Pet Health Information for our clients
More than half of UK households have a pet in residence. Cats seem to be the most popular pets at 8 million with dogs not far behind in number at 6 million. There are about 3500 veterinary practices that specialise in treating every type of animal from horses and cows to ferrets and hamsters.
Veterinary practices are improving their services all the time and as human medicine progresses some of the diagnostic techniques and treatments find their way into veterinary practice. Most practices now have wide ranging facilities such as hospitalisation with general anaesthetic facilities xrays and ultrasound scanning, MRIs are not at all unusual nowadays for referral patients.
Treatment costs do not come cheap and repairing broken bones following an accident to a favourite pet can soon exceed £1,000 or more. This may come as quite a shock and cause a payment problem. It is not surprising therefore that more and more pet owners are taking out insurance policies. Dogs, cats, rabbits and exotics can all be insured with most policies covering a wide range of benefits and being paid for monthly to help with budgeting.
When To Take Out A Policy
The same rules apply to buying a pet policy as your own health insurance policy – buy it when young and healthy and there are no existing conditions to report. Read the small print carefully and take particular notice of the terms and conditions that will explain what is and what is not covered together with any excess payments that may be required.
What Do You Get For Your Money?
In general, diagnosis and treatment for any accident, injury, or illness, will be covered by the policy. However pre-existing and chronic conditions will almost certainly be excluded or subject to an excess. Understandably any insurance policy with a high claim likelihood has to maintain a careful balance between premium level, excess charges and exclusions for the insurer to remain in business.
As in human medicine a very large number of sophisticated diagnostic tests are available. Some will require the services of a laboratory, for example blood and urine samples to test for the presence of infection, diabetes or metabolic disturbances. X-rays and ultrasound scanning are other commonly used diagnostic procedures.
Rapid diagnosis is vitally important in the treatment of any illness and diagnostic tests may have to be carried out at intervals to monitor the success of the treatment or antibiotics being prescribed for an infection.
Cats and dogs stray on to roadways and frequently have to undergo hospitalisation following an accident. X-rays, transfusions and major surgery involving the placement of metal implants, screws and plates to restore the function of shattered bones all require expensive resources. An insurance policy in these circumstances will bring peace of mind.
Rare and unusual conditions such as leukaemia or cancer may have to be referred to a University establishment or specialists for treatment. Advanced cancer diagnosis and treatment can be given, for instance at Cambridge University and the Animal Health Trust at Newmarket.
Third Party Liability
This is an important benefit to protect pet owners against being sued if their pet causes damage or injury. This can be either a dog biting a child or a cat causing a road accident.
As with most types of insurance premiums will vary according to risk. A valuable pedigree will command a much higher premium than farmyard breeds! Post Codes will also be taken into account and proximity to built up areas of towns and cities.
Routine and preventive care will be excluded together with anything classed as “cosmetic” for example surgery to correct a bite abnormality in a dog. All pre-existing conditions.
Veterinary insurance has become much more popular in recent years and there are a variety of plans to choose from. The National British Small Animal Veterinary Association endorses the concept of Pet Health Insurance and almost all veterinary practices display Pet Insurance leaflets and actively recommend it.
The ongoing progress of veterinary medicine means that costs will continue to rise. An insurance policy is a sensible way in which to begin planning for unforeseen bills that could be very significant.
Parakeet / Budgerigar
These are friendly birds which are relatively easy to tame and look after. Budgies grow up to 10 inches long and come in a variety of colours. They can live for up to 10 years and are an excellent choice for a ‘first bird’ pet.
The male canary is a very popular choice of pet as it has a beautiful song. Canaries are small birds (up to 7 inches long) and can live for up to 9 years. They are normally, predominantly yellow.
The cockatiel is a very friendly and intelligent and popular bird. They need a lot of companionship and can suffer from boredom if they are not paid enough attention. Cockatiels can grow up to 14 inches long and can live for up to 25 years.
Macaws are incredibly beautiful and intelligent birds who easily learn to mimic speech. They require a lifelong and intense commitment from the owner and can be temperamental and aggressive – potential owners should think long and hard before committing to purchase these birds. Macaws can grow to 40 inches long and can live for up to 50 years.
Select a cage that provides room to fly for exercise. The cage should be as large as your space and budget allows and wider than it is tall.
