Exotic Pet Care Tips

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General

General

Bearded dragons are spiny lizards native to hot arid regions of Australia. They require high temperatures and artificial sunlight to thrive in Oregon. Their moderate size, attractive appearance and good personalities have made them popular reptile pets.

Food

Food

Dragons are omnivorous (eating plants and animals) and eat a wide variety of foods. Baby dragons need more protein and calcium for growth and may show more carnivorous tendencies than adults. Much of the diet is protein based, such as silkworms, earthworms, slugs, pinky mice, and crickets or dubia roaches (feed the crickets & roaches a high calcium “gut loading” cricket diet for 2-3 days prior to using crickets as food, or they will be calcium deficient). T-Rex Calcium Plus is the only gut-loading product proven effective. Insects eliminate the gut loader quickly; they must be consumed within a few hours after gut-loading them. Mealworms, waxworms and other roaches are nutritionally poor. Insects can be 40-50% of the diet with adults, or more with juveniles. Also feed moderate amounts of a complete & balanced commercial bearded dragon food (usually pellets); decent alternatives include juvenile iguana food, box turtle food, or even tortoise food. These diets all contain a balanced vitamin-mineral mix and help ensure that no nutritional problems will occur; they are safer than using vitamin concentrates. If the pellets are not eaten, they can be softened with water, or ground to a powder and dusted onto the other food (insects and veggies). 5 to 15% of the diet can be pellets. Besides prey and pellets, the rest of the diet should be vegetables, mostly leafy greens, and may include dandelions, kale, collards, green leaf lettuce, parsley, cilantro, etc. Ideally use a nutritional guide to choose vegies with good calcium/phosphorous content. Healthy dragons should be willing to eat a variety of veggies, and in adult animals 50%+ of the diet may be vegetables.

Vitamin + mineral supplements should only be used if no commercial diet is fed, and then used sparingly. Achieving a healthy balance with supplements is difficult. Never mix products; use a balanced vitamin-mineral powder with many vitamins + calcium and phosphorous provided, and put a tiny pinch on the food once weekly, no more. Reptocal and Reptivite are 2 brands which offer balanced formulations. Overdosing is a common problem with using supplements; it is safer to rely on a commercial food which has the appropriate vitamins included.

Housing

Housing

Try to duplicate natural conditions. Large terrariums are best. The most important factors are heat & light. The ideal daytime air temperature is 85-950F; temperature readings must be taken in the shade away from heat sources to be accurate. Below 800F or above 1000F can cause stress and failure to thrive. Thermometers should be near the floor, under a solid shield (such as cardboard or wood), and not near a heat lamp, or they will read falsely high. The cage sides and top should be mostly solid, not screen, in order to trap heat. A reptile heat pad placed under the terrarium is one heating method. Hot rocks provide heat but must be covered to prevent direct contact which may burn the lizard. Heat lamps are useful but must be at a safe distance to prevent burns (at least 18 inches usually). Heat lamps must not be bright if used at night; the best are lightless ceramic-coated lamps; dim purple or red coated night bulbs may also be used. Monitor cage temperature at several spots with good mercury, digital, or dial type thermometers; avoid paper strip thermometers or temp guns which do not accurately read air temperatures. The terrarium can have a warmer side approaching 95-1000F, and a cooler area around 85°F. If the cage temperature is uniform then aim at 900F (in the shade) as an ideal temperature. Temperatures shouldn’t fall below 75-80°F at night.

Lighting requires special attention. You must provide both visible (white) light and ultraviolet light in the 280-320 nm spectrum . This mimics outdoor sunlight which dragons require. Our climate provides too little sunlight, and window glass or plexiglass filters out most of the sun’s UV rays. Lack of proper lighting causes poor or picky appetites, poor growth, and bone disease. Provide correct lighting with a fluorescent “full spectrum” light. Reptisun (made by Zoo med) and Reptile D-Light provide strong UV levels; other brands with adequate UV output include Reptile Daylight (Energy Savers Unlimited), Reptiglo, & Reptasun (by Flukers). These are all fluorescent tubes; in general no regular incandescent bulb produces good UV light. Fluorescents have a limited lifespan and should be changed every 6-8 months when in use. A good day length is 12-14 hours of light. These lights won’t cause burns, and they need to be close to the pet to be effective, usually closer than the length of the light bulb. (A 24 inch tube should be within 18 inches of the lizard to be effective). Fluorescent tubes should run the entire length of the cage; bulbs smaller than 24 inches (including compact coils) are usually too weak to be effective. Avoid plastic or glass barriers between the light and the pet (these block UV). Minimize hiding from the light (such as in a dark cave); instead provide hiding shelter behind a plant or rock where the light is still strong, or cover part of the transparent cage wall with paper to allow hiding in that area. Call us for light sources.

There are now some incandescent (screw type) round bulbs which do produce strong UV levels. These resemble regular light bulbs but are actually mercury vapor lamps; they produce high UV output and heat, so must be kept at a safe distance (at least 18-24 inches away). Their effective life span is uncertain; replace them yearly to be safe. These devices typically cost $45-$100, and when shut off must have a “cool down” period before they can be turned back on. Other “full spectrum” round bulbs which cost less and require no “cool down” cycle are simple filament- type bulbs and do not produce good UV output. A small water bowl provides drinking water although dragons may drink sparingly. Some will take dewdrops if the cage is sprayed with water. Do not allow prolonged soaking and defecating in the water, as this contaminates the water source and may also cause skin infections. Artificial turf is a good cage bedding which can be cleaned and reused. Sand, gravel, corn cob, walnut shells, etc. are harder to keep clean and may cause intestinal blockages if eaten. Bearded dragons usually do OK on sand as they aren’t prone to eating it, but if sand is used be sure that moist food (such as vegies) is fed on a plate so that sand doesn’t stick to it. Calcisand (a calcium based sand) is digestible if eaten and is safer to use. Pelleted rabbit food can be used as bedding, but must be cleaned often if soiled; moist rabbit food spoils quickly.

 

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Osteodystrophy (Rickets)

A calcium deficiency usually due to poor diet and/or too little UV light. Symptoms include weakness, tremors, soft jaw, swollen or crooked legs. Treatment is via injectable or oral calcium, and correction of diet and lighting.

→ C.A.N.V. fungus (yellow fungus):

An aggressive, contagious fungal disease usually seen in new pets (they get infected at the breeder facility or pet store). Crusty yellowish to black skin sores develop and spread. This disease must be treated aggressively and is often fatal.

→ Stomach or bowel blockage:

Dragons may develop blockages from swallowing bedding such as bark chips or gravel. Small amounts may be passed with the aid of oral mineral oil. Severe cases may need surgery to remove the obstruction. Cool temperatures slow the bowel and increase risk of blockage or constipation.

→ Heat burns/skin infections:

Unprotected hot rocks, heat pads or heat lights can cause burns. Burned skin often becomes infected. Bacterial or fungal infection can also result from lying in contaminated water or on soiled flooring. Treatment: for mild infections, chlorhexidene or Betadine solution applied 2-3 times daily for 5-10 days may be adequate. For severe lesions, dead tissue may need surgical removal followed by injectable antibiotics. Correct the habitat also.

→ Mouthrot and respiratory infections:

These are usually caused by normal bacteria which take advantage of a stressed or weakened dragon; underlying factors such as cool temperatures or imbalanced diets often play an important role in causing these illnesses. Mouthrot causes red swollen gums and sometimes odor or drooling. Respiratory infections can cause mucus discharge in the mouth or nose which may resemble mouthrot, but the gums are usually normal. Both diseases are treated with antibiotics and correction of diet and environment.

→ Kidney disease:

An occasional cause of death in older dragons. The causes are poorly understood, but damage to the kidneys may be caused by aging, low temperatures, overdosing of calcium or vitamins, infection, dehydration, or other illness. Signs are variable and may include lethargy, tremors, weight loss, appetite loss, and color changes. This may resemble calcium deficiency (rickets), but rickets is more common in baby dragons, whereas kidney failure affects older pets. Treat with a low mineral, low protein diet and fluid therapy; most severe cases do not survive.

→ Intestinal parasites:

Two parasites are common in dragons: coccidia and pinworms. Coccidia are microscopic protozoa in the bowel; they can cause diarrhea, weight loss, straining to defecate and even colon prolapse (bowel protruding from the anus). Pinworms are a small white worm; they can cause signs similar to coccidia. Diagnosis is via examination of a fresh (within 24 hours) fecal sample. Treat using appropriate medication, and thorough cage cleaning. Pinworm eggs live for long periods in the environment and may reinfect a treated lizard. Coccidia are slow to clear from the gut and may require 3 weeks of medication to eliminate.

→ Appetite loss:

This often results from husbandry stresses (low temperatures, inadequate UV light, short day length, noise/disturbances around the cage, etc). Any illness can also reduce appetite. Treatment includes correction of diet and environment, and treating disease if present.

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General

General

Box turtles are small land dwelling turtles from the forests and plains of the eastern, southern and central U.S. The most commonly seen are eastern box turtles, which include “3 toed” “gulf coast” and “ornate” forms. Less common is the western box turtle, with “ornate” and “desert” forms. Nearly all pet box turtles were caught in the wild. They are not native to Oregon and do not survive long term if released here. However, some local rehabilitators will take unwanted pets and ship them back to their native habitat where they are released in protected areas. When you obtain a “wild pet” you must try to duplicate that pet’s natural conditions. Box turtles reach adult breeding size within 5-6 years after hatching and may live 60-80 years or more when healthy. They tend to be mild mannered and shy.

Food

Food

Box turtles are slow moving and can’t chase fast prey. A good simple diet would be about 50% vegetables & fruit, and 50% protein sources (box turtle food, earthworms, and slugs). Vegetables can include leafy greens such as collards, kale, and dandelions; avoid iceberg lettuce as it is nutritionally poor. Fruits can be used sparingly. Ideally use a nutritional guide to choose veggies with good calcium/phosphorous content. Variety helps minimize risk of nutritional deficiencies; ideally the turtle should regularly eat at least 8-10 different vegetables. Various dry and canned box turtle or tortoise diets are available; the best are probably the pelleted foods which are bright colored and smell fruity. Pretty Pets is one of the more palatable brands; T Rex is similar. The pellets can be offered dry, or softened with water, or crushed and sprinkled on dampened veggies as a powder daily. A diet which includes a good variety of veggies, worms, and commercial food is complete and balanced, and does not need additional supplementation. Avoid high protein foods for mammals such as meats, dog food, cat food or monkey chow as these may harm the turtle. Mealworms, waxworms, crickets and roaches are less nutritious and/or hard to catch, and should be minimized.

If you can’t use a commercial turtle diet, then protein and vitamins need to be provided in other ways, although achieving a good nutritional balance is more difficult. Protein sources include tofu, beans (various types), silkworms, earthworms (use night crawlers, not redworms or compost worms), slugs, and crickets (crickets must be fed a high calcium “gut loading” insect food (T-Rex Calcium Plus) for at least 2 days prior to feeding them to the turtle, or they will be calcium deficient). Avoid mealworms and waxworms, as they are nutritionally poor (high in fat, low in calcium). Without box turtle food, vitamins & minerals should be provided via a single powdered multivitamin-mineral supplement such as Reptocal or Reptivite; use a tiny pinch on the food once weekly, no more. Do not use a simple calcium/vitamin D powder. Overdosing is easy with supplements, and some products are potentially toxic; it is usually safer to use a commercial diet which has a balanced supplement included.

Water should be provided at all times. Use a small low bowl which is too heavy to easily tip over; a ceramic ashtray is adequate. Ideally the bowl should be small enough to prevent the turtle from soaking and defecating in the water. Baths are unnecessary, but if elected they should be done in a separate container with very shallow warm water and should be brief (20-30 minutes maximum).

Housing

Housing

A terrarium is usually needed to provide good housing, although the turtle can exercise in the house daily (up to 30 minute intervals). The terrarium walls and top should be mostly solid, not screen, to trap heat & humidity. A minimum size would be 3 ¾ to 4 square feet of floor space (equivalent to an 18x 30 inch or 24×24 inch enclosure.) Cage height is less important as the turtle lives on the cage bottom. Artificial turf makes good flooring as it can be cleaned and reused, and it can’t be eaten. Sand, gravel, corn cob, wood chips, etc may be eaten and cause bowel blockages; if used they must be changed regularly when soiled. Air temperature measured near floor level in the shade (under a solid piece of cardboard or wood, away from heat sources) should be 75-850F in the day, and ideally above 700F even at night.

Use a good mercury, digital, or dial-type thermometer which can be moved to check temperature in various locations at the cage bottom; avoid paper strip thermometers or temp guns, which do not give reliable air temperatures. A reptile heat pad beneath the cage is one heating method; hot rocks can be used but should be covered (with turf or other rocks) to prevent burns from direct contact. Heat lamps inside the cage should be at least 18 inches above the turtle to prevent burns. If a heat lamp is used at night it should produce minimal light; good choices are lightless ceramic-coated bulbs, though dim purple or red night lights can also be used. Box turtles are shy and the cage should be in a quiet area. They need hiding places to feel secure, but you should try to avoid using dark caves or hiding boxes which block exposure to UV light. Instead provide objects such as plants or rocks to hide behind, or use paper to cover the cage glass in one corner, creating a private area which remains well lighted. UV light should be able to reach your turtle even while hiding.

Lighting should be provided 12-14 hours daily, with the remainder being dark. You must provide white (visible) light and ultraviolet light in the 280-320 nm wavelengths (called UV-B). This mimics basking in the open sunlight. Our climate provides too little sun, and window glass or plexiglass filters out most of the UV light, so you need to provide sunlight artificially. The simplest lighting is fluorescent full spectrum bulbs; incandescent “screw type” round bulbs are not adequate. Some good brands include Reptisun by Zoomed, and Reptile D-Light. Other bulbs which produce less UV but are adequate include Verilux, Reptasun by Flukers, Reptiglo, and Reptile Daylight by Energy Savers Unlimited (ESU). These bulbs won’t burn the pet and need to be close to the turtle to be effective; in general the effective distance is less than the bulb length. For instance, a common 24 inch tube should be within 18 inches of the turtle. Bulbs should run the entire cage length; tubes less than 24 inches long (including compact coils) are usually too weak to be effective. Avoid glass or plastic barriers between the bulb and the pet (these block UV). Change these bulbs every 6-8 months when in use as they produce less UV light over time.

NOTE: more recently a few incandescent “screw type” round bulbs have appeared which do produce UV-B; these look like typical bulbs but are actually mercury vapor lamps. They produce both UV and strong heat, so should be kept at least 18 inches from the turtle. Their effective lifespan is uncertain; probably they are reliable for at least 1 year. These devices cost $45-100 and when turned off must have a “cool down” period before they can be restarted. Incandescent bulbs which cost less and do not require a cool down period are simple filament-type bulbs, and do not produce adequate UV-B.

Healthy turtles may be allowed to hibernate in the winter in an unheated garage or greenhouse; the temperature needs to be below 550F ideally, and day length should be short (winter hours). Healthy hibernation must be induced gradually in the fall, with decreases in day length and air temperatures as occurs outdoors. This can be hard to achieve indoors, and it may be best to keep a turtle active in the winter. Never hibernate a sick or underweight turtle.

 

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

Respiratory Infections:

Common among stressed turtles, especially new pets which were recently captured and shipped. Poor diet or environment also stress the turtle and allow infection. Symptoms: crusty or runny eyes, swollen eyes, runny nose (often with bubbles out the nostrils), and mucus in the mouth. They often will not eat, and if untreated may progress to pneumonia and die. Treatment: antibiotics daily, correct the environment, and force feed if needed.

Vitamin A Deficiency:

Currently a rare condition. Mimics respiratory infection but not as severe, mostly eye swelling and discharge. Often the turtle is still eating. This condition only develops if the turtle has been on a Vitamin A deficient diet (or not eating at all) for months. Treatment: Vitamin A orally (not injectable; the injectable forms are easily overdosed and potentially toxic to turtles). Good sources: commercial turtle foods, some greens, papaya, yellow vegetables, carrots (limit these due to low calcium content).

Middle Ear Infections:

Visible as a swelling on the side of the neck where the ear should be. Usually results from a respiratory infection. Treatment: Surgical drainage of the infection, antibiotic injections, and correction of the diet and environment.

Beak & Nail Overgrowth:

This condition is seen only in turtles that have been in captivity for some time, and is likely the result of nutritional imbalances such as excessive protein intake or vitamin imbalances (including overdosing with supplements). The beak and nails overgrow and also may become thickened and deformed. Severe cases may develop deep cracks in the dry thickened skin of the extremities, which can cause the toes or tail to break and fall off. Low humidity may also play a role in creating these lesions. Treatment involves trimming the overgrown beak and nails, using ointments to soften the thick dry skin when needed, and correction of the diet and environment. Even severe cases may be reversed over time, though lost appendages do not regrow.

Shell Rot:

Infection of the shell (usually bacterial, occasionally fungal) which causes pitting, discoloration or softness of the shell. If untreated, the lesions can deepen and spread, eventually causing death. Treatment: Removal of the infected areas of shell, topical disinfectants applied daily, keep the shell dry and give injectable antibiotics in severe cases.

Intestinal Parasites:

Box turtles may carry a variety of worms and other parasites of the digestive tract. Symptoms: Diarrhea, poor weight gain, lethargy; worms may be present without obvious symptoms. Treatment: Bring a fecal sample and/ or worms (if seen) to a veterinarian for identification so the proper worm medication may be used.

Appetite Loss:

Box turtles easily lose appetite if their environment stresses them; cool temperatures, low UV levels, short days, a cramped cage, lack of hiding places, and excess noise or disturbance may all cause the turtle to stop eating. Any illness such as an infection often causes appetite loss as well. If your pet stops eating for more than a few days (except when properly hibernated) you should seek veterinary advice.

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General

General

Chameleons are unique lizards native to various locales and habitats, from lowland jungle to mountainous terrain. They require warm to hot temperatures and artificial sunlight to thrive in Oregon. They are unusual in many respects: their eyes move independently, their feet have toes fused together to create “pinchers” which grab onto branches, and their tails are prehensile. They eat by extending their sticky tongue far out of the mouth to snag their insect prey. Their small to moderate size, unusual appearance and good personalities make them popular reptile pets.

Food

Food

Chameleons are insect eating lizards; veiled chameleons may also eat a few leafy greens. They may dislike eating on the ground and often prefer food that can crawl up onto the branches where the lizards spend most of their time. Silkworms are fairly nutritious. Crickets and Dubia roaches may be used as food also (feed these insects a high calcium “gut loading” cricket diet (T-Rex Calcium Plus is the only product proven effective) for 2-3 days prior to using crickets or roaches as food, or they will be calcium deficient… the loaded insects should be consumed within a few hours when put into the lizard’s cage, as they eliminate the gut loader rapidly. Remove crickets’ rear legs prior to feeding them to your lizard, as the rear legs are spiny and may cause mouth injuries. Mealworms, waxworms and some roach species are nutritionally poor; use these sparingly if at all. Earthworms are nutritious but may be rejected; rolling earthworm pieces in ground-up reptile kibble may make them more palatable.

Vitamin + mineral supplements should be used sparingly. Achieving a healthy balance with supplements is difficult. Never mix products; use a balanced vitamin-mineral powder with many vitamins + calcium and phosphorous provided (not just calcium and Vitamin D), and put a tiny pinch on the food once weekly, no more. Reptocal and Reptivite are 2 brands which offer balanced formulations. Overdosing is a common problem with using these supplements; it is safer to dose conservatively. Another option is to powder the insects with a reptile food such as aquatic turtle food kibble that has been ground to a powder, which will provide safe vitamin and mineral levels. Crickets may be fed softened reptile food as well, prior to gut-loading them for calcium.

Housing

Housing

Try to duplicate natural conditions. Large terrariums are best.. The most important factors are heat & light. The ideal daytime air temperature is 77-840F for cooler climate species such as Jackson’s chameleons, and up to 85-950F for lowland tropical species such as Veiled chameleons. Monitor cage temperature at several spots with good mercury, digital, or dial type thermometers (NOT a color strip or temp gun), and in the shade away from all heat sources, to get accurate readings. Thermometers should be shielded from heat & light by a solid object such as cardboard or wood to read properly. Improper air temperatures can cause stress and failure to thrive. In the Pacific Northwest the cage sides and top should be mostly solid, not screen, in order to trap heat and humidity. A reptile heat pad placed under the terrarium is a good heating method. Hot rocks provide heat but must be covered to prevent direct contact which may burn the lizard. Heat lamps are useful but must be at a safe distance to prevent burns (at least 18 inches usually). Heat lamps must not be bright if used at night; the best are lightless ceramic-coated lamps; dim purple or red coated night bulbs may also be used. The terrarium can have a slightly warmer side in the upper temperature range, and a cooler side in the lower temperature range; otherwise attempt to keep the air temperature at the middle of the pet’s range.

Lighting requires special attention. You must provide both visible (white) light and ultraviolet light in the 280-320 nm spectrum (called UV-B). This mimics outdoor sunlight which chameleons require. Our climate provides too little sunlight, and window glass or plexiglass filters out most of the sun’s UV rays. Lack of proper lighting causes poor or picky appetites, poor growth, and bone disease. You can provide correct lighting with a fluorescent “full spectrum” light. Reptisun (made by Zoo med) and Reptile D-Light provide strong UV levels; other brands include Reptile Daylight (Energy Savers Unlimited), Reptiglo, and Reptasun (by Flukers). These are all fluorescent tubes; in general no regular incandescent bulb produces good UV light. These lights have a limited effective lifespan and should be changed every 6-8 months when in use. A good day length is 12-14 hours of light.

