Category Archives: Small Critters

Guinea pig wrapped in towel

Stress free handling for rabbits & small critters

Our small pets are naturally nervous creatures and it is very important that you learn to handle them in as gentle and as confident a way as possible. Rough and inappropriate handling is one of the most likely
causes of being bitten. This is a totally understandable reaction for our pets, as if they believe they are in danger and feel they cannot run away, then they have nothing to lose by attacking with tooth and claw.

When you first start to handle your pet, it is important that this is done at ground level, as nervous pets can jump in fear. Even a seemingly small fall can cause fatal injuries. It is best to place your pet’s cage on the floor and handle your pet over a container such as a washing up bowl with a towel inside. The towel will help to cushion your pet’s fall and the bowl will help to prevent your pet from escaping.

If you need to handle your pet before it has learned to accept being handled then it is important to make this as stress free as possible. Using a cardboard toilet roll tube, most pets need little encouragement to scuttle inside. Once inside the tube, you can then easily transport them from one location to another. If you need to examine your pet or give them some essential treatment, you can attach a sock to one end
of the tube with some holes cut in it. It is likely your small pet will run from the tube into the darkness of the sock, where you can then examine or medicate your pet through the holes cut into the sides.

You can build a larger version of this set up for guinea pigs and rats using a piece of pipe and the sleeve from a jumper or a tea towel sewed on the end of the pipe. Guinea pigs especially are renowned for their nervous nature and any device that reduces the stress of handling can only be a good thing.

Rats can be in handled in much the same way as mice but extra care needs to be taken to avoid being bitten. Although all animals can bite, rats have very large teeth that can inflict a very deep wound. Most rats would never dream of biting and you are far more likely to be bitten by a grumpy hamster than a rat but care should still be taken.

Rabbits require even more careful handling than the animals already covered. Due to their large size and power, the potential for them to injure you and themselves is great. Rabbits are bottom heavy creatures and are known to have a weak point at the base of their spine. This weak area can be easily damaged if your rabbit kicks too violently. Rabbits should only be handled if absolutely necessary as they find handling very stressful. It has been shown that rabbits become far more confident and trusting when all interaction is mindful and as much at ground level as possible. In this way they don’t learn to associate people with fear. Life isn’t all a bed of roses and there are times when you will need to handle your pet;
routine health checks and vaccinations are essential. Using a large towel, cover your pet completely, including its head. Wrap the towel under your pet so that it is enveloped in the towel completely. Pick up the bundle, hold it to your chest securely and transfer it to a fi rm but soft surface such as a large cushion. You can now medicate or check your pet’s health in as stress free a way as possible.

When placing your pet back in its enclosure, keep it wrapped up and place it down, hind feet first. It is important to place them down in this manner in order to minimize any potential for damage to the spine.


The great bedding debate

Spike's World

The small animal market is laden with all different kinds of bedding to choose from. For the new or novice small animal keeper the choice can be mind blowing. However, the suitability and the effectiveness of the different types of bedding are questionable.

For a start, many claim to have odour neutralising properties. To be frank, this is totally unnecessary and just encourages pet owners to have a poor cleaning routine. Animal noses are far more sensitive to smells than our own, just because the latest, wonder bedding claims to neutralise smells, does not mean your pet is not suffering from the build up of waste and ammonia.

Scented beddings too should also be avoided like the plague. Small animals, as a rule, have poor eyesight and live in a world of scent. Many have scent glands located in various areas which not only serve to mark out territorial boundaries but also help to comfort them and make things smell homely. If your pet is forced to live in a lemon or lavender scented world, you are forcing them to live a stressful existence; not to mention the fact that if they smell strongly to our noses who knows how pungent they must be to their sensitive nostrils.

Wood shavings have long been a topic of hot debate among pet owners, breeders, veterinarians and pet shop owners alike as some people like them and others think they are terrible. I personally believe that no pet should be housed on them for many reasons. Cedar shavings are dangerous to the health of your pet, fact. These shavings emit aromatic hydrocarbons or phenols; these are the chemicals that make them smell ‘woody’. These chemicals have proven in laboratory tests to damage the lungs, causing respiratory problems. More worryingly they have also been shown to damage the liver. Due to the short life of our small pets, the damage to the liver may not show any noticeable effects but due the liver’s use in metabolising anaesthetics, any damage it may have can increase the potential risks of any operation your pet may need. Pine shavings emit similar compounds but not a great deal of research has been made as to their side effects. The similarity to cedar, in my mind would be reason enough to avoid this also.

