How to Care for Your Small Animal

Posted on
August 31, 2018

It can be hard to care for your pet, particularly if they’re a small animal. A lot of pet care resources provide information for treating dogs and cats, but daily care is just as important for smaller animals—if not more so. Even though they’re small, there’s still a lot to look out for and it can be harder in some ways because these animals are likely less vocal about their discomfort than a dog or cat would be. Whether it’s a bird, hamster, guinea pig, etc., here are some tips for caring for seven common injuries in small animals, including:

  • Dehydration
  • Abscesses
  • Broken Toenails
  • Heat Stroke
  • Chilling
  • Cuts & Scrapes
  • Tooth Problems

Dehydration

Contrary to what you may think, dehydration is a very common issue among smaller pets. They’re likely not walking around the house like a dog or cat, so it's easy to forget to refill their water when they have no way of reminding us. The best prevention for dehydration is just to make sure that you’re refilling your pet’s water bottle regularly. Make it a part of your daily routine and be sure to keep track of how much or how little they’re drinking, as lack of thirst can be a sign of a bigger health issue.

Abscesses

Many small animals, particularly hamsters, can be prone to abscesses. An abscess is essentially a pocket of pus beneath the skin. Abscesses can be more topical, as in directly under the skin, or more internal, like maybe further into the body or on an organ. Either way, the signs to look out for are: bumps, redness, or discharge. If your pet does have an abscess, it’s likely a bacterial infection but it could be any number of things. Your best bet is to take them to the vet as it may need to be lanced or removed. Some pet owners opt for home remedies such as a disinfectant saline solution or even thyme tea to treat their pet’s abscess. However, if your pet is showing obvious discomfort or the abscess is getting worse, be sure to take them to the vet as they may be able to prescribe antibiotics for your animal.

pet bird on a branch
Anytime your animal is injured, make sure you spend time holding them so they can calm down.

Broken Toenails

Broken toenails are a fairly common injury among small pets, especially rabbits. If your pet does break a nail, don’t worry it’s not a big deal. There will likely be some bleeding, so be sure to apply pressure until the bleeding stops and then clean the wound. Visit your vet if there’s any redness or swelling that you think might be an infection. The easiest way to prevent broken toenails is by regularly and properly trimming your pet’s nails.

Heat Stroke

A lot of small pet owners elect to take their animals outside. Although there’s a lot to consider about exposing your pet to the outside world, a small amount of time in the backyard won’t do them any harm as long as you keep them contained in a cage, pen, or with a watchful eye. However, if you do take your pet outside, it’s important to make sure you keep them out of direct sunlight as it’s very easy for small animals to get heat stroke. Ironically, your pet can even get heat stroke inside the house, if they’re in direct sunlight or in a place without enough air ventilation, such as a car. The signs of heat stroke include heavy breathy and general lethargy, but severe heat stroke can even lead to unconsciousness. To avoid this, make sure your pet always has an option for shade and plenty of ventilation, whether they’re outside or in their cage. And, if you do suspect that your pet has been in the heat for too long, make sure they’re properly hydrated. If their heat stroke symptoms persist, it may be time to take them to the vet.

rabbits in the grass
If you suspect your small animal may have caught a chill, wrap a hot water bottle up and place it in their cage for warmth.

Chilling

The opposite of heatstroke, keeping your animal in an environment that is too cold for them can be just as bad. It’s important to make sure your pet is warm enough, especially in the winter months. This is often a problem for pet birds, especially if your bird manages to escape their cage and get outside. When treating a pet that has been exposed to the cold, it’s important not to overcompensate and burn your pet. Some solutions for warming them up include placing a heat lamp or space heater near your pet’s cage (with careful supervision, of course). For a more worry-free option, you can also wrap a hot water bottle in a towel and place it in the cage.

Cuts & Scrapes

All animals are prone to cuts and scrapes, but it’s especially important to be vigilant in checking your small animals as their wounds may be smaller to find. Additionally, it’s very easy for small animals to get them, particularly on any exposed skin, such as the pads of their feet.

If you do find a wound, there’s not much to do once the bleeding stops except to clean the wound. There’s no version of bandaids for our pets, so we need to make sure that the wound is clean to prevent infection. Small rodents and birds have a lot of stuff that may touch their feet in their cage, such as hay, that could get in the wound and cause infection. Most cuts and scrapes can be treated with a good wound care treatment, such as Fauna Care’s First Aid Spray, and a bit or gauze or a cotton swab. Make sure you know how to best treat a minor wound in your pet and don’t be afraid to take them to the vet if you think they may be developing an infection.

guinea pig in grass
To avoid dental problems, make sure your small rodent has a way to grind down their teeth regularly.

Tooth Problems

Most pets, but particularly rodents, are particularly prone to dental issues as they need to be constantly grinding down their teeth as they would in their natural habitat. If they don’t, their teeth will continue to grow and inhibit their ability to eat, which can cause other health problems. It’s important to provide some easily accessible outlet for your pet to grind down their own teeth, such as cardboard or some other type of chew toy. Some small mammals can also get abscesses in their mouths—which can also cause dental issues. If your animal has lost their appetite or is losing weight and you suspect that it may be due to a dental problem, take them to your vet immediately.

Although there are a lot of ways for your pet to injure themselves, many of these ailments can be prevented by proper care. As a pet owner, it’s important to know how much your pet should be eating, drinking, and exercising everyday so you can monitor when their patterns are irregular. So, keep a watchful eye and don’t be afraid to go to the vet if you think the injury may be too serious for you to handle alone.

Posted on
August 31, 2018
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Advice
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