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How to Keep Your Exotic Pet Safe When a Hurricane Hits

View of a hurricane from space
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Hurricanes are phenomena no one can be completely prepared for, as demonstrated by the devastation to people and property caused by some of the powerful storms that have hit the United States in the past few years. There are so many things to think about when getting ready for a major storm that it can be overwhelming. It’s difficult enough for families to secure food and shelter for themselves in the wake of a hurricane, much less to focus on keeping their pets safe. Several agencies and websites offer advice to cat and dog owners about pet safety during a storm; however, given the wide variety of exotic pet species and their hugely varying nutritional and environmental requirements, very little has been written to guide owners of such pets on preparing their animals for severe weather and keeping them safe during storms.

Before the Storm

Though exotic pet species — birds, rabbits, rodents, reptiles, ferrets, amphibians, pot-bellied pigs, marsupials and others — each have very specific requirements to keep them healthy, many of the guidelines for keeping cats and dogs safe during inclement weather apply to exotic pets as well. Several great resources exist for pet owners, regardless of pet type, to referernce in advance of bad weather, to be as ready as possible when it comes.

Very little advice exists specific to exotic pet safety during storms, says Dr. Cynda Crawford, a veterinarian in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine. Crawford also serves as medical director for the University of Florida’s Veterinary Emergency Treatment Services, a resource for the state’s animal and agricultural emergency response system. But she says all pet owners should “have a seven-day supply of food, the habitat and detailed step-by-step instructions for care on hand for emergencies, whether sheltering in place or going to a temporary shelter to get out of harm’s way.”

This places an extra burden on snake owners to find secure housing if evacuation is necessaryMost importantly, Dr. Crawford says, exotic pet owners should discuss emergency preparation procedures with their veterinarians before emergencies arise.
Lizard in a cage

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Outfitted for Emergencies

One step all exotic pet owners can take ahead of time is to create a pet emergency supply kit that can be stored with your family emergency supply kit in a waterproof container. (Online resources are available to further help you compile an emergency kit.) Your kit should include:

  1. A safe, escape-proof pet carrier in which to transport your pet and house him temporarily. Carriers should be large enough to house the animal comfortably for several days and be coverable with a thin sheet or towel to provide security and shade. They should be labeled with your contact information and other emergency numbers, including your veterinarian’s.
  2. Pet food (at least a seven-day supply) stored in airtight, waterproof and spoil-proof containers. Dry food (such as pellets for birds, reptiles and small mammals) are preferable to fresh produce or live prey.
  3. Water (at least enough for seven days).
  4. A box of resealable plastic bags for storing opened food.
  5. Bowls and sipper bottles for food and water.
  6. Essential cage accessories, such as lights, heaters and misters for reptiles, dust baths for chinchillas and perches for birds.
  7. Important medical records, including proof of vaccination for ferrets.
  8. Any medications your pet is on (at least a two-week supply, plus a prescription for more).
  9. Microchip, tattoo or leg band information if applicable.
  10. A recent photo of the pet in case he must be identified later.
  11. Bedding.
  12. Toys/blankets/comfort items, including hide boxes for reptiles and small mammals to minimize stress.
  13. Grooming items such as brushes and nail trimmers, plus cuttlebones for birds.
  14. Treats that won’t spoil.
  15.  A list of pet-friendly hotels, shelters and boarding facilities that will accept an exotic pet. (See www.takeyourpet.com, www.petswelcome.com, www.letsgopets.com and www.travelpets.com.)
  16. A local map and an evacuation plan that you can practice with your pet in advance, especially if he is stressed by riding in a car.
  17. A flashlight, batteries and a radio.
  18. An emergency fund to cover last-minute housing in a veterinary hospital or shelter.
  19. An emergency medical kit containing gauze pads, scissors, styptic powder or sticks to clot bleeding nails and beaks, bandage material cut into small sizes, bandaging tape, towels, antibiotic ointment, alcohol wipes, latex gloves, a freezer pack, antiseptic solution (recommended by your vet), tweezers and a washcloth.

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Why Guinea Pigs Are The Best Pets!

Thinking of getting a pet but don’t want the responsibility of a cat or a dog? How about a guinea pig? March is Adopt a Rescued Guinea Pig month, so what better time to get a new pet and also help save a life?

Guinea pigs, or “cavies,” are short-tailed, rough-haired South American rodents (family Caviidae). Guinea pigs have always been one of the exotic pets I recommend most, especially for families considering a pet for the first time. Why are guinea pigs one of my favorites? Here are 10 reasons guinea pigs make great pets:

1. Guinea pigs are hardy. When cared for and fed properly, guinea pigs are generally very healthy animals. Like other pets, they can be prone to particular diseases — for example, dental disease and bladder stones in their case — but these conditions may be prevented to some degree with proper nutrition and regular medical checkups. Also, since guinea pigs are from cool climates, they don’t do well in hot, humid conditions. Keeping them inside lessens the likelihood that they’ll overheat and/or dehydrate.

2. Guinea pigs are easy to care for. They require hay, fresh water, fresh vegetables and a small amount of pelleted food formulated for guinea pigs, plus a vitamin C supplement each day. They also need a fairly large cage lined with paper-based bedding. The cage needs to be spot-cleaned daily and completely cleaned weekly. Add some daily attention and they are good to go. Just remember, unless you want to end up with several little additional guinea pigs, you’ll need to separate males from females even before they are a month old!

 

 

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Hedgehogs as Pets: What You Need to Know

A recent story on Good Morning America looked at the rise in popularity of hedgehogs as pets; the story included a video of a cat playing with — and sitting on — an African Pygmy hedgehog. While I can verify the hedgehog-as-pet trend in my own practice, I have to wonder: Is this a good thing?

The truth is, hedgehogs aren’t for everyone; they are nocturnal and like to play, run in wheels and just generally make a lot of noise at night, which may not make them the best choice for people who go to bed early or are light sleepers. When they are nervous, these cute creatures may ball up and extend their quills, especially if they are being handled by unfamiliar people or are being stressed like the hedgehog in the ABC News video above.

However, in secure situations in the hands of people they know, hedgehogs can be very interactive and curious.

Over the past 20 years,  I have cared for many hedgehogs whose owners have worked hard to socialize them. These hedgehogs have been wonderful, friendly pets, closely bonded to their people.

Wild vs. Domesticated

For many exotic species kept as pets, there is a distinction between exotic animals found in the wild and domesticated exotic pets. Lions and tigers are examples of exotic wild animals that are not safe or suitable as pets. On the other hand, hedgehogs (and guinea pigs, rabbits, chinchillas, many parrots, etc.) may be found in the wild but are also now domesticated enough to be appropriate as pets in the right circumstances.