Common Parasites In Exotic Mammals

08/14/2018Just like horses, dogs and cats, exotic animals have a range of microorganisms that live with and on them. Some of these microorganisms are normal, whilst others are dangerous parasites that can cause serious disease. In between these two extremes are the opportunistic microorganisms that only cause disease when their host (the exotic animal) is unwell.Bel...

Just like horses, dogs and cats, exotic animals have a range of microorganisms that live with and on them. Some of these microorganisms are normal, whilst others are dangerous parasites that can cause serious disease. In between these two extremes are the opportunistic microorganisms that only cause disease when their host (the exotic animal) is unwell.

Below we have included a discussion on some of the more frequently encountered parasites, and how you can recognize the signs of infection in your exotic pets.

Rabbits

Important tip #1: Frontline (fipronil) is toxic to rabbits.

Mites
The two most common forms of mites in rabbits are the ear mite Psoroptes cuniculi and the fur mite Cheyletiella parasitovax. The ear mite can cause severe damage to the external ear and affected rabbits have crusting of their ears, are very itchy and will frequently shake their head. Infections of the fur mite Cheyletiella tend to be less severe and cause a characteristic ‘walking dandruff’ appearance to the skin. Affected rabbits will often lose patches of their coat.
The fur mite can be transmitted to people in severe infestations and may also be passed to cats and dogs. Fortunately, there are several effective treatments for mites in rabbits including Revolution and ivermectin. However, care must be taken with the dosing of these medications, as they are often packaged for cat and dog sizes.

Fleas
There are three main fleas that can affect rabbits; the cat flea, the dog flea and the rabbit flea. The rabbit flea is rare in pet rabbits. In contrast, both cat and dog fleas can readily affect rabbits when they are housed with infested cats or dogs.
All these fleas cause similar signs in affected rabbits. These rabbits have dull coats, are itchy and lose their hair in patches. Fortunately, there are effective flea treatments for rabbits that we can help you with if needed. Any in-contact animals should also be treated and for breeding rabbits, excellent hygiene and environmental decontamination is vital.

Coccidiosis
The term coccidiosis refers to the disease caused by several species of protozoa (single celled microorganisms) in the subclass Coccidia. These parasites cause two forms of disease depending on where they live in the body; the intestines or the liver. The liver form is most commonly subclinical, meaning rabbits with good immune systems or those exposed to small doses do not show any disease. The condition become more severe where hygiene is poor, particularly in overcrowded populations. In these situations, the liver form of coccidia can be fatal.
The intestinal forms are more familiar and typically cause disease in young rabbits. Those agreed between 1-4 months old are most vulnerable, and the symptoms can include weight lost, lack of weight gain despite a good appetite, diarrhea and even death.
If caught early, both the liver and intestinal forms can be treated effectively with drugs such as sulfonamides and toltrazuril, as well as good hygiene practices.

Encephalitazoon Cuniculi
This is a parasite that is found in approximately 35-60% of the rabbit population, depending on the country and area. It is a fungal-like parasite that can live in the brain, kidneys or eye of rabbits and often causes little to no disease. However, in rabbits with a poor or suppressed immune system, this parasite can spread and cause damage to local tissues. This means affected rabbits can develop ocular (eye), neurological (brain) or kidney disease, or a combination of these, depending on the severity of the disease.
Clinical signs of the neurological form include head tilts, paralysis of two or more limbs, seizure-like activity and rolling. The kidney form causes rabbits to urinate and drink more and can progress to kidney failure. The ocular form causes cataracts or white plaques in the eye.
There is no cure for E. cuniculi, but there are medications such as fenbendazole that can be used to manage the parasite. Good hygiene and prevention plans can also reduce the chance of in-contact rabbits being affected, as the parasite spreads in the urine and from the mother to her kits during or before birth.

Guinea Pigs

Important tip #2: Parasites are often secondary to other disease.

