THE POCKET PETS

 

It is important to learn and understand the commitment, dedication, time and financial requirements needed to have a pocket pet. 

 

The term "Pocket Pet" refers to a small mammalian pet. The most common pocket pets allowed in Singapore are rodents such as hamsters, gerbils, fancy mice, chinchillas and guinea pigs. 

 

The term can also includes some exotic pets and marsupials, like flying squirrels, pygmy opossums, sugar gliders and hedgehogs in other countries. 

 

An expanded definition would also include larger pets like rabbits, opossums and ferrets. 

Click HERE for types of pets allowed in Singapore.

 

Though easily available, they are not an easy or the perfect pets for young children as the traders or breeders often tout [2].

 

Below shows the estimated on-going cost of keeping a relatively, healthy pocket pet in Singapore, not considering the other premium, luxury products and options commonly available. 

Light of Life Vet: Eestimated cost of keeping a pocket pet in Singapore

*Currency used SGD

Estimation does not include diagnostics like xrays, MRI, CT Scan; other major or additional surgeries or medication and treatment associated with sudden or chronic diseases.

THE HAMSTERS

 

Hamsters are rodents belonging to the subfamily of Cricetinae. The best-known species of hamster is the Golden or Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) , which is the type most commonly kept as pets [1,8]

 

Apparently, the entire laboratory and pet populations of Syrian hamsters are descendants of a single pair of brother–sister couple that were captured and imported from Aleppo, Syria by Israel Aharoni, a zoologist of the University of Jerusalem in 1930 [1,6].

Other pet hamster species (above) include [1,2,4,6,8]

  • Winter white dwarf hamster(Phodopus sungorus)

  • Campbell's/ Russian dwarf hamster (Phodopus campbelli)

  • Roborovski hamster (Phodopus roborovskii)

  • Chinese hamster (Cricetulus griseus)

Light of Life Vet: Hamster species

Above: Hamster adopted fom SPCA Singapore. Pics by LOLVET

Above: Hamster adopted fom SPCA Singapore. Pics by LOLVET

Above: Hamster species. Pic adapted from hamsterpetcare.com

DIET

 

Hamsters are more crepuscular (active at dawn or dusk) than nocturnal (active at night) and in the wild, remain underground during the day to avoid predators and feed primarily on seeds, fruits, and vegetation, and will occasionally eat burrowing insects.

 

We recommend human-grade, organic mix grains (bottom), blend of fruits and vegetables (left) in small quantity for these omnivorous pocket pets to ensure that they stay healthy and strong.

 

Do not over feed you hamsters. If their cheek pouches enlarge excessively and there are a lot of food leftover in their bowl or other areas of the cage daily, you have to reduce the quantity of the food provided.

 

Hamster are cecal fermenter and will eat their own faeces (coprophagy) to recover nutrients digested in the hindgut, but not absorbed [6].

Top Right: Types of organic multigrains available in Singapore supermarkets. Pic by LOLVet.

Above: Blueberry flavoured mealworms as an occasional treat. Pic by LOLVET

Above: Human grade organic multi-grains.  Pic by LOLVET

FRESH FOOD

 

Always offer only small amount of fresh food (not the dehydrated/ processed version - each portion should be the size of a pea or soya bean only.

Apple

Banana

Blackberries

Cantaloupe

Cherries (pitted)

Cranberries

Dates

Figs

Grapes

Kiwi

Strawberries

Watermelon

Broccoli

Carrot

Xiao Bai Cai

Soya bean

Corn 

Capsicum

Light of Life Vet: Greenmax multigrain
Light of Life Vet: Multigrains

HABITAT SET UP

  • Choose the biggest hamster cage you can afford, at least 30 cm by 30 cm.

  • House hamsters alone to prevent fighting and excessive breeding [1,2].

  • Syrian hamsters are known to be very territorial and fight violently once they reach maturity [1,2]

  • The rest of the hamster species can be territorial too, they do well in pairs only if they are litter mates, introduced to each other at a very young age or a mother and a child, but there is no guarantee [1,2].

  • Make sure the cage is escape-proof, with a solid base and strong material [1,2,4,6].

  • Use a thick layer of bedding (at least 4 cm thick) made from cellulose or plant-based paper fibers or aspen wood shavings [1,2,4,6].

