Category Archives: Care Sheets

Reptile Resources

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM

I thought I’d take a moment to post some of the reptile resources I’ve used and found helpful in keeping all sorts of reptile critters.  Please feel free to provide further suggestions by replying below.



Web Sites:

  1. Wild Side Pets – A local Mesa, AZ petshop with great reptile knowledge
  2. – Great resource for finding animals and discussing care on forums
  3. LLL Reptile – Loads of supplies shipped to your door
  4. Melissa Kaplan’s Herp Care collection – Excellent species care articles from a well-respected author
  5. ARAV  – reptile and amphibian vets
  6. AZ Herpetological Association – local AZ herp group
  7. Poison Dart Frogs at AZDR
  8. Reptiles of AZ 
  9. Fauna Classifides
  10. Field Herp Forum 

Facebook Pages and Groups:

  1. Reptile Chat Group on FB
  2. SnakeBytesTV – great care videos
  3. The Reptile Report 
  4. Uromastyx Lizards
  5. Pro Exotics
  6. Arizona Reptile Center
  7. WildSide Pets

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:

Water Dragons

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM


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LIFESPAN: 15+ years

SEXING: Males are larger then females with a larger head and jowls.

HOUSING: A very large enclosure is needed to prevent facial trauma from attempted escapes. A swimming pool and climbing areas should be provided. Bottom substrate should be a mixture of peat and sand.

LIGHTING: Full spectrum UVB fluorescent lights and an incandescent basking light.

TEMPERATURE: During the day in the 80’s and at night in the upper 70’s, with a basking area in the 90’s also provided during the daylight hours.

WATER/HUMIDITY: A swimming/wading pool must be available at all times to provide the proper humidity and necessary soaking. The pool must be cleaned daily as the dragons will defecate in it.

DIET: A mixture of crickets and veggies, adults may be fed small rodents and insects.

SUPPLEMENTS: All insects should be gut loaded with nutrients and dusted with a phosphorus free calcium supplement. A multivitamin should be provided 1-2 times weekly.

MEDICAL CONCERNS: Facial trauma and abscesses from too small an enclosure

Metabolic bone disease from malnutrition

Bacterial infections – poor hygiene

Parasitic infections

Respiratory infections

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

Melissa Kaplan’s web site at:

Chinese Water Dragons:

Ferret Care Sheet

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM



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WHAT ARE THEY? Ferrets are considered domestic animals that are thought to descend from the European polecat and are related to weasels, skunks and otters

LIFESPAN: 6+ years

SEXING: Ferrets are typically sold to the pet trade already neutered and descented. Males have a penis at the mid-abdominal area.

HOUSING: Ferrets should be caged when not directly supervised. Ferrets love to explore and will ingest items that can become stuck in their intestines and require surgical removal. The cage should be large enough for the ferret to freely move around, should contain a hammock bed and a litter pan. Most frequently a metal mesh cage is used.

VACCINES: Ferrets less then 1 year old:

Should receive 3 vaccines 2-3 weeks apart for distemper and 1 rabies vaccine at 3 months of age. Than a yearly booster should be given for distemper, every 3 years for rabies.

Ferrets greater then 1 year old:

Should receive 2 distemper boosters 3 weeks apart and then yearly distemper, with the rabies vaccine only every 3 years.

Allergic Reactions:

Ferrets have a higher then average incidence of severe allergic reactions to vaccines. We therefore, will only give one vaccine at a time and request that the owner wait 15 minutes prior to departing the hospital and a technician will assess the pet prior to departure.

DIET: A commercial diet labeled for ferrets should be fed. Cat food is often not high enough in protein and dog food is deficient in the amino acid taurine which can lead to heart disease.

WATER: Fresh/clean water should be available at all times.

SUPPLEMENTS: If on a good ferret diet, supplementation is not necessary.

MEDICAL CONCERNS: Ferrets have many medical concerns and it is therefore important to establish a good relationship with your veterinarian. Some of the more common problems are: adrenal gland disease, foreign body ingestion, pancreatic tumors, dental disease, GI disease, Cardiac disease, and viruses. Ferrets can get canine distemper from dogs and can get and give the flu to us.

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

American Ferret Association:

Ferret Owners Manual Online:

Rabbit Care Sheet

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM





WHAT ARE THEY? Rabbits are not rodents. They are domesticated animals called lagomorphs which are characterized by double incisor teeth.

LIFESPAN: 10+ Years

SEXING: Mature does will have a fold of skin under the neck called a dewlap. Mature males will have external testicles that can be withdrawn into the body at will. On further examination, when the genital area is gently pressed on females will protrude a slit like opening and males a cylindrical tube.

HOUSING: I highly recommend keeping your rabbit as a house rabbit. However, a cage should be used when your pet cannot be supervised. The cage should be as large as you have space for and should have solid (not wire) flooring which is gentler on your rabbit’s feet. The cage should include toys for chewing, a litter box, water bottle, and food dish. Be careful with wire or cloth hay nets – I’ve seen many rabbits catch their legs in these.

LITTER BOX: Rabbits are easy to litter train, but should be spayed or neutered for best results. Place a litter pan in an area where your rabbit is already urinating and then gradually move the box to the desired location.

SPAY/NEUTER: All rabbits should be neutered to prevent reproduction and keep them healthy. Neutering will also reduce urine and fecal marking and aggression. In addition, neutering female rabbits will prevent them from getting uterine cancer which can be common in older rabbits.

