Village Vets Centre Liverpool 0151 428 8600 0151 428 8600
Village Vets  Centre Liverpool    0151 428 8600   0151 428 8600

Rodent Health and Welfare

Rodents are the most successful group of mammals on the planet and inhabit almost all areas of land. The name 'rodent' means 'gnaw tooth' and relates to their continually growing teeth which require them to chew to keep them in shape. They are highly intelligent and make wonderful pets as long as they are handled carefully and frequently. There are many species available as pets from the more common hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas, fancy rats and fancy mice to the less common multimammate mice, acacia rats and chipmunks. At Village Vets, our staff have owned many of the common and uncommon species and believe that they deserve as much attention and care as any other pets we treat.

"The next time you hear the phrase "just a rodent", just smile -- because they "just don't understand."

- Author Unknown

Rodent Care

We strongly advise, whether you choose to adopt or buy a new rodent to bring them in for a check-up so that we can identify and address any problems as soon as possible. We are very happy to give you advice and leaflets on caring for your new pet and answer any questions you may have. We stock a range of different diets catering for chinchillas, chipmunks, degus, gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters (both Syrian and dwarf), mice and rats.

 

Rodents are highly intelligent and entertaining to own and they can show great affection towards their owners. Housing, dietary and social requirements can vary greatly by species. Disease risks can also vary greatly by species. No matter which species of rodent you have decided to own, it is important to make sure you provide for all of their needs to ensure they have as long and happy a life as possible.

Hamsters

 

There are 5 species of hamster currently kept as pets, all except the Syrians are referred to as 'dwarf hamsters' and all are nocturnal. All species have cheek pouches which they use to store and carry food:

 

  • Syrians
    • The largest and most well known hamster.
    • Easiest to handle, rarely bites and makes an excellent children's pet
    • Highly territorial and solitary. They will fight to the death if kept together!
    • Many different varieties including long-haired or rex types and a whole range of different colours.
  • Campbell's Russian Dwarf
    • Most common dwarf species.
    • Not suited to children as fast, can be hard to handle and may bite.
    • Can be kept as single hamsters, pairs or groups (ideally same sex to avoid breeding).
    • Some different colours available.
  • Winter White Russian Dwarf
    • Hard to obtain.
    • Not suited to children as fast and may bite. Easier to handle than Campbell's.
    • Can be kept as single hamsters, pairs or groups (ideally same sex to avoid breeding).
    • Some different colours available. Much more seasonal and their coat becomes white in winter.
  • Chinese
    • Shy and do not like being handled.
    • Tunnel and climb so entertaining to watch.
    • Can be housed alone, in pairs or groups. Mature adults may fight.
    • Few colour varieties.
  • Roborovski
    • The smallest species and are sometimes awake in the daytime.
    • They are extremely hard to handle as they are very fast but are fun to watch.
    • Can be housed alone, in pairs or groups.
    • Little colour variation.

 

Care:

Hamsters can be kept in plastic cages but these must be safe and secure. Dwarf species can escape from some wire cages and plastic tunnels can be hard to clean and unsuited to pregnant animals. All housing should have a nest box with suitable material (avoid cotton-wool like bedding as this can get caught around their feet or in their pouches). Deep shavings will allow them to burrow. Exercise wheels or balls should be provided as they are very energetic and need lots of exercise. Hamsters are omnivores and eat insects, nuts, seeds and fruits. Commercial diets are available, pelleted types are better to avoid selective feeding and nutritional problems. Wooden chews are helpful.

 

Signs of ill health:

Reduced activity. Poor appetite, weight loss or diarrhoea. Poor coat or hair loss, scabs or itching. Closed eyes. Increased breathing effort (moving their abdomen to breathe). Discharge from the eyes, nose, mouth, genitals. Lumps. Vocalisations. Falling over, leg problems. Running around their cage for no obvious reason.

Rats

Rats are highly intelligent, inquisitive and affectionate animals that make wonderful pets and do not deserve their poor reputation. They are actually extremely clean and easy to train but male rats can have a slightly stronger smell than females and tend to scent mark more.