  • Don't use cat litter, corn cobs, newspaper and any scented bedding which has unsafe chemicals that will cause respiratory issues [1,2].

  • Clean the bedding and enclosure thoroughly at least twice a week and spot clean soiled area daily [1,4].

  • Add a solid base exercise wheel, climbing furniture or use a running ball for your hamster to run around a room while under supervision to create interest and exercise [1,2,4,6].

  • Ensure that the chosen drinking bottle is appropriate for hamster use. 

  • Check the water cleanliness, check the water level and their drinking spout regularly to ensure that it is in working order daily.

  • Do not use strong chemicals or spray chemicals in or near the hamster's enclosure and environment.

  • Do not use insecticide of any form near the hamsters.

  • Check the enclosure and remove any stale food items daily [4]

  • Do not leave your hamsters in areas with other pets like cats and dogs without supervision.

Above: Common hamster cages available locally and through online purchases.

Above: Naturescape for hamsters 

Ashley@Cinderella Sews. (n.d.). Hamster Naturescape [Pinterest post]. Retrieved March 8, 2019, from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/622200504747830826/

Above: Hamsters have poor eyesight; they are nearsighted and color blind so coloured objects, toys and furnitures appeal more to the human owners' senses than the hamsters' . Smallanimalsutopia. (n.d.). Small Animla Cage 

[Pinterest post]. Retrieved March 8, 2019, from 

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/761812093196594729/

THE GERBILS

 

A gerbil is a small omnivorous mammal of the subfamily Gerbillinae in the order Rodentia. This subfamily has a total of about 110 different species of African, Indian, and Asian rodents, including sand rats and jirds, all of which are adapted to the arid landscapes. Thus, they were colloquially known as the desert rats [4,6].

 

Most are primarily active during the day, making them diurnal (awake in the day and asleep at night).

 

The gerbils specie introduced to the pet industry around 1964 were mainly the Mongolian gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus), also called the domesticated gerbil [1,4,8].

Above: Pet gerbils sharing blueberries and a snooze.

Vale,H [Hannah]. (n.d.). Cuteness [Pinterest Post]. 

Retrieved March 8, 2019, from

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/567101778076542820/

DIET

The Mongolian gerbils have developed teeth and a digestive system to handle hard seeds and plant matter of the semi-deserts and steppes of Mongolia, and evolved water conservation techniques that allow them to survive in such climate by generating fluid required by their body using dry food or stores of fats in their body [4,6,8].

However, clean, fresh water should still be provided daily for a pet gerbil [1,8]. A water bottle system is a better option than a water bowl to prevent growth of harmful molds due to dampness in the living environment. 

A balanced diet should include [1,4,6,8]:

  • Compound pelleted ration (Below left)

  • A mixture of different seeds of various grasses (Right)

  • Range of leaves of herbs (Below middle)

  • Very small amount of fruits and vegetable can be offered but not considered essential.

Above: Formulated pellets.

Above: Mixed seeds and herbs. Pic by LOLVET.

HABITAT SET UP

In the wild, gerbils live in groups generally consisting of one parental pair, the most recent litter of pups and a few older pups from previous litter [4]. The soil on the steppes of Mongolia is sandy and covered with grasses, herbs and shrubs. The steppes have cool, dry winters and hot summers. The temperature can get up to 50°C, but the average temperature for most of the year is around 20°C. They are great diggers and burrow makers and will live in a central burrow with 10–20 openings. They will create a few deeper burrows that has only one to three openings and use them as escape routes from predators when they are too far from the central burrow. These burrows often interconnect with other different groups of gerbil families [6].

In captivity, the Mongolian gerbils still prefer to and fare better when living in pairs or groups rather than alone. They are sociable and gentle to their immediate family members, and do not bite readily; but can become fierce and territorial when faced with unfamiliar individuals [1,2,4,6].

 

As great diggers and tunnel-makers, they need a deep base with a thick layer of substrate or bedding rather than a standard hamster cage [2,4]

 

They are also efficient chewers and need plenty of safe and chewable items and toys [1]

 

The living environment must be kept extra dry to mimic their wild living habitat and prevent bacterial and fungal growth [1,2,4].

  • Choose the biggest, deep base cage or glass aquarium tank you can afford, at least 30 cm (W) by 50 cm (L) by 50 cm (H).

