Small Animals as Pets: Health Issues to be Aware of

Small animals have become increasingly popular as pets. With many people living in cities with no room for a dog, small pets make great alternatives. Parents often have their kids start out with small animals so they can learn to care for something that is not too overwhelming to clean up after. Adventures with pets, however, often prove more difficult that imagined.


Ferrets are native to the United Kingdom and do well in cooler temperatures. If you live in a warmer climate, be prepared to keep their cage area cool. Ferrets are also prone to a myriad of odd health issues. This can lead to costly vet bills. Adrenal disease is a major complication for domesticated ferrets, especially those that come from commercial breeders. Ferret farms often spay and neuter very early on, leaving them at risk for future problems. A private breeder is a better option. Adrenal disease can be caused by a hormone fluctuation or a tumor. Surgery or lifelong medication is necessary.

Ferrets often come down with adrenal disease due to living indoors with artificial light. The normal rhythms of daylight and night are necessary to maintain their balance. When it is dark outside, your ferrets should also be in the dark. Stay away from your ferret if you have a cold or the flu, as well. This is one of the few animals in which these diseases are zoonotic. They can be transferred to your pet.

Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragons are one of the most popular reptiles to keep as a pet. They have great temperaments as long as you hold them often as soon as you get them. This is another pet that may have issues when coming from a commercial breeder. The pet store cannot guarantee their health. Environment is the key ingredient to having a healthy dragon. They are native to Australia and need to be in a hot, dry atmosphere.

Humid climates can make these critters challenging to take care of. A humidity sensor in their cage can help you keep track of the air quality. A de-humidifier in the room may be necessary. They can contract can dangerous illness called “yellow mold.” Yellow spots appear on their bodies and eventually their internal organs are affected. There is no cure. It is not usually a problem for humans, however, other reptiles should be kept in a separate environment.

Hamsters, Gerbils, and Rats

Most adults have memories of their first hamster, gerbil, or rat. These are classic first pets once you graduate from goldfish ownership.  These animals are pretty low maintenance, but can be difficult to handle. Some like to be held, others do not. Their nocturnal nature can keep household members awake, as well. Most people purchase one of these animals at a time, leaving them in a cage alone. Rats, however, are quite social and do best with another rat of the same sex. Complications can occur when you clean the cage, especially if there is more than one animal living in it. These animals tend to get a bit territorial and can become aggressive after a thorough cage cleaning.

When they are living with another one of their kind, they can get into fights over territory. If you have two or more that are living together peacefully, this can change after a cage cleaning. Their scents are removed when you clean up, causing them to fight for hierarchy all over again. They often fight to the death. To avoid this, leave a little bit of dirty bedding or litter under the new, clean shavings. Do this each time you clean out the cage so that the scent of each one is still intact.

Small pets can be fun for kids and adults, alike. It is important, however, to be aware of the many health issues and maintenance habits that come with them. They can often be more work than a dog or cat. Many small animals also end up in environments that do not match their native habitat. This can also make them harder to care for. Research about any animal is important before you bring it home. The more knowledge you have, the healthier your pet can be.

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