Monthly Archives: December 2009

Sick Bird Care

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM

The article is directed specifically to pet bird owners and is intended for their use as a basic how to guide on caring properly for a sick or injured bird. Please always follow the advice of your veterinarian & do not use this article as a means of avoiding a hands on veterinary examination. The key idea of this article is to reduce any and all stress to your recovering bird.


1. WARMTH: Ill birds will sit with their feathers fluffed in an attempt to conserve heat. The effort to conserve heat places an additional burden on the already debilitated bird. Your veterinarian will determine if your bird requires hospitalization, but if home care is acceptable, I recommend creating a tent to keep your bird warm. A birds natural temperature is much higher then ours at anywhere from 103F-106F. Therefore, what often feels warm to us can be chilly to them and this is particularly true in sick birds. A simple way of providing heat is to cover 1/2 of the cage with a blanket and place a heat lamp on the other side as a heat source. Generally speaking we keep our sick birds at environmental temperatures ranging form 85-95F. This will vary greatly with the individual bird so it is important to monitor your pet to ensure that you are providing the correct temperature and of course seek your veterinarian’s advice. A bird that is too hot will have very sleek feathers held tightly to the body, will hold its wings (shoulders) slightly away from its body and may pant. If you see any of these signs your bird is much too warm and the environmental temperature should be reduced accordingly. For night warmth I recommend using a red light. Ill birds, just like ill people, require rest and if kept under bright lights all night they will become sleep deprived. Also, during the day it is important to provide light so that they may be encouraged to eat and can be monitored. Therefore, the entire cage should never be covered during the day. I don’t recommend heating pads because it is very difficult to regulate the temperature. If a bird is not perching and sitting directly on the pad they can easily become overheated or burned. And in my experience baby birds that are raised on heating pad quickly become dehydrated and again are subject to burns.

2. STRESS: Debilitated birds must be kept in a stress free situation. Often what appears normal to us can cause stress in our feathered friends. I suggest taking a close look at your bird’s environment with a critical eye to determine what may be stress factors. Some common ones include, the bird in the center of house traffic with no chance to rest, cigarette smoke or aerosols in the birds environment, lack of darkness/sleep time at night, other pets, small children, too much visual stimuli (cage directly in front of a window), competition from cage mates, too much handling, poor nutrition and temperature extremes (such as birds kept in kitchens). I recommend that sick birds be left in their cage and allowed to calmly recuperate. Think of this as bed rest for your pet! Too much handling can stress the bird and will require the bird to use additional calories. If the bird is housed with other birds, it is usually best to remove the bird to a single cage. Some birds can become too stressed when separated from the colony so you should seek your veterinarian’s advice on how to cage your sick pet. However, generally removing the bird from the group will reduce the stress of competition for nutrition and allow for medicating easily and better monitoring. Of course, if infectious disease is suspected, then the pet must be moved into an isolation cage and at least a separate room – preferably a separate house with no other birds.

3. NUTRITION: If your doctor made dietary recommendations, now is not the time to implement change. Changes in the type of diet will cause enormous stress to your bird and should be started when the bird has recovered. Always discuss how and when to made dietary changes with your pet’s doctor. Generally, I recommend offering all the bird’s favorite foods during illness because many ill birds become anorexic and can be lost due to starvation. If your bird is normally a seedeater but not currently eating, try placing millets sprays in the cage which most birds enjoy. The important thing to remember is that it has taken months to years for the bird to become malnourished and this cannot be corrected in a day or a week. Slow changes are essential for the ill bird. If you are unable to get your pet to eat he/she should be hospitalized for gavage feeding and further care. Birds have a high metabolic rate and can quickly starve. Thus, a pet bird that stops eating should always be assumed to be critically ill, certainly the potential for fatality is present. Lastly, if your bird is a hand reared baby and is not eating due to illness, you can often revert them back to hand feeding (syringe feeding) during the convalescent period. A good hand rearing formula should be used. The formula should be mixed with hot water as directed on the bag and offered to the bird. Do not force the bird to eat. Pet owners should never force feed their birds. A bird can easily aspirate (inhale food) and develop pneumonia and force-feeding causes enormous stress to your bird. Reverting to hand feeding is only of use for those birds that willingly accept feeding from the syringe. Also, if hand feeding, the formula must be warmed correctly (follow the advice on the formula bag and that of your veterinarian) to avoid food burns from too hot formula and crop stasis from formula fed at too cool a temperature.

