Environmental enrichment is just as necessary for exotic companion mammals as it is for dogs and cats. A loving pet parent who offers routine veterinary care and proper nutrition can also easily enhance their small pet’s quality of life just by following a few guidelines below.
Why is environmental enrichment so important? Lack of sensory stimulation can cause negative behaviors such as over grooming, self-mutilation, restlessness, cage chewing and timidity. It can also lead to anorexia or obesity due to stress, boredom, and general inactivity.
There are a variety of safe toys and healthy food treats that stimulate natural, positive behaviors, increase exercise, and provide mental stimulation to offset boredom.
Social enrichment can be the most effective form of enrichment for small pets but must be approached with regard to the particular species in mind.
Pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, chinchillas and sugar gliders are most comfortable housed in groups. Supervision is required, however, to ensure the pets have bonded and the housing is adequate to meet their needs.
Be mindful of pets such as Syrian and Chinese hamsters, however, that may be prone to aggression toward their housemates. Separation might be required, and consult your veterinarian for proper direction on how to care for more than one pet. Care is also advised should you try to “mix” different species. Let your veterinarian guide you with advice.
Physical enrichment entails making the pet’s environment conducive to performing natural behaviors such as digging, chewing, gnawing, climbing, and perching – all stress relieving activities that enhance the pet’s well-being.
Pets that prefer deep bedding, for example, include hamsters and gerbils, both for body temperature regulation and tunneling that gerbils enjoy.
Carpeted ramps can give pets access to shelving or other vertical spaces they enjoy, and introducing novel objects from time to time can improve the pet’s spatial memory and lower stress to new situations.
Enriching the environment with healthy, species-appropriate food treats can foster stimulation and increase exercise.
This can be accomplished simply by scattering food items in bedding for small rodents and other small mammals housed in groups, thereby encouraging foraging and increasing activity.
Discuss feeding requirements with your veterinarian to avoid overfeeding and help define treat allotments.
Sensory enrichment can be achieved by offering items with new or novel tastes and smells. Rotate cage furniture, for example, and provide a day/night cycle appropriate for the particular pet.
Occupational enrichment entails providing materials that allow the pet to have some control over their environment. How is this accomplished? Provide materials so they can build a nest, or position wood blocks so they can gain access to another area by chewing.
It’s never too late to enhance your pet’s life
Discuss ways you are enhancing your pet’s environment with your veterinarian for further advice. Each exotic companion mammal species is unique in their care and feeding requirements, and adjustments should be made based on the particular pet.
Source: Clinician’s Brief, March 2014, Teresa Bradley Bays, DVM, CVA, DABVP (ECM), Belton Animal Clinic & Exotic Care Center, Belton, Missouri
Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital
Heart disease is the silent killer of cats. One in six cats can be born with and develop heart disease in their lifetime. There are no outward symptoms, but now there is a blood test called a proBNP test that can detect heart disease earlier.
Every cat owner needs to know that the most common age of heart disease in cats is any age. All cats from the really young to the really old can suddenly be affected. What is a cat owner to do?
Yearly veterinarian exams are crucial for your cat.
The most important thing you can do is take your cat to the veterinarian at least once a year so he or she can listen to your cat’s heart. What we are listening for is a heart murmur and/or an arrhythmia. A baseline proBNP blood test should also be considered.
Yearly exams to check a cat’s heart are crucial because the earlier heart disease is detected, the greater the possibility that the cat will have a positive response to treatment.
How can the proBNP test help?
This new exciting blood test called a proBNP test may be lifesaving! The proBNP test has been used in humans for years, and we also can use it for dogs. However, cats especially benefit from this great, inexpensive screening test.
The proBNP test measures stretching of the heart due to disease on a microcellular level. It is a simple blood test that most veterinarians can now perform. With it we can establish a baseline of the condition of the cat’s heart without the added expense of performing an echocardiogram (cardiac ultrasound).
The test is also useful if we have a young cat whose brother, sister or mother had heart disease, because we can test for a genetic predisposition inexpensively.