These lights won’t cause burns, and they need to be close to the pet to be effective, usually closer than the length of the light bulb. (A 24 inch tube should be within 18 inches of the lizard to be effective). Bulbs smaller than 24 inches (including coils) are usually too weak. Tall narrow cages require a fluorescent bulb that runs lengthwise down the side of the cage, to keep the UV source always close to the lizard. Avoid plastic or glass barriers between the light and the pet (these block UV). Minimize excessive shady areas where the animal can hide from the light; instead provide sheltered hiding spots where the UV light still reaches, or cover part of the transparent cage wall with paper to allow the animal to feel hidden while still basking. Call us for light sources.

More recently incandescent (screw type) bulbs have appeared which do produce strong UV levels. These are mercury vapor lamps; they produce high UV output and heat, so must be kept at a safe distance (at least 18-24 inches away). Their effective life span is uncertain; to be safe replace them yearly. These devices typically cost $45-$100, and when shut off must have a “cool down” period before they can be turned back on. (Other “full spectrum” round bulbs which cost less and require no “cool down” cycle are simple light bulbs, and do not produce good UV output.) Used properly, vapor bulbs can light a tall narrow cage from on top of the cage, as they project UV light further than fluorescents. To keep heat in, the bulb will need to be sitting directly on the cage top, shining through a small opening in an otherwise-solid top. Prevent the lizard from climbing within 18 inches of the light to avoid burns.

A small water bowl provides drinking water, although chameleons may drink sparingly. Some will take dewdrops if the cage is sprayed with water. Do not allow prolonged soaking and defecating in the water, as this contaminates the water source and may also cause skin infections. Artificial turf is a good cage bedding which can be cleaned and reused. Sand, gravel, corn cob, walnut shells, etc. are harder to keep clean and may cause intestinal blockages if eaten. Always provide branches (without splinters) for your chameleon to climb on; these lizards do not like being on the ground.

 

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

Osteodystrophy (Rickets):

A calcium deficiency usually due to poor diet and/or too little UV light. Symptoms include weakness, tremors, soft jaw, swollen or crooked legs. Treatment is via injectable or oral calcium, and correction of diet and lighting.

Limb fractures:

Due to trauma (falling), or secondary to soft bones (rickets). The limb is usually splinted. Correcting diet and lighting is critical.

Stomach or bowel blockage:

Chameleons may develop blockages from swallowing bedding such as bark chips, sand or gravel, but this is uncommon unless they are forced to eat prey on the ground. Small amounts of bedding may be passed with the aid of oral mineral oil. Severe cases may need surgery to remove the obstruction. Cool temperatures also slow the bowel and increase risk of blockage or constipation.

Heat burns/skin infections:

Unprotected hot rocks, heat pads or heat lights can cause burns. Burned skin often becomes infected. Branches with splinters may cause foot infections when the lizard grabs the branch; be sure all climbing apparatus is free of splinters or spines. Treatment: for mild infections, chlorhexidene or Betadine solution applied 2-3 times daily for 5-10 days may be adequate. For severe lesions, dead tissue may need surgical removal followed by oral antibiotics. Correct the habitat also.

Mouth and respiratory infections:

These are usually caused by normal bacteria which take advantage of a stressed or weakened lizard; underlying factors such as cool temperatures or imbalanced diets often play an important role in causing these illnesses. Mouthrot causes red swollen gums and sometimes pus, odor or drooling. Cool air temperatures or mouth injury are common causes. Cricket rear legs are spiny and may cut the delicate mouth tissues; ideally remove the rear legs before feeding the cricket to your lizard. Tongue infections cause swelling or paralysis of the tongue; the lizard may try to eat but the tongue won’t extend out of the mouth as far as it should, making eating difficult. Respiratory infections can cause mucus discharge in the mouth or nose which may resemble mouthrot, but the gums are usually normal. These diseases are treated with antibiotics and correction of diet and environment.

Intestinal parasites:

Various parasites are found in chameleons. Intestinal worms are probably the most common; when severe they can cause diarrhea, weight loss, straining to defecate and even colon prolapse (bowel protruding from the anus). Diagnosis of intestinal parasites is done via examination of a fresh (within 24 hours) fecal sample. Treatment with appropriate medication, along with thorough cage cleaning, eliminates the parasites.

Egg binding:

Female veiled chameleons may produce large numbers of eggs more than once a year; some may refuse to lay the eggs, either due to lack of suitable laying sites or due to inability to lay them. Retained eggs may be reabsorbed; if not they must be laid or surgically removed. Suspect egg production in a female veiled chameleon who suddenly looks fat through the belly, especially if her appetite is slowly decreasing. Encourage egg laying by providing warm air temperatures (85-95°F) and a laying box, accessible from above via a branch, and filled with at least 8 inches of moistened sand (this will allow digging of a tunnel without it collapsing). Female chameleons dig a tunnel, turn around and deposit the eggs within; the eggs are not fertile unless she was bred. Repeated frequent egg production can drain nutrition from a female chameleon; consider spaying her if she produces eggs more often than twice yearly.

→ Appetite loss:

This often results from husbandry stresses (low temperatures, inadequate UV light, short day length, noise/disturbances around the cage, etc). Illness such as infection can also reduce appetite. Treatment includes correction of diet and environment, and treating disease if present.


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General

General

Chinchillas are large rodents which inhabit the Andes Mountains at high altitudes. They have been in captivity since 1923. They are clean, odorless, generally friendly pets but are often shy and easily frightened. They are probably not ideal pets for young children. Chinchilla fur is very soft, and various colors are available including silver, beige, black, and white. Their large ears and bushy tails contribute to their attractive appearance.

Chinchilla Facts

Chinchilla Facts

Lifespan: 5-10 years (up to 18 years)
Pregnancy: 111 days average
Body temperature: 97°-100°F
Litter size: 1-5
Estrous cycle: 30-50 days
Weaning age: 6-8 weeks

Diet

Diet

Ferrets are carnivores and need a high protein diet. Dry kibble ferret foods are available; the best are probably the newer high protein (50-52%) + low starch kibbles such as Pretty Pets Natural Gold, Innova EV-O, or Wysong Epigen-90 for ferrets. Feline diabetic diets are low-carb and match ferrets’ needs quite well; these are Purina D-M and Hills M/D feline; both are prescription only. These newer formulas may help reduce or prevent some common diseases such as insulinomas & inflammatory bowel disease. Not all ‘low carb’ formulas are good; avoid diets that are ‘grain free’ but include fruits or peas (these are unhealthy ingredients for ferrets). Avoid nut or fruit mix diets, and minimize sweet treats or milk products. Ferretvite and Ferretone supplements should be avoided. A harmless treat is an omega-3 fatty acid supplement such as salmon oil or krill oil; cut a capsule and squeeze out a few drops of liquid. Ferrets may usually be fed free choice, as obesity is uncommon unless they eat soft food. Provide fresh water at all times; use a water bottle or very heavy bowl, as ferrets dig in water bowls and spill or soil the water frequently. Clean water bowls daily.

Handling

Handling

Chinchillas usually don’t bite, but may jump out of your hands. They also are prone to “fur slip” wherein patches of hair come loose with rough handling. Always hold your pet firmly with one hand around the front of the body and the other hand supporting the rear legs. A towel may help with restraint if your pet is very jumpy or tries to bite. Chinchilla bones are fragile and fracture easily; handle gently.

Hygiene

Dust baths

should be provided at least once to twice weekly to maintain healthy fur. The bath must be large and deep enough to allow the chinchilla to roll over in it. Finely powdered volcanic ash is used; several brands of “chinchilla dust” are sold. An alternative is a mix of 9 parts silver sand to 1 part Fuller’s earth. The dust should be provided for only a short time during the day.

Housing

Housing

Chinchillas should be housed in a well ventilated cage that is kept cool and dry. They don’t tolerated heat & humidity; their ideal temperature range is 60-72°F. Wire cages are usually used; glass or plastic cages must be well ventilated to minimize humidity and odor buildup. Wood cages are hard to keep clean and may be gnawed through. The cage floor can be wire or solid. Wire floors allow waste to fall through but may cause foot sores; cover the wire with thick straw or provide a solid platform (wood or cardboard) in one area to sit on. Solid floors should be covered with straw or paper bedding to absorb wastes; clean the cage often. Chinchillas are very active and require space; a good cage size is 6 ft X 6 ft X 3 ft with a one foot square nest box. If a smaller cage is used then ample exercise time outside the cage should be provided. Be careful to prevent chewing on wood furniture, baseboards, extension cords, etc. Chinchillas are not very social and are usually housed separately unless breeding.

Breeding

Breeding

Chinchillas tend to fight when housed together; females are more aggressive. Breeders often use polygamous colonies with one male having access to several females housed separately. Chinchillas breed all year, especially November through May. Females may attack the male so he should be able to leave the breeding cage; the female may wear a collar which prevents her exiting the cage. Up to 20% of females may not breed, likely due to incompatibility with the male. Pregnancy lasts 105-115 days (ave. 111 days). Most births are in the morning; litter size is 1-5 babies (average 2).

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Fur Slip:

Chinchillas often lose patches of fur when handled roughly. Fighting between animals also may cause hair loss. The skin is not injured by fur slip but the coat may be unsightly.

→ Barbering/ Fur Chewing:

This is a behavioral problem wherein the chinchilla chews its fur or another animal’s fur causing a rough moth-eaten appearance. Contributing factors may include boredom, dirty fur, diet imbalances, or hereditary factors such as a stress prone personality. Providing cardboard chew toys such as paper towel roll centers, minimizing stress and disturbances, keeping the cage clean, cool & dry, and breeding animals with low key personalities may reduce incidence of this problem.

→ Heat Stroke:

High temperatures and humidity aren’t tolerated by chinchillas. Overheated pets often lie on their sides and pant. They may feel hot to the touch. Excess humidity may produce unkempt, damp fur. Treatment starts with misting or bathing in cold water; veterinary aid should be quickly sought as this condition is often fatal.

→ Enteritis (Intestinal Infection):

A common disease in chinchillas. Often the exact cause is uncertain. Bacterial, viral and protozoal agents have all been associated with forms of intestinal upset in chinchillas. A few causes include Pseudomonas, Salmonella, E. coli, and Giardia. Poor husbandry and improper diet may increase risk of an outbreak. Simple gut upsets without infection also may occur if the diet is not correct; these are dangerous also. Symptoms may include diarrhea, depression, appetite loss, abdominal pain or bloating, partial paralysis, and death. A fecal exam may aid diagnosis. This condition is life-threatening; veterinary care should be quickly sought. Treatment includes supportive care and sometimes antibiotic therapy. Bacterial supplements such as milk free acidophilus may help; antidiarrheals such as kaopectate or blackberry leaves can be used. Bowel stimulants (Reglan, Propulsid) may be used if the bowel has stopped moving. Severe cases may receive injected fluids. Bowel upsets can be fatal if not caught early.

→ Dental Disease:

Chinchilla teeth grow constantly. They are prone to several tooth problems. Malocclusion is a condition wherein the teeth don’t properly wear against each other and overgrow. Incisor (front tooth) overgrowth is visible; the teeth may achieve extreme lengths and protrude from the mouth like tusks. Molars (back teeth) may overgrow but aren’t visible; signs include drooling, oral odor, difficulty eating, and a wet or soiled chin. The causes of these problems are variable and may include infection, tooth trauma from cage bar biting, diet, and hereditary factors. Treatment includes grinding or trimming the teeth to proper length, and correction of any known underlying factors. Extraction of some abnormal teeth may be needed. Tooth abscesses may involve front or back teeth, and can result in facial swelling, odor, appetite loss, and loose or painful teeth. Treatment is via extraction of infected teeth, draining all visible abscesses, and long term antibiotics. Severe abscesses may involve large areas of the face and may be life threatening.

→ Respiratory Infection:

Respiratory infection can involve the nasal passages, producing sneezing or runny eyes & nose; severe cases can involve the lungs (pneumonia) and produce wheezing, lethargy, rough coat and labored breathing. Untreated this can be fatal. The infections are bacterial, and may be caused by Bordetella, Pasteurella, Pseudomonas, and E. Coli. Damp, dirty or drafty housing may increase risk of infection. Treatment includes antibiotics, supportive care, and correction of any underlying problems with the diet & environment.

→ Ringworm (Fungal Infection):

Trichophyton is a common fungus found in soil and on animals which can cause skin disease in chinchillas. Infected pets may occasionally transmit the fungus to other animals or humans. Signs are usually crusty or flaky skin around the face and ears, and sometimes on the feet. Hair loss and scabs may occur. Treatment involves topical or systemic antifungal drugs.

→ Fractures:

Chinchillas have long slender legs with relatively fragile bone structure, and are prone to jumping and falling, or getting legs caught in cage bars. Fractures easily occur. Most need splinting or pinning to stabilize the fracture. Badly traumatized or infected legs occasionally need amputation, although chinchillas do quite well on three legs. Get any wound or fracture treated immediately to avoid severe complications.

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General

General

Ferrets are small slender animals related to otters, minks, skunks and weasels. They are generally friendly with pets and people. The domestic ferret is not a wild animal and will only survive in captivity. Various color forms are available. Ferrets often shed their coat in Spring and Fall, with the summer coat being shorter and darker than the winter coat. Body fat may increase dramatically in winter (up to 30% weight gain seasonally). Ferrets tend to be nocturnal but readily adapt to the owner’s schedule. They are playful for most of their lives, and may chase or jump at feet as people pass by. Play biting is common in baby ferrets but can quickly be controlled. True biters are rare; aggression is more common in dogs than ferrets. The ferrets’ small size (1-5 lb) makes them easily injured by dogs or children, so adult monitoring is recommended. They are carnivores, and like dogs & cats should not be left unattended around infants. Ferrets will learn to use a litter box but are not as reliable as cats in this regard.

Ferret Facts

QUICK FACTS

Life span: 6-8 years (rarely to 11)
Age to adult weight: 4 months
Adult teeth erupt: 6-8 weels
Age to breeding: 5-9 months
Pregnancy length: 42 days
Litter size: average = 8
Age at weaning: 5½-8 weeks

Handling

Handling

Ferrets may be picked up around the midsection; never hold them by a leg or tail without supporting the body. With baby ferrets you may need to train them to play gently; if the ferret grabs a finger and does not let go, you may flick the tip of the nose sharply with a finger (avoid the eyes!) to get your pet to release. Holding a ferret by the scruff (the skin at the back of the neck) will relax the individual for awhile and may reduce wiggling during procedures such as nail trimming or ear cleaning.

Diet

Diet

Ferrets are carnivores and need a high protein diet. Dry kibble ferret foods are available; the best are probably the newer high protein (50-52%) + low starch kibbles such as Pretty Pets Natural Gold, Innova EV-O, or Wysong Epigen-90 for ferrets. Feline diabetic diets are low-carb and match ferrets’ needs quite well; these are Purina D-M and Hills M/D feline; both are prescription only. These newer formulas may help reduce or prevent some common diseases such as insulinomas & inflammatory bowel disease. Not all ‘low carb’ formulas are good; avoid diets that are ‘grain free’ but include fruits or peas (these are unhealthy ingredients for ferrets). Avoid nut or fruit mix diets, and minimize sweet treats or milk products. Ferretvite and Ferretone supplements should be avoided. A harmless treat is an omega-3 fatty acid supplement such as salmon oil or krill oil; cut a capsule and squeeze out a few drops of liquid. Ferrets may usually be fed free choice, as obesity is uncommon unless they eat soft food. Provide fresh water at all times; use a water bottle or very heavy bowl, as ferrets dig in water bowls and spill or soil the water frequently. Clean water bowls daily.

Housing

Ferrets usually are housed in a wire cage when not supervised. They often sleep much of the day and awaken when the owner is around. They may be allowed to roam in the house with supervision. Their environment should be free of hazards. Ferrets like to chew (and swallow) pieces of rubbery items such as rubber toys, ear plugs, shoe soles, rubber mats, etc. These should be kept out of reach. Ferrets like to dig in dirt, so potted plants may need to be out of reach. Ferrets are not great climbers but can climb rough cloth surfaces such as on sofas. They can fit into small spaces, so may disappear into small holes in a wall or floor. They may be injured when exploring in or under appliances such as dishwashers or clothes dryers, or when caught in a recliner mechanism. Ideally fit your ferret with a collar and small bell to help track your ferret’s location; this also identifies a lost ferret as a pet to anyone who finds it. Slip the collar over the head already buckled to avoid over-tightening. Identification may be printed on the collar. A pet microchip inserted under the skin yields permanent identification of your pet; animal shelters scan pets for chips.

Medical Care

Medical Care

Home care may include nail trimming every 3-4 weeks, and cleaning the ears with a cotton swab if dark wax builds up inside. Bathing is optional but may reduce the ferret’s moderate musky odor. Veterinary care is important. Canine distemper vaccine should be given at 8, 11 & 14 weeks of age and then annually; Recombitek CDV (Merial) is the only proven vaccine available. Rabies vaccine is given at 12-14 weeks of age and then annually; the only approved brand is Imrab-3 (Rhone Merieux). Most ferrets have been neutered & “descented” (anal sacs removed) before sale; if this has not been done then have your ferret neutered at 5-6 months old. Neutering or spaying reduces odor dramatically and eliminates severe reproductive diseases in the females. Descenting is optional but helps reduce odor a little more. Regular veterinary visits are important to detect health problems. Annual visits for exam and vaccines are recommended for ferrets 1- 4 years old; exams may be done every 6 months on ferrets over 4 years old. An annual blood profile in ferrets over 4 years old helps detect common diseases before they become too advanced.

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Ear Mites:

These are small spider-like parasites which live in the ears of ferrets, dogs or cats; they are contagious via shared bedding or direct contact. Ferrets often show fewer signs of itching than dogs, but may have heavy black wax in the ears. Normal ferrets may produce wax also, so microscopic examination of the exudate is needed to identify the mites. Treatment is with ear drops or injectable medication.

→ Fleas:

Ferrets may also share these parasites with dogs & cats. Flea treatment involves topical flea products on the ferret, and treating the house environment as well. Advantage drops have been found safe and effective; use caution not to overdose these small pets with a flea product.

→ Respiratory Infections:

Ferrets are susceptible to some human flu viruses; symptoms are similar to those in humans. No treatment is usually necessary unless signs are severe. Avoid close contact when you or your ferret has a cold, as it may spread from human to pet or vice versa.

→ Canine Distemper Virus:

This is a deadly viral disease of dogs, ferrets and wildlife (foxes, raccoons, etc). Signs include nasal and eye discharge, chin rash, weakness, weight loss, hard crusty foot pads, and neurologic signs such as seizures, aggression, stupor and coma. Nearly all cases are fatal within 10 days. There is no treatment; prevent this disease with vaccination.

→ Aleutian Disease:

This is a viral disease of mink that sometimes infects ferrets. Many ferrets seem resistant to it, and of the few who become infected many remain nonsymptomatic. In a few cases serious symptoms may develop and can include weight loss, dark tarry stools, respiratory distress (viral pneumonia), kidney problems, eye problems, and occasionally encephalitis (brain disease). There is no vaccine or cure; suspected cases may be confirmed via blood testing. Isolation of affected animals may help reduce spread of the disease.

→ Gastric Foreign Bodies:

Ferrets like to chew and swallow rubber items, which often lodge in the stomach or bowel. Ferrets also can develop hairballs in the stomach. Stomach foreign bodies may be non-symptomatic, or can cause tooth grinding, nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, weight loss, and tarry black stools. If the object blocks the bowel, signs are immediate and severe and include depression, weakness, vomiting and appetite loss. Bowel blockage is a medical emergency; treatment is via surgical removal. Prevent this problem via avoidance of rubber items which the ferret may chew on. Hairballs may be prevented with oral medication such as Laxatone; brush or pluck loose hair during times of heavy shedding (Spring & Fall usually).

→ Insulinomas:

These are small tumors in the pancreas, most common in ferrets over 3-4 years old. The tumors secrete excess insulin, lowering the blood sugar. Signs are weakness, inactivity, drooling, acting dazed, and sometimes coma or seizures. Oral sugar (Karo syrup) often produces temporary improvement in a hypoglycemic animal. The best treatment is surgical removal of the tumors, but medical therapy may control symptoms for many months. Risk of these tumors may be reduced by feeding high protein low-carbohydrate diets such as listed on the first page.

→ Adrenal Tumors:

These are common mostly in ferrets over 3 years old. The tumors produce excess adrenal hormones, mostly estrogen & testosterone. Signs include hair loss, itching, weight loss, changes in odor or aggression, swollen vulva in females, and difficulty urinating in males. Cure is via surgical removal of the tumor. Medication (Lupron) may improve symptoms, but does not stop the tumor from growing. Deslorelin implants can prevent adrenal tumors in ferrets; the hormone implants are injected under the skin and last at least 12 months. Implants should be given yearly to all ferrets over 3 years old; treated ferrets often have better hair coats and a younger, healthier appearance.

