Caring for Your Gerbil

Supplies
-Aquariums are better than cages because cages might have bars that gerbil feet can get caught in and break. A well-ventilated aquarium with a top that seals so your gerbil can’t push up on it and escape is best.
-Line the aquarium/cage with shredded paper (newspaper or paper towels) or recycled paper bedding (no shavings of any kind), with a mound in a corner – gerbils love to burrow!
-Gerbil/rodent pellets
-A wheel that is smooth-sided to prevent its feet or tail from getting caught and broken
-A water bottle that attaches to the side of the aquarium
-A tip-proof (weighted) bowl for food
-A safe wooden chew toy made specifically for gerbils
-Exercise ball

 

Finding the right veterinarian
-A veterinarian that treats “exotic pets” will be more comfortable with gerbils
-When you first get your pet, have your parent or guardian take it to a veterinarian for a check-up
-Your pet should see a veterinarian at least once a year and when you think it might be sick

 

Dangerous foods
-Salt
-High-sodium food
-High-sugar food
-High-carbohydrate food
-Nicotine
-Soil
-House plants
-Leaves or grass from your yard
-Food off your plate
-Do not add vitamins to their water
-Avoid too much dried fruit (it can lead to intestinal issues)
-Too much fruit or vegetables can lead to diarrhea in gerbils (water in, water out…)
-Yogurt drops and other advertised “treats” actually aren’t appropriate

 

Habitat
Gerbils thrive at room temperature, normally whatever is comfortable to humans. Gerbils are prone to overheating, so in a home without air conditioning, at least have fans blowing to circulate the air. If it’s extremely hot, surround the aquarium/cage with ice packs (or purchase a temperature-controlled one).

 

Handling your gerbil
It is very important that you never hold your gerbil by its tail, as it will break off. Gerbils can bite, so be careful to not surprise them – approach slowly and let them hear you coming. Cup them in the palm of your hand. The more you hold them, the more comfortable they will be with being held.

Gerbils are fast and small – you don’t want to lose them in your house! Be sure if you remove them from their aquarium/cage that it is in a secure room or an exercise ball and never leave him/her alone.

*Gerbils aren’t appropriate for small children because they can carry diseases like ringworm and will bite if handled roughly. Be sure to wash your hands after handling.

 

Multiple gerbils?
Gerbils are social in the wild. Since it can be dangerous to spay or neuter them because of their small size, select same sex gerbils and purchase them at the same time – introducing a new gerbil to one who has already become accustomed to their home will create problems. Females tend to be less aggressive than males. Note: the more animals that share an aquarium/cage, the more frequently it will need to be cleaned.

 

Routine care
-Daily
-Feed your gerbil a pellet diet as directed by the label. Note: a seed and nut diet is not a complete diet; only a pellet diet is complete.
-Supplement the diet with fresh vegetables such as leafy greens, lettuce, spinach or carrots (avoid high sugar fruit)
-Clean up leftovers before they spoil
-Be sure their water bottle is filled with fresh water
-Scoop up soiled bedding each day
-IMPORTANT NOTE: Gerbils have high metabolisms and can become hypoglycemic if they do not eat every day. If your gerbil appears lethargic or isn’t eating well, go to your veterinarian immediately.

 

Weekly
-Completely clean the aquarium/cage once a week with hot, soapy water.
-Yearly
-Take your gerbil to your veterinarian at least once a year, though twice a year is preferable because their life spans aren’t very long. Your veterinarian can also cut their nails at that time for you if you aren’t comfortable doing it.

 

Tip: Let your child know that gerbils may only live for a few years so that they aren’t overly shocked when their pet dies.

 

Information on caring for your pet gerbil provided by Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian), owner of Veterinary Center for Birds and Exotics in Bedford Hills, N.Y.

Zoonotic Diseases

In 64 million American households pets are a source of joy and perhaps even the key to longer, healthier lives. However, pet-owning households with young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems need to be aware that their animals can play host to disease-causing microorganisms.

Humans are not likely to catch a disease through their pets, but in very rare cases it can happen. Fortunately, most of these diseases rarely occur in healthy individuals, are mild and can be easily treated. Others, like toxoplasmosis, can be far more serious. Diseases transmitted from animals to humans are called zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases usually live out their complex life cycles in animals, but sometimes cross into human bodies. Usually contracting a pet-borne disease requires very close contact with animals or their excretions, so zoonotic diseases can be avoided with common sense, cleanliness and regular pet examinations and vaccinations.

Children often put their hands in their mouths, providing an easy route for bacteria to travel into their bodies. For example, children who eat dirt are more susceptible to contracting zoonotic diseases. Children also are more susceptible to pet-borne illness because they carry fewer antibodies than adults do. The same holds true for puppies and kittens, making them more likely to carry disease than older dogs and cats.

Although the chances of getting a zoonotic disease from your pet are slim, these are some common pet-borne illnesses that can make people sick:

 

Salmonellosis
This bacteria generally makes its way into human bodies through contaminated food. The bacteria can be passed through animal feces and may cause symptoms like fever, vomiting, diarrhea and exhaustion.

 

Roundworms
Roundworm eggs and microscopic adult worms can be excreted in the feces of dogs and cats infected by the worms. Children may be at a higher risk for contracting roundworms because they play near pets or touch infected feces and put their hands into their mouths. Because of the risk to children, all cats and dogs should be taken to their veterinarians for regular fecal examinations. Also remember to cover all sandboxes when not in use to prevent children from contacting contaminated feces. Symptoms can include fever, cough, loss of appetite, weakness and lung congestion.

 

Cat Scratch Fever

This bacteria is usually transmitted from cats to humans through scratches. The bacteria is found on nails or claws and can cause high fever, loss of appetite, weakness and swollen lymph nodes. In otherwise healthy people, Cat Scratch Fever is usually mild and resolves itself. However, the bacteria caused by Cat Scratch Fever can be extremely dangerous or even fatal if left untreated in immune-compromised individuals. It’s important for these pet owners to tell their doctors they own a cat. Young children should be sure to wash scratches thoroughly with soap and water.

 

Strep Throat
Though your pet is probably not the culprit bringing strep into your household each year, the possibility does exist. Recently, researchers have found that it’s more likely that people are infecting their pets. In any case, keep your children from kissing, licking or exchanging food by mouth with their pets.

 

Ringworm
A fungal infection of the skin, hair or nails, ringworm starts as a rapidly spreading hairless, circular lesion. Humans can be infected through use of contaminated objects like hair brushes, towels or clothing or by contact with infected animals like cats, dogs, mice, rats and guinea pigs.

 

Scabies
Also called sarcoptic mange, scabies is a skin disease caused by itch mites which burrow under the skin. Scabies cause intense itching and scratching that can result in severe eczema. Humans can be infected through contact with infected animals.

The most effective way to prevent zoonotic diseases and ensure your good health is to ensure good health for your pets. This means taking your pet to the veterinarian for regular exams and vaccinations. Most pet owners find that by following their veterinarian’s nutritional and health recommendations, their pets will lead happy, healthy lives with little risk of zoonotic infections.

 

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When is it an emergency?

Most pet owners have been in a situation like this: Buster slipped on the way down the stairs and now he’s walking with a limp. It’s 11:00 at night – should you call your veterinarian, or are you just being a worrywart?

 

You’re never wrong to call
If you’re concerned about your pet, you should never feel embarrassed about calling a veterinarian. Veterinarians are used to emergencies and they prepare for them. Most veterinary hospitals have doctors on-call or provide referrals to emergency pet hospitals, so don’t worry about waking your veterinarian out of a sound sleep. In fact, all AAHA-accredited hospitals are required to provide 24-hour access to emergency care, either in their own facility or through referral to another hospital. (To find an AAHA-accredited animal hospital near you, visit the Hospital Locator)

Remember, you know your pet better than anyone else. If you notice your pet behaving in a way that’s unusual for her, or if something just doesn’t seem right, you may have picked up on a subtle sign of a real problem. To find out, you can call your veterinary hospital, or an emergency animal hospital near you. By asking a few questions over the phone, an emergency veterinarian should be able to tell you whether you should bring your pet in right away, or whether she can wait for an examination during your hospital’s normal office hours. Even if you find out nothing’s wrong, you’ll be glad to have your mind at ease.