If your bird type enjoys walking around the cage (e.g. a Parakeet or a Cockatiel) choose horizontal bars to enable the bird to exercise. If your bird likes to fly from perch to perch (e.g. Canary) pick a cage with vertical bars.
Have a number of differently sized perches hung at different heights. This allows the bird to exercise their feet. Macaws like perches made of natural twigs and branches but you should be aware that some wood can be poisonous. Get advice before introducing natural perches of your own.
Placement of the cage in front of a window can result in wide fluctuations in temperature, and should be avoided. Birds benefit most from being placed high up in a room which is used often.
The cage should be cleaned frequently to provide a healthy environment for you and your pet.
It is important to provide your bird with a balanced diet. The easiest way of ensuring that your bird gets a correct balance of nutrition is to purchase ready-mixed feed from a good pet shop. Some birds will eat fruit, such as apples and oranges – this helps introduce some variety into their diet.
Ensure that a supply of clean water is always available. This water supply should be replaced daily to ensure that it remains fresh.
Cuttlefish provide a source of calcium which is an important part of a bird’s diet.
Depending on both the owner and the bird, you may develop a bond which allows you to handle and let the bird out of its cage for a period of time. In this case, ensure that the bird has a safe environment before release (e.g. no open windows, predators, fires etc.).
All caged birds enjoy toys. Many pet shops cater to pet birds, and offer a wide variety of safe toys. The bird will eventually destroy the toy but that is part of the fun. Select toys that do not have small pieces that can be swallowed or sharp edges. Avoid anything that can become caught on the leg band.
Birds are incredibly clean creatures and need an occasional shower or bath to have healthy feathers. Offer a shallow (about an inch) dish of water several times a week for them to bathe in. Alternatively, spray the bird with cool water to improve the condition of the feathers.
Getting used to your bird – pay attention to its normal appearance and behaviour – will help you spot potential problems (changes) at an early stage. A dull and lifeless bird, who has ruffled feathers and often stays in one position for a long period of time is often a sick bird.
Watch out for the following indicators:
- A change in appearance or behaviour
- Irregular breathing
- The bird plucking it’s own feathers out
- Looser droppings
- Loss of appetite
- Watering eyes
- Sitting on the bottom of the cage
Consult a veterinarian if these symptoms should appear. Periodic visits to the veterinarian for beak trimming or wing clipping will provide an opportunity for a visual health check.
Cats & Kittens
Looking After Your Kitten/Cat
Your kitten is here!
You have just adopted a kitten, and are looking forward to many years of shared tenderness, providing it with everything it needs. Perhaps you are already well aware, or perhaps you only somehow feel, that this little ball of fluff is replete with mystery – and you are quite right. Most of all, a cat is not a little dog!
Our two most familiar pets may have the fact of being carnivorous in common, but their behaviours are very different from one another´s. And if you want to make a cat happy, you need to respect its peculiarities.
A well-deserved reputation!
Rightly felt to be less demanding than dogs as far as training is concerned, cats enjoy the reputation of being clean and independent at the time of adoption. They seem to be the perfect pet: little bother, entirely able to cope with the many times when they have to stay alone, and giving love and affection while respecting the independence of their masters. But all that should not prevent the owners from getting involved in their new friend´s up-bringing.
One of the first things to check is how far your kitten has got in terms of its socialisation. A very simple and useful test here is to (gently) take the kitten by the scruff of its neck and lift it up. A properly socialised kitten will respond to this kind of handling by curling up with its tail raised under its belly and a glassy look in its eyes. This is what is known as a ´positive carrying reflex´, and such a reaction indicates that the kitten has stayed long enough in contact with its mother to be able to be properly socialised.
If, on the contrary, the kitten begins to howl when you lift it up in this way, with its claws out and the whole body arched in hyper-extension, then its level of socialisation is very low and it is going to be difficult to make a pleasant family pet of your kitten. If, after checking this reflex out several times, you still decide to keep the kitten, do not hesitate to speak about it with your Vet, who will be able to advise you as to how to increase your new friend´s contact tolerance.
Attachment, socialisation, familiarisation
A cat´s entire capacity for socialisation depends upon the quality of the attachment it has formed with its mother, and on the degree of socialisation of the mother herself.
A cat develops much faster than a dog: where a dog takes about six months to become autonomous, the key period for a kitten to grow up into a well-balanced cat lies in the sixth week of life.
