Sugar Gliders

Care of Sugar Gliders

Natural History/Behavior

The sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) is native to northern and eastern Australia, New Guinea, and surrounding islands. They inhabit woodlands and forests, are arboreal and largely nocturnal. They shelter by day in leaf-lined nests inside of tree hollows.

Sugar gliders resemble flying squirrels in form, having a large gliding membrane. They are able to glide up to 50 meters, and have been observed to leap at and catch insects in flight. Gliders are mainly insectivorous, feeding on insects, larvae, arachnids, and small vertebrates for the most of the year; sap, blossoms, and nectar only during the wet season (winter).

They are social and produce a variety of sounds. Wild groups nest in colonies of up to seven adult males, females, and their young. During winter, gliders will huddle together to conserve energy and may simultaneously enter a daily torpor during cold weather when food is scarce. Groups are exclusive and territorial: newly introduced individuals may be attacked by established members.

Sugar gliders are polygamous. One or two dominant, older males are usually responsible for most of the territorial maintenance as well as fathering of the young. A complex system of chemical communication exists based upon the scents produced by glands on the back of the head, chest, and genitalia. Each individual has its own characteristic scent. The dominant male actively marks other members of the group with his scent. Gliders will urine-mark their territory.

The natural breeding season for wild sugar gliders in Australia is June to November. Females are polyestrous, cycling every 29 days. A female may produce a second litter during the breeding season if the first is lost. However in tropical habitats and in captivity, there seems to be no definite breeding season. The exportation of sugar gliders has been banned in Australia since 1959.

Sugar gliders breed readily in captivity and they gained popularity in the US in the late ’90s. Due to their social nature, captive gliders should be kept in groups of two or more. They are most active in the evenings and early mornings, and should get most of their social interaction during this period. Solitary gliders will require socialization periods of at least two hours a day. They will bond readily with their owners, who often carry them around in fleece glider-pouches, or close to the body, under clothing. Captive-bred joeys adopted between 7-12 weeks “out-of-pouch” are the easiest to socialize. Gliders make loud screeching noises (“crabbing”) when they frightened or excited. They also “bark” or quietly “chatter” for attention.


Scent glands are involved in group recognition and communication among gliders. Males have frontal and sternal scent glands. Females have scent glands in their pouch. Both have paracloacal glands, which produce a white oily secretion when frightened.

The tail is weakly prehensile (able to grasp): gliders collect leaves by hanging from the hind feet, grabbing leaves with the front feet and passing them to the tail, which can coil around and grasp leaves to be used for nest building. The tail also acts as a rudder during gliding.

A gliding membrane (patagium) extends from the forefoot to the ankle. There are five digits on each foot. All contain a sharp claw except the first digit (hallux) on each hind foot, which is opposable. Digits two and three on the hind foot are identical in length and partially fused (syndactylous) to form a grooming “comb.”

Female sugar gliders have a well-developed, mid-abdominal pouch which contains four teats. The adrenal glands of females are twice the size of male adrenals on the basis of weight.

The cloaca is the common opening for the rectum, urinary, and genital ducts. The cloacal temperature averages 32°C (89.6°F), which is lower than the actual core body temperature.

Typical marsupials possess marsupial bones (ossa marsupialla) which articulate which the pelvis and serve as an attachment for abdominal musculature. These are absent in the sugar glider.

The teeth are brachydont (do not grow throughout life). The dental formula is: 3/2, 1/0, 3/3, 4/4 = 40. The incisors are specialized for gouging the bark of trees. Sugar gliders possess an enlarged cecum that may assist in digesting gum from acacia trees.

Female sugar gliders have two uteri and two long, thin lateral vaginae that open into a single cul-de-sac divided by a septum. When engorged the bifid clitoris may be visible, protruding from the cloaca.

Testes of male are permanently descended in the pendulous, pre-penile scrotum. The penis is bifid (forked). The prostate and cowpers glands are large.

Physiologic/Reproductive Data

Adult weight: 80-160 gm; females smaller than males

Adult body length: about 12.7 cm (5 in)

Total length, including tail: about 28 cm (11 in)

Longevity: 12-14 years in captivity

Body temp: average 32°C (89.6°F)

Heart rate: 200-300 beats/min

Respiratory rate: 16-40 breaths/min

Sexual maturity: female at 8-12 mo; male 12-14 mo; capable of reproducing until over 10 yrs old

Estrous cycle: 29 days (seasonally polyestrous); they can breed all year in captivity

Mating: usually occurs in the evening

Gestation: 16 days, fetus then migrated to pouch

Litter size: one (19%) or two (89%)

Litters/yr: 1-2 in the wild; up to 4 litters/yr in captivity (not recommended)

A sugar glider joey weighs only 0.19 gm and is 5 mm long at birth. It crawls to pouch (marsupium), where it stays attached to the nipple for 40 days. It first releases the nipple at 40 days, but stays inside until 70 days, when it first emerges. From 70 days on, the joey leaves the pouch for more and more time. Weaning occurs at 110-120 days of age, and joeys are independent by 17 weeks.

Marsupial metabolism is thought to be about two thirds of placental (eutherian) mammals and the heart rate is usually about one-half the rate that is seen in eutherians of similar size. During periods of cold or food scarcity sugar gliders conserve energy by going into a torpor (period of low metabolic rate) for periods of up to 16 hours per day.


Sugar gliders need as large an enclosure as possible to allow space to climb, run, jump, and glide. A large, tall, aviary-type wire cage is ideal. Wire spacing should be no more than 2.5×1.3 cm (1×0.5 in). Zinc-containing wire is potentially toxic if it is consumed. A hide-box or sleeping pouch should be placed high up in the cage. Gliders need non-toxic tree branches (e.g., manzanita, cholla), perches, and shelves to climb on. To provide additional enrichment place bird toys, swings, and a solid running wheel (w/out rungs, to avoid injury) at elevated positions within the cage.

Sugar gliders should be housed as pairs or groups due to their social nature. Keeping a single glider is not recommended as clinical depression may result. Placing the glider cage in a high-traffic area such as the family room will provide additional socialization.

Sugar gliders can tolerate environmental temperatures of 18.3-32.2°C (65-90°F) however the ideal range is 24-27°C (75-80°F). Do not place them in drafty areas, in direct sunlight, or where temperatures fluctuate widely. Sugar gliders that are too cold will become torpid and difficult to rouse. Most collections will need some form of supplemental heat (infrared heat lamp, ceramic heat emitter) in order to prevent cold-stress.

Cage substrate should be hardwood shavings, recycled paper, corn cob, or shredded paper. Avoid pine and cedar shavings. The cage, nest box, and bedding should be kept very clean in order to avoid fur-pulling and self-mutilation. Do not allow frayed fabric, string, rope, or towels to be placed in the cage: gliders occasionally get tangled in these.


The natural diet of sugar gliders includes insects, spiders, worms, small mammals, eggs, nestling birds, tree sap, nectar, and blossoms. In spite of published advice to the contrary, wild sugar gliders do not rely heavily on fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains or seeds. Pet gliders will readily accept these items, however, to the exclusion of healthy foods.

Sugar gliders are largely insectivorous. Their captive diet should include greater than 50% protein (insects, hardboiled egg with shell, newborn mice, lean meat, high quality cat food, monkey chow), and 50% fruit sugars and gums (fresh nectar, honey, acacia gum, gum Arabic, commercial lory diet, Glideraide).

A popular alternative to the above approach is to feed equal parts of a homemade diet mixture (Leadbeater’s mixture) and a commercial insectivore/carnivore diet (see below).

In either case, small amounts of various fresh fruits, vegetables, baby food, dairy products and other items are occasionally offered as treats. All food should be offered fresh in the evening. A small amount of vitamin/mineral powder (i.e., Repcal, Herptivite) should be applied to any fruit or insects given. Provide additional calcium during breeding and lactation.

Provide fresh food and water daily. Place food bowls and water/nectar sippers high in the cage, not on the cage floor.

It is recommended to offer about 25% of the sugar glider’s body weight in food on a daily basis. Dietary recommendations vary, but here are some suggestions:

1. Fruit: Oranges, watermelon, paw paw, pears, kiwifruit, apricots, berries, bananas, apples, mangos, grapes, melons, figs. Invertebrates: Mealworms, grasshoppers, moths, fly pupae, crickets.

Blossoms and branches: Eucalyptus, Banksia, Leptospermum, Grevillea, Acacia, Melaleuca, Callistemum, Hakea.

Supplements: nectar mix, vitamins, minerals

2. Items (mixed into a slurry):

·Chopped, mixed fruit 40% 12.0g

·Cooked, chopped vegetables 8% 2.5g

·Peach or apricot nectar 34% 10.0g

·Ground, dry, low-iron bird diet 18% 5.5g

3. 50% Leadbeater’s mixture (see below) 50% Insectivore/carnivore diet (ie, Mazuri Brand, Purina Mills, St. Louis, MO; Reliable Protein Products, Palm Desert, CA; ZuPreem, Mission, KS)

Leadbeater’s mixture (can be used as 50% of dietary intake- see above):

150 ml warm water

150 ml honey

1 hard-boiled with shell on

25 gm high protein baby cereal

1 tsp vitamin/mineral supplement

Mix warm water and honey. In a separate container, blend egg until homogenized; gradually add honey/water, then vitamin/mineral powder, then baby cereal, blending after each addition until smooth. Keep refrigerated or frozen until served.


Other nutritional products:

Nectar diets

Nekton-Lori, NektonUSA, Inc., St. Petersburg, FL


Avico Glideraide, Cuttlebone Plus, San Marcos, CA


Gum Arabic

Gum Arabic #76-3503, Country Kitchen SweetArt, Fort Wayne, IN


Vitamin/mineral powder

Rep-Cal (phosphorus free calcium with Vit. D powder), and

Herptivite (multivitamin, multimineral supplement), RepCal Research Labs, Los Gatos, CA 800-406-6446,

Sugar Glider and Insectivore diets

Brisky Sugar Glider Diet, Brisky Pet Products, Franklinville, NY


Mazuri Insectivore Diet-5MK8, Mazuri,


Insectivore-Fare, Reliable Protein Products, Palm Desert, CA



Sugar gliders can be scruffed or held around the thorax, wedging the thumb between the sternum and chin to avoid being bitten. A towel can be used to assist in capture, and the examination can be accomplished in part with the glider in the towel.  A cursory examination may be all that is possible with an awake animal. A bivalve nasal speculum will allow for a better oral exam (under sedation). Heart and lung sounds will often be hampered by constant “crabbing” noises when awake. For a thorough physical examination, isoflurane anesthesia is usually needed.

Preventative Medicine

Most problems seen in sugar gliders are diet and care related.  An annual checkup and examination of stool for parasites is recommended. Close examination of the oral cavity and teeth under anesthesia is also recommended. The exam provides an opportunity to review the diet and care (husbandry). Nails typically need constant trimming.  Additional tests such as CBC, chemistry, and radiographs may be indicated in certain disease states and even in health can provide a good base-line to compare against in times of illness.


Basic Chinchilla Care


  • Commercial chinchilla pellets (I prefer Oxbow brand) @ 1-2 tbsp/day
  • Free choice timothy or grass hay
  • Dark Leafy Greens: Mustard greens, Endive, Kale, Carrot tops, Turnip Greens, Dandelion, etc.
  • If offered at all, grains, dried apples, raisins, figs and seeds/nuts should be limited to no more than 1 tsp/day
  • Clean, fresh water.  Sipper tubes are preferred.
  • Porous stones (pumice), young branches of trees (elm, grapevines, maple, birch) and bark (apple, pear, and peach trees).  Avoid poisonous trees.


Multilevel cage (minimally 6.6’x6.6’x3.3’) with a wooden nest box and a dust bath (typically offered twice a week).


life span:…………………………… 10 yrs average

weight……………………………… 400-600 grms

maturity……………………………. 8 months

estrous cycle……………………… seasonally polyestrous

length………………………………. 30-50 days

ovulation………………………….. spontaneous

gestation period………………… 105-118 days

litter size…………………………… 1-6 (2 on ave)

normal birth weight……………. 30-50 grms

weaning age……………………… 6-8 weeks

temperature………………………. 98.6-100.4F

heart rate …………………………. 100-150 bpm (at rest)

Force feeding:

Mix blenderized alphalpha pellets (1 part), mixed vegetables (3 parts), add water as needed to make a pancake batter consistency.  Feed 2-3x a day until eating better.  Oxbow makes a superior product called Critical Care that is available at your local veterinarian office.

Flea control:

Advantage:  Apply 2 drops to level of skin between shoulder blades.


Veterinary care:

As with other exotic species, annual exams are recommended to provide the best opportunity to detect and treat sub-clinical diseases (hidden problems).  Fecal exams are also a good idea to evaluate for parasites, protozoa’s and certain bacteria.  After 4-5 years of age, we also recommend annual blood screening and in some cases screening radiographs (jaw, thorax and abdomen).


Most common reasons for veterinary evaluation:

Nutritional (diet related)


Dental Disease

Digestive Tract Disorders

Fur/skin disorders


This handout is only a very basic guide for Chinchilla care.  We recommend that you invest in some books on the subject and ask your vet any questions that you come up with.

Converting Your Bird to a Pelleted Diet

Converting Your Bird to a Healthy Pelleted Diet

Multiple Options to Convert Your Bird to a Healthy Pelleted Diet


Compiled by… Dr. Maxwell Conn, DVM


Seed diets are deficient in most major nutrients and contain excessive fat for the pet bird. Formulated Diets (extruded, pellets, crumbles etc) are designed in an attempt to provide a balanced diet to your bird much like commercially prepared dog and cat foods.

It is important to note that a conversion should only be started with a bird that is not underweight and is not ill.  Consult with your veterinarian if you are uncertain if it is best to convert your bird at this time.

You can offer some of the new foods as a side item event to an ill or underweight bird. Small birds like budgies, can starve to death with food in the cage if they do not eat the food. So if the bird does not eat put the bird back on the original diet immediately.

