Dec 022011
 

With the holiday season coming, many people begin thinking about getting a cute little pet for their kids. It’s certainly hard to resist those cute little faces, the guinea pigs running around, the lounging rabbits, hamsters running in their wheels. But pets should not be an impulse purchase. We know that to be a responsible pet owner requires a proper understanding and attitude, some education and work, something kids may not quite grasp yet.

 So how do we counter that impulse, and at the same time ensure that the kids will stay interested in their new pet?

            Have them do some research on the animal they want. Some parents have their kids write it up in a report. Have them find material on their origins and required upkeep. Doing this work can take the edge off the impulse and can help them understand the work needed to care for the pet. We have a great place to get started: check out our list of care sheets. And, as always, you can stop by at any time to talk about animals, their care and habitats.

            Write a contract. One of our favorite stories is of one of our young customers who wanted a fancy rat. To help convince her parents that she was ready for a pet, she wrote a contract, specifying what her chores were to be and even the penalties if she failed to do them.

            Have them do some work. Another great story we heard was of a family that wanted a dog (especially the kids). Mom and Dad didn’t think that the kids were ready, despite their protestations of “We’ll help take care of him! We promise!” Finally the parents decided to make the kids prove their claims. They told the kids that they had to spend a month taking an imaginary dog for a long walk, each day, no matter how tired they were, what else they wanted to do, no matter the weather. This was a real test, as this was in the winter. They were not allowed to miss one walk, no matter the reason. The kids proved that they could follow through, and they were there looking for a new pet.

 We see often the parents want to get rid of their pet because the kids won’t take care of it anymore. People sometimes find, in their busy lives, they don’t want to fight to make the kids care for the pet and it’s easier to get rid of it. But we feel that there’s nothing easier, and more worthwhile, than fostering that relationship. This is a good time to stop and remember you got the pet in the first place.  We find that looking at the problem from a different point of view can be helpful. After all, there are a ton of things we have to do that we don’t like. Caring for a pet is a great way to begin to teach your kids this lesson.

So how do you make an unwanted pet wanted again? Try some of these steps to keep your kids interested in their pets:

            Get the pet out of the child’s room, basement or other area that keeps it away from the whole family. Have the pet out and with you when you are doing sit down family get together such as playing board games or watching a video.

            Be a cheerleader; say only positive things about the pet and start assuming the handling and care of the family pet. Once a healthy routine is established periodically ask for some help here and there such as asking the kids to give a quick treat to the family pet. It’s a lot of fun to have your kids feed a guinea pig or rabbit fresh foods; when preparing dinner, have them feed the carrot tops or broccoli. Over time you will start seeing the personality of your pet and new found respect.

            Have them research any tricks they can teach their pet. Even the smallest of animals can learn to do something cute, and time spent by your kid teaching a pet tricks can revitalize their enthusiasm. Check out places like YouTube for some ideas.

            Get a harness or a see through carrier and have the pet just sitting there at your side. You and your pet may need to get use to it, and over time the pet will enjoy the stimulus and the family appreciation for the pet will grow. Pets can create a common connection among family members.  A wire play pen is a great way to involve the pet guinea pig or rabbit in family time.

Getting a pet for a child should be met with the understanding that the reason for doing so is to help teach the children to be better adults. Pets help teach children so many values, such as nurturing, discipline, patience, cleanliness, good nutrition, listening skills, and relationship building. They can encourage kids to learn more; researching a pet can teach them geography, biology, history, and animal conservation and husbandry. We can’t think of anything else you buy can teach your children as many values – certainly no game system or smartphone can teach them so much.

Click here to download and print this article.

Nov 182011
 

Rabbits and guinea pigs are some of the most popular pets, and for good reason: They are gentle, companionable, and easy to care for. Their diet is one of the most vital part of having a healthy and happy rabbit or guinea pig, although it can be confusing for some. Their diet has three components:

Pellets: What most people to consider the staple of a rabbit or guinea pig’s diet is, in fact, the most minor part. Pellet food was first created for breeders, to save them time. Instead of a bowl full of pellets, they only need one to two tablespoons per day. Many veterinarians are even suggesting that they only be offered as treats.

Hay: Rabbits and guinea pigs absolutely must have hay. Offer unlimited amounts of hay for your pet. It is vital for their digestion; they must have the fiber to move their food through their digestive tract. Keep hay in the cage at all times, topping it up with fresh when they eat it down. Timothy hay is the main staple hay. Alfalfa hay should only be offered to young animals as it is high in the fat, protein, and minerals need for growth. For animals older than a year, it can be offered occasionally as a treat (they love the taste of it), but excessive alfalfa can cause obesity.