Of course, all is not lost, and it is still possible to enhance socialisation at the usual age of adoption: i.e., around two months. But it needs to be borne in mind that cats are not always necessarily social creatures, and that certain cats which have gone back to their wild state are capable of spending their whole life without any social interaction at all outside of mating seasons.
In the life of a cat, the first period of attachment is primordial, and this capacity for attachment, which is a juvenile characteristic, needs to be preserved. If this first attachment is of a quality such as to allow your cat to feel confident with all the humans and often the other species of animal (such as dogs) which it may encounter, then it will be relaxed and glad to be with you.
Otherwise, it will become familiar with just one or with just a few persons, and hide away whenever a stranger appears; it will always be chary of the unknown, although your presence can reassure it. This is the distinction between a social and a merely familiar cat.
If such a lack of socialisation is making your cat aggressive, do not hesitate to consult your Vet.
It is possible to detect disturbances in the process of detachment by means of the carrying reflex referred to above. One also often finds cats which go on trying to breast-feed, using pieces of cloth or, more commonly, their owner for this. From time to time, the animal forcibly seeks contact, settling on or against its master and taking a finger or some hair in its mouth to suck on for a fairly long time. In itself, this behaviour has nothing necessarily pathological about it, but you should talk to your Vet about it if it is associated with other signs (such as fearfulness, growling or spitting on contact, or on the other hand too quiet a cat… ).
During the period of development, the mother cat teaches her kittens certain “self-control mechanisms”: i.e., how to regulate and co-ordinate their movements and the action of their teeth and claws.
A well brought-up kitten will always be careful with others´ faces, for example during games in which it is liable to scratch. If your kitten has not yet acquired this ability, you will need to teach it, and for this of course you will have to make use of behaviour patterns which it is familiar with. The techniques classically recommended as far as dogs are concerned- picking it up by the scruff of the neck, or pinning it to the ground- do not work with cats.
If we observe a mother cat with her litter, we can see two means of correcting a kitten, and we can copy them with a little adaptation. Firstly, she paws the muzzle, claws retracted, when the kitten loses control. You can copy this by giving a fairly sharp tap on the muzzle with your finger to stop any unwanted behaviour, with no risk of hurting the kitten.
If the kitten is really turbulent, the mother sometimes grips it between her fore-paws and pounds its belly with her rear paws. Here again, if you lay the kitten down on its side and hold it there with one hand and scratch its belly with the other, you should succeed in inhibiting any movement.
It is important to understand that these two techniques are meant to teach self-control to the little cat and are not intended to achieve submission: in fact, the idea of submission and dominance does not apply in the everyday life of a cat.
If you suspect that a reaction is due to a vaccination you should consult your vet. Your vet may in turn report it to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate who gather information on possible side effects of veterinary products.
While cats may not always be social animals, they most certainly are always territorial. For your cat to be emotionally well-balanced, harmonious territorial structure is essential, and the feline approach to organisation is most particular and a far cry from human or even dogs´ ideas on the subject. Cats divide their territory up into a certain number of areas, each with its own specific function.
The isolation field is an area which the cat does not wish to share, unless it be with extremely familiar individuals, and then only when it so chooses. It is often a raised position, where the cat can feel perfectly safe. Activity fields may, on the other hand, be shared and are devoted to some particular occupation (bird-watching, hunting, playing or feeding, etc.).
These various fields are all inter-linked by pathways which are always the same, and which the cat traces with pheromonal markers whenever it takes them. When you see a cat rubbing up against a piece of furniture, it is placing its familiarity markers there which will act as reassuring landmarks for it afterwards. This very strict and most particular organisation is necessary if a cat is to be emotionally well-balanced.
There are practical repercussions to this for you when you adopt a kitten.
Right from the very first day, you should give it its isolation field: a place where no-one will come and disturb it when it is asleep.
The children and the dog of the household will quite naturally want to make contact with the new-comer; but, if your kitten is to develop peacefully, it has to have its own private place- which it may later on decide to change.
You should not systematically remove all the marks made by the cat rubbing itself against things in its new home. It is very important for it to be able to find its pheromones if it is not to develop an anxiety state.
Uncleanliness and marking
Cats are toilet-trained from very early on, and one is often struck by the sight of a little kitten three weeks old struggling to get up into its cat-litter to relieve itself there.
