Caring for Other Pets

Bright orange goldfish

Reptiles

Introduction

In recent years there has been a growing interest in keeping reptiles as pets. Many suffer and perish needlessly as a result of an owner’s lack of knowledge or inability to meet their specific needs.

Keeping a reptile requires an awareness of the anatomical and physiological features of these animals; key points are as follows-

  • Reptiles are complex animals, with a well developed nervous system. They respond to pain and therefore every effort should be made to handle and treat them humanely.
  • Although the skin of reptiles is often well protected by scales it can be damaged and a breach may permit the entry of infection. The appearance of the skin and the frequency and quality of skin shedding are important indicators of health.
  • The internal organs of reptiles are no less delicate than those of mammals. Handling techniques should be such that undue pressure is not applied on those organs and special care should always be taken to support the body.
  • Reptiles will only thrive if they are able to maintain their preferred body temperature. An unsuitable captive environment can result in suffering and / or death.
  • For the maintenance of reptiles in good health, attention must be paid to
    all their needs. Good management is essential and this includes adequate accommodation, a correct range of temperature and relative humidity, an acceptable and well balanced diet, regular hygiene and attention to diseases and injuries.

Before acquiring a reptile or amphibian it is vitally important you familiarize yourself with the creatures needs. These can be complex and if they are not understood and provided for your pet will not survive. Talk to experienced keepers, carry out research on the internet and consult a small animal vet with experience of treating reptiles. DO NOT buy any creature on impulse.

Accommodation

Cages can be of glass, wood, metal and plastic. With the availability of metal vivarium lids for standard aquariums the conversion of an all glass aquariums is now the commonest way of housing reptiles. There are however serious drawbacks to using aquarium conversions to house reptiles. Ventilation is usually poor, this leads to high humidity and stale air which causes disease problems.

The tungsten light bulb used as a light and heat source at one end of the vivarium lid provides a useful basking site. However, where the population of reptiles is high, or territorial behaviour is present, few of the specimens have access to the heat. This explains the reason why we see inactive lizards in
this type of accommodation. Less active animals become stressed from their inability to maintain body temperatures to enable food gathering, digestion, etc. are vulnerable to disease.

The best material readily available for cage construction is melamine faced chipboard. This is easily worked, has good heat retention and is easily cleaned. It should be sealed using bathroom silicone sealant.

Heating

Reptiles require the correct heating and ventilation.

The thermostatic control should be variable in the range of 25°C to 30°C. Using tungsten light bulbs to provide both heat and light, is not satisfactory. The light has to flash on and off if thermostatically controlled and if it is not controlled overheating will occur. Reptiles can burn themselves as the lights are difficult to screen off.

Heat cable as used for soil warming can be incorporated under part of the floor, or along the back wall of the cage. If trapped behind a metal plate the heat is dispersed more adequately.

Lighting

Lighting can be unobtrusive and access restricted by a fiberglass fly screen type material. This prevents specimens being burned.

Light of appropriate quality and quantity is necessary for the well being of many reptiles. Light which corresponds to natural sunlight is required, particularly the ultra-violet component which is responsible for Vitamin D3 synthesis in most reptiles. Without Vitamin D3 reptiles can develop poor bone structure.

A specialist range of fluorescent tubes are available. All cage lights should be positioned over the basking spots within the cage to attract animals to these areas. An additional light that is supplementary to the above is provided by the fluorescent tubes used in electric insect killers. The blue light (which is almost pure ultra-violet) attracts insects to an electrified grid. This ultra-violet light is useful in reptile husbandry. Reptiles that are confirmed sun worshippers such as most temperate species of lizards, invariably benefit from exposure to this light.

Humidity & Ventilation

The majority of reptiles benefit from a dry atmosphere. For those species that require high humidity, good ventilation must also be incorporated. The main reason for the short life of most chameleons in captivity is due to their high humidity requirement. However, stale humid air is fatal to them.

High humidity and lack of cage ventilation is frequently the source of respiratory problems. These can be overcome by incorporating plastic or fibreglass ventilation panels in the sides of the cage.