Greens: The bulk of a rabbit or guinea pig’s diet should be dark, leafy greens. Smaller rabbits and guinea pigs should get 1 – 2 cups per day, and larger rabbits should get 3-4 cups. Offer a wide variety, as no one vegetable has all the required nutrients. Besides, wouldn’t you get bored with the same diet day in and day out? Generally try to have 3-5 vegetables in each feeding. The basis of your mix should include: Romaine, red or green leaf lettuce, butter or Boston lettuce, or spring mix of greens. Add one or two other things: arugula, basil, beet greens—green leaves on the top, not beets themselves, carrot greens, cilantro, dandelion greens—not from the yard as it can be covered in pesticides or pollution, dill, endive, escarole, fennel, chopped finely, kale—use sparingly, if at all—high in calcium, mint, mustard or collard greens, parsley, radicchio, radish greens, sage, sorrel , and watercress. Small pieces of apple, oranges, bananas, or bell peppers are an added treat. Check out our article “Your Herbivore and You” here.

Offer spinach occasionally, as it contains compounds that inhibit the absorption of calcium into their bones. Offer carrots rarely (maybe one small peeled baby carrot a week); carrots are very high in sugar, something not easily digested by rabbits or guinea pigs (only Bugs Bunny eats carrots every day). Avoid cilantro, as it is thought to contribute to bacterial infections. Never feed your rabbit or guinea pig chocolate, cookies, crackers, bread or breadsticks, nuts, pasta or other human treats. Also don’t give them corn, potatoes or onions. And don’t feed them birdseed, yogurt or cat or dog food. These items can be poisonous or cause serious health problems
Guinea pigs have one special need that rabbits don’t: vitamin C. Most mammals, except for guinea pigs and humans, produce their own vitamin C, so we must supplement this. Vitamin C tablets are the easiest way to do this. It takes just one tablet a day, and many guinea pigs take it from their hand as if it’s a treat.

Try this recipe for homemade bunny biscuits. Offer these treats sparingly.

1 small carrot, pureed
1/2 banana, mashed until really creamy
1 tbsp honey
1/4 cup rabbit pellets, ground finely in a coffee grinder
1/4 cup ground oats, ground finely in a coffee grinder

Mix pureed carrot, banana and honey in a medium bowl. Add pellet powder and ground oats. Mix until blended. Knead in your hands for 1-2 minutes. Roll out the “dough” in 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick layers between sheets of plastic wrap. Cut into small cookies (about 3/4 inch across). Place cut shapes onto a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes (check to make sure they are not browning too much). Turn off the heat and let the cookies sit in the warm oven for an hour or so.

Providing the proper diet for your new little pet is not hard. It can take a little bit of time to get into the swing of it, but it is well worth it. Keep in mind a few things: variety is important, and feed them the healthy greens that you’d eat. As people better understand the digestion and nutritional needs of rabbits and guinea pigs, they are living longer, much healthier and happier lives.

 

Download the care sheet (pdf)

Nov 172011
 

Rabbits and guinea pigs are some of the most popular pets, and for good reason: They are gentle, companionable, and easy to care for. Their diet is one of the most vital part of having a healthy and happy rabbit or guinea pig, although it can be confusing for some. Their diet has three components:

Pellets: What most people to consider the staple of a rabbit or guinea pig’s diet is, in fact, the most minor part. Pellet food was first created for breeders, to save them time. Instead of a bowl full of pellets, they only need one to two tablespoons per day. Many veterinarians are even suggesting that they only be offered as treats.

Hay: Rabbits and guinea pigs absolutely must have hay. Offer unlimited amounts of hay for your pet. It is vital for their digestion; they must have the fiber to move their food through their digestive tract. Keep hay in the cage at all times, topping it up with fresh when they eat it down. Timothy hay is the main staple hay. Alfalfa hay should only be offered to young animals as it is high in the fat, protein, and minerals need for growth. For animals older than a year, it can be offered occasionally as a treat (they love the taste of it), but excessive alfalfa can cause obesity.

Greens: The bulk of a rabbit or guinea pig’s diet should be dark, leafy greens. Smaller rabbits and guinea pigs should get 1 – 2 cups per day, and larger rabbits should get 3-4 cups. Offer a wide variety, as no one vegetable has all the required nutrients. Besides, wouldn’t you get bored with the same diet day in and day out? Generally try to have 3-5 vegetables in each feeding. The basis of your mix should include: Romaine, red or green leaf lettuce, butter or Boston lettuce, or spring mix of greens.  Add one or two other things: arugula, basil, beet greens—green leaves on the top, not beets themselves, carrot greens, cilantro, dandelion greens—not from the yard as it can be covered in pesticides or pollution, dill, endive, escarole, fennel, chopped finely, kale—use sparingly, if at all—high in calcium, mint, mustard or collard greens, parsley, radicchio, radish greens, sage, sorrel , and watercress. Small pieces of apple, oranges, bananas, or bell peppers are an added treat. Check out our article “Your Herbivore and You” here.