4. MEDICATING: Routes: 1. Injectable, 2. In water or Food, 3. Topical, 4. Oral I prefer not to medicate in the pet’s water or the food. Medication given in this way often causes a change in the taste and can potentially cause the bird to reduce their food and water intake. Also, when medication is placed in the food or water it is very difficult to determine how much of the medication the pet has actually ingested. Thus, in my opinion the best routes are injectable and oral. Topical medication often is not of use to the pet and will cause oily feathers.

Prior to taking your bird home, you should be shown how to appropriately medicate your bird by the doctor or technician. Briefly, the patient should be held in an upright position and the syringe containing the medication should be gently introduced from the left side of the mouth and angled to the right side. Most birds will attempt to bite the syringe allowing it to be easily introduced into the oral cavity. Slowly depress the plunger on the syringe to dispense the medication into the lower portion of the beak. If the pet struggles while medicating, stop for a few moments and then try again. You should advise your veterinarian if you are unable to medicate your pet. Medication can be mixed with a flavoring agent (FlavorX), which will help to reduce some resistance. Occasionally, depending on the reason for treatment, your doctor may be able to give a long acting injection in place of oral medication but this has limited uses and thus is not available for every pet.

5. FOLLOW-UP EXAMINATIONS: As soon as illness was detected in your pet he/she was taken to the veterinarian for a through physical examination and diagnostic work-up including laboratory testing. Unfortunately, many people will see that their pet is improving and don’t realize that a follow-up exam is necessary. I always suggest rechecking the patient at variable intervals depending on the state of debilitation. The recheck exam allows your doctor to assess the patient’s response to treatment and the owner’s compliance with instructions. Many times in the course of treating an exotic pet the treatment must be altered somewhat to ensure the best response. These rechecks are also used as a way of reinforcing the changes needed for the bird to remain healthy. Additionally, lab values can be rechecked to ensure that the patient is truly recovering and not just feeling well enough again to resume hiding any weakness. I can’t stress the importance of this follow up enough, it is extremely important to the health of your bird.

Most importantly, follow the advice of your veterinarian and ask questions to ensure that you completely understand what is needed of you to get your pet back to health.

Jill M. Patt, DVM
For readers of my content: Unless stated otherwise, I do not endorse content of web sites other than the two listed below. – Pet Care Information & Photo Gallery
Visit littlecrittersvet for extensive information on small & exotic pet care with > 1000 photos of animals from informative to just darn cute.

Spay or Neuter your Pet Rabbit?

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM

General Information on Spay and Neutering of Pet Rabbits

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Sterilizing your pet rabbit is highly recommended to prevent problems down the road. Male rabbits that that are not neutered have a tendency to fight and will rip and tear each others scrotums leading to surgical intervention. Intact males will also be difficult to litter box train because they have a tendency to fecal and urine mark their environment. Intact females will also be difficult to litter box train and if left intact throughout their lives have a high potential of developing uterine cancer as older rabbits. If your rabbit is a housepet (not breeder), and is healthy, there really isn’t any good reason to not spay or neuter.

IS IT SAFE? Yes, in the hands of an experienced exotic surgeon and with good nursing staff and monitoring. All pets should have a dedicated nurse to monitor their vitals throughout any anesthetic procedure, increasing the potential for a positive outcome.

Elective surgery in pet rabbits is also made safer by completing pre-surgical diagnostics such as a metabolic blood profile and cbc. All rabbits should first have a complete physical examination by their veterinariana and this should include a thorough discussion of feeding and housing. Any corrections needed in nutrition or environment should be implemented prior to the surgical procedure. The importance of this testing and exam cannot be overstated, after any stressful event (surgery, anesthesia, pain, disease, environmental change…) the pet is more likely to have a reduced immune function and pre-existing disease is more likely to flare up and cuase problems. Therefore, it is important to monitor your pet for normal appetite and fecal production prior to surgery. I advise my clients that one of the most important clues to the health of a rabbit is the poop. Healthy rabbits eat well throughout the day and make round fecal balls of the normal size. Rabbits that are stressed for any reason will sometimes stop eating or defecating (pooping). You may see that the fecal balls are smaller then normal, or they may be absent all together. If noted, this is a serious and potentially life threatening condition that should be addressed immediately.

