One of the first rules
of animal husbandry for the fancier is “know
your animals.” Before you obtain any animal, be
sure that it is right for you, ask yourself a
few questions, ask everyone else the same
questions, then try to find out what is known on
a zoological level about the animal you fancy
and most important of all learn as much as you
can about how this species lives and “survives”
in the wild. This knowledge can mean the
difference between success and failure.
1. What does
this animal require in terms of space to create
a healthy, happy environment in which to live?
This will vary for each species, never settle
for the recommended minimum.
2. What sort
of habitat does this animal require in the
wild? Can you, as near as possible, integrate
that into your system? i.e. temperature,
burrows, grassy tussocks.
3. What are the food requirements of the species
and can you supply any/some or all natural
food? How much substitute food will you need to
rely on? Is the recommended substitute food
likely to cause problems for the animal long
term? If so, how can you balance the diet in a
more acceptable way?
just some of the key items which again vary with
each species and are often important to the
contented state of the creature.
If some of
the above seems a bit confusing or obscure I
will try to demonstrate examples from real
cases. These cases are situations in which I
have been consulted for advice.
“I bought six
Bettongs approximately four months ago, three
have died and another is not looking well, what
Q. What are
pellets, ‘Complete O’ (a proprietary dry feed),
fruit and vegetables and they have grass in
Q. What sort of grass, any shrubs, where do
A. We have an
enclosure which is a quarter of our backyard,
the grass is what used to be lawn, there are no
shrubs, They have a small shelter like a
miniature shed where the food is placed. Water
bowls are at the opposite end of the enclosure
and are filled by hose.
sleeping quarters have they got?
A. The little
Q. Do you
have a cat or dog?
A. Yes, one
cat and one dog. Both of these animals
basically lived in the remainder of the back
My suggestion was that the Bettongs probably
died of stress due to the fact that they had no
places in which to hide, leaving them feeling
very insecure, and that the shed was not an
adequate sleeping arrangement. This was not
well received. It was considered that the
animals were well cared for as only the best
products were fed and their enclosure was
immaculate. The approach was - what was the
point of having something unusual and not be
able to see it and have your friends see them
had been designed for that purpose - wherever
you were in the garden the Bettongs were in
view. In short, the animals were on display
twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, even
to the dog and cat. It was also protested
that the cat and dog never harassed the animals
and they were unable to grasp the psychological
aspect of the presence of the dog and cat for
the Bettongs. I got the impression that this
was discounted completely and the possibility of
an animal having some of the finer feelings of
life was quite foreign. These people were
quite unable to accept or comprehend that the
Bettongs would be upset by both the domestic
pets or the lack of furnishings in their so
called triple A accommodation, even though this
was most probably the cause of their demise..
Is one of a
different kind! In this story a gentleman was
concerned for the well being of one of his
Dunnarts and whilst we did discuss the possible
causes of his Dunnart looking unhappy at length,
the points I wish to raise here are the value of
faeces and urine as diagnostic tools and the
need to be able to isolate an animal not
concerns a lady who had purchased a group of
Sugar Gliders which came complete with
instructions on housing and diet. She didn’t
feel comfortable with all of the items on the
recommended menu. Her phone call to me was to
check that list; it was long and complicated.
Three of the stated favourites on this menu were
raspberry jam, puppy chow and orange cream
biscuits. I ask you, where in the wild
would an animal get such items. What possible
natural foods could these products be
substituting. We discussed this problem at
length on more than one occasion, and rightly
discussed it with others reputed to have some
knowledge and experience with these creatures
and their nutrition. In consequence her
charges are now being served a much more
Case one, I think, is self explanatory.
This lady did not give much thought to the
welfare of the creatures concerned.
brings forward some very important issues.
clean cages don’t overdo the protective gear
(gas masks and gloves etc.) get a little closer
to your animals and their wastes. The humble
faeces, if studied can tell you an awful lot
about what is going on inside your charges.