Behavioural Problems

The behavioural requirements of reptiles must be met to reduce stress. Most reptiles are secretive and need somewhere to hide. This is particularly true of snakes. If not provided with the security of a hide box they will frequently rub their noses raw in attempts to escape and usually will not feed voluntarily. In addition, snakes feel most secure when very closely confined in their hide.

Lizards in particular are usually highly territorial and cage furniture in the form of rocks and branches should be incorporated to create escape routes for subordinate specimens. Without this provision aggressive individuals will attack and torment others, preventing feeding and causing loss of condition.

Feeding Reptiles

Ideally, provide exactly what the animal would be eating in the wild. This is relatively easy for some species (e.g. pythons) which will take small rodents and insectivorous species which can be given crickets, locusts, etc.

Vitamin and mineral supplementation is always advisable since a slight excess can be tolerated but a deficiency cannot. Bear in mind that in many cases ‘external’ sources are used in the wild (e.g. sunlight, gut contents of prey, ingested earth, etc.) and these may not be available in captivity.

Lastly, the food should be of high quality. In the case of carnivores and insectivores either obtained from a reputable commercial source or home bred to reduce the possibility of either poisoning or the introduction of parasites.

In summary, adequate nutrition consists of providing a high quality balanced diet approximating as closely as possible to the natural diet of an animal kept in the optimum conditions. Care should be taken also to maintain good health and freedom from parasites.

Diseases

When disease is evident or suspected veterinary assistance is essential.

Aquatics

Introduction

Setting Up

Bear in mind that cold water, tropical and marine fish have distinct requirements. To ensure a healthy and harmonious colony a keeper requires the knowledge and skills necessary to provide a suitable environment. Glass aquariums are readily available and well suited to fish keeping. Advice on size and volume should be sought from an experienced fish keeper or a specialist retailer.

Filtration

Filtration is necessary because all fish produce waste products which are excreted into the water which will rapidly become polluted. Uneaten food, if allowed to decay will also cause pollution.

A regular water change will remove waste products and care should be taken not to over feed as a buildup of waste is very bad for fish.

Choice of system

The filter system is a matter of choice. Most commonly used is either an internal or external power filter. Under-gravel filters are popular but, if used for cold- water fish or larger tropicals it should be used in conjunction with additional filtration because the gravel quickly becomes foul.

A mature filter system should be maintained by simple rinsing or back flushing of filter media. The medium will be gravel, dolomite, peat, ceramic or plastic pieces, according to the species of fish, or coral sand in the case of marine systems. These are not sterilised except in the case of severe disease and are rarely renewed.

Heating & Lighting

Tropical freshwater and marine fish need to be kept at a temperature above the norm for the UK. It is not advisable to keep cold water fish at these higher temperatures.

Modern aquaria incorporate an adjustable and thermostatically controlled heater that is ideal for this purpose and system of lighting suited to fish keeping.

NB: Fish will not survive in unsuitable water temperatures.

Decoration

Decoration is also a matter of choice but all fish fare better in a tank with some feature for the fish to orientate with such as plastic plants, rock or bogwood.

Gravel

An inert sand or gravel should be used for most fresh water fish. Various grades are available but it is important to ensure that the grade chosen is not so fine as to choke the filter if an under gravel filter is used and not so coarse as to engulf particles of decaying matter. Specialised media such as coral sand are available for marine aquariums.

Water Quality

Most diseases are brought on by stress caused by unsatisfactory water quality. The hardness of the water varies from area to area and whilst cold water fish generally tolerate from fairly soft up to hard water provided the pH value (a measure of acidity or alkalinity) is within the following ranges:-

  • Cold Water Fish pH 7.0 – pH 8.0

Many tropical fish and plants come from soft water areas and their tolerance to hard water alkaline conditions does vary.

  • Freshwater Tropicals pH6.5-pH7.5
  • And Marine species require a pH8.0 – pH9.0

It is important to check the tolerance of the fish in suitable reference books before deciding on the conditions under which each species should be kept. Various systems are on the market for modifying water quality and you can use liquid or tablet test kits to establish the pH reading.