→ Lymphoma:

This is a fairly common lymph node cancer in ferrets, and may occur in animals as young as 12 months old, but is more common in ferrets over 2 years old. The most common form occurs in the abdominal lymph nodes and seems to be linked to stomach & bowel disease. Detection and control of inflamm

 

atory bowel disease may reduce risk of lymphoma in ferrets. Signs of lymphoma may include weight loss, anemia, large lymph nodes, fluid in the thorax or abdomen, or abdominal masses. Diagnosis is usually via biopsy of any detected masses. Therapy is medical; surgery rarely cures lymphoma. Cortisone may slow the tumors and prolong life. More aggressive chemotherapy may halt the disease in some ferrets. This cancer is eventually fatal in most cases.

→ Stomach & Intestinal Diseases:

There are many causes of vomiting, diarrhea or appetite loss in ferrets, including Inflammatory Bowel Disease, ECE virus (coronavirus or green slime diarrhea), bacterial overgrowth, Helicobacter gastritis (rare), stomach ulcers, etc. ECE virus is often carried by baby ferrets without symptoms, but may make older house ferrets very ill when the baby is introduced; signs include nausea and greenish diarrhea within days of exposure. Use caution when mixing older and younger ferrets
Accurate diagnosis of digestive diseases starts with a thorough history and exam, a blood profile, and a fecal analysis. Many cases need biopsy of the stomach or bowel to confirm a diagnosis. Ferret digestive diseases often appear clinically mild, with few signs other than a gradual loss of body weight & muscle, but if untreated may lead to fatal complications, including hepatitis, ulcers, megaesophagus, or lymphoma. Treatment depends on the specific disease. Most digestive disease is curable or controllable, and affected animals can live long, happy lives.

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Housing

Housing

Guinea pigs, also called cavies, need a dry draft-free environment. Temperatures of 60-80ºF are tolerable with 70ºF being ideal. They may be housed in wood or wire cages with solid floors. Avoid wire floors as feet may become caught and bones broken as the pet tries to free itself. Wire floors also tend to cause sores on the feet. Provide a thick layer of good bedding such as recycled paper, hardwood shavings like aspen (not cedar or pine), or straw. Cavies may be housed in groups or singly. Intact males should not be housed together, to prevent fighting. Guinea pigs can be sociable and enjoyable pets, and often live to be 5-6 years old.

Feeding

Feeding

The bulk of the diet should be timothy-based guinea pig pellets (not a seed & fruit mix), and lean grass hay such as timothy or oat hay. Avoid alfalfa pellets except with pregnant or nursing females and babies, who need the extra protein and calcium that alfalfa provides. Pellets may be fed free-choice unless obesity occurs; hay is always fed free choice. Pellets provide balanced nutrition; hay provides roughage essential for intestinal health in cavies. Veggies should be limited to small amounts of leafy greens; these can include leaf lettuce, parsley, cilantro, dandelion, fresh grasses, blackberry leaves, & carrot tops. Items high in sugars (fruit, baby carrots, tomatoes, corn, etc) or high in protein (seeds, oats, alfalfa) should be avoided, as they easily cause bloat or diarrhea which can be deadly. Avoid greens in the cabbage group (broccoli, cabbage, kale, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower) as these may also cause bloating. Guinea pigs also need Vitamin C in their diet daily.

Pelleted food should not be relied on for Vitamin C needs, because this vitamin deteriorates rapidly with time and exposure to heat, light and air. The daily MINIMUM Vitamin C requirement is 10 mg per day; pregnant or ill cavies may need 30+ mg daily. Vitamin C additives for water bottles are usually inadequate. Fresh food sources provide some Vitamin C, but grocery store fruits & vegetables may cause bowel upsets if fed in enough quantity to meet a cavy’s vitamin needs. The most reliable way is to use chewable Vitamin C tablets; Oxbow makes 25 mg chewables for cavies; these can be softened with water to improve palatability. Children’s vitamin C tablets can be used, but are stronger (break 100 mg tablet into pieces roughly equivalent to 25 mg). Giving more Vitamin C than necessary isn’t a problem, unless the dose is extreme. Fresh water should always be available. Ball bearing bottles are cleaner, and not as easily spilled as bowls. Clean the cage, food and water sources regularly.

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Vitamin C Deficiency (Scurvy):

Signs of scurvy include drooling, weight loss, hair loss or reluctance to move due to painful joints. Therapy is mainly Vitamin C supplementation. Correction of the diet to include daily Vitamin C sources is necessary. Supportive care (fluids, antibiotics, etc) may be needed in very ill patients. This is a common and preventable disease in this species.

→ Dental Diseases:

Guinea pigs have constantly growing teeth, and may develop overgrown front teeth (incisors) or back teeth (molars) for a variety of reasons. Vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) can cause TMJ pain and lead to tooth overgrowth. Incisor overgrowth may be visible as long tusk-like projections from the mouth. Molar overgrowth (or molar infections) may cause drooling, chin staining, foul odor, and difficulty eating. Treatment of tooth problems often involves trimming the overgrown teeth back to normal length, extracting any infected teeth, correcting any other illness which may be contributing to the problem, and force feeding if the patient cannot eat. Many cases are curable, but some dental problems can be persistent and life threatening. Fasting guinea pigs need immediate care, as they can die from bowel upsets with inadequate roughage intake.

→ Coccidia:

Coccidia are microscopic parasites living in the bowel, and are mostly seen in young cavies. If diarrhea is seen (especially in a young pet) a fecal analysis should be performed. Treatment involves giving sulfa drugs and cleaning up feces to prevent reinfection.

→ Dyshiosis & Enterotoxemia (Bowel upsets):

Intestinal upsets are a major cause of death in pet cavies. Signs may include loss of appetite, diarrhea, and lethargy, but some cavies only show one of these signs. Cavies have sensitive intestines, and almost any stress can cause this disease. Sudden diet changes, sugary treats, parasites, and some antibiotics (especially penicillins) can cause a sudden and often fatal diarrhea or bloat. This is probably due to an upset of the normal bowel bacteria, with overgrowth of harmful bacteria such as Clostridium. Bowel disease is unpredictable; mild cases may have slightly soft stool for days and still survive, but severe cases may develop depression and shock within hours and die before diarrhea develops. Prevention is via feeding a high roughage diet with minimal use of sweet items such as fruit; also minimize high protein items (oats, seeds, nuts, alfalfa). Avoid sudden changes in diet, and restrict vegies to less than 20% of the diet. Avoid vegies in the cabbage family. Treatment of bowel upsets varies with severity, but may include bacterial supplements such as milk-free acidophilus, feeding roughage (force feeding if necessary), intestinal stimulants such as Reglan or Propulsid, antidiarrheals such as Kaopectate or blackberry leaves, and injected fluids with therapy for shock in severe cases. Prompt medical care is essential whenever a cavy is lethargic, or is not eating, or has diarrhea, or feels cold to the touch. Bowel upsets are often curable if caught early.

→ Ovarian and uterine disease:

Reproductive disease is very common in aging female cavies. Their ovaries often become enlarged and cystic, which can cause increased hormone levels. This in turn leads to other pathology such as weight loss, balding, and uterine and mammary cancers. These can be deadly if not detected early. Prevention is easier: ideally spay any cavy who is not going to be a breeding animal. Spayed females tend to live longer and healthier lives.

→ Lice & Mites:

These are common skin parasites. Mites are microscopic, burrow deep in the skin, and when numerous cause intense itching, flaking, and hair loss. Severe cases may develop large scabs or sores due to intense scratching and biting at the skin. Lice are larger than mites, barely visible to the naked eye, and live on the surface, causing mild itching and some hair loss when numerous. Both mites and lice may be present for months or years with minimal signs until their numbers are large. Lice and mites can be killed with oral ivermectin; treat weekly for 6-8 weeks as the eggs persist for long periods. Lime-sulfur dip can also be used but is more labor- intensive; it may be used with ivermectin in severe cases to ease symptoms faster. Cleaning the cage weekly when treating the mites or lice will help reduce reinfestation, but long term environmental treatment is unnecessary, as the parasites die if they are off their host for long. These parasites are species-specific but highly contagious between cavies; use caution when introducing new cavies to an existing group.

→ Respiratory infection:

Signs include sneezing, wheezing, lethargy, nasal or eye discharge, or difficulty breathing. Various bacteria may cause this, including Strep and Bordetella. Dogs, cats and rabbits may carry Bordetella and ideally should not be housed in contact with cavies. Cavies at risk of exposure may be vaccinated twice yearly for Bordetella to prevent infection; the vaccine must be a killed product, as live vaccines may cause illness in cavies.

→ Head tilt (wry neck, torticollis):

This is usually due to internal ear infection, sometimes secondary to a respiratory infection. The cavy usually tilts the head to one side and has a loss of balance, often falling when trying to walk. Strep bacteria are a common cause. Treatment is with antibiotics.

→ Foot infections (bumblefoot):

These are usually caused by improper housing such as wire floors or soiled bedding. Front feet are usually affected. Diarrhea or urinary incontinence may increase soiling and risk of foot problems. Obesity puts more pressure on the feet and may contribute to abrasion of the foot pads. Mild cases have superficial ulcers on the bottoms of one or more feet; a scab may cover the ulcer. Severe cases develop deep swelling and infection of the feet which can be very difficult to cure, requiring multiple surgeries and long term antibiotics. This disease can be life threatening. Prevention is easier than treatment; provide a clean, dry cage with a solid floor and plenty of straw or paper bedding to pad the floor and absorb urine.

→ Bladder stones (uroliths):

Common in cavies over 3 years old, these are calcium stones likely formed due to weakened bladder function. Cavy urine contains much calcium normally, and any retained urine may form stones. This condition is life threatening if a urethral blockage occurs. Treatment includes surgical removal of stones from the bladder, but stones often reoccur repeatedly, so surgery alone is inadequate. A very strict low-calcium diet combined with medications can control this dangerous condition, and usually prevents reoccurrence of the uroliths.

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Housing

Housing

There are 2 types of hamsters commonly sold as pets. Most are Golden Hamsters, also known as Syrian Hamsters. These have many hair colors and may be short or long haired. Golden hamsters are native to hot arid regions, and do not tolerate cool temperatures; they should be kept above 70°F as they may become unconscious at temperatures below 650F. Dwarf Hamsters are smaller, with short greyish brown hair on top and white hair below. Dwarf hamsters often tolerate cool well, but usually are kept at normal room temperature (70-72°F). Hamsters may be housed in wood or wire cages with solid floors. Avoid wire floors as feet may become caught and bones broken as the pet tries to free itself. Wire floors also tend to cause sores on the feet. Provide a thick layer of good bedding such as recycled paper, straw, or hardwood shavings (use aspen, not cedar or pine). Hamsters are often aggressive if housed together, and may need to be kept separate to prevent fighting, especially with males. Hamsters may be friendly pets when handled regularly, but some individuals fail to tame well and are prone to biting, especially when first awakened. Golden hamsters tend to be less aggressive than Siberian dwarf hamsters, and therefore are probably better pets. With good care a hamster may live to 2-5 years old.

Feeding

Feeding

The bulk of the diet should be hamster pellets (not a seed & fruit mix), and offer grass hay such as timothy. Avoid alfalfa hay except with babies, and pregnant or nursing females who need extra protein & calcium that alfalfa provides. Pellets may be fed free choice unless obesity occurs; hay is always fed free choice. Pellets provide balanced nutrition; hay provides roughage for intestinal health. In general fresh green leafy veggies may be offered daily, but should be limited to less than 20% (1/5) of the diet. Avoid veggies in the cabbage family (kale, cabbage, Bok Choy, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, Brussels sprouts) as they can cause bloating. Items high in sugars (fruit, baby carrots, tomatoes, corn, etc) or high in protein (seeds, oats, alfalfa,) should be especially limited as they easily upset the bowel. Fresh water should always be available. Ball bearing bottles are cleaner and not as easily spilled as bowls. Clean the cage, food and water bowls regularly.

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Dental diseases:

Hamsters have constantly growing front teeth (incisors), and occasionally develop overgrown front teeth for a variety of reasons. Chewing on hard objects such as wood or metal may twist and damage the teeth and increase the risk of overgrowth. Incisor overgrowth may be visible as long crooked tusk-like projections from the mouth. Treatment of tooth problems often involves trimming the overgrown teeth back to normal length, and/or extracting any infected teeth. Offer soft chew toys such as ink-free cardboard instead of wood to chew on; this may minimize damage to the incisors. If the incisors overgrow severely, the hamster may be unable to eat. Fasting hamsters need immediate care, as they can die from bowel upsets with inadequate roughage intake.

→ “Wet Tail” (Bowel Upsets):

Intestinal upsets are a major cause of death in pet hamsters. Signs may include loss of appetite, diarrhea, and lethargy, but some pets show only one of these signs. Hamsters have sensitive intestines, and almost any stress can cause this disease. Sudden diet changes, sugary treats, parasites, & some antibiotics (especially penicillin) can cause a sudden and often fatal diarrhea or bloat. There are contagious infections that can also cause ‘wet tail’, usually seen while hamsters are housed in groups in the pet store or breeder facility. Bowel disease is unpredictable; mild cases may have slightly soft stool for days and survive, but severe cases may develop depression and shock within hours and die before diarrhea develops. Prevention is via feeding a high roughage diet with minimal use of sweet items such as fruit; also minimize high protein items (oats, seeds, nuts, alfalfa). Avoid sudden diet changes, and restrict vegies to less than 20% of the diet. Avoid vegies in the cabbage family. Treatment of bowel upsets varies with severity but may include bacterial supplements such as milk free acidophilus, feeding roughage (force feeding if necessary), intestinal stimulants such as Reglan or Propulsid, anti-diarrheal medications such as kaolin-pectin or blackberry leaves, and injectable fluids in severe cases. Some patients need antibiotics. Prompt medical care is essential whenever a hamster is lethargic, or is not eating, or has diarrhea, or feels cold to the touch. Sick hamsters may die within hours, but many cases of bowel upset are curable if caught in time.

→ Mites (Demodex):

These are common skin parasites but often produce no symptoms unless the hamster is weakened from other disease. Mites are microscopic, burrow deep in the skin, and when numerous cause intense itching, flaking, and hair loss. Severe cases may develop large scabs or sores due to intense scratching and biting at the skin. Mites are hard to kill but respond to treatment with ivermectin (oral or injectable) daily for 6-8 weeks. Lyme sulfur dip may help when applied twice weekly for 6-8 weeks but is more labor-intensive and must be applied thoroughly. Cleaning the cage weekly when treating the mites may help reduce reinfestation, but long term environmental treatment is unnecessary as the parasites die if they are off their host for long. These parasites are species specific but highly contagious between hamsters; use caution when introducing new hamsters to an existing group.

→ Respiratory infection:

Signs include sneezing, wheezing, lethargy, nasal or eye discharge, or difficulty breathing. Various bacteria may cause this. Treatment involves using antibiotics with caution, as hamsters may develop severe bowel upsets during treatment. Minimize respiratory disease with a warm, clean cage; avoid use of wood chip beddings, and feed a balanced diet.

→ Head tilt (wry neck, torticollis):

This is usually due to internal ear infection, sometimes secondary to a respiratory infection. The hamster usually tilts the head to one side and has a loss of balance, often falling or circling when trying to walk. Bacteria are the usual cause. Treatment is with antibiotics.

→ Hypothermia:

Golden hamsters are very cold sensitive and may become unconscious at temperatures below 650F. Their breathing is very shallow and they often appear dead, but may slowly revive when warmed in one’s hand. Avoid air temperatures below 700F in the room where your hamster lives, and keep the cage away from cool areas such as windows and floors. Provide warm bedding such as recycled paper or tissue paper for your pet to nest in; a small nest box also helps conserve body heat when sleeping.

→ Fight wounds:

Hamsters can be aggressive and antisocial and often fight if housed together. This may result in bite wounds; their eyes are also easily popped out of the socket during fighting. Female hamsters may kill their young if disturbed by humans or other hamsters. Any visible wounds on a hamster require immediate medical treatment; the risk of infection is great, and treatment of abscesses in hamsters is difficult. Early antibiotic therapy to prevent infection is the safer option.

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General

General

Hedgehogs are small shy insect eating mammals, with quills on top and fur on the face and belly. The quills resemble those of porcupines but are not barbed and do not imbed in the skin when touched. When frightened hedgehogs roll into a ball and emit an odd rattling hiss, and may bounce to try to poke you with their quills. They rarely attempt to bite. There are many species of hedgehogs, including the large European Hedgehog and many African species. The African Pygmy Hedgehog (A. albiventris) is the species commonly sold as pets and is currently the only species legal to keep in Oregon. Hedgehogs are shy but non-aggressive animals, and can make decent pets if socialized. They typically live to be 2 ½ to 4 years old.

Housing

Housing

African hedgehogs are native to warm regions and do not tolerate cold temperatures; they should be kept above 70°F. They may be housed in wood or wire cages with solid floors. Avoid wire floors as feet may become caught and bones broken as the pet tries to free itself. Wire floors also tend to cause sores on the feet. Provide a thick layer of good bedding such as recycled paper or hardwood shavings (not cedar or pine). Soft clean towels can be used but should be removed if the pet chews them or if they become frayed; hedgehogs may become tangled in loose threads. Hedgehogs occasionally can be aggressive with each other if housed together and may need to be kept separate to prevent fighting, especially with males.

Feeding

Feeding

The bulk of the diet should be low fat hedgehog pellets (not a seed & fruit mix). Pellets may be fed free choice unless obesity occurs; use a formula with 30-35% protein and no more than 7% fat. Pretty Pets is a good brand of kibble. Alternatively a very low fat cat food such as Hill’s W/D (7% fat) may be used. The natural diet is mostly insects; in captivity occasional insects such as crickets or mealworms can be fed, but these are not nutritionally balanced, and should be used sparingly. Earthworms, slugs & silkworms are healthier food items, if the animal will accept them. Fresh water should always be available. Ball bearing bottles are cleaner and not as easily spilled as bowls. Clean the cage, food and water sources regularly.

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Obesity:

The most common medical problem seen in captive hedgehogs is obesity. The usual cause is feeding high calorie foods such as regular cat food, seeds or nuts, or fatty insects such as mealworms and crickets. But hedgehogs can overeat even on a low fat hedgehog diet, and food intake often must be restricted to maintain proper body weight. Healthy hedgehogs should appear twice as long as they are wide, and are not round in shape (except when rolled up). Obesity increases the risk of tumor development and may shorten your pet’s life span. Weight loss should be accomplished slowly, as obese pets that lose weight too rapidly may develop liver disease. Regular exercise outside the cage helps; some will use an exercise wheel as well.

→ Weight loss:

As previously discussed, hedgehogs are aggressive eaters and rarely lose weight unless put on a strict diet. Spontaneous weight loss is a cause for concern as it usually indicates significant illness, such as dental disease, cancer, heart disease, uterine disease, etc. Seek immediate veterinary advice if you notice your pet losing weight for no apparent reason.

→ Dental Diseases:

Hedgehogs often develop gum disease and tooth infection with age. Signs may include salivation, difficulty eating, and bad breath. Infected teeth may be loose and painful. Perhaps more importantly, chronic gingivitis that is left untreated may lead to oral cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) which is often fatal. Appropriate dental care, including tooth cleaning, oral antibiotics, and extraction of any badly infected teeth, can help keep the mouth healthy and reduce the risk of oral cancer. A thorough oral exam may require sedation with shy hedgehogs, but if your pet is over 1 ½ years old, it is definitely recommended.

→ Mites:

These are common skin parasites but often produce no symptoms until the mite population grows large. Mites are microscopic, and when numerous cause itching, flaking, and quill loss. Severe cases may develop scabs or sores due to intense scratching and biting at the skin. Mites respond to treatment with ivermectin (oral or injectable) weekly for 6-8 weeks. Lyme sulfur dip may help when applied once or twice weekly for 6-8 weeks but is more labor- intensive and must be applied thoroughly. Cleaning the cage weekly when treating the mites may help reduce reinfestation, but long-term environmental treatment is unnecessary as the parasites die if they are off their host for long. These parasites are species specific but highly contagious between hedgehogs; use caution when introducing new pets to an existing group.

→ Respiratory infection:

Signs include sneezing, wheezing, lethargy, nasal or eye discharge, or difficulty breathing. Various bacteria may cause this. Treatment is with antibiotics. Minimize respiratory disease with a warm, clean cage; avoid use of wood chip beddings, and feed a balanced diet.

→ Head tilt (wry neck, torticollis):

This is usually due to internal ear infection, sometimes secondary to a respiratory infection. The hedgehog usually tilts the head to one side and has a loss of balance, often falling or circling when trying to walk. Bacteria are the usual cause. Treatment is with antibiotics.

→ Fight wounds:

Hedgehogs occasionally can be aggressive with each other, and sometimes fight if housed together. This may result in bite wounds. Any visible wounds require immediate medical treatment; the risk of infection is great, and early antibiotic therapy to prevent infection is the safest option.

→ Cancers:

Hedgehogs are highly prone to many types of cancer when older; common types include oral tumors (squamous cell cancer), uterine cancer, and mammary tumors in females (breast cancer). Any visible lump should be checked immediately by a veterinarian. Oral odor, drooling, or difficulty eating are cause for concern. Many tumors are curable if caught early and removed. Weight control may reduce risk of some tumors. Spaying female hedgehogs likely reduces risk of mammary tumors, and eliminates risk of uterine cancer. Dentistry and controlling oral infections may reduce risk of oral cancer.