The proBNP test is also useful as a pre-surgical test. There are 10-15% of cats that develop heart disease without presenting an arrhythmia or heart murmur. We use the proBNP test in our practice because it gives us added assurance that your cat’s heart can handle anesthesia or surgery.
What about indoor cats?
There is a fallacy even among veteran, self-proclaimed cat people that indoor, young adult cats can take care of themselves and don’t need annual wellness preventative exams. This could not be farther from the truth, especially when it comes to felines.
Cats are the masters at hiding disease from their loving owners. Cats silently suffer from many types of genetic diseases that will develop whether they are indoor or outdoor cats.
Indoor cats do live an average of 6-9 years longer than indoor/outdoor cats if they have a good heart. However, heart disease symptoms won’t present until your pet is very sick. At that point, your cat may not respond to medications.
What are the symptoms of heart disease in cats?
The most common symptom in cats with heart disease is again, NO early symptoms. This is where cats differ from dogs. A dog who has heart disease will display obvious symptoms as early as 6 months to 3 years in advance before overt heart failure. The initial symptoms in dogs could be signs like coughing, lethargy, or panting.
The most common outcome of undetected heart disease in cats is sudden respiratory distress and sudden death. This end stage of heart disease is often a chest full of fluid that restricts their lungs from expanding. Owners are shocked and devastated because their cats were seemingly normal until just that day or the night before.
A veterinarian can detect an arrhythmia or a heart murmur up to a year or so in advance by listening to your cat’s heart. Your veterinarian has an 85-90% chance of finding hopefully early heart disease in your cat with his/her stethoscope. The other 10-15% that may have been missed in the past can now be detected with a simple proBNP baseline blood test screen.
What is the treatment plan for heart disease?
Once we diagnose a specific heart disease by an ultrasound, the treatment may be heart medication in liquid or pill form. Sometimes we can even use a form of transdermal medication. This is a cream that you would put on the cat’s ear once a day. Senior pet owners and those with cats who are difficult to medicate really appreciate this.
These medications will enable your cat’s heart to work more efficiently so they can have a better quality of life inexpensively. Medication can help prevent sudden heart failure, respiratory distress and sudden death.
Please contact our office if you have further questions or would like to schedule an appointment.
Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital
How quickly the months pass and bring us around again to our annual Live Reindeer Holiday Event at Belle Mead Animal Hospital. A heartfelt “Thank You” to all who came out to share some holiday cheer and family fun with us!
The event took place on Saturday, December 10, 2016, from 1:30-3:00 p.m. Folks were already lined up to watch Reindeer Thunder make his entrance to the viewing area at the event opening, and what a thrill that was for the small children in attendance!
Yukon Cornelius entertained guests with his reindeer facts and gave folks lots of photo opportunities with Reindeer Thunder. Santa Claus made the rounds offering gifts while the Abominable Snowman greeted.
A special appearance this year was made by Animal Alliance of New Jersey volunteers with adoptable puppies! The puppies were a hit with those in attendance, and we hear a few might have found their forever homes!
The event would not be complete without our Goat patient Dallas dressed in his holiday attire. He’s such a good sport with the children and loves to be petted. He also loved all the treats! And speaking of treats, there were plenty of refreshments on hand for children and adults too – Christmas cookies, hot cocoa and cider were plentiful as well as the giveaways of pet and children’s toys and treats from our Belle Mead Animal Hospital table.
This year representatives from Merck Animal Health and Hills joined us with handouts and information about dog flu and pet nutrition. Their tables were a handy stopping point on the way to visit Thunder the Reindeer.
Along with our canine visitors, we even had a surprise visit from Steve the cat! Mom dressed Steve in a warm sweater to beat the cold that day! It was a great afternoon for all to mingle, take photos and make new friends! Visitors were treated to a raffle draw with a variety of cool prizes awarded after the drawing.
For those who attended, we sincerely hope you enjoyed the afternoon as much as we enjoyed having you! For those of you who couldn’t make it, perhaps we will see you next year!