Discuss with your avian veterinarian what body weights are appropriate for your bird while converting the diet.  If you have not already, schedule an appointment with your avian veterinarian to discuss what pellets are best for your bird, and how you should approach switching the diet. You should also have a general health exam at this time to decide if your bird is healthy enough to undergo a diet change.

Purchase an accurate gram scale and learn how to use it correctly.

Option #1 (for conversion):

Target percentage of the diet is 75-80% pellets.  The key to conversion is initially limiting the seed quantity available to your bird to one-half of what the bird will eat per day.  To find out how much seeds are eaten in one day:

  1. Measure, in teaspoons or tablespoons quantity of seed mix you place in clean cage first thing in the morning. All Seeds (including millet spray and seed trees) MUST be included in your measurement!
  2. The next morning (24 hours later) measure, in teaspoons or tablespoons the quantity of seed mix, which is left uneaten (include un hulled seeds that have been dropped to the ground).
  3. Subtract remainder from the initial quantity to determine the actual amount of seed your bird eats in 24 hours.
  4. Start feeding only one half of the calculated amount of seed to your bird on a daily basis. Place an equal quantity of the new formulated diet (Zupreem, Harrison’s, Pretty Bird, Rowdybush, etc.) in the same bowl.
  5. Gradually, over a number of days, decrease the seed percentage.  Worried your bird isn’t eating enough? We suggest purchasing an inexpensive “perch equipped” gram scale to track your birds weight.  Record the initial weight and then weigh your bird every morning.  During conversion, a 5% weight loss is ok.  A 10% weight loss, except with obese birds, is excessive over 2-3 weeks, and your veterinarian should be consulted.  Most birds on formulated diets will tend to be a little leaner, due to a lower fat diet. They will, however, continue to have a regular dropping output, containing both green feces and white urates (kidney waste).

Option #2: 

Weaning your pet bird off seed can be a frustrating experience.  Just like any child, your pet may not readily switch from the “Twinkie and M&M” seed diet to a  healthy and nutritious pellet diet.  DO NOT DESPAIR!  There are ways to ‘ease’ your pet into a healthier diet by gradually decreasing the number of seeds your bird has access to over a period of time.  While you are decreasing the seeds, you will offer good quality pellets in a SEPARATE dish at all times. It is also worth grinding up some pelleted diet and sprinkling it on top of the seeds during the transition. This helps introduce your bird to the new taste. If you must offer table foods, do so at the family table only (see more below).

The first step is to decide how long you want your bird’s transition to be.  We recommend 30-60 days.  This may seem like a long time, but rapid dietary changes can be very stressful. The longer the transition time, the easier it will be on your pet.  Do consider however, that the sooner your pet is on a better diet, the sooner he/she will reap the benefits of good nutrition.  Taking 120 days to transition your bird is too long.

Next, find out EXACTLY how much of the seed your pet is eating in a day.  Measure the quantity of seeds you place in the cage each day in teaspoons or cc’s and write it down. Ask your veterinarian for some syringe barrels, they make good cubic centimeter (CC’s) measuring devices. One CC is one fifth of a teaspoon and is a very good unit for this project. At the end of the day subtract the amount of spilled and uneaten seeds from what you wrote down in the morning. This tells you the accurate volume of seeds the bird eats in a day.  Do this for several days until you have an accurate idea of your pet’s Actual consumption.  This is the quantity you will offer on the initial day of the program.

Now calculate the amount of seeds you will decrease by each day.  Take the amount of seeds eaten in one day and divide that number by the number of days you’ve chosen as your transition period.  You can adjust the number of days to make the calculation a little easier. If the amount is easily divided by 30, great, but if some slightly larger number of days works better, go for it! For example, if the patient eats 6 ¾ teaspoons,  that’s 34CC’s a day, so set up a 34 day plan.

Begin the seed reduction program by offering only the amount of seeds previously eaten in one average day (see your results above) and then decrease each day thereafter by the amount you calculate. So as in the example above, if the patient eats 34CC’s a day, set up a 34 day plan.

Day 1, 34 CC’s

Day 2, 33 CC’s

Day 3, 32 CC’s

…and so on, until they reached zero! (34 days in this example!)  You can pre-measure the seeds and store them for each day of the program in an ice cube tray or egg carton.

In the meantime, offer good, complete pelleted foods in new feed dish locations.   You can mix the pellets with the measured daily quantity of seeds, but the pellets tend to get tossed out of the dish.  This makes a bigger mess for you and just wastes the pellets.  It also makes it much more difficult to monitor whether your bird is beginning to eat the pellets.  Examples of good pelleted diets include “Lafeber’s”, “Harrison’s Bird Diets”, “Zu-Preem”, “Roudybush”, and “KT Exact”.  Produce, fruits, breads, cereals and other table foods can be offered by family members during the family’s regular mealtime(s), but not placed in the cage.  Bring your bird to the breakfast and dinner table with you and share your food, they love it!  Do not feed avocado, onion, chocolate, or butter/margarine (these can be toxic to birds)!


Option #3:

If you have an accurate Gram scale with which you can weigh your bird, consider another method;

Weigh the bird in Grams (not Ounces, they are too big. Each Ounce is 28 Grams) 3 or more times daily. Remove the seeds and offer a good balanced avian pelleted diet instead. If the bird loses no more than 2 percent of its body weight, your are done!

If your pet bird loses more than 2% of its weight, let it have its high fat seed diet in small increments until the weight stabilizes. Measure the seed increments carefully by weight (grams) or volume (1/4 teaspoons, cubic centimeters, etc.), and note the daily seed consumption in grams or CC’s. Then start a calculated 5, 10, 20, or 30 day reduction plan as described in option #2 above.

Option(s) #4:

Weigh your bird at the same time every morning for two weeks to establish normal fluctuations in weight.  Report any serious fluctuations (10% or more) to your avian veterinarian. ·

Start mixing half pellets and half the regular diet. · Expect your bird to throw the pellets at you, scream, yell, and throw tantrums. Talk to your bird about it’s new diet, they do listen.  As the bird starts to eat the pellets, gradually reduce the amount of the regular diet and increase the pellets.

Other Tried and True Tips: 

Place a bowl of pellets near the highest perch.  Most birds will eat from the highest bowl first.

Let your bird see another bird that is eating pellets. We call this: “birdie see, birdie do”.

Feed the regular diet for 30 minutes in the morning, take it out and replace with pellets for rest of day, then feed regular diet for 30 minutes at night if pellets are not eaten.

Grind up the pellets in a blender, or buy a mash/crumble product, and mix blended millet in the mash. After a few days use less ground millet. Some birds will do it with just the whole millet especially if you use the white-hulled millet from a health food store. The bird has to go through the mash to get the millet. This works well with smaller species such as budgies, lovebirds and cockatiels.

Mix your bird’s favorite fruit into the pellets so the bird gets a mouthful of pellets with its fruit. Mushy fruit works best, as it sticks to the pellets very well. Remove it after 4-6 hours to avoid spoiled food being eaten.

If your bird continues to be leery of the pellets, remove all perches from the cage so the bird has to sit on the food dish.

Try going back to hand feeding a juvenile formula with a syringe and then re-wean to pellets.  This should only be done under the guidance of an avian veterinarian.

If you have a bird on pellets put your two birds in the same cage if they tolerate each other. Offer no seeds. At night separate them and if the budgie has not eaten pellets give it seeds.

Find a seed that is less palatable such as hulled white millet from the health food store. Bust the seeds up in a blender with the pellets.

Don’t give up and Don’t starve the bird! This can be monitored by getting the birds weight in grams regularly.

When all else fails-  board your bird with your vet and allow them to switch the diet. This is often the best way to switch your bird!  Your vet will carefully monitor the birds weight and health. Most birds switch diets very quickly when removed from the “comfort” of home and your vet will have more experience with diet changes.  It also takes the stress away from you the owner if you are afraid of adverse health effects from trying to do it yourself.

Green Iguana

Care of Green Iguana

 The green Iguana (Iguana iguana) is one of the most frequently purchased reptiles and one of the most frequent reptiles to visit the  veterinary office.  Often, the pet owner is not given proper information as to the needs of iguanas at the time of acquired.  It may be weeks to months before the devastating effects of improper diet, internal parasites or incorrect housing conditions take their toll, and the pet becomes ill.  This handout is a brief overview of care, but we recommend that you purchase a copy of The General Care and Maintenance of the Green Iguana by Philippe de Vosjoli for more detailed care.

Iguanas are diurnal, arboreal, tropical lizards of Central and South America.  They have been introduced into south Florida, and are currently predominantly bred in captivity.  In the wild, iguanas are virtually herbivorous, eating fibrous jungle leaves, flowers, and fruits.  They rely on fermentation of complex carbohydrates in their colon to produce 30-40% of the energy available from their diet.  The required bacteria are acquired in hatchlings by eating the feces of adult iguanas.  Iguanas facilitate this fermentation process and regulate their body temperature by basking in the sun, seeking temperatures above 85 degrees F (30 degrees C).  Their social rank is reflected in the prominence of their basking sites.  Adult animals may reach a length of 6 feet and weigh as much as 15 pounds, a fact that should be considered when purchasing that cute little green lizard in the pet store!  Adult animals require a large amount of cage space and may be quite dangerous to handle.  Their razor sharp teeth can inflict serious injuries and the tail when lashed can also cause skin lacerations or eye injuries (not to mention the pain that can be inflicted by their sharp claws).


Providing the proper temperature, humidity, and light requirements for an iguana is critical for the animal to survive in captivity.  Iguanas should be housed in large glass, plexiglas, or wooden cages.  A 20-gallon or larger aquarium is a good size to start with, as these reptiles grow at a very rapid rate in their first several months of life.  The cage should be lined with newspaper, artificial grass (astro-turf), or indoor-outdoor carpeting, with ease of cleaning being the most important consideration.  My preferred substrate is newspaper, because it is cheap and easiest to clean (just throw it away).  Do not use gravel, sand, soil, or kitty litter because the iguana may eat pieces of these materials and then develop a potentially fatal intestinal impaction.  These materials are also difficult on the animal’s skin, if they become dirty or are continually damp.  In general, stay away from organic beddings like mulch, walnut shells, coconut, corncob, etc as they are hard to disinfect and can harbor infectious organisms.

A water bowl should be provided with fresh water and changed daily for the animal to drink out of and soak in.  The bathtub and sink is also a good place for a daily swim for your pet.  It is better not to use a sink in which food is prepared, due to the risk of Salmonella contamination (if your pet is harboring this bacterial agent).   Ask your vet about the potential for Salmonella infection in these animals.  Many pets will defecate only when in water, which may make it easier for cleanup.

Humidity in the tank can be provided by lightly misting the area several times a day, adding an air stone driven by an aquarium pump into the water bowl, or with the use of a humidity box.  (See attached sheet on the construction of a humidity box).

A hiding area is critical for the animal’s mental well being.  The humidity box may be used for this, or any cardboard, wood or plastic container that is of sufficient size for the pet to enter and turn around in will suffice.


Iguanas are tropical lizards and should have supplemental heat added to their environment.  We do not approve of “hot rocks” being used for this purpose.  We frequently see serious thermal burns on the underside of baby iguanas caused by the uneven heating of the hot rock that in some instances has lead to death.  There should be a temperature gradient in the cage; meaning one should not attempt to make the environment the same temperature.  Under cage heating can be provided by a heating pad left on twenty-four hours a day and put UNDER the tank so that the animal does not have direct contact with it.  There are several types of specially made reptile heaters of varying sizes, some with thermostatic controls.  In addition, the pet needs a “hot basking spot” provided in the cage by an overhead heat and light source (a ceramic bulb works well).  The temperature in this area needs to reach 90 to 100 degrees F.  This light should be left on only 10-14 hours per day and should be turned off at night.  Putting the light on a timer is helpful.  Nighttime temperatures may drop to 70-75 degrees F.  Allowing your pet to live at “room temperature” all the time with no chance for thermoregulation will lead to serious health problems over time (it may take several years).  An inexpensive digital thermometer with a probe can be purchased at Radio Shack, and can be used to measure many points in the terrarium to ensure a proper heat gradient.

There is ongoing controversy about the usefulness of UV light in the captive iguana’s environment.  We know that certain types of UV light are important in helping Vitamin D production in the animal’s skin, which in turn is essential in facilitating the absorption of calcium into the body.  The question is whether the various light sources that claim to be most like sunlight are really doing the job.  The answer is that there is no substitute for natural sunlight, (none of the light bulbs currently on the market can absolutely reproduce sunlight).  However, since we live in a climate that prevents us from keeping our pets out doors all year (and glass windows block UV light rays out) we recommend using bulbs that provide at least some source of UV rays.  Vitalite and Chromalux bulbs are two that we recommend currently and should be placed so that the pet is no more than two feet away from the light source.  The advantage of Chromalux is that it is also a heat-producing bulb.  Consult with your veterinarian on proper light sources, because some bulbs can be harmful to the pet’s eyes.  UV bulbs need to be replaced every 6 months, because after that they no longer provide a useful spectrum.

We highly recommend during the warm summer months when the temperature is 80 degrees or higher, that you expose your pet to natural sunlight.  We recommend building an outdoor playpen with a shaded area where your pet can spend time on nice days.  Even putting your iguana on a harness and leash and “sunbathing” together with your pet can produce tremendous benefit.


This is the single most difficult area to manage in the pet iguana.  The most common disease problem that we see in pet iguanas is calcium and or vitamin D deficiency, which leads to stunted growth, softened and broken bones, muscle tremors, seizures, and death.  Juvenile iguanas have different dietary requirements than adult iguanas, a subject of which is still open to much discussion.  There are now various pelleted, ground, and frozen iguana diets available on the market, many claiming to be “complete”.  It is dangerous to use any of these foods as the total diet because dietary deficiencies are still seen despite the companies glowing claims.  If prepackaged diets are used, they should comprise no more than 75% of the total diet with the remaining 25% fed in the form of plant material (see examples of plant material below).  Vitamin and mineral supplementation may be eliminated altogether because the prepackaged diets already contain these materials.

If you are making up a diet of your own, you may want to follow these guidelines.  (Again, we urge you to consult The General Care and Maintenance of the Green Iguana by Philippe de Vosjoli for additional suggestions).

