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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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Hedgehog Grooming
Hedgehogs don’t have fur but they might require occasional baths. To bathe a hedgehog, Selena Buck, a breeder at Hurricane Hedgehogs in Winter Haven, Florida recommends a water bath with baby shampoo. Dry the hedgehog off with a warm towel fresh from a dryer. It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to fully dry a hedgehog, she said.

Once every two to three weeks, hedgehogs' nails should be trimmed with a small nail clipper. Buck said giving the hedgehog a foot bath first makes it easier to prevent it from rolling up and hiding its feet. Teeth, however, should stay trimmed on their own, as hedgehogs' diet of hard food and mealworms keep teeth filed down. Ears are typically low-maintenance as well, though Buck said a hedgehog owner should keep an eye on them.

"If you see their ears are getting tattered, you might [put] some lotion on them," she said.

Rat and Mouse Grooming
These rodents are both fond of self-grooming, said Dale Taylor, vice president of the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association. Both species tend to groom themselves and each other fastidiously, Taylor said, much like cats do — from head to toe multiple times a day. This includes their ears, which owners should not try to clean themselves.

Though coat care is not required for either rats or mice, Taylor said that a tail can be cleaned and softened with an emollient lanolin or cold cream.

"If a person is careful, they can lightly use an old toothbrush, working downward through the tail, then wiping the lotion off with a terry towel," Taylor said.

A finishing touch to the coat can be accomplished by rubbing the coat down with a silk scarf to make hairs lie flat, she added.

Nails should be clipped about once a week, and owners should take care to only remove just the tip. Alternatively, an emery board can be used to file down the nails, and Taylor said red bricks like those used to build fireplaces can also be placed at the entrance of a rat's cage so that as the rat walks out, nails brush against the rough surface and get filed down.

Because of constant chewing, rats and mice wear down their own teeth, unless dental problems arise. Veterinarians will trim down teeth if such a situation occurs.

Rabbit Grooming
Because rabbits get cold easily, bathing in water is generally discouraged, said Mary Hammond, breeder at Weed Flemish Giant Rabbitry in Weed, California. If bathing is absolutely necessary, Hammond recommends a dry shampoo. Coats do need brushing on a regular basis, especially rabbits with uniquely textured fur, like angora rabbits.

Once a month, Hammond said to do a nail trimming on the rabbit, cutting the nails as bluntly as possible without harming the quick. She suggests rabbit owners buy a special canvas bag with holes in it, designed to hold a rabbit's feet still during trimming.

Teeth should be watched in rabbits, but not trimmed, as chewing on wood, carrots and hay frequently should keep the length down, Hammond said. If teeth trimming becomes necessary, it's a sign of a malocclusion, and should be taken care of by a veterinarian.

In rabbits' ears, check for mites and any earwax buildup. Use ear mite droplets, putting six to seven in each ear if mites are spotted, and clean out wax with alcohol pads, Hammond said.

Sugar Glider Grooming
Like most other small animals, sugar gliders are avid self-groomers, keeping themselves clean every day with multiple baths. Val Betts, public relations representative for The Glider Initiative, said that the only time a sugar glider would need a bath would be if it were too ill to bathe itself. Their coats stay clean and groomed because of the sugar glider's use of its nails to comb and pick through its own fur, Betts said.

Owners must trim the sugar gliders' nails themselves. Every other week, Betts does a trim on her gliders, which helps prevent their nails snagging any fabric in their cage. She uses cuticle clippers and clips the very tip of the nail off, following the curve of the nail.

Feeding a sugar glider mealworms, crickets and eucalyptus bark helps clean between sugar gliders' teeth. This provides sugar gliders with a treat and a dental cleansing in just a few bites.

"It's necessary that they have some bugs in their diet for cleaning their teeth and are allowed more natural activities, like stripping bark off branches, or a pecan they can crack open," Betts said.

Ear infections in a sugar glider occur, but owners needn't clean the ears out themselves – a sugar glider's agile hands take care of it.

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Reader Comments
where can you get the nail quick stuff?
jll, wpg, MB
Posted: 1/20/2010 1:16:46 PM
thank you! i was wondering about alcohol pads/rubbing alcohol if it was safe or not.
jill, wpg, MB
Posted: 1/19/2010 7:39:48 AM
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