Offer spinach occasionally, as it contains compounds that inhibit the absorption of calcium into their bones. Offer carrots rarely (maybe one small peeled baby carrot a week); carrots are very high in sugar, something not easily digested by rabbits or guinea pigs (only Bugs Bunny eats carrots every day). Avoid cilantro, as it is thought to contribute to bacterial infections. Never feed your rabbit or guinea pig chocolate, cookies, crackers, bread or breadsticks, nuts, pasta or other human treats. Also don’t give them corn, potatoes or onions. And don’t feed them birdseed, yogurt or cat or dog food. These items can be poisonous or cause serious health problems

Guinea pigs have one special need that rabbits don’t: vitamin C. Most mammals, except for guinea pigs and humans, produce their own vitamin C, so we must supplement this. Vitamin C tablets are the easiest way to do this. It takes just one tablet a day, and many guinea pigs take it from their hand as if it’s a treat.

Try this recipe for homemade bunny biscuits. Offer these treats sparingly.

1 small carrot, pureed
1/2 banana, mashed until really creamy
1 tbsp honey
1/4 cup rabbit pellets, ground finely in a coffee grinder
1/4 cup ground oats, ground finely in a coffee grinder

Mix pureed carrot, banana and honey in a medium bowl. Add pellet powder and ground oats. Mix until blended. Knead in your hands for 1-2 minutes. Roll out the “dough” in 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick layers between sheets of plastic wrap. Cut into small cookies (about 3/4 inch across). Place cut shapes onto a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes (check to make sure they are not browning too much). Turn off the heat and let the cookies sit in the warm oven for an hour or so.

Providing the proper diet for your new little pet is not hard. It can take a little bit of time to get into the swing of it, but it is well worth it. Keep in mind a few things: variety is important, and feed them the healthy greens that you’d eat. As people better understand the digestion and nutritional needs of rabbits and guinea pigs, they are living longer, much healthier and happier lives.

Nov 162011
 

Clicker Training For Small Pets
By Joan Orr and Teresa Lewin

Rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, rats and other small pets are full of energy and mischief—but you may be surprised to discover they are also trainable. Clicker training can help develop positive behaviour, as well as a bond between human and animal.
The level of activity and problem solving required for finding food, creating homes and staying safe is not required of a pet living in a cage or a human house. Training sessions allow the animal to use its natural abilities, thus providing mental and physical stimulation. This contributes to a longer and happier life. “Clicking with small pets brightens their lives, exercises their minds and brings out their personalities,” says Karen Pryor, a clicker training specialists. “It is easy to learn and mentally and physically enriching for pets and their owners.” Clicker training can help you engage in more activities with your pet, improve its behaviour, clip its nails without a fight and teach it to come out from behind the fridge, among other results.

When it clicks
In clicker training, a sound is used to mark correct behaviour. This click is made by pressing a small handheld device and is always followed closely with a treat, so the pet comes to associate the click with something good. Soon, the animal wants to hear the sound. When the pet learns its own actions can cause a click of approval, it will actively perform positive behaviour in hope of hearing the sound. You can add a verbal cue and the pet will start coming when called. “It is very exciting to see an animal experience the moment when it suddenly realizes it can actively control the clicker ‘game,’” says Pryor.

The ‘magic’ of the click comes from its clarity, consistency and precision. The sound should occur the moment the behaviour happens, so the pet knows exactly what it did right. It is not usually possible to deliver the treat itself with such precision, especially if the pet is in a cage or across the room. For example, an owner is trying to teach her pet rat to come to the door of its cage. It does so, but by the time the owner arrives with a food treat, the rat is frustrated with waiting and is chewing on the door. The owner gives the treat because the command was obeyed, but the animal associates the reward with chewing on the door. So, the owner has inadvertently taught her pet to chew on the door to get a treat!

Positive reinforcement
A positive reinforcer is something given to a pet to make it feel happy and repeat certain behaviour. This can be petting, freedom of movement or a chance to play with a favourite toy—but the strongest reinforcer for most pets is food. In clicker training, there are only two techniques to try to influence a pet’s behaviour. One is positive reinforcement; the other is to ignore undesirable behaviour. There are no physical corrections, punishment or scolding. Reinforced behaviour will become stronger, while ignored behaviour will fade away. If a pet is behaving very badly, you simply take the clicker and treats away, leaving the animal to sit alone and ponder the consequences.

Universality
There are clicker trainers around the world working with almost every conceivable captive species. The training works on pigs, rabbits, dolphins, birds, search and rescue (SAR) dogs, elephants, tigers, turtles and fish. Anyone can perform clicker training. Sometimes it works best to train in teams, with one person clicking and the other providing the treat. This is a good way for a new trainer to learn.

All kinds of small pets can be trained. Some learn more quickly, will work longer or get bored more easily than others, but any pet can be motivated by what it wants.

It may take a long time for the animal to get used to the click sound or to associate it with the treat. Some pets catch on right away—and some will even teach others of their kind.

For example, a ferret named Gwen learned from clicker training to touch a ball with her nose on command. The next day, she taught eight other ferrets the same trick. This type of mimicry is quite common. A shy or reluctant pet may decide to participate after seeing another animal being clicker-trained.