  • In captivity, the Mongolian gerbils though prefer to live in pairs or groups, they can become fiercely defensive and territorial when faced with unfamiliar individuals [1,2,4,6].

  • House only familiar gerbils together to prevent fighting, and ideally same gender groups to avoid excessive breeding [1,2,4].

  • Male gerbils should be kept separated to prevent fatal fights [2,4].

  • They need a deep cage base or enclosure base, filled with about 30 cm thick layer of substrate or bedding, as they love to dig and make tunnels [2,4,6].

  • Make sure the cage is escape-proof, with a solid base and strong material [1,2,4,6,8].

  • Accessories should not be made of plastic or easily broken or toxic materials [2].

  • Use bedding material made from cellulose or plant-based paper fibers or aspen wood shavings [1,2,4,6,8].

  • Don't use cat litter, corn cobs, newspaper and any scented bedding which has unsafe chemicals that will cause respiratory issues [1,2,4,6].

  • Clean the bedding and enclosure thoroughly at least twice a week and spot clean soiled area daily [1,8].

  • Add a solid base exercise wheel, tunnels, hide-outs, climbing furniture, dust bath and plenty of safe chew toys [1,2].

  • Use a running ball for your gerbil to run around a room while under supervision to create interest and exercise [1].

  • Ensure that the chosen drinking bottle is appropriate for gerbil use. 

  • Check the water cleanliness, check the water level and their drinking spout regularly to ensure that it is in working order daily.

  • Do not use strong chemicals or spray chemicals in or near the gerbil's enclosure and environment.

  • Do not use insecticide of any form near the gerbils.

  • Check the enclosure and remove any stale food items daily. 

  • Do not leave your gerbils in areas with other pets like cats and dogs without supervision.

Above: Photo of Mongolian gerbils at Wilhelma Zoo, Stuttgart, Germany by Wikimedia Foundation

Above: Commercially available enclosure specific for gerbils to cater to their tunnel building desires.

THE MICE

 

The term fancy mouse is coined to describe a domesticated breed of the house mouse (Mus musculus), usually kept as a type of pocket pet, that has been selectively bred for exhibition in the US and UK [4,6].  

 

They can vary greatly in size, from small pet mice that are approximately 15–17.5 cm long from nose to the tip of the tail, to show mice that measure 30 cm nose to tail. 

 

They weigh approximately between 29 – 44 g or about 130g for the larger show mice. 

 

They are inexpensive to acquire, but have comparatively shorter lives, and typically live only for 18 to 30 months. 

 

Selective breeding in many other countries created a variety of colors and patterns that include black, chocolate, blue, white, cream, lilac, red, fawn, champagne, cinnamon, golden agouti, silver agouti, silver, and dove. 

Above: Fancy mice adopted from SPCA Singapore. Pics by LOLVET

DIET

Food for fancy mice can range from specially formulated feed mix to kitchen scraps, but do not feed any processed food and confectionery [4]

 

A balanced diet should include [4,6]:

  • Laboratory pellets as a basic main diet - LabDiet, Mazuri and Kaytee are brands available in Singapore.

  • Use dog kibbles with fat content not more than 8% as a substitute if you

cannot buy laboratory pellet together with an equal amount of organic grain mixture. 

  • Small amount of fresh vegetables

  • Small amount of fresh fruits

  • Grain mix may include - buckwheat, barley, brown rice, sorghum, millet, oat, flaxseed, sesame seeds.

  • Treats given may include - puffed wheat/rice/millet, plain popcorn, wild bird seed, dry oatmeal.

​HABITAT SET UP

In the wild and natural state, mice are able to co-exist with other small rodent species and are sociable members of larger colonies.

 

Therefore, keeping two instead of one will meet their need to play and interact with their own kind.  

  • Choose the biggest cage or glass aquarium tank you can afford, at least 30 cm (W) by 45 cm (L) by 25 cm (H).

  • In captivity, the mice still prefer to live in pairs or groups, but the males can become fiercely defensive and territorial if kept together [2,4,6,8].

  • House two female mice together to prevent fighting and to avoid excessive breeding [2,4,6,8].

  • They need a cage with strong wire bars, a bar-space measuring 9mm or less and a solid plastic flooring [2,4,6].

  • Make sure the cage is escape-proof as they can chew through wood and plastic easily [2,4,6].

  • Accessories should not be made of plastic or easily broken or toxic materials [2,4].