This reputation is a well founded one, and so it is only all the more disappointing for a cat-owner to find that his or her cat is not clean. To avoid this, there are a few precautions to take. The elimination field should have certain features, and, however self-evident some of these may be, in practice experience shows that they are not always fully respected.
The cat-box with the litter in it needs to be constantly accessible, including at night. Remember that cats were originally nocturnal animals. By dint of living with humans, they may focus on daytime activity, but they still may well keep certain times during the night for specific occupations. The place you choose has to enable your cat to relieve itself without any problems.
If children are playing in the same room, or the dog is liable to come over and sniff the cat on its litter, then the conditions are not the best possible and accidents may ensue.
The litter should be changed frequently.
Finally, do not confuse uncleanliness and marking.
Some cats use urinary marking, and the sequence here is highly characteristic. The cat stands up straight on its legs, rather than crouching down as it does to relieve itself, and sends shots of urine on to vertical supports. This is highly typical of a cat whose territory has been disrupted and who is failing to find its familiarity landmarks.
As between uncleanliness, elimination and marking, the easiest and most effective thing to do is to talk with your Vet about it right away. He or she will be able to distinguish between the different hypotheses and to suggest a solution to you. One way or the other, do not delay. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the result. And if any of this does happen to you, do not get depressed about it: despite their reputation for cleanliness, a survey has shown that 30% of cats fail to be clean at one time or another in their lives.
Playing and hunting
No doubt being more naturally a predator than dogs are, cats need to play, miming hunting and predation. Puppies focus on social games, whereas your kitten will spend hours chasing paper or cloth prey.
It is very important that you should join in these games so as to check your kitten´s self-control mechanisms. It is by playing with you that it can learn to control its biting and scratching and to be careful with certain parts of your body.
But it is equally necessary to let your kitten have plenty of opportunity to play at hunting.
Balls of tin-foil which catch the light, and any kind of mobile hanging on a string and which can move in the slightest breeze or draught, help make a rich environment and are vital to your kitten´s harmonious development.
A lack of stimuli and of imaginary prey can cause the animal to show aggression to the sole mobile features to be found in its environment: viz., its owners´ feet and hands. If you encounter this problem- especially with a cat living in what is a favourable environment- do not hesitate to speak about it with your Vet.
Cats are fascinating animals, with behaviour which is both familiar and wild. It is a daily joy to share one´s home with a happy cat. Recent knowledge concerning a means of communication greatly used by cats- pheromones- lets us better understand them and provide them with a suitable habitat. The quality of the affective bond we can form with a cat is a source of peace and well-being. The sight of its games and postural mimicry will delight you. And, if even so your cat has strange or unwelcome behaviour, be sure not to wait until things get critical before talking about it to with one of our vets.
Looking After Your Puppy/Dog
It is always a great event when a puppy arrives in its host family. After often several weeks of waiting, the newcomer is the centre of care and attention. But, if these good relations are to last, you will have to make sure that the situation of the puppy you have just acquired is one which eases integration.
It is indeed these first weeks of life together which, to a large extent, will set the pattern for your pet´s behaviour in future years.
In particular, you must avoid two big mistakes:
- thinking of the animal as a human being as far as intellectual and emotional capacities are concerned
- or, on the contrary, acting as though it were no more than a machine, devoid of feeling and of understanding
Your dog is a living creature. In their natural environment, dogs live in groups with complex hierarchical social rules. Its development is based on attachment, and the first weeks are crucial for the rest of its life. This is when it learns the basic features of its environment, and how to control itself. The very long period of its dependence on its mother (or human tutors) goes with its considerable learning capacity. It is able to acquire social rituals favouring the harmony of the group and to forge individual bonds with one or other members of it.
For dogs, communication involves all of the senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch). It represents a blend of instinctive messages, reflexes and more complex learned sequences combining posture, vocalisation and emission.
- Like all mammals, a dog will adapt- several times in the course of its life, if need be- to very different conditions, families and environments. But do not forget that, whatever the circumstances, your companion is always going to react as a dog, with a dog´s understanding and a dog´s reflexes.
- Nor should you forget that your pet is unique- an individual moulded by its parents, birth, early environment, time spent with the mother, and all its various experiences of life.
All of the general rules which you are going to be given here will need to be adapted to each individual case.
