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Springtime At The Veterinary Clinic

Springtime brings breeding and parasite concerns to some exotic small animal pets.

By Jerry Murray, DVM
Posted: April 21, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT

Click image to enlarge
baby squirrel
Orphaned baby squirrels are being brought to the veterinary clinic to be nursed back to health.
ferret with skin worms
Photos Courtesy of Jerry Murray, DVM
This ferret suffered an infestation of a rare type of skin worm.

Earlier in the month the Easter Bunny came to the veterinary clinic, and now I am hoping a Playboy Bunny will come to the clinic soon. Meanwhile, spring has definitely arrived.

Spring is a beautiful time of the year in Texas. The grass turns green, the leaves return to the trees, and the famous bluebonnets (thanks, Ladybird Johnson) and the rest of the wildflowers bloom. There is plenty of sunshine, and the temperature is not too hot yet.

At the veterinary clinic, spring means love is in the air for those animals that breed in the spring. This includes ferrets, rabbits, chinchillas, sugar gliders, big cats, and wildlife such as squirrels, raccoons, prairie dogs and opossums. Orphan baby squirrels are being brought to the vet clinic again, because our head receptionist is very good at raising these little babies. Most of them can be brought back to good health and released back into the wild at a local city park.

Springtime also starts the bug season. Several exotic small mammals are prone to parasites. Rabbits and ferrets are prone to ear mites. Hedgehogs and pot-bellied pigs are prone to sarcoptic mites (skin mites). I had two recent exotics cases involving parasites.

The first case was a yellow-spotted rock hyrax. Rock hyraxes are often called “rock rabbits” in Africa. Rock hyraxes resemble a rabbit (or a large rodent), but they are small, hoofed, subungulates that are closely related to elephants. A routine fecal exam found a weird “Medusa” looking larva from a worm.

This is one of the challenges of being an exotic vet — I have to find out what odd worms are and, more importantly, how to treat them. Fortunately, I was able to find out about this worm (Grassenema procavia) in a zoo and wildlife textbook. Untreated, this worm can cause ulceration of the stomach. With the help of a few zoo vet friends (thanks Drs. Coke, Raines, Storm and Flanagan) and a parasitologist from Auburn (thanks Dr. Blagburn), I was able to treat this “little elephant.”

The second case was a pet ferret. This guy has an interesting history of surviving an almost always fatal disease and later having worms in his skin. It took several different experts (thanks Drs. Blagburn and Williams) looking at this worm through a microscope to identify the exact type of worm (Filaria taxidea). This type of worm is common in badgers and skunks, but I do not think it has ever been reported in a pet ferret before. He arrived at the clinic earlier this month so his owners could find out what type of bug was now in his bedding. I wondered if it would be another rare parasite; fortunately, it was just flea larvae this time. Finally this ferret had a simple problem to fix.

Spring is also the beginning of the “adrenal season” for pet ferrets. My next column will cover ferret adrenal disease and the new vaccine to hopefully prevent it. Check back in two weeks!

See all of Dr. Murray's columns>>

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