 

Definite emergencies
There are some times, however, when you won’t need to call first. If you notice any of the following problems, bring your pet in immediately for emergency care.

-Your pet has been experienced some kind of trauma, such as being hit by a car or a blunt object or falling more than a few feet.Your pet isn’t breathing or you can’t feel a heartbeat.
-Your pet is unconscious and won’t wake up.
-Your pet has been vomiting or has had diarrhea for more than 24 hours, or she is vomiting blood.
-You suspect any broken bones.
-Your pet is having trouble breathing or has something stuck in her throat.
-Your pet has had or is having a seizure.
-Your pet is bleeding from the eyes, nose, or mouth, or there is blood in her urine or feces.
-You think your pet might have ingested something toxic, such as antifreeze, rat poison, any kind of medication that wasn’t prescribed to her, or household cleansers.
-Your pet, particularly your male cat, is straining to urinate, or is unable to.
-Your pet shows signs of extreme pain, such as whining, shaking, and refusing to socialize.
-Your pet collapses or suddenly can’t stand up.
-Your pet begins bumping into things or suddenly becomes disoriented.
-You can see irritation or injury to your pet’s eyes, or she suddenly seems to become blind.
-Your pet’s abdomen is swollen and hard to the touch, and/or she’s gagging and trying to vomit.
-You see symptoms of heatstroke.
-Your pregnant dog or cat has gone more than three to four hours between delivering puppies or kittens.

 

What to do if it’s an emergency
If you notice any of the symptoms above or you suspect a serious problem, try to get directly in touch with a veterinary professional. Don’t leave a voicemail or use the Internet or email.

Your first step is to call your veterinarian. AAHA-accredited hospitals will either have someone answering the phone 24-hours a day or will have a recorded message referring you to another hospital in case of an emergency. If you’re in an unfamiliar city, use the AAHA hospital locator tool to locate an accredited hospital near you. TheAmerican Red Cross also has a pet first aid app available to help you locate a veterinarian in case of emergencies.

Once you decide to bring your pet in for emergency treatment, make sure you know where you’re going and how to get your pet there safely. If you have any questions about directions or how to move your ill or injured pet, call the hospital and ask

 

Be prepared
The best way to deal with pet emergencies is to prepare for them, just in case. The next time you bring your pet in for a checkup, ask your veterinarian what you should do in case of emergency. Find out whether your animal hospital is open 24 hours, or whether they refer emergency cases on evenings and weekends. If they refer, get the name, address, and phone number of the emergency facility they refer to.

Keep your veterinarian’s name and number on an emergency sheet near the phone, right next to the numbers for your doctor, fire department, and poison-control hotline. If your veterinarian refers evening and weekend emergencies to another hospital, write down that hospital’s name and number too, as well as what hours your doctor refers cases there. This way, if an emergency catches you off guard, you won’t have to file through drawers or folders looking for business cards. You may also want to have a list of pet first aid tips easily accessible, along with guidelines for human first aid.

If you’re taking your pet along on a trip, you can find AAHA-accredited hospitals in the area you’ll be visiting by using the hospital locator.

Most important, remember to trust your instincts. You know and love your pet, and you have the right to be worried if something seems wrong. Emergency veterinary professionals are there for you, never hesitate to call.

 

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What’s in your pet’s food?

When you are choosing a can or bag of pet food, you have dozens of choices. In addition to the normal “tuna delights” and “beef dinners,” there are many specialty foods on the shelves that are designed to control weight, combat renal (kidney) disease, and control allergies—plus there are foods for all-around nutrition.

Have you ever wondered how these specialty diets are formulated and what goes into their development?

 

         Tip! Your veterinarian may recommend or stock foods that are proven to help maintain your pet’s wellness through special diets or all-around   good nutrition. Be sure to follow recommendations to keep your pet healthy.

 

First, it is important to understand some of the rules about labeling pet foods. Pet food labeling is regulated at the state and federal levels. On the federal level, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has standards for all types of animal feed. These standards require proper identification of the product, net quantity statement, the manufacturer’s address, and proper listing of ingredients.

On the state level, the Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) has its own set of regulations, which many states use. AAFCO labeling guidelines cover aspects such as product naming standards (for example, “beef food,” “beef dinner,” and “dog food with beef” will all contain different percentages of actual beef—95%, 25%, and 3%, respectively); guaranteed analysis (minimum percentages of protein and fat and maximum percentages of fiber and moisture); and nutritional adequacy.

The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) states that “an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement is one of the most important aspects of a dog or cat food label.”

In order for a pet food to be considered “complete and balanced,” or “100% nutritional,” it should carry an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement. There are two main ways that AAFCO substantiates claims of nutritional adequacy in a food.

[Pet Food] Chemical analysis. The food contains ingredients that AAFCO has determined provide the proper amount of nutrients for a particular animal. The statement will say: “ABC Dog/Cat Food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog/Cat Food Nutrient Profiles.”

Feeding test. The food has been tested on animals under AAFCO’s strict feeding protocols and was found to provide proper nutrition. The statement on this type of food will say: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that ABC Dog/Cat Food provides complete and balanced nutrition.”

The statement will also say for what stage of life the food is appropriate; for example, “for maintenance,” for growth,” or “for all life stages.”

If there is no AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement and the food claims to be “complete,” then the food may not have been tested and could be unsafe. The exception to this rule is a “therapeutic” food.

Several companies, such as Hill’s. Iams, Purina  and Royal Canin, produce therapeutic pet foods. These foods have specific ingredients designed to treat certain conditions such as obesity or kidney problems.

“Most therapeutic diets do not have AAFCO nutritional adequacy statements and carry language to the effect of ‘use under direct supervision of a veterinarian,’” says Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN], professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “This allows companies to continually ’tweak’ the formulas based on newer research.”

Bartges explains that therapeutic foods do not have actual drugs in them, but rather are comprised of ingredients that have been developed and tested by researchers employed by the pet food companies.

“Some of the research is cell culture and some is whole animal,” Bartges says.  “Most therapeutic diets are not based on clinical trials. Much of the research now is done by evaluating individual ingredients in animals with spontaneous disease.”

Amy Thompson, a spokesperson for Hill’s Pet Nutrition, says Hill’s food formulas are developed using specific ingredients based on key nutritional factors (KNFs). KNFs are the nutrients that are important for each life stage or special need of an animal.

“Examples might include: addition of fish oil as source of DHA to enhance healthy development of puppies and kittens; addition of vitamin E at levels that enhance the immune system; developing formulas that allow the pet to have a urine pH that helps prevent formation of certain urinary crystals and stones; providing a natural fiber source in the food to help control formation of hairballs; providing high levels of specific fatty acids (EPA) that are clinically proven to reduce pain in dogs with arthritis,” Thompson says.

Mark Roos, PhD,  director of product development at Nestle Purina PetCare, explains that once a specific therapeutic need is identified in a dog or cat, Nestle Purina scientists try to come up with nutritional solutions.

“Appropriate studies in human and other species are reviewed and assessed to evaluate if that work may be considered for transfer into a dog or cat,” Roos states. “With these prospective solutions, initial dog or cat testing is conducted to determine if the particular nutrient is efficacious or not. If efficacious, then the nutrient in a respective ingredient and the particular formula undergoes a 30-point checklist to take it from an idea to a final product that can be marketed.”

Roos says that a recent example of ingredients identified as having beneficial properties were soy germ meal and colostrum.