Setting up
Many small pets feel uncomfortable outside their cage at first, but you can start training them in the cage. When you eventually do take your pet out of its cage, you need to ensure it cannot escape and should provide a box or house for it to hide in. Keep any larger pets away. Some pets are nocturnal, like chinchillas and hamsters, so the best training time will be in the evening. Observing your pet’s natural behaviour can help develop tricks. Use small pieces of treats your pet really likes. Never withhold food or water from small pets to make them hungry for training, as this could be fatal.

Target training
All pets can touch an object—such as a ping-pong ball attached to the end of a pencil—with their nose. This trick can lead to other lessons. To teach your pet to touch a target, hold the object in front of it or place it on the ground nearby. The pet and the object should start out in a very small, enclosed area, so the animal is bound to touch the object at some point. When your pet moves to investigate, click and treat. Repeat each time it moves closer to the target, until it actually touches it—then click and treat only for actual nose touches. Next, add the command word “touch” just as its nose touches the target. After a few training sessions, try giving this cue before the pet touches, to see if it has learned the word goes with the action. Also, try moving the target to see if your pet will follow to touch it. This may take several sessions. The more often you clicker-train, the faster your pet will learn new tricks, but each session should be no longer than five minutes.

Jumping through hoops
Jumping pets—including rabbits, degus and chinchillas—can be trained to jump through a hoop. Place the hoop so part of it touches the ground and in such a way that your pet must pass through it to get to you, a touch-target, its litter box or something else it wants to reach. Then click and treat as the animal passes through the hoop.

Raise the hoop slightly each time, clicking and treating as soon as the front legs go through. As the animal begins to jump higher, click as its front legs go through the hoop and treat after it lands. If your pet goes under or around or refuses to jump, lower the hoop to a point where the animal can succeed, then end the session. Start the next session at this height.

Fives and tens
Guinea pigs and many other small pets can be taught to give ‘five’ (i.e. place one paw on your finger) or ‘ten’ (i.e. place both paws on your hand). This trick also builds upon the initial target training. First, hold a target in the air, just out of your guinea pig’s reach. As the pet strives to touch it, one paw will come off the ground. Touch that paw with your finger in a miniature ‘high-five’ and click and treat. You may need a partner to help manage the target, the clicker and the treats. Soon, your guinea pig will realize placing its paw on your finger results in a click and treat. You can then start training the vocal cue, “high five,” to get your pet to deliberately respond with a paw on your finger. A rabbit can learn “gimme 10” in a similar way. First, hold the target high enough that the animal has to stand to reach it. Move the target forward until your rabbit is off balance and needs to lean both of its paws on your waiting hand. Click and treat for contact. Variations of this trick can be used to teach a rabbit to stand on cue and then hop forward on its hind legs.

Obstacle courses
Ferrets, hamsters, mice and rats love to climb and can be taught to follow a target up the ladder or ramp that comes with many pet cages. They can also be taught to go through a tunnel and to run a maze. An obstacle course can also include ‘jumps,’ platforms or anything your pet can move over, around, into, under or through. You can buy cage accessories at a pet store and/or make your own obstacles with items around the home. Teach your pet to navigate each obstacle separately, using the same methods as for jumping through a hoop. Start with low jumps, short ladders and short tunnels, then gradually increase their scale as your pet catches on and develops the skills and confidence for each obstacle. Once your pet knows how to navigate several obstacles, you can start ‘chaining’ them together. Begin by putting the one your pet likes best at the end of the course and then another one in front of it. Then you can start your pet off with either the first obstacle’s cue or a target cue. Each obstacle becomes reinforcement for the one that came before it. You can add obstacles one at a time ‘backwards’ to the beginning of the course. This way, your pet is always moving toward something for which it has already received lots of reinforcement. And if the chain of events falls apart in the middle, you will know exactly which part needs more work.

Finding success
The key to success with clicker training is understanding your pet—what it likes to eat, what behaviour it naturally exhibits and what environment it prefers. Consulting species-specific information resources will also help, particularly with regards to how to keep the animal healthy and what kinds of treats are most suitable. Click only once at a time. Always follow a click with a treat of high value to the animal. Increase difficulty in tiny increments. Keep training sessions short and quit while your pet is successful and left wanting more.

Download this care sheet (pdf)

Nov 162011
 
Hamster

Hamster, Mesocricetus auratus

Download care sheet (pdf)

Adult Size
4 to 5 inches long

Life Span
2 to 3 years

Male/Female Differences
Sexing hamsters is done by eyeing the distance between the urethra and the anus; the distance is further apart in males. Both are equally handleable. Females may be more defensive while trying to nest or raise young.

Compatibility
Adult hamsters are solitary. Never keep more than one in the same cage. Hamsters are territorial and will aggressively stress each other out until the other leaves. This rule still applies if they are raised together from the same litter.

