten recovery time.
Intravenous catheters are commonly placed in ferrets and rabbits to administer fluids and medications, induce anesthesia, and for delivery of analgesic drugs during and after surgery. Intravenous catheters are also placed with growing frequency in chinchillas, guinea pigs and other small exotic companion mammals. Use this video clip or text with still images to review patient selection, potential complications, equipment needed and step-by-step instructions for this technique, as well as daily fluid requirements, catheter maintenance, and patient monitoring.
A wide range of dental abnormalities may be seen in rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas including incisor and cheek teeth malocclusion. Evaluation of the oral cavity is considered an essential part of the complete physical examination in small exotic companion mammals, both symptomatic and clinically normal individuals alike. Use this video clip or article with still images to review equipment needed as well chemical and manual restraint techniques for extraoral and intraoral exams.
The ferret is a predator species, however most exotic companion mammals are prey species. Although ferrets are generally quite bold and may be approached in a manner similar to that used for cats and dogs, many exotic small mammals can become easily stressed in a hospital setting. Approach these patients calmly, gently, and quietly, striving to minimize stress whenever possible. Gather all items that may be needed during the physical examinationor procedure beforehand since it is essential to keep handling time to a minimum. Also be sure to perform a visual examination before you lay hands on your patient. Observe the appearance and mentation of the pet to ensure it can handle manual restraint.
Mild to moderately ill exotic companion mammals are often syringe fed, and proper syringe-feeding technique is an essential skill for critical care nutrition of ferrets, rabbits, and rodents. Gastrointestinal stasis is one of the most common medical problems seen in small herbivores. A cornerstone of treatment is delivery of food containing high dietary fiber. Aggressive fluid therapy, often in the form of oral and subcutaneous fluids, is also crucial for successful management. Always address dehydration before beginning nutritional support. Get specific tips to improve your clinical success with this video clip or read the article with still images.
Although we’d like to believe you need look no further, exotic animal medicine is a diverse and varied topic. View LafeberVet’s ever-growing list of additional online resources on small mammal medicine.