Feeding

Within hours of being introduced into the tank most tropical and coldwater freshwater fish will take dried flake, pelleted or freeze dried food. Almost all species will benefit from some live food. Fish should be fed at the same time each day and observation will show the quantity required. A good rule of thumb is that the food should be all eaten within two minutes. There is now a wide variety of foods available and you should familiarise yourself with these. Fish food can be flaked, pelleted or crumbed and is carefully prepared to fulfil the need of different species and the conditions in which they are kept. You will find that most foods carry information about their contents on the packet or box. There is food which can enhance the colours of goldfish.

Disease

By providing an ideal environment and hygiene control you will minimize outbreaks of disease. If you feel a fish is showing signs of disease you must act quickly to prevent its spread. Seek veterinary or expert advice on a remedy.

Cagebirds Introduction

You may intend to keep only a few of the more common cage birds such as Budgerigars, Canaries, and foreign finches, or you may wish to have a larger cage bird collection with a variety of different species. Whichever you decide, certain basic rules apply.

Accommodation

Cages

Accommodation for birds should be situated in a dry, well-lit and well- ventilated area. Birds must not be subjected to extremes of temperature. A normal room temperature is suitable for the great majority of birds. In winter some heating may need to be provided to maintain the temperature at or above 14°C (57°F).

Wire-fronted cages are indispensable, but a screen, or individual outer cage fronts, of glass or plastic, would prevent the debris inevitably associated with bird-keeping – feathers, seed husk, etc – from littering the floor. Necessarily, provision would have to be made for access to the cage for servicing and for ventilation.

Unless they are very large, or the birds are very tame, all-wire cages are suitable only for parrots. For most other birds, box cages (enclosed on all sides apart from the front) are required. These must be made of easily cleaned materials – metal, laminate-surfaced ply or well-painted wood. There should be no cracks or crevices which will harbour dirt or parasites. The wire front should be appropriate to the size and strength of the birds to be housed. Doors that slide upwards, or are hinged at the top, reduce the possibility of escapes when the cage is opened. A removable tray at the bottom of the cage will facilitate cleaning.

Suitable Birds

Some suitable species for the inexperienced are; Budgerigar, Canary, Zebra Finch, Bengalese Finch, Cutthroat Finch, Weavers, Mannikins, Cockatiel, Peach faced Lovebird, Diamond Dove, and Chinese Painted Quail. When sufficient experience has been gained with seedeaters and with seed eating parrots, the best softbills (birds that feed almost entirely on fruit and insects) to begin with are Bulbuls, Pekin Robins and the larger starlings.

Furnishings

Unless the accommodation is very large, cage furnishings should be as few and practical as possible. This normally means simply an appropriate floor covering and suitable perches.

The best floor coverings are paper, sawdust and sand. Paper is the easiest to deal with, but may be of little use with some birds (such as some parrots) that delight in tearing it up. Sawdust tends to be messy mainly because it is likely to be blown out of the cage. Sand, like sawdust, “absorbs” faecal matter well, but is difficult to dispose of. Sanded sheets can be renewed quickly and easily and the small extra cost is compensated in the time saved from sweeping up sand or sawdust. Sanded sheets can be purchased in bulk rolls.

Wooden perches are to be preferred to other perch materials. If a metal or plastic perch is used, there should also be a wooden perch in the cage. Perch position is of paramount importance in furnishing a cage. The cage must contain a perch on which the birds can sit without their heads touching the top of the cage or their tails touching the floor.

Most kinds of birds need to bathe regularly in order to keep their plumage in good condition. A broad but shallow dish of water should be placed in the cage at least twice a week. Alternatively, the birds may be lightly sprayed with tepid water. This is the preferred method for parrots.

Feeding of Hardbills

You should be to provide birds with a suitable diet. Any diet that consists largely or entirely of one kind of food is likely to be deficient in certain nutrients. While that food may sustain for a time, a mixed diet will pay dividends in the health and condition of the bird. The following are suitable diets for various kinds of birds.

Parrots, Parrakeets (incl. Budgerigars, Lovebirds and Cockatiels).

Parrots

Seed mixtures, including Sunflower, Safflower, Canary and Millet seeds, Wheat and Oats with added Peanuts and Pine nuts; Corn on the cob or boiled Maize; bread; fruit (almost any non-citrus kind); root vegetables (especially raw carrot, other kinds cooked) and green vegetables.

