Pet Health Articles

Pikes Peak Veterinary Clinic
1813 North Union Boulevard Suite 100, Colorado Springs, CO, 80909
Phone: (719) 475-1747
Website: www.pikespeakvet.com

Rodents - Problems

General Information

Rodents have several unique problems. Understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems.

 

rodent-problems-1Rabies

A common concern among owners of pet rodents is the possibility of contracting rabies if bitten by their pets. While any mammal (warm-blooded animal that nurses its young with milk) is capable of contracting and transmitting rabies, the likelihood of this happening with a pet rodent is almost non-existent. In spite of this, no pet rodent should be left outside unattended where dangers or contact with rabid animals are more likely. However, rodent bites can become easily infected, so it would be wise to contact your doctor if bitten by your pet.

 

Barbering

Many rodents will chew or barber their own hair or the hair of a cage mate. Barbered hair will appear as a balding area, often with a short, bristle or brush-cut appearance or feel to it. It is often caused by stress. Separating the animals often prevents the problem.

 

Foot Necrosis/Gangrene

This problem is caused by the fine fiber or thread nesting material (or bedding) commonly available in pet stores. As the pets play with the material, the fine thread gets wrapped around a toe, foot or leg, and within hours the body part swells and begins turning red. This is similar to what happens when you wind a thread tightly around your own finger. If not caught immediately, the swelling progresses to necrosis or death of the affected limb, followed shortly by gangrene. Affected limbs are swollen and are various shades of red, purple, blue and black. In some animals, amputations might be curative. To prevent this condition, DO NOT USE this fine bedding or nesting material. Shredded tissue is much safer and works perfectly well as nesting material.

 

Vitamin C Deficiency (Scurvy)

Every animal has certain dietary requirements for nutrients, some of which are "essential" and some of which are "non-essential" nutrients. Animals need a regular dietary supply of essential ingredients, while they can produce their own supply of the non-essential nutrients. These essential elements differ between species. In guinea pigs and primates, including man, one key essential nutrient is vitamin C. The vast majority of other animals can produce their own vitamin C from their intestinal bacterial flora but guinea pigs and primates are unable to do this. (This is why sailors historically developed scurvy when not able to eat fresh fruit.) Vitamin C is vital in the normal development and maintenance of skin, joints and mucosal surfaces like gums. It is also important in the healing of wounds. As well as predisposing to skin problems, a lack of vitamin C seems to make the body more prone to other diseases, infections and conditions. A guinea pig that has a rough hair coat, is off food, has diarrhea, is reluctant to walk, perhaps seems painful, has swollen feet or joints, or has hemorrhages and ulcers on its gums or skin is likely to be deficient in vitamin C.

"In guinea pigs and primates, including man, one key essential nutrient is vitamin C."

Guinea pigs need 10 - 50 mg vitamin C per day, depending on the condition of the animal (young, old, stressed, normal, pregnant). Vitamin C is readily available from fresh fruit and green or colored vegetables, but it is a relatively unstable compound. Ensure your guinea pig pellets contain added vitamin C; however, because this vitamin breaks down or oxidizes so fast, the pellets should be used up or replaced within 90 days of the date of manufacture.

"Vitamin C... breaks down or oxidizes so fast, the pellets should be used up or replaced within 90 days of the date of manufacture."

If your guinea pig develops a deficiency, it is much better to give a crushed vitamin C tablet or liquid vitamin C by mouth rather than in drinking water, since the vitamin also breaks down rapidly in water and loses its potency. However, mixing about 100 mg of ascorbic acid twice daily in fresh water will meet the vitamin C requirement.

 

Hyperthermia (Heat stroke)

All pet rodents, but especially guinea pigs and chinchillas are very susceptible to heat stroke from high ambient temperatures. As a rule, the cage should be kept well ventilated, the temperature should be no higher than 80°F (27°C) and the humidity kept below 70%. Signs of heat stroke include panting, slobbering, weakness, convulsions, and refusal to move. Treatment involves immediately cooling the pet with cool water baths or sprays, and seeking prompt veterinary care. Ideally, the temperature should be monitored with an in-cage thermometer that cannot be damaged by the animal.