→ Heart disease (cardiomyopathy):

This is a degenerative disease of the heart which is seen in many pet species including dogs, cats and ferrets, and also in humans. The causes are unknown, but some forms in dogs and cats have been linked to nutritional deficiencies. Signs of heart failure include bloating, lethargy, and difficulty breathing. Treatment may control symptoms for months but isn’t likely to cure the disease. Risk of heart disease might be reduced by feeding a balanced diet and preventing obesity.

→ Degenerative myelopathy (progressive paralysis):

A poorly understood disease of unknown origin, which causes slow deterioration of the spinal cord. This causes gradual weakness and paralysis beginning in the rear legs and usually progressing to the front legs over time. Total paralysis can result. There is no effective treatment in most cases, and the condition is often fatal.

→ Hair or thread entanglements:

Hedgehogs are prone to becoming entangled in long pieces of thread (from bedding such as frayed towels) or in pieces of owners’ hair. The strands wrap around a leg or foot (or occasionally the penis in males) and act like a tourniquet, cutting into the skin and cutting off blood flow. Infection and loss of the foot may result. Minimize exposure to long hairs, strings or threads in the cage environment. If your pet is limping or has a swollen foot seek immediate veterinary care.

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General

General

When cared for correctly, iguanas can grow to 5-6 feet in length and often live for 10-20 years (up to 30 years). Most pet iguanas are adapted to the jungles of South & Central America. When you choose a “wild animal” as a pet, you must provide conditions which mimic the natural habitat & feed a balanced diet.

Food

Food

Iguanas are primarily herbivorous and eat a wide variety of leafy greens. Baby iguanas need more protein and calories for growth, and may show more omnivorous tendencies than adults. Most of the diet (75-85%) should be vegetable based, mostly leafy greens, and may include dandelions, kale, collards, papaya, and other common vegetables. Ideally use a nutritional guide to choose veggies with good calcium/phosphorous content. Iguanas should eat a good variety of veggies, at least 8 to 10 types; this reduces the potential for dietary imbalances.

In addition to vegetables, iguanas need some protein and a vitamin – mineral source. The easiest way to provide both safely is via feeding a good iguana or tortoise food as 5-25% of the overall diet. Both dry and canned forms exist; the best is probably dry pellets which are bright colored and smell fruity. Pretty Pets is one of the more palatable brands, and T-Rex is a similar product. The protein content of juvenile iguana food should be around 18%; adult food usually has larger pellets and should have lower protein content (around 12-14%). These pellets can be fed dry, or softened in water, or ground up to a powder and sprinkled liberally on damp vegetables. The simplest healthy diet is ~75%-85% vegies and 15%-25% iguana food. Avoid dog food, cat food or monkey chow.

If you can not use iguana food, then protein and vitamins should be provided in other ways, although achieving a healthy balance is more difficult. Safe protein sources include beans (various types), soybean (as in tofu), earthworms (use nightcrawlers, but not redworms or compost worms), and crickets or dubia roaches (feed these insects a high calcium “gut loading” cricket diet (T-Rex Calcium Plus) for 2-3 days prior to using crickets as food, or they will be calcium deficient). High protein sources such as these should be less than 20% of the diet in juveniles, and probably no more than 5% of the adult diet. Minimize these protein sources if iguana food is already being used. Vitamin + mineral supplements should only be used if no iguana diet is fed, and then used sparingly. Never mix products; use a balanced vitamin-mineral powder with many vitamins + minerals provided (not a simple calcium + vitamin D powder), and put a tiny pinch on the food once weekly, no more. Reptocal and Reptivite are 2 brands which offer some balanced formulations. Overdosing is a potential problem with using supplements; it is safer to rely on a commercial food which has the appropriate vitamins included.

Housing

Housing

Try to duplicate natural conditions. Large terrariums are best.. The most important factors are heat & light. The ideal daytime air temperature is 85-950F. Below 800F or above 1000F can cause stress and failure to thrive. The cage sides and top should be mostly solid, not screen, in order to trap heat and humidity. The most accurate readings are in the shade away from any heat sources; place the thermometer near ground level and cover it with a cardboard or wood shield. The terrarium can have a warmer side approaching 95-100°F, and a cooler area around 85°F. If the cage temperature is uniform, then aim at 900F as an ideal temperature. Keep the temperature at least 75-800F at night. A reptile heat pad placed under the terrarium is a good heating method. Hot rocks provide heat but must be covered to prevent direct contact which may burn the iguana. Heat lamps are useful but must be at a safe distance to prevent burns (at least 18 inches usually). Heat lamps must not be bright if used at night; the best are lightless ceramic-coated lamps; dim purple or red coated night bulbs may also be used. Monitor cage temperature at several spots with good mercury, digital, or dial type thermometers; avoid paper strip thermometers or temp guns which do not measure air temperature well.

Lighting requires special attention. You must provide both visible (white) light and ultraviolet light in the 280-320 nm spectrum (called UV-B), to mimic outdoor sun. Our climate provides too little sunlight, and window glass or plexiglass filters out most of the sun’s UV rays. Lack of proper lighting causes poor or picky appetites, poor growth, and bone disease. Provide correct lighting with a fluorescent “full spectrum” light. Reptisun (made by Zoo med) and Reptile D-Light provide strong UV levels; other brands include, Reptile Daylight (Energy Savers Unlimited), Reptiglo, and Reptasun (by Flukers). These are all fluorescent tubes; in general no regular incandescent bulb produces good UV light. These lights have a limited effective lifespan and should be changed every 6-8 months when in use. A good day length is 12-14 hours of light. These lights won’t cause burns, and they need to be close to the pet to be effective, usually closer than the length of the light bulb. (A 24 inch tube should be within 18 inches of the iguana to be effective). The bulb should run the entire length of the cage; UV tubes less than 24 inches long (including compact coils) are usually too weak to be effective. Avoid plastic or glass barriers between the light and the pet (these block UV). Call us for light sources.

More recently some full spectrum incandescent (screw type) round bulbs have appeared which do produce strong UV levels. These resemble regular light bulbs but are actually mercury vapor bulbs; they produce high UV output and heat, so must be kept at a safe distance (at least 18-24 inches away). Their effective life span is uncertain; to be safe replace them yearly. They are most useful for big, tall cages (3 to 6 feet tall) where the bulb is away from the pet, and the light beam can expand out and cover large areas. These devices typically cost $45-$100, and when shut off must have a “cool down” period before they can be turned back on. Other “full spectrum” round bulbs which cost less and require no “cool down” cycle are simple light bulbs, and do not produce good UV output.

Branches may be provided for the iguana to climb on. Do not trim nails on iguanas that climb high, as they may slip and fall, often breaking bones. A small water bowl provides drinking water and cage humidity. Do not allow prolonged soaking and defecating in the water, as this contaminates the water source and may also cause skin infections. Artificial turf is a good cage bedding which can be cleaned and reused. Sand, gravel, corn cob, walnut shells, etc. are harder to keep clean and may cause intestinal blockages if eaten.

 

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Osteodystrophy (Rickets):

A calcium deficiency usually due to poor diet and/or too little UV light. Symptoms include weakness, tremors, soft jaw, and swollen or crooked legs. Treatment is via injectable or oral calcium, and correction of diet and lighting.

→ Limb fractures:

Due to trauma, or secondary to soft bones (rickets). The limb is usually splinted. Correcting diet and lighting is critical.

→ Stomach or bowel blockage:

Iguanas may develop blockages from swallowing bedding such as sand or gravel. Small amounts may be passed with the aid of oral mineral oil. Severe cases may need surgery to remove the obstruction. Cool temperatures slow the bowel and increase risk of blockage or constipation.

→ Heat burns/skin infections:
Unprotected hot rocks, heat pads or heat lights can cause burns. Burned skin often becomes infected. Bacterial or fungal infection can also result from lying in contaminated water or on soiled flooring. Treatment: for mild infections, chlorhexidene or Betadine solution applied 2-3 times daily for 5-10 days may be adequate. For severe lesions, dead tissue may need surgical removal followed by injectable antibiotics. Correct the habitat also.

→ Mouthrot and respiratory infections:

These are usually caused by normal bacteria which take advantage of a stressed or weakened iguana; underlying factors such as cool temperatures or imbalanced diets often play an important role in causing these illnesses. Mouthrot causes red swollen gums and sometimes odor or drooling. Respiratory infections can cause mucus discharge in the mouth or nose which may resemble mouthrot, but the gums are usually normal. Both diseases are treated with antibiotics and correction of diet and environment.

NOTE: Normal iguanas often sneeze and have a little watery nasal discharge which may dry to a white crust on the nose. This is excess salt secretions which the iguana eliminates via salt glands in the nose and is not an infection

→ Kidney disease:

A common cause of death in older iguanas, it may be seen in pets as young as 5 years old if the diet or environment have been improper. The causes are poorly understood, but damage to the kidneys may be caused by aging, low temperatures, high protein diets, overdosing of calcium or vitamins, infection, dehydration, or other illness. Signs are variable and may include lethargy, tremors, weight loss, appetite loss, and color changes. This may resemble calcium deficiency (rickets), but rickets is more common in baby iguanas, whereas kidney failure is much more common in older pets. Treatment includes a low mineral, low protein diet and fluid therapy; most severe cases do not survive.

→ Egg Binding (egg retention):

Female iguanas over 11-12 inches long (not including the tail) may produce eggs yearly, usually between February and April. They may become very bloated with egg follicles (unshelled eggs) and stop eating. Failure to lay the eggs may result in weight loss and eventual death. Some egg retention is behavioral; iguanas may refuse to lay them unless provided an “underground” chamber. In captivity a closed dark box with a small entry often is adequate; cover the bottom with sand or peat moss to dig in. The box should be big enough to easily allow the iguana to turn around and exit. Some iguanas continue to retain the eggs and need surgery to remove them; they are usually spayed at the same time.

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General

General

Leopard geckos are attractive and friendly lizards native to desert habitats. They are nocturnal and in the wild they spend their days underground away from extreme heat. Their burrows are kept humid by the soil and their own breath. In captivity they require moderately warm temperatures and good humidity. Like other geckos these lizards shed their entire skin at once. They can be long lived, with life spans over 20 years being occasionally recorded.

Food

Food

Leopard geckos are carnivorous, eating mostly insects and other small prey. Earthworms and slugs are high in calcium and low in fat, making them good choices as food items if the lizard will accept them. Rolling pieces of worm in crushed reptile kibble may increase palatability. Silkworms are fairly nutritious. Crickets or Dubia roaches are decent food items if calcium enriched: you need to feed the insects a high calcium “gut loading” cricket diet for 2-3 days. Insects eliminate the gut loader rapidly; the insects need to be consumed within a few hours after gut loading. T-Rex Calcium Plus gut loader is the only product proven effective. Hungry crickets may chew a gecko’s delicate skin; do not put too many crickets in the cage, and provide food for those not immediately eaten by the lizard. Mealworms, other roaches & waxworms are nutritionally poor; minimize these.

Vitamin + mineral supplements should be used sparingly. Achieving a healthy balance with supplements is difficult. Never mix products; use one balanced vitamin-mineral powder with many vitamins + minerals provided (not a simple calcium + vitamin D powder), and put a tiny pinch on the food once weekly, no more. Reptocal and Reptivite are 2 brands which offer balanced formulations. Overdosing is a potential problem with these supplements; it is safer to dose conservatively. Another option is to dust the insects with reptile food such as aquatic turtle pellets that have been ground to a powder, which will provide safe vitamin and mineral levels. Crickets may be fed softened reptile food as well, prior to gut loading them for calcium.

Housing

Housing

Try to duplicate natural conditions. The most important factors are heat & light. The ideal daytime air temperature is 77-85°F. Temperatures MUST be measured with a reliable thermometer (digital, dial or mercury thermometer, NOT a paper strip or temp gun), and in the shade away from all heat sources, to get accurate readings. Place thermometers at floor level, away from lamps, under a solid cardboard or wood shield. The terrarium can have a slightly warmer side in the upper temperature range, and a cooler side in the lower temperature range; usually attempt to keep the air temperature at the middle of the pet’s range. Improper air temperatures can cause stress and failure to thrive. In the Pacific Northwest the cage sides and top should be mostly solid, not screen, in order to trap heat and humidity. A reptile heat pad placed under the terrarium is a good heating method. Hot rocks provide heat but must be covered to prevent direct contact which may burn the lizard. Heat lamps are useful but must be at a safe distance to prevent burns (at least 18 inches usually). Heat lamps must not be bright if used at night; the best are lightless ceramic-coated lamps; dim purple or red coated night bulbs may also be used.

Daytime lighting should be provided even though this species is nocturnal. No ultraviolet light is needed. A simple bright light bulb or fluorescent tube can be used; provide 12-14 hours of light daily. If an incandescent bulb is used, be sure it doesn’t add excess heat to the cage when it’s turned on.

A small water bowl can provide humidity in the cage via evaporation. Geckos may not drink much from a bowl, preferring to get water from their prey or from water droplets (you can spray mist the cage daily). Do not allow prolonged soaking and defecating in the water, as this contaminates the water source and may also cause skin infections. Provide a dark hiding cave containing damp moss or cloth, which keeps the gecko’s skin from drying out while resting. Moss or artificial turf are good cage floor beddings; turf can be cleaned and reused. Sand, gravel, corn cob, walnut shells, etc. are harder to keep clean and may cause intestinal blockages if eaten. Calcisand (calcium crystals) may be safer than regular sand, as small amounts may digest if eaten.

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Osteodystrophy (Rickets):

A calcium deficiency usually due to poor diet. This results in loss of bone density, causing stunted or crooked growth and fragile bones that fracture easily. Symptoms include weakness, tremors, soft jaw, swollen or crooked legs. Treatment is via injectable or oral calcium, and correction of diet.

→ Limb fractures:

Due to trauma (falling), or secondary to soft bones (rickets). Broken limbs may drag or fail to move normally, although the lizard may still attempt to use the leg. The bones may bend at an abnormal angle. If you suspect a leg injury have your pet examined promptly. Fractures are quite treatable; the limb is usually splinted. Correcting the diet to promote healthy bones is essential.

→ Stomach or bowel blockage:

Leopard geckos easily develop blockages from swallowing bedding such as bark chips, sand or gravel. Small amounts of bedding may be passed with the aid of oral mineral oil. Severe cases may need surgery to remove the obstruction. Be sure that moist food items such as worms are offered in a shallow bowl, not on the bedding material which may stick to them. Cool temperatures also slow the lizard’s bowel and increase risk of blockage or constipation.

→ Heat burns, cricket bites, and skin infections:

Unprotected hot rocks, heat pads or heat lamps can cause burns. Hungry crickets may bite the gecko if left uneaten. Injured skin often becomes infected. Treatment: for mild infections, chlorhexidene or Betadine solution applied 2-3 times daily for 5-10 days may be adequate. For severe lesions, dead tissue may need surgical removal followed by oral antibiotics. Correct the habitat also.

→ Mouth and respiratory infections:

These are usually caused by normal bacteria which take advantage of a stressed or weakened lizard; underlying factors such as cool temperatures or imbalanced diets often play an important role in causing these illnesses. Mouth rot causes red swollen gums and sometimes pus, odor or drooling. Cool air temperatures or mouth injury are common causes. Respiratory infections can cause mucus discharge in the mouth or nose which may resemble mouth rot, but the gums are usually normal. These diseases are treated with antibiotics and correction of diet and environment.

→ Intestinal parasites:

Various intestinal parasites are found in geckos. When severe they can cause diarrhea, weight loss, straining to defecate and even colon prolapse (bowel protruding from the anus). Diagnosis of intestinal parasites is done via examination of a fresh (within 24 hours) fecal sample. Treatment with appropriate medication, along with thorough cage cleaning, eliminates the parasites.

→ Egg binding :

Female geckos may refuse to lay their eggs, either due to lack of suitable laying sites or due to inability to lay them. Retained eggs may be reabsorbed; if not they must be laid or surgically removed. Suspect egg production in a female who suddenly looks fat through the belly, especially if her appetite is slowly decreasing. Encourage egg laying by providing warm air temperatures and a dark laying box, accessible via a small hole in the side, and filled with a few inches of moistened sand (this will allow digging of an egg laying pit).

→ Obesity and xanthomatosis:

Leopard geckos are good eaters and often become obese, especially if fed fatty prey such as mealworms and waxworms. The pet’s tail should be somewhat fat normally, but not as wide as the body. Prevent obesity via limiting food and using less fatty prey. Xanthomatosis is a disease likely caused by excess fat intake; large deposits of cholesterol form in the abdomen and internal organs. This can cause organ damage and often produces a swollen abdomen with visible pale masses within. Suspect this disease when a lizard is losing appetite and body weight (thinning tail) but has a persistently large abdomen. Treatment is supportive care, including force feeding a lean high protein diet and vitamins. Many cases are fatal, and prevention is the best approach to this disease.

→ Molting Problems:

Leopard geckos shed their entire skin regularly, similar to snakes. When preparing to molt the lizard will turn a milky pale color and should be handled minimally. If humidity is too low and/ or the animal is too cool, molting may be difficult and skin may fail to shed properly. Old pale skin is often retained on the toes, face and tail tip. If not removed, this old skin can lead to eye damage or more commonly loss of toes due to lack of blood circulation. Treatment involves softening the skin with water and carefully removing it; the toes and eyes are delicate structures and veterinary assistance may be needed to remove skin without damaging the lizard. Prevent molting problems via keeping the cage mostly closed with a water bowl inside to humidify the air; spray misting the lizard daily when molting may also help the skin shed.

→ Tail Loss:

Leopard geckos have tails designed to break off if they are frightened or handled roughly. Hold your pet gently and never grab a gecko by its tail. The tail breaks near the base, leaving a short stub. If this occurs keep the stump clean and apply antibiotic ointment (such as Neosporin) daily until healed; be sure crickets do not chew the wound. The tail may regrow to nearly normal proportions eventually, especially in younger animals.

→ Hemipene impactions:

Male geckos have 2 hemipenes (reproductive organs) in the base of the tail, just behind the vent opening. These are visible in mature lizards as a pair of soft bulges. When they become plugged with dried secretions, they can become hard, swollen and painful. Dark material may protrude from the vent opening, and the hemipenes may get infected or even prolapse (hang out). These problems require medical treatment. Impactions are probably due to low cage humidity and/ or temperature; correct the environment to prevent this disease.

→Appetite loss:

This often results from husbandry stresses (low temperatures, short day length, noise/disturbances around the cage, diet imbalances, etc). Illness such as infection can also reduce appetite. Treatment includes correction of diet and environment, and treating disease if present.

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General

General

Prairie dogs are heavy bodied rodents native to the grassy plains of North America from the Dakotas south to northern Mexico. Of the five species of prairie dog (genus Cynomys ) which reside in the United States, the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) is the most common in captivity. In nature prairie dogs live in colonies and form extensive burrows underground. They tend to be active during the day, and in nature may run and play for hours. Black tailed prairie dogs are stocky and brown, and adults weigh 1 ½ to 2 ½ pounds, occasionally more.

Facts

Facts

Life span: 5-10 years
Estrous cycle: 2-3 weeks
Sexual maturity: 2-3 years
Pregnancy: 30-35 days
Ideal air temperature: 68º-78ºF
Weaning age: 6-7 weeks
Ideal relative humidity: 30%-70%

Diet

Diet

The prairie dog’s natural diet is mostly grasses. In captivity the diet should consist mostly of low protein grass hay such as timothy or oat hay (not alfalfa), and commercial prairie dog pellets such as Oxbow. If a prairie dog diet isn’t available, you may substitute a pelleted guinea pig or chinchilla food. The hay is fed free choice always; the pellets should be rationed at ¼ to 1/3 cup per pet daily to minimize obesity. Avoid mixes which contain seeds & nuts, dried fruits, etc. as these may cause obesity or bowel upsets. Fresh vegetables, mostly leafy greens, may be added to the diet (up to 10-15% of the total food intake daily). Minimize vegies in the cabbage family as they may cause digestive upsets. Restrict feeding of sweet items (fruit, corn, baby carrots, tomatoes, etc) and high protein items (seeds, oats, alfalfa, etc) as these may cause bowel upsets also. Provide fresh water always; a rodent water bottle is cleaner than a bowl and can’t be spilled. Clean the water bottle every 1-2 days.

Behavior

Behavior

With maturity prairie dogs may become more aggressive and difficult to handle. Frequent handling will help keep them tame, and some well-socialized individuals become rather docile. Neutered animals may show less aggression and odor when mature. Nonetheless adult prairie dogs may bite when upset or excited so they should be handled with care. They may gnaw on objects in their environment like many rodents, so must be prevented from damaging wood furniture, baseboards, extension cords, etc. They typically must be confined in a cage when not observed to minimize house damage and maximize safety for the pet. However, like most wildlife they are bothered by confinement and may spend excessive amounts of time gnawing at cage bars due to boredom or attempts to escape. This can cause permanent damage to their teeth. (See housing for suggestions to minimize this behavior).

