My Guinea Pig Has a Bald Spot

When my sisters recently gave me a guinea pig, Millie, she had a bald spot on her back but no other bald spots. It’s almost in the shape of a heart. There are some short hairs and some flakey yellow skin when you scratch at it. She doesn’t seem to mind it.  I’ve attached some pictures if that helps.  Thank you.

Probably 90% of the young guinea pigs that I see in my practice with these signs test positive for lice, mites, fleas, or ringworm.  It is always important to practice good hygiene when handling a small mammal, however, these parasites are species-specific, and so they typically do not remain on humans or other animals that come in contact with the affected guinea pig.   Less common causes include dermatitis caused by vitamin C deficiency, allergies, over-productive glandular tissue (typically males), and other primary skin disorders.  Examination and some basic testing is recommended to identify and treat the cause.

Identification of the parasite usually requires a test called a skin scraping.  A sample of skin is gently scraped and the collected material is examined under a microscope.  In the case of lice, sometimes it is possible to see the parasites or their eggs with the naked eye or by using a piece of scotch tape to pull some hairs for microscopic examination.  Fleas can be found using a special “flea comb,” which has fine teeth that catch the fleas as you run the comb deeply through the pet’s fur.

If parasites are diagnosed, there are many treatment options including powders, medicated baths and dips, topical pesticides (such as Revolution®), and injectable pesticides.  My preference for mite and lice infestations is Revolution® because it is easy to apply and relatively safe and easy for the patient to tolerate.  Treatments of the cage, frequent bedding changes, and follow-up doses of the pesticide are usually required depending on the parasite in question.  All in-contact guinea pigs must be simultaneously treated to prevent reinfection.  Ringworm and other causes require different therapy.

One last comment.  Guinea pigs are one of the few species that cannot manufacture their own vitamin C from other nutrients, and therefore have an absolute vitamin C requirement in their diet (about 50mg/day).  This can be achieved with high vitamin C  fresh foods (for a list, see my guinea pig care sheet at www.catandexoticcare.com under the references section), or vitamin C supplementation in the way of fortified pellets or tablets.  The vitamin C that is administered in water is not recommended since it rapidly degrades and may even prevent a guinea pig from drinking enough.  Most commercial guinea pig diets have vitamin C built in, but it degrades within 90 days after the food is milled, so it is best not to rely on the pellets alone.

guinea pig bald spot, yellow flaky skin, short hair
Bald Spot, Yellow Flaky Skin, Short Hair

bald spot

 

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the Central Coast, a full-service veterinary hospital, open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. – 5:30 p.m, dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in Pismo Coast Plaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Leopard Gecko – Dysecdysis (Skin Shedding)

QUESTION:

My leopard gecko has skin stuck to his feet and he seems lethargic.  What should I do?

Answer:

When a reptile has problems shedding its skin, the condition is called dysecdysis. We commonly see this problem in leopard geckos commonly caused by an environment that is too dry.  Proper provision of hiding areas filled with damp moss will help prevent the problem in the future by creating localized areas of higher humidity.  In addition, avoiding loose substrate or sand for bedding (opt for newspaper or paper towel instead) will help to keep things cleaner and less irritating to the skin.

If the gecko has not been able to shed for a while, the retained skin may be causing constriction of the underlying digits.  Sometimes entire toes or parts of toes become devitalized and end up falling off.  This is extremely painful and is often associated with infection.  The lizard may show signs of lethargy and decreased appetite.  If you are seeing these signs, it is imperative to get your gecko to a reptile vet.  The constricted bands of retained shed tissue will need to be carefully dissected off, antibiotics and pain control will be started and recommendations to improve the general care will be made.

If, on the other hand, the signs are mild, you may be able to remove the sheds after soaking the lizard in luke-warm water.  With several soaks to soften the skin you may be able to gently tease the retained tissue off with a q-tip.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Tortoise Post-Hibernation Respiratory Disease

QUESTION:

My tortoise recently woke up from hibernation and seems really weak and won’t eat normally.  What should I do?

ANSWER:

We have a lot of tortoises in this area because the great climate on the central coast makes it an ideal place for many tortoise species to thrive.  Unfortunately, my clinic sees a lot of tortoises that wake up from hibernation in poor condition.  During hibernation a tortoise’s metabolism slows down significantly.  Many species have to survive without food and water for months.  It is a major drain on these tortoises’ bodies and, if they enter hibernation in less than optimal condition, they can become ill or even die in the process.  Ideally, pre and post hibernation exams should be performed to screen for problems.

