Expert care tips for petite and exotic pets
Though it’s popular for pet owners to care for a dog or cat, we’d be remiss to ignore Atlanta’s small mammal and exotic pet owners. Thankfully, founders of Dunwoody-based All Creatures Animal Hospital Drs. Karolyn and Michael Akins share the same sentiment. The Atlanta-area’s cats and dogs are welcome at the locally owned clinic, as are guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, birds, reptiles, hedgehogs, ferrets and beyond. Michael Akins says, “They are all fun to help, but the exotic species push your learning and problem-solving skills every day.” Here, Akins shares his top tips.
Education before a commitment is key.
Don’t let ‘cute factor’ override the reality that your exotic or small pet does require different—and sometimes even more—care than your typical cat or dog. “Everyone wants something ‘different’ and yet often do little research on how to care for the animals prior to purchase,” says Akins. “It is also challenging [as a veterinarian] to find information on specific diagnostics or therapeutics for some species. More education on your own and finding a veterinarian with years of experience can certainly help with positive outcomes.”
Choose a small pet that best fits your lifestyle.
Just like how dogs typically require a bit more upkeep than cats, the same goes for small and exotic pets, with some needing more TLC than others. “I have always been a fan of guinea pigs for smaller children (under age 6) since they are sturdy, typically gentle and entertaining. Rabbits are excellent pets for older kids,” says Akins. “Both are great first, small mammals to both enjoy and help teach lessons in responsibility.”
On the flip side, he notes that some breeds of rabbits, especially those with longer hair, can be more high maintenance overall, as can sugar gliders and hedgehogs, which are hard to feed well and handle. For example, rabbit owners will need to clean the cages one to two times per week because urine builds up low in the cage where the animals live.
Akins says birds and reptiles are also great pets but are more appropriate for older children (above age 8) since their daily diet, exercise routine and overall maintenance are more rigorous.
Pay attention to their diets.
Every animal, of course, has its own particular needs. Akins says that while ferrets, for example, are carnivores, several pelleted diets can offer them proper nutrition. For rabbits and guinea pigs, or any larger herbivores, he suggests a food pyramid diet such as 75% grass hay (not alfalfa hay, as it can often be too high in calcium and protein); 20% pelleted feeds, if they are not overweight; and 5% fresh vegetables. There are nuances for every creature.
Atkins says, “ I am a big fan of Oxbow hay and pelleted feeds for guinea pigs and rabbits. Mazuri is an excellent Purina derivative, which produces specific diets for specific species. I try to stay away from the all-in-one mixes with inappropriate seed content or strange carbohydrate pellet sources, such as dried fruits, seeds and processed or unknown pelleted ingredients, besides actual hay-based pellets, for guinea pigs or rabbits.”
Don’t skimp on exercise.
You may not be able to clip on a leash and take your guinea pig on a walk around the park, but Akins says it’s still important to prioritize “out of the cage” time each day and to provide the appropriate wheel or exercise ball time for smaller mammals such as hamsters, sugar gliders and hedgehogs.
ALL CREATURES ANIMAL HOSPITAL
STORY: Taylor Heard
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