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Smaller furry friends can make great pets

Living

The vet's view
Conal Finnerty

James Herriott probably would not have encountered the various types of pets we are seeing today in our clinics. Back in his time, the only pets that ever went to the vet were the traditional dog and cat, and that’s if they were lucky enough to belong to an owner who cared for their welfare.
Today we see a much wider variety of pets and rodents and other furry small animals who make up quite a sizeable proportion of our patients – everything from rabbits, of which there are such a wide variety of breeds, to guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, mice and rats, chinchillas and even pet hedgehogs. Although these animals can be broadly classified as domesticated small mammals and for the most part are in the rodent family, there are significant differences in their care and management.
For instance rabbits are sociable creatures and enjoy the company of others, while hamsters are somewhat more introverted and in general prefer their own company. Housing, particular food types, bedding, supplements etc, all cost money and are an ongoing expense. For families with younger members, the responsibilities of small animal ownership are important considerations. These types of pets have very sharp teeth and while most are amenable to handling, given a little time, others such as gerbils do not enjoy lengthy handling or petting and others such as hamsters will generally not tolerate rough handling, so are not suited to very young children.
Hygiene is of the utmost importance, both for the animal involved and those who care for them (cleaning out bedding etc) and developing a regular routine that everybody can easily follow, in terms of regular cleaning, proper handling, gentle play is vital. Rabbits like other small furry animals need a secure enclosure/run where they can feel safe and secure from predators, cats/birds of prey etc.
These small mammals generally try to hide as best they can, signs of illness or disease, as in the wild, showing signs of vulnerability can be fatal. Therefore it is important to know what is normal in terms of physical appearance as well as behaviour etc, so one is aware of any changes that can indicate illness etc. All too often, we hear the words, ‘well, I didn’t really notice it for a few days’ and this can make all the difference in terms of medical outcomes. So, daily handling and observation, coupled with regular cleaning both of bedding and food stations, as well as prompt action if required, is very important and can make the difference between a positive and negative outcome if illness or injury occur. All these furry creatures need their living quarters regularly cleaned out and washed and disinfected with an appropriate disinfectant, to kill bacteria and especially fungal moulds which can cause terrible debilitating lung disease. In general, these types of animals are relatively odourless and do not smell provided there quarters are regularly cleaned. It is very important that handlers, especially younger ones, are encouraged to wash their hands every time they interact with their pet.
These animals do not live as long as dogs and cats so younger members of the family need to be made aware (in a subtle and considerate way) of the general lifespans of whatever pet they own.
Small furry pets can be a great addition to any family as long as a bit of research is done before hand and the expectations in terms of routine care etc are well understood from the outset.
Remember, they are not toys and need and deserve gentle handling and respect in terms of their desire to live in a clean and secure environment, devoid of external threats and minimal noise.

Veterinarian Conal Finnerty MRCVS practises at the Skeldale Vet Clinic in Ballinrobe and Belmullet. Follow the clinic on Facebook, or call 094 9541980 or 087 9185350 to make an appointment.