 

Antibiotic Toxicities

Pet rodents are extremely sensitive to certain antibiotics. Some antibiotics, especially penicillin and similar drugs, can be fatal to certain rodents. This can be true whether the antibiotics are given orally, by injection, or topically (on the skin). Some examples of toxic antibiotics include penicillin and related drugs, bacitracin, erythromycin, lincomycin, tylosin, procaine additives and streptomycin. There are some excellent oral and injectable antibiotics that are safe to use in rodents.

"Owners should NEVER use antibiotics in or on their pet rodents without first consulting a veterinarian with experience in pet rodent medicine."

Eye drops and nose drops may be used in conjunction with other antibiotics as prescribed by your veterinarian. Owners should NEVER use antibiotics in or on their pet rodents without first consulting a veterinarian with experience in pet rodent medicine.

 

Chromodacryorrhea ("Red Tears")

Red tears are seen in mice, gerbils and most often in rats You may find your rat (or mouse) with what appears to be dried blood around the eyes, around the nostrils and even on the inside of the forearms. These animals have a specialized tear gland called the Harderian gland that produces various porphyrin pigments that give the tears a reddish or rusty red color. This gland increases its secretions as a response to stress and disease (which is a form of physical stress). The increased tear production may overflow from the eyes and stain the surrounding fur. Tears naturally drain through the tear ducts; some of this drainage comes out the nose, where it may form a dried discharge. An animal with lots of tears may rub the eyes and nose with its paws to clean up and thus get these reddish tears on the forearms. The veterinarian is then called because the pet is "bleeding" from the eyes and/or nose.

As mentioned, chromodacryorrhea can occur as a result of disease, or as a sign of rough handling and environmental or social stress. Often it is hard to tell what is actually causing the problem. A veterinarian familiar with rodents should examine your pet. Treatment involves treating any specific disease or illness and eliminating the stresses in the animal's life.

 

Diarrhea ("Wet Tail")

The most serious intestinal disease of young hamsters is called wet tail. Serious diarrheal disease in hamsters may be caused by any disturbance in the natural bacterial balance of the intestines, or from infections with different bacteria such as Clostridia (Tyzzer's Disease), Lawsonia (proliferative ileitis) and others. Usually, 3 - 10 week-old hamsters are affected and show signs of lethargy, loss of appetite, unkempt hair coat, watery or bloody diarrhea, and a wet anal and tail area.

"The most serious intestinal disease of young hamsters is called wet tail."

This disease requires immediate treatment and supportive care including fluid therapy, antibiotics; often hospitalization is required. Animals may die even with early, aggressive treatment. Any hamster with diarrhea must be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible, as it can be a life threatening condition.

 

Fracture

rodent-problems-2

"All handling by children should be supervised and only solid-bottom exercise wheels should be used in the cage."

Fractures of the legs (broken legs) are very common and usually result from injuries sustained on exercise wheels, mishandling, or falls from young hands or high places. Mild, non-displaced fractures may heal on their own. Severe injuries require x-rays, surgical pinning of the fracture, splinting or in worse case scenario, amputation of the leg or euthanasia. All handling by children should be supervised and only solid-bottom exercise wheels should be used in the cage.

 

Staphylococcal dermatitis or Muzzle Dermatitis

A Staphylococcal bacterial skin infection can occur on the muzzle and nose of gerbils. It is seen as areas of hair loss and moisture (often due to the presence of chromodacryorrhea as described above). It is often secondary to other causes include mange (parasites) or trauma from constant digging or burrowing. Resolution involves the use of antibiotics to treat the secondary bacterial skin infection, as well as treating the primary cause or resolving the pet's stress.

 

Seizures

The gerbil is unique among rodents in that spontaneous, epileptic-type seizures can occur, often after handling the pet. Most gerbils do not require medication for the seizures.

Rick Axelson, DVM
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