Housing

Housing

Prairie dogs may be housed in wire, hard plastic or glass enclosures. Solid wall cages must be well ventilated or they can have problems with excess heat and humidity, and buildup of ammonia fumes from urine. Wood is hard to clean and may be gnawed through. The floors can be solid or wire. Wire bottoms allow waste to fall through, but can cause foot sores; provide a solid platform (wood, plastic, or cardboard) in one area to sit on, which can be replaced if chewed or soiled. Heavy straw can be layered over a wire bottom to provide a cushion also.

Solid floors should be covered with straw or shredded paper bedding to absorb wastes; keep the floor clean and dry. Alternate absorbent beddings include hardwood shavings (not pine or cedar), corncob (sterilized to kill fungus), or commercial paper pellets. Prairie dogs are social so more than one may live together, but not all animals socialize well, and ideally introductions should be at a young age. Adult males may fight if not neutered. Provide cardboard chew toys (like toilet paper roll or paper towel roll cores) to gnaw on; avoid wood or metal toys as chewing on these may cause tooth damage. A hanging length of ½ inch thick nylon rope provides a chew toy as well, and may minimize cage bar biting which is a common behavioral problem of captive prairie dogs. Large cages may reduce harmful escape behaviors.

Handling

Handling

To lift a prairie dog one should gently wrap one hand around the chest from above while supporting the hindquarters with your other hand. Keep your hands behind the head as prairie dogs may bite when upset or agitated. They also have sharp claws. A thick towel may be wrapped around the animal for better control and protection. Covering the head with a towel may make restraint easier for procedures such as nail trimming. Nails should be trimmed every 2-4 weeks depending on growth rate; small pet trimmers or human nail trimmers can be used.

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Obesity:

Obesity is common in pet prairie dogs, due to inadequate exercise (they may run all day in a natural setting) and due to overfeeding with high calorie diets. Obesity may increase the risk of other health problems. Moderate daily exercise and restriction of pellet intake are recommended. Avoid all high calorie treats (see diet).

→ Respiratory Disease:

Prairie dogs may develop bacterial (and possibly fungal) respiratory infections with exposure to other animals or moist soiled cage conditions. Dusty bedding or fumes from cedar shavings may irritate the respiratory system also. Signs may include wheezing, labored breathing, lethargy, appetite loss, and nasal or eye discharge. Treatment is with antibiotics and elimination of underlying causes such as dirty cage conditions, poor diet, etc.

NOTE: Dental disease and heart disease cause similar symptoms; suspect these problems whenever respiratory symptoms fail to respond to antibiotics. Dental disease is a very common cause of respiratory distress in prairie dogs

→ Heart Disease:

This is fairly common in prairie dogs and may be associated with high calcium diets or obesity. Signs mimic respiratory infection and may include lethargy, wheezing, labored breathing, bloated appearance, cold extremities, or sudden collapse. This disease isn’t curable but medication can reduce symptoms for long periods in some cases. Improving the diet and reducing obesity (when present) may help prolong life.

→ Dental Disease:

Prairie dogs are prone to dental problems, in part due to excessive cage bar biting. Tooth trauma and other factors can result in malocclusion or crooked teeth, usually involving the front teeth (incisors). Signs include grossly overgrown crooked teeth, difficulty eating, drooling, and oral odor. Treatment is via trimming the overgrown teeth; this may be needed every 3-5 weeks lifelong unless the teeth are extracted.
The other common tooth problem is a tumor growing on the tooth root (odontoma), usually involving one or both upper incisors. The tooth develops a bony growth or swelling at the root tip, likely from impact trauma as with cage bar biting. The tooth root is located in the nasal passage, so the tumor slowly blocks air flow, eventually resulting in extreme difficulty breathing. Prairie dogs do not breathe well through the mouth, so a nasal blockage is life threatening. They may choke and inhale food or water, resulting in an aspiration pneumonia which worsens the symptoms. The affected incisor may be worn short (<1cm long) due to lack of normal growth. Diagnosis is via x-rays of the head; treatment is via extraction of the affected tooth or teeth. This is a difficult disease to treat and not all patients survive. Try to avoid this problem by providing a large cage and using soft cardboard or rope toys to minimize biting on metal. (See Housing).

→ Ringworm (Fungal Infection):

Prairie dogs may get fungal infections of the skin; this can occasionally be transmitted to other pets or humans. Signs include hair loss, and scaly, thickened, or darkened skin on the chest, abdomen, lower back, tail or head. Itching is minimal. Diagnosis is via culturing the hair for fungus. Treatment is via topical and systemic antifungal drugs.

→ Uterine Infections and Cancer:

Uterine disease occurs in middle aged or older females; both infections and cancers may be seen. Signs of uterine disease may be subtle, and include vaginal discharge, odor, weight loss, or lethargy. The best prevention is spaying when young (8-12 months old). This also prevents unwanted pregnancy if a pair is housed together.

→ ODONTOMAS:

These are tumors growing on the tooth roots, usually the upper incisors. They can become quite large and block the nasal passages, making it very difficult to breathe. Though benign, their location can make them life threatening. Signs may include lack of incisor growth (one or both upper incisors becoming very short and worn down), or nasal discharge. Severe cases may have audible wheezing, open-mouth breathing, lethargy and weight loss. Treatment is difficult, but includes antibiotics and surgical removal of the affected tooth roots. If the prairie dog can survive surgery and heal, the tumor can usually be cured.

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General

General

Rabbits are enjoyable pets and easily cared for. They can often be litter box trained and when socialized can be good house pets. The following information can help you keep your rabbit happy and healthy.

Food

Feeding

The core of the rabbit’s diet should be hay and pellets. Pellets provide balanced nutrition; hay provides fiber. Pellets: The diet can be up to 50% pellets with young growing babies or pregnant & nursing females. Babies & breeding females need alfalfa-based pellets containing 16-20% protein. With non-breeding adults use a 12-14% protein timothy pellet, as 15-25% of the diet (adjust amount to maintain proper weight). Approximate pellet feeding guidelines are: 1) Small breeds: 2 oz. daily (weight, not volume) 2) Medium breeds: 5-6 oz. daily 3) Large breeds: 6-8 oz. daily. Avoid mixes with seeds, nuts or dried fruits which may cause bowel problems and obesity. Always use some pellets in the diet; without these the risk of rickets and other nutritional problems is higher. Two brands with superior adult formulations are Oxbow Bunny Basics-T (timothy based pellets) and Kaytee Timothy. These have less calcium and protein than many standard pellets. A heavy bowl or metal hopper feeder will minimize food spillage & soiling. Hay: A lean grass hay should be fed free choice; timothy hay and oat hay are best for babies & adults. Alfalfa hay is unnecessary if unlimited alfalfa pellets are given to pregnant and juvenile rabbits. Alfalfa is too rich for non-pregnant adult rabbits and can cause GI upsets, obesity and bladder stones. Ideally put hay in a hopper or wire bin on the cage wall, to minimize scattering and soiling of the hay on the cage floor. Wet and moldy food can be toxic. Vegetables: Veggies may be fed as 10-15% (or less) of the diet; more may cause bowel upsets, especially in older rabbits. The rabbit digestive tract is adapted for eating mostly grasses and high fiber plants unsuitable for human consumption; many vegetables humans consume are too rich to feed to rabbits. Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, dandelions, blackberry leaves, grasses, cilantro, carrot tops, and parsley are the best tolerated. Avoid foods high in sugar (fruits, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, corn, etc.); also limit items high in protein (seeds, nuts, oats, grains, beans, etc). Avoid veggies in the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, bok choy) as they may cause gas production and bloating. Avoid sweet treats such as yogurt drops. Feed no meat or dairy products. Feeding a few veggies daily is safer than giving a lot once weekly; the rabbit bowel dislikes sudden changes, and a rabbit may also overeat veggies if provided large amounts at one time. Introduce new foods gradually to see how they are tolerated; avoid any foods that cause diarrhea or appetite loss. Water: Provide clean water at all times; change it daily. In cages water 2 bottles are best as rabbits tend to spill or soil water bowls. Check the bottle spout periodically to ensure it doesn’t plug.

Housing

Housing

Outdoor rabbit hutches may be used; they need to be sturdy to prevent intrusion by raccoons or other animals, and must provide shelter from wind and rain. A 3- sided shed (1 side open) facing away from the prevailing wind is adequate. Rabbits are cold tolerant and can survive in an unheated hutch if provided with dry draft free conditions and bedding to snuggle into. They are heat sensitive and may die of heat prostration at temperatures over 80-85°F. Provide shade, plenty of water and a frozen milk jug to sit against on hot days, or bring the rabbit indoors. More often rabbits are housed totally indoors, either in a spacious cage or having the run of the house. Small breeds (such as Polish, Dutch & Netherland Dwarf) use a (minimum) 24”x 30”x 18” cage. Medium breeds (such as New Zealands, Californians, and Satins) use a 30”x 30”x 18” cage. Giant breeds such as Flemish Giants and Checkered Giants need a 48”x 30”x 18” cage. If the floor is wire, cover it with thick bedding, or provide a smooth surface (wood or cardboard) to sit on, or the feet will develop sores. If the floor is solid, provide a deep bedding layer to absorb urine and prevent soiling. Straw, hardwood chips (not pine or cedar) or paper bedding are good. A litter box filled with recycled paper or plant pellets may be used by some rabbits. Keep the cage clean, dry and well ventilated. Minimize chewing on metal or hard wood; instead provide cardboard or paper toys (non-inked) to chew and play with.

Handling

Handling

Rabbits are easily frightened by sounds and movement. Never pick up a rabbit by the ears. Instead place one hand under the chest (behind the front legs) and scoop up the hindquarters with the other hand. Another method is to scoop the rabbit up with your forearm, holding it against your body with your arm underneath, the rabbit’s rear end in the crook of your elbow, and your other hand on top of the rabbit’s shoulders to prevent it from jumping away. Always support the rabbit’s weight from beneath and hold the rear legs securely tucked in; a rabbit may break its back while thrashing if picked up without supporting the rear legs.

Routine Care

Routine Care

Most rabbits are fairly low maintenance. You may need to brush or pluck your rabbit’s fur daily during molting (Spring & Fall) to reduce risk of stomach hairballs. Long haired breeds need regular combing to prevent mats and hairballs. Toenails need trimming every month or so; small dog or cat nail trimmers may be used. Avoid the pink nail base which will bleed if cut. Annual veterinary exams are important in rabbits. Non-breeding females should be spayed at 5-6 months old to prevent uterine cancer. Rabbits living with cats should be vaccinated for Pasteurella.

Feeding

Feeding

The core of the rabbit’s diet should be hay and pellets. Pellets provide balanced nutrition; hay provides fiber. Pellets: The diet can be up to 50% pellets with young growing babies or pregnant & nursing females. Breeding females need pellets containing 16-20% protein. With non-breeding adults use a 12-14% protein timothy pellet as 15-25% of the diet (adjust amount to maintain proper weight). Approximate pellet feeding guidelines are:

Small breeds: 2 oz. daily (weight, not volume)
Medium breeds: 5-6 oz. daily
Large breeds: 6-8 oz. daily. Avoid mixes with seeds, nuts or dried fruits which may cause bowel problems and obesity.
Always use some pellets in the diet; without these the risk of rickets and other nutritional problems is higher. Two brands with superior adult formulations are Oxbow Bunny Basics-T (timothy based pellets) and Kaytee Timothy. These have less calcium and protein than many standard pellets. A heavy bowl or metal hopper feeder will minimize food spillage & soiling. Hay: A lean grass hay should be fed free choice; timothy hay and oat hay are best. Avoid alfalfa hay (it is too rich), except in pregnant or nursing females, where it may be added as 50% of the hay intake to provide more protein and calcium. Ideally put hay in a hopper or wire bin on the cage wall, to minimize scattering and soiling of the hay on the cage floor. Wet and moldy hay or pellets can be toxic.

Vegetables: Veggies may be fed as 10-15% of the diet; more may cause bowel upsets, especially in older rabbits. The rabbit digestive tract is adapted for eating mostly grasses and high fiber plants unsuitable for human consumption; many vegetables humans prefer are too rich to feed to rabbits in large amounts. Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, dandelions, blackberry leaves, grasses, and parsley are the best tolerated. Small pieces of adult carrot and carrot tops are OK. Avoid foods high in sugar (fruits, baby carrots, tomatoes, corn); also limit items high in protein (seeds, nuts, oats, grains, beans, etc). Limit veggies in the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, bok choy) as they may cause digestive upset if fed liberally. Avoid sweet treats such as yogurt drops. Feed no meat or dairy products. Feeding a few veggies daily is safer than giving a lot once weekly; the rabbit bowel dislikes sudden changes, and a rabbit may also overeat veggies if provided large amounts at one time. Introduce new foods gradually to see how they are tolerated; avoid any foods that cause diarrhea or appetite loss.

Water: Provide clean water at all times; change it daily. In cages water bottles are best as rabbits tend to spill or soil water bowls. Check the bottle spout periodically to ensure it doesn’t plug.

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Skin Mites (Cheyletiella):

These are common and may produce no symptoms for months or years. The first sign is often a patch of flaky “dandruff” over the shoulder area (on the back), which may slowly spread. Itching and hair loss occur in severe cases. Treatment with ivermectin or selamectin is effective; treat for 6-8 weeks.

→ Ear Mites:

These are small mites which live in the ear & produce dry crusty debris in the canal. Symptoms may be absent, or may include head shaking, pawing at the ears, or ears held lower than normal. Treatment with oral Ivermectin usually eliminates the mites; stubborn cases may need ear cleaning and ear drops.

→ “Snuffles” (Pasteurella):

This is a respiratory disease, usually caused by Pasteurella or Staph bacteria. These may be carried for months or years with no symptoms. Snuffles is highly contagious, and can occasionally be fatal, especially in very young animals. Cats commonly carry Pasteurella without symptoms; avoid cat-rabbit contact! Rabbits living with cats can now be vaccinated yearly for Pasteurella. Symptoms in rabbits are sneezing, runny eyes or nose, congested breathing, or weight loss. This disease may progress slowly, or can rapidly cause death. Prompt treatment with antibiotics is recommended when symptoms are present. Infections are life-long but can usually be well controlled.

→ Inner Ear Infection (Head Tilt, Wry Neck) (Pasteurella):

(HEAD TILT, WRY NECK): This is usually caused by Pasteurella or Staph bacteria, and can occur secondary to respiratory infection. Signs are acute dizziness & balance loss; the rabbit’s head may be twisted back or sideways. Prompt veterinary care and antibiotics are needed. A less common disease with similar signs is Encephalitozoon cuniculi, a parasite which can affect the brain. It usually causes milder and more gradual symptoms.

→ Uterine Cancer:

Very common in aging female rabbits (over 3 years old) if not spayed; up to 80% of older females may get this disease! Often fatal if not detected early, uterine cancer is easily prevented by spaying non-breeding females at 5-6 months old. Uterine tumors that haven’t spread may be cured by spaying as well.

→ Wool Block or hairballs:

Blockages of the digestive tract can be due to impactions of food and hair in the stomach or bowel. This occurs more often on low roughage diets (e.g. no hay) and during molting. Long haired rabbits are especially at risk. A rabbit may swallow large amounts of hair when grooming; brush or pluck fur daily during Spring and Fall molting to minimize buildup of hair in the stomach. Stomach hairballs (actually a congealed mix of food and hair) cause slow appetite loss, and decrease in size & number of fecal pellets. A veterinary exam can usually detect a hairball in the stomach. Medical 3 treatment is often successful: heavy fluid intake, stomach massage, and Reglan (metoclopramide) often help empty the stomach. Avoid pineapple juice or papaya, as these are high in sugar and can cause diarrhea, and are not effective at removing hairballs. Probiotics (acidophilus) may minimize diarrhea and bloating while the rabbit is stressed & fasting. Occasionally a small hairball escapes the stomach but blocks the intestine; these patients become painful, weak, and progress into shock & death within 4-12 hours. Emergency surgery is the only option.

→ Dental Disease:

Rabbits have a variety of tooth problems, the most common being malocclusion and tooth abscesses. Malocclusion is the improper alignment of teeth resulting in tooth overgrowth. Rabbit teeth grow constantly. When incisors (front teeth) are misaligned they can’t wear down on the opposing teeth and can grow to extreme lengths. Gnawing on hard objects (wood, metal) doesn’t help wear down the incisors, and may actually damage the teeth, helping to create a malocclusion. Molars (back teeth) may also overgrow due to misalignment, or due to tooth infection and pain which prevents normal chewing. Molars are worn down partially by chewing abrasive foods (pellets & hay). Symptoms of tooth overgrowth include weight loss, appetite loss, salivation, oral odor, and tooth grinding. Treatment includes trimming the teeth to proper length and correcting any underlying problems.

→ DYSBIOSIS, ILEUS, & ENTEROTOXEMIA (BOWEL DISEASE):

These are intestinal upsets caused by imbalances of intestinal bacteria, with resulting overgrowth of harmful bacteria such as Clostridium. These can produce toxins, which may lead to loss of gut motility, gas, cramping, and bloating. Severe cases lead to shock and death. Disruption of the intestinal bacteria is usually the underlying problem; common causes include sudden diet changes, sugary items like fruit, high protein items like oats and alfalfa, low roughage diets lacking in hay, antibiotic usage (especially penicillins), or other diseases and stress (especially if fasting occurs). Mild bowel upsets may cause slight stool softening; severe cases have appetite loss, sometimes watery or mucoid diarrhea (or no stools), and severe weakness. Treatment includes bowel stimulants (Reglan) to help bowel movement, and bacterial supplements (milk-free acidophilus, veterinary probiotics, or healthy rabbit fecal slurry) to reload the bowel with harmless bacteria. Banamine (or meloxicam) can reduce pain and cramps. Hypothermic rabbits need warm injected fluids and heat provided. Force-feeding roughage may help. Toxin binding drugs (Toxiban) may help prevent absorption of bowel toxins into the body. Kaolin-pectin and blackberry leaves may firm the stools. Antibiotic usage is usually avoided. Severe cases can progress to coma and death within hours. If your rabbit is lethargic, not eating, has diarrhea, or acts uncomfortable or “hunched up,” seek veterinary care immediately! Feed a high roughage diet (hay, pellets, minimal treats) to help avoid this disease.

 

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General

General

Domestic rats are friendly, social, intelligent animals that rarely bite when raised with people. They make excellent pets, and are large enough for most children to handle without injuring. They may be hurt by toddlers and small children, who may be too rough or may step or fall on the pet. Rats are inexpensive and easily cared for, and they become very attached to their owners. Of all the rodents, rats probably make the most consistently good pets. They are very bright and often learn tricks. Female rats are more active and inquisitive; male rats are more sedentary. Use caution if you own dogs or cats; these may attack a rat. With good care, most rats will live 2 to 3 years.

Diet

Diet

Provide fresh water always; the best system is a ball-valve water bottle. Change the water every 2 days, and be sure the bottle doesn’t leak or clog. The majority of the diet should be pelleted rat food (often called Lab Block), which contains about 15% protein and 5% fat. Examples include Oxbow Regal Rat and Kaytee Forti-Diet. Avoid seed & nut mix diets; these are poor and often cause obesity. Rats can also have small amounts of treats, mostly fruits & vegetables, plus occasional low fat cheese, nuts, and cereals. Minimize high calorie treats! Store rat food in its original bag, in a dry location where no wild mice can get into it; wild rodents carry disease that can infect your rat and also infect humans. Salt licks are not needed if on a good diet, and most rats ignore them. Chromium picolinate, a human health supplement, was shown to extend rats’ life expectancy up to 1 year beyond normal (up to 48 months old!), when given daily throughout life. The dose is 410-500 micrograms per kilogram of body weight once daily.

Housing

Housing

Rats should be securely housed in a spacious cage (at least 18 X 24 inches wide for one rat). They are escape artists and if allowed to roam unobserved can get into trouble, such as gnawing on electrical cords or furniture, getting attacked by other house pets, or getting lost. Wire cages are well ventilated, but can be drafty; keep them in a warm area away from windows. Glass aquariums are less drafty but are poorly ventilated, and must be kept very clean; urine buildup in the bedding causes ammonia fumes which quickly damage the rat’s lungs. The cage bottom should have a thick (1 ½ inch minimum) layer of soft bedding; the best is probably ground-up paper bedding which is widely sold for rodents. You can also use hardwood shavings (birch, aspen or alder), but NOT cedar or pine, which contain toxic oils. You can provide a wood or cardboard box to make a nest in, and toys such as cardboard tubes. Kleenex tissues make great nest box material; the rats will pull the tissues in and shred them to make a soft nest. Do not provide hard wood to chew on; no gnawing is required to wear down the teeth, and hard objects may harm the teeth. Ideally take your rat out daily for exercise, play, and human bonding. Some rats will use an exercise wheel.

Breeding

Breeding

Rats reach breeding age within the first few months; if you buy more than one, have their genders verified to avoid accidental breeding. Rats can usually be housed in groups if they grow up together. Spaying and neutering can be done to prevent breeding, or to minimize diseases such as uterine and mammary tumors.

Veterinary Care

Veterinary Care

No vaccines are given, but regular exams are recommended for early disease detection. Ideally have an exam done when you buy your rat, then at one year old, then every 6 months after that. With good care your rat can be a happy and very lovable pet!

