Read Our Guides for Exotic Pet Care in Tucson, AZ

Whether you have a bird, a rabbit, a ferret, or a chinchilla, caring for your exotic pet can difficult, but rewarding. At Orange Grove Animal Hospital, we have many exotic pets as patients and boarders. Our experienced veterinarians can give you help and advice to keep your pet healthy, but a large part of your pet’s health depends on what you do for him and her every day.

To learn how to be a better pet owner for your exotic pet, read these information care sheets. With the right care and attention, your exotic pet will grow and thrive.

Avian Diet and Nutrition

a colorful bird

This Green Cheek Conure shows off his smooth feathering from having a great diet.

Diet for all Psittacine: Macaws, Amazons, African Grays, Cockatiels, Cockatoos, Conures, Budgies (Parakeets), etc.

Avian veterinarians and researchers have made great strides in the field of nutrition in recent years. The diet of birds in their wild habitat varies from season to season and based on local climate and weather. Researchers have discovered that the diet of wild parrots can encompass hundreds of various nuts & seed, fruits, berries and plants. Parrot species come from habitats ranging across Central and South America, Africa, New Zealand and Australia. While most inhabit tropical and sub-tropical zones within their native continent, there are some that are at home in more temperate regions. With such a wild variation in plants species across the natural parrot range, it is simply impossible for a private owner to adequately mimic the natural diet. Thankfully, many companies provide high quality, easy to use, pelleted diets for all companion birds.

Common seeds and cereal grains such as millet, sunflower, oats, corn, and safflower can be missing as many as 32 essential nutrients. Avian researchers noted as early as 1923, that birds fed an all seed diet did not live as long and had more health issues than birds kept off seed. Unfortunately, seed is relatively inexpensive, making it attractive as a staple feed. Many people attempt to correct deficiencies by supplementing with fruits and vegetables. However, most commercially available produce does not fulfill the vitamin and mineral shortages found in seed diets. Many parrots fed an all seed diet, start to pick out their favorites (typically sunflower or safflower seeds), and ignore the other components of the diet. This food preference leads to nutritional deficiencies, obesity, liver disease and GI infections. It can also be a primary cause of feather plucking, poor feathering, and beak overgrowth and flaking.

Parrots and Songbirds (canaries and finches) do not need the addition of grit in their diet and this can often be harmful and lead to impactions in the digestive system. The only birds that should be offered grit are chickens, pigeons, and doves.

Feeding table scraps in an attempt to mimic the variety of natural foods has also been offered as an appropriate means of creating a balanced diet. Avian veterinarians now know that diets high in table foods and seeds are the leading causes for common avian diseases and conditions. Many table foods can be not only unhealthy, but harmful to birds. Yeast products like breads, crackers, and pasta can alter the flora in the crop and GI tract leading to imbalances and infections. True junk food items like chips, cookies, pizza, and fried foods have too much salt, sugar, and fat. Animal food items like meats, eggs, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are also too high in salt, fat, protein, and sugars. Fatty foods that often come across the human dinner table are a leading cause of obesity and obesity related diseases in companion birds. Never offer a bird caffeinated drinks or products (even "decaf" drinks!), chocolate, avocado, alcohol, onions or mushrooms.

Visual Signs of Nutritional Deficiency

You may wonder how your avian veterinarian seems to know what you are feeding at home at first glance. The nutritional deficiencies appear in stages. The first system affected is the digestive system. Abnormal stool color, shape, and consistency can be indicators of bacterial imbalance, yeast infections, opportunistic parasite infections and other disease processes related to nutritional deficiency. Other physical signs are a brittle, peeling, chipped, or overgrown beak, overgrown nails and dry or flaky skin on the feet. Feathers appear tattered, broken or have lines/bands ("stress bars") on them, bald areas or areas of picking. These are all common markers of parrots fed a diet of seed or table foods.