According to Nestle Purina, colostrum (milk from a mammal immediately after it gives birth) boosts immunity and has intestinal health benefits. It also serves to stabilize intestinal microflora and reduces the risk of stress-related diarrhea.

Soy germ meal is a source of soy isoflavones, Roos says, which are beneficial in weight management and have been shown to increase metabolism and reduce weight gain.

Thompson, of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, said another example of a food additive is L-Carnitine.

“Carnitine is a water soluble, vitamin-like nutrient that plays a key role in burning fat and maintaining muscle by helping convert fatty acids into energy,” Thompson says. “It supports healthy liver function, a strong heart and lean muscles.”

With the vast number of options available in the pet food aisle, it is important to make the best choice for your particular pet. Pet food labels can give you a good idea of how the product you are buying was tested and formulated, and what it can do for your best friend. And, of course, if you have concerns about a particular type of food, always ask your veterinarian.

This article originally appeared in PetsMatter May/June 09 – Volume 4 Issue 3, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.

Ticks

 

There are few people who claim they have a favorite tick, but Susan Little, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM from the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University knows hers.

“The lone star tick is beautiful, ecologically successful, aggressive, and an extraordinary transmitter of diseases,” shares Little.

Although only Ixodes, a genus of ticks, transmit the agent of Lyme disease (LD), lone star ticks can transmit other disease-causing organisms to pets and people.

“Ticks can transmit an amazing array of life-threatening disease agents to dogs, cats and humans,” notes Little.

Just because you don’t have a favorite tick doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn what a tick looks like, where they live, and how to avoid tick-borne illnesses like LD.

 

Where the wild ticks are

Active dogs and owners who enjoy hiking are at a higher risk of LD. Before traveling, camping, or hiking, research your travel destination. “Tick maps” are readily available, including one created by the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC).

“These maps show which states’ dogs are most likely to be infected with the agent of LD and other tick-borne diseases, and the website provides a calculator to help owners determine what their dog’s risk of contracting LD is,” says Little.

But don’t completely rely on the maps, because ticks are on the move.

Little explains, “We are seeing locally acquired cases of LD in dogs and people in places like the mid-Atlantic coast and around the Great Lakes. Just because LD hasn’t been in your area historically doesn’t mean it won’t be there in the future.”

 

How to Remove a Tick From Your Pet

Stay calm. Don’t rush. Moving too fast could cause even more problems when it comes to the removal of a tick from your pet, according to the ASPCA. The humane organization offers step-by-step tick removal instructions:

 

Paranoia pays

“Ticks really pose a remarkable risk to our patients,” Little warns. To minimize the chances of LD, conduct periodic “tick hunts.” Wearing gloves (humans are also susceptible to tick-borne illnesses), scour the groin, armpits, around the ears, and between the toes where ticks like to hide. Although ticks’ appearances vary markedly, they typically have eight legs, a flat body with an oval shape (unless they have recently had a blood meal), and a small head.

The CAPC recommends protecting pets year-round against ticks with monthly spot-on medications. Some dogs may also benefit from vaccination. The LD vaccine is “non-core,” meaning it is given (following consultation with your veterinarian) on a case-by-case basis based on risk of exposure.

 

Identifying and Treating LD

If you find a tick on your dog, discuss testing and treatment options with your veterinarian. Without a history of a tick bite, diagnosing LD can be challenging because of the variety of signs that infected dogs can have. The most common signs of LD include lameness, fever, anorexia and lethargy. The bacterial infection can also damage the kidneys, heart and nervous system.

 

Fast Facts About Lyme Disease (LD)
-LD, caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, is transferred to mammals when a tick bites.
-The tick needs to be attached for around 36 hours before the bacterium can be transmitted.
-LD is most common in the Northeastern and North Central United States and the Pacific coast.
-Ticks most likely to transmit LD are the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the Western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus)—both often called  deer ticks.

 

For additional information on LD, identifying ticks, and other tick-borne illnesses, please visit the CAPC, the American Lyme Disease Association, and tickinfo.com.

 

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