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Mammary Tumors:

These are very common, and appear on female rats as a soft lump under the skin. They can occur nearly anywhere on the body. Although benign, they grow extremely fast and can become larger than the rat. They are fatal if they grow large enough, but are nearly always removable. Early spaying may reduce the likelihood of these tumors. Male rats rarely get mammary tumors, but occasionally develop a more malignant tumor called fibrosarcomas. Seek veterinary attention whenever you see a lump on your rat; tumor removal is far easier, safer, and less costly when the lumps are caught early!

→ Respiratory Infections:

Common in rats, these infections are caused by various microbes. The most common is Mycoplasma, which most rats carry from birth. It may produce no symptoms at first, but many rats gradually become ill with age. Mild signs include sneezing, or red discharge from eyes or nose (this is red tears, not blood). If mucus/fluid develops in nose or lungs, you may hear a wheeze or squeak as they breathe (normal rats make no noises unless hurt). Normal rats breathe very rapidly except at rest; if a rat has slow, pumping respirations (i.e. 1 or 2 per second) and is lethargic, then pneumonia is likely. Rats infected with more than one type of respiratory disease may become ill early in life. Other factors include dirty housing (urine buildup causes ammonia fumes, damaging the lungs), cold drafty conditions, poor nutrition (seed & nut mixes), or other diseases which weaken the immune system. Treatment is mainly antibiotics, which are usually reserved for rats with moderate to severe symptoms, or for elderly weak rats. As most cases cannot be cured, only controlled, the medications may be used long term. One exception to this is an acute bacterial pneumonia, where the rat suddenly develops severe difficulty breathing and is very ill; this is often curable with a few weeks of antibiotics. Usually the rat still carries a Mycoplasma infection (or other long term respiratory diseases) after treatment, but these organisms may not be causing enough symptoms to require long term therapy.

→ Inner Ear Infections:

These are often caused by the same microbes that cause respiratory disease; sometimes the respiratory infection spreads to the inner ear, causing a sudden head tilt and loss of balance. Antibiotics usually cure the ear infection (not the respiratory infection). The loss of balance improves rapidly, but mild head tilt may persist for weeks to months after treatment, slowly improving. Keep affected rats in secure housing with soft bedding, and prevent climbing; dizzy rats often fall, and they can bang their eyes on sharp or hard objects. Diseases with similar signs include encephalitis and pituitary tumors; these may not respond as well to treatment.

→ Uterine Disease:

Female rats often develop infections or cancers of the uterus. Signs may include blood or pus from the vaginal opening (between the anal and urinary openings). This is often missed because rats clean themselves off. Weight loss or a swollen belly may occur. Treatment is antibiotics and spaying; there is no way to cure an infected or cancerous uterus except by removal. Uterine cancer may spread and be fatal. Early spaying can prevent this disease.

→ Skin Parasites (mites & lice):

Both of these are very common in rats, but usually don’t occur together. They cannot infect dogs, cats, or humans; rarely a person can get a temporary rash from the mites. Mites are microscopic, and burrow in the skin. Young rats may carry these without symptoms, but with age the rat’s resistance weakens, especially if ill, and the mites also reproduce and become more numerous. Eventually we may see signs of itching and tiny scabs on the head and shoulders. Severe cases may have hair loss and large sores. Diagnosis is via skin scrapes to find the mites, but they are easily missed and treatment is often based on symptoms. Treat with ivermectin (oral or injectable) weekly for 6 to 8 weeks. Lyme sulfur dip can also be used, weekly for 6 to 8 weeks. Clean the bedding regularly. A bird anti-mite disc can be hung near (not in) the cage; the fumes from this may kill some mites in the bedding and on the rat. Lice are larger than mites (pinhead sized) and live on the skin surface, where they attach and suck blood. They are visible to the eye with close inspection, usually along the midline of the back & neck. Nits (louse eggs) may be seen as rows of tiny shiny beads on the hairs. Signs include mild itching, and mild hair loss. Diagnosis is via seeing the lice and nits. Treatment is with oral ivermectin weekly for 6-8 weeks (or Revolution monthly on the skin- but this product works inconsistently). Lice are killed more easily than mites, but the eggs persist and hatch later; failure to cure lice is usually due to stopping treatment too soon.

→ Veterinary Care:

No vaccines are given, but regular exams are recommended for early disease detection. Ideally have an exam done when you buy your rat, then at one year old, then every 6 months after that. With good care your rat can be a happy and very lovable pet!

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General

General

Skunks are cat sized animals distantly related to otters, minks, ferrets and weasels. They are generally friendly with pets and people. The only skunks legal to own come from rabies free breeder facilities approved by the Department of Agriculture. They are sold already ‘descented’. Various color forms are available, including black and white, brown and white, champagne (reddish) and white, and all white (albino). Skunks tend to be nocturnal but readily adapt to the owner’s schedule. Most are fairly calm in disposition, but occasional animals can be aggressive as adults. Many can be litter box trained. They should be confined when left alone, as they may be prone to destructive behaviors such as digging or chewing on objects in a home. When well socialized a skunk can be an affectionate and rewarding pet.

Diet

Diet

Skunks are omnivores, eating plant and animal food sources. They are very prone to obesity and need a balanced low fat diet. Dry or canned dog food should be part of the diet; with adults over 6 months old use only low fat formulas such as Hills W/D (fat content of 7% or less). When using a commercial food, no vitamin supplements are needed. A few tartar control kibbles such as Hills T/D for small dogs can be given daily to help keep teeth clean. Vegetables can be fed as 50-75% of the diet; use a nutritional guide to choose veggies with a good calcium/phosphorous ratio. Leafy greens are generally calcium rich; fruits are not and should be minimized. A few exceptions are papaya, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, apples, and mango which may be used in a mixed diet. Hardboiled eggwhites (may include the shell for calcium) minus the fatty yolks may be given occasionally, as well as nonfat yogurt, low fat cheese, and earthworms. Avoid mealworms, waxworms and crickets as they are fatty and lack calcium. Avoid nuts and seeds as they may cause obesity, and minimize sweet treats or milk products. Adult skunks should not have food constantly available but should be fed twice daily. Provide fresh water at all times; use a water bottle or very heavy bowl as skunks dig in water bowls and spill or soil the water frequently. Change water daily.

Housing

Housing

Skunks are usually are housed in a spacious wire cage when not supervised; a 5 X 5 foot minimum size is recommended. Cages must be sturdy as skunks chew and claw strongly to attempt escape. Adults usually require separate housing to prevent fighting. They often sleep much of the day and awaken when the owner is around. They may be allowed to roam in the house with supervision. Their environment should be free of hazards. Skunks may chew (and swallow) pieces of rubbery items such as rubber toys, ear plugs, shoe soles, rubber mats, etc. These should be kept out of reach. Skunks like to dig in dirt, so potted plants may need to be out of reach. Digging behaviors may also damage carpets so you should observe your pet while not cage confined. Ideally fit your skunk with a collar (or harness) and small bell to help track your pet’s location. A collar also identifies a lost skunk as a pet to anyone who finds it. Slip the collar over the head already buckled to avoid over tightening. Identification may be printed on the collar. A pet microchip inserted under the skin yields permanent identification of your pet.

Medical Care

Medical Care

Home care may include nail trimming every 3-4 weeks. Tooth brushing with a canine/feline paste is recommended if the skunk is amenable to it; starting very young makes this easier. Bathing is optional but may reduce the skunk’s moderate musky odor. Pet skunks have been “descented” (anal sacs removed) before sale; spaying and neutering is recommended at 5-6 months old. Neutering or spaying reduces odor and eliminates reproductive diseases in the females; neutering may help reduce aggression in males. Avoid purchasing skunks which have been neutered very young by the breeder, as early neutering in other species has been shown to increase the risk of certain health problems.

Veterinary care is important. Canine distemper vaccine should be given at 8,11 & 14 weeks of age and then annually; the safest is PureVax (Merial) which contains no actual distemper virus. Rabies vaccine is not approved for skunks. Skunks are susceptible to infectious canine hepatitis and leptospirosis, and vaccination for these diseases is discretionary. Unless regularly contacting unvaccinated dogs, the risk of a skunk’s exposure to hepatitis is low, and leptospirosis vaccine is not currently recommended routinely even in dogs. Skunks are NOT susceptible to feline distemper or canine parvovirus, despite rumors to the contrary. Annual visits for exam and vaccines are recommended for skunks 1- 5 years old; exams may be done every 6 months on skunks over 5 years old. An annual blood profile in skunks over 4 years old helps detect disease. Fecal samples and deworming are important, as skunks can carry worms which may infect other household pets and even humans, sometimes producing severe disease.

Handling

Handling

Skunks may be picked up around the midsection; never hold them by a leg or tail without supporting the body. With baby skunks you may need to train them to play gently; if the skunk grabs a finger and does not let go, you may flick the tip of the nose sharply with a finger (avoid the eyes!) to get your pet to release. They can be held by the scruff when needed, though with heavy adults the body should be supported under the belly as well.

Skunk Facts

Skunk Facts

Life span: 6-10 years
Adult weight: 6-10 lb
Age to adult weight: 6-7 months

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Fleas:

Skunks can carry the dog and cat fleas. Flea treatment involves topical flea products on the pet, and treating the house environment as well. Cat flea powders or sprays may be used, and Advantage drops have been found effective; use caution not to overdose these pets with a flea product.

→ Canine Distemper Virus:

This is a deadly viral disease of dogs, ferrets and wildlife (foxes, raccoons, skunks etc). Signs include nasal and eye discharge, chin rash, weakness, weight loss, hard crusty foot pads, and neurologic signs such as seizures, aggression, stupor and coma. Nearly all cases are fatal within 10 days. There is no really effective treatment; prevent this disease with vaccination.

→ Gastric Foreign Bodies:

Skunks may chew and swallow rubber items, which often lodge in the stomach or bowel. They also can develop hairballs in the stomach. Stomach foreign bodies may be nonsymptomatic, or can cause tooth grinding, nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, weight loss, and tarry black stools. If the object blocks the bowel, signs are immediate and severe and include depression, weakness, vomiting and appetite loss. Bowel blockage is a medical emergency. Diagnosis is via clinical signs, palpation, xrays, and sometimes surgical exam of the stomach. Treatment is via surgical removal. Prevent this problem via avoidance of rubber items which the skunk may chew on. Hairballs may be prevented with oral medication such as Laxatone; brush or pluck loose hair during times of heavy shedding (Spring & Fall usually).

→ Stomach & Intestinal Diseases:

Skunks may exhibit vomiting, diarrhea, or appetite loss for a variety of reasons, including foreign bodies, food intolerance, parasites, bacterial infections, and other conditions. Accurate diagnosis starts with a thorough history and exam, a fecal analysis, and sometimes blood tests or x-rays. Treatment depends on the specific disease. Many gut upsets can be prevented via feeding a healthy stable diet. Avoid sugary treats, uncooked meats, milk, and sudden diet changes. Prevent your pet from chewing on soft rubbery items such as small chew toys or foam earplugs, which if swallowed can cause intestinal blockages. Blockages are emergencies; seek immediate veterinary care for any skunk with sudden appetite loss, lethargy and/or vomiting.

→ Herpes Necrotizing Encephalitis:

Skunks may be infected with the human herpes simplex virus, either the genital or oral (“cold sore”) varieties. Symptoms include tremors, depression, lethargy, head bobbing and salivating. The virus causes severe inflammation of the skunk’s brain, and the condition may be fatal. Some patients recover in 3-7 days. Avoid handling your skunk if you have a herpes lesion, and wash your hands well with antiseptic soap before handling the skunk’s food or cage.

→ Dental Disease:

Like other carnivores skunks may develop tartar, gingivitis and periodontal disease with age. Brushing may reduce plaque and improve dental health; cleaning and polishing teeth under anesthesia may be needed when a skunk has significant tartar and dental disease. Fractured or infected teeth might need extraction.

→ Heart Disease:

Skunks may develop cardiomyopathy, a degenerative condition of the heart muscle of unknown cause. Amino acid deficiencies (taurine, carnitine) have been found to cause some cardiomyopathies in dogs and cats, but no nutritional link is known in skunks. Symptoms are seen only in advanced cases and may include lethargy, bloating, difficulty breathing, wheezing, and weight loss. Heart problems may be detected earlier via regular veterinary exams; there is no cure, but early treatment can slow the heart degeneration and prolong life.

→ Obesity:

Skunks easily become overweight due to their love of food and tendency to become lazy. If they eat too much or if the diet is high in calories, they can become extremely obese. This leads to reduced activity and increased risk of other health problems, including fatty liver disease. Prevent obesity with measured feedings of a balanced low calorie diet and regular exercise.

→ Intestinal Parasites:

Skunks are commonly infected with a roundworm, Baylisascaris columnaris, which can infect other types of animals and possibly humans, sometimes causing eye or brain damage. Fecal samples should be examined when the skunk is young to detect parasites; treatment is via multiple doses of deworming medication until recheck fecal samples are persistently negative. Preventing reinfestation (via exposure of the pet to its own feces) is very important. Litter boxes should be cleaned frequently during deworming, and cage surfaces disinfected with bleach when possible. Avoid wood cage bottoms which are porous and may become permanently contaminated with worm eggs. When cleaning the litter box or handling fecal samples, use disposable latex gloves to avoid exposure to worm eggs. Tapeworms and lungworms are less of a problem, mostly found in wild skunks.

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General

General

Snakes can make interesting and enjoyable pets if you learn how to properly care for them. Most illness seen in snakes is caused by improper housing (problems with heat, humidity, or lighting). A large variety of snakes are available for sale; some make better pets than others. One should consider the snake’s personality and adult size when deciding which species is right for you. With good care many snake species can live 8-20 years or more.

Behavior

Behavior

Many snakes will become tame when handled regularly. Small species tend to be faster moving and more easily startled, but can do less harm if they bite. Commonly kept small snakes include king snakes, corn snakes, milk snakes, pine & gopher snakes, and indigo snakes. These are generally even tempered when tamed and are attractively colored. Most are temperate climate species. The other commonly kept snakes are the boas & pythons. These snakes generally become fairly large. The boas tend to be more even tempered. The Common Boa (also called the Columbian or Red Tailed Boa) is very popular; adults may reach 10-12 feet and are heavy-bodied. The Rainbow Boa is another well-mannered snake that is smaller and very pretty. Pythons as a group are more unpredictable and hence more dangerous as adults; some species such as Reticulated Pythons grow very large and can be aggressive. Two of the most even-tempered pythons are the Burmese Python, which may grow to 18 feet as an adult, and the popular Ball Python (Royal Python) which is small, usually not more than 6 feet long as an adult. These 2 attractive pythons are among the best choices for pets among this group of snakes. Venomous snakes are always aggressive and are very dangerous; these are not recommended as “pets” for anyone but a very experienced reptile keeper. Even “devenomized” individuals may occasionally still retain part of the venom gland and should be handled with extreme care.

Housing

Housing

Try to duplicate natural conditions. The most important factors are heat, humidity & light. Large terrariums are best.

Heating:

unless you wish to heat an entire room to a high temperature, the cage should have mostly solid sides and top (not screen) to help trap heat & humidity. Glass and Plexiglas are popular cage materials; Plexiglas is lighter, stronger and can be easily cut and drilled. Wood is cheap but is not recommended for flooring as it is hard to clean; avoid woods which produce splinters. A reptile heat pad placed under the terrarium is a good heating method. Hot rocks provide heat but must be covered (with other rocks, turf, etc.) to prevent direct contact which may burn the snake. Heat lamps are useful but must be at a safe distance to prevent burns (at least 18 inches usually). Heat lamps must not be bright if used at night; the best are lightless ceramic-coated lamps; dim purple or red coated night bulbs may also be used. Monitor cage temperature at several spots with good mercury or dial type thermometers; avoid color strip thermometers which stick to the cage wall as they are not accurate. Take temperature readings in the shade away from heat sources to be accurate. North American snakes can be kept at 70-800F air temperature, but many tropical snakes require 80-90°F. The terrarium can have a ‘temperature gradient’ with a warmer and cooler side, but all areas should fall within the snake’s ideal temperature range. If the cage temperature is uniform, then aim at the middle of the temperature range as an ideal temperature.

Humidity

is often required to help snakes shed. Tropical and semi-tropical snakes usually do best with humidity levels over 70%. A small water bowl in a warm cage usually provides adequate humidity if the moisture is trapped with glass or Plexiglas cage walls and roof. A small amount of ventilation is required (screen works well) but too much air flow allows loss of heat & humidity.

Handing

Handing

Always move slowly when handling your snake, and wash hands if you have handled its food recently. Aggressive snakes can be held behind the head to prevent biting, but the body should always be supported at the midpoint; never allow the neck to support the snake’s weight. Many snakes tame readily with regular handling.

Lighting

Lighting

requirements vary between species. Snakes generally do not require a UV source, although UV light does seem to stimulate appetite and activity, and a snake who doesn’t eat may improve with UV exposure in the 280-320 nm spectrum (called UV-B). This mimics outdoor sunlight. If you chose to provide UV light, you can use a fluorescent “full spectrum” light. Reptisun (made by Zoo Med) is a good choice; with UV output include Reptile D-light, Reptile Daylight (Energy Savers Unlimited), Reptiglo, and Reptasun (by Flukers). These lights have a limited effective lifespan and should be changed every 6-8 months when in use. Fluorescents won’t cause burns, and they need to be close to the pet to be effective, usually closer than the length of the light bulb. (A 24 inch tube should be within 18 inches of the snake to be effective). Avoid plastic or glass barriers between the UV light and the pet. A good day length is 12-14 hours of light. NOTE: More recently some full spectrum incandescent (screw type) round bulbs have appeared which do produce strong UV levels. These resemble regular light bulbs but are actually Mercury Vapor Lamps; they produce high UV output and heat, so must be kept at a safe distance (at least 18-24 inches away). Their effective life span is uncertain; change them yearly to be safe. These devices typically cost $45-$100, and when shut off must have a “cool down” period before they can be turned back on. Again, snakes are not thought to generally need UV exposure, so usage is optional.

Branches may be provided for the snake to climb on. A small water bowl provides drinking water and cage humidity. Do not allow prolonged soaking and defecating in the water, as this contaminates the water source and may also cause skin infections. Artificial turf is a good cage bedding which can be cleaned and reused. Sand, gravel, corn cob, walnut shells, etc. may be used (especially with burrowing snakes), but are harder to keep clean and may cause bowel blockages if eaten.

Feeding

Feeding

Most snakes eat live prey; small snakes may eat insects or pinkie mice; larger snakes may eat mature mice, rats or even rabbits. In general the snake’s diet is balanced due to eating whole prey, and they require no supplements. Avoid feeding insects or pinkies for long periods; rodents who are more mature are more nutritious due to the digested plant material in their stomach which provides vitamins. Always feed healthy looking rodents who are not obese; do not fast the rodent prior to feeding it to the snake. Many owners feed the snake in a different cage; this way the snake doesn’t expect food in its regular cage, and the owner is at less risk of being struck at when they put a hand into the cage. Always wash hands after handling rodents so the snake doesn’t mistake your hand for food due to the smell. Feeding pre-killed frozen rodents (thaw them first!) prevents rodent bites and reduces disease such as parasites. Small snakes eat more often, usually every 7-10 days. Larger snakes eat larger meals and take longer to digest them; a snake who eats several mice or a large rat may not need to eat for 2-2 ½ weeks. Very large snakes who eat a rabbit (or multiple rats) may be fed monthly.

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Burns & Rodent Bites:

Unprotected lights, hot rocks or other heat sources may cause burns; these usually look like red sores or blisters on the belly or back. Rodents may occasionally bite the snake on the head or neck when the snake strikes them. More severe wounds may occur if the snake isn’t hungry, as the rodent may eventually attack the snake and gnaw large wounds in the snake’s body. Never leave a live rodent with a snake for more than an hour if the snake doesn’t eat it. If your snake will eat pre-killed rodents then all bite wounds are prevented. Both burns and bites tend to become infected; without treatment this may become life threatening. Always seek medical care if you see a wound on your snake. Treatment involves using injectable antibiotics, and correcting the husbandry to prevent further damage. Betadine or chlorhexidine solution may be applied topically to help disinfect and heal the wounds.

→ Mouth Rot (Gingivitis):
Bacterial infection of the mouth is common. This is caused by normal oral bacteria, which cause disease in the snake when its immune function is decreased by other stresses (such as low air temperature or dirty cage conditions.) Injury to the mouth may also lead to infection. Symptoms can include drooling, odor, mucus in the mouth, red swollen gums, tooth loss, and appetite loss. Severe cases may die. Treatment: Mild cases may heal with supportive care, warming the snake, and topical Betadine or chlorhexidene solution swabbed on the gums 2-3 times daily for 10-14 days. More severe cases need surgical removal of dead oral tissue, and injectable antibiotics daily for 10-14 days

Treatment: Mild cases may heal with supportive care, warming the snake, and topical Betadine or chlorhexidene solution swabbed on the gums 2-3 times daily for 10-14 days. More severe cases need surgical removal of dead oral tissue, and injectable antibiotics daily for 10-14 days.

→ Respiratory Infections:

Bacteria (and occasionally parasites) can cause respiratory disease. Most cases are due to other stresses such as cool air temperatures. Symptoms include difficulty breathing (sometimes with elevated head & open mouth), wheezing, oral mucus, lethargy, and nasal bubbles. This disease requires prompt veterinary care with antibiotics, warming the snake, and correction of any environmental problems.

