More exotics come to us with illness or injury due to a lack of proper housing or husbandry than any other cause.  Finding good sources of information on a pet’s care and learning as much as you can even before you get your exotic pet is one of the best things you can do.

Calcium Deficiency in Exotic Pets

Calcium deficiency can occur in any species due to improper husbandry and diet, but is an especially common problem for exotic pets. If an animal’s diet lacks calcium, the body will attempt to get it from some other source, and that means pulling it from the bones. An animal with calcium deficiency will have weak bones that are easily broken, muscle weakness or spasms, depression, lethargy, or loss of appetite.

Iguanas: Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) is the most common ailment seen in pet iguanas, and is the iguana equivalent of rickets. MBD is caused by either not enough calcium in the diet, lack of exposure to UVB light, or inadequate temperatures. Severely deficient reptiles tend to be lethargic and may only be able to drag themselves along the ground. While there is a small risk of providing too much calcium, it is quite rare.
Sugar Gliders: Metabolic Bone Disease (also known as Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism (NSHP)) is very common in young growing gliders fed an improper diet.  The bones never mineralize, and end up weak and easily broken. Signs that your Glider has MBD include having trouble walking or climbing due to broken bones, being underweight, or being small for their age. It can take 3 to 6 months to recover from MBD, and once diagnosed, you must realize your Glider will likely have permanent changes to its skeleton as a result of the multiple pathologic fractures in its arms and legs, and it will be more prone to arthritis as it ages.  They may never be able to climb normally, or fully groom themselves, and may require extra care from you.

Guinea Pigs & Vitamin C

Guinea pigs are unique among other small mammals in their dietary requirements, since they require Vitamin C. Like humans, they are missing an enzyme that is necessary for the body to make Vitamin C. Therefore, they require supplemental Vitamin C in their diet. They can develop scurvy if they are deficient in this necessary vitamin. Scurvy is characterized by difficulty walking, diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss, listlessness, and/or discharge from eyes and nose. Although guinea pig pellets have added Vitamin C, storage or exposure to light can rapidly destroy it. Timothy hay and other grasses are poor sources of Vitamin C. Therefore, we should not rely on pellets or hay to provide the guinea pig with its Vitamin C requirements; instead, feed them vegetables and some fruits. Feed only small amounts of fruit – papaya, strawberries and kiwi are some of the fruits with the highest vitamin C content.

Parasites on Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are commonly infested with mites, which are tiny microscopic arachnids like spiders and ticks. Your hedgehog may have mites if they are losing hair or spines, or if you see that their skin is irritated. Your veterinarian will likely do a skin scrape, and if the test confirms mites, will prescribe topical medications. It is important to get rid of mites living in your home by sterilizing their cage, bedding, toys, wheel, water bottle, hide box, and food bowls. A wise precaution is to freeze all bedding and packaged food for 24 hours to kill mites before putting it in your hedgehog’s cage.

Teeth Problems for Rabbits & Rodents

Rabbits, rats, mice, guinea pigs, and chinchillas all have continuous teeth growth for their entire lives. They can grow so long that the teeth curl up the outside of their face and make eating impossible. In the wild, they survive by eating very fibrous, coarse vegetation, which naturally wears down their teeth (as well as teeth-on-teeth grinding). As pets in captivity, these animals usually eat hay and pellets that are very nutritious, but do not wear down their teeth as much as they need. Rabbits may need their teeth trimmed every 4-6 weeks. Owners can give their pet’s chew toys made of wood, antler, hay, or pumice stone to help wear down teeth and fulfill their natural desire to chew. We never advise clients try trimming their pets teeth themselves since it is easy to break the front teeth, potentially causing permanent damage and pain to your pet.

Skin Problems with Reptiles

Reptiles are ectothermic animals, which means their body temperature fluctuates according to its surroundings. They require heat from their environment to digest their meals so the nutrients can be absorbed- if it is not warm enough, food can rot in the gut. At the same time, a terrarium that is too hot can quickly dehydrate and kill even a dessert reptile. The key is to provide an enclosure that has hot spots, cool areas, and plenty of water.

Heat Rocks are commonly marketed for reptiles, but pose a high safety risk. Some reptiles do not exhibit heat-avoidance behavior, therefore are at a high risk of burning themselves on hot rocks before they are aware they have been injured. Heat pads, heat tape, and heat lamps are a safer alternative to heat rocks so the animal does not have to directly touch them for warmth.

Unkempt Cages and Enclosures

If a pet’s cage is not cleaned often, they can develop urine scold and soars, Upper Respiratory Infections, pneumonia, Urinary Tract Infections, and even be susceptible to maggots. High levels of ammonia from urine accumulation often cause respiratory infections, which result in nasal and/or ocular (eye) discharge in mild infections, and wheezing, coughing, and open-mouth breathing in severe infections (pneumonia).

-Hamsters can quickly die of “Wet Tail” disease, which they can get from coming into contact with food or water contaminated with feces that carry the bacteria.

– Blister Disease is often seen in reptiles that are kept in environments that are too moist or dirty. Fluid filled blisters and lesions develop on the belly, which may become infected with bacteria and cause severe tissue damage, blood poisoning, and death.