New Small Mammal Veterinary Visit

By Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

Many owners of rodents (including guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils, degus, ferrets, chinchillas), sugar gliders, and hedgehogs, are surprised to learn that all pets need an initial examination by a veterinarian and at least an annual check-up.

"Your pet’s veterinary visit will include a thorough discussion of proper feeding, housing, care, and grooming."

Many veterinarians who treat exotic small animals recommend check-ups at least twice a year to allow for early detection and treatment of potentially life-threatening diseases. Regular veterinary care is necessary to ensure pets live long, healthy lives. The most important visit is the very first one, right after you acquire your pet.

During this visit, your veterinarian will perform a physical examination and various diagnostic tests to determine your pet's state of health and to see if your pet might be harboring any diseases that require treatment. The visit will also include a thorough discussion of proper feeding, housing, care, and grooming of your new pet. You should feel comfortable and confident with your veterinarian and the hospital staff.

"Make sure your pet's veterinarian has experience treating small mammals."

Make sure your pet's veterinarian has experience treating small mammals. Exotic pet medicine has become a specialized part of veterinary medicine, and many general practitioners are not comfortable or knowledgeable about exotic pet care. Ask about the qualifications of your veterinarian. If he or she is not comfortable seeing your pet, ask for a referral to some who specializes in exotic veterinary medicine.

What procedures or tests does a veterinarian do during a small mammal checkup?

While veterinarians follow their own individual protocols when conducting examinations on new pets, all veterinarians will first perform a thorough physical examination on your pet to help ensure its health.

Some exotic pet veterinarians also may recommend certain diagnostic tests, some of which may be carried out under short-acting gas anesthesia, depending upon the species and temperament of the pet. For highly active or overly excitable small mammals, anesthesia may make these tests much less stressful. Discuss the pros and cons of testing with your veterinarian. Be aware of your options.

Physical Examination. Every veterinary visit starts with a thorough physical examination. During the exam, your veterinarian will record your pet's weight, general appearance, and activity level. Your veterinarian will review any information that you may have been given when you acquired your new small mammal and will discuss the pet's nutritional needs and general care. Your veterinarian will palpate (feel) various parts of the pet's body and note any abnormalities that warrant specialized testing.

Blood Testing. Just as a regular medical visit with your physician includes blood testing, often so does a routine 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 and electrolyte levels).

Fecal Analysis. Microscopic examination of the feces detects internal parasites (coccidia, other protozoa, and worms) and abnormal bacteria or yeast.

Microbiological Testing. Occasionally, additional tests, such as bacterial culture and sensitivity of feces or other discharge, such as from the eyes or nose, as well as a skin scraping, may be needed to determine the cause of various problems in small mammals.

Radiological 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, look for abnormal fluid accumulation, and check the bones and joints.

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