  • Use bedding material made from cellulose or plant-based paper fibers or aspen wood shavings [2,4,6].

  • Don't use cat litter, corn cobs, newspaper and any scented bedding which has unsafe chemicals that will cause respiratory issues [2,6].

  • Clean the bedding and enclosure thoroughly at least twice a week and spot clean soiled area daily [4].

  • Add a solid base exercise wheel, 

tunnels, hide-outs, climbing furniture and plenty of safe chew toys [4,6].

  • Use a running ball for your mouse to run around a room while under supervision to create interest and exercise.

  • Ensure that the chosen drinking bottle is appropriate for mouse use. 

  • Check the water cleanliness, check the water level and their drinking spout regularly to ensure that it is in working order.

  • Do not use strong chemicals or spray chemicals in or near the mouse's enclosure and environment.

  • Do not use insecticide of any form near the mouse.

  • Check the enclosure and remove any stale food items daily. 

  • Do not leave your fancy mice in areas with other pets like cats and dogs without supervision [6].

Above: An amazingly fun enclosure for fancy mice. Pic from www.barkleys.co.nz

THE GUINEA PIGS

 
Light of Life Vet: Guinea pig adult female

Above: Guinea pig "Big Piggy". Pic by LOLVET.

The pet guinea pig (Cavia porcellus), also known as cavy or domestic cavy, is a species of rodent belonging to the family Caviidae and the genus Cavia [3]

 

They are not from Guinea and they are not a kind of pig. They are hybrid of and are closely related to the species of cavy originated in the Andes of South America [3,6], known as Cavia tschudii, Cavia aperea and Cavia fulgida, and actually do not exist naturally in the wild [8].

A breeding program started in the 1960s in Peru resulted in the creation of cuy mejorados (improved cuy), a giant sized

guinea pig.  

 

There are 3 known lineages from this program:

 

  • Raza Peru - the largest of the three but have the lowest birth rate (only 1-2 babies per litter) and usually in brown and white colour only.

  • Raza Andina - the smallest of the lot, a variety of colours, have thicker coats and a higher birth rate.

  • Raza Inti - the in-between, golden yellow coloured, they are adaptable to a variety of climates and have about 3 babies per litter.

 

They are notable not only because they are physically huge, weighing between 2-4 kg when full grown (a regular guinea pig weighs about 0.5 to 1 kg), they also have a mutated gene that results in extra toes on their little feet (commonly, 6 toes on front feet and 5 on back feet) , a condition known as polydactyly (Bottom).

This polydactyly condition may be also link to its short lifespan of 2-3 years.

 

Unfortunately, having been created for the meat trade in Peru, the skittishness of their wild ancestors were not bred-out, making them less suitable as pet for young children.

Above: A giant cuy mejorados beside a cat for size comparison.  Pics from www.cavyhouse.org

Above bottom:  A giant cuy mejorados (middle) beside a full grown normal guinea pig (right) and a newborn guinea pig (left) for size comparison. Pics from www.cavyhouse.org

Pics from Guinealynx.info

Above: Skinny pig "Bacon" and Guinea pig "Fried Egg" adopted from SPCA Singapore. Pic by LOLVET.

DIET

The guinea pigs are true herbivorous rodents and their natural diet in the Andes is grass [4,8]. Their incisors and molars have developed to cut and grind dried and hard plant matter and they grow continuously throughout their life. Guinea pigs have much longer colons than most rodents, to properly digest these hard plant matter [4,6].

 

They also supplement their diet by consuming their own caecal pellets called cecotropes directly from the anus, which contain some unused vitamin B group, fiber and bacteria they required for proper digestion [3,4,6].

 

Guinea pigs are known to develop food preference from a very young age, refusing food that they have not been introduced, so it is important to educate them at a young age to try a variety of hay and vegetables [8,9].

 

In geriatric guinea pig boars or sows, the rectal muscles which expels the softer cecotropes become weak and that can result in an anal impaction [8].