You need to be familiar with the normal shape,
colour, consistency and smell, all of which can
tell you a tale if you care to read it. Shape
is obvious, I suggest you take the trouble to
take a good sample (one pellet) and hold in your
thumb and forefinger, smell it, squeeze it, when
you squeeze note the moisture content. This
will vary from specie to specie and also depend
to a degree on diet. Colour also will depend
on the specie. Example - Sugar Gliders and
Ringtail Possums are near to or are black,
Brushtail Possum is brown, Kangaroo and Wallaby
Dark green. This of course, will change
somewhat with the seasons and will also depend
on diet. Consistency is very important,
anything away from normal i.e. too soft, no
shape needs further investigation.
The first thing you check is what was on the
menu previously, could something have caused a
stomach upset, could something have been not
quite edible, could this animal have pigged out
on one item, perhaps something new you’ve tried.
If these possibilities give you an answer then
the solution is basic, if not take a sample to
the vet for analysis.
us to smell, equally as important as
consistency, but is likely to vary a little from
specie to specie also. I will relate here a
few examples taken from my experience with
macropod species. It will demonstrate what I
mean and give you a working guide.
Distinct Sweetish Smell - Candidiasis (yeast
infection), often yellowish to brown colour.
Sour Smell -
Digestive problem review diet.
Smell - Flora imbalance. May require antibiotic,
Bad Smell -
Often associated with germ in bowel, consult
Many of the
more common complaints are readily detected just
by recognising the changes they effect on the
Urine too is
a very useful tool in the detection of trouble.
Kidney complaints, bladder or urinary
infections are two conditions readily detected
by colour and smell of urine, or the lack of, or
excess of urine.
food is something else that must be scrutinised;
exactly what are they NOT eating within eight
hours of feeding? How important is that item
to their health? Can it be substituted with a
nutritionally similar product more palatable to
them? Are they just eating the lollies and
leaving the spinach? You must devise a way
to overcome such problems if you wish to
maintain healthy animals’ long term. Don’t
forget to take into consideration that some
animals naturally have a dietary change on a
seasonal level and some change their diet when
breeding and rearing young.
is concerned only with diet - concerning specie
for which a 100% natural diet is an
impossibility and substitution is the only
Artificial diets are not hard to get right but
some items used are unsuitable and while animals
seem to do well initially, their systems on the
long term don’t cope and a reaction such as
chronic bowel problems, liver complaints and
kidney failure are just a few of the grim
scenarios that are often the end result. When
considering substitute items to add to menu ask
yourself the following questions:
1. Would this animal have access to this in
2. What is
the object of adding this product to the diet?
3. Is there
something else I can use that is likely to be
more readily digested with less likelihood of
long term problems?
substitutes should be able to be justified for
realistic reasons and when used they should, as
near as possible, resemble in make up, the
product being replaced. That the animal likes
it may not be a good enough reason for feeding
How many of
you run to a first aid cupboard for your pets?
It is surprising how comforting such a
commodity can be in a crisis and also surprising
how often you may require the items it
contains. A few things I would consider
(oral rehydration therapy). There are several
brands on the market, all known by a different
names but they all do the same job. Personally
I prefer the powder form which comes in two
separate sachets which are mixed with water,
usually to make one litre. Any excess to
immediate needs can be frozen as ice cubes and
stored in an ice-cream container for future
use. Once made up it has a very short life
unless frozen. I have kept it frozen for six
months. There is a pre-mixed product available
but I have found it unsatisfactory for
marsupials. This product is suitable for use
in any kind of illness, shock, etc. It can
sustain for several days if need be without
ingestion of other foods.
Solution. An ideal product to clean any flesh
wound and buy you time until a vet can attend.
Ointments and salves etc. are best purchased
as required and recommended by the attending
vet, as these days many preparations are very
specific to a precise condition. If you keep
the wound clean with Otoderm your vet will
high calorie vitamin concentrate. Used after
illness, it helps to pick up condition and
sustains the animal while regaining its normal
appetite. Remember though this product is
designed for cats and dogs. I have found that
one quarter of the recommended amount is all
that is required for marsupials and more will
make them sick.
such as syringes (no needles) of different sizes
are very good for force feeding or administering
oral medications. A set of plastic forceps,
cotton wool, a small packet of gauze swabs and a
bandage, if your animal is big enough to
accommodate one. A graduated medicine glass,
which has at least 5ml increments, less if
possible, and a thermometer.
ward is something else that is essential.