Parrakeets
Seed mixtures as above, but constituent seeds of a size appropriate to the size of the bird species (e.g. mainly Canary and Millet seeds for Budgerigars); sliced apple and carrot; small amounts of green vegetables.

Lories, Lorikeets And Hanging Parrots

An artificial nectar mixture (soupy mixture of water, sugar or honey, and foods formulated for human babies and invalids); ripe fruit (e.g. apple, pear, banana); seed.

Seedeaters

Canaries, Finches,Waxbills etc
Seed mixtures (Canary, Millet; Rape, Maw) according to the size of the species (e.g. mainly Panicum millet and a little White millet for waxbills; Sunflower for the larger finches and Grosbeaks); small amounts of uncontaminated greenfoods; softfood (e.g. insectile mixture for waxbills).

Doves And Pigeons

Seeds and grain according to the size of the bird; chick crumbs; greenfood in small amounts occasionally. Fruit pigeons and fruit doves, as their names imply, require fruit chopped to an appropriate size; softfood (insectile mixture or soaked mynah pellets), and seeds may also be eaten.

Quail

Small seeds; chick crumbs; finely chopped fruit or greenfood, mealworms occasionally.

Diseases

Bird diseases are notoriously difficult to diagnose. It is important a Veterinary Surgeon is consulted if any sign that may be indicative of disease persists for more than 24 hours.

Signs that suggest disease, especially if they are persistent, or are exhibited by several birds in close contact, include: lethargy; “puffed-up” appearance (i.e. body feathers standing up); sleeping with both feet on the perch (particularly in parrots); poor appetite; regurgitation of food; loose, watery or abnormally coloured droppings; excessive thirst; discharge from the nostrils or eyes; laboured breathing (often most noticeable by a pumping motion of the tail); noisy breathing; heavy feather loss.

The following signs indicate the presence of serious disease requiring treatment by a Veterinary Surgeon without delay: blood in the droppings, breastbone prominent (usually only detectable when handling the bird); gasping for breath (with beak open) when the bird is not under exertion and is not in a high temperature; unco-ordinated movements or paralysis.

Parasites

Birds may be infested by external and internal parasites. The former include mites and lice, which feed on the bird’s skin, beak, blood and feathers. An anti-mite spray or powder should be used on affected birds and on their cages. Scaly-face mite is most commonly seen in Budgerigars. The mites live and feed on the birds’ beak and adjacent parts and legs. Lice feed on feathers alone, and are less harmful to their host. Dusting or spraying with a safe insecticide is advised. Birds are host to many kinds of internal parasites.The only ones that can safely be treated by the bird keeper, without veterinary diagnosis and prescription, are intestinal worms – roundworms and tapeworms. There are a number of proprietary worming preparations available.

Small mammals

Gerbils

Gerbils are true rodents in the same group as mice, rats and hamsters. They have some very distinctive characteristics which set them apart from other rodent species.They have long and strong hind legs for such a small animal. They can balance upright on these in kangaroo fashion and use their smaller front legs and feet to catch and hold their food. They can leap and climb and use their front feet for burrowing. They have extremely acute hearing, but seldom make any sound other than a drumming noise with their hind feet. This is a characteristic of gerbils and is thought to be used as a warning signal or as part of the mating ritual.

Cages

Gerbil keepers often use a large aquarium filled with soil to a depth of 25- 30cm (10 to12 inches). This type of housing gives the animals a great deal of freedom and a natural outlet for their burrowing instinct. Droppings and the small amount of urine passed become biologically degraded and the whole set-up can remain for several months without being disturbed. A shallow layer of burrowing medium such as fine peat can be placed in the bottom of the aquarium along with some ornamental stones or branches of hard wood. Plenty of nesting material should be added along with suitable toys such as tunnels or see-saws. A small metal or earthenware feeding dish and a water bottle are standard equipment. A well fitting lid is most important as gerbils can jump several times their own height.