A balanced diet should include large amount of fiber [4,6,7,8]:

  • Fresh grass hay (70-75%):

- Timothy hay for adult guinea pigs
- Alfalfa hay for babies and pregnant sows

  • Food pellets (10-15%) made of:  

- Timothy hay for adult guinea pigs
- Alfalfa hay for babies and pregnant sows

Like humans, guinea pigs cannot make their own vitamin C with other elements found in food and must obtain Vitamin C as Vitamin C in food. If they cannot get enough vitamin C, they develop scurvy and can die from it [3,4,6,8,9]

 

Guinea pigs require about 10mg/kg body weight of vitamin C daily, 30mg/kg if pregnant and as high as 50mg/kg for those who are sick [5,6,8,9]. Owner should choose commercial guinea pig pellets that has fortified levels of vitamin C which exceeds the maintenance requirements because approximately 1/2 of the vitamin C becomes oxidized and inactivated within 90 days of manufacturing and stored at 22*C [5,8,9]

To get Vitamin C, they should be fed [4]:

Some raw fruits and vegetables (10-15%) like:
- broccoli

- apple

- guava

- blueberries

- strawberries

- carrot

- celery 

- spinach

- capsicum

- wheatgrass (right)

Above: Guinea pig "Fried Egg". Pic by LOLVET.

Above: Fresh food for guinea pigs. Pic by LOLVET.

Above: Fresh food for guinea pigs. Pic by LOLVET.

HABITAT SET UP

 

Wild cavies are found on the grassy plains of the Andes. They do not build tunnels or nests, they often seek shelter in the burrows of other animals, as well as in crevices and tunnels formed by vegetation [4].

 

They like to live in small groups consisting of several females (sows), a male (boar), and their young piglets, and moving together as a herd during dawn and dusk, eating grass and other vegetation. 

  • Choose the biggest cage or enclosure you can afford, at least 75 cm (W) by 100cm (L) per one to two cavies.

  • In captivity, the cavies still prefer to live in pairs or groups, but the males can become fiercely defensive and territorial if kept together with females [2,3,4,6,9].

  • House two female cavies or two bonded male cavies to prevent fighting and to avoid excessive breeding [2,3,4,6,9].

  • Groups of boars may also get along, provided their cage has enough space, they are introduced at an early age, and if they are neutered [2,3,4,6,9].

  • Make sure the cage is escape-proof [2,6].

  • Accessories should not be made of plastic or easily broken or toxic materials [2,6].

  • Use bedding material made from cellulose or plant-based paper fibers or aspen wood shavings [2,4,6,8].

  • Don't use cat litter, corn cobs, newspaper and any scented bedding which has unsafe chemicals that will cause respiratory issues [2,4,9].

  • Clean the bedding and enclosure thoroughly at least twice a week and spot clean soiled area daily [3,6,9].

  • Add cubby houses, tunnels, hide-outs, soft toys and a variety of safe, edible chew-toys [3,4,6].

  • Do not house guinea pigs with other species as they tend to cause more harm than good, possibly spreading diseases like Bordetella and Pasteurella (from rabbits) and Mycoplasma (from other rodents) [2,3,4].

  • Do not leave your cavies in areas with other pets like cats and dogs without supervision [3].

Above: Guinea pig "Ida". Pic by LOLVET.

THE RABBITS

 

Above: Rabbit "Taro". Pic by LOLVET.

Rabbits are small mammals in the family the family Leporidae of the order Lagomorpha [2,12]. They have been domesticated as early as the Middle Ages, as livestock for meat and fur [6,8].

Progressively, selective breeding created a wide variety of rabbit breeds of different colours, fur coats and sizes [8].

The earliest breeds were important sources of meat for the humans, and so they were bred to become larger than the wild rabbits, but domestic pet rabbits in modern times range in size from dwarf to giant due to the same selective breeding procedure adopted by their human carers [12]

Rabbit fur, prized for its softness, can be found in a broad range of coat colors and patterns, as well as lengths. 

 

The Angora rabbit breed, for example, was developed for its long, silky fur, which is often hand-spun into yarn.

Giant Flemish Rabbit with Sheltie friend. 

Pic by Stamatisclan 28 Aug 2007.

Other domestic rabbit breeds have been developed primarily for the commercial fur trade, including the Rex, which has a short plush coat.

DIET

Rabbits are herbivores that uses hindgut fermentation as a method to digest the large amounts of cellulose found in their diet that is full of grass, herbaceous plant and leafy weeds [6,12]

 

They pass two types of faeces. A soft, black, sticky, nutrient-rich version, known as cecotropes/ caecotrophs that they will eat immediately to reabsorb the protein and vitamins that were not previously utilized. Rabbits need to eat these to meet their daily nutritional requirements. The other will be the rounded, hard and firm version that they do not re-ingest and we commonly see [6,8].

