Ask the Vet

This entry is article 2 of 6 in the September 2013 issue

Questions about exotic pets answered by Dr. Jennifer Graham

1. My rabbit or guinea pig is not eating – what is wrong?
Rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas should be eating and pooping regularly. Any decreased appetite or fecal production could be a sign of GI stasis (also known as ‘ileus’). There are many causes for this including inadequate fiber in the diet, dental disease, toxin exposure, and others. You should schedule an appointment to have your pet evaluated by a doctor familiar with these species ASAP if they are showing this sign since this could be a life-threatening situation.

2.  My ferret is vomiting – what could be wrong?
The most common cause could be foreign body ingestion so radiographs (xrays) may be recommended to check for signs of foreign material in the stomach or intestine. There are other causes for vomiting that may be controlled by medication but it is important to have your ferret examined by a veterinarian if they are vomiting.

3. My ferret is losing hair – why?
Adrenal disease is the most common condition we see associated with hair loss in ferrets. If your ferret has signs of hair loss they should be examined to determine if the cause could be adrenal disease. It is important to know that there can be some life-threatening complications that can be seen along with adrenal disease in ferrets (including urinary tract obstruction from prostate enlargement in males) so make sure to have your ferret examined if he/she has signs of hair loss.  ( Read more)

4. My reptile is not eating – why?
There are many causes for anorexia (not eating) in reptiles. We recommend setting up an appointment to discuss husbandry so we can review heat, temperature, humidity, diet, supplements, and other important aspects of care that could be related to a reptile not eating. If you have a recent fecal sample you should also bring this in for examination at the time of the appointment since parasites are one of the reasons we can see reptiles not eating.

5. My hedgehog is sluggish – can you help?
Keep in mind hedgehogs need supplemental heat when it is cooler so lack of supplemental heat could be a cause of sluggishness when the weather is colder. We can also see medical issues (for example, wobbly hedgehog disease) that can cause decreased activity. Feel free to schedule an appointment for us to evaluate your hedgehog if you are seeing any signs of problems.

6. My chicken’s crop is really full – is this normal?
Delayed crop empyting can be a sign of underlying disease. Most commonly we see lead ingestion as a cause for slow crop emptying in chickens. There are other potential causes for slow crop emptying such as impactions and infections so it is a good idea to have your chicken evaluated if you notice this.

7. My bird is fluffed on the bottom of the cage – could she be egg bound?
Fluffing is a not-specific sign of illness in birds but we can see this in association with egg binding. It is very helpful if we know if your bird is a male or a female (we can do DNA testing to find this out) so we can better determine if the signs could be related to reproductive disease. The best time to find out if your bird is a male or female is when they are healthy so let us know if you need this test. We can do additional testing (such as radiographs or xrays) to see if an egg is present and then provide treatment to help your bird. Keep in mind that any bird that is fluffed or not eating should be seen right away. Since birds often hide their signs of illness they can be very sick by the time you notice anything seems wrong.

8. My bird is picking its feathers – why?
We see many different causes for feather picking behavior in birds from stress to inappropriate diet to reproductive disease and others. It is important for you to have your bird evaluated by an avian veterinarian if you see any signs of feather picking to rule out underlying disease and determine if there are any treatments that could help your bird.

9. My rabbit has blood in her urine – what is wrong?
Blood in the urine can be a cause of serious disease including things like reproductive cancer or bladder stones. Rabbits can also pass pigments in their urine so a visit to your veterinarian can help differentiate between pigments (normal) and blood (not normal). It is very important that all female rabbits be spayed since reproductive cancer is so common – spaying your rabbit can prevent this from happening to let us know if you need this done.

10. My exotic pet is having difficulty breathing, what is wrong?
We can see pneumonia fairly commonly in exotic animals but we can also see other diseases (including heart failure) that can cause breathing distress. It is very important to have your pet examined if they are showing signs of difficulty breathing because this can be a medical emergency.

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