April 25, 2022

Ready to Enrich Your Pet’s Life in New Ways? Check Out What’s New in Enrichment!

Ready to Enrich Your Pet’s Life in New Ways? Check Out What’s New in Enrichment!

What’s not to love about enriching your pet’s daily life?  Providing enrichment is an essential step in supporting your little loved one’s instincts to run, play, hide and chew every day.  Supporting these instincts is fun for you and your pets alike and is a great way to strengthen your loving bond.  To help, we’re excited to introduce our newest enrichment innovations.   

Exercise

Physical activity is great for mind and body alike. To help the furry athletes in your household be the healthiest, happiest versions of themselves, we’re introducing our new Quiet Runners and Run & Hides. 

Quiet Runners

Who's ready to run?  Our 2 in 1 Quiet Runners come in three super silent sizes (8”, 10”, and 12”) are designed to support the play instincts of small pets inside or outside of the habitat.  Featuring a super silent design and feet friendly track, the 2 in 1 Quiet Runners are designed with both quiet and safety in mind. 

Run & Hides  

When it's time to stretch those little legs, small pets are sure to enjoy our Run & Hides.  With a super silent and feet friendly design, pet parents can feel confident that the Run & Hide (available in 8”, 10”, and 12” sizes) will quietly and safely support the physical activity their pets need to be happy and healthy.  The built in hide makes the perfect place to rest and relax after a strenuous workout!

Engagement  

Offering items that challenge and engage your pets comes with many health benefits, including regular mental stimulation and increased daily physical activity.  Our new engagement items are custom designed to provide entertainment and prevent boredom.  By adding visual and tactile enrichment to your pet’s daily routine, you can help them live their best, most enriched life.    

Honeycomb Hide & Play

In addition to being adorable, our Honeycomb Hide & Play supports your pet’s exploring, playing, and chewing behaviors.  By hiding food and treats throughout the nooks and crannies of the Hide and Play, you’ll promote your pets natural foraging behaviors in healthy, meaningful ways.  Great job, you responsible pet parent, you!   
 
Natural Activity Mobile

Let’s get those pets looking up!  Our Natural Activity Mobile easily attaches to your pet’s habitat and is designed to encourage pets to explore vertical spaces as they engage their chewing and playing instincts.     
 
Garden Dig Box

The Garden Dig Box is one of our favorite new additions to our ever-growing enrichment lineup.  This garden-themed item is great for foraging.  Simply sprinkle a few of your pet’s pellets or favorite healthy treat pieces in amongst the paper and enjoy watching them forage for them.  Can you dig it?  Of course you can.    
 
Wooden Puzzler

The Wooden Puzzler is custom made for interactive play between you and your pet.  Hide pellets or healthy treats under the cups and enjoy watching your pet user their super sniffer to hunt them down.  Stack the cups and watch your mini-Godzilla knock them down.  Hide the cups individually throughout your pet’s habitat.  Need even more Wooden Puzzler inspiration?  Get it here!      
 
Triangle Tilt ‘n Treat 

The Triangle Tilt ‘n Treat will entice your little loved one to get vertical to hunt for their favorite treats.  Like our other hanging chews, the TNT conveniently attaches to the side of the habitat or exercise pen to help accessorize your pet’s habitat while making the most of the space.    

Natural Chews 

How frequently should your pet be chewing?  All day, every day!  Chewing promotes dental health through regular, natural wear.  That’s why it’s so essential to offer multiple chew options for your pet at all times.  Having access to a variety of chews will keep their interest, providing mental stimulation in the process.  To keep your natural chew rotation fresh and exciting, we’ve designed some fun and exciting new additions to our lineup.    
 
Ox Blocks
Hangable?  Check.  Stackable?  Check.  Cute animal designs?  Double check.  If your pet enjoys interactive play, we’re pretty sure our adorable new Ox Blocks check all the boxes.  Whether you choose to hang the entire strand of blocks from a habitat or exercise pen wall or disassemble the strand for stacking fun, your pet will undoubtedly have a ball playing with these natural wood blocks.       
 
Celebration Party Pack
Every day is a celebration when you have adorable pets in your life.  That’s why we designed our new Celebration Party Pack to include five adorable natural chews in one.  Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion like a birthday or gotcha day, or just celebrating another amazing day with your furry loved one, we’ve got you covered.  With our exclusive new taco and pineapple included, the Celebration Party Pack is a must have for all pet parents. Is a party in a box.   
 
Timothy Party Pack
Now that parties are on your mind, let’s talk Timothy.  Like our Celebration Party Pack, our new Timothy Party Pack contains a variety of enriching chews, including two exciting exclusive items – the Rosy Timothy Heart and Timothy Swirl.  With a total of six natural, Timothy-based chews in the box, your pet is sure to give you extra snuggles when this party pack shows up in their habitat!    

Rest and Relaxation

As a prey animal, your small pet possesses a natural instinct to avoid perceived stresses and dangers by hiding away throughout the day.  To help with his, we excited to unveil our newest additions – our Timothy Huts!   
 
Timothy Huts
It’s natural to be jealous of your pet’s ability to nap any time or place they choose.  And while you may not have the same liberties when it comes to catching some Zzzs, you should always take comfort in supporting your pet’s rest and relaxation needs.  An ideal habitat should feature multiple resting places, and our new Timothy Huts made an adorable addition to every pet’s habitat.  Made with North American Timothy Hay, the huts come in three sizes to support the R&R needs of small pets of all shapes and sizes.        

Care

When it comes to enriching your pet’s world, don’t forget about care essentials!  Equipping your pet’s habitat with these items s crucial to their health and happiness.   
 
Washable Floor Mats
There’s nothing better than having a soft place to lounge.  That’s why our new washable floor mats are made of super soft fleece with a cushy, multi-layer design.  The mats come in two sizes and are great for use inside or outside the habitat.  One touch and you’ll wish your bedding was this soft and comfy!  

Ready to take your enrichment game to the next level?  Check out these additional enrichment resources:   
 

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April 12, 2022

Is Juice Healthy for My Small Pet?

Is Juice Healthy for My Small Pet?
By Dr. Cayla  Iske

Many human food and nutrition trends continue to make their way into today’s pet space. This comes as little surprise when considering that most pet parents want to feed their loved ones similarly to the way they feed themselves.  With juice cleanses becoming more popular in human nutrition, many pet parents naturally ask themselves if juice is something they can and should share with their pet. It is a logical question, but one without a black and white answer.  

There is a great deal of conflicting information regarding juices.  Fruit and vegetable juices are typically associated with a healthy diet or lifestyle, but it’s essential to remember your small mammal’s unique dietary and digestive needs when considering whether juices are appropriate for your pet.  

In this article, we’ll address a few prevalent myths about juice as they pertain to your exotic companion mammal. 

Myth #1: Juice has all the nutrients of whole produce. 

Fruits and vegetables are known to supply important nutrients (such as antioxidants) in large part due to their phytonutrient content. These foods can also be a great source of vitamins and minerals in the diet.  

A nutrient less commonly associated with fruits and vegetables (though just as important) is fiber. Your hindgut fermenting small mammal, specifically rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas, requires significant amounts of fiber in their diet to support healthy gastrointestinal (GI) function and maintain a healthy microbiome. In fact, without proper amounts and type of fiber, these animals cannot properly utilize many other important nutrients.  

The standard process of making juice means the removal of the pulp or the solid portions of fruits and vegetables. This means juicing removes most of the vital fiber that these foods offer.  

Another prevalent nutrient in vegetables and especially fruit is natural sugar. By removing the pulp, you are also concentrating the sugar contained in produce. While concentrating sugar does make for a tastier treat, the combination of removing fiber and concentrating sugar can be a recipe for disaster for small herbivores, potentially leading to dysbiosis (imbalance of bacteria and the microbiome) and even GI stasis.  

So, if you choose to make vegetables and fruit a part of your pet’s diet, it’s always best to offer whole produce (mainly dark leafy greens) rather than juices. 

Myth #2: Juice is easier to digest than whole fruits or vegetables, so it’s better. 

“Easier to digest” is one of those claims that sounds good in theory but isn’t necessarily something to strive for in relation to healthy herbivores.  Foods that are easy to digest are often characterized by being high in sugar and simple carbohydrates and low in fiber. This is essentially the opposite of what your little one’s digestive tract needs to operate efficiently and effectively.  

Above all, you want to ensure you provide a high fiber diet that keeps your small pet’s digestive tract moving (peristalsis) and provides substrate (fiber) for the microbiome to ferment and provide energy to the animal. Rabbits and, even more so, guinea pigs and chinchillas are incredibly efficient at utilizing fiber and need it in the diet to maintain a healthy digestive tract and overall health. 

Myth #3: There are no scenarios in which juices can be offered to my pet. 

While whole fruits and vegetables are certainly better, and dark leafy green the best, to offer your pet in most circumstances, there are ways that juices can be helpful. 

  • If designing and creating homemade treats is one of your love languages for your small pet, no sugar-added juices can be added in small quantities when combined with other high fiber ingredients.  
  • Additionally, if your pet is sick or recovering and slow to begin eating again, mixing some no sugar added juice in with a high fiber recovery food, such as Critical Care, can be a great way to encourage eating.  
  • Using a small amount of your little one’s favorite produce juice is a great way to encourage them to try something new in their diet. Adding a bit of juice to a new type of grass hay or new pellet can make transitioning a bit easier on everyone. Adding juice to treats and recovery foods is certainly not required but can serve as a useful option if you choose. 

Myth #4: All juices are created equally. 

If you do choose to incorporate small amounts of juice into your pet’s diet, there are a few factors to consider:  

  • Organic juices are always preferred to ensure pesticides and chemicals don’t make their way into your pet’s food.  
  • Selecting natural or 100% juice products is also always preferred over fruit juice concentrates. Fruit juice concentrates add an extra processing step which has potential to destroy some of the valuable nutrients in juice.  
  • Most importantly always ensure the juices you offer contain no added sugars of any type.  

Myth #5: Juices are effective at treating some ailments such as hairball and bladder issues. 

Some fruits do contain compounds beneficial for mitigating certain health issues. For example, enzymes in pineapple (bromelain) and papaya (papain) may help break down the mucous coating of hairballs (trichobezoars) to facilitate hair passing naturally. However, offering fruit juice is not an effective way to treat hairballs.  This is because the amount of juice needed to provide a beneficial level of these enzymes is not realistic and can potentially cause GI upset or worse.  

Similarly, cranberry juice is often associated with treating bladder issues. Here again, the concentration of beneficial flavonoids in cranberry juice is far too low to offer real treatment without providing far too much sugar. If your animal is suffering from hairballs or bladder issues, you should always consult your veterinarian and consider a targeted supplement with concentrated amounts of beneficial compounds.  

Is Juice Healthy for My Small Pet?

Whole fruits and vegetables are always a better option than juices in your small mammal’s diet. Juices remove the valuable fiber that produce offers and concentrates the natural sugars which can wreak havoc on your small pet’s digestive system if offered in large quantities. Because of the relatively high sugar content, juices are also not an effective way to treat health issues. No sugar added juices can be used in very small quantities to increase palatability of homemade treats or to encourage your pet to eat a high fiber recovery food if needed but should be used sparingly and should be organic, 100% juice products.  

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April 12, 2022

How to Care for Your Chinchilla

How to Care for Your Chinchilla

Your chinchilla is the center of your world, and we know you want to provide your chin (or chins) with everything they need to be happy and healthy every day.  That's why we've put together this collection of essential chinchilla care tips to help you along your journey together. 

In this article, we'll cover the following important topics:

  • Feeding your chinchilla
  • Chinchilla behaviors 
  • Dust baths for chinchillas
  • Enriching your chinchilla's world 
  • Housing your chinchilla
  • Essential chinchilla supplies
  • Your chinchilla's health    

Feeding Your Chinchilla

  • As a herbivore, your chinchilla’s diet should center around unlimited amounts of grass hay.  The high amounts of beneficial fiber in hay help meet the important digestive and dental health needs of chinchillas and other small herbivores.
  • daily recommended amount of uniform, fortified food provides your chinchilla essential nutrients (e.g., vitamins and minerals) not found in hay.
  • Fresh, chin-friendly greens and veggies are great for enrichment, but it’s important to note that chinchillas are generally more sensitive to sugar than other small mammals.  This makes moderation essential.  When it comes to types and amounts of greens and veggies, it’s best to speak with your veterinarian to determine what’s best for your specific animals.
  • Healthy treats, while not nutritionally essential, can help make your relationship with your chinchilla more fun and meaningful.  Again, moderation is key! 

Hay For Your Chinchilla

It’s important for your chinchilla to have unlimited access to a variety of quality grass hays. Among many benefits, hay helps prevent obesityboredom, and dental and gastrointestinal disease in chinchillas. Replacing the hay in your chinchilla’s habitat can encourage picky eating, so you should only change it only when soiled.  Offer a variety of types of grass hay to further discourage unhealthy picky eating habits.  

Young (less than 1 year old), pregnant, nursing or ill animals can benefit from eating alfalfa hay in addition to grass hay because of the higher nutritional content (including higher levels of protein and calcium). Otherwise, alfalfa should only be given to your chinchilla occasionally as a treat.

Hay Selection

Grass hay should make up the majority of your chinchilla’s daily diet. Offer a variety of grass hays to your chinchilla to promote optimum health. Use the Taste & Texture Guide located on every Oxbow hay package to determine your pet’s taste and texture preferences.

We have many all-natural, farm-fresh hays to choose from including Western TimothyOrchard GrassOat HayBotanical HayOrganic Meadow Hay, and Hay Blends - Western Timothy & Orchard. Also, check out our Harvest Stacks line of compressed hays for extra enrichment.

Your Chinchilla’s Food

Providing a daily recommended amount of high-fiber, age-appropriate fortified food will help ensure that your chinchilla receives vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients not found in hay.

How to Select the Right Food for your Chinchilla

It’s important to choose a uniform food formulated specifically for chinchillas.  Oxbow offers multiple quality options to meet the unique preferences of all chinchillas.  Not sure which to choose?  Don’t worry!  We’ve outlined the unique characteristics of each of our food lines to make the decision easier!

Greens For Your Chinchilla

Fresh greens are an important part of your chinchilla’s daily diet.  Greens help keep your pet hydrated and offer important vitamins and minerals, as well as enrichment.  Romaine, bib, and red leaf lettuce are good greens to offer, but avoid foods in the onion family such as leeks, chives, and onions. 

Treats For Chinchillas

Treats (including fruits and veggies) are great for encouraging interaction between you and your pet, but they should never take the place of essential daily foods.  Eating too many treats can lead your chinchilla to refuse his healthy, essential foods.  It’s also important to remember that not all treats are created equal, either!  All Oxbow Simple Rewards treat varieties are designed to be as wholesome as they are delicious. 

Chinchilla Behaviors

Chinchillas are active, playful animals that bond quickly with their owners.  As highly social animals, chinchillas require meaningful companionship to be at their happiest and healthiest.  Even with a commitment to spend as much time as possible with our furry friends, there’s no substitute for the companionship provided by a same-species friend.  For this reason, it’s always recommended to share your home with a bonded pair of chinchillas.  This will ensure your chinchillas experience companionship at all times, increasing their feelings of security and lowering stress. 
 
Chinchillas are highly active and athletic, able to jump great heights.  For this reason, it’s essential to provide a spacious, multi-level habitat that provides ample space for their natural acrobatic exploration.   
   
Some chinchilla behaviors can seem strange at first.  For example, you may see your chinchilla eat its own poop.  This is a normal, healthy behavior that provides essential vitamins and nutrients.  Also, chinchillas can release tufts of hair as a defense mechanism.  This can be very alarming (especially for a new chinchilla pet parent), but try not to panic if this happens.  Rest assured that your chinchilla’s fur will grow back over time following a “slip.”

Chinchilla Dust Baths

Your chinchilla’s method of keeping himself clean is unique from many other small animals.  Because of the density of chinchilla fur and their naturally oily skin, chinchillas will instinctively “bathe” themselves in dust to maintain a lush, healthy coat of fur.  Oxbow’s Poof! Chinchilla Dust Bath is the ideal material for keeping your chinchilla’s fur healthy and soft.   

Learn more about how to support your chinchilla’s need for dust baths.

Enriching Your Chinchilla’s World

Every chinchilla is wired to engage in a set of healthy instinctual behaviors each day.  These behaviors include chewingplayinghiding, and exploring.  Intentionally encouraging these behaviors in healthy ways is called enrichment.  Support all four behaviors in a variety of ways each day to support your chinchilla’s mental and physical health.

Looking for some chin-spiration?  Check out our top 10 toys and accessories for chinchillas!     

Housing Your Chinchilla

It’s easy to make chinchillas feel at home inside your house.  As prey animals by nature, all chins need a safe home environment free of environmental stressors.  Choose a spacious, multi-level habitat with a solid floor and set it up near household activities, but away from drafts. 

Chinchillas are especially sensitive to temperature and require a constant temp between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid overheating.  With this in mind, be sure your chinchilla’s habitat is set up in a temperature-controlled area of the house with low humidity and no direct sunlight.      

Your chinchilla’s habitat should be outfitted with environmental essentials such as a hay habitat and/or woven hideout, a litter box lined with litter and bedding, multiple chews, grass hay, a food bowl, a dust bath, and two sources of fresh, clean water.  

Essential Supplies for Your Chinchilla

Every chinchilla should have daily access to some basic supplies for health and happiness.  Make sure you’re stocked up on the following:  

  • Age-specific fortified food
  • Two or more varieties of Oxbow’s farm-fresh hay
  • A variety of natural chews and miscellaneous enrichment items to support your chinchilla’s chewing, exploring, and playing instincts
  • Oxbow treats for healthy bonding and enrichment
  • Two sources of water (both a bottle and dish)
  • Heavy food bowl
  • Spacious multi-level habitat with solid, non-slip flooring
  • Large play yard for safe exercise outside the habitat
  • Multiple hiding spaces for rest and relaxation
  • Litter and bedding material
    • A layered combination of Eco-Straw litter (bottom) and Pure Comfort bedding (top) makes an ideal substrate
  • Natural Science supplements, as needed
  • Dust bath house and Poof! Chinchilla Dust Bath

Your Chinchilla’s Health

You should visit a qualified exotics veterinarian at least once a year for check-ups on your chinchilla’s diet, behavior, and health.

Be prepared for your chinchilla’s visits by making a list of any questions or concerns you may have ahead of time.  Ask your veterinarian about the potential of spaying or neutering your chinchilla.  Many chinchilla health problems are preventable with proper diet and care.  To locate a qualified exotics veterinarian near you, visit aemv.org.

Reasons to Contact Your Vet Right Away Regarding Your Chinchilla’s Health:

  • Loose, soft, or lack of stool
  • Small, dry, or infrequent stools
  • Blood in the urine
  • Overgrown front teeth
  • Hunching in a corner or lethargic behavior
  • Sneezing or trouble breathing
  • Observed difficulty chewing
  • Bald patches in the fur
  • Sores on the feet
  • Abnormal eating or drinking

 Learn more about common chinchilla health issues.

Still have questions about how to provide the best care for your chinchilla? Our experts are here for you! 

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April 12, 2022

What Is the Difference Between Alfalfa and Timothy Hay?

What Is the Difference Between Alfalfa and Timothy Hay?

Choosing the right forage for your hay-loving herbivore can be confusing, but it doesn’t need to be!  Regardless of your level of experience caring for rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, or other herbivores in the family, you’ve likely encountered a variety of different types of hay while stocking up on essentials for your little loved one. In this article, we’ll take a look at two popular but uniquely different types of hay: alfalfa and Timothy hay. 

When doing a side-by-side comparison between alfalfa and Timothy hay, it’s important to note that there is room for both of these hay varieties in your pet’s diet.  Your pet’s age and health status will largely determine if their diet should focus more heavily on alfalfa or Timothy (or another grass hay).    

Alfalfa at a Glance

  • Legume hay
  • Sweet taste and soft texture
  • High in fiber
  • Higher in protein and calcium than grass hay
  • Ideal for young, ill, pregnant, or nursing herbivores
    • Should be offered only as a treat for non-nursing adult herbivores

Check out our deep dive on alfalfa to learn more about this important and enticing hay variety!  

When Should I Offer My Pet Alfalfa?

If our pets could do the shopping, many of them would load the cart up with alfalfa every time.  That’s because alfalfa is sweet, rich, and altogether delectable to small pets.  Along with its appealing flavor profile, alfalfa contains more protein and calcium than grass hays like Timothy, Orchard, Oat, and others. 

Alfalfa’s higher nutritional value makes it the ideal forage choice for young, ill, or nursing herbivores with elevated energy requirements.  Pets meeting one these criteria can eat unlimited amounts of alfalfa. 

One common mistake pet parents make is to neglect offering grass hay alongside alfalfa to the young, nursing, or ill pets.  Grass hay is beneficial to all pets, young and old and should always be available.  Munching on a variety of different types of hay provides an entire host of benefits, so don’t forget to offer Western Timothy or another variety of grass hay anytime you provide alfalfa!    

Timothy Hay at a Glance

  • Grass hay
  • Balanced taste and texture
  • High in fiber
  • Lower in protein and calcium than alfalfa
  • Ideal for adult herbivores
    • Beneficial for young herbivores in addition to alfalfa

When Should I Offer My Pet Timothy Hay?

As mentioned, Timothy hay (or your pet’s grass hay variety of choice) should be offered anytime you’re feeding them alfalfa, regardless of your pet’s age or health status.  But, when should grass hay be the primary forage of choice for your herbivore? 

Grass hay should be the primary forage choice for adult animals that are not pregnant, nursing, ill, or recovering from surgery.  That’s because healthy adult animals generally have lower energy requirements.  That doesn’t mean that your grown-up rabbit or guinea pig can’t ever enjoy alfalfa.  Just be sure to offer alfalfa in small quantities (just a pinch as a treat).   

Alfalfa and Timothy in Rabbit and Guinea Pig Foods  

The same general guidelines around alfalfa and grass hay apply when it comes to your pet’s food.  For example, you should choose an adult rabbit or guinea pig food with grass hay-based ingredients (e.g. Timothy) at the top of the ingredient list.  A grass hay-based pellet provides appropriate levels of protein and fat, meeting maintenance needs while preventing obesity.

Young, growing, pregnant, or lactating herbivores have higher energy requirements and need food that is specifically designed to meet these needs. An alfalfa-based uniform pellet provides a nutrient-dense diet to support animals during these stages of life.

If you’re unsure whether your pet’s food is appropriate for his stage of life, we encourage you to consult with your trusted veterinarian.     

Ready to learn more about hay? Check out these great resources: 

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April 11, 2022

Five Frequently Asked Ferret Questions

How do I know if a ferret would be a good fit for my family?

So, how do I know if a ferret would be a good pet for our household? As with our consideration of any potential pet, we want to think about what's unique to the animal - their behaviors and their traits - and if that fits with a lifestyle and environment we're able to provide, long before we bring that animal home. Ferrets are very inquisitive, very curious, very active pets and even a munchkin that can tend to get into trouble from time to time.  With that being said, ferrets are very loyal, playful, and can easily be a pet that you can form a very strong bond with. Just ensure that you have the time, make sure that you have the environment, the space, and the willingness to invest in an appropriate habitat and nutrition because these are pets that require a lot of ongoing care.

Should my ferret have a companion? 

So, another common question I get: “Is it okay to just have one ferret or do I need to consider getting more than one?”  As amazing as the human animal bond is, and as beneficial as our relationship with our ferret companions can be, it will never replace the relationship and the social bond that your ferret should and can have with another ferret. We want to spend the time, effort, and energy to invest in that relationship. But, one of the single best things that we can do to ensure longevity and quality of life for our pet is to consider getting them another partner.

What should I look for in a ferret diet?

Just like all of our pets beyond ferrets – dogs, cats, and others - nutrition is the single most important decision that any pet parent can make. Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means they rely on high amounts of protein and fat. So, number one, we want to focus on diets that provide that.  Most importantly, we want to provide that from animal protein sources.

Secondly, we want to understand that in wild environments, ferrets naturally have very small amounts of fiber and starches that are part of their natural diet. Namely, the only place those would occur would potentially be from the gut contents of prey animals. So we want to understand that and try to mimic that in the diets that we feed them, focusing on protein and fat and very limited and very small amounts of appropriate starches and fibers.

Beyond the nutritional makeup, we want the diet to be uniform. We also want to consider additional supplemental foods. Supplementing the ferret diet with additional amounts of animal proteins and appropriate nutritional treats should all be part of that overarching nutritional profile.

What type of enrichment is appropriate for ferrets?

We talk a lot about enrichment and how important it is in all of our exotic companion mammals, and that's especially true in ferrets. These are our natural predators, so they are very active. They are very playful and they spend a lot out of time physically evaluating and investigating their environment. So, it's extremely important that we provide ample amounts of appropriate and healthy environmental enrichment for these animals. Their desire to play, to forage, to explore, to burrow, and tunnel are all natural behaviors.  Any environmental factors we can provide that stimulate these behaviors are very, very beneficial for them long term.

What type of habitat is ideal for ferrets?

Equally important to nutrition is selecting the right type of habitat. Number one, it needs to be a habitat that is specifically designed for ferrets. As predators in their natural environment, ferrets spend a huge amount of time exploring, digging, and tunneling. So, we want to provide a habitat that provides as much horizontal and vertical space as possible. That means selecting a habitat that has multiple levels. As important as it is to select the right habitat, it doesn't diminish the importance of ensuring that these animals have time outside of their habitat to explore and be mentally and physically stimulated.

Ready to learn more about ferrets?  Check out these great resources: 

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April 06, 2022

How to Care for Your Small Mammal After Surgery

How to Care for Your Small Mammal After Surgery
by Dianne Cook, LVT

From routine procedures like spays, neuters, and dental exams, to more intense operations like tumor removals and cystotomies (the surgical procedure performed to remove bladder stones), there are numerous reasons our beloved small pets may have to undergo surgery. Regardless of why your furry companion has had surgery, proper at-home post-operative care is an important part of the healing process. Though the thought of caring for your little one in such a delicate state can be stressful, the following tips and suggestions will provide an idea of what to watch for and will help ensure your beloved companion recovers as smoothly and quickly as possible.  

Why Is Post-Op Care So Important? 

As prey species, your small mammal is hardwired to hide signs of illness or discomfort. While this mentality prevented your pet’s wild ancestors from succumbing to predation, it can also mean many things can go wrong for a post-operative small mammal before they start showing any blatant signs or symptoms. Luckily, if they are observed closely, it is easier to pick up on the subtle indications that something isn’t going to plan. A properly supervised at-home recovery also ensures your pet can heal in a familiar environment, thereby limiting stress and lowering the risk of secondary health concerns (like gastrointestinal stasis). 

Before You Leave the Hospital 

When you pick your little one up after surgery, it is important to speak with your veterinarian or their vet tech before you leave the building. Though your veterinarian should have answered most of your questions before the procedure, it’s never a bad idea to verify instructions and make sure the following questions are answered to your satisfaction.  

  1. How long is the typical recovery time for this procedure? Animals who have undergone a spay or neuter are generally up and moving around much sooner than an animal who has undergone a more invasive procedure. It is important to know how soon you can expect your little one to return to normal activity levels. 
  2. Is there an incision and what does it look like? What do you anticipate the incision will look like as it heals? What is “normal” for the incision? Does the doctor expect there to be quite a bit of discharge, or none whatsoever? Does the vet anticipate any swelling or fluid accumulation under/near the incision? How should you keep the incision clean? You may also want to ask to look at the incision with your veterinarian before you head home so you know exactly what it looks like and you will have a clear idea if something starts to look amiss as your pet heals. 
  3. Are there any external sutures, staples, or drain tubes that will need to be removed? If so, when? When possible, most veterinarians will “bury” the sutures (using subcutaneous sutures only) to limit the risk of your pet chewing at their incision or inadvertently pulling out an external suture or staple. The type of closure (external vs internal) used, however, may vary depending on your veterinarian’s preference and the location of the incision. Drain tubes are most often used when there is a risk of excessive fluid or infection accumulating in or around the surgical site. If there are visible sutures, staples, or drain tubes present, make sure to verify when they need to be removed.  
  4. When should I bring my pet back for a recheck? Regardless of the type of surgery your little one underwent, they will likely need to return to the hospital within 7 – 14 days for a recheck to ensure everything is healing as expected. It’s a good idea to make the recheck appointment before you leave the hospital.  
  5. What parameters constitute an early recheck? Ask your veterinarian for specific signs or symptoms that would indicate the need for an early recheck.  
  6. Has my pet eaten since waking up? Most veterinarians prefer to know their post-op patients (regardless of species) can eat on their own before sending them home. This is especially true of rabbits and rodents. Regardless of this fact, it never hurts to verify when your pet last ate, what food(s) they consumed, and how well they ate (did they just nibble, or did they eat readily?). 
  7. Do you recommend a supplemental diet during recovery? Your veterinarian may decide to send you home with a nutrient dense recovery diet like Critical Care. If your vet does not feel a supplemental diet is necessary, ask them why and make sure you feel comfortable with their response.  
  8. Who should you call if there is an emergency? Though most surgical patients heal without incident, there are times that unanticipated emergencies can arise. Before leaving your veterinary hospital with your pet, make sure you know if your veterinarian sees their own after hour emergencies or if they recommend a particular emergency or referral center for urgent care needs on nights and weekends.

Key Post-Op Care Instructions 

Healing from surgery is hard work! During the post-operative phase, the body goes into overdrive repairing muscles and ligaments, forming new neuropathways, and evading infection. Though different surgical procedures require slightly different aftercare, every post-op patient requires special focus in six key areas during the first couple of weeks of recovery: mentation, appetite, output, medications, surgical site, and husbandry. 

  • Mentation - Mentation is the fancy medical word for how an animal responds to their environment. Are they bright and alert? Do they seem “loopy” or “out of it”? Are they tense and quiet? Are they overly lethargic or difficult to wake up? After surgery, it’s not uncommon for your pet to be a bit sleepier than usual for the first 24 hours. They should still be easy to wake, frequently feeding, and appropriately responsive to sounds in their environment. If anything seems unusual, call your vet! 
  • Appetite - Injectable sedatives and anesthetic gases can both cause nausea and disorientation during the early stages of the post-operative period. Because rabbits and rodents are incapable of vomiting, a decreased appetite may be the only sign your little one exhibits to indicate they are experiencing tummy troubles. Even though your pet should have enjoyed a post-op meal before leaving the hospital, it is essential to closely monitor your pet’s food and water intake once they are home. If you notice your pet’s appetite or thirst starts to decrease, or if they stop eating or drinking altogether, contact your veterinarian right away.  
  • Output – Like appetite, it is just as important to keep a close eye on your little one’s output (urination and defecation) after surgery. Do their stools look normal? Have they been passing a normal volume of feces? More? Less? Are they urinating as often as they should? Does their urine look especially dark or smell more pungent? Is your small herbivore able to reach and consume their cecotropes? If anything out of the ordinary is noted, call your veterinarian as quickly as possible. 
  • Medications - When referencing medications in a post-op animal, your veterinarian will most likely provide one (or both) of the following: analgesics (pain meds) and antibiotics. Just like in humans, pain meds and antibiotics can cause upset stomachs and stool abnormalities. Pain meds can also cause profound sedation (sleepiness) in some animals. Even more reason careful monitoring of mentation, appetite, and output, as discussed above, is so important. When administering any medication to any post-operative small mammals, you will also want to monitor how your pet is reacting to the meds. Do they seem loopy after getting their pain meds? Do they seem comfortable and relaxed? Have you noticed any unusual behavior? Do they fight you with every dose? It is always best to finish a script as written, otherwise the medication will not be providing full efficacy (this is especially true of antibiotics). If you feel your furry friend is not handling their medications well, speak with your veterinarian before discontinuing. They may be able to adjust the dosing or provide an alternate medication.  
  • Surgical Site - Keep a close eye on the surgical site. It is best not to handle your pet too frequently for the first few days after surgery to allow them time to rest and recuperate, but you will need to make sure that you’re checking on your pet’s incision at least twice a day. Small mammals have notoriously thin skin, so it’s not uncommon to see some irritation from having their hair shaved prior to surgery. The skin should still look healthy and dry, however. Moist skin, especially if it is sticky or has an odor, can be a sign of a skin infection. The incision itself should be clean and free from debris (scabs, hay, bedding, etc.). It is completely normal for a little bit of serosanguinous fluid (a thin fluid consisting of blood cells and serum) to leak from the wound for the first day or two after surgery. This fluid is generally pale yellow with a pinkish tint. It should not have an odor and should not be sticky or thick. If you notice any of the following on or near your pet’s incision, call your veterinarian immediately: 
    • Excessive swelling 
    • Bright red, irritated skin 
    • Red streaking radiating out from the incision 
    • Incision is hot to the touch 
    • Obviously visible blood present at the incision site, especially if it’s dripping or pooling 
    • Thick white, yellow, or green discharge on or near the incision 
    • An unpleasant odor 
    • The incision starts to come apart 
    • Also contact your veterinarian if you notice your pet (or one of their animal friends) licking and/or grooming the area excessively. Your kiddo may need an e-collar (or a short separation from his friends) when they are not being directly supervised.
  • Husbandry - It is important to make sure your little one has a safe, clean, warm, and cozy space in which to recuperate once they return home. During the recovery phase, make sure to keep an extra close eye on your pet’s bedding to look for traces of blood, spots of abnormal urine, or loose stools. Your pet’s recovery area should be spot cleaned at least once a day to keep the environment as sanitary as possible. If your pet is generally free roam, it is likely best to keep them confined to a smaller area (like a play yard) while they heal. This will encourage them to take it easy and prevent them from accidently injuring themselves by jumping onto furniture or doing too many “zoomies”. If your post-op pal is part of a bonded pair or group, it is generally best for them to return to the same enclosure or environment to have the moral support of their best buds while they heal. Luckily, small mammals are usually quite adept at monitoring their own activity post-op and will remain quiet and calm, even when housed with their buddies, until their body has healed well enough to safely return to normal activity. Occasionally, however, there can be some concern with excessive allogrooming (social grooming between members of the same species), especially if they are focusing their grooming attention anywhere near the surgical site.  

If you are worried that keeping your pet in the same space as their companions will put them at risk of breaking open their incision or otherwise impacting their health and safety, it may be best to separate your furry friends until your post-op babe is fully healed – or until a veterinarian indicates it is safe to keep them together again. If separation is necessary, try to do so in a way they can still see, smell, hear, and interact with each other by using separate play yards or a temporary enclosure divider.  

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