A balanced diet should include a large amount of fiber [6,7,8,10,11,12]:

  • Fresh grass hay (>70-80%)  [1]:

- Timothy hay, orchard grass, oat, meodow and brome hay for adult rabbits
- Alfalfa hay for babies and pregnant sows

  • Food pellets (<10-15% or 1/4 cup per 2.2kg body weight) made of [1]:

- Timothy hay for adult rabbits
- Alfalfa hay for babies and pregnant sows

 

The primary feeding times for rabbits are in the early morning and at night, with coprophagy commencing 3 to 8 hours after eating [8].

 

Therefore, more hay should be provided in this period of time to train your rabbit to consume adequate roughage for proper hindgut fermentation [6,8,11].

Raw fruits and vegetables (<10-15%) that can be fed in small quantity includes apple, guava, blueberries, strawberries, 

carrot, kale, capsicum and wheatgrass [6].

rabbit food

Giant Flemish Rabbit with Sheltie friend. 

Pic by Stamatisclan 28 Aug 2007.

Most rabbit owners in Singapore have been conditioned to feed their rabbits only commercial pelleted diets because manufacturers marketed them as convenient and balanced in their formulation. Many of these diets are actually alfalfa-based and low in fiber which can lead to obesity and eventually cause chronic production of soft stools [10,11].  A good-quality, high-fiber, timothy-based rabbit pellets should be chosen as part of their daily ration instead [1,6,8,10,11,12].

 

Pet rabbits becomes bored and develop destructive behavior when there is no mental stimulation. This can be avoided by supplementing the diet with fresh grass, timothy or other hay, a small quantity but large variety of vegetables; chemical-free, non-toxic gnawing toys and all types of foraging games [8].

HABITAT SET UP

The ancestor of the rabbit is the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) that has been introduced to many locations around the world [8,12].

 

They live in groups and can be found burrowing in the meadows, woods, forests, grasslands, deserts and wetlands area all over the world [8].

  • Choose the biggest cage or enclosure you can afford, at least 50cm (W) by 120cm (L) per one rabbit.

  • In captivity, the rabbits prefer to live in pairs or groups, but the males can become fiercely defensive and territorial if kept together with females [1,2,6,8,10,12].

  • House two female rabbits or two bonded male rabbits to prevent fighting and to avoid excessive breeding [1,2,6,10].

  • Groups of bucks may also get along, provided their cage has enough space, they are introduced at an early age (less than 12 weeks old), and they are neutered [1,2,6,10,12].

  • Make sure the cage is escape-proof and have appropriate flooring to prevent ulceration of the paws and hocks [1,2].

  • Arrange the hay basket above a litter tray for the rabbits to litter trained them, once they associate the tray with the smell of urine and poop, they tend to return to it [2,8,10].

  • Accessories should not be made of plastic or easily broken or toxic materials [2].

  • Use bedding material made from cellulose or plant-based paper fibers or aspen wood shavings [1,8,10].

  • Don't use cat litter, corn cobs, newspaper and any scented bedding which has unsafe chemicals that will cause respiratory issues [1,2,10].

  • Clean the bedding and enclosure thoroughly at least twice a week and spot clean soiled area daily.

  • Add cubby houses, tunnels, hide-outs and soft toys [1,8,10].

  • Do not house rabbits with other species as they tend to cause more harm than good, possibly developing diseases like Bordetella and Pasteurella (from guinea pigs) and Mycoplasma (from other rodents) and increasing risks of injuries and confrontation [2,6,8,10].

  • Do not leave your rabbits in areas with other pets like cats and dogs without supervision [2,10].

Above and Left: An example of a good rabbit habitat set up. [Pinterest Post]. Retrieved March 10, 2019,.

THE CHINCHILLAS

 

The pet chinchilla is a descendant of the Chinchilla lanigera (the long-tailed Chinchilla) and the Chinchilla brevicaudata (the short-tailed Chinchilla). The third species of Chinchilla, the King Chinchilla has been hunted to extinction already [4]. By the end of the 19th century, the short-tailed Chinchilla, has also been hunted nearly to extinction for their ultra-soft, dense, velvety fur [2,6,8]. They used to live in regions including parts of Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile, but now fewer colonies are in the wild and are mainly found in Chile, at high altitude of up to 4270 m [4,6,8].  They are related to the viscachas as well as the chinchilla rats.