Juvenile “baby” iguanas (less than a foot in length from nose to vent – exclude the tail) can be fed a diet of 20% plant protein foods along with a variety of leafy vegetables, non-leafy vegetables, and a small amount of fruits.  They should be fed daily.

Medium “adolescent” iguanas (less than a foot in length from nose to vent – exclude the tail) can be fed about 15% protein and the rest as in the juvenile.  These should still be fed daily.

Large adult iguanas (1 – 1 ½ feet in length from nose to vent – exclude the tail or any time growth has stopped) can be fed 10% protein in the diet.  Some adult pets may only eat 2 to 3 times a week.  Concentrate on the leafy veggies and limit high phosphorous foods (those with an asterisk on the calcium chart included in this handout).

All food should be chopped up in small pieces, mixed well, and fed only in amounts that will be eaten within a few hours.  This will ensure that ALL foods are eaten and ALL the supplements are taken in.

Examples of plant protein foods:  Tofu, rabbit, guinea pig, or alfalfa pellets (put into a blender dry, ground into a powder and sprinkled over the food), wheat grass and alfalfa sprouts.  WE NO LONGER RECOMMEND USING ANIMAL PROTEIN SUCH AS DOG FOOD OR TROUT CHOW IN THE GREEN IGUANA DIET.  Although the use of animal protein has caused rapid growth as a youngster, it is now one of the factors suspected of causing kidney disease as the animal ages.

Examples of plant material: Use at least 75% of the plant material as dark green leafy vegetablessuch as mustard greens, dandelion greens, kale, Swiss chard, endive, romaine lettuce, carrot tops, turnip, and beet greens.  This is to satisfy not only the fiber requirements but also the calcium requirements.  One should use a minimum of three different greens daily.  The excessive use of only one or two items may lead to nutritional disease.  The rest of the plant material can be composed of vegetables such as squash (of any type), green beans, pea pods, tomatoes, broccoli, okra, carrot, cooked sweat potato, and fruits such as papaya, mango, berries, melon and banana.  The more items that are mixed together, the greater the chances that proper nutrition is covered adequately. *Consult the section of this handout on calcium-phosphorous content of selected foods).


There are many experts that feel that supplements are not needed in a properly fed iguana.  My feeling is that so few iguanas are properly fed, that supplements are often of some benefit, especially during the juvenile stages of rapid growth.  Below are some basic guidelines.  These guidelines are not true for pets that are on commercially prepared diets (often the supplements are built in).  If you are unsure, consult your veterinarian.  Also in cases of nutritional disease you may be instructed to use different guidelines.


Calcium/Vitamin D tablets: For baby and adolescent iguanas use a chunk the size of their eye every other day.  For adult iguanas use the same amount, 1-2 times a week.  Chewable tablets are accepted more readily.

Calcium/Vitamin D powder: For babies and adolescents use approximately 1/16 tsp. per every 6 inches of body length (excluding the tail) every other day.  For adults, same amount, only 1-2 times a week.

Calcium only supplement: This is probably preferable for daily or frequent use as it is less likely to cause overdose of Vitamin D.  Neocalglucon is a readily available safe source of calcium that comes as a palatable liquid.  Use approximately 0.10cc per each 100-200 grams of body weight daily or every other day in babies and juveniles.  Use the same, 1-2 times a week in adults.  Crushed Tums (calcium carbonate) is another good calcium-only source.

Multivitamin supplement: For babies and adolescents use approximately 1/16 tsp. per every 6 inches of body length (exclude the tail) every other day.  For adults, same amount, only 1-2 times a week.

Remember, the more balanced and varied your pets natural diet is, (especially if at least 75% of the food items are from the list of good calcium sources off the calcium chart), the less dependent your pet will need to be on supplements.  Supplementation of vitamins and minerals is not a substitute for a good diet, and may lead to disease problems.  Provide a warm environment with exposure to natural sunlight, if possible, to further enhance your chances of successful assimilation of nutrients.


The following charts show the total amount of calcium and phosphorous in 1-cup portions of selected foods.  One need not look only at the total milligram (mg) amount of calcium, but also the Calcium:Phosphorous ration.  This ratio should be close to 1:0.5 for the best calcium absorption.  The higher the phosphorous amount compared to the calcium, the poorer the absorption of calcium in the body.


1 cup portion                                                           Calcium                  Phosphorous                           Ca:P Ratio


Turnip greens                                                          106                          24                                            1:0.2

Chinese Cabbage                                                      74                            26                                            1:0.4

Mustard Greens                                                       104                          58                                            1:0.3

Leeks                                                                       60                            36                                            1:0.6

Watercress                                                                                               40                                            20            1:0.5

Chard                                                                       102                          58                                            1:0.5

Collards (cooked)                                                    148                          19                                            1:0.1

Kale                                                                         98                            36                                            1:0.4

Dandelion Greens                                                    104                          36                                            1:0.3

Endive                                                                     23                            14                                            1:0.6

Beet Greens                                                             164                          58                                            1:0.4

Dark Green Leaf Lettuce                                          28                            14                                            1:0.5

Parsley                                                                     78                            24                                            1:0.3

Spinach                                                                    56                            28                                            1:0.5

Yellow wax beans                                                    174                          34                                            1:0.2

Blackberries                                                             46                            30                                            1:0.6

Papaya                                                                     72                            16                                            1:0.2


Cabbage (inside white leaves)                                  46mg                       34mg                                       1:0.7

Strawberries                                                             42mg                       56mg                                       1:1.3

Turnips                                                                    36mg                       30mg                                       1:0.8

Okra                                                                        100mg                     90mg                                       1:0.9

Raspberries                                                              27mg                       15mg                                       1:0.5

Green Beans                                                            58mg                       48mg                                       1:0.8

Guavas                                                                    18mg                       23mg                                       1:1.3

Apples                                                                     10mg                       10mg                                       1:1

Pears                                                                        15mg                       18mg                                       1:1.2

Mango                                                                     21mg                      22mg                                       1:1

Radish                                                                     24mg                       20mg                                       1:0.8

Eggplant                                                                   30mg                       26mg                                       1:0.8

Romaine Lettuce                                                      20mg                       26mg                                       1:1.3



Parsnips                                                                   58                            108                                          1:1.9*

Rutabaga                                                                  72                            84                                            1:1.2

Blueberries                                                              18                            30                                            1:1.6

Squash (summer all varieties)                                  26                            46                                            1:1.8*

Zucchini                                                                  20                            42                                            1:2.1*

Carrots                                                                     28                            64                                            1:2.3*

Cantaloupe                                                               17                            27                                            1:0.9

Yams                                                                       18                            66                                            1:3.6*

Apricots                                                                   15                            21                                            1:1.4

Plums                                                                      4                              14                                            1:3.5*

Beets                                                                        18                            26                                            1:1.4

Cherries (pitted)                                                       10                            13                                            1:1.3

Cauliflower                                                              28                            46                                            1:1.6

Grapes                                                                     13                            9                                              1:0.7

Peaches                                                                    5                              11                                            1:2.2*

Cucumber                                                                14                            18                                            1:1.3

Pumpkin                                                                  36                            74                                            1:2.1*

Sweet potato                                                            64                            124                                          1:1.9*

Lettuce (head, iceberg)                                             16                            16                                            1:1.0

Asparagus                                                                44                            108                                          1:2.5*

Tomato                                                                    16                            58                                            1:3.6*

Pineapple                                                                 11                            11                                            1:1.1

Bananas                                                                   7                              22                                            1:3.1*

Peas (any kind)                                                        38                            168                                          1:4.4*

Brussel Sprouts                                                       56                            88                                            1:1.6


1 cup portion                                                           Calcium                  Phosphorous                           Ca:P Ratio

Mushrooms                                                             4                              72                                            1:18*

Corn                                                                        10                            120                                          1:12*

Alfalfa sprouts                                                         20                            46                                            1:2.3*

Beets                                                                        26                            42                                            1:1.6

Kidney beans                                                           100                          504                                          1:5*

Lima beans                                                              64                            416                                          1:6.5*

Bean sprouts                                                            14                            56                                            1:4*

White potato                                                            16                            104                                          1:6.5*

Green Peppers                                                         6                              22                                            1:3.6*

If you are feeding a pet that needs a good calcium source (such as iguanas or other herbivorous lizards), feed at least 75% of the diet selected from the good calcium source table.  Feed only small amounts from the moderate and poor calcium source groups.

If you are instructed to feed your pet a diet that is low in calcium, then concentrate on foods in the poor and moderate calcium sources groups or choose those in the high calcium group that have a low milligram amount of calcium.  If your pet is also on a calorie restricted diet, consult your veterinarian for exact amounts to feed (some of these foods may be high in calories).

Foods marked with an asterisk (*) SHOULD BE AVOIDED IN ANIMALS WITH KIDNEY DISEASE due to their high phosphorous content.

Calcium and phosphorous values were adapted from Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used revised by Jean A.T. Pennington, Ph.D., RD  15th edition.  Published by Harper Perennial 1989.  Pages 94-102 and 190-211.


A humidity box can be an excellent way to provide the proper moisture required in the environment of a number of reptile and amphibian species.  This is important to help the pet shed its skin normally, and can be accomplished without making the entire cage too moist.  The box can also serve as a hiding place, helping with the mental wellbeing of the pet as well as a soaking area.  The box is simple to construct and maintain, and has proven to be most useful to such species as iguanas, prehensile tailed skinks, snakes (especially ball pythons), and some amphibians such as tree frogs.

To construct a humidity box one needs to purchase:

  1. Sphagnum moss – sold in packets in a dry form in most large garden center stores.  It is brown in color and consists of long strands.  Alternatively one may use Vermiculite which is more of a granular product (found also in garden centers), but has the disadvantage that it tends to stick to the pet and subsequently get dragged around the cage.
  2. Plastic box with a lid – of the appropriate size for your pet.  The box should be of such a size that the pet can enter the box, turn around and exit through the same opening.  The fit should be fairly snug.  If the box is too large, there may be a tendency for the pet to defecate in the corner.

Making the box:

  1. Cut a hole in the lid of the box or at one end of the box.  The hole should be large enough for the pet to enter and leave the box easily.  No other holes should be put in the box, or the contents may dry out too quickly.
  2. Loosely pack the box with the dry sphagnum moss, and then wet it down with water.  If Vermiculite is being used, fill the box about ½ full and moisten it in the same manner.  Let the moss sit for 10 to 15 minutes to absorb the water, then pick it up in handfuls and squeeze out the excess water as you would a sponge.  Pour off any excess water in the box, and replace the moistened moss and the lid.  Viola!  You have the finished product.
  3. Place the box in the cage near a heat source.  No more than half of the box should be over the heat or it will dry too quickly.  If it is not warmed at all, the reptile will not be comfortable in it.  Place the pet in it once, then let it enter and leave the box as it wants.  Many people note that their pets will spend hours in the box at a time and then ignore it for long periods.  Let your pet decide.
  4.  Check the moisture content and the cleanliness of the box every 1-2 days.  If the animal does not defecate or take food particles in the box, the moss may stay clean for up to 2 weeks.  If there is any of a stale odor, fecal material or any other debris in the box remove the moss and replace with clean moss.  The box should be disinfected periodically by filling it with a mild bleach solution and letting it stand for 30 minutes.  Additional moisture can be added between moss changes by spraying the moss with water.

Photograph © Jason R. Weigner

California Desert Tortoise

Care of Desert Tortoises

Desert tortoises are known to live as long as 60-80 years.  Growth varies with food availability and other environmental conditions.  In general tortoises grow faster in captivity, therefore it is impossible to determine the exact age of an adult tortoise.


Healthy tortoises have enormous appetites! Growing grass, weeds, dandelions, nopales (Opuntia), and rose and hibiscus flowers are excellent food sources. You may supplement with dark leafy vegetables such as collard greens, escarole, turnip greens, carrot tops, kale, mustard greens, dandelions and greens, endive, beet greens, and Swiss chard.  Spinach and alfalfa contain oxalates which can inhibit calcium absorption and should therefore be avoided or fed in very limited quantities.  Other vegetables such as squashes, zucchini, chopped carrots, etc can also be offered in small amounts.  For baby/juvenile tortoises:  once or twice a week sprinkle the food with calcium carbonate (crushed Tums) or offer a calcium-rich source such as boiled chicken eggshells or cuttlefish bone for them to eat. Occasionally (once a week) sprinkle the food with a suitable vitamin preparation.  As adults, if the diet is well balanced and they have outdoor grazing time, vitamin supplementation should not be necessary.  In general, I suggest allowing tortoises to graze in the yard as much as possible.

Provide a shallow dish of water for drinking and soaking. Most supermarket fruits and vegetables have a lower Ca:P and a low % dry matter (high water content). Desert tortoises in the wild eat a diet with a high Ca:P (greater than 1:1) and a high % dry matter (often greater than 30% dry matter).  Thus consider fruits to be a treat food only.  Too much fruit could lead to shell and bone problems from a low Ca:P, and kidney problems from a diet high in water content (low % of dry matter).


In order to thrive, adult desert tortoises must be kept outdoors in a large area. They should be provided with shelter from the sun and cold, and a place to retire at night. They need plenty of room to exercise and browse. If possible, give them the run of your entire yard. Make sure that the yard is escape-proof and that pools are fenced off. Eliminate any poisonous plants, and do not use chemical pesticides or fertilizers in the area. It is cruel and inhumane to tether a tortoise by the legs or by holes drilled in the shell. Natural sunlight should be given without filtration of a window  (or even screening) at least half of the year. Full spectrum light bulbs also help and should be used when kept indoors.  Tortoises have a relatively high uvb requirement, so a high quality mercury vapor bulb is recommended (

Directions for HEALTH

It is important that the keeper gets to know the normal behavior of his/her tortoise because behavioral changes are often the first sign of illness. Tortoises are susceptible to respiratory ailments, such as the Upper Respiratory Tract Disease that has decimated the wild population in California and Nevada. Warning signs are a runny or bubbly nose, loss of appetite, and gasping. Respiratory disease can often be cured if treatment is begun immediately. For swollen eyes, wounds or injuries contact a veterinarian immediately. Sick or wounded tortoises must be moved inside away from flies. Worms and other parasites are sometimes a problem in desert tortoises. Symptoms such as loss of weight and lack of energy for no apparent reason are an indication.