Mites
The most common mite causing disease in guinea pigs is Trixacarus caviae. This parasite can be passed between guinea pigs in direct contact with each other or guinea pigs may carry the mite in small numbers, and not show any signs of disease.
Trixacarus causes severe skin disease in affected guinea pigs. Symptoms range from intense itchiness and fur loss, to self-trauma and seizures. In the early stages of infection, the mites can be readily treated with ivermectin or in some cases, selamectin (Revolution). In severe cases, guinea pigs are often underweight, require supportive antibiotic, pain relief and sedation if active seizures are present.
Mites are rare in healthy guinea pigs, and most have underlying causes of immunosuppression, such as vitamin C deficiency, poor hygiene or fighting between other guinea pigs.

Ringworm
Ringworm is the term used to describe a fungal infection, which is most commonly due to Trichophyton species in guinea pigs. Many guinea pigs will carry these fungi normally without any concerns. However, in immunosuppressed guinea pigs (particularly the juveniles), ringworm can overgrow and cause hair loss. The main issue in these cases is finding the underlying cause of the poor immune system, which are very similar to the causes that lead to mite infection.

Ferrets

Important tip #3: Prevention is easier than cure.

Heartworm
Just like in dogs and cats, ferrets can also acquire heartworm. Heartworm is caused by Dirofilaria imminitis, which is a worm that is transmitted by affected mosquitoes. Whilst the disease is rare in ferrets, the condition is very severe and once clinical signs are observed the disease is usually in its end stages. Symptoms of heart worm include difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance and being pale. The worm is also difficult to diagnose and requires x-rays and often ultrasound of the heart to confirm.
Treatment is possible, but prevention is much safer and more effective. Ferrets can be given moxidectin, selamectin or ivermectin regularly to prevent being affected by this condition.

Fleas
The most common fleas affecting ferrets are those also found on dogs and cats. They are transmitted by direct contact from an affected animal and can usually be identified by the characteristic ‘flea dirt’ that the adult fleas produce.
Symptoms include itching or in some cases, a hypersensitivity reaction where a single bite can cause severe itching. In most ferrets the condition is readily managed with topical moxidectin or imidacloprid, and environmental decontamination.

Rats & Mice

Important tip #4: Not all skin diseases are due to infections.

Mites
There are many species of mites that affect rats and mice, and they all vary in their severity. Rat fur mite (Radfordia spp) is common but only heavy infestations cause disease. The ear mite (Notoedres spp) can cause dermatitis of the ears in mice and rats but is less common.
The main concern with mites in rodents is the intense itchiness they can cause. Affected rats and mice often self-traumatize their skin, leading to bacterial infections and hair loss. These individuals are often painful and require a variety of antibiotics, pain relief and mite treatment, and many get recurrent infections.
The main goal of treatment is to address the cause of the immunosuppression that allows the mites to overgrow, before secondary infections occur. These causes can include overcrowding, poor nutrition or changes in their environment.

Ringtail
This condition causes characteristic circular constrictions of the tail in both rats and mice. It most commonly occurs in very young rodents where low humidity in their environment causes their skin to dry and constrict or even amputation parts of their tail. Humidity levels below 40% appear to be the main cause of this condition.
Treatment includes pain relief and increasing the humidity in their environment.

Rabbit Ear Diseases

06/28/2018Rabbits are a very popular pet seen at The Unusual Pet Vets, for a variety of reasons. Some come in for their routine vaccinations or a check-up, where others can be seen for serious conditions such as hindlimb paralysis or head tilts. A number of rabbits, particularly those with lop-ears, also come in for ear disease.What is ear disease? Ear disease in r...

Rabbits are a very popular pet seen at The Unusual Pet Vets, for a variety of reasons. Some come in for their routine vaccinations or a check-up, where others can be seen for serious conditions such as hindlimb paralysis or head tilts. A number of rabbits, particularly those with lop-ears, also come in for ear disease.

What is ear disease?
Ear disease in rabbits is unfortunately a very common problem. Ear infections (the most common form of ear disease seen in rabbits) are classified by which part of the ear is affected. Those affecting the external ear are known as otitis externa and middle and internal ear infections are called otitis media and otitis interna respectively. The rabbits that are most vulnerable to these infections are the rabbits that have anatomically small or closed-off ear canals, which are the lop-eared breeds. These rabbits have been selected for their endearing droopy ears but have unfortunately developed very narrow and occasional completely closed ear canals. This means everyday cleaning of their ears is difficult, and bacteria and wax often build up in this dark, warm environment.