The most common problem experienced post hibernation is upper respiratory disease.  Signs include nasal bubbling, puffy eyes, oral ulcerations, and noise breathing.  Causes are usually viral or bacterial, and these pets require supportive care (hydration, nutritional support and warmth) and sometimes antibiotics to recover.  If you see these signs, or the signs you described in your question, you should take your tortoise to an exotics veterinarian as soon as possible.

On exam, your veterinarian should check the tortoise for other concurrent illnesses that may have predisposed the tortoise to the respiratory infection.  A thorough history to ensure there is nothing missing in the care, as well as fecal analysis to check for parasites, lab screening to check for organ disease, and radiographs to look for physical problems (bladder stone, foreign body in the intestinal tract, etc) should help complete the picture of the tortoise’s health.  The prognosis for a tortoise with upper respiratory disease is usually good if the tortoise is evaluated and cared for quickly after noticing the symptoms.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Tortoise Urates/Blockage

QUESTION:

I’ve noticed that my tortoise has been straining and grunting when going to the bathroom recently and only urates are coming out.  What does this mean?

ANSWER:

Unlike mammals, when reptiles eliminate waste, both the urine and stool components come out at the same time from a single opening.  The urine appears as a chalky white material, called urates, sometimes accompanied with a transparent liquid component.  The stool is the dark part of the dropping.  If the appearance of the normal dropping has changed, there is usually a medical reason.  One reason that a tortoise would have only urates passing is if it has not been eating normally.  In this instance there are few or no stools in the digestive tract coming through, so only urine/urates are passed.   If the cause of the decreased appetite is not obvious, medical assistance with a reptile vet is recommended.  Typically this scenario does not lead to straining, so it unlikely to be the cause of your tortoise’s symptoms.

Since your tortoise is straining and vocalizing there is probably a physical problem.  This may include blockage with a foreign object or mass in the digestive tract, a stone in the cloaca (the chamber that stores the feces and urine/urates before elimination), inflammation from parasites or other infection, or even problems passing an egg (in a female tortoise).  Ultimately, the tortoise should be seen for examination and testing to determine the cause and necessary treatments.

This week I saw a tortoise with similar symptoms.  It was straining and grunting and making quite a commotion.  Upon exam it was determined that it had a stone in the cloaca, called a cloacolith.  With the tortoise under anesthesia, I was able to break down and flush out the chalky and sharp-edged stone, comprised of layers of urates, to relive the obstruction.  Fortunately, the tortoise seemed much more comfortable after the procedure.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Aquarium Size Tips

QUESTION:

I have two baby red eared slider turtles.  I have them in a 10 gallon tank, but realize that they need more space.  What is the ideal tank size?

ANSWER:

The short answer is- the bigger the better.  A pond would be great!  Red eared sliders are very messy and require a lot of space and regular tank maintenance.  Even the babies should ideally be kept in a 30 gallon aquarium at a minimum.  The water depth should be at least 1.5 to 2 times your turtle’s total shell length plus several extra inches of air space between the surface of the water and the top edge of the tank to prevent escapes.  These turtles grow relatively quickly and, when fully grown, are about the size of a dinner plate.

Planning ahead with a sufficient sized aquarium is important.  Overcrowding leads to poor tank hygiene, stress, and eventually an assortment of illnesses.  Proper water filtering systems are necessary to keep the water reasonably fresh between the weekly water changes.  Feeding your turtle(s) in a separate tank or plastic container may also help to keep the water cleaner between changes.

Habitat size is significant to the health of many other species of reptiles, birds, and small mammals and is one of the aspects of general care that is often not well planned.  A cute 1-2oz sulcata tortoise will not do well in any size indoor enclosure when it is a full grown 150 lb adult!  The same goes for that cute baby giant snake (i.e., anaconda) or baby monitor lizard.  Parrots are also all too often housed in cages that are too small.  We frequently see obesity (from lack of exercise), wing damage and behavioral problems as a result.  As always, research your new pet and come up with an appropriate habitat before you purchase.  Talk to your experienced exotic animal vet for additional ideas on care.  In some cases, once you realize what it will take to keep your exotic pet happy and healthy, you may have second thoughts about your choice of pet.  Proper care of an exotic pet often involves a significant time and money investment.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Reptile Pet Bedding Tips

QUESTION:

Does the bedding that I use in my pet’s cage really matter?  I have a guinea pig and a bearded dragon.

ANSWER:

The decision of which substrate (ground cover or “bedding”) to use seems very basic, yet the ramifications of making a poor selection can be serious.  The quick answer to your question is: use something that is absorbent, non-aromatic, easy to clean, non-toxic, cost-effective, and hygienic.  My preferences in order from best to worst are: (1) compressed newspaper pellets (for both of your pets); (2) shredded or un-shredded newspaper or paper towels (both pets); (3) “Care-fresh” type bedding (most small mammals); (4) aspen pine shavings (most small mammals); and (5) “astro-turf” type substrates (many reptiles).

