2001-Fri Feb 24 01:21:54 MST 2017
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When people hear about commonly kept small mammal pets such
as rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, hedgehogs, ferrets, rats, hamsters and gerbils,
they don’t usually think of them being at high risk for getting into trouble in
the home. However, if you own one of these pets, there are certain home hazards
you should be aware of. These little creatures are clever, curious and very
capable of getting into things that they shouldn’t.
Wires commonly contain heavy metals like zinc and are oh-so-tempting to gnaw on. Small mammals that chew on and ingest wires commonly
develop zinc poisoning, which can lead to gastrointestinal (GI) upset, blood
disturbances and even death. Some wires also contain copper, which can be lethal
as well. Electrical cords can be a chewy treat for small mammals when they find
them running along baseboards on the floor or when they are sitting on
furniture near electrical plugs. When chewed on, live electrical wires can also
cause electrocution and instant death or, at the least, severe oral burns. So whenever
your little buddy is “cage free,” he or she must be monitored at all times. If
you have these small pets, all wires and cords must be safely secured so your pet
cannot access them. Wires can be enclosed in PVC piping and whenever possible,
plugged into higher outlets.
Many construction materials used in homes, especially older
homes, including paint, linoleum and dry wall, may contain lead. These
materials are commonly used to build walls and floors — places easily
accessed by free-roaming small mammal pets. Baseboards, floor edges and other places where
small mammals can hide and chew endlessly without being noticed can be deadly
for them if the items they chew on contain lead. Lead causes nerve damage,
severe GI problems, anemia and even death. Keep pets away from chipping paint
and other potentially lead-containing substances, as even a few bites of these
materials can be deadly for smaller pets.
Several items marketed as treats for small mammals, such as
yogurt drops, seed sticks, raisins and other inappropriate foods, are not
really meant to be fed to them. These items contain high levels of sugar and
fat that most of these pets’ GI systems are not built to handle. Consumption of
these so-called treats can lead to significant GI disruption and, in some
cases, death. The rule of thumb is that herbivores, such as guinea pigs,
chinchillas and rabbits, should not eat excessive sugar, as found in raisins
and yogurt drops, or excess fat, as found in seed-based treats. Small amounts
of fresh vegetables, such as carrots, are appropriate treats for these pets.
Ferrets, who are carnivorous, and hedgehogs, who are insectivores
(insect-eaters), are better offered high-protein treats, such as low-salt deli
meat for ferrets, and high-protein cat food or mealworms for hedgehogs.
Occasional treats can be delicious and fun to feed; just use them judiciously.
Most small mammal pets live very comfortably at temperatures
that are comfortable to us. However, some small mammals are sensitive to very
high or very low temperatures. For example, chinchillas and rabbits have thick
coats and cannot sweat. They can get overheated at temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit and
can die. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, are subject to a condition called torpor
when it gets cold. At temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, they enter a state of
hibernation. Their heart rate drops, their metabolism slows and they become
more susceptible to illness and ultimately to death if they remain at that
Therefore, it is critical that small mammals, depending on the species, are
kept within their optimal temperature ranges to flourish and stay healthy.
Consult your veterinarian to learn how to keep your particular pet safe and comfortable.
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