And by the way, Santa’s Reindeer have now been cleared for take-off by Dr. Tom Meyer, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and official veterinarian of the North Pole! Dr. Meyer examined the Reindeer to ensure that Santa’s team of nine were up-to-date on their vaccinations, free of disease and healthy enough to make their annual trek around the globe. Watch the video here!
The Belle Mead Animal Hospital Team
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With our upcoming visit by Santa’s Reindeer, we thought we would treat you to some Reindeer facts and add to the excitement about meeting this amazing animal in person! The Reindeer will be visiting Belle Mead Animal Hospital on Saturday, December 10, 2016 from 1:30 – 3:00 p.m.
Did you know…
- Reindeer live in the Northern parts of North America including Canada and Alaska. They also live in Europe, Russia and Greenland in the tundra regions (as well as the North Pole with Santa!)
- Reindeer are also known as Caribou. In Europe they are called Reindeer most of the time. However, in America, we only call them Reindeer when they are domesticated. Otherwise, in the wild we call them Caribou. (Their scientific name, by the way, is Rangifer Tarasndus).
- Reindeer are herbivores meaning they eat plants.
- A Reindeer can live up to 15 years in the wild and can weigh from 240 to 700 pounds.
- A Reindeer’s antlers grow to be 3 feet tall. They shed their antlers in the winter, and no two Reindeer antlers look exactly the same!
- Reindeer use their hooves to dig for food in the snow. The outer edges of their hooves are sharp and help them walk on ice and rocks.
- A Reindeer can run 50 miles per hour!
That’s our lesson about Reindeer for the moment. Come visit us on December 10th and learn more! Yukon Cornelius will be on hand to introduce you to the live Reindeer, give you more information about them, and answer questions. Bring friends and family, and take some photos while you are there!
We look forward to seeing you on December 10th! Don’t forget your camera!
Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital
As adults and parents, most of us can say we have experienced the loss of a loved one at some point in our lives, human or pet family member and friend. As adults, at some point we come to recognize the stages of grief and emotion that we work through to reach final acceptance of that loss. But how do we relay this information to our children? How do we prepare them for the grieving process they will experience when their furry friend crosses over Rainbow Bridge?
There is one book in particular that addresses this issue called “When You Have to Say Goodbye: Loving and Letting Go of Your Pet.” Written for children between the ages of 5-8 years old, author Monica Mansfield, DVM, presents a straight-forward and unique approach to help children understand the end-of-life process with their pet.
The book is written in terms children can understand with illustrations to help them visualize the stage of life and the emotion connected to that life stage, which include:
- Bringing home a new pet and forming that all important human-animal bond
- The stage when the pet’s health begins to fail or the pet is seriously injured
- The end-of-life stage, when the family is faced with the decision to help the pet retire peacefully through euthanasia
The author feels teaching children to understand what the word “euthanasia” means is very important as well as teaching them positive ways to cope with the loss afterwards (planting flowers and drawing pictures, for example).
To learn more about the book, the author, and how to purchase, visit the author’s website page When You Have to Say Goodbye.
You can also learn more about the normal signs of grief after pet loss and where to seek counseling and support on our Belle Mead Animal Hospital pet loss support and grief counseling website page. We are pet owners ourselves, and we understand and respect the need for empathy and compassion toward those facing end-of-life issues with their pets.
Have questions? Feel free to call or stop by our office for personal assistance.
Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital
Looking for some family fun with your dog to celebrate Halloween? Come join Belle Mead Animal Hospital at the second annual Howl-O-Ween event at the Dog Park located at Ann Van Middlesworth Park in Hillsborough on Saturday, October 29, 2016.
The Howl-O-Ween event will feature a dog parade and costume contest! Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. and is free to enter your dog. The parade will start at 9:00 a.m. at the pavilion. There will prizes for category winners. Belle Mead Animal Hospital will participate with other vendors, so stop by and say hello! We’d love to get a photo of your dog all dressed in costume. You might even be featured on our Belle Mead Animal Hospital Facebook page.
