Desexing in Ferrets06/17/2019Sterilisation is the term commonly used for when pets have a surgery to remove part of their reproductive tract, making them unable to breed. Whilst most cats and dogs are sterilized, the procedure is often overlooked in small pet mammals, such as rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and rats. This handout discusses the advantages and disadvantages of desexing ...
Sterilisation is the term commonly used for when pets have a surgery to remove part of their reproductive tract, making them unable to breed. Whilst most cats and dogs are sterilized, the procedure is often overlooked in small pet mammals, such as rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and rats. This handout discusses the advantages and disadvantages of desexing in ferrets, and why surgical desexing may not be the best option for every ferret.
What are the different types of sterilisation?
The most common form of sterilisation is when an animal undergoes surgery to remove part of their reproductive tract. However, in ferrets there is a medical approach to sterilization. This is temporary but can last 1-2 years depending on the individual ferret’s response. In ferrets these medical alternatives have some benefits over surgical desexing and are recommended for many ferrets, particularly those under the age of 2 years.
Is surgical or medical sterilization better for my ferret?
Surgical desexing in ferrets is considered a routine procedure and removes parts of the reproductive tract that can be prone to developing tumours later in life. However, like any procedure involving general anaesthesia, there are some risks. Medical sterilization avoids the risk of a longer general anaesthetic and can often be given in conscious ferrets. This involves a small implant being placed between your ferret’s shoulders. The implant is known as Deslorelin (Suprelorin®) and is a widely available medication in Australia, due to its use in dogs.
The main advantage of medical sterilization is that it reduces the risk of adrenal disease developing in ferrets.
What is adrenal disease in ferrets?
Adrenal disease is a term used to describe a change to the adrenal glands, which can be cancerous. This has been linked to early surgical sterilization in ferrets, particularly those that are desexed before 6 months of age. Medical forms of sterilization avoid the risk of adrenal disease by leaving the ovaries and testicles in place.
DESEXING EXOTIC MAMMALS
What if I choose not to sterilize my ferret?
Whichever form of sterilization you choose, it is still recommended to get your ferret sterilized for several reasons:
- Many female ferrets (approximately 50%) are unable to come out of heat (oestrus) without a vasectomized or entire male present. If jills stay in heat they can develop a condition known as oestrogen toxicity, which causing life-threatening anaemia. Desexed ferrets to not develop this problem.
- Whilst both male and female ferrets both have a characteristic smell, it is the entire male ferrets that are known for their stronger, more pungent odour. Both surgical and medical sterilization can significantly reduce this smell.
- Sterilisation can also reduce certain behaviours such as aggression and urine marking.
What is the difference in cost between medical and surgical sterilization?
The cost of each is similar. The main advantage of surgical sterilisation is that it is a one-off cost whereas the deslorelin implant needs to be repeated every 12-18 months.
|Surgical sterilisation||Medical sterilization (Deslorelin)|
|Is an anaesthetic required?||Yes||In some cases – depends on the ferret|
|Does it need to be repeated?||No||Yes, every 1-1.5 years|
|Does it work for both sexes?||Yes||Yes|
|Is the procedure linked to a potentially higher risk of adrenal disease developing in later years?||Yes||No|
|Does it prevent pregnancy?||Yes||Yes|
|Does it prevent reproductive diseases such as tumours?||Yes||No|
Where can I get more information on ferret desexing?
The Unusual Pet Vets are available to provide information by email, phone call or by booking a consult. Our website www.unusualpetvets.com.au also has many helpful articles about ferret health, as well as further contact information for each of our clinics.
Is my Guinea Pig a boy or a girl? Guinea Pig Reproduction 10110/16/2018Guinea pigs are growing in popularity as pets and we are starting to see more and more of them come through our clinics. They can make fantastic pets and are full of personality, however do require more care than many people think. We get lots of questions about guinea pig reproduction and desexing so I thought I would cover some of our more frequently a...
Guinea pigs are growing in popularity as pets and we are starting to see more and more of them come through our clinics. They can make fantastic pets and are full of personality, however do require more care than many people think. We get lots of questions about guinea pig reproduction and desexing so I thought I would cover some of our more frequently asked questions today.
How do I tell the gender of my guinea pig?
We often see cases where guinea pigs have been incorrectly identified as the wrong sex. A common scenario is when someone purchases two guinea pigs and are told they are two males or females. A month or so later they go to check the guinea pigs and find that all of a sudden there is a heap of babies running around! They then bring the guinea pigs in for us to check and we see that they actually had a male and a female that are now proud parents!
