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Small Furries Advice

Helping you to take care of your small furries

Guinea Pigs

Diet

A good quality hay or grass is essential for maintaining healthy teeth and a healthy digestive system. Guinea pigs should have constant access to hay (all day and night). They also require a 'nugget type' dry food – avoid feeding muesli-type mixes as guinea pigs will leave the bits they do not like (usually the bits containing the important fibre!). Fresh vegetables should also be offered daily. As they are high in sugar, fruits should only be given occasionally and in small quantities.

Guinea pigs are unable to generate their own Vitamin C, therefore they need to get it from their diet. Good quality guinea pig nuggets will contain Vitamin C, however nutrients can disappear if the food is stored for too long so be careful to follow manufacturers shelf life and storage suggestions.

Do not suddenly change your guinea pig’s food as it may upset their digestive system, so always introduce new foods gradually over a period of at least a week.

Guinea pigs produce two types of droppings – hard, dry ones (true faeces) and dark, shiny smelly ones (caecotrophs). They will eat the caecotrophs, usually straight from their bottom, so don’t be alarmed if you see this! Doing this means they get all the goodness out of their high-fibre diet.

Water should always be available, either in a suitable water bottle with a metal spout, or in a bowl. Whichever is used, they should be kept clean at all times.

Housing

Guinea pigs require a safe and comfortable home. If kept outdoors, they require a large weatherproof hutch that is raised off the ground. As guinea pigs are sensitive to temperature extremes, the hutch should be positioned out of direct sunlight and strong winds. In winter, they should be housed inside (e.g. in a shed). Their hutch should be the largest you can afford as the more space they have the better. A large exercise run on a grassy shaded area should also be provided. In cold weather, they will require an indoor exercise area.

Ensure that both hutch and run are escape-proof and safe from predators. If housed indoors, make sure your guinea pig does not have access to any electric cables, as they are likely to chew them. Care should also be taken to restrict any access they may have to plants and flowers in case they ingest one that is toxic or that may have been sprayed with a pesticide or herbicide. Plants or flowers that are poisonous include: bluebell, foxglove, dock, poppy, ragwort, tulip, crocus, laburnum, yew, daffodil and hyacinth.

The hutch should be lined with a 2 - 5cm deep layer of woodshavings or shredded paper, with soft hay or straw on top. Their sleeping area must contain extra hay or straw or shredded paper as bedding. All bedding materials should ideally be dust-free.

Their hutch will need to be cleaned at least once a day, removing any wet or dirty bedding and any uneaten fresh food, and cleaning and refilling food and water containers. You will also need to clean the hutch more thoroughly, at least once a week, to keep it clean and hygienic. 

Exercise and Enrichment

Guinea pigs need lots of exercise and with a large enough hutch and run they can get this. They also need places to hide, as they are potentially easily scared, and enrichment to keep them occupied – large tubes, cardboard boxes and pots can be provided for them to explore, as well as toys and untreated logs. Encourage your guinea pig to stay stimulated by rotating toys (offering different toys during different weeks).

Guinea pigs can also be groomed. Longhaired guinea pigs will need to be groomed every day – this can be done gently with a soft brush.

Companionship and Behaviour

As they are very social animals, guinea pigs do need the company of other guinea pigs. If they live on their own they may become very stressed and lonely.

The best combination of guinea pigs to keep would be littermates of the same sex, as this minimises the chance of them fighting. Unneutered males and females should not be housed together as they will breed.

Rabbits are not suitable companions for guinea pigs. They have different dietary and behavioural needs. Rabbits can also potentially carry a bacteria, which if passed to a guinea pig can cause respiratory disease.

General Health

Be sure to check your guinea pig closely every day for any signs of illness.

These may include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drinking more or less than normal
  • Lethargy
  • Unusual breathing
  • Runny eyes or nose
  • Significant weight change (loss or gain) in a short period of time
  • Limping
  • Skin conditions
  • Swellings

Any other unusual signs or changes in behaviour could also indicate the possibility of illness. If you are concerned about the health of your guinea pig, do not hesitate to contact the surgery.

Chinchillas

Origin – Andes, Northern Chile

Lifespan – 10 - 20 years in captivity

Adult Weight - 400 - 500g

Chinchillas can make wonderful pets however it is important to understand their daily requirements in order to keep them happy and healthy. Below are some of the things we recommend you know about your chinchilla however if you have any further questions please feel free to arrange and appointment with us as we would love to meet your chinchilla and give you any further advice that we can!

Handling

Chinchillas must be handled with care as if they feel unsafe or frightened they can lose large chunks of their fur in a response known as ‘fur slip’. Always approach a chinchilla slowly and when lifting them support their body weight fully. Chinchillas should never be picked up by their tails.