So are you aware now of your dog´s complexity, richness and limits? If so, then, let us see a few important points so as to avoid getting off on the wrong foot.
Your puppy has no doubt only just left its mother, the primary object of its attachment.
- If it is less than 6 months old, then it is going to need someone to replace her. And so it will choose a person who can provide warmth and comfort. It will try to be always as close as possible to this person, whose contact is a source of calm for it. It is vital that this new attachment should be formed, for the pup to be able to set off to discover this new world of yours.
- At about the age of 6 months, the time of puberty, you will need to detach your baby dog from you- not that this in any way means ceasing to love it! What it means is simply helping it to replace its primary attachment, which was necessary at the beginning, by an attachment to the group as a whole, which will be vital for the rest of its life. For this, what you need to do is to make sure that, in the contacts between you and the little dog, the initiative comes from you and not from the puppy. This will enable it to put up with your being absent. And in this way it will not fall prey to a certain all too common pathology: separation anxiety, causing the dog to howl and ravage or foul the house when you are not there. This pathology is now well known and easy to treat.
Things To Be Learnt
Adopting a little dog means accepting that you are going to be using a floor-mop for a certain time. At the ideal age for adoption- around 8 or 9 weeks- toilet-trained puppies are few and far between!
To expedite matters, there are a few rules to follow, and especially some mistakes to avoid making.
- Spot the right moment: in very young pups, each and every meal, drink and awakening triggers the need to “do its business”. If you take your dog out right then, you stand a good chance of being able to hand out a bit of reinforcement (strokes) for business done in a place of your choosing.
- Reward works better than punishment! It does not need to be systematic in order to be efficacious.
- Never punish your puppy if you have not caught it “on the job”. It might get afraid of you. “Putting its nose in it” is not a punishment at all (you will see that dogs quite happily do as much by themselves!) and would not help it to know what you´re so cross about. It will, of course, put on its “hang-dog” look – but so would it if you scolded it when it had done nothing at all! It reacts to your expression rather than to any fault it may have committed itself.
- Don´t use the “newspaper method”! Learning twice over is just twice as hard. Take your puppy out, as soon as it has been vaccinated. That way, it will soon learn, and will never be afraid in the street.
- Don´t clean up its business in front of it. It´s going to take that as a sign of interest on your part.
If you are going to get on well with your dog, you will need to train it in two types of command: call and stop.
- Many a dog has been saved from an accident by being able to obey these very simple commands. In both cases, you should begin training your new friend very early on. Education begins as soon as the puppy arrives in your home.
- Use simple words, and always the same ones. “Heel, Fido!” or “Rex, come!” will do just as well one as the other, as long as you do not change them.
- The younger the puppy, the more the training needs to be playful, and the shorter the sessions should be: 5 minutes at a stretch for a 3 month-old.
- Rewarding is always more effective.
- Disobedience is very often due to not understanding. Words mean little to a dog, so you should back them up with clear accompanying gestures which it can learn and interpret more quickly.
- As regards the call, never stand in front of your dog pointing at it and calling to heel!
For the first lessons, crouch, face away and call softly, tapping your thigh, “Come, boy!”. This makes you attractive for your puppy, who will come, and be delighted to get a vigorous stroking as a reward.
Taking your dog out
- While taking all necessary precautions not to expose it to pointless risks (places soiled by animals you do not know and contact with unvaccinated animals), do walk your dog as soon as possible. In all likelihood, it is going to be spending its daily life in a completely different environment from that in which it was born and spent the first few weeks. To be truly at ease in its world, the puppy needs to encounter it regularly by its 13th week (i.e., its 3 months).
- By walking your dog, you thus let it avoid falling victim to the “deprivation syndrome”. This all too common behavioural affliction consists in severe difficulty in adapting to urban life and intense fear when in contact with strangers.
- Should your dog seem unduly afraid when you first take it out, do not stroke it for reassurance: you would be rewarding, and so reinforcing, its fear! Just act as though nothing is wrong and start a game with it by way of distraction. If this is just too hard and your puppy is unable to respond to you in this way, do not hesitate to talk things over with one of our vets.