The dogs will be able to play in the dog park while there, and the Mayor will be on hand to speak and announce category winners and raffle winners.
Here are some photos from the 2015 Howl-O-Ween event!
We’re looking forward to a great time, and we hope to see you there!
We talk a lot about indoor rabbit care, but what about those rabbits that are kept outdoors? Good husbandry and proper housing is just as important for outdoor rabbits as those kept inside your home.
One common practice that many well intentioned rabbit owners do is putting their pet rabbit in the same pen that houses their chickens or goats. Some will even let the rabbits live on the ground loose without an elevated area inside the pen that the rabbit can retreat to.
It simply is not an ideal situation to house rabbits together with other outdoor animals such as chickens or goats, and here is why:
The most common intestinal microscopic parasite of rabbits, goats and birds (especially chickens, ducks and geese) is Coccidia. These parasites found in the animals’ stool multiply invisibly on the floor close to the ground, especially in chicken floor spaces.
Chickens carry lots of Coccidia. Rabbits, especially young rabbits, who get infected with Coccidia can develop growth retardation and stop eating. They can also experience diarrhea, constipation, liver failure and eventual death.
Goats who are housed next to chickens are even more susceptible to developing Coccidia induced diarrhea. They can stop eating, become dehydrated and eventually die. Very young goats (those who are less than four months old) are especially susceptible.
Outdoor rabbits need clean living areas that are kept free from manure of any sort daily. They need hutches with good ventilation so they don’t get stressed and be at increased risk for serious Pasteurella respiratory infections.
Chickens defecate constantly. They are messy and create dusty areas due to the way they eat. So again, chickens should not be sharing the same floor space with pet rabbits. Furthermore, rabbits who eat chicken food are at risk to develop an intestinal blockage, and this is cause for an emergency situation to an unsuspecting pet owner.
Rabbits would do better in an elevated, mostly wire hutch with a section that is totally wood enclosed (top and bottom) where they can get in from the cold and hopefully hide from a fox or raccoon patrolling around at night. Their stool can then fall below through the wire area of the hutch, while the rabbit can still enjoy safe shelter off wire.
If you want to have a rabbit loose in a pen because you have trained them and handled them extensively since birth, than go ahead. However, please make sure the pen is clean, secure and just for rabbits. If you leave them in a pen overnight or during the day without supervision, a hawk or a fox will get them sooner or later. At night, foxes can tear through flimsy enclosures as well as dig under bottom fencing that is not buried deep enough. They will bite the toes off rabbits who are housed on wire enclosure with no solid bottomed shelter.
Also important to know is that bunnies are more susceptible to heat stroke from temperatures greater than 85 degrees F. You should roll or move their hutch into a cool garage or under a tree for shade when the temperature climbs. Also, place a frozen plastic milk jug inside their hutch. The jug will keep your rabbits cooler while the jug slowly thaws.
That being said, rabbits can get frostbite if left outside in severe, bitter cold weather without a proper solid shelter. We recommend moving their hutch to a warm garage or shed for those nights that are just too severe to be safe.
Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital
Ferrets make wonderful pets. Most ferrets come from a place called Marshall Farms where they are spayed and neutered at a very young age to make better pets. Ferrets naturally have a very distinct odor about them, so they are also descented at a young age. However, even descented ferrets still have an odor about them, so most pet owners will dedicate a room for them with a safe ferret-proof cage.
Ferrets under the age of one year, if not supervised, have a high incidence of swallowing things like little balls that can get stuck in their throat or digestive system and require veterinary care. So please be sure to supervise your ferret while playing, and keep the area clear of small and potentially harmful objects.
Ferrets are very intelligent. You can teach them to do many, many things. Their lifespan in general is about six to nine years of age. There have been some reports of ferrets living beyond nine years, but this is rare.
In general, ferrets under the age of two are sturdy. It’s important to note that they can catch the flu from a person. Therefore, if someone in the household is sick with the flu, make sure they do not handle the ferret, and let others take over the care and feeding responsibilities.