In some birds, signs of aggression, avoidance and frequent illness can be traced back to a seed or table food based diet.

bird drinking some water

This Sun Conure enjoys out of cage time to bond with family members.

Proper Diet for Avian Health

With all the choices out there, it can be hard to determine what the best diet for a bird may be. Pet and specialty stores have shelves of brightly colored pellets, mixtures, and packages proclaiming to be the best diet possible for all species. Buzz words like "Human Grade", "All Natural" and "Complete Nutrition for All Birds" abound. It can be difficult for even an experienced bird owner to separate the hype from the facts.

Pelleted diets are the preferred staple recommended by avian veterinarians. Look for the label "Organic". The term "Organic" is the only food label regulated by the government with strict legal guidelines for growth and production. Pellets with the USDA Organic label meet or exceed the regulations set down for the growth, handling and processing of those food items. All other phrasing is determined by the individual manufacturer and will vary depending on that company's marketing policies.

We recommend and carry Harrison's Bird Foods. Founded and created by a board certified avian veterinarian, Harrison's Bird Foods provide the highest standard of avian nutrition. Harrison's bird food is considered the gold standard in avian nutrition. That said, not all birds are created equal and the main goal is to provide a pelleted diet and move away from diets based in seed and table food. Any pelleted diet is going to be an improvement over a seed or table food based diet. We recommend avoiding foods that contain dyes as these may contain chemicals or sugars that make these diets less suitable. These diets are reserved for the rare bird that refuses all of the organic, dye-free diets in favor of the more brightly colored options.

We recommend the addition of fresh, organic produce to the pelleted diet. Fruits should be limited, as they are high in sugar. Total fruit amounts for a small to medium bird should be no more than a tablespoon. For large parrots, limit fruits to no more than 2 tablespoons. Food will remain in the GI tract overnight, and high concentrations of sugar can lead to digestive imbalances. Thus, fruits should only be offered in the morning, so that the bird is able to process and digest the sugar content over the course of the day.

The bulk of the fresh food component for companion parrots should be darkly pigmented organic vegetables. We have attached a list of acceptable vegetables. A small "salad" equal to about twice the size of the bird's head can be fed afternoon to evening. For birds that are first being introduced to supplemental fresh foods, it can be helpful to start with the sweeter vegetables like sweet potato, carrots, snap peas, sweet peppers and pumpkin. Brightly colored peppers are often a favorite for many birds.

Conversion Tips

There are many methods of converting seed eaters to a pelleted diet supplemented with fresh vegetables. The method we prefer to try first is as follows:

Purchase a new food bowl and put a measured amount of Harrison's High Potency in it as recommended by the label. Put in the normal amount of seed into the current food dish making a note of the starting measurement. Over the next 2 weeks, remove any empty seed husks and hulls but do not add new seed unless fecal matter contaminates the food. Make a note of the amount discarded due to fecal contamination and only replace that volume. At first you will notice your bird playing with and throwing around the pellets. This is normal exploration behavior. As time goes on and the seed level decreases, especially as the parrot's favorites are eaten up, you will notice your bird eating the pellets. Some birds prefer to soak their pellets prior to eating them. This is normal, simply replace the water with fresh after they are done.

Once the bird is eating the pellets without turning to the depleted seed bowl, remove the seed bowl and replace with the bowl you will use for fresh vegetables.

If this method does not work, please contact your veterinarian for additional methods or tips.

Proper nutrition will help your bird live to its full life expectancy. You will notice brighter, smoother, and more vibrant plumage. If the bird is still relatively young, the beak and skin health will also improve once converted to a pelleted diet. Some birds will become more interactive and engaging.

As a part of your bird's health care team, the veterinarians and staff at Orange Grove Animal Hospital are committed to providing the best for our avian patients. A large part of this commitment is providing the best and most accurate nutrition and husbandry information.

Click Here to Download Avian Diet and Nutrition Sheet

Avian Fresh Foods List

All Psittacines & Parrots

Note: It is preferable to feed only in season, organic produce to birds whenever possible. Wash all fruits and vegetables before giving to your bird to remove any possible contaminates and pesticides.