WHAT ABOUT PAIN? As discussed, rabbits do not respond well to stress do it is important to minimize any preceived pain and thus allow them to stay well and heal faster. As veterinarians one of the things that we can do is to provide pre and post surgical pain control to minimize the stress on your bunny. This should include injectable medication of both a pain and anti-inflammatory type and go home medication.

WHAT ABOUT AFTER CARE? The most important thing to monitor at home is food intake and fecal output. If your bunny is eating and making normal fecal balls he/she is likely comfortable. If you notice a reduction in feces or change in appetite, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. Typically, we’ll try to adjust the pain control and if still not eating we’ll often introduce syringe feeding for a short time to jump start their GI tract again. The syringe formula will consist of a slurry of grass hay pellets, water and vegetable baby food. It is also important to provide your bunny with plenty of fiber to ensure that the gut works properly. Fiber will be discussed further under the diet section.

CONCLUSION: The intent here is not to scare you away from elective or necessary surgery, but rather to advise of potential problems in an effort to ensure that your bunny is properly monitored and cared for following surgery. The benefits of spaying and neutering your bunny far outweigh the risk.


Jill M. Patt, DVM For readers of my content: Unless stated otherwise, I do not endorse content of web sites other than the two listed below. – Pet Care Information & Photo Gallery Visit littlecrittersvet for extensive information on small & exotic pet care with > 1000 photos of animals from informative to just darn cute.

Guinea Pig Care Sheet

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM



guinea pig


NATURAL ENVIRONMENT: South American Rodent

LIFESPAN: 4-7 years

SEXING: Male guinea pigs have external testicles.

HOUSING: Because of their round body shape, pigs are susceptible to foot sores when housed on wire bottom cages. The new plastic bottom cages are a better choice to keep your pig comfortable. Avoid all wood chip bedding, which can cause allergies and other respiratory problems, recycled paper bedding is usually a safer alternative. A hide box should always be provided to allow a stressed pig to “escape.” Toys should be provided, including safe chewable wood toys made for guinea pigs. A water bottle and food bowl will also be needed.

NEUTERING: Male guinea pigs should be neutered to prevent reproduction. The surgery is relatively quick and safe. The most common complication is the development of an abscess. Good post-operative care and hygiene will reduce this risk.

REPRODUCTION: Females are not typically spayed but should not be breed after a few months of age because their pelvis fuses increasing the risk of birth.

DIET: Guinea pigs should be fed a grass hay based pellet and should be provided grass hay daily in addition to greens and pellets. Guinea pigs do love to eat but treats high in sugar or grain should be limited to keep their GI tract healthy. Avoid alfalfa hay which can cause urinary stones.

WATER: Clean, fresh water in a water bottle should be available at all times.

SUPPLEMENTS: Very important for guinea pigs! Guinea Pigs are unable to make their own vitamin C and therefore must have a vitamin C supplement provided daily. If adequate vitamin C is not provided, the pigs will develop vitamin C deficiency, also called scurvy, leading to a suppressed immune system. Affected pigs are much more susceptible to disease and respiratory infections are very commonly the first sign of immunosuppression, with arthritis, tooth disease and many others also frequently seen. Early signs of respiratory infection include tearing and crusting around eyes, sneezing, weight loss and nasal discharge. I recommend providing chewable vitamin C tablets or powdered vitamin daily to all guinea pigs throughout their lives. I recommend giving a minimum of 50mg vitamin C daily and this dose should be increased for pregnant guinea pigs and those with deficiency to at least 200mg daily. Additionally, all guinea pigs should be provided with at least 1/2 cup of fresh dark leafy greens daily for a natural source of vitamins and nutrients. Many leafy greens are available and will vary with the seasons, but a couple of good ones are kale and parsley.