Origin
Europe, Asia, Australia.

Climate
Desert and arid grassy plains.

Day Cycle
Nocturnal. Hamsters play at night and sleep during the day.

Temperature
Hamsters do well at average household temperatures. Make sure the cage is well ventilated, out of direct sunlight and drafts.

Lighting
Being nocturnal, bright lights can be harsh for their eyes.

Humidity
Hamsters do well in most indoor humidity. Keep their bedding dry at all times.

Habitat/Territory
Hamsters are burrowing animals.

Substrate/Bedding
Provide a safe and soft bedding, the less dusty the better. Cedar bedding can be toxic and pine too dusty. Good litters are shredded or pelleted aspen or recycled paper products. Supply nesting materials and dry hays.

Hiding Place/Den
Offer chew safe and non-toxic hamster huts, tubes, and wooden hamster toys. Glue on empty paper towel or toilette paper rolls is toxic. Offer nesting materials that will not bind around limbs or cause intestinal damage.

Cage Type
Aquariums, plastic cages with tube accessories, or wire. All should be escape proof, ventilated, and easy to clean. Hamsters love to wander at night. Supply the largest cage that’s possible.

Diet
A few critter cubes and 1-2 tbls of high quality hamster seed mix is given as a staple. Supply a variety of leafy greens and vegetables in small quantities. Avoid spoilage. Fruits should be given to avoid diarrhea. Timothy hay should be given at all times to aid in digestion. Try not to focus on one thing, give good variety. A tiny bit of yoghurt is good for intestinal health.

Supplements
Vitamins in water help supply nutrients missing from captive diets. Hamsters are natural insect eaters. Offer occasional meal worms, crickets, cat or dog kibble, or small dog biscuits. Bland proteins like boiled egg are good.

Diet Precautions
Do not give chocolate, candy, or anything with caffeine. Giving too many greens can cause impacted pouches or
intestinal disorders.

Feeding
Placing food in a bowl will help prevent over feeding. Hamsters will move most of their food into their nest and bury it for later.

Water Source
Water bottles are best. Wash the bottle in between refills. Supply fresh filtered, non-chlorinated water at all times.

Grooming
Hamsters generally lick themselves clean. Grooming your hamster will help socialize it and prevent skin ailments. Using a cat wipe twice a week will help keep the fur healthy. Use a soft bristle brush often to stimulate the hair follicles and remove debris. Keep an eye on the teeth. If the have an overshot, they may need to be clipped. We can do that for you.

Oral and Foot Care
Hamsters have incisors that need to constantly be filed down. Keep soft wood chews, pumice stone, and treat sticks in the cage. Rotate different types to keep the hamster’s interest. Older hamsters may need to have their nails clipped. Use safe ramps and running wheels that will prevent leg injury.

Proper Handling
If the hamster is sleeping, wake gently and always let them smell your hand first. Gently shoo the hamster into one of its hiding places. Pick up the hiding place with the hamster still in it. Holding still with hiding place in hand, offer the other hand to climb out on to of its own free will. Stay close to the ground in case it falls. Offer treats for acceptance and reward.

Habitat Maintenance
Hamsters tend to eliminate in the same area of the cage. Place a litter pan in that area with a little soiled litter for scent. Spot clean the cage daily. Change the litter once a week and wash cage thoroughly with warm soapy water.

Health Concerns
Diarrhea due to poor diet, stress, and/or cage cleanliness. Respiratory distress can be due to poor ventilation, drafts, noxious odors, and dusty litter. Overgrown teeth due to poor chewing stimulation. Congenital cancers are a slight risk. Maintain a healthy environment and diet to

Nov 162011
 

Download the care sheet (pdf)

A guide to choosing the right vegetables for your pet

So you’ve recently acquired an herbivore, like a tortoise or a rabbit? Or maybe you’ve taken home an omnivore, like a bearded dragon? In any case the clerk at the pet store told you that you would have to formulate some, if not all of this animals food on your own.

This means going to the grocery store and stepping away from comfortable, tried and true section of the produce department and sniffing out something that may be a bit more exotic. This means unlike your dog, who gets the same bowl full of the same kibble every morning and night, your new pet’s health and well being depends on feeding one thing today and something entirely different tomorrow.

But what vegetables are the best? What can you feed too much? Are there any that should be avoided altogether? Contained herein is a simple, informative, and concise guide to formulating an herbivorous diet.

Nutrients: Macro v. Micro

Macronutrients are the basic building blocks of nutrition. Protein, fat, carbohydrates, and water are all macronutrients. In general an herbivore’s diet should be low in protein and fat, and high in water, fiber, and plant proteins. Animal protein is almost always accompanied by a high fat content and can be dangerous if fed to strict herbivores, whose digestive systems have evolved to extract maximum nutrition from nutrient-poor plant matter. Avocado, because it is high in fat, should not be fed to herbivores.