Fresh Vegetables (give each evening)

  • Beets
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Collard greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Eggplant
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens
  • Parsley
  • Pumpkin
  • Red/Yellow/Green peppers
  • Snap & Snow peas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Swiss chard
  • Watercress
  • Winter squashes
  • Yams
  • Zucchini

Healthy Fruits (in season, give mornings only)

  • Apples (cored, no seeds)
  • Apricots
  • Bananas
  • Berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries)
  • Cantaloupe (no rind)
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Nectarines
  • Oranges
  • Papaya
  • Peaches
  • Pineapple
  • Pomegranates

Occasional treats (no more than 2-3 times per week)

  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Soaked or Sprouted Grains/Legumes
  • Walnuts

Click Here to Download Avian Fresh Foods List

Rabbit Care and Housing

Diet

stuffed animals sitting at a table

One of the most important aspects of keeping rabbits is knowing what, when, and how much food to feed. Poor or improper diet is responsible for many trips to the veterinarian and we want to help you keep your rabbit as healthy as possible. Proper diet is one of the biggest keys to preventing the various health issues affecting house rabbits.

One of the most common mistakes, in caring for rabbits, is relying too heavily on pelleted diets. Commercially available pellets should comprise only 10-20% of the rabbit’s total daily diet (about 1/4 cup per 5 pounds of body weight).

A diet comprising of mostly pellets leads to a variety of health problems, including:

  • Overgrown Teeth: The teeth of rabbits are designed to work much like the teeth of horses. As the teeth are constantly growing, the side-to-side, circular grinding motion required to break down the long fibers of hay keep the teeth worn evenly and consistently.
  • Obesity: Rabbits should be kept in lean body condition. You should be able to feel your rabbit’s ribs under a light layer of fat. There should be no overhanging fat around the digestive or urinary openings. The dewlap in females should not be so large as to interfere with normal grooming.
  • GI/Urinary Disorders: Because pellets are low in digestible fiber and in moisture, a diet high in pellets can lead to a sluggish GI tract, as well as reduced water intake, which can lead to urinary tract disease, such as urinary stones or “sludge”.

There is some relation to over-grooming and inappropriate chewing of house hold items (wood furniture, towels, walls, etc.) to diets high in pellets and low hay. Because pellets can be eaten swiftly and are calorie dense, they do not provide the rabbit with a sense of “fullness”.

A proper diet for a house rabbit should consist of 80% grass hay (Timothy, Orchard or Oat hay for adults, alfalfa hay for rabbits 6 months and under), 10% fresh greens and 10% or less of pellets. The occasional treat can be offered, but treat foods shouldn't be more than 10% of the total weekly diet.

For a listing of greens and treat food please see House Rabbit Fresh Food List.

Housing

rabbit playing in the grass

Outside time should always be closely supervised and never during the hot parts of summer days.

Essential supplies for all indoor rabbit habitats include: a litter box with organic litter (do not use softwood shavings such as pine or cedar), water bottle or bowl, feed bowl, hay, and toys. Ceramic bowls work well because they are heavy enough to not to be tipped over. Litter boxes may be attached to cage with clips, wire, or 1" c-clamps.

Substrate

It is best to maintain rabbits in cages with a solid bottom. Wire cages predispose rabbits to infections of the feet and are not considered appropriate.

Grass mats may be used for floor and ramp coverings and recreational chewing. If you live in a humid area or the grass mat gets wet (from dripping water bottles), you will need to check periodically for mildew. Replace mat squares as needed.

Absorbent bedding such as recycled paper product (Carefresh or Yesterday's News) may also be used.

Temperature and Humidity

If possible, cages should be kept in the coolest and least humid are of the house away from heat and drafts. 60 – 75 degrees F is an appropriate temperature range for rabbits. Temperatures in the 80s and beyond can potentially cause fatal heat stroke. Leaving a bottle of frozen water in the cage and wetting down the rabbit's ears during hot weather will help keep him cool. Also, marble tiles may be used as a cool spot for bunnies to lie on in warm weather.