Housing

  • Chinchillas are very active and love to run and jump, as a result they should be provided with as large an enclosure as possible. It should be mentioned that they are also excellent escapologists and so any enclosure should be safe and secure. There are several things that all chinchilla enclosures should include;
  • Food bowl and water bottle – both food and water should be supplied fresh daily.
  • Bedding – hay is ideal as this forms an important part of a chinchillas diet (see below) in addition to providing a comfy bedding material. Bedding materials with large quantities of dust (e.g. sawdust) should be avoided a these can contribute to respiratory problems.
  • Good ventilation, the right temperature and the right humidity – chinchillas are very prone to overheating therefore they should not be kept in very warm rooms, in direct sunlight or close to radiators or fires. Equally very a cold, draughty and humid environment can predispose to respiratory disease. The ideal area for your chinchillas to be kept in is one that remains between 10-18oC with no more than 50% humidity and has good ventilation without being draughty.
  • Hides – these can bought from pet shops or made using wood or even cardboard boxes (although both will no doubt be chewed to pieces in time!) by providing your chinchilla with somewhere to hide it will feel safe especially when sleeping.
  • Toys – chinchillas are very inquisitive and love to explore new toys with both their paws and their teeth! Always make sure that the toys you provide are safe for chinchillas to chew.
  • Company – chinchillas are highly sociable animals and are happiest when kept with others of their own species. It is much easier to find pairs or groups of chinchillas that will happily co-exist if they are introduced from a young age. At any age if chinchillas are not part of the same litter they will need gradual introduction as they may fight if introduced too quickly.
  • Dust baths – Chinchilla sand can be purchased from most pet shops and should be provided in a tray or ‘bath’ for 10 - 20 minutes every other day. Chinchillas have very dense fur and use the fine dust to clean their fur and keep their coats healthy. Chinchillas should not be bathed in water.

Neutering

If male and female chinchillas are kept together and you do not wish to breed from them then one or both will require neutering. We recommend castrating male chinchillas as this is a less complex procedure than spaying a female. If you are considering neutering your chinchilla please book in with a vet for a health check and to discuss the procedure further.

Diet

A chinchillas diet should be high in fibre in order to prevent both dental and dietary problems. This is best provided in the form of hay which should be supplied fresh daily. There are many commercial pellet based chinchilla diets which can be given in addition to hay to provide additional calories and nutrients. Try to avoid mixed muesli as most chinchillas will chose the bits they like and leave those that they don’t (which usually means leaving all of the most nutritious high fibre pellets and eating all of the sugary ones!) Very occasional fruit and vegetables are fine but should be given no more often than we would indulge in a chocolate cake!

Common Health Problems

  • Dental disease - unfortunately this is a very common problem in chinchillas. It can have a genetic component however most cases are made worse by environmental factors like a lack of fibre in the diet therefore it is important to provide this for your chinchilla. If your chinchilla is developing dental disease you might see signs such as eating less, having wet fur around their mouth, watery eyes or teeth grinding. If you are worried that your chinchilla may have dental disease we recommend that you take it to see a vet for a full examination, this can be a life-long condition however in most cases the sooner it is diagnosed the better able we are to keep the dental disease under control and your chinchilla comfortable. In some cases we need to perform an x-ray to check for dental disease and may need to file down any teeth that are growing abnormally. 
  • Gut Stasis – this refers to a condition whereby the guts of the chinchilla cease their normal movements resulting in an accumulation of gas. This can quickly become a very painful and even life-threatening condition if left untreated. Signs of gut stasis include eating less or none of their food, being withdrawn and less active than usual, chattering their teeth, having a bloated and sore stomach and not passing faeces. If you see any of these signs take your chinchilla to a vet immediately. Often gut stasis is secondary to other conditions which can cause chinchillas to go off their food such as dental disease.
  • Heat stroke – Chinchillas do not sweat and so cannot release excess body temperature efficiently which can result in overheating if kept in an inappropriate environment. Chinchillas with heat stroke may be breathing quickly, lethargic or collapsed and may have red/dark pink ears. If you see any of these signs or are concerned that your chinchilla may have overheated please seek veterinary advice.
  • Respiratory disease – chinchillas can develop respiratory disease for a variety of reasons however they are particularly susceptible to developing respiratory problems if kept in a draught or in areas of poor ventilation (see above). Chinchillas with respiratory disease may be breathing more quickly than usual, make unusual whistling or crackling noises when breathing, have discharge from their nose or be lethargic and off their food. If you notice any of these signs please seek veterinary attention.

This list of diseases and their symptoms is not exhaustive. If you think your chinchilla may be unwell in any way please make an appointment with a vet.

Practice information

Holly House Veterinary Hospital

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Please call this number for emergencies:

0113 2369030

Holly House Veterinary Clinic

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    8:00am - 8:00pm
  • Tue
    8:00am - 8:00pm
  • Wed
    8:00am - 8:00pm
  • Thu
    8:00am - 8:00pm
  • Fri
    8:00am - 8:00pm
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0113 2369030
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Holly House Veterinary Clinic, Ilkley

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01943 609285
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6 Regent Rd Ilkley Leeds LS29 9EA
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