Probably more than for any other pet, before you buy an exotic animal, you should do a lot of preparation. Begin by finding out as much as you can about the animal – read books, talk to other owners. Whilst time consuming, this preparatory work will help both you and the animal in the long run. To get you started, consider the following topics:
Choosing An Exotic Pet
One of the first decisions you need to make is which type of exotic pet do I choose. Consider your experience, the help available and the environment you are able to create for your pet before choosing. Obviously you also need to consider the animal itself. Some are relatively easy to care for where others should be avoided at all costs. Again, plenty of research is required.
Ensuring that your exotic pet receives a balanced diet which provides all the nutrition it needs is vital.
On the whole, exotic pets which eat whole vertebrates are less of a worry as the get all of there nutritional needs from their prey. Insect or fruit eating pets may need extra vitamins added to their diet.
The key once again is good, solid research. Find out what diet your pet requires and how often it should be fed.
Clearly you should have understood the environmental needs of your pet and have set the environment up before you bring your exotic animal home.
Some animals require very much more effort to house than others – requiring a greater commitment from you. The best thing, once again, is to do your homework up front. The factors you need to consider are:
Do you have enough available space? Arboreal (tree dwelling) reptiles and amphibians need more space than terrestrial species.
For some exotic pets it is necessary to simulate the habitat it would naturally encounter in the wild.
You might need to provide a range of temperatures within the environment to allow the animal to control their body temperature by moving from a cold spot to a hot spot.
Your exotic animal may very well require ultraviolet lighting as well as access to unfiltered sunlight.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Aquarium owners often talk of spending hours on end being mesmerised by their pet fish. Certainly, keeping fish as pets can be fascinating and aquariums can add an interesting centre-piece to your room.
Types Of Aquarium Fish
There are three types of aquarium fish.
These fish are probably the easiest choice if you are looking to keep fish for the first time. One complication, that of keeping the water in the tank heated, is removed with these fish.
If you are looking for variety and colour for your aquarium, tropical fish may be the best choice. You will need to control the temperature of the water and understand which species can be housed together.
Marine fish require more care than the other types of fish and therefore should be considered very carefully before deciding that this is the type of fish for you to keep. Something for experienced fish owners only.
Caring For Your Fish – The Basics
The three major things to consider when caring for your fish are water, light and food.
Fish use the oxygen in water to breathe and, therefore, ensuring the quality of the water in the tank is of paramount importance. Use a filter or pump to ensure that the water contains enough oxygen for your fish. You may need to test the water for ammonia, nitrites and ph levels.
Change the water in your tank at monthly intervals or when the water looks cloudy.
Your fish require a controlled-light environment to thrive. You will need to use aquarium lights to ensure that your fish get the light they require.
There is a large variety of food available and this can be confusing. The simplest way of choosing an appropriate food is to find a feed which is specially made for them.
Generally speaking, you should feed your fish each morning and evening. It should take your fish only a few minutes to eat all of the food. If it takes longer, you are probably feeding them too much which will, in turn, adversely affect the quality of the water in the tank.
Rabbits do make very good pets, but they have some important husbandry needs that must be addressed in order to provide adequately for their health and welfare. As well as social interaction with other rabbits, they also enjoy being friendly with humans too.
They need to be given attention every day and require regular gentle handling to establish and maintain that human:rabbit social bond, although this must be on their terms. The daily contact also allows an opportunity to check them for any health problems.
All pet owners have a responsibility to provide suitable care for their pets, and this is outlined in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. However, you can find some examples of such requirements for rabbits below:
1. A suitable environment. A hutch on its own is not enough! They should have a secure, well insulated and ventilated hutch providing plenty of room to move around and stretch out, ideally a minimum size of 6ft long by 2ft wide and 2ft high or with enough space to fully stand up in, whichever is the smaller.
This provides a sheltered space for rabbits to use as their base, and they should ideally have constant access to a grass run area which is a minimum size of 8 feet by 4 feet, alternatively a minimum access of 4 hours per day. Indoor rabbits need the same space allocation and may be enclosed within a pen or run, alternatively they may have free run of a room as space to run around helps to provide exercise.
2. A suitable diet. Rabbits are strict herbivores and spend a lot of time eating. It is best to give them a diet consisting mainly of hay, fresh, or dried grasses (approximately 85%).
Approximately 10% of the diet may be made up of green leafy vegetation, and approximately 5% (about an egg cup full for an average sized 2.5kg rabbit) of good quality extruded pelleted concentrate food. The ideal is to ensure ad-lib, or unlimited, good quality hay, plus these other components.