We do not recommend housing rabbits outside in Tucson. Exposure to wild rabbits, predators, and excessive heat are all dangerous to domestic rabbit breeds. The local wild rabbits are specially adapted to our extreme desert conditions and reduced water access, while our domestic pet rabbits are not. Parasites from wild rabbits and exposure to our native predator species such as coyotes, hawks, owls, and snakes make for an unsuitable habitat for domesticated rabbits. While it is possible to house rabbits outside in other parts of the country, it is not advisable here in Tucson.

If you allow your rabbit access to the backyard or patio, make sure there is a shaded area and a constant water supply. Never leave your rabbit unattended outside, even in the heart of town. Remember rabbit predators flourish even in the center of Tucson and include outdoor or feral cats and roaming dogs.

Toys

To keep your rabbit happy and relieve boredom, provide him with plenty of toys,  including the following:

  • Untreated wicker baskets and wood
  • Grass mats: jute and hemp door mats, untreated sea grass, or maize mats from Pier One or Cost Plus
  • Wire cat balls or other cat toys that roll or can be tossed
  • Large tubs of hay, newspapers, or a towel may be used as an outlet for digging
  • Nudge and roll toys like large rubber balls or empty Quaker Oat boxes
  • A climbing area may be created with baskets, boxes, and pillows
  • Tunnels can be made from open-ended cardboard boxes, cat tunnels, and cardboard propped up against the side of a wall
  • Paper bags and cardboard boxes, cat tunnels, and cardboard boxes for crawling inside, scratching, and chewing
  • Untreated wood, twigs, and logs that have been aged for at least 3 months. Apple tree branches can be fresh off the tree. Avoid cherry, peach, apricot, plum, and redwood – all of which are poisonous
  • Avoid rawhide chews which can choke bunnies if a piece lodges in their mouth

Medical Care

Rabbits can suffer from a variety of diseases. We recommend annual examinations for rabbits under 4 and bi-annual examinations for rabbits over 4. This schedule may be adjusted by your veterinarian depending on your bunny's individual breed and health status.

The most commonly seen diseases are:

Dental Disease

While this can most often be linked to inappropriate diet there may also be a genetic component. Trauma and infection can also cause dental disease but these are less common. No matter the cause, if left untreated dental disease will lead to pain and anorexia.

Some of the symptoms of dental issues are:

  • Preference for soft foods like fruit and greens with a noted avoidance of hay, pellets and hard treats such as carrots
  • Dropping food while eating.
  • Excessive tearing or nasal discharge
  • Tooth grinding or excessive salivation
  • Bulging of the eye
  • Anorexia

GI Issues

GI issues include diarrhea, hairballs, and anorexia. Rabbits cannot vomit. If you notice any change in the consistency or frequency of stools, lethargy, decrease in eating or change in preference of foods, contact your veterinarian. These signs can result from a variety of conditions and it is best to have them evaluated by a qualified veterinarian.

Urinary Tract Disease

Rabbit urine can range in color from yellow to dark orange-red. It can be cloudy or clear. If blood (bright red) is noticed, your rabbit is straining to urinate or is unable to urinate, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Respiratory Disease

A variety of bacterial and viral organisms can cause respiratory signs in rabbits. Untreated dental disease can also cause respiratory signs. Any nasal discharge, eye discharge, sneezing, coughing or snuffling should be examined by a veterinarian.

Properly cared for rabbits can live for 8-12 years (depending on breed). House rabbits are affectionate and entertaining pets. Like many exotic species, improper husbandry or diet can lead to a host of preventable conditions. Routine examination by a veterinarian is essential to the long-term health of your pet. We recommend annual exams for house rabbits even if you are not noticing any changes in behavior or signs of illness.