The majority of pet rats are descended from Rattus norvegicus (called the Norway, brown or Japanese rat) and are very different from the wild black rats (Rattus rattus) that are native to the UK. The Norway rat is extremely successful and has reached nearly all parts of the world, due to human activity and this is the species of rat that most people are familiar with. They are used as lab rats and domesticated rats of this species are called 'Fancy rats.' There are many colours and varieties available.

 

Care:

Rats are omnivores and eat carrion, eggs, fruit, nuts, seeds, insects and grains in the wild. They are also predators and will kill smaller rodents (including mice and hamsters!) Pet rats should be fed a commercial mix (ideally pelleted to avoid selective feeding, obesity and nutritional problems) with the occasional treat of fresh vegetables and fruit (except citrus fruits), egg and chicken.

Rats should be housed in a minimum of two, same-sex groups. Adult males are extremely territorial and may fight newly introduced rats. Cages should provide sufficient space for rats to escape from one another and should consist of wire with plastic bases and shelves. Sawdust is not suitable as bedding as it is dusty, but newspaper is fine. Rats should be provided with wooden chews, tunnels and tubes, fabric hammocks, nesting areas and other toys to keep them busy (not plastic). In addition, rats should be allowed to roam outside their cage in a safe area (with no exposed wires) for at least an hour a day.

 

Signs of ill health:

Not eating or drinking too much. Diarrhoea, weight loss or excessive weight gain. Lumps, wounds, hair loss and excessive grooming or itching. Discharge from the eyes, nose, ears or genitals. Noisy breathing or increased effort (breathing from their abdomen and sucking in their sides). Red staining (porphyrin) around their eyes and nose. A hunched posture, shivering, unusually noisy teeth chattering and a puffed appearance to their fur. Staggering. Choking or mucus around their mouth. Gasping. Head tilt. Aggression or reduced activity

 

Other less common species with slightly different requirements include:

  • Gambian Pouched rats
  • Acacia rats
  • Nile rats
  • Multimammate mice (actually an African species of rat)

Mice

Mice are highly intelligent, inquisitive and affectionate animals that make wonderful pets and do not deserve their poor reputation. They are actually extremely clean but male mice can smell a lot more than females and tend to scent mark more.

The majority of pet mice are descended from Mus musculus (the house mouse) and is the species of mouse that most people are familiar with. They are used as lab mice and domesticated mice of this species are called 'Fancy mice.' There are many colours and varieties available.

 

Care:

Mice are omnivores and eat carrion, eggs, fruit, nuts, seeds, insects and grains in the wild. Pet mice should be fed a commercial mix (ideally pelleted to avoid selective feeding, obesity and nutritional problems) with the occasional treat of fresh vegetables and fruit (except citrus fruits), egg or chicken.

Mice should be housed in a minimum of two, same-sex groups. Adult males are sometimes territorial and may fight newly introduced mice, but this is less of a problem than in rats. Cages should provide sufficient space for mice to escape from one another and should consist of wire with plastic bases and shelves. Sawdust is not suitable as bedding as it is dusty, but newspaper is fine. Mice should be provided with wooden chews, tunnels and tubes, fabric hammocks, nesting areas and other toys to keep them busy (not plastic). Mice can be kept in their cages long-term, similar to hamsters, as long as they are provided with an exercise wheel. It is of great benefit to allow them out of their cage to roam for short periods in a safe area (with no exposed wires).

 

Signs of ill health:

Not eating or drinking too much. Diarrhoea, weight loss or excessive weight gain. Lumps, wounds, hair loss and excessive grooming or itching. Discharge from the eyes, nose, ears or genitals. Noisy breathing or increased effort (breathing from their abdomen and sucking in their sides). A hunched posture, shivering, unusually noisy teeth chattering and a puffed appearance to their fur. Staggering.