Ferrets need a highly digestible, meat-based, protein diet. Vegetable protein is poorly utilized and therefore should be avoided. We recommend a diet combination of ferret food and high protein kitten food. When they are young, it’s a good time to help them with their palate. Before adding additional foods, do some research and ask your veterinarian about foods you are thinking about to make sure they are digestible and provide the proper nutrition. In general, the safest diet is ferret food and kitten food.
There are two common health considerations that a high percentage of ferrets experience once they reach about four years old, so please make note of the following discussion about insulinomas and adrenal tumors. Proper vaccination should also be scheduled and is mentioned below.
Insulinomas – Seventy percent of ferrets over the age of four at some point or another will probably develop an insulinoma. This is a tumor the size and shape of a sesame seed that develops genetically in their pancreas which secretes insulin. Basically, the condition that develops is the exact opposite of a diabetic. The symptoms are very subtle at first because ferrets sleep long hours anyway. The most common symptoms presenting as an emergency are seizures, unresponsiveness and/or coma.
Ferrets should go to the veterinarian once a year for an exam and to educate their owners. For instance, if an owner goes into their room while the ferret is sleeping, the ferret will typically still pop their little head out to see what’s going on around them. If they are not doing that, they might have an insulinoma.
If you ever notice your ferret pawing at its mouth, this is a symptom of an insulinoma, and you should arrange an appointment with your veterinarian for an examination.
If you notice rear leg weakness, especially on slippery surfaces, or if you notice your ferret is simply stumbling on its rear or weak in its rear, this can be a sign of an insulinoma. Obviously, the most significant signs are the ferret is not moving, in a coma, or having seizures. Sometimes just playing less because they are tired is a symptom. It’s important to be aware of what is normal for your ferret, so you can easily spot abnormal behavior when it presents itself and call your veterinarian to report the changes.
Treatment can be either surgery or simply medication if that is the more affordable course of treatment for you. What is most important is recognizing the signs and contacting your veterinarian before it’s too late. If your pet begins seizuring while you’ve been working or sleeping, either permanent brain damage can occur, or we could lose your little friend completely.
Adrenal tumor – Another common problem ferrets develop is an adrenal tumor. They have two adrenal glands, a right side and a left side gland. The symptoms are hair loss starting over their tail. If you notice some hair loss, please contact your veterinarian for an appointment. Even though ferrets do go through two shedding cycles, it’s important for a veterinarian to determine the difference. If they are losing fur to the point of baldness, they probably have developed a tumor. Other symptoms include rear leg weakness and really bad itching that just won’t stop and gets progressively worse.
An emergency situation occurs when a male ferret has trouble urinating and becomes blocked. This puts them at risk for renal failure. The potassium that they can’t excrete in their urine starts to kill their heart, and that becomes an emergency nightmare. If the pet owner delays calling their veterinarian or emergency clinic for even one night, the ferret might not be saved. Female ferrets might have an enlarged vulva or urinary tract infection. Without a prostrate, they will not experience blockage like a male.
In previous years, the treatment for an adrenal tumor was surgery, and the right side is more technical and dangerous. Now we have implants that can help ferrets affordably for about six months. There is also medication available similar to what is used in vitro for women on a monthly basis, or on a two to three month shot schedule, that is more affordable in most cases.
Some ferrets might have both an insulinoma and adrenal tumor at the same time. You would be surprised how many ferrets have these issues going on without the owner’s knowledge, either because regular veterinary exams have been skipped, or the attending veterinarian may not be specialized in ferret care and fails to detect these problems.
Vaccines – We highly recommend distemper vaccines just like for kittens and puppies, and ferrets do need rabies shots. Discuss a vaccine schedule with your veterinarian.
Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital
You’ve all heard it before – your veterinarian urges you to bring your pets in for a checkup once or twice a year, even if they’re in apparently perfect health. But why? It can seem puzzling to some of us to bring our pets to the vet and pay for a visit if we think our pets are looking and feeling fine. Let me explain….