This can be as large as a 1800mm x 1800mm
enclosed space for roo’s, or a shoe box sized
plastic or glass container, such as a fish tank
for Dunnarts etc. Any animal that is
off-colour should immediately be isolated from
its cohabitants, kept warm and constantly
monitored. The ability to provide warmth to this
facility is essential; this can be achieved by
using electric heat pads, heat lamps or hot
urine can be collected for analysis with the
confidence that you have collected from the sick
animal and not another. When collecting such
samples always use clean containers. In the
case of faeces, wrapping in regular kitchen foil
is all that is required. Present to your vet as
soon as possible. Hopefully he/she will be able
to identify the problem and prescribe the
appropriate treatment. A check for internal
parasites can be done at the same time. Diet of
course will dictate the quality of faeces. You
only get out of an animal what you put in; if
the diet is not good then the faeces will not be
either. It does happen though, where all can
be going fine and suddenly the situation begins
to deteriorate, if no change has been made to
the menu, then it doesn’t hurt to review the
menu itself, just as a precaution.
Make sure you provide your enclosures with
adequate cover in which your animals can shelter
and provide proper sleeping facilities, suitable
to the species. Marsupials are extremely
sensitive to their environment and don’t adjust
as readily to change, sometimes not at all, the
way most domestic animals do. A happy and
contented animal is a relaxed and thus generally
a healthy animal.
When you get
your animals home spend as much time as you can
just watching them. Pick yourself a spot
where you are not so close as to intimidate them
at first, give them time to get used to you
before sitting for long periods at close range.
Study them, get to know each individual at
first glance, be aware of the behaviour
differences of each individual. Note the shy
ones, the bossy ones, the greedy ones, the ones
that like to lay out in full view and those that
prefer to half hide in the bushes. If you can
note the individual behaviour patterns of each
of your animals, the first time something is out
of sink with one, you will notice, never ignore
but watch, should the change become more obvious
– act. Never put this kind of thing off
till tomorrow; tomorrow may be too late. Get on
the phone, talk to someone else who has personal
experience with the species, you may be saving a
thing that you should be doing is keeping a
diary or case/specie history. This record has
a twofold purpose at least. In it you record
where, when and from whom you bought your
animals, their living environment: i.e. describe
with as much detail as possible their enclosure,
what they eat, and as you get to know each one,
a description which explains what you see about
this animal that makes it different from the
anything new you feed, do or change, watch for
and record their reactions. Record anything
you feel might be different about them, even if
you are not sure. When you make an entry you
date it and make comment on weather conditions
for that day and if no entries have been made
over the previous week, note the weather
generally for that week, in particular any
variation, e.g. a thunderstorm, sudden cold
snap, excessive heat etc. Any such happenings
could well be the cause of any problem that may
Should you have a problem, your answers may be
found in such a record. The invasion of your
property by the neighbours’ dog may produce no
immediate reaction but it may take as long as a
fortnight after the incident occurred for
trouble to become evident. Loose bowel motions
are very common reactions to stress. So your
record is often an invaluable diagnostic tool.
It is also very interesting to go back over
your notes from time to time. As you progress
you will see where problems of yesteryear are
problems no longer, because you have learned to
deal with or prevent certain situations.
is also your way of contributing to the
knowledge which is so hard to acquire, indeed,
it could be the only detailed record of such an
exercise. If five people keep detailed records
of their chosen specie, say a red kangaroo or
brushtail possum, our ability to compare such
records and achieve a norm, how valuable would
Take the time
also, or make the effort to get to know each
animal personally, on a one to one basis.
This can easily be done over a time, just by
offering some special tit-bit that will entice
them to come close. The object here is not
just the great feeling you get, but the chance
to check coat condition, is it as it should be?
Nice and sleek and shiny, not dull and matted.
Become familiar with their eyes. The eyes of a
healthy animal are unmistakable; they sparkle,
whereas an off-colour animal will have dull eyes
that seem uninterested in life. The saying,
“EYES ARE THE MIRROR OF THE SOUL” is very true.
If you want
to see sickness before it becomes death, learn
what is normal and don’t ignore the unusual.
This article is
reproduced with many thanks to the Marsupial
Society of Victoria, It was first published in
their newsletter in 1996.