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Small Furries Advice

Advice about caring for your small furries

Ferrets

It is not too far in the past that "ferreting" was a popular country occupation. In rabbit infested areas the use of nets and working ferrets gave the younger generation hours of harmless fun and often a tasty meal for the family afterwards. As habits and trends change the pet ferret population has diminished significantly. So of course has the rabbit population since Myxomatosis swept the UK.

The ferret is descended from the wild European polecat but many generations of breeding in a domestic environment has made the ferret into a very intelligent and rewarding pet that will provide hours and hours of fun. They come in a variety of colours from pure white (albino) to polecat. Like all animals they will develop trust in their owners if handled in a friendly and sympathetic way and are given clean and comfortable living quarters together with a suitable diet. They are not vicious animals but must be handled carefully and there are times (particularly during the breeding season) when ferrets like some privacy.

Regular handling from an early age establishes confidence and ferrets will learn very quickly. They can even be trained to walk on a lead and will live to about 10 years of age.

Like all intelligent furry animals they should not be spoilt and children should not be encouraged to let their ferrets roam unattended in the house. Ferrets are experts at hiding away in a dark corner or finding interesting areas to explore. Their sharp claws will quickly take them up the curtains and there is nothing more that a young ferret will enjoy than playing hide and seek. Being very small they can easily disappear for hours into a bed or down the back of a sofa.

What About The Odour?

Ferrets do have a distinctive odour and the male of the species particularly so! However, clean bedding at all times and attention to hygiene will greatly reduce any unpleasant smell. Keeping their fur clean and free of any fleas should be a daily routine.

Housing

Their cage should be stoutly built about 4 feet by 2 feet, a depth of 2 feet and have a private nesting/sleeping area out of view. It should have a roof that is waterproof and legs to keep it about 3 feet off the ground. It should be in a sheltered spot. A nesting area is particularly important for any breeding ferret as they are very sensitive to having their young disturbed at an early age. Ferrets will be healthier if kept outside with plenty of fresh air and with warm bedding will be happy during the winter months. Like any other animal they hate damp conditions.

Exercise

Ferrets are very active and need time spent on a daily basis. They cannot be left like a hamster or a guinea pig unattended for any period of time. They like to be on the move, are very inquisitive and of course their natural instinct is to hunt and "ferret about". If you are not prepared to spend time and take a great interest, ferrets are not for you! The time spent is amply rewarded as ferrets are affectionate, sociable, clever and fun. Lack of exercise and being confined to a small space for long periods of time is probably the cause of bad temper, nervousness and the reason why a ferret might not be averse to the odd painful bite. They are intelligent animals who do not like being neglected. With the right introduction they will happily interact with other family pets such as cats and dogs.

Diet

Ferrets are natural carnivores and there is nothing they love better than to get their face embedded in a piece of raw meat. Tinned specialist pet foods are fine and also cereal biscuits help to keep their teeth and gums healthy. Under no circumstances should ferrets be introduced to sweet foods as tooth decay will result. Plenty of fresh clean water should be available at all times. A simple diet and regular meal times with plenty of exercise forms the basis of good health.

Neutering

If single ferrets are kept and there is no wish to breed in the future then it is wise to have a ferret neutered. This will also prevent unwanted reproductive diseases associated with the female developing later on and it will also reduce the tendency of the male to produce odours.

Chinchillas

Chinchillas are squirrel like rodents, available in 2 varieties. They are clean animals with no body odour, their thick coat means that they do not get parasites like fleas and ticks.

They should be kept in a wire cage away from sunlight and noise, plastic should not be kept in the cage as they will gnaw at anything to exercise their constantly growing teeth. Only place hard materials such as wood and pumice stone in the cage for it to chew on. Also in the cage should be some bedding (white pine shavings), sleeping quarters, some branches for climbing, a hayrack, water bottle and a dust container. As chinchillas hate water they take dry baths to remove excess oils from the fur. Dust should be available from your pet shop.

Chinchillas are vegetarians, surviving on special food pellets, hay and fresh water. They can be very frightened by noise or rough handling, and when frightened emit a pungent odour like skunks.

Gerbils

Gerbils are intelligent, sociable animals that are best kept in pairs. They should be handled daily and they will be affectionate to you, make sure you wash your hand before handling them to avoid passing germs to them, also keep an eye on any other pets you have.

They like to keep themselves occupied in a large wire cage. This should be lined with bedding and cleaned twice a week. To keep them busy and stimulated their cage should be full of toys and challenges. They also love tubes to run through and chew on.

You will be able to find pre-mixed food for your gerbil in pet stores for a well balanced diet. This can also be supplemented with sunflower seeds, vegetables and nuts. Fresh water should be provided with daily. A sterilised bone or twig should be provided for them to chew on.

Guinea Pigs

The Guinea pig is a sociable and companionable animal and relish attention. It is a very vocal animal with several different sounds.

They should be kept indoors with a secure cage. The cage should be kept clean and change its bedding often, this will help prevent against diseases. Food pellets are available for guinea pigs, but their diet should be supplemented with fresh fruit, hay and water. Make sure that fresh food is changed daily and kept separate from the pellets. It will also appreciate chewing toys like all rodents do.

Signs of illness can include runny nose and eyes, excessive salivating, diarrhoea, skin disease and loss of appetite, they are also prone to shock and dehydration. They should also be bathed weekly, before their bath they should be groomed, long hair should be trimmed and its nails should be clipped.

Hamsters

Hamsters are busy animals that love exercise and play. A large metal cage should be used with an exercise wheel, tubes for tunnelling and clean shavings for bedding. The bedding should be changed every day to stop any smells forming. They also love to chew so wooden blocks are also a good idea to keep in the cage.

A drinking bottle should be provided, with the water changed every day, it is also best check that the ball in the water bottle works often to stop your hamster getting dehydrated.

Hamsters like a good diet, with seed bells and blends of grains. They may also like fresh vegetables and fruits.

Rats and mice

Both rats and mice are relatively short-lived animals but provide good companionship during their lives.

They should be kept in a large cage with plenty of room. An area for them to retreat to and a place for exercise should be provided. Rats, in particular like to burrow so bedding should be plentiful. It should be changed 2 to 3 times a week. The cage should be kept in area that is well light, ventilated, away from excessive noise and stresses.

Specialist food can be bought from pet stores for your rats or mice though this can be supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables, non-fat yoghurt and whole-wheat bread. Grass hay or hay block should always be available along with fresh water, which should be changed daily.

A general note is that small animals are expensive to treat so an early visitation to a vet is best to avoid any complications at the first sign of a problem.

Practice information

Town and Country Vets - Blackburn

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