DIET: – Grass Hay should be the primary food source – Bermuda / timothy in unlimited amounts
– Mixed Leafy greens should be provided daily – a minimum of 1 cup of spring greens daily
– Pellets are not the primary diet and should be grass hay based – offer ~ 1/4cup per 5 lb. rabbit
– Alfalfa is not a good hay source for rabbits – it can cause urinary stones
– Rabbits should not be fed food rich in grains and sugars – will result in severe diarrhea
– Multiple diseases are related to the diet – the best way to keep your rabbit healthy is with a good diet

WATER: Clean, fresh water should be available at all times. A water bottle will prevent dripping on the skin of the chin and neck – preventing skin infections.

SUPPLEMENTS: Are not needed for rabbits on a good diet. A salt lick is really just a treat.

MEDICAL: All rabbits should be examined by a veterinarian at least yearly.

Dental disease, hair balls, gastrointestinal disease – impaction and diarrhea, respiratory disease, cancer, obesity, fly strike, organ disease


Dr. Jill M. Patt’s web site at:

House Rabbit Society:

Brambley Hedge – AZ rabbit rescue:

Oxbow Rabbit Food:

Bird Care Sheet

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM






Parrot type birds: Psittacines, Finch type birds: Passerines, Nectar Eating Parrots: Lories, Birds of Pray: Raptors, Flightless birds: Ratites.


The only difference here is that parrots are hook billed birds that are generally thought of as a large bird with a plump body and short tail. Parakeets are generally small birds with long tails. The bird we commonly call the parakeet is actually a budgerigar or budgie.


Birds have many hollow/air filled bones and air filled sacs throughout their bodies allowing them improved oxygenation for flight. Birds use their preen glands to spread an oil or powder like substance onto their feathers that then reacts with sunlight to form Vitamin D that is ingested when they preen. Birds are highly intelligent and have been proven to learn and understand many words.


The lifespan will vary greatly with the type of bird and can range from just a few years for our smaller finches to 100+ years for our parrots. Unfortunately, many birds do not live out their expected lifespan due to poor nutrition over their lifetime.


Many birds are dimorphic: males and females occur in different color forms. The Eclectus parrot is the most extreme example of sexual dimorphism. Some birds such as Umbrella Cockatoos appear identical in coloration but iris color will vary between the sexes. And some types of birds are outwardly identical.


All birds should be provided with the largest cage that you have space for. Even those with trimmed wing feathers will actively climb and explore their cages.

TOYS: Numerous bird toys should be provided including those that can be chewed or destroyed.

PERCHES: should vary in size, shape and texture, to allow the birds to rest their feet

LOCATION: In an area of the house where they can enjoy interaction but not be in the center of the action (they need rest too), the kitchen should be avoided due to temperature fluctuation and potential toxins from non-stick cookware, immediately in front of a window is not ideal as there will be temperature fluctuations and stress if the bird cannot escape the view.


Enrichment toys, foraging activities & toys, and a radio or TV set on a timer to go off and on several times daily

In general you need to provide a large variety of fresh food for your bird. Ideally, offer a core diet of an organic, color free avian pellet and a large variety of vegetables daily. Seeds should be limited to treats except for the small birds such as budgies and cockatiels which should have a 50% seed diet. Clean sprouted seeds can also be offered and are a good way of introducing greens to the stubborn eater. Fruits should be limited as a treat only. Offer clean, fresh water at all times. Certain species have additional nutritional needs – please research your particular bird’s needs.


Generally are not needed for those birds on a good balanced diet and some supplements can create toxicity if overdone.


Numerous! All birds should have at least an annual examination. Feather picking, skin mutilation, respiratory disease, eye infections, trauma, organ disease, malnutrition, reproductive problems and many more…

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


Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM





NATURAL ENVIRONMENT: Rain forests of South and Central America

LIFESPAN: 15-20 years

SEXING: Males will have a large dewlap, large femoral pores, and hemipenes

HOUSING: Realize that these animals get very large and will need an appropriately sized enclosure. A six foot cage is typically the smallest that can be used.

LIGHTING: Full spectrum UVB fluorescent lighting and a basking bulb

TEMPERATURE: Basking area in the 90’s, daytime temps in the 80’s and nighttime temps in the 70’s

WATER/HUMIDITY: Clean water bowl should be present at all time in the cage. These guys live in the rain forest and therefore require high humidity levels of ~70%. You can’t go wrong by soaking your iguana daily in shallow warm water.

DIET: Iguanas are herbivores: they eat veggies

Variety is Important! A large variety of fresh leafy and solid green vegetables should be offered every day. Only a small percent of the diet should be fruits and animal protein should never be provided. A phosphorus free calcium supplement should be dusted over veggies and a multivitamin should be provided twice weekly. Alfalfa is an excellent source of both protein and calcium and can be provided in capsules, pellets or hay.

Example vegetables include: green beans, parsley, collard greens, mustard greens turnip greens, , dandelion greens, , green peppers, escarole, leeks, snow peas, radish, okra, prickly pear, parsnip

SUPPLEMENTS: Calcium, multivitamin, alfalfa capsules

General Anesthesia for Surgery Mass Removal

MEDICAL CONCERNS: Many! Often related to poor nutrition.

Malnutrition – metabolic bone disease


Egg bound


Kidney Failure

Tail Trauma

FURTHER INFORMATION: Green Iguana Society:

Melissa Kaplan’s web site:

Dr. Jill M. Patt’s web site: