Advice on Small Furries

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness

We use the term “Small Furries” to describe the myriad of small furry animals that routinely come to the clinic for treatment. These include rats, mice, hamsters, chinchillas, guinea pigs, degus and gerbils. These small furries can make great children’s pets if you choose wisely and they can make wonderful, characterful companions. It is always a good idea to encourage children to research their intended new pet themselves. Make sure they know all about how to care for their potential new pet, and that they are aware of how much work will be involved here.

Many people seem to think that small furry pets are the ‘easy’ option. However, they are just as much of a commitment as a cat or dog. These pets need specific housing in a safe, comfortable environment. They require daily feeding and attention, regular cleaning out and veterinary treatment if required, the costs of which will be as for any other pet for veterinary advice and treatments. 

Remember also, just as with any pet, you will also need to consider who will look after your pet when you go on holiday. It is important to do some careful research and know all about your particular pet species to ensure that they receive the correct food and environment, housing, bedding, etc. and that they are handled gently and in the right way. Rats, mice and hamsters generally have a lifespan of approximately two years; guinea pigs can live for around five to eight years, while chinchillas and degus can easily live for ten to fifteen years.

Once you have your new pet a vet check is always advised initially to determine the sex of your new pet and also to check that it is in good health. If you have more than one new pet, you need to house your small furries in separate cages to prevent either unwanted breeding or fighting.

One of the most common problems that we see in these small pets is dental disease, often as a result of an incorrect diet. This can result in overgrowth and spurring of teeth, causing pain and ulceration of the surrounding gum and cheek tissues. Other common health problems include: respiratory disease in rats and mice; bowel disease in hamsters and gerbils; skin tumours in rats and mice; diabetes in hamsters and guinea pigs; urinary disease, bladder stones and heart disease in guinea pigs and skin diseases in all of the small furries, particularly secondary to skin mites.

Good advice on health care would be to have their weight, teeth and nails checked regularly. Also use an advised, good quality complete pelleted diet food, rather than a mix. Otherwise, your pet may eat selectively and pick and choose the tastiest bits and then leave the rest. Also make sure that certain small furries such as chinchillas and guinea pigs have daily access too high fibrous foods like good quality hay to help wear down their teeth. 

All small furries are very susceptible to extreme weather changes, whether hot or cold, so they should be housed in a stable, even ambient temperature and out of direct sunlight and protected from draughts. Do research the correct temperature and humidity advised for housing each individual species. Also most small furries are generally social animals and as such will be happy with a bit of similar small furry company.

Remember that your small furry pet is originally a prey animal, so be very careful if you have other pets such as a cat or dog, as they could cause huge stress to your small furry pet, even if they can't get into their cage! So do make sure that they are housed safely and well away from other inquisitive pets in the household.

Small furry pets are also likely to be stressed by too much handling initially. Gradually and gently build up contact with your pet until they are comfortable with you, offering their food at the same time.

If you are interested in getting a small furry pet or have any questions or concerns about a current pet, then please contact us for advice on their care.