Feeding

Gerbils require a cereal mixture of grains such as wheat, barley, oats and maize, dried grass pellets, shelled peanuts and sunflower seeds. This last ingredient seems to be especially attractive to gerbils and indeed some animals will form such an addiction to sunflower seeds that they will take these in preference to all other foods. This should be discouraged as the high proportion of fat in the seeds can lead to digestive and overweight problems. An adult gerbil will eat about a spoonful (one third of an ounce) of food in a day. Small pieces of carrot or apple are acceptable as are proprietary gerbil treats and hide chews. Alternatively the pelleted ‘laboratory’ diet used for rats and mice will provide a complete and balanced diet.

Disease & Ailments

Provided gerbils are kept in clean conditions, not overcrowded and with an adequate diet, they suffer from very few ailments.

Wounds

Mated pairs and family groups can live happily together; occasionally a fight can break out between adult males. Sharp teeth can do considerable damage. The wounded animal must be removed from the cage and wounds treated by washing with a diluted antiseptic solution. A severe bite or prolonged bleeding may need veterinary attention but gerbils have great resilience and will often make a complete recovery from even an amputated foot, limb or tail, injured in a fight. When an injured gerbil has recovered it is seldom accepted again into the group.

Overgrown Teeth

These can be clipped back by veterinary surgeon. Provision of hard chewing material will help to prevent recurrence.

Parasites

Gerbils kept in clean conditions will seldom suffer from external parasites. Gerbils can harbour worms such as tapeworm. Constant diarrhoea and loss of weight should be investigated. A faeces sample is required for veterinary diagnosis.

Guinea pigs

These are regarded as ideal pets for children.

Cages

Must be constructed of material which is easily cleaned and the fronts should be either wire mesh or glass. Cages should be cleaned out regularly and fresh litter and bedding supplied. The cage should be completely washed and disinfected at intervals depending on the number and age of the occupants. Bedding should be dust free. Shavings, wood, wool or clipped straw are preferable to sawdust. Guinea Pigs are constant nibblers and will chew almost anything that is put into the cage. Paper containing newsprint should be avoided. A good supply of hay is essential and should be regularly replaced. This will be used as bedding as well as being eaten. It is most important that the cage is well out of draughts and not exposed to damp. A water bottle should be cleaned and refilled daily and if the cage is not fitted with a food hopper the food should be placed in a non-chewable bowl. Plastic can be nibbled.

Guinea Pigs should be fed at a regular time each morning and evening making sure that sufficient hopper space is provided and that dishes and water bottles are within reach of the occupants.

Feeding

A mixture of grains such as milled oats, wheat, kibbled maize and grass pellets is the foundation of a Guinea Pig mixture. Guinea Pig pellets will provide a complete and balanced diet.

Guinea Pigs cannot synthesise Vitamin C so it is most important that this is supplied in their daily food. It is possible to buy proprietary pellets containing added Vitamin C but these supplies should be checked regularly as the vitamin content can be lost with extended storage. Vitamin C can also be given in the drinking water. 25 mg. of Vitamin C to 100ml. of water in a fresh solution each day.

Green food should be fed in limited amounts. This can include cabbage, sprouts, dandelions, chicory and lettuce in small quantities. Carrot, apple and some soft fruits are also appreciated. Mineral salt licks should be encouraged as well as ‘treats’ such as compressed cereal cakes and locust beans.

Health

When buying Guinea Pigs the following health checks must be made. The body should feel firm and well fleshed with no bones prominent. Coat should be even with no bare patches, no scabs or signs of wounds or scratches.

Eyes bright with no discharge or ‘milkiness’
Ears clean inside with no inflammation
Nose should be clean, no sneezing or discharge
Breathing even, no coughing or wheezing
Teeth meeting in a good bite with no overgrowth
Feet Soles clear of sores and nails not overgrown

Place the Guinea Pig on a flat non-shiny surface. A healthy animal will move quickly with no staggering or stiffness. There should be four toes on the front feet and three on the hind feet. Check for damaged feet or ingrown nails. Check the anus for any sign of diarrhoea.

Guinea Pigs are susceptible to respiratory diseases. Symptoms include difficult breathing, sneezing and nasal discharge. When untreated this can lead to pneumonia and death. Improved management and general hygiene can help recovery but treatment by drugs is very difficult as most antibiotics are toxic to Guinea Pigs. Infected animals must be strictly isolated and veterinary advice sought.