→ Intestinal Parasites:

Snakes carry a variety of parasites which come from their food sources or from exposure to other reptiles. Many show no obvious symptoms; a few are underweight or fail to grow normally, or have diarrhea. Occasionally a worm is seen in the feces. Routine fecal analysis will detect and identify any parasite present and allow selection of an appropriate deworming medicine for that parasite.

→ Mites & Ticks:

External parasites are fairly common, especially in wild caught snakes. Mites are small, about the size of a pinhead when mature, and are orange to black in color. They may move freely on the skin. Small mites hide under the scales and may be missed. Mites easily become numerous on stressed or ill snakes, and can suck blood, weaken the snake, and transmit disease between snakes. Treatment is via thorough cage cleaning every 3-7 days, and using topical or systemic mite killing products. Ivermectin injections weekly for 6-8 weeks is helpful; topical bird mite spray applied every 3-7 days for 6-8 weeks also works. Warm water soaks eliminate some mites. Anti mite discs hung near the cage (not inside) may kill some mites. Ticks are larger and less numerous; usually only 1 to 3 are seen per snake; they are flat, attached firmly in place, and often resemble the surrounding scales. Treatment is via careful removal with forceps, being sure to remove entire tick including the head.

→ Inappetance:

If the snake fails to eat within a reasonable time you must look for a cause. Check the cage temperature and look for signs of illness such as mouth rot or respiratory infection. Newly acquired snakes may be stressed and take time to adjust to the new cage. If the snake is about to shed it may not eat; check for cloudy eyes. Constipation may cause appetite loss; warm water baths stimulate defecation. Outdoor sunlight exposure (on warm days) may stimulate appetite. Often snakes will eat a gerbil when they refuse a mouse. If the problem persists seek veterinary care; B vitamin injections, tube feeding, and oral Flagyl often help.

→ Shedding:

Young fast growing snakes may shed every few weeks; large snakes may shed only 1-2 times per year. Before shedding, a snake’s eyes will cloud and it will stop eating. Warm water soaks or misting may aid shedding, but minimize handling as this may disrupt the shedding process. The eyes usually clear a day or two before shedding. Provide a rough object such as a log, rock or cinder block in the cage which the snake can wedge itself against; this makes shedding easier. Normal shed skin comes off in one piece. Weak or sick snakes may molt poorly, and you may have to gently help peel off loose skin. Low humidity or mite infestation may also produce poor shedding. If the eyes remain cloudy after shedding, then the eye caps may have failed to shed; these will need to be carefully removed by an experienced individual. Retained eye caps can cloud the vision and inhibit eating.

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General

General

Sugar gliders are small nocturnal marsupials from Australia, Indonesia and New Guinea. They resemble small striped chipmunks with a flap of skin between their front and rear legs which allows them to glide through the air, similar to flying squirrels. Their body length is 5-6 inches with a 6-7 inch tail. Gliders are social in nature and may benefit from being kept in pairs. Some gliders may live beyond 10 years old.

Diet

Diet

Gliders are primarily insectivores (carnivores), and in nature they also can survive by eating tree saps and nectars for periods of time when insect prey are scarce. In the past, complex diet formulas such as Leadbeater’s Mix were created to mimic the natural diet. Although the original mix worked well when carefully formulated, most of the “Leadbeaters Mixes” or “BML” formulas now listed on the Internet have been modified from the original, and are no longer nutritionally balanced. Fortunately the need for such complex homemade diets has largely vanished, due to well formulated commercial glider diets which are now available. The safest approach is to feed your glider a good pelleted food such as Pretty Pets or Pocket Pets glider diets, and add to this a variety of live prey items, plus a small amount of sweet foods if desired. (If a glider diet is unavailable, then a very low fat cat food such as Hills W/D, or a low fat Hedgehog kibble may be used sparingly, i.e. as 20% or less of the total diet. These foods will still provide vitamins, minerals and protein. The formula should contain 7% fat or less.) A little non-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, fruit baby food, and an occasional unsalted nut can also be given if desired. Minimize use of mealworms & waxworms as these are nutritionally poor. Earthworms & slugs are good. Crickets or Dubia roaches may be used if they are calcium-enriched via feeding them T-Rex Calcium Plus gut loader food for 2-3 days (no other insect gut loaders have been proven effective). Gliders on balanced diets need NO additional calcium or other supplements. Note: many fruits and veggies which gliders may accept are low in calcium; limit items such as carrots, peas, corn, banana, plums, peaches, and sweet potato. Some higher calcium veggies and fruits may be fed more liberally, including papaya, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, apples, mango, and some chopped leafy greens. Avoid high fat foods such as excessive seed/nut intake, monkey chow, or regular dog & cat foods. Offer a small plate of food once or twice daily; reduce the amount if your glider becomes heavy. Fresh water should always be available via a water feeder bottle, although gliders may only drink sparingly.

Housing

Housing

Sugar gliders are very active and need space; a minimum cage size for a glider would be 18 inches wide and long, and 30 inches tall. Open air cages (wire) are best. The cage bottom should be covered with an inch of absorbent bedding changed twice weekly, such as hardwood (Birch or Aspen) chips, or recycled paper bedding (such as Care Fresh). Avoid cedar or pine which contain toxic oils. Some branches free of splinters should be provided for climbing. Gliders prefer to hide and sleep inside a small chamber; a hanging cloth pouch suspended from the cage should be provided with easy access via a branch. A hanging basket may also be provided with soft cloth bedding contained within, as some gliders prefer this sleeping arrangement. Gliders like heat; the ideal air temperature is 60-900F. Avoid cold drafty conditions; keep the cage clean & dry. Gliders do not need wood to chew on as their front teeth are self-wearing.

Behavior

Behavior

Like many wildlife species, gliders are very energetic and easily stressed. Young gliders often require extensive handling to become socialized, and owners may need to carry the pet in a pouch for several hours a day for the animal to become tame. Gliders may bond with an owner, but some continue to exhibit fear with other people. If frightened a glider will make a hiss / growl noise, and may bite if it feels threatened. Gliders are fast moving, and may leap from the owner’s hands to nearby objects or people. They like heights and may rapidly climb to a person’s head. In general a glider should not be carried out in the open in unfamiliar areas, especially outdoors, but rather should be carried in a cloth pouch or inside one-s clothing, to minimize stress and escape attempts. Their behaviors can make them challenging medical patients; they physically tolerate surgeries well, but are prone to self-mutilation via chewing any surgical incisions, unless strong preventive measures are taken.

Breeding

Breeding

Gliders begin to breed at 7-14 months old and can breed in any season. Pregnancy lasts 16 days, then the babies move to the mother’s pouch. The babies attach to a nipple inside the pouch; if a baby loses its attachment to the nipple it may die. The young usually leave the pouch around the 70th day and can leave the nest around 110-120 days. One to three young are usually produced each litter.

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ General:

Sugar gliders have several common disease problems in captivity, some of which are due to dietary deficiencies.

→ Rear Leg Paralysis:

This condition is fairly common and typically occurs suddenly. Autopsy exam of paralyzed pets has revealed that spinal cord trauma is the usual cause. Gliders are very active and often leap around. If their diet is deficient in calcium or has a calcium / phosphorous imbalance, then the bones become soft, which leads to an easily damaged spinal column. Treatment of paralysis includes restricting the pet’s activity and giving cortisone within 24 hours of the injury, as well as correction of the diet and short term calcium supplementation. However, severely damaged spinal cords do not heal, and in many cases the paralysis is permanent, so the pet does not survive. Prevent this disease by feeding a balanced diet including a commercial food, and avoid obesity.

→ Polioencephalomalacia:

This is a neurologic condition wherein certain areas of the brain degenerate. Signs may include weakness, dizziness, incoordination, gradual paralysis, tremors, disorientation and lethargy.The pet usually eats poorly and loses weight. The causes are not completely understood, but some animals appear to improve with administration of Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) suggesting that nutritional deficiencies may contribute to this disease. Severe cases may fail to improve and eventually die. Prevention is best accomplished by feeding a balanced diet including a good commercial food.

→ Cataracts:

These appear as a pale “spot” in the center of the eye (in the lens) and result in blindness. These typically occur in very young infant gliders. Infection of the mother’s pouch may lead to eye damage in the infant glider. Another possible cause is nutritional, as infant cataracts seem more common when the mother is on a poor diet, or is fed too much sugary food, or is obese, or when the mother is bred too frequently. Vitamin A deficiency has been proposed as a possible cause. Lastly, there may be a genetic (inherited) tendency to get cataracts. There is no effective treatment. Prevention is attempted via ensuring that the breeding female is on a healthy diet, is not overweight, is not bred too heavily, has no pouch infections (a veterinary exam and pouch culturing should be done), and that there is no family history of cataracts in the female’s past.

→ Trauma:

Gliders are easily injured if they are attacked by other house pets, are dropped, stepped on, or have a tail or leg become trapped in the cage wire. Torn skin and bone fractures are common. Prevent injuries by handling your glider carefully, and providing safe secure housing away from the reach of other pets.An injured glider should be placed in a small enclosure such as a small cage or box to minimize movement, and kept warm; seek veterinary care immediately.

→ Urinary tract diseases:

These may include bladder infections, urinary blockages, and kidney disease. These problems may be more common in gliders on very high protein/ high mineral diets such as large amounts of regular cat food. Signs may include bloody urine, straining to urinate or dribbling urine, lethargy, decreased appetite, increased thirst or urine output, protruding and/ or discolored penis, and weight loss. Treatment depends on the exact type of urinary tract disorder; seek veterinary care if signs are noticed. Prevention is via providing proper diet and housing.

→ Reproductive problems:

Failure to reproduce, or weak/ dying joeys (babies) are common problems. Failure to breed can be due to improper cage setup such as inadequate space which leads to aggression between gliders. Weak or dying joeys are commonly seen when the mother’s nutrition or health are not adequate. Be sure the mother is on a balanced diet and is not obese; do not breed her more than once yearly, and have her checked for infections of the pouch, mammary glands, or uterus. Preventive exams may include a check of blood calcium levels, fecal parasite exam, urinalysis to check for reproductive infections, and a pouch swab to check for bacteria and yeast infection.

→ Digestive disorders:

Gliders may develop diarrhea or rectal prolapse (protruding bowel). Common causes include bacterial infection of the bowel, parasites, or improper diet. A fecal analysis should be done on a fresh fecal sample; antibiotics or anti-parasitic drugs may be needed, along with anti-diarrhea medication such as kaolin-pectin. Correct the diet if necessary.

→ Skin problems:

Poor hair coats and/ or oily skin may be seen with poor diet or moist/ dirty cage conditions. Self trauma from repeated escape attempts or pacing within a small cage may result in areas of hair loss, due to repeated rubbing of an area of skin. Occasionally mites may cause small bumps on the edges of the ears. Mature male gliders develop a normal bald patch on the top of the head between the ears, and another on the front of the chest, where scent glands are located.

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General

General

Tortoises are land dwelling turtles from various parts of the world; they are variable in size and habitat requirements. Most tortoises sold today were raised in captivity. They tend to be mild mannered and shy. Tortoises are not native to Oregon and do not survive long term if released here. Some, like Sulcata tortoises, become very large and require a tropical environment, making them difficult to care for in the Pacific Northwest. Others, such as Russian tortoises, are small and have more temperate habitat requirements, making them easier pets. When you obtain a “wild pet” you must try to duplicate that animal’s natural conditions.

Food

Food

Tortoises are slow moving and can’t chase fast prey. Their diet is mostly vegetables, especially leafy greens, but they may occasionally eat invertebrates. A good simple diet would be 85-95% vegetables & fruit, and 5-15% tortoise food. Vegetables should include leafy greens such as mustard greens, collards, kale, lettuces, and dandelions; avoid iceberg lettuce as it is nutritionally poor. Fruits can be used sparingly. Ideally use a nutritional guide to choose veggies with good calcium content. Variety helps minimize risk of nutritional deficiencies; ideally the turtle should regularly eat at least 8-10 different veggies and fruits.

Various dry and canned tortoise diets are available; the best are probably the pelleted foods which are bright colored and smell fruity. These should contain no more than 8-10% protein. Pretty Pets is one of the more palatable brands; T Rex is similar. The pellets can be offered dry, or softened with water, or crushed/ground up and sprinkled on dampened vegies as a powder daily. A diet which includes a good variety of veggies and commercial food is complete and balanced, and does not need additional supplementation. Avoid high protein foods such as meats, dog food, cat food or monkey chow.

If you can’t use a commercial tortoise diet, then protein and vitamins need to be provided in other ways, although achieving a good nutritional balance is more difficult. Protein sources include tofu, beans (various types), silkworms, earthworms (use nightcrawlers, not redworms or compost worms), and slugs. Minimize crickets, mealworms & waxworms. Protein sources should always be used sparingly, as less than 5% of the total food intake. Without a tortoise food, vitamins & minerals should be provided via a single powdered multivitamin-mineral supplement such as Reptocal or Reptivite; use a tiny pinch on the food once weekly, no more. Overdosing is easy with supplements, and some products are toxic; it is safer to use a commercial diet which has a balanced supplement included. Avoid supplements that contain only calcium, or calcium + vitamin D.

Water should be provided at all times. Use a small low bowl which is too heavy to easily tip over; a ceramic ashtray is adequate. Ideally the bowl should be small enough to prevent the tortoise from soaking and defecating in the water. Baths are unnecessary, but if elected they should be done in a separate container with very shallow warm water and should be brief (20-30 minutes maximum). Some tortoises may drink very little, preferring to obtain their water from the vegetables they eat.

Housing

Housing

A terrarium is usually needed to provide good housing, although the turtle can exercise in the house daily (up to 30 minute intervals). The terrarium walls and top should be mostly solid, not screen, to trap heat & humidity. A minimum size would be 3 ¾ to 4 square feet of floor space for a small tortoise (equivalent to an 18x 30 inch or 24×24 inch enclosure.) Cage height is less important as the turtle lives on the cage bottom. (Large tortoises may need several hundred square feet or more of living space, requiring large habitat setups). Artificial turf makes good flooring as it can be cleaned and reused, and it can’t be eaten. Sand, gravel, corn cob, wood chips, etc may be eaten and cause bowel blockages; if used they must be changed regularly when soiled. Air temperature (measured in the shade) should be 75-85°F in the day for temperate species, 80-90°F for tropical species, and ideally at least 70°F even at night. Use a good mercury or dial-type thermometer which can be moved to check temperature in various locations at the cage bottom; avoid color strip thermometers which stick on the cage wall as these are inaccurate. A reptile heat pad beneath the cage is one heating method; hot rocks can be used but should be covered (with turf or other rocks) to prevent burns from direct contact. Heat lamps inside the cage should be at least 18 inches above the turtle to prevent burns. Heat lamps used at night should produce minimal light; lightless ceramic-coated bulbs, dim purple or red night lights can be used. Tortoises are shy and the cage should be in a quiet area. They need hiding places to feel secure, but you should try to avoid using dark caves or hiding boxes which block exposure to UV light. Instead provide objects such as plants or rocks to hide behind, or use paper to cover the cage glass in one corner, creating a private area which remains well lighted.

Lighting should be provided 12-14 hours daily, with the remainder being dark. You must provide white (visible) light and ultraviolet light in the 280-320 nm wavelengths (called UV-B). This mimics basking in the open sunlight. Our climate provides too little sun, and window glass or plexiglass filters out most of the UV light, so you need to provide sunlight artificially. The best lighting for most terrariums is fluorescent full spectrum bulbs; incandescent “screw type” round bulbs are not adequate. Some good brands include Reptisun by Zoomed, Reptile D-Light, Reptasun by Flukers, Reptiglo, or Reptile Daylight by Energy Savers Unlimited (ESU). These bulbs won’t burn the pet and need to be close to the turtle to be effective; in general the effective distance is less than the bulb length. For instance, a common 24 inch tube should be within 18 inches of the turtle. The light should run the entire cage length. Bulbs smaller than 24 inches (including coils) are usually too weak. Avoid glass or plastic barriers between the bulb and the pet (these block UV). Change these bulbs every 6-8 months, as they produce less UV light over time. NOTE: a few incandescent “screw type” bulbs exist which do produce UV-B; these look like typical bulbs but are actually mercury vapor lamps. They produce both UV and strong heat, so should be kept at least 18 inches from the turtle. They should be replaced yearly. These devices cost $45-100 and when turned off must have a “cool down” period before they can be restarted. Incandescent bulbs which cost less and do not require a cool down period are simple light bulbs and do not produce adequate UV-B. Vapor bulbs are best used to light very large habitats or rooms. Cool climate tortoises may be allowed to hibernate in the winter in an unheated garage or greenhouse; the temperature needs to be below 550F ideally, and day length should be short (winter hours). Healthy hibernation can be difficult to achieve indoors, and you may elect to keep a turtle active in the winter. Never hibernate a sick turtle.

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Respiratory Infections:

Common among stressed tortoises, especially new pets which were recently captured and shipped. Poor diet or environment also stress the turtle and allow infection. Symptoms: crusty or runny eyes, swollen eyes, runny nose (often with bubbles out the nostrils), and mucus in the mouth. They often will not eat, and if untreated may progress to pneumonia and die. Treatment: antibiotics daily, correct the environment, and force feed if needed.

→ Vitamin A Deficiency:

Uncommon these days; mimics respiratory infection but not as severe, mostly eye swelling and discharge. Often the turtle is still eating. This condition only develops if the turtle has been on a Vitamin A deficient diet (or not eating at all) for months. Treatment: Vitamin A orally (not injectable; the injectable forms are easily overdosed and potentially toxic to turtles). Good sources: commercial tortoise foods, some greens, papaya, yellow vegetables, carrots (limited amounts, due to low calcium content).

→ Middle Ear Infections:

Visible as a swelling on the side of the neck where the ear should be. Usually results from a respiratory infection. Treatment: Surgical drainage of the infection, antibiotic injections, and correction of the diet and environment.

→ Calcium Deficiency/ Shell Deformity:

More common in large fast growing tortoises such as Sulcatas, this condition results in soft deformed shells, with the underside being flexible instead of rigid, and the upper shell having raised “domed” segments resembling pyramids instead of flat, smooth normal growth. Russian tortoises may grow too large, with flattened wide shells. This condition can be caused by too little dietary calcium, or too much phosphorous, or too little ultraviolet light, or too much protein intake. Correction of diet and environment is essential, and sometimes careful calcium supplementation may be used for a short time to speed recovery.

→ Shell Rot:

Infection of the shell (usually bacterial) which causes pitting, discoloration or softness of the shell surface. If untreated the lesions can deepen and spread, eventually causing death. Treatment: Removal of the infected areas of shell, topical disinfectants applied daily, keep the shell dry and give injectable antibiotics in severe cases.

→ Intestinal Parasites:

Tortoises may carry a variety of worms and other parasites of the digestive tract. Symptoms: Diarrhea, poor weight gain, lethargy; worms may be present without obvious symptoms. Treatment: Bring a fecal sample and/ or worms (if seen) to a veterinarian for identification, so proper medication may be used.

→ Appetite Loss:

Tortoises easily lose appetite if their environment stresses them; cool temperatures, low UV levels, a cramped cage, lack of hiding places, and excess noise or disturbance may all cause the turtle to stop eating. Any illness such as an infection usually causes appetite loss as well. If your pet stops eating for more than a few days (except when hibernating) you should seek veterinary advice.

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General

General

Water dragons are medium sized lizards resembling small iguanas. Their moderate size, attractive appearance and good personalities have made them popular reptile pets. However their need of a partially aquatic habitat, strong heat and UV light requirements, complex diet, and tendencies for self mutilation make them one of the more challenging lizards to keep healthy in captivity.

Food

Food

Dragons are mostly carnivorous and prefer live prey. Good dietary items include earthworms (nightcrawlers, not redworms or compost worms), slugs (not water snails), small live fish (fed in a shallow bowl of water to allow the lizard to catch them), pinkie mice, silkworms, and crickets or Dubia roaches. Mealworms, waxworms & goldfish are nutritionally poor and should be used sparingly. Feed the crickets & roaches a high calcium “gut loading” cricket diet (T-Rex Calcium Plus is the only product proven effective) for 2 days prior to using these insects as food, or they will be calcium deficient. Gutloaded insects must be consumed within a few hours or they will eliminate the gut loading food. Healthy dragons will also eat some vegetables, especially leafy greens, including dandelions, kale, collards, mustard greens, green leaf lettuce, and papaya. Ideally use a nutritional guide to choose vegies with good calcium/phosphorous content.

Vitamins + minerals can be safely provided via a commercial food such as a bearded dragon or aquatic turtle pellet, which can be crushed or ground to a powder, then sprinkled on worms or vegetables. The pellets contain vitamins and minerals at low concentrations so overdosage is not a risk. Crushed food can be used daily as a supplement. Powdered vitamin supplements should be used sparingly if at all. Achieving a healthy balance with these supplements is difficult. Never mix products; use one balanced vitamin-mineral powder which contains many vitamins + calcium and phosphorous, and put a tiny pinch on the food once weekly, no more. Reptocal and Reptivite are 2 brands which offer balanced formulations. Overdosing is a potential problem with reptile supplements; it’s safer to use a ground-up reptile kibble as your vitamin & mineral source.