MEDICAL CONCERNS: Vitamin C deficiency, malnutrition, overgrown teeth, respiratory infections, allergies to bedding, reproductive problems, skin infections

FURTHER INFORMATION: Dr. Jill M. Patt’s web site at:

Oxybow hay products:
Guinea Pig lynx:

Rodent Care Sheet

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM




Rodents are true “pocket pets” that do not take up much room and are easy and inexpensive to acquire and care for. In my opinion, out of all the various small rodents, rats tend to make the best pets. They will become very tame and friendly and will interact with the family. Hamsters are popular pets, are cute and fuzzy, but do have more of a tendency to bite then some of the other rodents. Mice also make good pets but tend to be a little more active and “on the go” then rats. Gerbils generally are very tame and sweet and typically are not bitters, but again are very active and must be socialized well to be a good pet. The primary drawback with all our small rodents species is their limited life span, with a 2yr old often considered an old rodent.

– Long tailed rodents are subject to skin slip and should never be picked up by the tail
– Don’t house rodents in wood shaving which can result in allergies. Recycled paper pellets are a better choice.
– Healthy rodents have yellow teeth. Rodent teeth grow throughout their life and can overgrow resulting in difficulty eating.
– Many rodents have reddish tears and mucus that is often mistaken for blood.
– Never house rodents in wire cages.
– It is best to buy two rodents from the same source at the same time.
– If male and female rodents are kept together the male should be neutered. Neutering of male rodents is a common procedure that will prevent pregnancies and should be available at most exotic veterinarian hospitals.
– Standard rodent chow for your particular species is usually the best food.
– All rodents need room to move and exercise and various toys and wheels should be provided.
– Over crowded rodents or those in too small a cage will become stressed and suffer from many health problems.

As with all pets, many health problems can potentially develop. However, a couple of the more common problems in rats are upper respiratory infections and mammary gland tumors. Respiratory infections are contagious among rats and the ill pet will often exhibit tearing (often red tears), nasal discharge and sneezing. If caught early the infection can be treated by your veterinarian. Mammary gland tissue is present over a wide area on rats and tumors are very common anywhere on the body. Often these tumors are benign but will still cause the rat problems due to the large size. Tumors can be surgically removed by your veterinarian.


Hamsters are very likely the most popular of the small rodents and are available in a variety of sizes, coat colors and coat lengths. Common problems we see with hamsters are broken limbs (often from wire cages), diarrhea, mites and hormonal disease. All small rodents should be housed on a solid bottom cage because their small feet are easily caught in wire caging and frequently a fracture is the result. Wet tail or diarrhea is a common problem in hamsters and can be fatal if not addressed early. The small hamster will quickly become dehydrated if not treated promptly. Over the counter medications should never be used because they often are dosed inappropriately and may not even treat the actual infection. Your veterinarian will be better able to identify the problem and treat it correctly. Mites are a common problem in all rodents and infected animals will be itchy and have hair loss, skin wounds, and flaky skin. Mites can be treated easily by your veterinarian with a variety of medications.

Gerbils generally make excellent pets and like hamsters they come in a variety of colors and coat textures. I prefer to house gerbils in same sex pairs, but if not already housed together they may fight. Also, overcrowding of gerbils or rodents in general, will result in a variety of health concerns due to stress, such as increased infections and behavioral problems. Gerbils should be purchased at a young age from a reputable breeder that has socialized them well. Tame gerbils will be anxious to be with you and interact with the family. They tend to be fairly healthy animals, but can acquire the same health concerns as other small rodents. Tail trauma is always a problem and rodents should never be picked up by their tails. Gerbils have a bare patch of skin on their abdomen that is actually a scent gland. Occasionally the scent gland will develop a tumor that can be surgically removed. Respiratory and gastrointestinal infections can also occur.

Mice have many of the same problems as rats and a similar short lifespan. One problem we see in both rats and mice is tail trauma. If picked up by their tails the skin will actually slip off leaving unprotected tissue and bone. Rodents should therefore never be picked up by their tails. Also, in my experience mite infestations seem to be more common in mice and the affected individual will have hair loss, thickened skin and will be very itchy.

Further Information: Dr. Jill M. Patt’s web site at:

Box Turtles

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM





ENVIRONMENT: Are land animals

Although the do like some humidity especially in their bedding.

LIFESPAN: Up to 100 years

SEXING: Males have a longer tail and the cloaca extends beyond the plastron and flatter shell shape.