Click Here to Download Rabbit Care and Housing Sheet

Rabbit Fresh Foods List

NOTE: It is always preferable to buy organic produce that is in season if at all possible. If collecting wild foods such as dandelion greens, make sure they are from a pesticide-free area. All fresh foods regardless of the source should be washed or scrubbed (in the case of hard vegetables) before serving them to your rabbit.

Leafy Greens

These foods should make up about 75% of the fresh portion of your rabbit’s diet (about 1 packed cup per 2 lbs of body weight per day).

Leafy Greens I (need to be rotated due to oxalic acid content and only 1 out of two varieties of greens a day should be from this list)

  • Beet Greens
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsley
  • Radish Tops
  • Spinach
  • Sprouts (from 1 to 6 days after sprouting, sprouts have higher levels of alkaloids)
  • Swiss Chard

Leafy Greens II (low in oxalic acid)

  • Arugula
  • Basil (any variety)
  • Bok Choy
  • Borage Leaves
  • Carrot Tops
  • Chicory
  • Cilantro
  • Cucumber Leaves
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Dill Leaves
  • Ecarole
  • Endive
  • Fennel (the leafy tops as well as the base)
  • Frisee Lettuce
  • Kale (all types)
  • Mache
  • Radicchio
  • Raspberry Leaves
  • Red or Green Lettuce
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Spring Greens
  • Turnip Greens
  • Wheatgrass

Non-Leafy Vegetables

These should be no more then about 15 % of the diet (About 1 tablespoon per 2 lbs of body weight per day max).

  • Bell Peppers (any color)
  • Broccolini
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cabbage (any type)
  • Carrot Tops
  • Chinese Pea Pods (the flat kind without large peas)
  • Edible Flowers (roses, nasturtiums, pansies, hibiscus)
  • Mushrooms (any cultivated type)
  • Summer Squash
  • Zucchini Squash

Fruits

These should be no more then 10% of the fresh portion of diet (about 1 teaspoon per 2 lbs of body weight per day max). NOTE: unless otherwise stated it is more nutritious to leave the skin on the fruit (particularly if organic), just wash thoroughly. IF you are in doubt about the source of the fruit and you are concerned about chemicals in the skin, then remove it.

  • Apple (any variety)
  • Apricot
  • Banana (remove peel; no more then about 2 1/8 inch slices a day for a 5 lb rabbit…they LOVE this!)
  • Berries (any type)
  • Berries (uncooked)
  • Cherries (any variety)
  • Currants
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Melons (any – can include peel and seeds)
  • Nectarine
  • Papaya
  • Peach
  • Pear
  • Pineapple (remove skin)
  • Plum
  • Star Fruit

Click Here to Download the Rabbit Fresh Foods List

Chinchilla Husbandry and Diet

Chinchillas are high-strung, hyperactive, somewhat skittish members of the rodent family known for their exceptionally soft and thick fur.  They are generally not considered good pets for children, as they are solitary and tend to shy away from high activity.  Native to the mountainous areas of the Andes in South American, chinchillas are one of the longest lived of the rodent species kept as pets.  Chinchillas have an average life span of 6 to 10 years, but with good husbandry and regular veterinary care, many are living well into their teens. 

Housing

Chinchillas need large multi-leveled enclosures with solid bottoms.  They should be big enough to provide different areas for sleeping, eating, exercising and eliminating waste. Chinchillas need a hide box that is easy to clean or disposable.  Although naturally nocturnal, they will adjust to a more diurnal (day time) lifestyle.

Provide your chinchilla with access to a dust bath one to three times a week for no more than 20 minutes. These dust baths help maintain their skin and coat, but daily or continuous access to the dust bath can cause eye and respiratory irritation.

Being native to a much colder climate than southern Arizona, chinchillas are not tolerant of temperatures over 80°F and should be housed indoors in an air-conditioned environment to prevent life threatening heat stroke.  Humidity levels need to be watched as well as chinchillas don’t sweat.

