Many owners of small mammals (rabbits, sugar gliders, ferrets, hedgehogs, and rodents such as guinea pigs, chinchillas, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, and degus) are surprised to learn that all pets need at least an annual checkup with a veterinarian.
Exotic pet veterinarians typically recommend check-ups at least once a year for young, healthy pets and twice a year for geriatric animals. There are two reasons for this: first, since most pets, including small mammals, have shorter lives than people do, getting a checkup only once a year is like you going to your doctor every 5-10 years. This is too long to wait to find out if something is wrong with your pet.
"Exotic pet veterinarians typically recommend check-ups at least once a year for young, healthy pets and twice a year for geriatric animals."
Second, early detection and treatment of disease is very important for giving your pet the best prognosis for recovery from disease and is less expensive than treating a serious problem.
Regular veterinary care and routine medical testing is necessary to ensure your pet lives a long, healthy life. This is what veterinarians call practicing preventive medicine.
What will my veterinarian do during a routine small mammal checkup?
Veterinarians follow their own individual protocols when performing a routine annual or semi-annual check-up, but tests outlined below are usually recommended to help keep your pet healthy. While most of these diagnostic tests can be performed on animals while they are awake and alert, depending on the species and temperament of the pet, some exotic pet veterinarians recommend performing these tests under short-acting gas anesthesia. For very stressed or extremely active small mammals, it may be easier for your veterinarian to anesthetize your pet for testing. If your veterinarian recommends diagnostic testing for your exotic pet, be sure to discuss how these tests will be performed on your specific animal.
Physical examination. Every veterinary visit starts with a thorough physical examination. During the physical, your veterinarian will record your pet's weight, general appearance, and activity level. Your pet’s history will be taken, and your veterinarian will evaluate your small mammal's diet. Your veterinarian will palpate (feel) various parts of the pet's body and note any abnormalities or changes that have occurred since the previous visit that may warrant specialized testing.
Blood testing. Just as a medical visit to your physician includes blood testing, often so does a check-up for a pet. Blood testing can include a complete blood count (examining the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) and serum biochemical profile (which looks at various organ enzymes).
Fecal analysis. Microscopic examination of the feces allows detection of internal parasites (coccidia, other protozoa, and intestinal worms) or abnormal bacteria or yeast.
Microbiological testing. Occasionally, additional tests, such as a bacterial culture and sensitivity of stool or nasal/ocular (eye) or other discharge, or a skin scraping, may be needed to determine the cause of various problems in small mammals.
Radiographical testing. Using X-rays, your veterinarian can examine your pet's body for abnormalities in size, shape, and position of body organs, screen for masses such as tumors or granulomas, look for abnormal fluid accumulation, and check the bones and joints.