Rodents need love, too

Tending to pet rats, gerbils, hamsters and guinea pigs
A hamster runs inside its wheel at Noah's Ark Pet Store in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily
A 4-month-old fancy rat climbs out of its enclosure at Noah's Ark Pet and Acquarium Store in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

When it comes to keeping rodent pets healthy, Dr. Marietta Wallf, of Apple Valley Animal Hospital, said owners need to remember they’re different species with different needs that need to be met to keep them healthy.

For instance, most of the guinea pigs Wallf treats have forms of arthritis. She said this is because some owners don’t know that guinea pigs need vitamin C supplements in their diet to stay healthy.

Other common issues she treats among all rodents are respiratory problems. While humans prefer spacious, breezy and well-circulated living quarters, the same is not true for rodents. They need to avoid circulating areas such as near windows or active air conditioning units to avoid breathing problems.

Another easy way to avoid trips to the veterinarian for any rodent is to be vigilant with the pet’s environment. Owners should make sure they regularly change the bedding of their animals and make sure they remove urine and excrement clumps. If they don’t the excrement can lead to bacteria growth and the urine will lead to ammonia getting into the pet’s oxygen supply – leading to even more respiratory problems.

Unlike cats and dogs, rodents don’t require regular visits to the veterinarian, Wallf said. They only need to go if there’s an issue. If owners notice a change in an animal’s eating, sleeping, exercise or play habits, that can be a sign of a problem and require a trip to the veterinarian.

Along with respiratory problems, rodents also tend to have problems with their teeth. Wallf said there isn’t much an owner can do to avoid this, but it can be detected by animals shying away from their food. Rodents are prone to some of the same dental problems as humans, such as misalignments and abscesses.

When owners can keep their pets healthy and happy, Wallf said some of them can be as friendly and share as strong a bond with their masters as cats and dogs. She said her office manager has a pet rat trained to stay on her shoulder while she walks around the office. It’s also trained to crawl up or down her arm.

“Rats are food motivated,” Wallf said.

However, not all rodents can be so friendly. Wallf said that while sugar gliders, rats and guinea pigs can make for furry friends, some hamsters and gerbils can be more reclusive and might bite when provoked.

Ultimately, Wallf said the key to taking good care of a pet is doing the research. She said there are great resources online to help owners with their pets’ needs, and they should always take a new pet to the vet and get reliable information there.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com

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