Recycled paper products and shredded newspaper make for the best substrate.  Avoid aromatic wood shavings as these are respiratory and contact irritants.  Substrate should be changed at least twice a week and the cage cleaned thoroughly.

Diet

In the wild, the bulk of the chinchilla diet is grasses. As members of the rodent family, they have open-rooted teeth that are constantly growing.  In captivity, free choice access to hay (timothy, oat or orchard grass) helps keep their molars trimmed and the GI tract healthy.  A high-quality chinchilla pellet can be up to 30% of the daily diet, with fresh vegetables (10% or less) making up the remainder of the daily diet.  Healthy leafy greens can be found on the Rabbit Fresh Food list.

Commercially made treats such as yogurt drops are not recommended as these are mostly sugar and have little nutritional value.

Common Health Issues

Dental Disease

As with many of the rodents kept as pets, Dental disease is one of the most commonly seen issues.  Often presenting as a chinchilla who is not eating, has a reduced appetite, prefers only pellets or soft foods, decreased fecal production, excessive facial grooming or pawing at the mouth, or eye or nasal discharge, this painful condition can become fatal if not addressed quickly to allow for normal eating habits to be restored. Annual exams, beginning at adoption or purchase, will identify if dental issues are from diet or from genetic malocclusion (misalignment of the teeth).

Infectious diseases

There are a variety of bacterial diseases of the gastrointestinal tract that can affect chinchillas.  Many of these are contagious and difficult to treat with uncertain outcomes.  Clostridium perfringens, Salmonella sp., Giardia spp., E. coli, and others have all been associated with infectious intestinal disease in chinchillas.  Symptoms include anorexia (not eating), not producing pellets or diarrhea, extreme lethargy, abdominal pain, respiratory distress, fever, or sudden death.  It is important to get veterinary care immediately if any abnormal symptoms are noted.

Broken Bones

Chinchillas are more prone to fractures of the bones of the legs than other stocky bodied rodents due to the delicate and slender bone structure of the legs.  Improper housing in cages with wire bottoms are the number one cause of fractures of the legs.  Being naturally skittish, children should be supervised when handling to reduce the risk of the chinchilla becoming startled and jumping from the child’s arms. Even experienced adults must take care to always support the entire body.

Skin Issues

Chinchillas are susceptible to a variety of skin issues, including zoonotic (contagious to people) fungal infections.  Any skin sore or lesion, area of hair loss, excessive scratching or barbering, should be seen by your veterinarian immediately.  Excessive grooming can also be caused by inappropriate diet, stress, boredom as well as systemic disorders.  In male chinchillas, fur ring can occur.  This is when the fur surrounding the base of the penis can become overgrown and cause constriction.

Reproductive Issues

Sterilization is recommended in chinchillas, especially in households of opposite sexes or two males.  Pyometra (infection of the uterus) and reproductive cancers are reported in female chinchillas at similar rates as other companion rodent species.  Dystocia (difficulty giving birth) are also reported frequently.  Orchiectomy (neutering) is recommended in male chinchillas to reduce undesirable behaviors associated with testosterone, prevent reproduction with female in the house as well as to reduce the chances of reproductive tract disease. 

While there are no vaccine requirements for chinchillas, regular veterinary care is important to maintaining a healthy pet.  Annual exams can identify disease processes before they become an emergency. 

Guinea Pig Husbandry and Diet

Guinea pigs are an herbivorous rodent native to the highlands of South America.  Curious and interactive, guinea pigs are great pets for children and adults alike.  Most commonly known as the cavy, guinea pigs live on average 4-8 years with proper diet and husbandry.  These are social creatures and thrive in environments with other guinea pigs and daily interaction with people. 

Husbandry

Guinea pigs can be messy and cannot be litter trained. Guinea pigs should be given the largest cage available, preferably with a solid bottom as wire bottomed cages can cause foot and leg injuries as well as prevent the ingestion of night feces.  Due to our extreme summer heats, it is not recommend to house guinea pigs outside in Arizona. Recommended ambient temperature should be between 65-79°F.  Temperatures above 80°F can lead to heat stroke.