As with any pet, annual examination and consultation by a qualified veterinarian is paramount for optimal care and longevity.


Usually by late October as the days become cooler, the tortoise will eat less, bask less, and appear sluggish. A suitable hibernation place may have to be provided. Some tortoise owners use a dog house insulated with a thick layer of dry soil, leaves, or shredded newspaper. The entrance should be covered with a tarp to protect it from flood or rain.

Many keepers prefer to “store” their pets in the garage. The tortoise is placed in a stout cardboard box that is deep enough that it cannot climb out, and is covered with insulating layers of newspaper. The box is placed up off the cement floor in an area free from drafts or rats. If the box is placed in your garage, remember not to run automobile engines because of the risk of poisoning from the fumes. A cool closet is also a safe place for hibernation.

Some tortoises will build a burrow, and in some areas may successfully hibernate themselves. However, before allowing this, consider the location of the burrow. If there is a significant risk of flooding from heavy rainfall do not allow your pet to hibernate there.

A hibernating tortoise should be checked periodically. A sleeping tortoise will usually respond if its foot is touched. If the tortoise should waken, encourage it to return to sleep. When the days begin to warm, around March or April, the tortoise will become active in its storage box. At this time, a warm bath should be given, and the tortoise will often take a long steady drink. Within a week or two it should resume its normal activity of eating, exercising and sunbathing.

It is important that a tortoise be plump and in good health before hibernating; otherwise, it may not survive the winter. By the end of the summer, a well fed tortoise will form fat reserves around its shoulders and legs.  A pre-hibernation veterinary exam, fecal testing and blood work should help to make the decision if your tortoise is healthy enough.


If for some reason you do not wish your tortoise to hibernate, it must be brought indoors and kept at a warm temperature (75-85° F) for it to remain active. It will require room for exercising and regular feedings.


Care of Ferrets


FOOD:  Ferrets are carnivores, meaning that they are strictly meat eaters.  It has been shown that they only utilize amino acids from meat proteins (cannot digest amino acids from plant proteins).  Many of the cat foods available in the grocery stores have cereal or plant proteins in their formulation, so they are not ideal.  We suggest the use of specific ferret diets, or if you must use cat food, use a high quality brand such as Iams, or Pro-Plan.  All of these diets are made up of highly digestible top quality meat proteins.  For the young ferret (under three years of age) we recommend the growth (or kitten) formulation of these diets because of the higher protein and fat content.  For older ferrets that are over five years of age your veterinarian may recommend using the maintenance (or adult cat formula), particularly if your ferret is experiencing any kidney or liver problems.  Another consideration is that if the content of cereal grains (particularly the corn) is too high, it may lead to the formation of bladder stones.  We rarely see any bladder stone problems on the diets recommended specifically for ferrets.  Ferrets also have a high dietary fat requirement.  The food should be fed as a dry kibble unless there is a medical reason to do otherwise.  Usually food can be left out to be eaten free choice.  In cases of obesity, the daily ration should be measures and divided into 2-3 smaller feedings.

WATER:  Clean, fresh water should always be available and can be given in either a water bottle, heavy ceramic container, or a weighted bowl.  Ferrets like to play in their water and overturn it.  Keep this in mind when selecting a container. Water supplements are generally not needed.

VITAMINS:   If your pet is healthy and on a good quality diet, then additional vitamins are not necessary.  Your veterinarian will prescribe any that might be needed in the case of disease.

TABLE FOODS:  Cooked meat and egg scraps are suitable table foods to offer your pet as a treat.  Do not feed anything that contains bones.  Many ferrets also adore a bit of fruit or vegetable, but these items should be fed sparingly.  Ferrets don’t easily digest their high fiber content.  Too much fruit or vegetable matter intake could lead to diarrhea.  The rule of thumb is to feed no more than a total of one heaping teaspoon per day/ferret of any treat.  Some favorite fruit and vegetable treats include cucumber, green pepper, and melon.

NEVER FEED YOUR PET FOODS THAT ARE HIGH IN REFINED SUGARS!  Ferrets do not naturally get sugar in their diet and feeding foods high in sugar puts a tremendous strain on their pancreas.  The result of sugar ingestion may lead to diabetes mellitus, which is extremely difficult to treat in the ferret and may ultimately leads to an early death.  Do not feed candies, cakes, sugar coated cereals, ice cream, chocolate, sweet dairy products, etc.

FATTY ACID SUPPLEMENTS: As previously mentioned, ferrets have a high fat requirement and it may be necessary for some animals to have an additional supplement to improve coat quality.  This is most essential during the winter months, when the air in our homes is very dry and detrimental to the ferrets skin and coat.  We recommend using a feline or ferret fatty acid supplement  (such as Linotone or Ferotone) and feeding 1/8 tsp. per ferret daily on the food.  Many ferrets really love the taste and will readily take it right from the spoon!  Ferrets can also be supplemented with meat fat (such as from poultry or beef) in the amount of 1 teaspoon of fat per ferret per day, but this should be from cooked meat.

HAIRBALL LAXATIVE:  The accumulation of hair in the stomach of a ferret is very common (especially in animals greater than one year of age) and may require a costly surgery to remove.  To prevent hairballs, use any cat hairball laxative at the label recommended doses.  These products generally come as a sticky paste, and ferrets usually love the taste!  We recommend giving a one half to one inch ribbon to your ferret at least every third day.  This medication acts only as a lubricant and should not cause diarrhea.  If your pet has never been exposed to these products, it may be necessary to smear a little on their lips in order to introduce them to the taste.


CAGE:  A wire rabbit cage (24”x24”x18” high) is a basic cage used to house up to two ferrets.  The solid floored cages are safer and easier on the feet.  Newspaper or pelleted bedding such as CelluDri, Mountain Cat Country Litter, Harvest Litter, Yesterday’s News, etc. may be used as bedding, or towels can be used.  Aquariums are not suitable cages for ferrets because the ventilation is very poor.  Many other types of elaborate caging arrangements can be built by the creative owner.  The use of a section of PVC pipe or large cardboard mailing tube can provide a good place for the ferrets to exercise and play.  IT IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED THAT YOUR PET IS CAGED WHEN YOU ARE NOT HOME to prevent any tragic accidents.

SLEEPING AREA:  An enclosed sleeping area is NECESSARY to prevent your pet from becoming frustrated which may lead to continual digging at the corner of the cage.  A sleeping area can be as simple as a towel, a shirt, an old stocking cap, a cardboard or wooden box with a hole cut in the side, the sleeve of a sweatshirt, etc.  Please note that if your ferret likes to chew and eat towels or cloth, use a box or deep pan instead of towels to prevent an obstruction of the intestinal tract.  The cloth eating habit is usually a baby behavior and stops by the time the pet is a year of age.  It may occur in older ferrets when food is not available free choice.

LITTER BOX:  Ferrets can be litter box trained about 90% of the time.  A small low sided box should be placed in the preferred toilet area of the cage.  (i.e.- let your pet pick the spot first, then place the box in that area).  You can use kitty litter (avoid perfumed and sand types), or pelleted bedding (as described in the paragraph on caging) in the box.  The biggest problem with clay and sand kitty litter is that some ferrets will lie in their litter boxes, causing their coats to dry out and become brittle and dull looking.  Ferrets do not cover up their waste, therefore it will be necessary to change the box frequently to minimize the odor.  When your pet is loose in the house, it may be necessary to place several litter boxes or papers in various corners.  Ferrets are not very good at returning to “home base” if they get the bathroom urge and are far away from their usual waste area!

 TOYS: – NEVER GIVE YOUR PET ANY RUBBER TOYS!  Ferrets like to chew and swallow rubber which could result in an intestinal obstruction and even death.  Make sure to FERRET PROOF your home and remove access to any rubber items including earphones, stereo speakers, rubber-soled shoes, pipe insulation, rubber bands, chair bottom protectors, etc.  While you are at it, make sure to get down on your hands and knees and check for any escape holes that the ferret could get into, and plug them up!  Ferrets also like to burrow into furniture and mattresses in search of a snug sleeping area.  In the process they may swallow some of the foam rubber stuffing and develop an intestinal obstruction.  It is important to cover the bottom of the furniture with hardware cloth or a sheet of wood to prevent this from happening.  Recliner chairs are also safety hazards and many a pet has lost its life by being suffocated/crushed when the chair was reclined

Safe toys for your pet include nylon bones, ping-pong and golf balls, small cans, paper bags, cardboard mailing tubes, and very hard plastic toys.  Most cloth toys are also suitable, but check carefully for the first week of introduction to make sure your pet is not chewing off any pieces.


CANINE DISTEMPER – THIS DISEASE IS NEARLY 100% FATAL IN THE FERRET!  Please have your pet vaccinated to prevent distemper.  Even if the pet never leaves the house, it is possible to bring the virus home on your shoes or your clothing.  Youngsters should receive their last booster at 14 weeks of age.  Thereafter, boosters should be given annually.

RABIES – There is an approved rabies vaccine for ferrets.  We recommend the vaccine for all ferrets that will be in any high-risk situation where a potential bite may occur.  The first vaccine should be given at three months of age with annual boosters thereafter.


VACCINE REACTIONS- Vaccine reactions are very common and can be quite severe in the ferret.  For this reason we recommend pre-medicating with injectable anti-inflammatories at least 15 minutes prior to the vaccine injections.  This is hoped to lessen the severity or prevent the vaccine reaction entirely.  Despite these precautions, some reactions will occur and can vary from as little as lethargy to as severe as shock, bloody vomiting and diarrhea and even death.  Due to this, it is recommended that you remain in the hospital for at least 30 minutes after a vaccine appointment.  Prompt medical intervention can usually save the ferrets life and speed recovery.  Alert your vet to any previous vaccine reactions in your pet.

STRONG BODY ODOR – The ferret produces oily skin secretions that have a very strong odor in the mature intact male and female.  The odor is regulated by sex hormones, therefore, when your pet is neutered the odor is largely reduced.  There is also an odor associated with the anal glands (or scent glands) of the ferret, but this is usually not a problem unless your ferret sprays as fear response.  Most ferrets do not express their scent glands frequently, and when they do, the odor only lasts a few minutes.  Unless there is a disease present, it is generally unnecessary to remove the scent glands.

BATHING should be done with a gentle pet shampoo.  Ferrets do not need frequent baths; every two weeks is the most that is suggested in order to maintain a healthy fur coat.  Bathing strips the skin of its essential oils and can lead to a dry itchy condition if performed too often.

FATAL ANEMIA OF FEMALES – When the female ferret goes into her heat cycle, she will remain in that cycle until she is bred by a male.  During this heat period the levels of the female hormone, estrogen, are very high which can have a damaging effect on the bone marrow.  The hormone causes the bone marrow to gradually stop producing white and red blood cells.  The condition comes on very gradually and by the time the external signs of anemia are seen, the changes in the bone marrow are irreversible.  If this is the case, the ferret will likely die despite therapy.

The condition is totally prevented by having your pet spayed.  The operation should be performed by the time the pet is six months of age.  If your pet comes into heat prior to this time, she can still be safely operated on.

If you wish to breed your pet, but do not wish to do it during a particular heat cycle, a hormone injection can be given to take her out of heat temporarily.  Due to adverse side effects, these injections should not be used in place of spaying if you have no intention of breeding you pet.

FLEAS –Do not use flea collars on ferrets.  Remember it is ideal to treat the house and yard with an insect growth regulator (IGR), as fleas spend most of their life cycle off of your pet laying eggs all over the environment.  Ask your veterinarian about the use of newer products such as Advantage, Revolution, and Frontline.  These products are safer and more effective than over-the-counter products.

HEARTWORM – Ferrets are susceptible to heartworm disease.  This is a microscopic parasite that lives in the salivary glands of the mosquito and is transmitted to the pet through a mosquito bite.  The larvae then grow into large worms that eventually lodge in the animal’s heart and cause disruption of blood flow and even death.

We recommend the use of a heartworm preventatives, given once a month, all year round if you live in an endemic area.  There have been no major side effects to these drugs.  We recommend that ferrets should be on heartworm preventative if they will come into contact with mosquitoes, especially if you travel to areas with them that are heartworm endemic.

COLDS AND FLU – Ferrets are highly susceptible to human colds and flu.  They will develop the same symptoms as humans do.  These include runny nose, watery eyes, and sometimes sneezing or coughing fits, sometimes leading to decreased appetite for several days.  Occasionally a pet may have diarrhea.  If it is profuse, bloody or accompanied by straining or crying, your veterinarian should be contacted immediately.  For generic flu-like symptoms, there is usually no need for any medications, just tender loving care and lots of rest and fluids for five to seven days.  If, however, your pet completely loses its appetite, develops green or yellow eye or nasal discharges, or becomes depressed or lethargic, please call your veterinarian right away.  Some viral flu infections require more intensive supportive care and if secondary bacterial infections occur, usually call for antibiotics.

FOREIGN BODIES IN THE STOMACH OR INTESTINE – As mentioned previously, ferrets are very apt to eat rubber, and they are also prone to developing hairballs.  Other items that ferrets have been known to eat include soft plastic items, cotton balls, bones, and towels.  The signs of a foreign body obstruction are varied, depending on where the material has lodged.  Some signs include gradual wasting, extreme depression or lethargy, vomiting, persistent dark tarry stools, and loss of appetite.  If any of these signs are present, do not wait!  Have him/her examined as soon as possible by your veterinarian.  EXTREME LETHARGY OR DEPRESSION IS AN EMERGENCY!

GERIATRIC DISEASES – Unfortunately the average life span of the American ferret is only five to seven years.  Starting at about three years of age we see a marked increase in a variety of diseased in the ferret.  Cancer is very common, along with liver, adrenal, kidney, and heart disease.  We recommended annual blood screenings to make early detection and more successful treatment/management of these diseases.  Also, older ferrets often require dental cleanings.

*FINAL NOTE:  There has been much negative publicity about the ferret over the years.  Most is due to ignorance and misunderstandings about these fascinating little animals.  The ferret is a domesticated animal that has been bred in captivity since 4 BC.  The ferrets we keep as pets are not found naturally in this country, but were descended originally from Europe, where their wild counterparts still occur naturally.

Being a pet owner requires a certain amount of responsibility to protect the animal and care for it.  If children under six years of age are in the household, we counsel you to carefully supervise any contact these little ones may have with the ferret.  If supervision is not possible, then wait to get a ferret until the child is older.  This warning holds true for any pet.  In addition, do not place your pet ferret (or any other pet for that matter) in a situation with other humans where it is likely to become frightened or threatened.  This may lead to a defensive reaction such as biting.

By being responsible pet owners we can do much to reverse the bad press that our little friends have received.

photograph ©


Care of Rabbits

Compiled by Maxwell Conn, DVM

Rabbits make intelligent , friendly and quiet house pets.  The average life span for a bunny is 7-10 years, with up to 15 years being occasionally reported.  The following information is designed to help you take the best care of your pet and enjoy a happy, healthy life with him or her.


  • Rabbit Pellets – A good quality rabbit pellet may be offered daily but in limited quantities.  The uncontrolled feeding of pelleted diet can lead to obesity, heart and liver disease, chronic soft stools, kidney disease, and bladder stones which result from the high concentrations of carbohydrates, low fiber and high calcium levels in the pellets.  Make sure that you buy pellets high in fiber (18% or more) and that you buy small quantities.  Keep the pellets refrigerated or cool and try to prevent spoilage.  Old rancid pellets can cause a rabbit to stop eating.  A good source of pellets is Oxbow Hay found on the web at  They even offer a Timothy based pellet.
  • The following chart shows daily amounts to be fed to your bunny.  Do not refill the bowl even if the pellets are all eaten before the next day.  Overfeeding of pellets is the number one health problem that we see.  Keep your rabbit healthy by not overdoing it!  Slight adjustments can be made for very thin rabbits.
  • Rabbits up to 8 months of age can have access to pellets free choice, because they are still growing rapidly.***  However, after 8 months of age they should receive the following maintenance diet:

2-4 lb. Of body weight – 1/8 cup daily     8-10 lb. Of body weight – ½ cup daily

5-7 lb. Of body weight – ¼ cup daily       11-15 lb. Of body weight – ¾ cup daily

  • Please note that these food amounts are for the maintenance of the non breeding, mature, house rabbit.  If you intend to breed your pet, then we suggest doubling the daily pellet amounts during the breading season.  For does that are nursing babies, the pellets should be increased over a 4-5 day period to free choice until the babies are weaned.  After the breeding period is over, resume feeding at the maintenance levels listed above.  In some situations, your veterinarian may recommend that pellets be totally removed from the diet.  Do not become alarmed because your pet will be able to receive all the nutrients necessary from the hay and fresh foods that you will be instructed to feed.  Rabbits are also very efficient at making their own vitamin and minerals in the form of cecotropes (see night  droppings).  Complete removal of pellets from the diet is commonly the treatment suggested by our hospital for very overweight bunnies that need to lose weight safely, or for rabbits with chronic soft stools.
  • Hay – TIMOTHY OR OTHER GRASS HAYS SHOULD BE OFFERED DAILY IN UNLIMITED AMOUNTS.  It is important that hay be available at all times for your pet. Rabbits tend to eat small amounts of food frequently throughout the day and withholding food for long periods of time can lead to intestinal upset.
  • We prefer the loose, long strands of hay as opposed to the pressed cubes or chopped hay.  The fiber in the hay is extremely important in promoting normal intestinal motility.  Hay also contains proteins, and other nutrients essential to the good health of your pet.  We no longer recommend the routine use of alfalfa hay, particularly if it is being used along with pellets (which are already high in alfalfa).  It may provide too much calcium and extra carbohydrates (and calories) which may lead to serious health problems and digestive upsets.  If the rabbit is on a no pellet diet, then alfalfa may be used as directed by your veterinarian, but weight loss may be more difficult to achieve.
  • Check with your local pet stores for timothy hay and other types of grass hay.  Also check with local feed stores and horse barns, because many of these places will sell you a “flake” of hay off a bale at a nominal cost.  Hay should be stored in cool, dry place with good air circulation (don’t close it tightly in a plastic bag).  Discard wet or damp hay, or any hay that does not have a “fresh” smell.  One efficient way to offer the hay is to use a hayrack on the outside of the cage.  Your pet can pull the hay into the cage through the bars as he or she needs it.  This keeps the hay clean and dry and eliminates much of the waste.
  • At certain times of the year and in certain locations, it may be difficult to obtain grass hay.  At these times it is acceptable to use hays mixed with alfalfa, or use strictly alfalfa hay for a short period of time.  The most important thing is to always have hay available to the pet.  Remember, we are restricting the pellets, and the hay is a major source of fiber and nutrients.
  • Fresh Foods – These foods should be given daily.  Rabbits in the wild eat a lot of tough, fibrous plants.  Their digestive tract functions best when it has a high level of fiber, which helps to maintain the intestinal motility.  If your pet is not used to getting any fresh foods, you should start out gradually with the leafy veggies listed below and add a new food item from the list every 3-5 days.
  • Young bunnies should be introduced to new foods gradually.  However, once your pet is eating fresh foods, try to give it a minimum of three types daily.  We find the addition of these fresh fibrous foods helps (along with the hay) in the prevention of a sluggish digestive tract, accumulation of material in the stomach, chronic diarrhea, and as a bonus, your bunny will love you for it!
  • The following are all foods that you can try with your pet.  The minimum amount of fresh food that can be given daily is about 1 heaping cup per five pounds of body weight.  You may certainly give more as long as your pet is eating hay in addition to the greens.  Because fresh vegetables are not as concentrated in nutrients per pound as the dry hay, you should not depend on the greens alone to maintain your pet’s weight.  Rabbits must have hay as well as greens in the diet!
  • Here are some examples of food items that you can feed your pet: Carrot tops, beet tops, dandelion greens and flowers (these are excellent, but no pesticides please), kale, collard greens, escarole, romaine lettuce, (don’t give light colored leaf lettuce or iceberg lettuce), endive, Swiss chard, parsley, clover, cabbage, broccoli (don’t forget the leaves), carrot, green peppers, pea pods (the flat edible kind), Brussel sprouts, basil, peppermint leaves, raspberry leaves, raddichio, bok choy and spinach.  Try to feed at least three different types of greens each day.  Feeding just one type of green food alone (especially broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts and spinach) may lead to nutrient imbalances.  The packages of premixed salad greens are usually not sufficient for the bunny’s needs, as they contain a lot of low nutrient lettuces (such as iceberg).  Never use these premixes as more than a third of the daily greens.
  • Treat Foods – In a total (of combined foods) amount of 2 heaping tablespoons per 4 lbs. of body weight daily, you can give the following foods: Strawberries, papaya, pineapple, apple, pear, melon, raspberries, blueberries, mango, cactus fruit, persimmon, peach or tomato.  Banana can be “addicting” and fattening and we don’t recommend using it with your pet unless it is only as an occasional treat.  Dried fruits may be used as an alternative to their fresh counterparts listed above, but use half of the amount.
  • WE DO NOT RECOMMEND GIVING ANY OF THE FOLLOWING FOODS ROUTINELY BECAUSE OF THEIR POTENTIAL FOR CAUSING DIETARY UPSET AND OBESITY: salty or sugary snacks, nuts, chocolate, breakfast cereals, and other grains (including oatmeal, corn either fresh or dried, or bread).
  • Water – This should always be available, and changed daily.  A dirty water container can breed bacteria that can cause disease.  The container can be either a water bottle or a heavy bowl that is weighted or secured to the side of the cage so that it does not tip over.  Do not use medications or vitamins in the water, because your pet may not drink if the taste or color is altered.
  • Vitamins – These are not felt to be necessary if the rabbit is getting pellets, hay and fresh foods in the diet.  In fact, the indiscriminate use of vitamins may lead to overdose and serious disease.  Rabbits produce their own vitamins by way of their cecotropes (see night droppings).
  • Salt or Mineral Block – Not necessary for the house pet on the described diet.
  • Night Droppings (Cecotropes) – It may seem strange to list this as a part of the diet, but these “special droppings” known as cecotropes, are an essential part of your pet’s nutrition.  During certain times of the day, usually about 4-6 hours after eating, you may observe your pet licking the anal area and actually eating some of the droppings in the process.
  • Cecotropes (night droppings) are softer, greener, and have a stronger odor than the normal hard, dry, round waste droppings.  They come directly from the cecum, which is a part of the digestive system where fermentation of food takes place.  The cecum is located at the junction of the small and large intestine.  In the cecum, the indigestible portions of the diet are broken down by bacteria, which then produce fatty acids, amino acids (protein), and vitamins and minerals.  Some of these nutrients are absorbed directly through the wall of the cecum, but most of the nutrients are kept inside the bacteria, which are then excreted in the cecotropes.  Your pet knows when these droppings are being produced and will take care of eating them himself.  After eating these “vitamin pellets” your pet will re-digest the material and extract all the necessary nutrients.  This habit may appear distasteful to us, but it is normal and important for your pet.  In fact, in this way, the rabbit can survive in the wild on food that other animals might not be able to thrive on because they were not able to digest and assimilate nutrients from it.  In this way, the rabbit does an excellent job producing its own nutritional supplements.
  • Occasionally a rabbit will drop these cecal pellets along with the waste pellets rather than eating them.  They will be softer, brighter green, come in clumps and are misshapen, but formed, and have an odor.  This is not diarrhea and if it only occurs occasionally it is not considered a disease problem.  Some rabbits that are sufficiently overweight can’t reach their anal area to eat the cecotropes and may leave a lot of these special droppings in the cage.  A diet that is low in fiber or high in starches may also lead to the chronic and persistent production of cecotropes that are too soft and liquid to be eaten, and are left in little puddles around the environment mixed with the normal waste stools.


  • ·         Cage – A metal cage may be used with a wire flooring of 14 gauge wire (1” x ½” square openings).  A solid floored area is necessary to prevent sore hocks and to provide an area for resting.  The size of the cage should be at least 24” x 24” x 18” high for the small and medium sized breeds and 36” x 36” x 24” high for the large breeds.  You can use a towel (unless you have a pet that likes to eat towels), or a piece of carpeting or wood for the solid area.  We have found that the “synthetic fleece” cloth that is sold in fabric stores (in a variety of colors) works very nicely, as it is washable and if the pet chews on it there are no long strands of fabric that can get caught in the digestive tract.  Newspaper can be used under the wire-mesh floor.  Do not use aquariums or solid walled cages because the lack of sufficient air circulation has been directly correlated with an increase in respiratory disease.

If you are going to have your bunny roaming the house all or most of the time, make sure that you eliminate areas that your pet can get wedged in, or escape through.  Also mind electrical cords (which rabbits like to chew), carpeting (which they like to dig up and chew), and any toxic materials such as rodent poisons that your pet could get into.  Get on your hands and knees and “bunny proof” your home.

  • Litter Box – Rabbits can be litter box trained relatively easily.  Initially you need to keep your pet in a small area, either in a cage or in a blocked off section of the room and place a litter box in the corner (try to pick the corner that your pet has already used).  Make sure the sides of the box are low enough so your pet can get in and out easily.  It is helpful to put some of the dropping in the box.  Some people have also found it helpful to put some hay in the box to encourage defecation (they usually pass stool while they are eating).  You can reward your pet with one of the treat foods listed previously whenever he or she has used the box successfully.  Do not punish your pet while it is in the litter box.  Do not worry if your pet sits for extended periods in the box.  This should be tolerated as long as he is not soiling himself and the box is cleaned frequently.
  • Bedding – Pelleted paper or other organic products make the best bedding.   These products are non toxic and digestible if eaten, easier to clean up than shavings or clay litter, control odor better and are compostable.  Some examples are Cellu-DRI and Yesterday’s News (paper products), Mountain Cat Kitty Litter or Harvest Litter (pelleted wheat grass products), and Gentle Touch (pelleted aspen shavings).
  • Temperature – Rabbits should be kept in the COOLEST and least humid area of the house.  Studies have shown that bunnies kept in warm, humid environments with poor air circulation, have a dramatic increase in the incidence of respiratory disease over those that are kept in cool, dry environments with good air circulation.  Damp basements are one of the worst areas to keep your pet.  If your rabbit must be kept in the basement, invest in a dehumidifier and a fan to keep out dampness and improve air circulation.

The optimum temperature range for a bunny is 60-70 degrees F.  When the temperature gets in into the mid 70’s one may see and increase in drooling, and nasal discharge.  If temperatures reach the upper 80’s and above, especially if the humidity is high, the potential for a fatal heat stroke is very real.  On hot days, when the air conditioning is not available, it is helpful to leave a plastic milk jug filled with frozen water in the cage as a portable “air conditioner”.

Please keep fresh, cool water available, as this will also help to keep the body temperature down.  If your pet should actually experience a heat stress reaction, try holding an ice cube on the ear or gently wetting your pet down with cool (not cold) water.  If the heat stoke is severe, veterinary attention will be necessary.

If your bunny is being kept outdoors in either warm or cold weather, make sure that part of the cage is sheltered from the wind and sun.  For the winter it is advisable to use straw bedding in the sheltered area for insulation and make sure that the water bowl is changed daily, as your pet can dehydrate rapidly if the water is frozen for more than a day.


There are a number of ways to pick up your pet, depending on how calm he is and his size.  The main thing to remember is always support the hindquarters to prevent serious spinal injuries.  Rabbit’s backbones are fragile and can easily fracture if the hind legs are allowed to dangle and the animal gives a strong kick.  Unfortunately, these injuries are usually permanent and frequently result in the euthanasia of the pet, so prevention is critical.  Never pick up a bunny by its sensitive ears, it’s very painful and totally unnecessary!  It is better to grasp the loose skin over the shoulders or scoop up under the chest and then place your other hand under the back legs to lift your bunny from the floor.  Work near the floor when first learning to handle your pet so that if he jumps out of your arm’s he won’t have far to go. It is a good idea when you bring your pet in for an annual exam to ask your veterinarian to demonstrate proper handling techniques.

It may also be useful to put your bunny on its back when trying to trim nails and examine the underside of your pet.  Most rabbits will learn to relax in this position and withstand quite a bit of handling.  Sit on the floor and put the rabbit on its back with its head just over the edge of your knees so that it hangs down a little.  Restrain the body firmly between your thighs, and place one hand over the chest to prevent it from turning over.  Talk softly and stroke its chest and abdomen gently.  It may be necessary to have a second person hold the legs when first learning to trim nails in this position.  However, many pets become so relaxed that one person can do all the grooming by himself or herself.


Females – A leading cause of death in female rabbits is a cancer of the uterus called adenocarcinoma.  This is a malignant disease, and unfortunately once diagnosed, it may have spread to other areas of the body.  This cancer is preventable by having your pet spayed between 4 months and 2 years of age.  The spay procedure involves removal of the animals uterus and ovaries and helps to prevent the occurrence of breast cancer later in life.

Males – Some male bunnies, especially the dwarf varieties, may become extremely aggressive when they reach sexual maturity.  There may be excessive biting and spraying of urine outside of the regular litter box area.  The urine may develop a very strong and unpleasant odor due to the presence of male hormones, and these little men may not groom themselves well, developing stained and messy tail areas.  These males may start attacking other rabbits, potentially causing serious bite wounds.  The best solution to these behavioral problems is castration (surgical removal of the testicles).  This procedure is recommended any time after 4 months of age.

Overgrown teeth – overgrown incisors (the front teeth) are usually caused by a congenital defect.  Other causes can be injury or trauma to the teeth, infection in the roots of the incisors, or malalignment or infection in the molars (the back teeth).

Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their life.  If the incisors or molars are not lined up properly then they do not get worn down, which results in overgrowth.  Overgrown teeth can cause mouth infections, ulceration of the lips and tongue and inability to pick up and eat food.  The most common treatment for these overgrowths is to have the teeth trimmed periodically (every 3-8 weeks).  We do not recommend the use of nail trimmers for this procedure, because it can easily result in the fracture of the incisor deep under the gum, with the potential for subsequent gum infection.  Your veterinarian will use a special instrument to trim the teeth more safely.  If the molars are involved, or if the animal is very skittish, a general anesthetic may be required for the teeth trimming procedure.  A permanent cure for overgrown incisors is the complete removal of the incisors under general anesthesia.  Rabbits are able to eat normally afterwards and teeth trimming will obviously no longer be necessary.  If your pet has teeth problems. Please discuss the options with your veterinarian.

Loss of Appetite – There are a variety of reasons why a bunny will lose his/her appetite.  The most common reason in our experience is a diet low in fiber and high in calories.  This combination can lead to obesity, fatty liver disease, sluggish movement of the intestinal tract, and accumulation of hair and food in the stomach which then makes the rabbit not feel like eating.  When the rabbit doesn’t eat, the intestinal tract stops moving and the problem escalates.  We consider “hairballs” to be a symptom of other problems (usually a poor diet) and usually not a primary disease.  Angora breeds, which have very long hair, may be an exception to this rule, because the length of their hair may make it difficult to pass.

Another common condition that can cause appetite loss is dental disease.  Overgrown molars that have sharp edges (which lacerate the tongue), and an abscesses of any of the tooth roots can cause a pet to cease eating due to pain.

Less common, but very serious conditions that can also lead to appetite loss include uterine infections, abscesses, respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal infections, middle ear infections, eating toxic materials and bladder and kidney infections.

Loss of appetite is something that should be investigated by your veterinarian within 48 hours even if the pet is acting normally.  Rabbits rapidly develop a deteriorating condition of the liver when they go without food for long periods of time.  If the liver deteriorates excessively, there may be no way to reverse the process.  Early diagnosis and treatment of appetite loss is the best way to save your pet’s life.

Pasturellosis – A large percentage of rabbits harbor a bacteria in their sinuses called Pasturella multocida.  This bacteria doesn’t cause a problem in most bunnies with a healthy immune system.  However, under certain stress situations, such as a poor diet, high environmental temperatures, poor air circulation, overcrowding, moving, etc., this bacteria can reproduce rapidly and cause potentially serious disease.

This bacteria may cause infections of the upper respiratory tract, uterus, skin, kidney, bladder, tear ducts, middle ears or lungs.  Please have your pet examined if you observe any discharges around the eyes, nose or anal areas, or if there is a loss of appetite, depression, diarrhea, head tilt, loss of balance, or labored breathing.  NEVER attempt to use antibiotics without veterinary supervision.  Your pet’s gastrointestinal tract is an extremely delicate organ, dependent on large populations of healthy bacteria to digest the food.  If inappropriate antibiotics are given indiscriminately, death may result because the antibiotics had killed the normal bacteria in the gut which led to an overgrowth of the deadly bacteria.

Diarrhea – True diarrhea is not common in the rabbit.   This is a condition where all stool being passed is in a liquid form.  This is usually a very serious condition and should be seen by your veterinarian immediately.  Some serious gastrointestinal conditions that result in diarrhea can be fatal in less than 24 hours.

What most people refer to as diarrhea, is an intermittent passing of soft liquid or pudding-like stools.  The rabbit will also pass normal formed stools.  The soft stools may be seen more frequently at certain times of the day (many times overnight) and may have a strong odor and accumulate on the rabbit’s fur.  The liquid stools are actually the cecotropes (see night droppings) that are unformed.  There are a variety of reasons for this condition, but by far the most common condition is the lack of sufficient fiber in the diet and obesity.  Eliminating the pellets from the diet and feeding good quality grass hay only for one to three months may clear up the problem.  Consult your veterinarian if your pet has this condition before making any drastic changes to the diet.

A good publication that is well written and of interest to the house rabbit owner is theHouse Rabbit Journal.  Write to House Rabbit Society, 1615 Encinal Ave., Alameda, Ca. 94501 or call 510-521-4631.  We also recommend the House Rabbit Handbook.   Please

Above all, enjoy your pet and give him/her your love and affection.  Your pet deserves it, and she/he will repay you with years of enjoyment and the opportunity to see life at a slower, calmer, “bunny pace”.

Guinea Pigs

Care of Guinea Pigs

The guinea pig, or cavy, is a docile rodent native to the Andes Mountain area of South America.  They were first domesticated by the Andean Indians of Peru, who used them as a food source and as a sacrificial offering to the Incan gods.  During the 16th century, Dutch explorers introduced guinea pigs to Europe, where they were selectively bred by fanciers.  The guinea pig entered the research laboratory in the 18th century, and have since made significant contributions to the scientific community.  To this day, the guinea pig remains a favorite pet among children due to their docile behavior, ease of handling, and clean, quite nature.

Through selective breading efforts, guinea pigs are found in any array of colors and coat types from which to choose.  Five primary varieties are encountered in the pet industry.  The Shorthair or English is characterized by having a uniformly short hair coat.  The Abyssinian has whorls or rosettes in their short, rough, wiry coat.  The Peruvian is recognized by its very long silky hair.  These three types are most commonly kept as pets.  The Silky and Teddy Bear varieties are encountered less frequently.  The Silky is a large variety distinguished by its medium length silky hair.  The Teddy Bear has medium length hair of normal consistency.


Good quality food and fresh, clean water must be readily available at all times.  Commercially available pelleted chows provide all the essential nutrients required by guinea pigs, as long as the pellets are fresh when offered.  These pellets contain 18-20% protein, 16% fiber, and approximately 1 gram of vitamin C per kilogram of ration.  In general, adult guinea pigs should be limited to 1 tablespoon of pellets per day.  Typically guinea pigs less than a year of age are offered a alfalfa based pellet.  Guinea pigs over this age fare better on a grass-based pellet, most commonly timothy.  Oxbow hay company is our preferred brand for reliable high quality pellets with stabilized vitamin C (which means the vitamin C in the pellet lasts more than twice as long as most store bought pellets.  This extended shelf life for the vitamin C in Oxbow’s pellets gives them a six month shelf life before the vitamin C degrades.  For more information on Oxbow products, go to

Do not feed rabbit pellets as a substitute for guinea pig pellets.  They are not equivalent in nutritive value.  Unlike rabbit diets, guinea pig diets are uniquely formulated with specific requirements in mind.

Unlike most mammals, guinea pigs cannot manufacture their own vitamin C and therefore they must receive it from an outside source.  Most store bought pelleted guinea pig diets are supplemented with necessary levels of this essential vitamin.  Despite proper storage (i.e.- a cool dry area) pellets lose about half of their vitamin C due to degradation within six weeks of manufacture.  For this reason we also recommend further vitamin C supplementation in the diet.  Refer to the accompanying table for a list of greens, fruit, and vegetables with respective vitamin C levels.  If in doubt, it is best to provide vitamin C in a tablet form at 50mg per day to an average sized adult pig.  Water supplementation is not advised, as the vitamin C degrades in water within a few hours.  Oxbow also makes a 50mg palatable vitamin C tablet that we stock in the hospital.

The guinea pig’s diet should be composed of a measured amount of fresh guinea pig pellets, fresh greens, and unlimited good quality timothy or other grass hay.  As mentioned above, the pelleted diet should be restricted to one tablespoon daily (in order to prevent obesity).   Guineas pigs less than 4 months old are allowed unlimited pellets.  Fresh produce with a high Vitamin C content should be offered at 1/2 to one cup a day.  The fresh items must be thoroughly washed to avoid exposing your pet to pesticide residues or bacterial contamination.   The hay provides the necessary fiber for digestion.  Any change in the guinea pig’s diet should be made gradually, as the digestive tract of this herbivore is very sensitive to rapid change in consumed items.  Guinea pigs tend to be creatures of habit, and tolerate neither major changes in the presentation of their food or water, nor changes in the taste, odor, texture, or form of the food itself.  Pet owners should avoid making radical changes with the food or water containers as well.  Any sudden change in routine can result in the pet refusing its food and water, which can be ultimately dangerous.

All foods should be provided in heavy ceramic crocks that resist tipping and chewing.  The crocks should be high enough to keep bedding and fecal pellets out of the food, but low enough for easy access by the animal.

Water is most easily accessible by the use of a water bottle equipped with a “sipper” tube.  Guinea pigs tend to contaminate and clog their water bottles by chewing on the end of the sipper tube and “backwashing” food particles into it.  For this reason, it is imperative that all food and water containers be cleaned and disinfected daily.


Generally, guinea pigs are docile, non-aggressive animals.  They rarely bite or scratch when handled.  They usually voice their protest simply by letting out a high pitched squeal.  They may, however, struggle when being picked up or restrained.  Extreme care should be taken not to injure them during handling.  The guinea pig should be approached with both hands.  One hand is placed under the guinea pig’s chest and abdomen, while the other hand supports its hindquarters.  Adults, and especially pregnant females, should receive careful attention to gentle, yet firm and total support.  This can also be accomplished by wrapping the guinea pig in a towel like a “burrito” before picking him/her up.


 Housing accommodations provided for pet guinea pigs are limited only by one’s imagination, ingenuity, and budget.  There is no single correct way to house your guinea pig as long as the well-being of your pet is considered.  Adequate housing is a major factor in the maintenance of healthy pets.

Guinea pigs can be housed within enclosures made of wire, stainless steel, durable plastic, or glass.  The latter three materials are preferred since they resist corrosion. Wood should not be used due to difficulty in cleaning and susceptibility to destructive gnawing.  Many plastics are also easily destroyed by gnawing. Ideally the enclosure should have one more than one side open for adequate ventilation, so be careful when using aquariums.  The design and construction of the enclosure must be escape-proof. In addition, the cage must be free of sharp edges and other potential hazards.  The size of the enclosure should allow for normal guinea pig activity.  Approximately 100 square inches of floor area per adult guinea pig is recommended. Breeding animals should be provided 180 square inches each.  The enclosure can remain opened on the top if the sides are at least 10 inches high, provided other family pets such as dogs or cats are not a threat.

Cage flooring can be either wire or solid.  Wire mesh flooring provides a cleaner environment and easier maintenance, but may result in injuries to the feet and hocks.  Over extended periods of time this type of flooring can result in foot pad and hock infections, from abrasive rubbing on fecal-soiled wire.  To reduce the incidence of these problems, provide an anchored solid platform as a resting place in one area of the cage.  Broken legs are common in guinea pigs that fall through the wire mesh and panic to escape.  Although solid flooring requires more effort to keep sanitary, it is safer for the guinea pig.  Solid floored cages also tend to be more esthetically pleasing when appropriate bedding is used.

Bedding materials must be clean, non-toxic, absorbent, relatively dust-free and easy to replace.  Cedar, redwood and chloroform impregnated pine shavings have been associated with respiratory difficulty and liver disease in some guinea pigs, and therefore should not be used.  Corn cob bedding, walnut and other food byproduct materials are also not recommended as fungal spores and other contaminants are more likely.  Saw dust should also be avoided since it tends to accumulate within the external genitalia of male guinea pigs potentially causing an impaction.  Our preference is to use recycled newspaper beddings (such as Yesterday’s News) as these products are more hygienic, absorbent and less likely to be consumed or cause respiratory irritation.  Aspen pine can also be used, although it tends to be less absorbent.

The environment in the vicinity of the pet’s cage is another important consideration.  Because of their sensitive nature, guinea pigs are more comfortable and relaxed when housed in a quiet spot away from noise, excitement and other such stresses.  Be sure to select a location away from direct sunlight, and avoid cold, damp areas.  Guinea pigs thrive in a dry, cool environment with adequate ventilation.  Drastic environmental changes should be prevented, especially high temperatures and humidity.  As nocturnal pets (active at night), guinea pigs require quiet periods during the daylight hours in order to rest.

Since guinea pigs are social creatures, more than one animal may be safely housed together.  In addition, males and females can remain in the same enclosure indefinitely.  However, new males may occasionally fight if in the presence of a female.  Older, dominant animals may also chew on the ears or hair of subordinate cage mates.  If a males and females are to be housed together it is recommended to neuter the males in order to prevent breeding and undesired offspring.