Recycled compressed newspaper pellets (such as Yesterday’s News) are always my number one choice because they are among the most absorbent of any of the beddings, they are affordable, they are non-toxic if accidentally consumed, they do not promote fungal, bacterial, or parasitic infestation, they are easy to clean/replace, they are non-aromatic, and they are environmentally friendly.

I need to elaborate on this subject because there are many additional options offered for sale and regularly selected that make bad choices for your pet.  When you consider the limited floor size of the average terrarium, the elimination habits of many small exotic pets, and the frequency with which the entire substrate is completely changed out and cage disinfected, you can easily end up with disaster when a poor substrate choice is made.  Many of the options available provide fuel and enough moisture for bacteria and fungi to grow and a good place for parasite eggs to accumulate and survive.  For example, food by-product particulates (corn cob hulls, crushed walnut shells, alfalfa pellets, hay, etc) and beddings often promote spot cleaning rather than entire substrate change-outs (sands, mulch, soils, etc) due to time and money constraints, which, in turn leads to bacteria and fungi growth.  Another dangerous category of bedding is one that is commonly ingested, often leading to impactions (sands, cat litter, and aquarium gravels and stones).  Aromatics such as cedar, red wood and some pines can damage the respiratory tract and promote airway infections and inflammation.

Ultimately, no matter what bedding is chosen it still needs to be cleaned out in its entirety on a very regular basis.  Remember spot cleaning only removes the visible waste material.  Fungi, bacteria, viruses, and parasite eggs are microscopic and can’t be effectively removed with spot cleaning.  One final note- make the substrate span as large an area as possible (in other words, get big cage).  Would you want to live, eat, and drink in close proximity to where you go to the bathroom?

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Reptile Lighting Requirements

QUESTION:

Do all reptiles need special lighting?  What light source is necessary for my pet bearded dragon?

ANSWER:

Many reptiles have an absolute requirement for ultraviolet (UV) light, specifically in the b wavelength (UVB).  Bearded dragons are among the reptiles that have a very high requirement for UVB light.  Also on this list are iguanas, water dragons, uromastyx, chuckwallas, anoles, tegus, monitors, skinks, most varieties of turtle and tortoise, as well as many others.

Reptiles have adapted to use this light for a chemical reaction in their skin that helps them to maintain a normal calcium balance in the body.  Without UVB, many reptiles are unable to regulate their calcium and, over the long-term, end up with very weak and sometimes thickened bones, muscle tremors, and eventually die of complications (called metabolic bone disease).

Sources of UVB light include the sun and artificial sources such as mercury vapor bulbs and UVB producing fluorescent bulbs.  Generally, the sun and certain high quality mercury vapor bulbs are ideal for a pet bearded dragon.  Even the most powerful fluorescent UVB bulbs are only marginally acceptable, as they put out comparatively much less UVB wavelength light.  Keep in mind that the reptile must be able to get in direct contact with the UVB source.  Sunlight coming through a window or a UVB bulb with a plastic cover will not provide your pet with any useful beams.

UVB bulbs are available at most local pet stores.  It is best to have each bulb professionally tested shortly after purchase to ensure that it is actually producing appropriate levels of UVB.  You can’t always count on the label specifications, as some bulbs are poor performers.  The testing usually can be done (for a nominal fee) by a reptile veterinarian who is equipped with a UVB meter.  Each bulb should be tested every 6 months to make sure it is still effective.  Since UV light is not visible to the human eye, you will not be able to determine the efficacy of the bulb without testing it.  The particulars for your pet’s UVB setup should be discussed with your reptile vet as part of each annual wellness exam.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Tortoise – Pre-Purchase Considerations

QUESTION: 

I am considering buying a tortoise.  Are there any issues particular to tortoises that I should be aware of?  What type of tortoise makes the best pet for a first-time owner?

ANSWER:

Prior to buying a “land turtle” or tortoise, you need to carefully consider many issues.  First, how long of a commitment do you want to make?  Many tortoise species live for decades.   Second, how much space do you have for the tortoise?  Some species grow to over 100 pounds.

As with all pets, there are many care (husbandry) considerations that have to be carefully planned out at each stage of life.  For tortoises these include proper heat and humidity ranges within the habitat, proper light cycle and UVB exposure, adequate habitat size (and, if housed outdoors, proper shelter and escape-proof boundaries), appropriate bedding, proper diet (this is a big one), adequate hiding areas, proper cleanliness and habitat hygiene, appropriate cage-mates (none in some cases), and external stressors (room too noisy, etc).

