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Guinea Pigs

  • Guinea pigs are fibrevores, designed to eat hay and grass with a small portion of fresh greens, fruit or vegetables. Hay should be provided at all times such as Timothy Hay or Readigrass. Allow access to the garden where possible to allow grazing in dry weather or fresh grass can be brought in doors for them.

  • Guinea pigs require supplementation of Vitamin C as they cannot make their own. This can be obtained by eating fresh greens, fruit and vegetables and good quality dry food e.g. Burgess Excel. Dry food is very concentrated and does not allow the natural wearing down of teeth – this should be limited to 1-2 small handfuls per guinea pig per day to prevent dental disease and obesity. Do not feed muesli as this allows selective feeding and can cause nutritional deficiencies. 

 

  • Guinea pigs are social animals and like to live in neutered pairs or a female group sometimes with a neutered male. Some males may live in pairs if they have grown up together but benefit from separate sleeping areas to reduce the risk of fighting. 

 

  • Guinea pigs should be given a large single level cage with a covered bedding area, ideally at least 1 metre long per guinea pig. Access to a safe run area or room should be given daily to allow exercise and foraging. They need hiding places like blankets and tunnels to burrow in. Guinea pigs are not good climbers so a single level or gradual ramps are better for them. 

 

  • Guinea pigs can develop dental disease and gut stasis if fed a poor diet. Older females are more likely to have cystic ovaries, sore feet and urinary problems. Regular check ups are recommended and early intervention is critical for the best chance of successful treatment.

Chinchillas

  • Chinchillas are fibrevores and are related to the guinea pig but live at a higher altitudes in the wild. Chinchillas have evolved to survive on a poor quality diet, grazing on tough grasses. Similar to guinea pigs, they are prone to obesity and dental disease and also require dietary Vitamin C supplementation. 

 

  • One tbsp of good quality pelleted food and fresh hay available all day is the best diet you can give your chinchilla. Avoid fatty foods and fresh greens as these are too rich. The occasional small slice of fruit or vegetable is okay but will cause diarrhoea in greater quantities. 

 

  • Chinchillas need dust baths to maintain coat condition and the special dust / sand can be found in all good pet stores. 

 

  • Chinchillas are active and inquisitive and enjoy jumping and climbing. A secure enclosure with stages at different heights allows them to exhibit natural behaviour. A minimum 1.0m x 1.5m floor space and 1.3m tall cage is recommended. Supervised indoor exercise in a safe room with no electrical cables should be available once a day to prevent obesity. They need an enclosed bed to sleep in during the day and wooden boxes allow for gnawing as well. 

 

  • Same sex pairs often work best with chinchillas

Rats

  • Rats prefer not to live alone and same sex pairs work well. Male rats may have a stronger smell than females and all rats should be cleaned thoroughly and frequently to reduce ammonia levels from urine. 

 

  • A large cage with multiple levels and activities or hiding places provides enrichment for these clever animals. The cage should be at least 50cm x 80cm floor space and at least 50cm tall. They enjoy exploring tunnels, slings, different floors and climbing ropes – but not too high to prevent damage if they fall. Let them out for exercise in a safe room under supervision as often as possible. 

 

  • Rats are prone to respiratory infections and mammary tumours. Respiratory disease can be reduced by using dust extracted bedding/shaving and frequent cleaning of their cage. Avoid introducing rats from different sources as some may carry an infection the other rats have no protection against. 

 

  • Rats are omniverous like people and will eat most foods offered to them. It is important to feed a commercial diet where possible as they can easily become obese and be at risk of developing other health problems. Treats should be very small amounts of fruit, vegetables, safe nuts and seeds but avoid fatty or sugary foods.

Hamsters

  • Syrian hamsters should always live alone as they are solitary and territorial and will fight with others once they reach maturity. Dwarf hamsters like company but males may fight so female groups are better. 

 

  • Provide a complete dry food with small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables. Make sure they don’t hoard this fresh food as it will rot in their cages – check the cage and remove any uneaten fresh food every day. 

 

  • Hamsters can be prone to tumours and skin conditions but naturally have hairless patches on their sides which are their scent glands. These areas can become infected or grow tumours so always consult your vet if you notice any changes. 

 

  • Cages should be a minimum 60cm x 30cm floor space and 30cm tall.

Gerbils

  • Gerbils are social animals and like to live in groups of the same sex. 

 

  • They like to dig and burrow so deep bedding like organic soil, shavings or shredded paper should be provided in a cage with an enclosed lower portion. They may also create chambers to bury their food which is a natural behaviour in the wild. Minimum cage size 40cm x 75cm floor space and 30cm tall. 

 

  • A complete dry pellet with small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables such as apple, carrot, broccoli and cauliflower. Avoid potato, rhubarb and tomato leaves as they are toxic. Apple wood for gnawing helps keep their teeth healthy. 

 

  • Gerbils have ventral scent glands on the underside of their abdomen. Like hamsters these can become infected or develop tumours. Gerbils can develop incisor teeth problems if not provided with anything to gnaw on or chewing the wrong things i.e. cage bars.

Ferrets

  • Ferrets are obligate carnivores like cats – they have to have a high protein diet and also moderate fat. Ferrets cannot effectively digest carbohydrates and sugars. Avoid fruits, fatty and sugary snacks. Cooked meats are the best option for training and treats e.g. plain cooked chicken or a boiled egg. Feed a specific ferret complete dry food as no other animal food will fulfill their requirements. 

 

  • Ferrets are intelligent and active. They should have a cage to sleep in but ideally have space to roam and play every day. Tunnels, slings, climbing and other toys will keep them entertained. 

 

  • Ferrets can live alone or in pairs, either same sex or male and female pairs. The options for keeping ferrets are more complex because they have more problems associated with the reproductive system. 

- A vasectomised hob (male) can live with an entire jill (female) 

- Suprelorin implants suppress hormone production in both sexes helping to prevent reproductive disease and breeding 

- Neutered pairs of animals will prevent breeding but increases the risk of adrenal disease 

 

  • Persistent Oestrus: A jill must be dragged around by her mate to induce ovulation or her season will continue and she can develop life threatening anaemia. The only way to prevent this disease is by keeping her with a vasectomised hob so he cannot successfully mate with her but stimulates ovulation, a hormone implant to suppress her cycle or neutering her to prevent any seasons at all. A less effective method is a hormone injection when a jill comes in to season. 

 

  • Adrenal Disease: Over activity of the adrenal gland, often after neutering, causes behavioural changes, hair loss and eventually may progress to cancer. Neutered ferrets are more likely to have a shorter lifespan due to this condition which often cannot be cured. 

 

  • Distemper: Ferrets going outside, working or travelling may be at risk of distemper. This infectious disease is not common in the UK anymore but is potentially fatal to ferrets. There is currently no licensed vaccine for ferrets in the UK so a dog vaccine is the only option and can have fatal adverse reactions. Due to this risk we would recommend only high risk animals such as working ferrets are vaccinated. Please discuss this with us if you are concerned that your ferret may be at risk.