Hygiene in rodents

Rodents groom themselves several times a day, about 6 to 8 times. They are, contrary to prejudices, very clean animals and it is in most cases (9 times out of 10) useless to wash them because they know very well how to take care of themselves, and when it is necessary to do so. If, however, a lack of hygiene should be noticed, it would then be a sign of illness or a sign of old age or… a lack of attention from the master.
This is why, when buying rodents in pet stores for example, it is very useful to learn about their behaviour and to know what their needs and expectations are.
It is important to know that rodents sharpen their teeth naturally on branches when they are in the wild and that they file their small claws by digging burrows and other holes. When these animals are in captivity, this is not always possible for them unless they are left with something to dig with and something to nibble on. It is important, when choosing to have rodents, to also think about these steps in the layout of your cage to ensure their daily well-being and hygiene.
Moreover, rodents are very sensitive to stress and to any change in their environment: this is why it is essential to give importance to their habitat and to choose an ideal place for them, i.e. if possible at a height, at a distance from a window or a heat source so as not to inconvenience them.

Their gestures of hygiene

  • The guinea pig is a fragile animal despite appearances. It is necessary to think of always taking 2 guinea pigs to avoid him any boredom. In terms of health and nutrition, he needs vitamin C and hay for his daily snack.
  • For the hamster, it is always a double-edged sword because this animal can be as calm as it can become aggressive. It also needs a small, practical cage to give it its own space.
  • The mouse likes to live in the same place as its master: even if it is dynamic, it remains fragile and may bite if it feels frightened. Its cage doesn’t take up much space, but it should be cleaned very often, especially because of odours.
  • The rat is an intelligent animal that requires a singular attention and does not like to feel neglected at all, it likes to be cuddled.
  • The chinchilla is a docile and clean animal, fragile however because they can lose tufts of hair as soon as they feel a strong emotion. It is necessary to think of finding a habitat adapted to its size and its jumps (up to 1m in height sometimes).
  • The gerbil is a very clean animal that produces little urine and feces, the chore of cleaning its cage is not really a chore anymore.

We have just seen that most rodents can be clean, but they still need to benefit from an adequate environment and that we respect their nature and their living conditions.

As we have just seen, rodents groom themselves but depending on the species of rodent, it may be necessary to help them a little. The rodent, whatever happens, and many times a day, washes itself, scratches itself, licks itself, cleans its coat, washes its tail, etc..

The master intervenes to arrange his hair, even though the beauty of the hair depends greatly on the quality of the food and the cleanliness of the animal’s skin. With a simple brush, one gets his rodent used to being cleaned, taking care not to hurt or irritate him.

The same goes for the nails, where one must be careful not to cut or create an injury. In case of doubt, the veterinarian is the professional to contact.

Some professionals advise however to give a bath to the rodent but this must remain exceptional as when it comes back from a “muddy” outing for example or when it is exposed to a public (exhibition, trade fair).
As for the growth of teeth that never stops, it is advisable to give your rodent something to chew, nibble and gnaw on a daily basis. Similarly, if the teeth seem too long and that one apprehends to cut them, the veterinarian will be able to take care of it and even advise the master on how to do it.
After having observed these particular cases, all that remains is to observe the rodent regularly and inspect its ears, coat, hindquarters, muzzle and even its droppings from time to time.
Its behaviour is obviously to be watched because if the rodent is sick, if it sulks its food, if it loses its hair, it may be weakened and its health may deteriorate. Sporadic dubious hygiene can also be a source of contamination among the other animals in his cage or outside.

Hair and claw maintenance

Even if rodents wash themselves and do not require baths, the master may need to wash his rodent: to do so, he must be brushed regularly, from his youngest age, so that he gets used to it. A little hot water is then poured into the sink, making sure that the rodent has water up to the top of its legs. Do not pour water on its head or ears. Then, once washed, the rodent can be dried with a towel. It is important to put it back in its cage only when it is completely dry.

As for the claws that are constantly growing in rodents, they wear themselves out naturally because the rodent likes to scratch, dig, search. But when the claws become too long, it can be useful to cut them off with a small nail clipper or a claw chisel which are designed for this purpose and which are easily found in pet stores. This episode can be stressful for the rodent and it is important to comfort it before, during and after the delicate operation.

In case of doubts or hesitations, it is necessary to go to a veterinarian who will easily take care of it with professional know-how.

For the coat, finally, the rodent can easily lose whole tufts of hair under the effect of an emotional shock such as a sudden fear. Even if the rodent is clean naturally, it is advisable to brush and comb it once a week to get it used to the contact with the accessory but also to remove all the impurities and dust that it would not be able to remove by itself. Removing dead hairs can prevent an obstruction from forming in the rodent’s stomach.

Cage hygiene

As for its habitat, its cage, the rodent needs a light and fairly absorbent plant litter: it will use this “plant mat” for countless reasons, whether to protect its paws, absorb its urine, make a nest, to scratch and dig, etc..

The cage must be cleaned very regularly, if possible every day because of the appearance of bad smells and the maceration of food and excrement. The cage can also be washed with hot water and disinfected with bleach.

The hygiene of its habitat must remain irreproachable, whatever the season. Rodents lead a very organized life, made up of small habits such as eating, sleeping, and defecating, and this is how we realize that the place where they defecate is located at the opposite end of the place where they sleep and eat. Once this observation is made, the master can freely organize the rodent(s) cage and line strategic areas with hay or wood chips so that the cage can be cleaned more easily.

The hygiene of a rodent is therefore to be taken very seriously, both for the health of the animal as well as for that of its congeners and also for the possible consequences on humans.
By adopting a regular rhythm of care, attention, cleaning, it will become a ritual for the animal like any other of its habits.
The rodent, an animal very sensitive to changes in its environment, will be able to give back a hundredfold to its master the precautions that the latter will have taken towards it, for an ever greater complicity, so that it remains a very pleasant pet.