Recommended bedding is recycled newspaper products or shredded newspaper.  Wood shavings contain aromatic oils that can cause respiratory illnesses. Wool nesting bedding is not recommended because of ingestion by curious guinea pigs.

Enrichment is important to keeping your guinea pig happy and healthy.  Proving a safe area to explore and play in daily is important enrichment.  Make sure the area is free of wire, outlets, baseboards and carpeting to prevent chewing injuries. 

Diet

One area where owners can make the biggest difference between a healthy guinea pig and one with chronic issues is diet.  As members of the rodent species, guinea pigs have “open rooted” teeth that constantly grow.  Grass hay (timothy, orchard grass, meadow or oat hays for adults, timothy/alfalfa blends for those under 6 months of age) must be the bulk of the diet to maintain healthy teeth and gastrointestinal tracts.  Less than 20% of the daily diet should be a commercially available guinea pig specific pellet.  Pellets are nutrient dense and do not provide the grinding chewing motion necessary for dental health. 

As guinea pigs cannot produce vitamin C, guinea pig specific pellets contain added vitamin C.  These must be used within 90 of the mill date as after that the vitamin C level has degraded.  Vitamin C water additives are not recommended as the vitamin is inactivated almost immediately after being added to the water and end up providing nothing more than a breeding ground for bacteria.  The best way to supplement vitamin C into your guinea pig’s diet is to offer vegetables high in vitamin C.  Vegetables and fruit should be offered in small portions and removed after 2 hours or promptly if they become soiled. 

It is preferred that organic fruits and vegetables be offered and all fresh food items be washed before offering.  Commercially produced treats such as yogurt drops are not recommended as these are mostly sugar and provide little to no nutritional benefit.

Fruits & Vegetables (listed by vitamin C content, mg/100grams of food)

 

Red Bell Pepper (190mg/g)

Parsley (133mg/g)

Kale (120mg/g)

Kiwi (98mg/g)

Broccoli (93.2mg/g)

Brussel sprouts (85mg/g)

Mustard greens (70mg/g)

Turnip greens (60mg/g)

Strawberry (56.7mg/g)

Orange (53.2mg/g)

Cauliflower (46.4mg/g)

Cantaloupe (42.2mg/g)

Dandelion greens (35mg/g)

Cilantro (27mg/g)

Romaine lettuce (24mg/g)

Sweet potato (22.7mg/g)

Carrot (9.3mg/g)

Apple (5.7mg/g)


Guinea pigs develop dietary preferences early in life, so it is important to introduce new foods slowly to prevent GI upset, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.

Common Health Issues

Dental Disease

With their constantly growing teeth, dental abscesses, root impaction and tooth overgrowth are the most commonly seen issue.  These often present as a guinea pig who isn’t eating or only eating pellets or soft foods, is constantly drooling, has discharge from the nose, eyes or mouth or has a change in attitude or activity.  Annual examinations, which include an oral exam, address these issues before your guinea pig is in need of emergency care.

Urinary Stones

Commonly seen in guinea pigs who are fed a diet primarily of pellets, pellet mixes, carrots and grains.  The high mineral contents of these diets often lead to the formation of urinary stones as well as dental issues.  Common signed noted by owners are bloody urine, vocalizing when urinating, and straining while urinating.

Respiratory Infections

Multiple organisms can cause respiratory infections in guinea pigs.  Any instance of nasal discharge, cough, decrease in appetite, lethargy, difficulty breathing or change in attitude should be addressed by your veterinarian immediately.  Respiratory issues usually lead to secondary GI issues and death if not treated promptly.

Skin infections & parasites

Mites, lice, and fungal infestations are common skin issues in guinea pigs.  These are itchy and in the case of the most common fungal infection, potentially contagious to other guinea pigs and people. Hair loss, excessive scratching, flaking or visibly crawling insects should be seen by a veterinarian promptly to prevent secondary bacterial infections and spreading to other guinea pigs or humans.