 

Other less common species with slightly different requirements include:

  • Turkish, African or Egyptian Spiny mice
  • African Pygmy mice
  • Harvest mice
  • Wood mice
  • Zebra mice
  • Mouse-like Hamster (not a true mouse or hamster, but more similar to mice)
  • Edible and African dormouse

Gerbils & Jirds

Gerbils are highly energetic, inquisitive and entertaining animals that make wonderful pets and are quite easy to care for. They extremely clean and do not have a strong smell. They are less territorial than other species of rodent but will fight if introduced when older than 10 weeks.

The majority of pet gerbils are descended from the Mongolian gerbil (sometimes called the Mongolian Jird) and is the species that most people are familiar with having been used as a lab species. Whenever 'gerbil' is used, it refers to the Mongolian gerbils as related species are classified under the umbrella term 'Jird.'

 

Care:

Gerbils are omnivores and eat leaves, seeds and insects in the wild. Pet gerbils should be fed a commercial mix (ideally pelleted to avoid selective feeding, obesity and nutritional problems) with the occasional treat of fresh vegetables and fruit (except citrus fruits). Foods tend to have too little water content and being a desert species, they are adapted to get a lot of moisture from their food. Soaking food for a short while and scattering it about the cage can help. They should have fresh water also provided at all times.

Gerbils are highly social and should be kept in a minimum of two, same-sex groups.  Cages should provide sufficient space for gerbils to escape from one another and should consist of a 'gerbilarium' - a glass tank with a wire mesh lid. Sawdust is fine as bedding and should be placed into the tank as a very deep layer to allow them to dig and form tunnels. Cardboard tubes are also good. As they are desert species, a sand bath should be provided (chinchilla sand is fine).

 

Signs of ill health:

Not eating or drinking too much. Diarrhoea, weight loss or excessive weight gain. Lumps, wounds, hair loss and excessive grooming or itching. Discharge from the eyes, nose, ears or genitals. Noisy breathing or increased effort (breathing from their abdomen and sucking in their sides). Greasy coat, reduced activity or increased attempts at escape.

 

Other less common species with slightly different requirements include:

  • Shaw's Jird
  • Greater Egyptian Jird
  • Persian Jird
  • Duprasi (Fat-tailed gerbil)

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs are friendly and talkative but can be nervous and easily startled. They originate from forests in South America where they are reared for food and as such are not well adapted to the cold, wet UK winters. They are extremely clean and do not have a strong smell. They are popular pets with many different varieties such as the long-haired Peruvian or rough-coated Rex. Breeders and those who show their guinea pigs may sometimes refer to them as 'Cavies.'

 

Care:

Guinea pigs are herbivores and eat hays and grasses in the wild. They should be fed a diet of mostly hay or grass supplemented with commercial pellets (no more than 10-15%) and the odd leafy green such as dandelion and broccoli. They must have a lot of fibre in their diet to keep their gut healthy. Guinea pigs, like humans, cannot make their own vitamin C and must get this from their diet. Whilst commercial diets have added vitamin C, this can degrade quickly once a bag is opened. For this reason, vitamin C should be added to the drinking water (1g/L if using powders or follow the instructions if using vitamin solutions from a pet shop).

Guinea pigs are social and should be kept in a minimum of two (same-sex) groups or a harem (one male and several females if neutered). They can bully each other but neutering may help to reduce this. They should not be housed with rabbits as they can fight and pass on a serious infection with the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica to each other. There are a wide variety of housing types available but a wooden hutch within a penned area (if outdoors) or a plastic-based wire cage (if indoors) are fine. Guinea pigs must be let out daily for exercise and grazing (or hay if this is not possible).

 

Signs of ill health:

Not eating or drinking too much. Diarrhoea, weight loss or excessive weight gain. Lumps, wounds, hair loss and excessive grooming or itching. Discharge from the eyes, nose, ears or genitals. Noisy breathing or increased effort (breathing from their abdomen and sucking in their sides). Reduced activity, pain squeals, not going to the toilet (urine or faeces).

Degus

Degus are energetic, entertaining and talkative but they are not suited to those who like to cuddle their pets as they are jumpy and fast. They originate from the desert areas of central Chile, South America and have been used as a lab species for many years. They have increased in popularity in recent years. They do not smell but sometimes do scent mark. Most degus retain their natural 'agouti' colouring.