Overgrown Teeth

These can be clipped back by veterinary surgeon. Provision of hard chewing material will help to prevent recurrence.

Wounds

Small wounds can be caused by fighting. Remove the injured animal, clip hair round wound, disinfect site and apply soothing ointment.

Hamsters

The hamster is one of the most popular of all small pet mammals. It takes up little space, and requires very little daily attention. As it is mainly a nocturnal animal it is ideal for the customer who must leave the house for the greater part of the day. Although it is often sold as a pet for a child it is not a suitable species for children under school age unless a responsible adult is willing and available to supervise its daily care and handling.

Cages

Cages must be constructed of material which is strong, unaffected by urine and easy to clean. They should preferably be glass fronted and well lit. A large aquarium makes a good cage provided it can be fitted with a suitable lid which will allow adequate ventilation. Hamsters are very sensitive to changes in temperature and cages must be out of draughts or direct sunlight. A constant temperature of 15°C – 20°C (60°F – 70°F) is advised. A rise in temperature to 30°C (85°F) will cause a hamster to become stiff and apparently lifeless, while a severe drop in temperature to 5°C (40°F) will produce a state in which the pulse and respiration are so faint that the animal appears to be dead. In both cases a gradual return to the normal temperature should effect a revival.

Litter & Bedding

Sawdust from a safe source and uncontaminated with chemicals can be used, also fine wood shavings. Shredded paper which does not contain newsprint is also suitable. Nesting material must be of natural fibres. Long-strand man- made material can be eaten with fatal results or can get wound round and trap limbs.

Health Check

A Hamster should have a well rounded body, large bright eyes and a blunt nose. Ears should be set well apart and erect when the animal is fully awake. The coat must be even with no bare patches. Check underneath the rump for wet patches. This could indicate diarrhoea or wet tail limbs.

Cage Furnishings

Small earthenware pots are best for holding food. Make sure they are placed at a level which can be reached by the smallest hamster.Water should be supplied in drinking bottles attached to the side of the cage. If open dishes are used for very young stock a few pebbles in the water will avoid drowning accidents. Hamsters like to climb, and some rocks or stones or some hard wood blocks should be placed in the cage. If a hamster wheel is on display it should be checked regularly. The closed step type is less likely to cause accidents when a group of hamsters are using it together.

Feeding

Hamster mixtures are made up of various cereals such as maize, wheat and oats with the addition of sunflower seeds, shelled peanuts and small broken dog biscuit. Alternatively hamster pellets will provide a complete and balanced diet. While green food, fresh lettuce and sprouts are welcome additions to the diet these should be given in very small quantities only. A mature hamster will consume a tablespoon of food daily but will carry more than this to
the larder. All sticky or sharp foods must be avoided as these can block the cheek pouches. Compressed hamster treats or small hide chews provide opportunities for nibbling. Vitamin drops can be added to the drinking water to improve general condition.

Diseases & Ailments

Symptoms of Cage Paralysis are a reluctance to move and a hunched appearance. The cause is usually cramped accommodation and lack of exercise. Improve housing and exercise facilities.

Common Cold

Symptoms are sneezing, wheezing, sore nose, lack of appetite, raised temperature. The cause is viral infection from humans. Keep warm, treat inflamed nose with ointment. Observe, and if the condition has not improved in 24 hours veterinary treatment by antibiotics may be required to prevent secondary infections.

Hibernation

Symptoms are that the animal appears to be asleep, unconscious or dead. Pulse and respiration may be undetectable. Cause is a drop in temperature of surroundings to below 5°C (40°F). Treatment is by raising the temperature of the animal gradually on a warm heating pad or hot bottle at 32°C (90°F). An attempt should always be made to revive an apparently ‘dead’ hamster which does not show any other sign of illness or injury.

Rats

Cages

A large aquarium makes good cage provided it has a close fitting vivarium lid. These cages are comparatively more expensive but are secure, easy to clean and will last for many years. White, coarse sawdust, wood shavings or peat all make good floor covering. Bedding should be several inches in depth. Rats will usually soil the whole cage so it will need cleaning twice a week. A proprietary bedding is more suitable than hay which can sometimes contain mites.
Water bottles with stainless steel tubes are necessary and these must be kept scrupulously clean by using a bottle brush.