Pododermatitis (infection of the foot) is commonly caused by housing on a wire bottomed cage. What can start as a mild swelling or abraded area can rapidly become deep ulcers with secondary infections. Keeping the guinea pig on a solid bottom cage and making sure to adequately supplement vitamin C will reduce the risk for foot infections.

Hamster Care Sheet

Hamsters are nocturnal, ground-dwelling rodents that are easily maintained, but have specific requirements to keep them happy and healthy. 

Housing

            Hamsters are not good jumpers although they do like to climb; therefore, the best type of cage is one that is long, wide, and low.  An alternative to this is to place many levels to your hamster cage.  Small rat cages make great homes for hamsters. 

            In the wild, hamsters live underground and come out at night to search for food.  By providing a “hide” box, which can be a simple empty, square facial tissue box or a store bought “house”, your hamster will feel secure while he is sleeping during the day.  Fill the bottom of the cage with a deep layer (2-5 inches) of absorbent bedding.  A recycled newspaper bedding is preferred.  Cedar or Pine shavings should be avoided as they can cause respiratory problems and are toxic to your pet.  Bedding should be changed weekly and the cage completely cleaned (including the hide box and exercise wheel).

            Hamsters are very busy during their nocturnal roaming, and in captivity, keeping them busy will help prevent destructive or harmful activities like cage chewing.  Exercise wheels alone do not provide enough mental or physical stimulation to keep a hamster happy or healthy.  Here is a list of simple and inexpensive toys:

Empty paper towel or toilet tissue rolls

Empty facial tissue boxes

Small cardboard boxes

Dye and scent free facial tissue or paper towels

Pesticide-free twigs from beech, maple, willow or hazelnut bushes

Wooden chew sticks or toys from pet stores

Clean wax-free paper cups

Cotton balls

Oatmeal containers

            All of the above toys allow your hamster to shred, build, hide and play.  Don’t be surprised if a toy you place in the cage one day is totally shredded by the next.

Food

            Hamsters have a very high metabolism and should have continuous access to food and water.  Most hamsters will readily drink from a sipper bottle attached to the side of the cage.  This bottle should always have clean water in it.

Since hamsters forage for food, placing the food into a dish each day does not allow the hamster to act like it would in the wild.  It is more mentally stimulating to scatter the food over the main level bedding, and if your cage has multiple levels, a few pieces along each level encourage a natural foraging behavior. Hamsters also like to create their own “stashes” of food in various parts of the cage.  Often these stores will be near favorite sleeping and resting places. 

            While many commercial hamster feeds are heavily seed based, a seed based or seed heavy diet contributes to obesity and obesity related diseases in captive hamsters.  A high quality pellet feed, such as Oxbow, supplemented with fresh vegetables and hay is a much healthier diet.  Fresh foods which can be offered include dandelion greens, chickweed, alfalfa pellets, spinach, lettuce (large green leafed varieties) and in tiny amounts, carrots and fruit.   Avoid raw beans, apple seeds, sprouting potato buds, parsley, and green parts of tomatoes.  Uneaten fresh food should be removed daily.

Handling

            Hamsters are nocturnal animals and become very cranky if woken up during the day.  They may bite, shriek, scratch, and try to escape from your hands.  It is best to do any cleaning or feeding in the late evening.  Hamsters also sleep very deeply during the day, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see any movement or only very slight movement from your hamster’s hide box while the sun is up. 

Time for the Veterinarian!

            A veterinarian should evaluate any injuries to your hamster.  Swollen eyes, cuts or abrasions, sudden fur loss or refusal to eat (during normal hamster eating hours) are other reasons to take your hamster to the veterinarian. 

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Orange Grove Animal Hospital
(520) 877-2626
3091 W. Orange Grove Rd
Tucson, AZ 85741

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