HOUSING: A large aquarium can be used with a flooring substrate of a preservative and chemical free soil or mulch. Those with high amounts of coconut bark and sphagnum moss will allow the turtle to burrow and will also help to maintain high humidity levels. Artificial plants can be placed around the enclosure and will provide the same feeling of shelter and security for the turtle.

OUTDOORS? In some areas of the US they can be kept year around in outdoor pens. These pens must be fully enclosed to prevent predators from getting your turtles and should have a deep footer to prevent them from digging out. Peat moss and  mulch work well as a substrate. Shelters can be made out of ceramic pots or stacked brick or flagstone. I’ve found that a paint tray works well for their water allowing easy access and exit and is inexpensive allowing for frequent replacement.

LIGHTING: Sunlight is always the best, but if kept indoors the enclosure should have a full spectrum (UVA and UVB) light within 18in. of the floor and a basking light to allow for additional warmth.

TEMPERATURE: Average indoor temperatures are usually appropriate, but again a basking light should be provided to allow for additional heating up to about 85F

WATER/HUMIDITY: A shallow pool of water should be kept in the enclosure and should be cleaned daily. Turtles will drown in deep water so the pool should only be about 1in deep and should have easy access for entering and exiting. Again, it is very important to keep the pool water clean to avoid bacterial build up and infections.

DIET: Box turtles should be fed a mixture of vegetables and protein. Their diets are often deficient in vitamin A so a vegetable rich source should be fed daily such as squash, sweet potatoes and peppers. A variety of greens should also be fed daily and a limited portion of fruits and berries. All food should be finely diced when served. Cat food should never be fed to your box turtle.

SUPPLEMENTS: Food should be sprinkled with a phosphorus free calcium supplement.

MEDICAL CONCERNS: The most common problems we see in turtles are always related to an inadequate diet and environment. The best way to keep your pet healthy is to practice preventative medicine which is really just providing a good diet and environment.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Dr. Jill M. Patt’s web site at:

Melissa Kaplan’s web site at:

Bearded Dragons

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM



Bearded Dragon Hatchlings

By: Jill M. Patt, DVM

NATURAL ENVIRONMENT: Desert of Australia

LIFESPAN: 10+ years of age

SEXING: Males have a beard that turns black during the breeding season

Males have pre-anal and femoral pores

HOUSING: – A large aquarium with a natural substrate bottom and multiple climbing branches and hide boxes should be used.

– The type of substrate is often debated but may people advocate bedding such as sand, outdoor carpet, decomposed granite, paper towels, newspaper… Regardless of the type of substrate used, hygiene is the most important aspect to consider. You should choose a substrate that you can keep clean and fresh for your dragon.

– Avoid: kitty litter, bird litter (such as corncob or walnut shells) and wood shavings.

LIGHTING: Full spectrum lighting can only be supplied in the form of fluorescent bulbs and the bulb must supply UVB spectrum light.

The light should be ~18 inches from the cage.

A basking light should be provided in the form of an incandescent bulb placed above a branch.

TEMPERATURE: A range or temperature gradient should be supplied with the cool end of the cage at ~75F and the warm end up to 86F. Night time temperatures can dip down to the 70’s. The basking light should provide a focal spot in the 90’s range.

WATER/HUMIDITY: A shallow drinking dish should be provided Occasional misting with a spray bottle can be provided.

DIET: – These guys are omnivores: they eat protein and veggies.

– Very Young: Pin head crickets must be provided, feeding these hatchlings too large an insect can result in their death. Assorted shredded veggies.

– Immature: larger insects – a variety should be provided.

– Adults: As the lizards grow larger they can be fed mice or other rodents.

SUPPLEMENTS: The insects should be dusted with a phosphorus free calcium supplement prior to feeding. A multi vitamin should be provided twice weekly.

MEDICAL CONCERNS: – Parasite infections are very common in bearded dragons and will often result in cloaca irritation and prolapse.

– Malnutrition and metabolic bone disease due to poor lighting and diet.

– Gut impaction

Remember: A yearly veterinary examination is needed to keep your dragon healthy.

FURTHER INFORMATION: The Reptile Room at: secid-1.html

Melissa Kaplan’s web site at:

Dr. Jill M. Patt’s web site at: