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Small Mammals + Parasites

  • Coccidial organisms, including Eimeria, are parasites that can infect rabbits, especially young and recently weaned rabbits. These host-specific organisms live in rabbit intestines and can infect the liver. Healthy, mature rabbits housed in good environments may only be transiently affected, while young, immunocompromised rabbits kept in poor environmental conditions may succumb to infection and die. Many rabbits that have this disease do not show any or signs, but if they do, they may have infrequent or intermittent watery, mucousy, or possibly blood-tinged diarrhea. Diagnosis involves examining a fecal smear under a microscope or performing a fecal float test. If your rabbit's diarrhea progresses to moderate to severe in intensity, your veterinarian will hospitalize your rabbit to provide supportive care until it is well enough to go home.

  • Common conditions of pet rabbits include upper respiratory tract infections, internal and external parasites, dental disease, GI stasis, uterine problems, and pododermatitis. Upper respiratory infections are often caused by bacteria including Pasteurella multocida. Rabbits can become infected with various intestinal parasites, as well as external parasites such as ear and fur mites, fleas, and occasionally ticks. Rabbits’ teeth are continuously growing but chewing food, as well as chewing on wooden blocks, branches, and toys, helps them wear their teeth down at a rate equal to their growth. Occasionally, tooth or jaw trauma or disease causes misalignment of the upper and lower jaws and overgrowth of teeth results. Regular yearly check-ups enables early diagnosis and treatment of some rabbit diseases. Whenever a rabbit stops eating, for whatever reason, it is important to take her to see your veterinarian immediately for an evaluation.

  • Encephalitozoonsis is an infection that can affect the kidneys, eyes and nervous system of rabbits. It's caused by an organism called Encephalitozoon cuniculi or E. cuniculi, a small microsporidian parasite that's intracellular (it has to live within another cell).

  • Ferrets commonly get infestations of an ear mite called Otodectes cynotis. Many ferrets show no symptoms of infestation. Subsequent problems of the ears are rare. Ear mites are acquired from other affected animals at the breeders, in pet stores or animal shelters.

  • Flea infestation is a common problem in pet ferrets, especially in ferrets that go outdoors or live in a house with dogs, cats, or other animals who have fleas. Affected ferrets may or may not be itchy depending on the sensitivity of the individual animal to flea bites. Early in the infestation, there may be no signs that your ferret even has fleas. Young ferrets with heavy infestations may even become anemic as the fleas feed over time. Some topical medications used to treat fleas in dogs and cats appear to be safe in ferrets but should only be used under the guidance of a veterinarian familiar with ferrets.

  • Hedgehogs can acquire external parasites. Flea infestation is not a common problem in pet hedgehogs. Fleas are a small insect parasite that may take up residence on your hedgehog, especially if exposed to fleas outdoors or in a house with dogs, cats or other animals who themselves have fleas.

  • Rabbits can become infested with fleas, especially if they go outside or live in a house with other pets that have fleas. Rabbits with fleas may show no signs or may bite, lick, or scratch themselves. Young rabbits with heavy infestations may become anemic. There are no rabbit-specific drugs for managing fleas. Certain topical cat medications appear to be safe but should only be used under the guidance of a veterinarian familiar with rabbits. It is very important to treat the environment, as well as the pet.

  • Guinea pigs are generally hardy, healthy animals but are susceptible to certain diseases. They cannot make their own vitamin C and require supplementation or they may develop scurvy. Guinea pigs get various tumors, particularly skin and mammary tumors. Guinea pigs also get abscesses (accumulations of pus and bacteria) in lymph nodes, skin, muscles, teeth, bones, and internal organs. They are very prone to development of urinary calculi that form in the bladder, kidneys, or ureters which may become lodged, causing a life-threatening obstruction. In addition, guinea pigs often are affected by ringworm and can get fleas and lice. Barbering is a problem, usually associated with boredom, in which the guinea pig chews or barbers its own hair or the hair of its cage-mate. Pododermatitis, or bumblefoot, in which sores develop on the bottom of the feet from pressure, is common in overweight animals housed on wire-bottomed or dirty cages that abrade the feet.

  • The two common guinea pig fur mites are Trixacarus caviae (sarcoptic mange mite) and Chirodiscoides caviae. Chirodiscoides caviae mites may cause mild to no clinical signs at all. Trixacarus caviae mites can cause extreme clinical signs because they cause extreme itchiness. Affected skin will get thick, yellowish, and crusty, with hair loss and secondary bacterial skin infection. These mites cause such itchiness that your guinea pig may even go into seizures and die. Your veterinarian will treat the affected animal with topical or injectable anti-parasitic medications, and since mites live in the environment, the environment must be treated, as well. Trixacarus caviae mites are contagious to people.

  • The common rabbit pinworm, Passalurus ambiguous, is an intestinal parasite. It does not cause a serious health threat to rabbits, but it can cause uncomfortable itching and skin inflammation or redness around the anus. Rabbits become infected with pinworms by eating feces that contain pinworm eggs. Pinworms are challenging to treat because rabbits are coprophagic, so they frequently reinfect themselves during treatment. Treatment includes administration of anti-parasitic drugs, as well as diligent cleaning and elimination of all feces in and around your rabbit's cage and in other areas where she plays, sleeps, and roams.


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