A few months ago, one of my beloved patients, Meghan (a young, spirited Maltese dog), came in for her annual exam and vaccinations so that she could go to the groomer. Meghan’s mom had no concerns, and to be honest, probably would have postponed this visit if her groomer didn’t require proof of up-to-date veterinary care. I, for one, sure am glad that Meghan needed a hair cut!
During Meghan’s exam I noticed that the inside of her ears looked a little pale but her gums were pink and the rest of her exam was fine. She even met me with her customary excitement and face kisses. I next obtained her blood for her annual heartworm test and noticed that her blood seemed thinner than normal. I shared my findings with her mom and asked if I could run a full panel on the blood. We added the additional tests and found that Meghan had a very significant anemia. She had only 1/3 as many red blood cells circulating as she should have (13% instead of 45%). Meghan was very sick and had been hiding it!
Meghan was diagnosed with idiopathic immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) and received immediate intervention including bone marrow testing, a blood transfusion and strong immunosuppressive medications. Because of Meghan’s early diagnosis, her mom’s trust in her veterinarian’s observations, and her response to treatment she is doing great and has fully recovered. She is alive and thriving–all because she went to her annual veterinary well visit.
Okay, so you’re thinking that Meghan’s situation was rare and that your pet is unlikely to have such a serious condition. And you would be right, but it is actually really important to have your pet examined, blood work and all, at least once a year. Think about it: as we get older, our checkups become more and more important in order to look for conditions that develop as we age. It’s no different for your pet.
Additionally, your pet can’t tell you when they are sick or in pain, and even though your pet may appear healthy, he or she might be silently suffering. They are so good at hiding signs or symptoms of disease from us, that an annual checkup may be the only way to have a trained set of eyes spot any subtle signs of illness.
Our job as veterinarians starts with that first visit with your new puppy or kitten. We perform an initial physical exam to look for any signs of illness to make sure your new pet starts off on the right foot. Early disease detection and prevention is paramount to improve the quality and length of life for our pets.
The same goes for older pets – yearly to twice yearly, physical exams and blood tests allow us to look for any changes in your pet’s values that may reveal a developing disease early, when it is most treatable.
Ultimately, that slight limp you noticed at home or an abnormal dip in red blood cell count on wellness blood work could mean your pet is developing conditions such as arthritis or anemia–two conditions you may not be able to detect on your own and would go untreated without your yearly check up.
Jessica Stephens, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital
To those who were able to come out and visit with us at the recent Somerset Patriots “Bark in the Park Night” on July 19, 2016, thank you! We really enjoyed seeing you and hope you had as much fun as we did. To those who could not make it that night, we want to share some of our experiences.
The evening kicked off around 6:30 p.m. with the Pooch Parade. The weather was perfect, and it was nice to see such a great turnout of people and pets! Dr. Martins participated with family members, and it was a fun way to get the event activities started
The concourse was busy with various vendors and crowds of people and pets. The Belle Mead Animal Hospital team had lots of giveaways at our table and was kept busy all evening with visitors stopping by for information and goodies. Pet supplies and doggie treats were plentiful, and folks were able to participate in a raffle the team offered.
Dr. Somjen brought her dogs Chill and Cherry and gave demonstrations of therapeutic exercises that patients can benefit from as part of our Pet Physical Rehabilitation Program at Belle Mead Animal Hospital. And the program is not just for dogs – cats and exotic companion mammals can benefit, too! Other team members, including Dr. Rockhill, brought their pets, and we think the dogs had just as good time if not more fun than all of us!
Dogs were in attendance in big numbers! The concourse and ballpark stands were crowded with people and their pets enjoying the activities and watching the game. There was the usual break for Yappy Hour where folks could buy their dog an ice cream treat, and troughs of water were made available throughout the ballpark to keep the pets hydrated. For those of you who are Somerset Patriot fans, they won that night! It was a great game with lots of excitement until the end.
Another “Bark in the Park Night” has come and gone. Thanks again to those of you who came out to enjoy the evening with us – and to the new friends we made that night, we hope to see you again, too!
The Belle Mead Animal Hospital Team