The Home Clinic and First Aid for Small Rodents


The Home Clinic

Stocking a Rodent Pet Medicine Cabinet

Only the most minor first aid can be handled in the home, but it might be useful to have a few basic items on hand that could help prevent minor problems from becoming major. These are:

  • mild antiseptic, such as tamed iodine or a 3 percent solution of hydrogen
  • peroxide
  • flea powder or spray, certified to be safe on cats or hamsters

“Sick Cage”

If you are keeping more than one animal, it might be a wise precaution to have an “isolation ward” to which an animal showing possible signs of trouble might be moved until the problem either clears up or is diagnosed by your veterinarian. Animals showing symptoms of colds should always be removed from the group to another room.

Administering Medicine

To apply medication to the animal’s exterior or to examine it for injury, use the towel or hand methods described above in restraining the pet.

First Aid for Small Rodents

Minor scratches and bites received in fights should be treated with a mild antiseptic, such as hydrogen peroxide, to destroy bacteria and prevent infection.

General Purpose Examination

If your pet appears to be either injured or in poor health, the most important thing you can do for it as owner is to spot signs of trouble early. Treatment with patent medicines may be useless at best, and could actually worsen a condition. Any problem that persists for more than twenty-four hours should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian. But only your alert eye can spot the early warning signs. The following outline will serve as a guide in judging both animals you already have and those you may be considering buying.

1. Skin and hair

a. General condition: is it well groomed or scruffy in appearance?

b. Any signs of scratching, small scabs on the skin?

c. Any hair loss on face or body?

d. Any pustules, boils, abscesses, or lumps (firm masses) anywhere on the animal?

2. Front feet, hind feet, and tail

a. Sores on feet, toes, foot pads, or tail.

b. Loss of pink color of tail of mice.

c. Presence of ingrown toenails (especially guinea pigs).

3. Ears

a. Crusty accumulation in ear canals (sometimes guinea pigs).

b. Shaking head or scratching at ears.

4. Movement

a. Reluctance to move.

b. Weakness of all limbs.

c. Dragging hind limbs (hamsters).

d. Favors a particular side when lying down.

5. Central nervous system (brain and spinal cord)

a. Loss of coordination; walks as if drunk.

b. Walks in small circles.

c. Head tilted to one side.

d. Quick movement of eyes from side to side (constantly).

e. Convulsion (seizure or fit) can occur in gerbils when excited or over-handled; animals recover quickly, back to normal after seizure.

6. Respiratory system

a. Listen for sneezing sounds.

b. Look for red-tinged nasal discharge or reddish blood-tinged staining around nostrils in rats, mice, and hamsters.

c. Does breathing appear labored?

7. Gastrointestinal system

a. Check for signs of slobbering (saliva staining around mouth), seen in guinea pigs. This can be the result of malformed teeth (incisors or molars).

b. Examine anus and surrounding areas for signs of diarrhea or abnormal swelling or protrusion of rectum.

c. Check consistency of droppings. It is normal for guinea pigs to eat their own stools. Periodically have stool specimens checked by a veterinarian to detect the presence of internal parasites.

8. Urinary tract and genital tract.

a. Observe and measure amount of water consumed in twenty-four hours. Make sure the bottle is not dripping. Use water bottles as opposed to dishes of water.

b. Observe urine. Gerbils produce very little watery urine; their urine is quite concentrated.

c. Determine the correct sex of your animal.

d. Female hamsters may show a very obvious cream-colored vaginal discharge; this is usually normal.

9. Eyes

a. Look for any signs of crusty or purulent eye discharge (especially in guinea pigs). This can be evidence of infection even though it appears mild.

Normal Weights For Young And Mature Animals (Grams)








Guinea pig






(F) 75

(M) 85

(F) 120

(M) 108

(F) 30

(M) 30

(F) 300

(M) 500

(F) 850

(M) 1,000

If growth rates seem abnormal or there are obvious signs of illness you should ask yourself whether the cause lies in the care the animal is receiving or in a disease process. The former you are capable of handling; the latter is a problem for your veterinarian to help solve. The following checklist is designed to give you an organized approach in order to analyze the nature of your pet’s problem.

Problem Checklist

1. Species

2. Sex ________________

3. Age of animal ___

4. Weight of animal before problem and now _______

5. What type of diet is fed and by whom? ________

6. How is the water dispensed and by whom? _______

7. What is the room temperature: daytime?__ nighttime?

8. What is the cage temperature?

9. Where is the cage kept?

10. What is the humidity of the cage?

11. What type of cage is the animal kept in (wood, plaster, painted wood, or metal)?

12. How often is the cage cleaned? _____

13. What type of litter is used? ____

14. Are there other animals in the room or in the cage?

15. Among other animals in the house, what age group are you having problems with? ______

16. What do you think is the major problem?

17. What signs of illness is the animal showing?

18. How long has the problem been going on? ______

19. If the animal is a female, has she had a litter? Is she kept with a male? _______

20. Have you given any medication to the animal?

21. Have any new animals been brought into the household? When? ___________

22. Do you or any other member of your household come in contact with other small mammals outside your home (in school, at friends’, or at work)?

23. Have there been any major changes in the household (painting, exterminating, or moving animals from one room to another)?

Next: External Parasites and Internal Parasites and Disease

Prev.: Preventive Medicine

top of page  •  Use & Care of Barnyard Animals  •  Home