Planning for the proper care of a tortoise requires a considerable amount of research (from appropriate sources) and investment of both time and money. A good starting point is a consultation with a reputable reptile veterinarian.  In addition to giving you advice and information on caring for your tortoise, your veterinarian can provide you with recommendations regarding choosing the species that best fits your lifestyle.  What type of tortoise is best for you really depends on your situation.  Since many (but not all) of the box turtle species are relatively hardy, friendly, relatively easy to care for, and do not get very big, I often suggest them to clients who are considering getting their first tortoise.  Consider this advice before you bring home that adorable three inch-long baby African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) with the 100 year life expectancy and adult weight of 70-100 pounds!

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Advice Before Purchasing Turtle/Tortoise

QUESTION: 

Do you have any advice for someone who is considering buying a turtle or tortoise?

ANSWER:

Before purchasing a turtle or tortoise, you need to consider that it takes a considerable amount of time and money to properly care for these reptiles.   You also need to keep in mind that many species live a very long time, and several grow to a very large size. This is not a pet that you want to buy on an impulse.

There are many care (husbandry) considerations that have to be carefully planned out and provided at each life stage.  These include proper heat and humidity ranges within the habitat, proper light cycle and UVB exposure, sufficient habitat size (and if housed outdoors- proper shelter and escape-proof boundaries), appropriate bedding, proper diet (this is a big one), adequate hiding areas, proper cleanliness and habitat hygiene, appropriate cage-mates (none in some cases), and external stressors (room too noisy, etc).

A good starting point would be a consultation with a reputable reptile veterinarian on recommended species to purchase and recommended resources and information on proper husbandry.

 

Question:  What is the biggest danger to a person owning a turtle/tortoise and vice versa?

The biggest danger for the turtle owner is zoonotic disease (ones that can be spread from reptile to man). These include various bacterial (i.e., salmonella), protozoal, fungal, viral, and parasitic diseases.

The biggest danger for the chelonian is improper care (as described above).  The second is predators (the household dog, cat or child) or escaping and becoming lost or injured.

Caring for chelonians or any reptile for that matter is a serious undertaking. The care should never be left up to a child and should not be tackled without proper research on the species of interest. It requires an investment of time and money to do the job properly. It can, however, be very rewarding, as you get the opportunity to bond with your new pet and learn interesting things about its anatomy, care, and behaviors. Please do your homework before you buy. There is a saying in reptile medicine that most owners slowly kill their pet reptiles. Although there is great truth to this, it does not have to be the case. With proper husbandry and regular veterinary visits (like you would do with any pet) your pet tortoise or turtle can live a long and contented life.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Hedgehog – Good or Bad Pet?

QUESTION:

I’m thinking about getting a small pet for my kids (kids are 6 and 9 years old).  Would a hedgehog be a good or bad idea?  How long do they live?  Are they low maintenance?

ANSWER:

I cannot recommend a pet African Pigmy Hedgehog in the state of California because they are illegal to own here.  My answer would be different if you were considering ownership in a state where they are legal.  I do, however, see this species in my clinic for medical treatment, and consider them to be nice pets if and only if they are well-socialized.  An unsocialized hedgehog is like having a softball sized jumping ball with sharp quills – definitely not fun to hold or to play with!

Hedgehogs are curious, busy little creatures that can be tamed down with consistent, frequent, and gentle handling.  I once adopted a very unsocialized hedgehog from a frustrated owner, and it took several months of daily handling (with gloves) to finally tame her down.  In the end, she became a very friendly pet and I was able to handle her with bare hands because she kept her spines laid down flat.  By nature, hedgehogs are a very defensive animal, and their automatic response to new or stressful stimuli is to ball up, hiss, and jump with their spines standing erect.  That is why it is so important to handle them frequently so that your hedgehog does not consider you to be new or stressful!

In its most basic form the care includes providing clean and fresh absorbent bedding (such as compressed paper pellets), a diet that is predominantly fresh kibbles (high quality kitten or hedgehog specific), fresh water (sipper bottle), good air ventilation, hiding spots, warmth, and opportunities for activity and exercise.  Many hedgehogs can be taught to exercise on a large “hamster” style wheel.   Keep in mind that this species is nocturnal, so you don’t want to keep it in the bedroom of a light sleeper.

I consider the maintenance to be relatively low, but everyone’s tolerance for pet maintenance is different.  Bedding should be spot cleaned daily and changed out twice a week, water and food bowls should be cleaned and refreshed daily, and at least 10 minutes per day of handling is essential.  An annual visit to an exotics vet is strongly recommended to screen for parasites (common) and other health issues, as well as to ensure that the proper home care is in place.  Appropriate care should ensure your hedgehog reaches the full life expectancy of 4-6 years.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.