Housing & Lighting

Housing & Lighting

: Try to duplicate natural conditions. Large terrariums are best.. The most important factors are heat & light. The ideal daytime air temperature is 80-92°F; temperature readings must be taken in the shade away from heat sources to be accurate. Below 800F or above 1000F can cause stress and failure to thrive. Monitor cage temperature at several spots with good mercury, digital or dial type thermometers; avoid paper strip thermometers or temp guns which do not accurately read air temperature. Place thermometers at ground level, under a solid cardboard or wood shield, away from heat lamps. The terrarium can have a warmer side and a cooler side, but within the required temperature range. If the cage temperature is uniform then aim at 85°F as an ideal temperature. Do not let the temperature fall below 75°F at night. The cage sides and top should be mostly solid, not screen, in order to trap heat and humidity. A reptile heat pad placed under the terrarium is one heating method. Hot rocks provide heat but must be covered to prevent direct contact which may burn the lizard. Heat lamps are useful but must be at a safe distance to prevent burns (at least 18 inches usually). Heat lamps must not be bright if used at night; the best are lightless ceramic-coated lamps; dim purple or red coated night bulbs may also be used.

A spacious swimming area should be provided. Aquarium designs can be fancy with large landscaped pools and water filters similar to a fish tank. A simpler method uses a large plastic or steel water container that covers part of the cage bottom. The water container can be easily lifted out and the water changed without disrupting the dry part of the tank. Dragons will drink while swimming but also defecate in the water. Without a filter system the water should be changed daily to keep it clean.

Be sure your lizard can easily climb in and out of the water. The dragon should spend most of its time out of the water basking. Basking allows the pet to dry between baths, to warm its body, and to absorb UV light. Artificial turf makes good flooring for the dry area as it can be cleaned and reused, and it can’t be eaten. Sand, gravel, corn cob, wood chips, etc may be eaten and cause bowel blockages; replace bedding when soiled.

Lighting requires special attention. You must provide both visible (white) light and ultraviolet light in the 280-320 nm spectrum (called UV-B). This mimics outdoor sunlight which dragons require. Our climate provides too little sunlight, and window glass or plexiglass filters out most of the sun’s UV rays. Lack of proper lighting causes poor or picky appetites, poor growth, and bone disease. Provide correct lighting with a fluorescent “full spectrum” light. Reptisun (made by Zoo med) and Reptile D-Light provide strong UV levels; other brands include Reptile Daylight (Energy Savers Unlimited), Reptiglo, & Reptasun (by Flukers). These are all fluorescent tubes; in general no regular incandescent bulb produces good UV light. These lights have a limited effective lifespan and should be changed every 6- 8 months when in use. A good day length is 12-14 hours of light. These lights won’t cause burns, and they need to be close to the pet to be effective, usually closer than the length of the light bulb. (A 24 inch tube should be within 18 inches of the lizard to be effective). The bulb should run the entire length of the cage; bulbs smaller than 24 inches (including compact coils) are usually too weak to be effective. Avoid plastic or glass barriers between the light and the pet (these block UV). Minimize hiding from the light (such as in a dark cave); instead provide hiding shelter behind a plant or rock where the light is still strong, or cover part of the transparent cage wall with paper to allow hiding in that area.

Some screw type incandescent bulbs have appeared which do produce strong UV levels. These are mercury vapor lamps; they produce high UV output and heat, so must be kept at a safe distance (at least 18-24 inches away). They are best used for very large, tall cages, and should be replaced yearly. These usually cost $45-$100, and when shut off must have a “cool down” period before they can be turned back on. Other round bulbs which cost less and require no “cool down” cycle are simple light bulbs, and do not produce good UV output.

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Osteodystrophy (Rickets):

A calcium deficiency usually due to poor diet and/or too little UV light. Symptoms include weakness, tremors, soft jaw, swollen or crooked legs. Treatment is via injectable or oral calcium, and correction of diet and lighting.

→ Limb fractures:

Due to trauma, or secondary to soft bones (rickets). The limb is usually splinted. Correcting the diet and the lighting is critical.

→ Stomach or bowel blockage:

Dragons may develop blockages from swallowing bedding such as bark chips or gravel. Small amounts may be passed with the aid of oral mineral oil.
Severe cases may need surgery to remove the obstruction. Cool temperatures slow the bowel and increase risk of blockage or constipation.

→ Heat burns/skin infections:
Unprotected hot rocks, heat pads or heat lights can cause burns. Burned skin often becomes infected. Seeking heat in cool cages increases risk of burns. Bacterial or fungal infection can also result from lying in contaminated water or on soiled flooring. Treatment: for mild infections, chlorhexidene or Betadine solution applied 2-3 times daily for 5-10 days may be adequate. For severe lesions, dead tissue may need surgical removal followed by injectable antibiotics. Correct the habitat also.

→ Mouthrot and respiratory infections:

These are usually caused by normal bacteria which take advantage of a stressed or weakened dragon; underlying factors such as cool temperatures or imbalanced diets often play an important role in causing these illnesses. Mouthrot causes red swollen gums and sometimes odor or drooling. Respiratory infections can cause mucus discharge in the mouth or nose which may resemble mouthrot, but the gums are usually normal. Both diseases are treated with antibiotics and correction of diet and environment.

→ Intestinal parasites:

Dragons can get a variety of parasites in their intestines, and also in their muscles. Diagnosis of intestinal parasites is done via examination of a fresh (within 24 hours) fecal sample. Treatment with appropriate medication, along with thorough cage cleaning, eliminates the bowel parasites.

→ Facial mutilation:

Water dragons are very prone to banging or rubbing the front of the face on the walls of their enclosure; this can result in abrasions of the lips and nose, and in severe cases they can lose much of the face, becoming badly mutilated. Rough cage surfaces make the problem worse. The behavior may result from persistent escape attempts, or from attacking their own reflections in reflective surfaces such as glass. Self mutilation is reduced by providing a large spacious cage, and by making the bottom 5 or 6 inches of the cage walls non transparent and non reflective. Apply duct tape or other material to the inside of the cage walls around the bottom (not on the outside as this makes glass walls act like a mirror). This makes the wall appear solid and also prevents any reflections. Facial injuries may become infected and require antibiotics until healed.

→ Appetite loss:

This often results from husbandry stresses (low temperatures, inadequate UV light, short day length, noise/disturbances around the cage, etc). Illness such as infection can also reduce appetite. Treatment includes correction of diet and environment, and treating disease if present.

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General

General

Water turtles are mostly small to medium sized turtles that spend time both in freshwater and on land. They have streamlined flattened shells and webbed feet, and are good swimmers. They breathe air, but some can remain underwater for hours, and in the wild may hibernate underwater the entire winter. Males tend to be smaller and flatter than females as adults, with longer tails and sometimes very long nails on the front feet. The most common pet turtles are eastern U.S. species such as sliders and painted turtles, but Asian box turtles and other exotic species are also sold. Aquatic turtles are often fairly hardy, being adapted to temperature changes as they dive from a warm sunny basking spot into much cooler water. Most of the species from east of the Rocky mountains are now prohibited in Oregon due to their ability to survive in local rivers and ponds if released. Unwanted pet turtles native to the U.S. can sometimes be taken in by local rehabilitators and shipped them back to their native habitat, where they are released in protected areas. The only two native Oregon turtles, the Western Pond Turtle and Western Painted Turtle, are both water turtles. These 2 species are protected and cannot be legally kept as pets here. Water turtles often reach adult breeding size within 5-6 years after hatching and may live 30-40 years or more. They tend to be feisty, quick moving and energetic, and can be entertaining.

Food

Food

Water turtles tend to be mostly carnivorous, but if healthy they may also consume some leafy green plant material. Many prefer to eat in the water, but some will accept food in a bowl on land. Good food items include earthworms (use nightcrawlers, not redworms or compost worms), land slugs (not water snails), silkworms, and live fish (small enough to be eaten whole). Aquatic turtle food pellets should always be part of the diet as they provide a reliable vitamin and mineral source. They can be used as 25% to 90% of the diet, and are sprinkled on the water surface. Pretty Pets is one of the more palatable brands; T Rex is similar. Some leafy greens may be offered on land or shredded onto the water; good examples are collards, kale, dandelions, mustard greens, and green leaf lettuce. Minimize meats, liver, mealworms, waxworms, and Goldfish as these are nutritionally poor. Dubia roaches & crickets may be used, but must first be fed a high calcium gut-loading food (T Rex Calcium Plus is the only effective brand) for 2-3 days to enrich them.

If you can’t use a commercial turtle diet, then vitamins and minerals need to be provided in other ways, although achieving a good nutritional balance is more difficult. You can use a single powdered multivitamin-mineral supplement such as Reptocal or Reptivite; use a tiny pinch on the food once weekly, no more. Overdosing is easy with supplements, and some products are potentially toxic; it is safer to use a commercial diet which has a balanced supplement included.

Water should be kept clean at all times. Water turtles will drink while swimming, and also defecate in the water, so water quality is important (see Housing)

Housing & Lighting

Housing & Lighting

When you obtain a “wild pet” you must try to duplicate that pet’s natural conditions. An aquarium is usually needed to provide good housing, although the turtle can exercise in the house daily (up to 30 minute intervals), and temperate climate species can live outdoors in a pond if protected from predators such as raccoons. The aquarium top should be mostly solid, not screen, to trap heat & humidity. A minimum size for a small turtle would be 3 ¾ to 4 square feet of floor space (equivalent to an 18x 30 inch or 24×24 inch enclosure.) Aquarium height is less important as the turtle lives on the bottom. About ½ of the enclosure should be water and about ½ dry land, to encourage basking. Aquarium designs can be fancy with large landscaped swimming areas and water filters similar to a fish tank. A simpler method uses a large plastic or steel water container that covers ½ of the cage bottom. Then fill the dry land portion of the cage with rock or other material up to the rim of the water container. If a piece of wood or plexiglass is used to hold the bedding in place, then the water container can be easily lifted out and the water changed without disrupting the dry ½ of the tank. Without a filter system the water should be changed daily to keep it clean.

Be sure the turtle can easily climb out of the water onto the dry basking areas. Basking allows the turtle to dry its shell between baths, to warm its body, and to absorb UV light. Artificial turf makes good flooring for the dry area as it can be cleaned and reused, and it can’t be eaten. Sand, small gravel, corn cob, wood chips, etc may be eaten and cause bowel blockages; if used they must be changed regularly when soiled. Daytime air temperature in the shade should be 72-85°F for temperate species, and 75-90°F for tropical species. Keep the temperature above 70°F even at night. Use a good mercury, digital, or dial-type thermometer to check temperature in various locations at the cage bottom; the best readings are in total shade away from any heat source (cover the thermometer with a solid cardboard or wood shield). Avoid paper strip thermometers or temp guns which do not read air temperature reliably. A reptile heat pad beneath the cage can be used; hot rocks should be covered (with turf or other rocks) to prevent burns from direct contact. Heat lamps on top of the cage should be at least 18 inches above the turtle to prevent burns. If a heat lamp is used at night it should produce minimal light; dim red or purple bulbs, or lightless ceramic-coated bulbs are available. Turtles are often shy, and the cage should be in a quiet area. They need hiding places on land to feel secure and bask, but avoid using dark caves or hiding boxes which block exposure to UV light. Instead provide objects such as plants or rocks to hide behind, or use paper to cover the cage glass in one corner, creating a private area which remains well lighted.

Visible lighting should be provided 12-14 hours daily, with the remainder being dark. You must provide white (visible) light and ultraviolet light in the 280-320 nm wavelengths (called UV-B). This mimics basking in the open sunlight. Our climate often provides little sun, and window glass or Plexiglas filters out most of the UV light, so you need to provide sunlight artificially. The best terrarium lighting is fluorescent full spectrum bulbs; incandescent “screw type” round bulbs are not adequate. Some good brands include Reptisun by Zoomed, Reptile D-Light, Reptasun by Flukers, Reptiglo, & Reptile Daylight by Energy Savers Unlimited (ESU). These bulbs won’t burn the pet and need to be close to the turtle to be effective; in general the effective distance is less than the bulb length. For instance, a common 24 inch tube should be within 18 inches of the turtle. The bulb should run the entire cage length; tubes less than 24 inches long (including compact coils) are usually too weak to be effective. Avoid glass or plastic barriers between the bulb and the pet (these block UV). Change these bulbs every 6-8 months when in use, as they produce less UV light over time.

NOTE: a few incandescent “screw type” bulbs exist which do produce UV-B; these are mercury vapor lamps. They produce both UV and strong heat, so should be kept at least 18 inches from the turtle. Their effective lifespan is uncertain; change them yearly. These devices cost $45-100 and when turned off must have a “cool down” period before they can be restarted. Incandescent bulbs which cost less and do not require a cool down period are simple light bulbs and do not produce adequate UV-B. Vapor bulbs are best suited for lighting very large/tall habitats

Healthy turtles from temperate climates may be allowed to hibernate in the winter in an outdoor pond, or possibly in an unheated garage. Many species may hibernate underwater. The temperature needs to be below 55°F ideally, and day length should be short (winter hours), with no lights on past dusk. Healthy hibernation can be very difficult to achieve indoors, and it may be safer to keep a turtle active in the winter. Never hibernate a sick turtle.

Common Diseases

Common Diseases

→ Respiratory Infections:

Common among stressed turtles, especially new pets which were recently captured and shipped. Poor diet or environment also stress the turtle and allow infection. Symptoms: crusty or runny eyes, swollen eyes, runny nose (often with bubbles out the nostrils), and mucus in the mouth. They often will not eat, and if untreated may progress to pneumonia and die. Turtles with pneumonia may gasp, wheeze, breathe with an open mouth, or float tilted to one side in the water. Treatment: antibiotics, correct the environment, force feed if needed.

→ Vitamin A Deficiency:

Rare these days. Mimics respiratory infection but not as severe, mostly eye swelling and discharge. Often the turtle is still eating. This condition only develops if the turtle has been on a Vitamin A deficient diet (or not eating at all) for months. Rarely seen in turtles on commercial foods. Treatment: Vitamin A orally (not injectable; the injectable forms are easily overdosed and potentially toxic to turtles). Good sources: commercial turtle foods, some greens, papaya.

→ Middle Ear Infections:

Causes a swelling on the side of the neck where the ear should be. Usually results from a respiratory infection. Treatment: Surgical drainage of the infection, antibiotics, correction of diet and environment.

→ Shell Rot:

Infection of the shell (usually bacterial, occasionally fungal) which produces pitting, discoloration or softness of the shell. Usually caused by dirty water, low temperatures, and/ or too much time spent in the water. If untreated the lesions can deepen and spread, eventually causing death. Treatment: Removal of the infected areas of shell, topical disinfectants applied daily, keep the shell dry (minimize bathing until healed) and give injected antibiotics in severe cases.

→ Intestinal Parasites:

Turtles may carry a variety of worms and other parasites of the digestive tract. Symptoms: Diarrhea, poor weight gain, lethargy; worms may be present without obvious symptoms. Treatment: Bring a fecal sample and/ or worms (if seen) to a veterinarian for identification so the proper worm medication may be used.

→ Appetite Loss:

Turtles easily lose appetite if their environment stresses them; cool temperatures, low UV levels, a cramped cage, lack of hiding places, and excess noise or disturbance may all cause a turtle to stop eating. Any illness such as an infection usually causes appetite loss as well. If your pet stops eating for more than a few days (except when hibernating) you should seek veterinary advice.

→ Calcium Deficiency:

Turtles with too little UV light exposure or imbalanced diets (such as meats, mealworms, waxworms and crickets) may fail to grow normally, and their shells may become soft and deformed. The underside of the shell may appear normal but can be flexed when pushed on; a normal shell is rock hard. The top of the shell may curl upward at the edges or appear lumpy or domed, unlike the flat streamlined appearance of a normal water turtle. Treatment: correction of the diet and providing UV light, plus short term calcium supplementation to rebuild bone and shell strength. Shell deformity can be permanent, and it is best to prevent this condition through proper care at the start.

→ Salmonella:

Water turtles commonly carry these bacteria in their intestines, and shed it in their feces. They can sometimes cause infection in humans, especially in children under the age of 5. Avoid contact between young children and the turtle (or its aquarium) and wash well after handling your pet. Most turtles with Salmonella show no illness but can be lifelong carriers. Only a fecal culture or ELISA test can detect which animals have this bacterium.

Calcium & Phosphorous Content of Common Vegetables & Fruits (Adapted from “Food Values of Portions Commonly Used” by Bowes & Church, revised by Jean Pennington, 15th Ed.)

For Herbivorous Reptiles

This paper lists calcium & phosphorous content of a 1 cup portion of each food item. Proper health and bone development depend not only on adequate amounts of calcium, but also on a proper calcium to phosphorous ratio; ideally this should be between 1.5 : 1 and 2:1. This means that you need to have 1 ½ to 2 times as much calcium as phosphorous in the diet to prevent bone disease and other problems.

Feeding a variety of foods helps minimize nutrient imbalances or deficiencies. In general, leafy greens are the best food items for most plant-eating animals. Items from the “Ideal Ratio” list can be fed liberally, along with items from the “High Ratio” list (preferred foods are BOLDED). Items in the “Moderate Ratio” list can be used moderately as add-on treats; minimize items in the “Poor Ca/P Ratio” list, especially items in the lower ½ of that list; these are very calcium-poor foods.

TABLE 1: FOOD ITEMS WITH IDEAL Ca : P RATIOS

FOOD TYPE (1 CUP) CALCIUM PHOSPHOROUS Ca : P RATIO
Mustard Greens 104 mg 58 mg 1.8 : 1
Leeks 60 mg 36 mg 1.7 : 1
Watercress 40 mg 20 mg 2 : 1
Chard 102 mg 58 mg 1.7 : 1
Endive 23 mg 14 mg 1.6 : 1
Green Leaf Lettuce 28 mg 14 mg 2 : 1
Raspberries 27 mg 15 mg 1.8 : 1
Blackberries 46 mg 30 mg 1.5 : 1
Spinach* 56 mg 28 mg 2 : 1
 *The calcium in spinach mostly exists as calcium oxalate, which is indigestible; only ~1/3 of spinach’s calcium is available, making it a weaker calcium source than most leafy greens. It should be used as only a minor portion of the diet.

TABLE 2: FOOD ITEMS WITH HIGH Ca : P RATIOS

FOOD TYPE (1 CUP) CALCIUM PHOSPHOROUS Ca : P RATIO
Kale 98 mg 36 mg 2.7 : 1
Beet Greens 164 mg 58 mg 2.8 : 1
Chinese Cabbage 74 mg 26 mg 2.8 : 1
Dandelion Greens 104 mg 36 mg 2.9 : 1
Parsley 78 mg 24 mg 3.2 : 1
Turnip Greens 106 mg 24 mg 4.4 : 1
Papaya 72 mg 16 mg 4.5 : 1
Yellow Wax Beans 174 mg 34 mg   5 : 1
Collards 148 mg 19 mg 7.8 : 1

TABLE 3: FOOD ITEMS WITH MODERATE Ca : P RATIOS

FOOD TYPE (1 CUP) CALCIUM PHOSPHOROUS Ca : P RATIO
Grapes 13 mg 9 mg 1.4 : 1
Cabbage 46 mg 34 mg 1.3 : 1
Turnips 36 mg 30 mg 1.2 : 1
Radish 24 mg 20 mg 1.2 : 1
Green Beans 58 mg 48 mg 1.2 : 1
Okra 100 mg 90 mg 1.1 : 1
Eggplant 30 mg 26 mg 1.1 : 1
Apple 10 mg 10 mg 1 : 1
Mango 21 mg 22 mg 1 : 1
Lettuce (iceburg) 16 mg 16 mg 1 : 1
Pineapple 11 mg 11 mg 1 : 1

TABLE 4: FOOD ITEMS WITH POOR Ca : P RATIOS

FOOD TYPE (1 CUP) CALCIUM PHOSPHOROUS Ca : P RATIO
Pears 15 mg 18 mg 1 : 1.2
Rutabaga 72 mg 84 mg 1 : 1.2
Cherries 10 mg 13 mg 1 : 1.3
Cucumber 14 mg 18 mg 1 : 1.3
Strawberries 42 mg 56 mg 1 : 1.3
Guavas 18 mg 23 mg 1 : 1.3
Apricots 15 mg 21 mg 1 : 1.4
Beets 18 mg 26 mg 1 : 1.4
Cantaloupe 17 mg 27 mg 1 : 1.6
Blueberries 18 mg 30 mg 1 : 1.6
Cauliflower 28 mg 46 mg 1 : 1.6
Brussels Sprouts 56 mg 88 mg 1 : 1.6
Squash (summer, all var) 26 mg 46 mg 1 : 1.7
Parsnips 58 mg 108 mg 1 : 1.9
Sweet Potato 64 mg 124 mg 1 : 1.9
Pumpkin 36 mg 74 mg 1 : 2.1
Peaches 5 mg 11 mg 1 : 2.2
Carrots 28 mg 64 mg 1 : 2.3
Asparagus 44 mg 108 mg 1 : 2.5
Banana 7 mg 22 mg 1 : 3.1
Plums 4 mg 14 mg 1 : 3.5
Yams 18 mg 66 mg 1 : 3.6
Tomato 16 mg 58 mg 1 : 3.6
Peas 38 mg 168 mg 1 : 4.4
Corn 10 mg 120 mg 1 : 12
Mushroom 4 mg 72 mg 1 : 18

 

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