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First Aid for Small Mammals

By: Talia Starkey

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The most important thing for a pet owner to remember is the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

That said, there are a few simple small mammal first aid procedures you can administer at home. These procedures may relieve your pet's immediate pain or discomfort and/or help prevent an infection that could threaten your pet's life.

You must remember, however, that your pet's small size may limit the amount or quality of care you can provide at home. First aid is no substitute for professional veterinary attention. Always contact your veterinarian if your pet is still suffering the ill effects of an injury or minor sickness 24 hours after you first notice the problem. Never give your small mammal antibiotics without a recommendation from a small mammal specialist.

Persistent loss of appetite, diarrhea, and wheezing or any other sign of respiratory distress are indicators of potentially serious illness. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you see any of those signs.

The Equipment

You should keep a small mammal first aid kit in your house at all times. Several complete pet first aid packages are sold on the Internet. If you choose to buy one you should be sure that it has implements small enough to be effective for your pet. It's probably best to construct your own kit (you can make your own choices on quantity and quality that way) and keep it handy for emergencies. Write your veterinarian's phone number next to your other emergency numbers by the phone.

At minimum, your small mammal first aid kit should include the following:

  • A small clean towel to wrap around your pet if he needs restraint while you check his wounds

  • Mild antiseptic, like a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution

  • Q-tips to administer the antiseptic

  • Several 10cc syringes (no needles) to flush wounds with water or to offer food or water after the treatment

  • An antibiotic ointment like Trisporic

  • Tweezers and clean gauze

    You will also want to have an extra cage somewhere in the house that can serve as a recovery room for your pet. A heat pad wrapped in a towel and placed under half of that recovery cage will warm your injured and distressed pet and allow him to relax.

    Minor Cuts and Bites

    If you're introducing a new animal to an established colony, there's bound to be some rough-housing while your pets figure out where the new guy fits on the dominance ladder. It's usually not cause for alarm, and though your pets may squabble and kick up bedding as they wrestle about, you need not intervene unless you witness a particularly severe bite or if one of your pets starts bleeding. Gerbils are more territorial than rats, so you should keep a careful eye on any newcomers. Adult hamsters should never be left in the same cage without supervision.

    Treating a minor scratch or bite is relatively simple. Remove the injured animal from his cage and gently wrap him in the clean towel so that you can get to his wounds without him scratching or biting you. Remember that your pet's survival instincts may trump your long-term friendship under these stressful circumstances – even a tame animal can lash out if he is scared! Flush the wound with water using a small syringe and then pat it dry with the clean gauze. Then use a Q-tip dipped in mild antiseptic to clean the wound and help prevent infection.

    If your pet's eye was scratched, contact your veterinarian immediately. The same goes for scratches on the nose or the tender areas around the mouth and whiskers. You should also contact your veterinarian if your pet scratches himself on wire in his cage because this kind of wound is particularly prone to infection.

    Your small mammal will probably not let you put a bandage on his wound. He may gnaw on the gauze or rub it off if you persist. You will also find it difficult to wrap small appendages tightly enough that the gauze won't fall off and yet loose enough so that you don't cut off your pet's circulation. Opt instead to isolate your sick or injured pet in a separate cage from your other animals and leave minor cuts open to the air. Clean your pet's wounds frequently and apply a topical antibiotic ointment if appropriate. Again, do not give your small mammal any kind of oral antibiotic without consulting your veterinarian.

    Is Your Pet Getting Better?

    A good way to tell if your small mammal is recovering well from an injury or sickness is to see how well he's eating. You may need to force water on him if he is in shock and is not hydrating on his own. Press a syringe filled with water directly to your pet's mouth and slowly discharge it so that your pet can easily lap up the water. You can try offering him his favorite rich foods – foods high in caloric and nutritional value, like egg, yogurt and avocado. The trick is to get him to eat enough to sustain his strength while he heals.

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