Chinchillas are popular pets in Singapore, but actually require a lot of care and commitment. Potential owners must be prepared to cater to their unique requirements listed below, for the entire life of 10-20 years : 

 

  • They are naturally agile jumpers and need a large enough space for extensive exercise to stay happy [1,2,4].

  • They need multiple hiding places in their enclosures, as they live in burrows or crevices of the rocks in the wild [6,8].

  • They enclosure should be made of sturdy, chew-proof materials [1,4].

  • They need constant and frequent dental home care  due to their continually growing teeth [1,6,8].

Above: Rescued Chinchillas Pic by LOLVet.

  • ​They need to roll in specific pumice dust bath at least a few times a week to keep clean [1,4,6,8].

  • Their living environment must be kept at 16°C to 21°C because they cannot perspire to cool themselves in warm weather [2,4,6,8] and are prone to heatstroke in hot, humid Singapore. 

  • Their cage should always be situated in a well-lit area, but not placed in direct, glaring sunlight or be drafty.

  • They should not get wet as their dense fur is difficult to dry and can result in fungal infection on the skin [2,4,6].

DIET

Chinchillas are herbivores that consume large amounts of roughage and thus requires hindgut fermentation to acquire nutrients, similar to that of the horse [6,8].  

 

Owner must provide large amount of good quality hay ad lib for the pet chinchilla to mimic their natural diet as inadequate or low amount of fiber may lead to gastrointestinal stasis, enteritis and dental malocclusion [7,8]. One to two tablespoons of good quality pelleted diet with 16% to 20% protein, 2% to 5% fat, and 15% to 35% bulk fiber should be offered daily. Sugary and oily treats like raisins and sunflower seeds should never be given to the chinchillas [1,4,6,8].

 

They tend to eat and defecate at night because they are nocturnal in the wild [4,6,8].

 

Fresh water provided in a drip-spout water bottle should be available at all times.

 

Chinchillas are also coprophagic and will eat they some of their own faeces to reabsorb the protein and vitamins that were not previously utilized [6].

HABITAT SET UP

 

  • Choose the biggest multilevel cage or enclosure you can afford, at least 91 cm (H) by 60 cm (L) by 60 cm (W) per one to two chins.

  • In captivity, the chinchillas still prefer to live in pairs or groups, but the females can become fiercely defensive and territorial if threatened or not socialized early [2,4,6,8].

  • House two female or two bonded male chinchillas to prevent fighting and to avoid excessive breeding [2,4,6].

  • Make sure the cage is escape-proof because chinchillas are very good at destroying wood structures [2,4,6].

  • Accessories should not be made of plastic or easily broken or toxic materials [4,6].

  • Use bedding material made from cellulose or plant-based paper fibers or aspen wood shavings [2,6].

  • Don't use cat litter, corn cobs, newspaper and any scented bedding which has unsafe chemicals that will cause respiratory issues [2,6].

  • Clean the bedding and enclosure thoroughly at least twice a week and spot clean soiled area daily [6].

  • Add cubby houses, tunnels, hide-outs and soft toys to allowing hiding [2].

  • Do not house chinchillas with other species as they tend to cause more harm than good [6].

  • Chinchillas should be kept in areas without loud noises and external commotion as this result in excessive stress can cause anorexia, gastrointestinal stasis, barbering, weight loss and failure to thrive [2,6].

PRECAUTIONARY ADVICE

 

ALL ANIMALS can potentially carry viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic diseases contagious to humans.

  • Thoroughly wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after contact with any pet or its habitat.

  • Adults should assist children with hand washing after contact with a pet, its habitat or aquarium water.

  • Use caution when handling pets and remember they may bite or scratch (especially when stressed).

  • Never grab the fur or tail of your pocket pets, for example, the skin of a gerbil's tail is easily torn away with careless handling.

  • Do not place your pocket pet under any stress. About 50% of the Mongolian gerbils can develop an epileptic episode when place under 

stress; chinchillas that have excessive stress can have anorexia, gastrointestinal stasis, barbering, weight loss and failure to thrive.