The above scenario is all too common and because of this we recommend that you bring any guinea pig that is recently purchased in for a health check and also to confirm their gender. We use a number of techniques to do this depending on their age, some of which include:
- Identifying if there are testicles present. Guinea pig males have well developed testicles that are generally easy to see on adults. In young guinea pigs they often haven’t yet descended making this technique more difficult.
- Analyzing their reproductive anatomy. Males generally have a lower case “ i “ shape to their anatomy whereas females generally have a upper case “Y” appearance.
- Palpating for ovaries in females – this technique should only be done by an experienced guinea pig vet
When can they start to reproduce?
Guinea pig males should be separated from any females, including their mothers and sisters, by around 4 weeks of age as in some cases they can be reproductively active from then. Most take a bit longer however it is best to be safe.
How many babies can they have?
Most guinea pigs have 2-4 pups (babies) however we have seen up to 12 at times, there are also reports of even larger litters.
How long do they take to develop and what do the babies look like?
The average gestation period (time developing inside the mother guinea pig) is around 63-72 days. This is much longer than many other small mammals like rabbits (who average 30-33 days). As their gestation period is much longer guinea pigs come out fully furred and looking like mini-adults (precocial young). They generally take 3-6 weeks to wean completely from their mother but can start eating some solid food from a few days of age.
Should I have my guinea pig de-sexed?
We recommend routine de-sexing (sterilisation) for all guinea pigs unless you are planning to breed them. The reasons are that it helps to prevent the following conditions from occurring:
- Faecal impaction in males – this is where the male’s testicles and fat that is located around the testicles develop and start to stretch the skin. This can stop the guinea pig from being able to defecate normally in some cases and generally means that they need to have that area cleaned out at least once a day (often more regularly) by their owner.
- Cystic ovarian disease in females – This is very common with some studies showing three out of four guinea pigs will develop this problem if left unsterilised. Cysts don’t generally always cause problems but when they do they can lead to hair loss, irritation and pain.
- Reproductive cancers – these are seen commonly in both male and female guinea pigs
What is involved in the desexing surgery?
Every vet works a little bit differently but in most cases your guinea pig is dropped off in the morning to the vet clinic and then goes home late in the afternoon that day. During their visit they will have surgery under a full general anaesthetic to remove the main parts of their reproductive tract.
What are some common problems that occur with their pregnancy?
When guinea pig females (sows) reach 6-12 months of age their pelvis generally starts to ‘ossify’ which means that it can no longer separate to allow them to pass their babies if they become pregnant and haven’t been bred before. This doesn’t happen in all cases but when it does we generally need to perform a caesarian to remove the pups (guinea pig babies).
We also see a condition called pregnancy toxaemia in guinea pigs that are fed a sub-optimal diet so it is very important to make sure they are getting what they need.
If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We have clinics in Perth and Melbourne but can also be reached by our website (www.unusualpetvets.com.au) and social media pages.
Common Parasitic and Fungal infections In Birds, Reptiles & Amphibians09/09/2018Common Parasitic and Fungal infections In Birds, Reptiles & Amphibians Important tip:Whilst some over-the-counter products can be effective in the treatment of mites, careful application is needed to avoid toxicity or damage to feathers in birds. Mites There are several species of mites that can affect birds. Some of these ...
Common Parasitic and Fungal infections In Birds, Reptiles & Amphibians
Important tip:Whilst some over-the-counter products can be effective in the treatment of mites, careful application is needed to avoid toxicity or damage to feathers in birds.
There are several species of mites that can affect birds. Some of these are much more common in poultry species, such as Dermanyssus and Ornithonyssus, whilst Cnemidocoptes, more frequently known as the scaly face and leg mite, is seen in both companion parrots and chickens.
The scaly face mite is most commonly seen in budgies. The mite causes a scaly overgrowth of the bird’s cere (the skin over the top beak) that, if left untreated, can lead to serious beak and nare deformities. However, if treated promptly, these mites can be treated effectively in most cases. If a bird has frequent relapses of scaly mite, the patient’s diet should be checked for vitamin A deficiency and their environment assessed for any stressful factors.
Unlike the scaly face mite, some of the other mites that affect chickens are blood-sucking species. Both Dermanyssus and Ornithonyssuscause anaemia (blood loss) in affected chickens but are rarely the sole problem in the chicken. Some affected chickens have underlying diseases that prevent them from effectively grooming or live in environments with high numbers of these mites. Dermanyssus mites in particular have an unusual lifestyle, where they only feed on the chickens at night and are often missed by day-time examinations.
Effective treatment of poultry mites requires managing the environment and the patient. If you are worried about your bird please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
In general, flagellates can live in the intestine of snakes without causing any problems. However, there are a few cases where flagellates can cause disease: 1. if they exist in high numbers 2. If aggressive species such as Entamoeba invadensare present.Entamoeba invadensis able to burrow into the intestines of affected snakes, which causes ulcers and haemorrhagic enteritis (intestinal inflammation). The parasite is also able to migrate to the bile duct and cause hepatitis.
In cases where treatment is needed, some medications can be very effective, though fluids and environmental treatment are also often needed.
The most common mite that affects snakes in Ophionyssus natricis, also know more simply as the snake mite. At low numbers these mites can cause problems with shedding, but high numbers can lead to severe anaemia developing and even the transmission of bacterial infections. The adult mites can be recognized as small black dots most frequently attached to the scales behind the spectacle (eye) or jaw of the affected snake. Treatment involves improving husbandry and treating both the environment and the snake.
There are a number of different nematodes (roundworms) encountered in Australian snakes: Strongyloidesand Rhabdias are the two that we will be looking at today. Strongyloidesare the more commonly known intestinal worms that can cause inflammation at high numbers, whereas Rhabdiaslives in the respiratory tract. Snakes affected by lungworms can develop severe pneumonia and treatment requires regular fastidious cleaning of the snake’s environment as well as worming medications.
Coccidia is a normal organism of the intestines in many lizard species, and is an example of an opportunisticparasite. This means that coccidia often doesn’t cause any disease unless the lizard has a poor immune system, concurrent disease or lives in an environment with poor hygiene (i.e. where the faeces are regularly cleaned and removed). In cases where coccidia does cause disease, typically in bearded dragons with poor hygiene, the affected lizard has stunted growth and is smaller than other dragons of a similar age.
Important tip:Ivermectin is toxic to turtles and should never be used.
Parasitic infections are generally uncommon in most turtles. Occasionally turtles will develop fungal skin infections, particularly if they live in tanks where the water quality is not ideal. Turtles also require time out of their water, and if warm basking areas are not easily available, fungi will often grow on their shells.
Frogs & Axolotls
Important tip:To keep your frog healthy, first treat the water.
Chytrid fungus or Batrachochytrium dendrobatidisis the cause of a worldwide decline in frog numbers. The fungus can cause a fatal infection of the skin that upsets the normal water and electrolyte balance, causing severe dehydration. Some frogs will develop spots on their skin, unusual posturing (they appear ‘twisted’) and inflammation of their hind limbs. The fungus is highly contagious and if this disease is suspected, aggressive anti-fungal medications are generally started. Whilst Chytrid can affect axolotls, it isn’t as commonly seen.
Saprolegniafungi can cause disease in a wide range of amphibians and fish. Like coccidia in lizards, this fungus is opportunistic, meaning it affects amphibians that are otherwise unwell. It causes white fluffy growths on the skin of infected animals, typically around the mouth and feet. Infection is more common when water quality isn’t ideal.
Once the infection develops, axolotls and frogs can become inappetant and if not treated, can die. The treatment involves correcting husbandry, starting antifungal medications and short, frequent salt water baths.
Common Parasites In Exotic Mammals08/14/2018Just 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.
Important tip #1: Frontline (fipronil) is toxic to rabbits.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Important tip #2: Parasites are often secondary to other disease.
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 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.
Important tip #3: Prevention is easier than cure.
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.
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.
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.
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 Diseases06/28/2018Rabbits 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:
- 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.
- 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:
- Daily ear cleaners– this option is for very mild ear disease where wax may be building up in your rabbit’s ears.
- Antibiotic ear flushes– this is often the first treatment offered when your rabbit is diagnosed with an external ear infection.
- Long term antibiotics– this is an option for persistent ear infections where further tests or treatment is not a viable option for your rabbit.
- 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.
- 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:
- Scratching at their ears more frequently
- Appearing quieter or less interested in food
- Repeated episodes of gastrointestinal stasis
- Head tilts or facial asymmetry (dropping of one side of their face)