What can I do to prevent ear disease?
There are certain breeds of rabbits that are more resistant to ear infections, such as Netherland dwarfs and large breeds with upright ears. However, if you have a rabbit that is prone to ear disease there are several things you can do:

  1. Make sure your rabbit is cleaning their ears

Most rabbits will naturally clean their ears but as they get older, disease such as arthritis can prevent them from cleaning their ears well. There are several treatments older rabbits can be placed on to make them much more comfortable performing these everyday tasks.
Bonded rabbits will also clean each other’s ears, if you are lucky enough to have a few rabbits at home.

  1. Regular veterinary health checks

A standard part of every rabbit consult is an ear exam. In younger rabbits a veterinarian can often predict how vulnerable your rabbit will be to developing external ear infections in the future and can discuss signs to monitor in your rabbit. Swabs can also be taken of your rabbit’s ear to check for infections that may be causing your rabbit to have chronic pain.
It is not uncommon for rabbits to hide their ear infections for weeks or even months, so having regular ear checks can help pick up any underlying disease your pet may be hiding.

My rabbit has an ear infection. Is there anything that can be done?

Fortunately, ear infections can be managed in several ways. Depending on the type of ear disease your rabbit has, your veterinarian may offer you one or more of the following:

  1. Daily ear cleaners– this option is for very mild ear disease where wax may be building up in your rabbit’s ears.
  2. Antibiotic ear flushes– this is often the first treatment offered when your rabbit is diagnosed with an external ear infection.
  3. Long term antibiotics– this is an option for persistent ear infections where further tests or treatment is not a viable option for your rabbit.
  4. Surgical ear flushing– if the infection of your rabbit’s ear is severe but limited to their external ear, a veterinarian may offer to clean your rabbit’s ear under a general anaesthetic. At the Unusual Pet Vets, this technique is combined with an endoscope to look deep inside their ears to treat more stubborn infections.
  5. Advanced imaging and surgery– many rabbits have underlying middle ear disease that spreads to the external ear. In these cases, treating the external ear infection alone is often unsuccessful, so surgery of the middle ear is performed. Middle ear disease can only be confirmed on advanced imaging such as CT, so imaging is routinely performed at the Unusual Pet Vets before surgery is recommended.

There is no one treatment that will be successful for every rabbit with ear disease, and some rabbits will have more than one option that is offered for them.    

What signs of ear disease should I look for at home?
Rabbits can show a variety of clinical signs with ear disease, but many will show no signs at all. Depending on what part of the ear is affected, rabbits may show different signs:

  1. Scratching at their ears more frequently
  2. Appearing quieter or less interested in food
  3. Repeated episodes of gastrointestinal stasis
  4. Head tilts or facial asymmetry (dropping of one side of their face)

 

Where to Board Your Unusual Pet in Perth

06/06/2018We often have people asking us where they can board their exotic pets while they're on holiday, so we've made a little list of those who will give your furry, feathered, or scaley friends a safe place to stay while you're away! The White Rabbit Retreat The White Rabbit Retreat are located in Maddington. They offer boarding for rabbits and guine...bird-2

We often have people asking us where they can board their exotic pets while they’re on holiday, so we’ve made a little list of those who will give your furry, feathered, or scaley friends a safe place to stay while you’re away! 

The White Rabbit Retreat
The White Rabbit Retreat are located in Maddington.
They offer boarding for rabbits and guinea pigs.
Contact: 0422 470 873 or kym.elliott@ymail.com

Little PAWS Rescue Perth
Little PAWS are located in Bibra Lake.
They offer boarding for rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and mice.
Contact: 0413 270 811 or info@littlepawsrescue.org.au

IceQueen Rabbitry & Retreat
IceQueen Rabbitry are located in Forrestfield.
They offer boarding for rabbits and guinea pigs.
Contact: 0400 747 990 or icequeen.rabbitry@gmail.com

Cottontail Lodge
Cottontail Lodge are located in Yangebup.
They offer boarding for rabbits, guinea pigs, and rats.
Contact: cottontaillodge@gmail.com