The single most important consideration regarding guinea pig breeding is that the female guinea pig (sow) should be bred between four and seven months of age if she is to be bred at all.  If the first breeding is delayed much beyond this time, serious, and often fatal problems with delivery may result.  The reason for this is that the pelvis of the guinea pig fuses at this early age which narrows the birth canal, preventing the babies from passing easily.  Males (boars) should be at least four months of age before breeding.

The sow’s estrous cycle (“heat”) lasts 14 to 19 days.  The actual period in which the sow is receptive to the boar for breeding is approximately eight to fifteen hours during this cycle.  Sow’s often return to “heat” within a few hours after giving birth.  This time is known as “postpartum estrus” which means that she can be nursing one litter while being pregnant with another.

Pregnancy lasts between 63 and 70 days.  The gestation is shorter with larger litters, and longer with smaller litters.  This duration of pregnancy is relatively long when compared to other rodents.

Pregnant sows exhibit a grossly enlarged abdomen during the later stages of pregnancy.  Body weight may actually double during pregnancy.  The time of delivery is difficult to assess in guinea pigs due to the relatively long gestation period and lack of nest building by the sow.  Within a week prior to delivery, a slight widening of the pelvic area may be noted.  This is the separation of the pelvis, which if does not occur, can cause the delivery problems mentioned previously.  If this happens, delivery of the young may be impossible without cesarean section.

An uncomplicated delivery usually takes about ½ hour with an average of 5 minutes between babies.  Litter sizes range between one and six, with an average of three to four.  First time litters are usually very small.  Unfortunately, abortions and stillbirths are not uncommon in guinea pigs.

The young are very well developed at birth.  They weigh between 50 and 100 grams and have a full hair coat.  Babies are even born with teeth and with their eyes open.  Mothers are not very maternal in the raising of the offspring, in that they do not build a nest or even remains in a sitting position while nursing.  The young can actually eat solid food and drink from a bowl shortly after birth, but it is recommended to allow them to nurse for three weeks before weaning.


Slobbers/Dental Malocclusion

Slobbers is the condition where the fur under the jaw and down the neck remains wet from constant drooling of saliva.  The primary cause for this condition is overgrowth of the premolars and/or molars.  Most often this occurs in older  (2-3 years of age) guinea pigs and usually involves the premolars (the most forward positioned cheek teeth).  These teeth cannot be viewed without proper equipment as they are recessed deep within the oral cavity.  The overgrowth is due to improper alignment of the teeth when chewing, but excess selenium in the diet has also been suspected as an underlying cause.  The overgrown tooth causes injury to the guinea pigs tongue and gums resulting in an inability to chew and swallow food, drooling down the chin and neck, and weight loss (often severe).  A veterinarian must be consulted as soon as this condition is suspected.  The diagnosis is confirmed by visual examination of the mouth using special instrumentation and sometimes magnification.  A thorough examination often requires general anesthesia.  Correction of the problem involves trimming or filing of the overgrown teeth under general anesthesia.  Dental work in the mouth of a guinea pig is difficult due to the extremely small mouth opening.  A correction of the diet may also be in order.  During the initial treatment period, force feedings and antibiotics may be necessary to aid in the recovery process.  There is no permanent solution or correction to this problem.  Periodic trimming or filing of the teeth is usually necessary (typically every 6-8 weeks).  Guinea pigs with this problem should not be bred since dental malocclusion is often hereditary.

Scurvy (Vitamin C Deficiency)

As discussed, guinea pigs cannot manufacture Vitamin C and must receive an adequate supply from food sources.  Lack of sufficient Vitamin C in the diet results in scurvy.  The symptoms of scurvy include poor appetite; swollen, painful joints and ribs; reluctance to move; poor bone and teeth development, and spontaneous bleeding, especially from the gums, into joints, and in muscle.  If left untreated, this disease can be fatal, especially to rapidly growing young and pregnant females.  In addition, subclinical deficiencies often predisposes animals to other diseases.  The mandatory level of vitamin C is supplemented in commercial guinea pig pelleted rations.  However, with improper storage and handling these pellets lose their potency rapidly.  For this reason, further supplementation is recommended (see diet section).  Contact a veterinarian at the first sign of this condition  for early diagnosis and treatment.  These animals must be treated with supplemental vitamin C (given in food, water or injection) in order to reverse the symptoms.

Barbering (hair chewing)

Hair loss is a common problem in guinea pigs.  “Barbering” is just one of many causes.  This vice occurs when guinea pigs chew on the hair coat of other guinea pigs that are lower than them in the social “pecking order”.  The dominant “pig” and main culprit, is identified by its normal , full hair coat, while others have areas of alopecia (hair loss).  There is no treatment for this condition except separating the guinea pigs when necessary.  Hair loss or hair thinning can occur for a number of other reasons as well.  It is a common phenomenon among sows who are repeatedly bred or weakened, and newly weaned juvenile guinea pigs.  Certain fungal diseases and external parasite infestations also can cause hair loss problems.

Heat Stress (Stroke)

Guinea pigs are very susceptible to heat stroke, particularly pigs that are overweight and/or heavily furred.  Environmental temperatures above 85 F degrees, high humidity (above 70%), inadequate shade and ventilation, overcrowding, and other stresses are additional predisposing factors.  Signs of heat stroke include panting, slobbering, weakness, reluctance to move, convulsion, and death.  This is a treatable condition if recognized early.  Heat stressed guinea pigs should be misted with cool water, bathed in cool water, or have rubbing alcohol applied to the foot pads for evaporative cooling.  Once this first-aid measure is accomplished, veterinary assistance should be sought.  Prevention of heat stoke involves providing adequate shade and proper ventilation.  In addition a cool misting of water and/or a fan operating over a container of ice (frozen milk-jug) can be directed toward the pet’s cage.  When indoors, air conditioning during the heat of the summer provides the best relief.



Pneumonia is one of the most common bacterial diseases of the pet guinea pig.  Respiratory infections are caused by a number of viral and bacterial agents including Streptococcal pneumoniae, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and a gram-positive diplococcus.  Many of the disease causing organisms inhabit the respiratory tracts of clinically normal guinea pigs.  Conditions of stress, inadequate diet, and improper husbandry will often predispose a pet to an opportunistic infection with one or more of these agents.  Symptoms of pneumonia may include dyspnea (difficult breathing), discharge from the nose and eyes, lethargy, and decreased or no appetite.  In some cases, sudden death will occur without any of these signs.

Occasionally, middle or inner ear infections accompany respiratory disease in guinea pigs.  Additional symptoms in these cases include incoordination, torticollis (twisting of the neck), circling to one side, and rolling.  Veterinary consultation should be sought when a guinea pig exhibits any of the above symptoms.  A bacterial culture with antibiotic sensitivity of the throat and/or nasal discharge will assist the veterinarian in the selection of an appropriate antibiotic.  Aggressive antibiotic therapy in addition to supportive care of the patient may be necessary to get the condition under control.  Unfortunately, even though elimination of the symptoms is often possible with appropriate therapy, eradication of the causative bacteria is not.

Bacterial Enteritis (Intestinal Infection)

A number of bacteria are capable of causing infections of the gastrointestinal tract in guinea pigs.  Some of these bacteria are introduced through contaminated greens or vegetables or in contaminated water.  One of the most common bacteria that causes intestinal disease in guinea pigs is Salmonella spp.  Other bacterial species that may cause diarrhea and enteritis are Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, E. coli, Arizona spp.  and Clostridium spp.  In addition to diarrhea, other common symptoms associated with intestinal disease are lethargy, anorexia, and weight loss.  In other cases, however, sudden death may occur before expression of these signs.  A veterinarian may elect to use aggressive antibiotic therapy and supportive care to treat this condition.  A bacterial culture of the patient’s stool with antibiotic sensitivity will greatly assist the veterinarian in choosing an appropriate antibiotic to use.

Bacterial Pododermatitis (Footpad Infection)


Severe infections of the foot pads are very common among guinea pigs housed in cages with wire flooring.  Fecal soiling of the wire potentiates the problem.  The guinea pigs front feet are most susceptible to this condition.  Symptoms of this condition include swelling of the affected feet, lameness, and reluctance to move.  Improved sanitation and cage floor alterations are the initial steps in correcting the problem.  In addition, the feet themselves should be treated by a veterinarian.  Topical dressing with an antibiotic and periodic bandaging is often required.  Depending on the severity of the damage, injectable antibiotics may also be necessary.  Therapy may have to be carried out for a lengthy period of time to get full recovery.  In severe cases, amputation may be necessary (a procedure that it not well tolerated in guinea pigs).  A possible long term consequence of bacterial infections of the feet and hocks that have previously been treated is arthritis.

External Parasites (Lice and Mites)

Lice and mites are the most common external parasites of guinea pigs.  Lice are tiny, wingless, flattened insects that live within the hair coats of infested animals.  Both the adults and eggs are found attached to hair shafts of affected pets.  Mites are microscopic, spider-like organisms that affect the top layers of skin in affected animals.  Guinea pig lice and mites are not known to parasitize man.

Mite infestations are usually more severe than lice.  A specific mite, Trixacarus cavie, causes serious infestations in pet guinea pigs.  This sarcoptic mite lives in the outer layers of skin causing an intense itching and scratching with considerable hair loss.  In some cases, they present without the itching and scratching, but only hair loss and crusting of the skin.  In other cases, the infestation and irritation is so severe that the pet causes significant self-inflicted wounds and exhibits wild running and circling behavior, and may even appear to have “seizures”.  A veterinarian can diagnose the mite infestation by performing skin scrapings of affected areas and viewing them under the microscope.  Successful treatment consists of using anti-parasitic drugs at calculated intervals.  Cages should be entirely leaned out, and disinfected with a one part bleach to 32 parts water solution.  Cat/dog flea sprays can also be used to treat the environment.  Make sure the cage is thoroughly rinsed and dried prior to returning the pet(s).  If wood shaving are used as bedding or litter, they should be replaced with paper towels to make the pet more comfortable.  Transmission of Trixacarus cavie mites occur only through the direct contact between infested and non-infested guinea pigs.  Therefore, pet guinea pigs are not likely to harbor this parasite unless they are recent additions or had previous exposure to mite-infested guinea pigs.  In some cases a solitary pet may show symptoms even if it was isolated for a long time.  Most likely in these instances the pet has always had small numbers of mites, but stress or disease have allowed the parasites to flourish.  For you pet’s sake, be sure that any guinea pig(s) that he/she comes into contact with is(are) healthy and free of this and other diseases.

Lice infestations often go undetected.  However, heavy infestations are usually accompanied with excessive itching, scratching and some hair loss.  Scabbing on or around the ears may also be evident.  Guinea pigs have two types of biting lice that may parasitize them.  Both irritate and abrade the skin surface and feed off the bodily fluids that exude through the superficial wounds that they create.  A veterinarian can confirm the diagnosis of lice infestation by examination of the hair coat as well as microscopic examination of hairs from affected animals.  There are several options for treatment which are prescribed by the veterinarian.  As with mites, lice transmission occurs through direct contact with infested guinea pigs.  Pet guinea pigs are not likely to have this parasite unless they had previous exposure to lice-infested guinea pigs.  For your pet’s sake be sure that any guinea pig he/she comes in contact with is healthy and free of this and other parasites.

**Guinea Pig Sensitivity To Certain Antibiotics**

Guinea pigs are very sensitive to certain classes of antibiotics.  For this reason, NEVER attempt treatment of your pet guinea pig at home without prior consultation with a veterinarian.  Many antibiotics which are safe for other animals have been shown to be lethal to guinea pigs, whether given orally or by injection.  In addition, even some topical antibiotic preparations can produce serious detrimental results.  A partial list of potentially harmful antibiotics includes: ampicillin, vancomycin, penicillin, bacitracin, gentamicin, erythromycin, lincomycin, clindamycin, streptomycin, and sometimes tetracyclines.  Even if an antibiotic is not on this list, it does not ensure that it is safe to use.  When improperly administered, and antibiotic can produce detrimental and often lethal results.  The primary mechanism behind this often lethal effect is a dramatic alteration of the normal microbial balance in the gastrointestinal tract.  In addition to affecting the disease causing bacteria in the body, they also interfere with the normal beneficial bacteria in the guinea pig’s digestive system.  Guinea pigs have very delicate digestive systems, so any alteration can produce a cascade of events leading to serious illness or even death.  As well as causing disruption of the bacterial balance, these alterations also result in the production of harmful chemicals in the guinea pig’s body.  Other antibiotics cause direct toxic effects to the guinea pig without initially disrupting the digestive system, often proving rapidly fatal.  When an antibiotic is prescribed by a veterinarian, consider supplementing the guinea pig with about one-half teaspoon (2.5cc) of plain organic yogurt, twice daily.  This therapy should continue for a couple of days past the antibiotic therapy.  Although this is not absolutely critical, yogurt may help augment and replace the beneficial intestinal bacteria that are compromised by the antibiotic treatment.  Pro-biotics can also be used for the same reason.  A less common but potentially superior treatment would consist of feeding small amounts of feces from a healthy non-medicated guinea pig.

Guinea Pig Facts

Scientific name:……………………………………………………………. Cavia porcellus

Life Span:……………………………………………………………………. 4-5 years

Environmental temperature range:…………………………………… 65-75 degrees

Desired relative humidity range:……………………………………… 40-70%

Breeding age (first mating)……………………………………………… 3-4 months (male)

………………………………………………………………………….. 3-7 months (female)

…………………………………………………………………….. (dangerous if after 7 months for the first time)

Gestation Period…………………………………………………………… average 63-70 days

Litter Size……………………………………………………………………. 1-6 range, average of 3-4

Weaning Age………………………………………………………………… 2-3 weeks

Vitamin Content of Selected Foods

The following chart shows the vitamin C content in milligrams (mg) of 1-cup portions of selected foods.