 

Care:

Degus are herbivores and eat grasses, fruits and grains in the wild. They should be fed a diet of mostly hay grass supplemented with 1-2 tablespoons of commercial chinchilla pellets and the odd carrot or piece of broccoli. They must have a diet low in sugar and fat with a lot of fibre as they are prone to diabetes.

Degus are social and should be kept in same sex or neutered mixed sex pairs. They should be provided with a nesting area and should be allowed daily dust-baths (chinchilla sand). They are escape artists so they should be kept in a wire cage with wooden shelves to allow them to jump and avoid foot problems. They also like burrowing, so the base of the cage should have a thick layer of bedding. If they are not able to be let out of their cage for exercise daily, they should be provided with a solid-sided exercise wheel. Plastic toys are not suitable as they can injure themselves when chewing them.

 

Signs of ill health:

Not eating or drinking too much. Diarrhoea, weight loss or excessive weight gain. Lumps, wounds, hair loss and excessive grooming or itching. Discharge from the eyes, nose, ears or genitals. Noisy breathing or increased effort (breathing from their abdomen and sucking in their sides). Reduced activity, pain squeals, not going to the toilet (urine or faeces). Tail degloving. Abnormal chewing, wet mouth and paws (saliva) or staining around the face.

Chinchillas

Chinchillas are energetic, entertaining and talkative but they are not suited to those who like to cuddle their pets as they are jumpy and fast. They originate from the mountainous areas of the Andes and have been used for their fur. They have increased in popularity in recent years. They do not smell but sometimes do scent mark. All chinchillas retain a thick coat of fur but may have several different colourations, when startled chinchillas naturally shed small sections of their coat in defence.

 

Care:

Chinchillas are herbivores and eat high fibre grasses and bushes in the wild. They should be fed a diet of mostly hay supplemented with 1-2 tablespoons of commercial chinchilla pellets and the odd raisin, banana piece or other dried fruits. Sugar rich commercial pet treats are not suitable and can cause digestive or obesity problems - you should check any packaging and make sure what you feed is suitable.

Chinchillas are social and should be kept in same sex or neutered mixed sex pairs. They should be provided with a nesting area and should be allowed daily dust-baths (chinchilla sand). They are escape artists so they should be kept in a wire cage with wooden shelves to allow them to jump and avoid foot problems. If they are not able to be let out of their cage for exercise daily, they should be provided with a solid-sided exercise wheel. Plastic toys are not suitable as they can injure themselves when chewing them.

 

Signs of ill health:

Not eating or drinking too much. Diarrhoea, weight loss or excessive weight gain. Lumps, wounds, hair loss and excessive grooming or itching. Discharge from the eyes, nose, ears or genitals. Noisy breathing or increased effort (breathing from their abdomen and sucking in their sides). Reduced activity, pain squeals, not going to the toilet (urine or faeces). Tail degloving. Abnormal chewing, wet mouth and paws (saliva) or staining around the face.

Chipmunks

Chipmunks are an uncommon rodent to keep as a pet due to their housing and care requirements. They are shy, nervous and extremely energetic which makes them generally unsuitable as pets. They retain much of their wild behaviour in captivity and cannot be considered 'tame.' They are found in various places throughout North America, Europe and Asia and several species are kept as pets.

 

Care:

Chipmunks are omnivores and eat nuts, seeds, fruit and insects in the wild. They should be fed a commercial pelleted diet designed for rats and mice (seed mixes contain too much fat and are deficient in other nutrients). Occasional eggs, meat, mealworms or day-old chicks (from a reputable source so there are no residues) can be fed but their pen must be cleaned daily as they hoard food 

Chipmunks are social and should be kept in same sex or mixed sex groups or pairs. They should be kept in outdoor wire sided aviary-type cages with plenty of ropes, branches and wooden platforms to allow them to climb and jump naturally. They require secure next boxes (wooden bird ones are fine) and can be given metal exercise wheels. Anything wooden needs to be checked regularly as they chew a lot and can easily damage furniture. 

