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Small Animal Grooming Guidelines

How to keep your small animal well-groomed.

By Angela Pham
Posted: February 24, 2009, 4:15 p.m. EST

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They might be pocket-sized, but small animals' needs aren't necessarily compact. From their nails to their teeth to their tails, small animal species all need regular grooming. Every species has its grooming requirements, and small animal owners must take heed of their own animals' unique needs. Here, small animal owners and breeders share their do's and don'ts for keeping their pets healthy and well-groomed for life.

Even small critters need regular grooming, too
© Isabelle Francais / Bowtie Inc.
Grooming guidelines for all the small animals featured on the site.

Ferret Grooming
When it comes to bathing a ferret, less is more, said Donna Spirito, director of The Educated Ferret Association in Hadley, Massachusetts. Twice a year bathing with a ferret-safe shampoo is sufficient to keep a ferret clean and odor-free; if a ferret is bathed more frequently, its skin glands are likely to produce more oil and, consequently, more musk, Spirito said. During shedding cycles, ferrets also require a daily brushing to assist with the removal of hair.

Spirito recommends trimming ferrets' front nails once a week and back nails every two weeks with a small nail trimmer. To keep the ferrets still and under control, Spirito said she puts a tube of a ferret treat, like Ferretvite, between her knees to distract the ferret while she works on its nails. She holds the nails to the light so she can ensure she's not clipping the quick (the blood vessel inside the nail).

"While they lick [the treat], I clip," she said.

Ferrets also require a teeth brushing once a day with a small brush to prevent gum disease, and a weekly ear cleaning with cotton swabs and warm water around the outer ear. While all this grooming is being done, Spirito said she feels through the fur of the ferret to check for any unusual lumps or bumps.

Chinchilla Grooming
These critters are fairly low-maintenance compared to other small animals, but regular care is still required. At Adam's Valley View Chinchilla Ranch in Vista, California, manager Michael Wallace said chinchillas' bathing needs comprise simply giving them a daily dust bath. Fill a small pan or bath with chinchilla dust, which is typically volcanic ash or ground pumice, and the chinchillas take it from there. The chinchillas jump around in the dust — in the process — keeping their fur clean.

"The dust penetrates the fur and picks up oil and dirt, and they shake it out," Wallace said.

Because their fur is so thick, parasites aren't a concern, Wallace said.

"If a flea jumped in there, [it'd] be stuck," Wallace said.

With their natural daily activities, chinchillas keep their nails trimmed themselves, and their teeth tend to stay self-maintained as well. Check to see that there are no abnormal tooth problems. If anything looks abnormal, consult a veterinarian.

Gerbil Grooming
Dust baths are equally loved by gerbils, and should be given if the fur looks greasy. This might be about once a week, said Libby Hanna at the gerbil rescue Shawsheen River Gerbils in Bedford, Massachusetts. Use chinchilla dust for gerbils, and if they eat a bit of the sand, it's fine, Hanna said.

Though nails usually stay trimmed with activities like running on a wheel or digging into a terracotta surface, gerbils may sometimes need their nails trimmed to prevent hindered walking. Hanna said it's a good idea for an owner to wear leather gloves if he or she chooses to trim their gerbil's nails.

For tooth care, Hanna said it's essential owners watch gerbils' teeth carefully, especially as a gerbil ages.

"After 2 years of age, there's less chewing, and they're more sedentary," she said. "A typical problem is that the bottom teeth get too long and they can't close their mouth properly." Gerbil owners should head to the veterinarian if this occurs. Weight loss can sometimes be an indication that a tooth problem exists.

Guinea Pig Grooming
Bathing a guinea pig is almost never necessary, said Carla Holusha, president of the North Jersey Guinea Pig and Hamster Rescue of Budd Lake, New Jersey. To avoid drying out skin and causing skin problems, avoid baths altogether. Fur on shorthaired guinea pigs doesn't typically need upkeep. But longhaired guinea pigs often require haircuts during the summer months, and brushing is a necessity to prevent tangles and mats.

Every four weeks, a guinea pig’s nails should be trimmed, Holusha said. Check the nails once a week to ensure that the nail isn't harming the foot in any way, which could cause infections. Monitor teeth as well.

"If teeth aren't growing properly, they can interfere with chewing and develop ulcers in the mouth," Holusha said. Veterinarians can file the teeth down if such a problem occurs.

Ear mites can occur in the ear canal, so she recommends owners and vets watch out for signs of these pests.

Hamster Grooming
Hamster care doesn't differ much from that of guinea pigs. Holusha said. She hasn't heard of anyone needing to bathe a hamster, nor do they usually require any other coat care, as they groom themselves frequently. Their teeth are generally self-maintained with regular chewing habits.

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Small Animal Grooming Guidelines

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Reader Comments
great info's
Roger, Bakersfield, CA
Posted: 3/1/2009 6:50:21 AM
This is a neat article. Who knew you could groom a gerbil?
Sally, las vegas, NV
Posted: 2/28/2009 5:53:16 AM
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