Item                                                                                                         Vitamin C (mg)

Turnip Greens……………………………………………………………………………. 260

Mustard Greens………………………………………………………………………….. 252

Dandelion Greens……………………………………………………………………….. 200

Kale………………………………………………………………………………………….. 192

Brussel Sprouts………………………………………………………………………….. 173

Parsley………………………………………………………………………………………. 140

Collard Greens……………………………………………………………………………. 140

Guavas……………………………………………………………………………………… 125

Broccoli Leaf*……………………………………………………………………………. 120

Beet Greens……………………………………………………………………………….. 100

Cauliflower………………………………………………………………………………… 100

Kohlrabi……………………………………………………………………………………. 100

Strawberries……………………………………………………………………………….. 100

Honeydew Melon……………………………………………………………………….. 90

Broccoli Florets*………………………………………………………………………… 87

Spinach……………………………………………………………………………………… 60

Raspberries………………………………………………………………………………… 60

Rutabaga……………………………………………………………………………………. 52

Orange………………………………………………………………………………………. 50

Cabbage (all leaves and Chinese cabbage also)………………………………… 50

*Broccoli stem has 0 mg of vitamin C

Bearded Dragons

Care of Bearded Dragons

What to Expect from Your Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragons are suitable pets for children because these lizards rarely bite, scratch or whip with their tails. They genuinely respond to gentle handling, and will look you in the eye, eat from your hand, and rest in your lap. A dragon should not be caught or lifted by its tail; its body should be fully support­ed when it is being held or carried.

Is Your Bearded Dragon a Male or a Female?

It is important to know the gender of your pet in order to watch for and prevent potential problems with egg-laying in the female. A mature female bearded dragon should be examined by an exotic animal veterinarian at least yearly.

In the juvenile stage, there is little difference between male and female bearded dragons. As they approach adult size, the male begins to develop a broader head, and his large black “beard’ becomes apparent in breeding season. Males also have a thicker tail, enlarged femoral pores along their inner thighs, and a wider cloacal opening. Behavioral differences may be observed, but these are not always conclusive for sexing bearded dragons.


In captivity, both live prey and salads should be offered to provide a balanced diet for your dragon. Because dragons are active during the day, they should be fed in the morning.

• The dragon’s live prey may consist of appropriately sized crickets, cockroaches, various misc. insects (i.e.- field sweepings from pesticide free fields), superworms (Zophobas), mealworms, wax worms, locusts and pinkie mice. The worm species tend to be higher in fat and lower in other nutrients, and should be fed sparingly.  The prey should be fed balanced diets (commercially available cricket food, etc) including fresh greens for several days before feeding out. Prey are dusted (with ground Tums or other calcium powder) daily for baby bearded dragons. The frequency of dusting diminishes until adulthood, when prey are supplemented about once every 7-10 days.

• Salads should consist of chopped mixes of a variety of greens such as Carrot tops, dandelion, turnip greens, mustard greens, beet greens, kale, collards, bok choy, Swiss chard, escarole, spinach, and cilantro.

• Vegetables can comprise up to 20% of the diet and can include squash, zucchini, sweet potato, broccoli, peas, beans, okra and grated carrot. Fruits can make up about 2-5% of the diet and may include papaya, melon, and banana.

• Treats can consist of edible flower blossoms. Commercial pellets are marketed for bearded dragons, but they haven’t been tested long-term, and may not have enough moisture content.

Feeding Schedule and Content:

• Baby bearded dragons are fed twice daily and eat mostly small moving prey, such as 2-week-old crick­ets. As a general rule, dragons are fed crickets with a body length no greater than the width of the dragon’s head. However, salads should be intro­duced at this early age so they are accustomed to eating greens and vegetables as they mature. As the dragon grows, the insect prey size increases.   However, the percentage of insects vs. vegetable matter consumed begins to decrease (see below percentage prey vs. vegetables).

• Juvenile bearded dragons are growing rapidly and need plenty of food offered daily. Hungry juveniles housed together will nip the toes and tail-tips of their cage mates.

• Adult bearded dragons can be fed daily or every second day and prefer a diet of about 55% salad, 20% vegetables and 25% prey.


• Bearded dragons thrive in low humidity. Drinking water should be provided in a shallow bowl or saucer. Dragons will often soak in their water bowl and may defecate in their water. Drinking and soak­ing bowls should be cleaned at least daily.  I prefer to soak the dragon for 15 minutes once to twice a day outside of the normal habitat in a shallow warm water filled cat litter pan.

How to Keep Your Bearded Dragon Healthy, Happy and Safe!

  • Quarantine new dragons in a separate area of the house for 3-6 months.
  • Dragons housed together should be of similar size, with plenty of space available.
  • Monitor body conditions of mul­tiple dragons housed together for signs of stress in subordinate ones.
  • Ensure a gradient of tempera­tures in their enclosure, from 70 F to a hot basking spot of around 95 F.
  • Expose to unfiltered sunlight or commercial full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs.
  • Allow time outdoors when the temperature is above 700F (only in screen enclosure with access to shade and water).
  • Consult with your exotic animal veterinarian about supplemen­tation of calcium and vitamin D3.

Housing for your bearded dragon should:

  • be spacious and easy to clean, with smooth sides to prevent rostral abrasions.
  • be the size of a 10-gallon tank for a baby dragon; adults need large enclosures of 4 x 2 ft.
  • be large enough for climbing, exploration, basking.
  • contain thick climbing branches or rocks to support heavy-bod­ied dragons.
  • include a large, shallow water tray for soaking.
  • have easy access of food and water containers for frequent cleaning.
  • include acceptable substrates: my preference is newspaper, paper towels or butcher paper, as it is easy to clean, less likely to be eaten, and more hygienic.
  • provide a hiding area, such as a cardboard box or plant pot

It is important for bearded dragons to avoid:

  • sand, alphalpha pellets, gravel, corn cob, walnut shell, kitty litter and wood shav­ings as substrates
  • potentially toxic live plants
  • free roam of the house (to pre­vent chilling, trauma, ingestion of foreign materials, and escape)
  • shared housing between adults and hatchlings, as adults may eat hatchlings
  • shared housing between any two or more dragons of different sizes
  • potential for direct contact with heating elements
  • over-supplementation of vitamins or minerals
  • being fed lightning bugs

Bearded dragons are native to inland Australia, where they have adapted well to life in a warm, dry environment. Free-ranging bearded dragons are omnivorous consuming a variety of animal and plant items. The most common dragon is the inland bearded dragon, Pogona vitticeps.  These fascinating reptiles are fast becoming the most popular lizard in the pet industry because of their ease of maintenance, placid disposition, friendly person­ality, hardiness, and fierce appear­ance. Bearded dragons maintain a moderate size and enjoy life in captivity as a family pet. Bearded dragons offered for sale arc the result of multi-generational breeding in captivity. Several color and pattern varieties are available. Following purchase, a dragon should he taken to an exotic animal veterinarian for a general health check and a fecal exam for parasites.

Bearded dragons can flourish as long-lived pets when attention is given to certain aspects of husbandry, includ­ing temperature, diet and exposure to ultraviolet-B light. Regular “well dragon” visits with your exotic animal vet­erinarian should be scheduled to promote a long and satis­fying relationship with your pet.

Remember, as with any reptile, you should wash your hands after handling, and clean water bowls and cage furniture in the bathroom (not in a food preparation sink such as the kitchen).  It is always safest to assume all reptiles have Salmonella spp. and treat handling of pets and cages accordingly.

Vital stats:

  • Length……………………………… 20-24 inches
  • Length at sexual maturity:….. 12-16 inches
  • Life span:…………………………. 10 years

When picking out a new pet look for:

  • Alert attitude
  • Willingness to eat and bask
  • Clean vent
  • Upright posture
  • Absence of swellings in toes or tail
  • Well filled out belly

Most Common Disorders of Bearded Dragons

  • Intestinal parasites
  • Appetite loss due to:  Improper husbandry, light cycle, too cold temperatures, endoparasites
  • Gastroenteritis from bacteria, viruses and parasites
  • Hypocalcemia and associated bone/muscle disorders from deficiency of calcium and/or vitamin D3
  • Trauma:  Burns from cage heating devices and bulbs, fractures (due in part to malnutrition), wounds inflicted by other animals
  • Dystocia, egg-binding

Box Turtles

Care of Box Turtles

Environment:   It is most beneficial for box turtles to live outside even if for only part of the year.  This outdoor time provides UV exposure, exercise, and psychological well-being.

Cage:   24×36” minimum. Needs hiding areas.   A mixture of peat moss and shredded paper (or compressed paper pellets) is my preferred substrate, as it is less likely to be consumed and less likely to harbor bacteria than other organic material.  It is best to soak box turtles 15 minutes a day, rather than letting them soak in their water bowl free choice.  This can be done in shallow luke-warm water (cleaned daily) in a separate enclosure.  Certain additional requirements must be met for Ornate, Malayan and Chinese Box Turtles, which are listed at the end of this sheet.

Temp/light: A basking lamp can be used to provide a heat gradient (range) in the cage. In general, day time temperatures should range between 72-88 F. Night time temps should not be any lower than 60 F.  This temperature range is important to maintain, so that the turtle can get into a warmer area or the terrarium, or out of a warmer area as it wants.   Box turtles require a UV light bulb suspended no more than 18” above their head (changed every 6 months) or natural unfiltered sunlight (can’t be filtered by glass or plastic).

Some specifics on various sp. differences in temperature are listed below:

Ornate boxes: between 85-88 F/day, 70-75 F/night

Other U.S. box turtles: 85-88 F/day, 70-75 F/night

Chinese boxes: water 75-85 F, air 85 F

Malayans: water 78-85 F, air 85 F

Diet: Most species of box turtles are omnivores: The main staple is bugs and vegetables.  Bugs can include earthworms, crickets (which have been fed on tropical fish flakes and fresh fruit for at least 24 hours), beetles, freshly molted king mealworms, Zoophoba king worms, Tenebrio mealworms (the tough brown exoskeletons are not digestible), night crawlers (avoid bait shop worms – these are usually raised under rabbit hutches and are filthy with bacteria and protozoa), and slugs and snails (if caught in your garden, feed the snails and slugs for 4 days on dark leafy green vegetables – any that have been exposed to snail poisons will die in that time).  Vegetables should emphasize dark leafy greens including carrot tops, mustard greens, dandelion greens, collards, chard, endive, etc.  To a lesser extent offer carrots, orange squash, green beans, sweet peppers, and flowers including hibiscus, rose petals, geraniums, nasturtiums.  Fruit and dog food should be fed sparingly (diet), and cat food should be avoided. Pinkies and goldfish can be offered 1 -2x per month.  Remember that young turtles eat more animal matter than do adults, so the amount of protein offered should decrease over time until it is no more than 10% of total food volume in an adult animal.  I recommend adding a calcium-only supplement (crushed Tums) every other day sprinkled over the food, and a multivitamin no more than once a week.  Offer food daily to youngsters and every other day to adults.

Routine maintenance:  Box turtles will often require a nail and beak trim, especially if they are kept indoors.  This can be done professionally by your veterinarian.

Hibernation: It is essential for adults (except southern box turtles), but turtles must be in good health prior to hibernating.  It helps them achieve normal life expectancy.  It-helps maintain normal hormonal activity and stimulate and synchronize reproductive cycles.  Often turtles are sluggish by September, and hibernate in October-February. Ask your vet or local turtle/tortoise club for a hibernation protocol and recommendations.

Resources: The Box Turtle Manual by Philippe de Vosjoli

Common problems:

-Vitamin A deficiency: consider 1 drop of fresh cod liver oil per day as a preventative. If the diet is really well balanced, they probably won’t need it.

-Parasites: have your vet check at least three stool samples microscopically to rule out parasites.

-Abscesses (especially of the ear)

Specific facts for Ornate box turtles:    The Ornate box turtles, Terrapene ornata are less hardy than the other American box turtles (T. carolina spp.). Their high death rate is compounded by the fact that adults are less able to adapt to conditions of captivity.  Despite this, it is the adults that are most often captured and sold in the pet trade.

This species requires a hollow log or bark slab under which to hide. The sterile potting soil substrate, into which sand has been added (25% of substrate) should be kept dry and allow for easy digging and drainage.  Ornates help meet their needs for constant temperatures and humidity by hiding under their log much of the day. A light misting on warm days (85-88 F), moderate nighttime temperatures (70-75 F), and a large shallow pan of fresh water should be available at all times.

Unlike the other box turtles, Ornates are primarily insectivorous and they may prefer to feed under water.  You can try offering their insects when they are soaking.  They are often reluctant to feed in captivity, so monitor them carefully. Live foods should be offered regularly; feed in the early mornings and late afternoons when the turtles are active.  Offer food daily to youngsters, every other day to adults.

Specifics on Malayan and Chinese Box Turtles: For these more aquatic turtles, you will need to invest in a submersible water heater if you cannot get or keep the water consistently hot enough with the substrate and overhead heat sources. Buy a digital thermometer with a probe (Radio shack) to measure water temperature and cage temperature in the different areas of the habitat.

The Malayan, or Amboina, box turtle, Cuora amboinensis, is more aquatic than the Terrapene box turtles. They require a large area of water (at least 50% of total enclosure) which is at least as deep as the height of the turtle. Like the slider and painted turtles, the Malayans’ water must be kept scrupulously clean; a filter system should be used, and feeding them in a separate enclosure is recommended to prevent fouling of the water. (See temperature requirements above in the Heating section.)  Although the Malayan box turtles are considered to be hardy and relatively easy to care for, they are shipped under the typical export conditions and should be checked by a vet soon after purchase. Along with worms and protozoan infections, they may be actively infected with other diseases which are communicable to humans (i.e. Salmonella spp.).

The Chinese box turtles, Cuora flavomarginata, also need a large water area. A large kitty litter pan sunk into the ground is generally an adequate size; be sure the turtle has a way to climb in and out of it. They should be offered the same diet as the American box turtles, but small fish (feeder goldfish) can be offered as well.

While these are hardy turtles which tend to do well in captivity, they must be kept at appropriate temperatures.  Below 70 F is dangerous and can lead to immunosuppression and illness and even death (except during winter cooling, when temperatures normally can drop as low as 65 F).

An Ornate Box Turtle