 

Signs of ill health:

Not eating or drinking too much. Vocalisation, diarrhoea, weakness or paralysis, blindness, poor response, scabbing, itching or hair loss. Abnormal chewing, wet face or paws, lumps. Eye, ear, nose, genital discharge, increased respiratory effort. Poor coat.

Prairie Dogs

Prairie dogs originate from North America and are active during the daytime, they can legally be kept as pets in the UK but are rare. Disease outbreaks in the US killed many of those in the pet-trade and wild ones are no longer allowed to be caught. They are seasonal, excitable and sometimes quite noisy. 

 

Care:

Prairie dogs are herbivores and are suited to low-quality food with little sugar or fat. They should be kept on grass hay with fresh greens as treats. Youngsters can be given guinea pig pellets and alfalfa hay.

Ideally they should be kept in pairs or groups as they are very social, they can be kept singly but must be given plenty of attention to avoid boredom and self-trauma. Large wire cages used for rabbits or guinea pigs are suitable housing but they must be given lots of shavings to dig and burrow. PVC pipes are useful to mimic their tunnels.

 

Signs of ill health:

Not eating or drinking too much. Vocalisation, diarrhoea, weakness or paralysis, blindness, poor response, scabbing, itching or hair loss. Abnormal chewing, wet face or paws, lumps. Eye, ear, nose, genital discharge, increased respiratory effort. Poor coat.

Lemmings

Steppe Lemmings originate from Russia and have become increasingly popular as pets in recent years. They are fun to watch and are very active, a lot of their time is spent play-fighting.

 

Care:

Lemmings are herbivores and are suited to low-quality food and they are intolerant of sugar. Do not give them fruit or vegetables as the sugar can make them very ill. Rodent diets are also not suitable for them for the same reasons. They should be fed on timothy or alfalfa hay and grass with the occasional pieces of millet seed or handful of guinea pig food or mouse/gerbil food without molasses (check the bag). Alternatively they can be fed on low quality laboratory rodent blocks with the hays above. In some areas you might be able to purchase tailored lemming food from the internet.

Lemmings are very social and should be kept in pairs or groups, males can fight so females are better together with them. They require a nest box and some cardboard tubes or wood to chew, hammocks can be enjoyed but will be destroyed quite quickly. Solid exercise wheels can be of great benefit. Glass tanks with wire lids (like a gerbilarium) are good for housing as they can easily chew through wood or plastic. They should be given a deep layer of shavings as they enjoy burrowing.

 

Signs of ill health:

Not eating or drinking too much. Vocalisation, diarrhoea, weakness or paralysis, blindness, poor response, scabbing, itching or hair loss. Abnormal chewing, wet face or paws, lumps. Eye, ear, nose, genital discharge, increased respiratory effort. Poor coat.

Other Rodents

There are several other species of rodents that we might see occasionally and they tend to be suited only to people who can provide larger enclosures than for the species discussed above. They include ground squirrels, flying squirrels and jerboas.

Rodent Riddles

There are a whole range of different problems that your pet rodent can experience, some of which are entirely preventable with the right advice and care:

 

  • Dental disease
  • Ear and eye disease
  • respiratory disease
  • Obesity and nutritional problems and impactions
  • Kidney and heart disease
  • Bumblefoot and overgrown nails
  • Pyometra, prolapse, cystic ovaries
  • Fighting, aggression and injuries
  • Bladder stones
  • Tumours
  • Hormone problems
  • Skin wounds and hair loss and tail degloving.
  • Bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic diseases (some of which can be passed to humans)

 

If you are in any way concerned about the health of your pet, please contact us for advice and we will be happy to help.

Contact

Opening Hours

Monday        09.00 - 18.00

Tuesday       09.00 - 18.00

Wednesday   09.00 - 18.00

Thursday      09.00 - 18.00

Friday           09.00 - 18.00

Saturday       09.00 - 12.00

Village Vets Centre Ltd

65 Quarry St  

Liverpool

L25 6EZ


Tel.: 0151 428 8600

 

In case of emergency, please call:

Tel.: 0151 428 8600

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