Frankie’s Lodge – Bunny Boarding & Pet Minding
Frankie’s Lodge are located in Byford.
They offer boarding for rabbits.
Contact:  0449 001 233 or frankiesbunnyboarding@gmail.com

Cavy Holiday
Cavy Holiday are located in Perth.
They offer boarding for guinea pigs.
Contact: 0452 621 429 or cavyholiday@gmail.com

Tracey’s Ferretry
Tracey’s Ferretry are located in Stratton.
They offer boarding for ferrets.
Contact: 0400 266 524 or roxy-roller26@hotmail.com

Feather & Bone
Feather & Bone are located in Innaloo.
They offer boarding for birds and small mammals.
Contact: 0431 284 239

Critter Keepers
Critter Keepers are located in Clarkson.
They offer boarding for snakes, lizards, frogs and turtles.
Contact: 0481 138 713 or critterkeepers@iinet.net.au

Paws, Claws & Beaks Retreat
Paws, Claws & Beaks are located in Wattle Grove.
They offer boarding for birds.
Contact: 9453 6287 or info@pawsclawsandbeaks.com.au

Desexing in Exotic Pets!

05/01/2018Exotic animals have traditionally had a poor reputation for anaesthetic survival, and this mind set has persisted into modern veterinary medicine. Whilst some statistics suggest that surgery and anesthesia is risky in exotics, this article will review surgeries that are performed everyday at The Unusual Pet Vets. At The Unusual Pet Vets, we see many exoti...

Exotic animals have traditionally had a poor reputation for anaesthetic survival, and this mind set has persisted into modern veterinary medicine. Whilst some statistics suggest that surgery and anesthesia is risky in exotics, this article will review surgeries that are performed everyday at The Unusual Pet Vets. 

At The Unusual Pet Vets, we see many exotics for routine sterilization. This includes rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs and even the smaller mammals, like rats and mice. The recommendation behind desexing in these species is often ‘population control’ or to prevent unwanted pregnancies. However, there are also some very well studied medical benefits to desexing exotic pets.

Rabbits
Desexing is recommended in both male and female rabbits. Female rabbits have a high incidence of uterine cancer, with rabbits over 3 years of age having a 50-80% chance of developing these tumours, depending on their breed. Both males and females can also develop unwanted behaviours such as urine spraying and aggression, if not desexed at an early age.

Ferrets
Desexing is recommended in both male and female ferrets, but there are also very good alternatives to surgical desexing in ferrets. Sterilisation in both males and females can reduce the strong musk-like odour of many ferrets, as well as preventing life-threatening conditions in female ferrets. Up to 50% of female ferrets are unable to come out of heat without being mated, and this can lead to toxic levels of oestrogen build up in their system. In some cases, this can cause fatal anaemia to develop.
The Unusual Pet Vets also stocks Suprelorin implants, which is a form of non-surgical sterilization that can last up to 2 years in ferrets. These implants also avoid the risk of developing certain forms of adrenal gland disease that have been associated with early desexing in ferrets.

Guinea Pigs
Desexing is recommended in both male and female guinea pigs. Female guinea pigs have a high incidence of ovarian cysts, which can produce hormones such as oestrogen that lead to fur loss, anaemia and weight loss. In male guinea pigs, castration is generally recommended for two main reasons; the first is behaviour and the second is faecal impaction and constipation. Entire male guinea pigs (boars) are prone to fighting and will regularly bite and scratch other guinea pigs they are kept with. Older boars also often develop large testicles, and these can partially obstruct their anus in later years. Some older guinea pigs will require daily cleaning of their anus if they aren’t sterilised at a young age.

Rats
Male and female rats can both benefit from desexing. Females have a high incidence of mammary tumours and by removing the uterus and ovaries, we remove the hormones that can promote mammary tumours to develop. In males, the main advantage is preventing fighting between adult males and also unwanted pregnancies.

Mice
Desexing is recommended for male mice, but not routinely for females. Castration of male mice can prevent fighting between mice, which is unfortunately common.  However, due to the small size of mice, desexing female mice is not routinely performed unless your mouse has a diagnosed problem with their reproductive organs.

Birds
Sterilisation in birds is not a routine procedure and is only recommended in cases of reproductive disease. Surgical desexing is a risky procedure in both males and females, due to the location of their ovary and teste next to large blood vessels. However, there are medications available to suppress sex hormones in cases of reproductive disease in birds.

Rickets in Ferrets

04/13/2018Recently at The Unusual Pet Vets we have seen several young ferrets that have had difficulty walking. Whilst there are many causes of lameness in ferrets, today we will be focusing on one particularly common condition seen in juvenile ferrets. This condition is colloquially known as ‘rickets’, but is more accurately Osteodystrophia fibrosa, or nutritional ...
Recently at The Unusual Pet Vets we have seen several young ferrets that have had difficulty walking. Whilst there are many causes of lameness in ferrets, today we will be focusing on one particularly common condition seen in juvenile ferrets. This condition is colloquially known as ‘rickets’, but is more accurately Osteodystrophia fibrosa, or nutritional hyperparathyroidism.

What is rickets?

Rickets is a term used to describe abnormal development and calcification (strengthening) of the bones, secondary to either 1) low calcium 2) low vitamin D or 3) high phosphorous intake. Ferrets with rickets can show a range of clinical signs. In moderate to severe cases, affected ferrets are unable to walk or show significant lameness (sore legs). They can also develop fractures during everyday activities due to their weak, rubber-like bones.

What causes this condition?

Juvenile ferrets are particularly susceptible to this condition, often due to the feeding all muscle meat diets which can be deficient in calcium and high in phosphorous. Ferrets are obligate carnivoresmeaning they do have a strict requirement for animal-based proteins, however, diets of only beef or chicken mince  (or other muscle based foods) generally provide very little calcium for bone growth. This means juvenile ferrets can develop bones which become very soft, meaning in severe cases their legs have as much strength as the areas of cartilage within a human ear or nose.

How can I prevent my ferret from developing rickets?

A good well-rounded diet is essential for all growing animals. There are several commercial and home-made diets available for ferrets, and it can be difficult determining which diet is the best for your ferret. We have included our top recommendations for diets in ferrets below, but it is important to keep in mind that no diet will work for 100% of ferrets. Just like people, each ferret is unique and may require certain changes to their diet to make sure it is best for them, their health status, and their lifestyle. For more on individualized diet plans for your ferret, please don’t hesitate to contact us for further information.
  1. Whole prey:For most ferrets, the best diet is one that consists of whole prey items. This is where ferrets are fed dead mice, chicks or rats. The benefits of this diet are the rich source of calcium from the prey’s bones, the vitamin-rich organs as well as the animal-based protein in the prey’s muscle. The disadvantage of this diet is often the stigma or distastefulness of feeding whole prey for owners, and the tendency of some ferrets to hide their food.
  2. Commercial dry food:In recent years there have been dry foods specifically designed for ferrets. These biscuit diets have been formulated to have very low grain-based contents, as ferrets are unable to digest or utilise plant-based products effectively. The disadvantage of these diets is they often need to be combined with other foods, and by themselves can be less mentally stimulating to a ferret. Adding in chicken necks, diet supplements such as Predamax or the occasional premium cat wet foods are ways you can increase the benefit of these diets.
What foods are not good for my ferret?

The ideal diet for most ferrets is one that:
I think my ferret has “rickets”. What now?

Rickets can be a serious disease of young ferrets, and one that often requires veterinary attention. In most cases rickets has resulted from a diet lacking in calcium, and this means calcium supplementation is one of the keys areas of treatment. Many ferrets will also require x-rays to assess the severity of any bone deformities, and whether the patient requires any intervention to facilitate normal bone growth. In the worse cases, some ferrets develop profound bone deformities that prevent them from walking, and living free of pain. Quality of life will, unfortunately, need to be considered with these individuals.

If you are concerned that your ferret is unwell or are intending to purchase a young ferret for the first time, please don’t hesitate to contact The Unusual Pet Vets for more information. We can be contacted via email at vets@, or alternatively call us at our Balcatta (9345 4644) or Murdoch clinic (9360 2876).

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