Water should be provided at all times, via a water bottle, clean bowl, or both.
3. To exhibit normal behaviour. To do this, they require adequate space, opportunities to run, jump, dig and forage. Try to make their environment interesting with tubes, hides, cardboard boxes, and objects to stand on and look around. Beware that rabbits burrow so an outdoor run area should have buried wire sides, or be checked or moved frequently.
Neutered rabbits are less prone to digging deep burrows, but, being part of their normal behaviour, digging should be accommodated, even indoors. Trays or earth, shavings, hay, cardboard chips etc provide good digging boxes.
4. Interaction with other rabbits, in compatible pairings or small groups. Rabbits are social animals, and solitary confinement is unnatural to them. To avoid rabbits breeding like, well, rabbits, and to prevent potentially fatal uterine cancer in the females, both sexes should be neutered.
5. To be protected from pain, injury or disease. This means that they should be vaccinated, treated for any parasites as directed by your veterinary surgeon, and regularly (daily), checked for any signs of ill health by their owners. Regularly checking the teeth, ears, skin, claws and underside, around the back end, in particular, are vital. There are several signs that your rabbit may be ill and require veterinary attention. Among these are:
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- looking depressed
- skin trouble
- runny faeces and/or urine soaking into the back legs
- discharges from the nose, eyes or mouth
- difficulty breathing
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 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 sterilized bone or twig should be provided for them to chew on.
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 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.
This page will try to provide a simple explanation for some of the terms we use and some of the conditions we encounter on a daily basis. It does not endeavour to be full or complete or binding, just a plain description of what we mean.
This is a term we use when we are using a medicine outside of the list in the data sheet. Every drug licensed in the UK has a data sheet which states what medical conditions and species it may be used to treat, dosages, side effects and precautions when it is handled.
It also provides information on the company producing that drug and the licence number. In the veterinary world we frequently use medicines off-licence and we will get you to sign and off-licence consent form (this basically means you have been told what we are doing and we have your permission to carry on).
There are a number of reasons why off-licence use of medicines is warranted in veterinary medicine. It is predominantly to do with the testing procedures for drugs. This is very thorough and hence expensive. Some drugs are licensed only for species such as dogs or horses and it is uneconomic to test them for rabbits or hamsters.
Likewise if one in ten dogs suffer from a condition yet only one in ten thousand cats, again it is uneconomic to licence it. The other factor that sometimes makes us reach for an unlicensed drug is where it is a drug has been used in the human field but not yet made its way into the veterinary market but the evidence is that it will be beneficial for our animals.
Off-licence does not mean ‘bad’ or ‘risky’ in itself, it just means that we cannot not have the degree of certainty of the effects that we would with a licensed drug. (I will shortly be doing an explanation of ‘The cascade’ which will make this a little clearer).
Epidemiology is the study of the relationships of various factors determining the frequency and distribution of a disease in a community. It is also called epizootiology. These are both great words for Scrabble.
As a student, I always found epidemiology very interesting. Why did that cow get the disease and the one beside it , not? It is generally a complex relationship between the animal and disease.
Rarely is it a case of Bug + Animal = Disease. Some very interesting relationships come to light when we look at the world of animals and their diseases. During the foot-and-mouth crisis at the start of this century it was found that in the early stages of the outbreak that seemingly unrelated farms were having cases, but closer examination found that the virus was being transported from farm to farm in the air-brakes of the milk collection lorry.
In relation to the recent outbreak of measles in humans epidemiologists will be examining the role of the media in facilitating the outbreak.
Herd health/immunity is a big aspect of epidemiology in the veterinary world. This is the principle whereby if you make a high percentage of a herd or community immune to a disease eg parvovirus in dogs with vaccination, then the small percentage that are not treated gain some protection by dint of the fact that the disease struggles to thrive and multiply and hence be a risk even to the unprotected.
This is a much misunderstood term. It means inflammation of the parenchyma (substance) of the lung. It is often seen in conjunction with inflammation of the adjoining airways (bronchitis). It can be severe and life threatening but also mild and almost undetectable.
It is characterised by increased rate and depth of respiration with an increase in respiratory (breathing) effort whilst the absorption of oxygen is reduced due to the inflammed tissue being less efficient. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses and by inhaling foreign material.