  • Take your pocket pet to a vet for a full check up after you bring it home, then do it at least annually.

  • Recent research suggests that paper-pulp bedding allow the build up of ammonia in cages, if they are not changed regularly, especially in those cages with little ventilation, therefore it is important to clean the cages regularly.

  • Cedar and pine, even kiln-dried, should not be used as they release aromatic oils that damage the respiratory system and can cause or exacerbate chronic respiratory diseases. 

IMPORTANT HUSBANDRY TIPS AND ENRICHMENT

  • Wash fresh fruits and vegetable thoroughly. 

  • Scatter food on the surface of the bedding in different areas to reduce squabbling and provide enrichment and foraging opportunities. 

  • Be sure to clean out any uneaten fresh foods by the next day. 

  • Do not give your pocket pets’ grapes or rhubarb as these are poisonous to them. 

  • Feed very small amount of oily seeds, nuts, and grain mixes to the rodents to prevent obesity and fatty liver diseases.

  • Avoid feeding excessive amounts of fatty/ oily seeds and choose healthier options like pumpkin seeds.

  • Avoid sudden food changes as they can upset their digestive systems. 

 

  • Avoid feeding stale or expired food.

  • Avoid excessive fresh food like vegetables and fruits to avoid diarrhea.

  • Provide safe wood toys and other hard substances like salt licks for the mice to chew and file their constantly growing teeth.

  • Diets for specific pocket pets are not interchangeable as the protein content is different 

  • Most of the pocket pets acquire vitamin B12 and folic acid by eating their own feces - this behaviour is known as coprophagy.

  • Use a gravity bottle water feeder to provide a constant supply of fresh water to ensure that their enclosure do not become moldy.

  • The pocket pets generally have small bodies that require a more constant ambient temperate, drafts and large fluctuations in ambient temperature can adversely affect the regulation of their body temperature. 

Take your pocket pet for a check-up if it shows any of the symptoms below: 

  • Fits / Seizures - commonly associated with emotional stress due to environmental change, the symptoms include minor twitching, holding ears in a flatten position and drooling at the mouth.

 

  • Runny nose/ Sore nose/ Sneezing/ Wheezing/ Laboured breathing

  • Sore eyes

  • Sore ears

  • Tail loss

  • Irregular eating or drinking

  • Overgrown front teeth

  • Bald patches/ Excessive scratching

  • Sores on the feet

  • Loose stools/ Diarrhea

  • Constipation -  In geriatric guinea pig boars or sows, the rectal muscles which expels the softer cecotropes become weak and that can result in an anal impaction.

  • Blood in the urine

  • Smelly Discharge

  • Lumps/ warts in the ears, on the limbs and all parts of the body.

  • Head tilt/ Circling

  • General weakness

  • Paralysis

  • Limping

  • Swollen Abdomen

Attribution:

1. Fisher, P. (2005). Usual Pet Care Volume I. USA: Zoological Education Network

2. Girling, S.J. (2013). Veterinary Nursing of Exotic Pets, 2nd Ed. UK: Wiley-Blackwell

3. Johnson-Delaney, C. (2009). Usual Pet Care Volume III. USA: Zoological Education Network

4. Keeble, E.; Meredith, A. (2009). BSAVA Manual of Rodents and Ferrets, 4th Ed. UK: BSAVA

5. Mejia-Fava, J.; Colitz, C.M.H. (2014). Supplement for Exotic Pets. USA: Elsevier

6. Meredith, A. (2002). BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets. UK: BSAVA

7. Oglesbe, B.L. (2011). Blackwell's Five Minute Veterinary Consult Small Mammal, 2nd Ed. UK: Wiley-Blackwell

8. Quesenberry, K.E.; Carpenter, J.W. (2014) Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents Clinical Medicine and Surgery, 3rd Ed. USA: Elsevier

9. Richardson, V.C.G. (2000). Diseases of Domestic Guinea Pigs, 2nd Ed. UK: Blackwell

10. Richardson, V.C.G. (2000). Rabbits. Health,Husbandry and Diseases. UK: Blackwell

11. Saunders, R.A.; Davies, R.R. (2005). Notes On Rabbit Internal Medicine. UK: Blackwell

12. Varga, M. (2011). Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, 2nd Ed. USA: Elsevier

 

LOCATION

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Email: lightoflifevet@live.com.sg

 

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