Senior Pet Care Part II – Other Species
With the constant advancement of veterinary medicine, our pets are living longer than ever. This doesn’t just apply to dogs and cats anymore. Birds, hamsters, rabbits and ferrets, to name a few are living longer than ever with a better quality of life. Here are some tips for the care of other species who are reaching their own ‘golden years.’
Just like in dogs and cats, a high quality diet for your exotic species is essential. In the case of birds, they can live many years on a poor diet. It’s just the same as if a person were to eat McDonald’s for their entire life. They might be alive, but it doesn’t mean that they are achieving their optimal health or that they wouldn’t live longer and better on a different diet. There is no reason to not consider feeding a higher quality diet. If you are interested in upgrading your pet’s diet, please let us know! We would be happy to walk you through the finer points (hint: Switching some species’ cold turkey, from one to another – like birds, can cause medical problems and isn’t recommended).
Ferrets, rabbits and guinea pigs also have specific diet recommendations. There are many specially formulated diets for these individual species that will help them achieve optimal health. Part of the comprehensive physical examination on our exotic patients is a diet consultation.
Most (if not all) exotic species can’t go very long without eating. If they start showing any symptoms of illness, please bring them in. Waiting even 24 hours for a pet like a hamster or guinea pig can mean the difference in how successfully we are able to treat them. Birds try to hide their symptoms (as do a lot of prey animals) and so any changes in their normal behavior should prompt a visit to see us.
As exotic pets age, they can stop performing routine functions like grooming. For a rabbit, this might mean extra brushing and frequent monitoring of their underside so they don’t develop something like urine scald because they don’t want to move around as much. A lot of small mammals are close to the ground and often are in close contact with their droppings. For older pets that don’t move around as much, an increased diligence will be needed so they stay as clean as possible.
Senior pets can be susceptible to many other health issues that affect multiple body systems. Birds and rabbits can have reproductive issues as they age. Spaying rabbits is an effective and recommended management for these issues. Birds need to be on a high quality, non-seeded diet to help manage their issues. Ferrets should be on Revolution as a heartworm preventative. We recommend this for year ’round protection. Ferrets are so small that they will usually only develop one heartworm – which can make a significant difference in their health status.
As rabbits and guinea pigs age they should have their teeth examined at least annually. Their teeth constantly grow and getting them checked ensures that if they are overgrown or growing unevenly, the situation can be rectified before they start causing problems like inappetence (not eating), sores in the mouth or an entrapped tongue.
Ferrets can also benefit from dental cleanings, as their teeth and gums can accumulate disease-causing tartar.
Exotic pets can have arthritis just like dogs and cats. There are things that we can do to help alleviate discomfort. For dogs, we give them stairs to help them get onto beds and we help them up into vehicles. Some creative placement of cage accessories might have to take place if your exotic pet is experiencing some discomfort related to arthritis. For birds, you can give them padded perches so that it reduces the strain on their feet. Medications are also available to help alleviate arthritis symptoms.
Rabbits, birds and ferrets can become obese just like our dogs and cats. These pets benefit from exercise at any age. Excessive weight places unnecessary strain on joints that are already affected by a condition like arthritis. Weight management is often one of the primary recommendations when arthritis is diagnosed. Please call us for weight management options for your exotic pet.
Laser therapy is a treatment that can provide pain and inflammation relief. We can utilize this therapy on our exotic species, just as we do with dogs and cats.
Early Detection Testing
Early detection blood testing is a comprehensive test that gives us a glimpse into the function of your pet’s organ system. It only requires a small blood sample. Since most of our exotic species are prey animals, they tend to hide symptoms of illness – which is another reason why blood testing can be beneficial. We also know that aging can come with organ functionality changes. Early detection testing can help us identify problems at their earliest. Birds should receive early detection blood testing annually for their entire life. Rabbits should be tested starting at four years of age. Ferrets should have early detection blood testing starting at three years of age.
There are a lot of resources out there for our exotic pets. Just like in our dogs and cats, we must be aware of aging changes in our exotic pets to ensure their highest quality of life for the longest amount of time possible.