Aspen shavings are safer but still not recommended as the dust levels may be detrimental to your pets breathing. Ask any horse owner and they will tell you that some horses can not be stabled in the vicinity of aspen shavings as it causes sneezing and coughing. Our small pets are the same, although some pets appear to live happily on these shavings the negative implications are too many to ignore. Aside from breathing difficulties, many pets will suffer from sore eyes, noses and feet when housed on aspen shavings due to its abrasive nature. Guinea pigs are especially prone to dry and sore feet when they are made to live on wood shavings.

Of the many kinds of bedding on the market, the safest, and most effective must be chopped cardboard, often used as a stable bedding for horses. Marketed under several brand names, this is readily available online by mail order. It is dust and parasite free, safe, absorbent and perfect for our small animals. It’s also great fun to chew!Although it may appear costly, many companies supply this as a large bale, which will last a very long time and actually works out very cost effective. It can also be composted afterward so is great for the environment as well as being a recycled product in itself.

Rabbits and guinea pigs must be provided with a thick layer of hay on top of the bedding, especially if living outdoors. Ideally line the cage with a thick layer of newspaper as this will make things much easier when it comes to cleaning out.

At the end of the day, the choice of bedding is a personal one but in my view, if there is even a small risk of health problems from the use of a certain bedding, then the choice is a clear one, especially when safe alternatives are so readily available.

Hamster feeding

Feeding hamsters

Spike's World

Hamsters have a reputation for loving food as they fill their cheek pouches with gusto. However how much of this food do they actually eat?

Modern hamster mixes may appear to be appealing and you will often be pleased to see the food bowl empty in the morning but the truth of the matter will be lying in your hamster’s bed! Surprisingly, hamsters can be very fussy when it comes to food and will generally only eat the bits of the mix they find most appealing. As a rule, this will be the high fat peanuts and sunflower seeds.

It is all too easy not to notice the uneaten pellets that are lurking in your pet’s sleeping quarters when it comes to cleaning out time. Hamsters also have an unusual digestive system as they do not absorb vitamins as readily as other small pets.

In order to make as natural a wholesome a diet as possible for your hamster, a home made diet is best, however if you must use a commercial mix, choose one that is pellet free and lacking in highly coloured pieces; these are only appealing to our eyes!

A homemade diet for our hamsters is has the benefit of easily being amended to the individual. No two hamsters are alike and one may thrive on a commercial mix whilst its sibling slowly wastes away. A general mix for a hamster should consist of the following:

  • 30% rolled oats
  • 20% rolled barley
  • 10% rolled rye
  • 10% rolled what
  • 5% buckwheat
  • 5% millet
  • 5% sunflower seed
  • 5% pumpkin seed
  • 10% linseed and hemp seed mix
  • Organic dog kibble to be given twice a week.
  • Soft hay should be provided at ALL times.

It is essential that you monitor your hamster’s eating habits to ensure they are consuming everything. Do not be tempted to refill the bowl every day if your hamster has food remaining, instead, feed slightly less. If your hamster appears to be losing weight but is otherwise healthy, increase the seed content, on the other hand if your hamster becomes too chubby, decrease the seed content! Cooked egg can also be given from time to time but ensure any uneaten food is removed as this will easily spoil.

Hamsters should also be given fresh vegetables and fruit in small quantities on a daily basis. It is important for your hamster to be given a varied diet to ensure they do not become deficient in vitamins and


Tortoise husbandry and BBC’s Esio Trot

Today’s post is kindly sponsored by Spike’s World – food and accessories that are out of this world!

As we welcomed 2015 with open arms, so the traditional evening of new year TV entertainment commenced.

This year, along with the usual Eastenders shockers and the very sad end of Miranda, came a dramatisation of Roald Dahl’s ‘Esio Trot’.

While the storyline was wonderful and Dame Judy Dench and Dustin Hoffman made a mesmerising duo, the portrayal of tortoise husbandry was a little disappointing.

Tortoises are a life-long commitment

Tortoises are a life-long commitment

While we all know that this was a t drama and not a guide to animal care, it is concerning that the average pet owner may feel it is adequate to keep exotic pets without access to essential UV lighting, heat and dietary supplementation. It is disappointing that the BBC did not embrace its responsibility to portray responsible pet ownership.

The craze for red eared terrapins that followed the teenage mutant ninja turtles film the early 1990s is proof that many will happily obtain a new pet following a film or TV show without seeking the necessary husbandry advice.

There is already a worryingly large number of bearded dragons arriving on the doorstep of rescue groups across the country and many sadly are suffering from avoidable metabolic bone disease.

Anyone considering a new pet, but particularly an exotic species, must ensure they research its specific care and feeding requirements.  Should you feel able to provide the care it needs, adopting a pet from a rescue group is the most ethical and responsible option.

A very happy new year to you all and I wish health and happiness to you and your animal companions