Commercial pelleted diets may contain all the proper vitamins and minerals in the proper amounts, but lack water. Animals fed exclusively on pelleted diets often become dehydrated.

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, the catalysts that allow body processes to take place. Most strict herbivores are browsers, which means that they graze in one field one day, then amble over to another field the next. Over the course of a year a browser will eat dozens of different kinds of plants, as well as small amounts of soil. This makes a deficiency in any one micronutrient unlikely. In captivity it is important to rotate your pets diet to ensure that no nutrient is deficient or fed in excess.

Again, pelleted diets contain what the manufacturer thinks is the right balance of micronutrients, but vitamins and minerals from fresh vegetables have a much greater bioavailability. That means that your pet’s body is able to absorb and use that vitamin much more efficiently. Raw fresh vegetables also contain digestive enzymes, which precludes the body’s need to produce its own enzymes, allowing more nutrition to be be gleaned from the food.

Secondary Plant Compounds

All plants contain certain chemicals that can affect their digestion. Plants evolved with these chemicals the same way your hedgehog evolved with spines or your tortoise with a shell, as natural defense mechanisms. Some plants may want to repel certain herbivores, which destroy the plant, and attract others, which pollinate it.

Our concern with the plants available at the grocery store will be with two major categories of secondary compounds: oxalates and goitregens. Oxalates and oxalic acid bind with calcium and inhibit its absorbtion by the body. Goitregens affect thyroid function by inhibiting iodine uptake and cause goiters.

Plants high in oxalates include: spinach, beet greens, kale, collard greens, parsley, chard, and okra

Plants high in goitregens include: all cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts)

Does this mean that you should avoid these veggies altogether? NO. ALL plants contain secondary compounds. Variety is the key! Care must be taken not to over feed vegetables from these categories, or make them the basis for any diet, but they are an excellent addition to any well varied meal plan.

Frozen Vegetables

Frozen vegetables are a great convenience, and can provide a great back up for when you run out of greens and can’t get to the store. However, frozen veggies should not comprise a regular part of your pet’s diet. Freezing destroys thiamin (vitamin B1), an essential nutrient.

Fat Soluble Vitamins

Vitamins A and D are both fat soluble vitamins, so when fed in excess they accumulate in the fatty tissues of the body and cause health problems. This is known as hypervitaminosis, and can manifest similarly to vitamin deficiencies or metabolic bone disease.

The easiest way to protect against over vitaminizing is to provide vitamin A in the form of beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A as it needs to. Foods high in beta carotene are often bright orange, such as: carrots, sweet potatoes, and hard-shell squash. Provide vitamin D by giving natural sunlight, or simulated UVB light from special reptile bulbs, and your animal will synthesize its own.

A Basic List

Here is a basic list of acceptable veggies:

  • Staple Veggies: Hardshell or winter squash, dandelion greens, mustard greens, cactus pads (prickly pear), green beans, snap peas, parsnip, turnip tops, and others.
  • Avoid feeding in excess: Spinach, kale, collard greens, okra, asparagus, summer squash, carrots and carrot tops, beets and beet greens, broccoli, parsley, sweet potato, and others.
  • Avoid: Iceberg lettuce (nutrient poor – but won’t harm your animal), avocado, cabbage, cilantro.
Nov 162011
 
Sugar Glider

Sugar Glider

Download the care sheet here (pdf)

Adult Size
12”, including 6” of tail, 3 to 5.3 oz

Life Span
10-15 years

Male/Female Differences
Sexing sugar gliders is easy: males have a bald spot on their heads. It’s really a scent gland. Females have a pouch.

Compatibility
In the wild, sugar gliders live in groups 15 to 30 strong. In the home, sugar gliders are most compatible when raised together. Older animals may not accept new members into their group.

Origin
Australia and Indonesia

Climate
70’s to the mid 90’s, temperatures found in tropical forests.

Day Cycle
Nocturnal.

Temperature
Average household temperature is fine. Sugar gliders like it warm, so several may pile into their sleeping box together.

Lighting
Being nocturnal, these animals need to avoid bright lights. Low light situations may help them come out during the day.

Humidity
Household humidity suits sugar gliders well.

Habitat/Territory
Sugar gliders climb and glide in the tops of trees searching for food at night. They sleep the day away in the hollows of trees. Males will mark their sleeping area with their scent glands.

Substrate/Bedding
Use recycled or pelleted paper products or pelleted aspen. Use cloth or mesh bags for their sleeping areas, without any bedding.

Hiding Place/Den
Their hiding place is their sleeping hole. Place it high in the cage to imitate their natural habitat. Use fleece or marble bags, as they are easy to clean.

Cage Type
Large bird cages work very well for sugar gliders. It must give them space to climb and jump around. The addition of branches and ropes will meet their need to explore and play, and a safe running wheel will provide more exercise. Sugar gliders have been known to chew through screen vivariums.

Diet
In the wild, their diet consists of various saps, pollens, and insects. In the home, their basic dietary needs are met with specially formulated pellet food. Sugar gliders need proteins like superworms and boiled eggs. Yoghurt is a favorite treat and gives them both protein and calcium. Fruits, such as melons, apples, oranges and peaches, add vitamins and fiber. Vegetable or fruit baby food also makes a nice treat. Give variety; sugar gliders, just like people, need different foods.

Supplements
Sugar gliders most often have deficiencies in vitamin A and calcium – lizard or bird vitamin/calcium supplements work well. It’s best to dust insects with the supplement – a pinch in a bag with the insect works well. Dietary enzymes help sugar gliders get more nutrition and prevent hair impactions. Honey seed bars are favorite treats.

Diet Precautions
Limit nuts; they’ll eat them and ignore other foods. Avoid chocolate and other foods with caffeine.

Feeding
Give fresh food in the evening; being nocturnal, feeding during the day will let it spoil. Feed 1/3 to ½ cup food.

Water Source
Water bottles, cleaned and changed daily, offer a cleaner option than a water dish – it’ll soon be tipped over, splashed out, or soiled.

Grooming
Sugar gliders groom each other as part of their social interaction. Gentle brushing with a soft bristle brush will keep their fur looking good and help with bonding. Weekly rub downs with pet wipes will keep them smelling clean.

Oral and Foot Care
Sugar gliders may need to have their nails carefully clipped. This can be done at home with proper instruction, or your vet or Wilmette Pet can do this. Use safe running wheels to prevent injury to their feet. Offer fruit tree branches for them to chew on.

Proper Handling
Handle daily to help them bond to you. Since they sleep during the day, you can carry them with you in a shirt pocket or a pouch. Spend some time with them in the evening.

Habitat Maintenance
Clean soiled areas of the cage daily. Remove food daily to prevent spoilage. Clean cage weekly, and wash any pouches or hammocks they are using.

Health Concerns
Diarrhea from unclean habitat or poor diet. A limited diet can also cause constipation. Obesity is possible from a lack of the chances for exercise.

Oct 052011
 

Domestic Rat: rattus norvegicus

Download the pdf version of the domestic rat care sheet.

Adult Size
Males weigh from 400 – 800 grams. Females weigh from 250 – 450 grams.

Lifespan
Rats range from 2-4 years.

Male/Female Differences
Males are usually a lot larger than females and they can be easily sexed.

Compatibility
Rats are social animals that live in wherever in the wild. Interaction and socialization are important in developing a rat so that it will learn to trust you. If possible consider getting a pair so that you are not the only source of interaction the rat receives.

Origin
Northern Europe.

Climate
Average temperatures in cities, farms, wherever humans maintain surplus of goods.

Day Cycle
Nocturnal.

Temperature
Avoid extremes, an average home temperature of 75 degrees F will suffice.

Lighting
No special requirement besides a room’s lighting.

Humidity
Low or none.

Habitat/Territory
Rats live wherever humans live.

Substrate/Bedding
Aspen bedding is the most affordable is a good option given their cage is properly ventilated, since a drawback to aspen is its dustiness. Carefresh is the better option because of the low amounts of dust and it provides more comfort to the rat.

Hiding Place/Den
Chew safe toys and non-toxic hiding places will increase their level of interaction when they are left alone. Hiding places will give them a comfort zone and an escape during the day.

Cage Type
Aquarium cages of 15 gallons or more are good as long as it is well ventilated. You can go with a wire cage if it is escape proof. Exercise is key here, with more toys, wheels the better. As with most creatures, the bigger the cage the better.

Diet
Rats will eat anything, but a decent diet will consist of pet blocks, nuts, grains, oats, and seeds. For more variety throw in some dried fruit, meat, and chips. They will gladly accept the change.

Supplements
Vitamins in water help supply missing nutrients from captive diets. Depending on what you feed, supplements such as Pro-zyme and vitamin tablets can aid in their digestion and a healthier looking coat.

Diet Precautions
The best way to feed a rat is the rat/hamster mix. Anything else like meat and dry fruits should be given sparingly and avoid high-calorie diets.

Feeding
A rat’s stomach is about half the size of their head so try not to overfeed. Give about that size twice a day and throw away the leftovers.

Water Source
Most store rats are used to water bottles, but they will happily drink from a bowl. Rinse and wash both and supply fresh water each day. The water bottle may require a metal guard as the rat will gnaw and render the bottle useless.

Grooming
Rats aren’t the most high maintenance pet out there, but if you must clean them go with dust powder or gently wipe them with pet safe wipes. Dust powders are made of volcanic ash, which eliminate extra oils and moisture giving your chinchilla that clean, fluffy look. Whenever your rat is looking dirty put in an ample amount of dust in an easily accessed container and they will start cleaning themselves.

Oral and Foot Care
Rats need chew toys or else their teeth will grow continuously. Supply them with chew treats, or pumice
blocks.

