Monthly Archives: January 2013

February is Pet Dental Health Month

February is a good month to have your pet’s teeth checked. While the entire mouth can be checked easily in a ferret with the ferret awake, a full oral examination in a rabbit or rodent will need to have the animal sedated. We recommend a dental check up and teeth cleaning this month for all ferrets (particularly those over the age of 3 years. We recommend a full dental examination for rabbits with the short faces, lop breeds, and dwarf breeds this month – a sedative is given to facilitate the examination (so we can see the cheek teeth—molars). This is similar idea to human dentistry that they call “sedation dentistry (although the drug used is different). In some cases dental xrays may need to be taken to look at the root structure and viability of the teeth themselves.

 Hedgehogs also can develop dental disease and do require sedation for examination of the entire mouth. We recommend this be done annually for all over the age of 3 years on at least an annual basis.

 Oral health is vital to overall health, so let’s start with the dental exam. Please call for your appointment today.

Reptile Lighting During Seattle Winters

Lighting for reptiles requires some investigation. Bulbs marketed as “full spectrum” are white light approximating the part of the light we humans see. These usually do not contain any Uv (A or B) at all. Bulbs that have the critical UvB are clearly labeled as such, and usually have a measurement telling how far above the reptile the light needs to be for therapeutic lighting (conversion of vitamin D so there can be calcium absorption). We can test your bulbs for the presence of UvB and let you know what the therapeutic range is. Bulbs come as fluorescent tubes, compact fluorescent tubes or spotlight (example MegaRay mercury vapor – The fluorescent tubes do not put out a lot of heat whereas the mercury vapor type bulbs do and have to be factored into the environmental temperature of the reptile housing. Please have your bulbs checked (no charge), just call to make sure our technician is free at the time you come in.


Fleas are an indoor pet problem this time of year. That is in large part because pets can bring them into the house, or the fleas invade trying to get out of the cold. Unless we have extended periods of freezing, populations can still be in the environment. Infestations on ferrets, rabbits, and other small mammals are usually traced to the dog(s) or cat (s) in the household for bringing them inside.

The key to successful flea control is to treat all mammals in the house, establish a schedule of mechanical elimination (such as vacuuming, changing bedding), and chemical topicals on the pets. There are a number of topical preparation for use – dosage for ferrets, rabbits and others can be prescribed. We use feline Advantage-Multi here at the clinic, and that is what I use on my cat at home. I avoid Frontline-Top Spot simply because it has caused some problems used on rabbits. Revolution is another common treatment and has been used on rabbits and ferrets successfully. Please consult your veterinarian to help design a flea control program for your home.

Rat Bite Fever

Adapted from Weese, JC NAVC Clinician’s Brief, July 2012 pg 13-17

Pet rats (North America, Europe) may carry an organism called Streptobacillus moniliformis. The rat shows no symptoms of having this bacteria. However, in rare occasions, a bite from such can cause disease in humans.

Rat bite fever is a rare but serious infection predominantly associated with pet rats. In Asia a different bacteria has been associated with disease in humans (Spirillum minus). S.moniliformis is a common oral commensal bacteria that can be found in most if not all pet rats. Transmission is mainlly through biting, although contact of rat saliva with skin lesions and other close contact (kissing, sharing food) are also a concern. Some cases have been reported in the absence of any known high-risk contact. Rat bite fever in humans has been associated with other species including various rodents and dog.

Children under 12 years of age are most often affected, likely because of close rat contact, and the greater likelihood of being bitten. Typically, the first symptoms occur 2-3 days after exposure although greater than 3 weeks has been reported. Signs include an abrupt onset of a high fever with headache, chills, vomiting, severe arthralgia and myalgia. Fever may be relapsing and a rash typically develops, but there is usually no obvious abnormality at the site of the bite. Polyarthritis is common and may be relapsin. The most serious consequence is endocarditis, which is uncommon but potentially life-threatening. Other complications include meningitis, myocarditis, pericarditis, pneumonia, and distant abscessation. Sever vomiting and pharyngitis (Haverhill fever) are most common after oral exposure.

Response to appropriate treatment (typically with a peniciliin) is usually good unless endocarditis is found, then the prognosis may be poorer. Overall mortality rate is 7-10% if untreated.

Because the organism is found in almost all healthy rats, preventive screening is not warranted. It is a difficult organism to culture as well. Treatment of every rat is also not recommended as the organism is ubiquitous.

A key consideration is whether the problem is the rat, management, a high-risk household, or the inherent and unavoidable potential for zoonotic disease exposure by pet owners.

Take Home Messages

Although the incidence of zoonotic infection is low in humans, zoonotic disease is an ever-present risk for pet owners.

All rats should be assumed to be colonized with S.moniliformis. Rat owners should be aware of the risk, and use good practices to reduce likelihood of bites, properly clean any bite wounds, and avoid contact of rat saliva with broken skin or mucous membranes.

Physicians need to be aware of pet exposure to facilitate accurate and prompt diagnosis of zoonoses.

Rat bite fever should be considered in any person who develops a fever shortly after a rat bite or close contact with rat saliva.

Although rare, rat bite fever can be severe, so the risk for infection to rat owners should not be ignored.

Measures to Reduce the Risk for Rat Bite Fever

Good handling to reduce the risk for bites

Proper traning of children on how to handle rats

Closely supervising children while they handle rats

Restricting handling by children who cannot (or will not) properly handle rats

Regularly inspecting cages and fixing any sharp edges that might lead ot injuries that could inoculate S.moniliformis

If skin lesions are present, avoid contact with rats or wearing gloves when handling rats; at a minimum, good attention should be paid to hand hygiene

Avoid kissing or sharing food with rats.


Rat Eradication to Help Save Galapago Tortoises

A team from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center went to the Galapagos Island of Pinzon to exterminate black rats that have been decimating the tortoises. The giant tortoises (Pinzon Tortoise) are classified as “extinct in the wild” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of the introduction of these invasive rats, likely seomtime in the 17th century by pirates or whalers. The rats prey on eggs and hatchlings of birds and reptile species. Because the team wanted to poison the rats, they first had to capture all of the Galapagos hawks which feed on the rats. The hawks were held for six weeks until the risk of exposure to the rat proison was reduced. For more than 45 years the Galapagos Naitonal Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation have raised Pinzon Tortoises in captivity and returned them to the wild at about 4 years old, when they are considered rat-proof.

New Year’s Resolutions for your pet

Welcome to 2013. How about a New Year’s Resolution for your pet’s health? Prevention of problems by screening and early detection is better than trying to treat an illness later on. In our exotic pets, by the time they show they are ill, many are in the critical stage of the illness. Wellness exams including bloodwork, for some cultures, for some xrays and/or ultrasound to look at internal organs are crucial to your pet’s health. Dental disease is a prominant health condition in many ferrets as they get older. Rabbits and rodents have dental problems too – their teeth grow all the time so if they are not being worn properly during chewing of high fiber food (hay) they many develop problems in the molars – which are not visualized easily!

Ideally I would like your pet to have an annual wellness exam. For ferrets over the age of 3 we should check them at least twice yearly.

Please make 2013 a healthy one for your pet.