A small earthenware or metal bowl should be placed in one corner as a feeding dish. Two rats sharing a cage will spend a good deal of time playing with and grooming each other and they should have a secluded corner in a cage where they can retire out of public view. A branch on which they can climb (make sure it cannot be used as an escape route) and some hard chewing blocks and chew proof toys can be added. Hide chews which are sold as dog treats provide good chewing material.

Health Check

Coat smooth with no bare patches or scabs or wounds
Eyes bright and with no discharge
Ears clean, no reddening
Teeth straight and parallel, not overlong
Nose clean, no discharge
Claws and toes none missing or damaged

Check undertail for staining or wetness which could indicate diarrhoea.

A scaly tail is a sign of advanced age.

A healthy rat will spend a considerable time asleep and may object to being disturbed. However it will be spotlessly clean and have a sleek smooth coat. A sick rat will have a hunched appearance.

Feeding

A mature rat will eat about 60g (2 oz) of cereal food in a day. Feed manufacturers supply a well balanced mixture or pellets. Dry foods, especially complete feeds are also a good source of nourishment. Fruit, fresh vegetables and greens can be added to the diet in small amounts and pregnant does or growing youngsters will benefit from a little fresh milk or milk powder. Fresh water must be constantly available.

Diseases & Ailments

Pet rats kept in clean conditions and supplied with the correct diet will generally remain healthy. However like all small animals they will succumb to an illness very rapidly and any departure from their normal behaviour should be investigated. They can also act as carriers of several diseases which are zoonotic (can be passed on to humans). For instance salmonellosis can occur in rats in both the chronic and acute forms.

Wounds

These can be caused by fighting or can be self inflicted. If a rat is caged on its own examine the cage to make sure that there are no sharp corners or wires. Self inflicted wounds can be caused by boredom so supply some interesting toys or hiding places. Simple wounds can be treated by bathing with an antiseptic solution. More serious or infected wounds require veterinary attention.

Teeth & Nails

These should be inspected at regular intervals and cut back if they are overgrown.

Stress

Rats in common with many small rodents can be very much aware of high pitched noises which are not heard by humans. Television, remote control devices, computers, ringing telephones, even a dripping tap or a squeaking door hinge, can all cause distress.

Mice

Cages

Cages are generally the same as hamster cages but make sure the wire is close together to prevent escapes. The best type of cage is of formica with a glass front and overhead or concealed lighting. Although mice can cope with extremes of temperature the ideal is around 15°C (60°F) and cages should always be out of draughts and direct sunlight. Mice are fastidious creatures and spend a great deal of time grooming and washing, however it is an undoubted fact that the males especially have a strong, unpleasant odour.

Cage cleaning must be a carried out routinely twice weekly changes of litter and bedding, and the use of an adequate disinfectant. Wood shavings, peat or sawdust should be used as floor covering. Mice are playful and natural acrobats and the cage should contain a closed platform type exercise wheel, tunnels, ladders or branches. A nest or sleeping place should be provided with a safe bedding material. A small earthenware dish is used to hold the food, and water is best dispensed in a bottle fixed to the cage side.

Health Check

Coat even, with no bare patches or scabs
Body sleek and smooth
Eyes large and bright, no discharge
Ears clean, with no reddening or wounds
Mouth teeth should be straight, not overlong or protruding
Feet and claws check for deformities
Anus check for any sign of wetness which might be caused by diarrhoea

A healthy mouse will move quickly and freely and grip your finger when it is held.

Feeding

As with most other rodents, mice will accept a wide variety of seeds and fresh food. Laboratory mice are fed on pellets which provide a carefully balanced diet but the keeper may prefer to give a variety of different food. A mixture of equal parts of oats, maize, wheat, rabbit pellets along with some puppy biscuit and a few sunflower seeds is a good standard diet.

Diseases & Ailments

Regular and careful observation is the best safeguard against illness. Any sudden or unexplained deaths should be viewed with suspicion. With many diseases of mice, by the time that symptoms are apparent to the layman, it is too late for successful treatment.

Veterinary diagnosis and prescription is essential.