Proper Handling
Rats are one of the most sociable creatures next to dogs, cats and ferrets. They will almost never bite you unless you ask for it. As with any new pet give them time to get to know you and eventually you will be able to put them in your pocket with no problem. Proper handling is grabbing them with both hands and securing them so they won’t fall down. Never grab them by the tail.

Habitat Maintenance
Rats tend to go to the bathroom in the corners. Spot clean their cage daily and once a week clean out the whole thing. They are not incredibly messy so it shouldn’t take that long.

Health Concerns
Diarrhea due to poor diet, congenital cancers, and obesity. A proper nutrition can help prevent or at least retard cancer.

Summary
Rats are perfect first pets or classroom pets. They are almost as sociable as a dog or a cat They are not pets to be ignored; they must have daily interaction either from you or another rat. They also must be let out of their cage to promote exercise and proper health. A rat(s) is a great addition to any home interested in a first pet as they provide friendship, amusement, and are quiet intelligent. Even though they only live for about 3 years, you can be sure they will leave memories that will last for a lifetime.

Download the pdf version of the domestic rat care sheet.

Oct 052011
 

Download the pdf version of the Chinchilla care sheet.

Adult Size
One pound, 10 – 14” plus 4” of tail

Life Span
15 Years

Male/Female Differences
Females tend to be larger than males. In males, there is some space between the urethra and the anus. In females, it is very close to the anus.

Compatibility
Can be housed with others of the same sex; opposite sexes get along, but must be fixed to avoid reproduction. Chinchillas raised together make better cage mates. New chinchillas must be introduced slowly and gradually.

Origin
Cool and dry Andes of South America.

Climate
House temperature is preferred. Air conditioning works well with chinchillas as it keeps the air cool and dry.

Day Cycle
Mostly nocturnal, playing at night and snoozing during the day.

Temperature
Keep below 80 degrees. Cooler home temperatures suit them well.

Lighting
Being mostly nocturnal, lighting is not an issue. When they are awake avoid bright lights.

Humidity
The drier the better. Chinchillas are susceptible to heat stroke at high humidity.

Habitat/Territory
Holes and crevices in the dry and rocky Andes mountains.

Substrate/Bedding
Use wood chips or recycled paper products in the tray under the chinchilla cage. Bedding can also be used inside the cage, on top of the wire floor. Cedar and pine should not be used as they can cause respiratory and liver problems.

Hiding Place/Den
Offer a wooden box to hide in. It needs to be large enough to allow your chinchilla plenty of room to move around.

Cage Type
Avoid plastic coated wire cages, as chinchillas love to chew and plastic can cause intestinal impaction. Wire cages work best: the wire bottom allows droppings to fall through. Cages need to large enough to allow the chinchilla to run around. Provide different levels for your chinchilla to play on.

Diet
Pelleted chinchilla food is perfectly suited to the dietary needs of chinchillas. Offer greens sparingly. These desert animals are adapted to getting nutrition out of grasses, and need a hay based diet. Rabbit or guinea pig pellets can be used but only for short periods of time.

Supplements
Chinchillas need little to no supplementation. Offer plenty of timothy hay or alfalfa. Offer greens sparingly. Calcium can be offered to pregnant chinchillas, and vitamin C can help
prevent oral problems.

Diet Precautions
Avoid sugars, both refined and natural, such as raisins, carrots, and treat sticks, as they can lead to diarrhea and, eventually, diabetes. Avoid greens as the excess water can cause these desert animals to bloat. Avoid high fat foods like nuts.

Feeding
A chinchilla’s stomach is about half the size of their head so try not to overfeed. Give about that size twice a day and throw away the leftovers to prevent spoilage.

Water Source
Water should be provided via a bottle, as it stays cleaner than a water bowl. Chinchillas are big chewers, so protect the water bottle with a metal sleeve, or use a bottle that
hangs externally.

Grooming
Dust baths are a must! Offer chinchilla dust in a cat litter box or a special chinchilla dust bowl. Wet chinchillas need to be dried quickly, as their fur is highly absorbent and can grow
mold and fungus. Brush your chinchilla to help remove old hair.

Oral and Foot Care
Offer a wide variety of types of wood to trim their teeth. Wooden bird toys, without bells or other metal parts, make great toys. Pumice blocks will also keep their teeth worn down. Avoid mesh exercise wheels where their feet can get caught, and avoid ones with cross bars that could injure them when they exit the wheel.

Proper Handling
Scoop up your chinchilla rather than grab at them. Handle carefully due to fragile bones. If the chinchilla proves to be uncooperative grab them by the base of the tail and then with the other hand secure them against your hand. It takes time and patience for your chinchilla to trust you so don’t rush things.

Habitat Maintenance
Being arid animals, chinchillas are very clean. Clean out soiled areas or clean trays daily. Clean the cage once a week with soap and water.

Health Concerns
Intestinal blockage due to chewing unsafe materials. Diabetes from improper diet.

Download the pdf version of the Chinchilla care sheet.