Like birds it is generally not advised to bathe your small pet mammal unless really necessary or unless you are taking part in breed shows. Some animals, such as the Chinchilla, have very unique bathing needs, and washing them like a dog or cat can be extremely hazardous to their health. Here are some tips for the different small furries that share our lives.
Like most small animals, rabbits are adept at grooming themelves and keeping themselves clean and will not usually need help unless they are ill or injured. In fact, it is believed that rabbits can go into shock if immersed in water. However, if your rabbit gets very dirty or if it soils itself, you may find that you need to give it a good clean.
Rather than dunking it in a bath, it is better to tackle the problem with a damp cloth, a grooming comb and some paper towels. If there is any matted faecal matter stuck to the fur, use the damp washcloth pressed to the area to moisten it. Once it has been loosened, use the grooming comb to remove any large clumps and then use the paper towels to remove any remaining bits.
The rabbit’s own regular grooming should take care of things over the next few days. If, for some reason, your rabbit has really soiled itself and you feel that it really needs a bath, it is best to take it to the vet for advice. There, you will be shown how to hold and support it properly while bathing it, as well as how not to get it too wet.
Guinea pigs, particularly longhaired species, can and actually do need to be bathed, although it still inadvisable to bathe them too often as their skin is very delicate. In fact, unless you are involved in showing, it is a good idea to only bathe your guinea pig if large areas of his coat are soiled or matted.
If your guinea pig is shorthaired, you can probably make do with a “sponge bath” and do one small area at a time. This is also a good way to wash a guinea pig’s face, should the need ever arise. Make sure you use a new disposable sponge, if you’re doing this, to prevent infection and in fact, nowadays, pet wipes are available in pet stores, which help you to clean around the ears and eyes.
Note, though, that if your guinea pig has constant discharge around the nose, eyes, ears or mouth, this could be a sign of serious illness and you should consult your vet immediately.
If you need to bathe your guinea pig, make sure you do it in a warm, draught-free room. Find a wide, shallow bowl and place a towel on the bottom to give your guinea pig some grip, as well as a layer of towels around and underneath the bowl. Fill your bowl with a small amount of warm water – the level should be no higher than your guinea pig’s chin – and add a few drops of guinea-pig shampoo to the water. Dampen a sponge with the shampoo-water and work it until it is foamy, then rub the sponge quickly but gently over the guinea pig’s body, until the shampoo has been worked into his coat. Make sure you keep a firm hold on your pet! Make sure you keep well away from his face and ears – in fact, do not attempt to wash above the neck and never let any soap get into his eyes, nose, ears or mouth.
Now, using a jug, pour warm water over them to rinse the shampoo out and keep repeating this until all traces of shampoo have been removed from his coat. Any shampoo residue can cause skin irritations and also prevent their fur from fluffing up properly after they dry so it is important to spend extra time rinsing. It is extremely important for their fur to dry “fluffy” – not just for aesthetic reasons – but because this will trap a layer of warm air and provide insulation, thus allowing the guinea pig to maintain correct body temperature. In fact, guinea pigs with matted fur can lose body heat rapidly and get hypothermia.
Finally, wrap your guinea pig in a succession of warm, fluffy towels to help absorb the excess moisture and to keep them warm, rubbing gently to help them dry faster. Keep them in the warm room until you are sure they are completely dry.
There is generally no safe way to bathe a hamster and bathing should be avoided, unless there is something toxic on its fur that cannot be cut off. Even then, it is best to consult a vet. If your hamster smells excessively bad, it may actually be diseased or ill so a check with the vet is the best option again.
Hamsters can groom and wash themselves very well, provided their living quarters are kept clean and they are healthy. So do not attempt to wash it in a bowl (like the guinea pig above) – hamsters dislike water and can become very stressed; they also can develop hypothermia easily and even drown. If you really feel the need to tackle some soiling, try using the damp cloth method described above or just brush some chinchilla powder or even plain cornstarch into your hamster’s coat and then dust it off with a dry towel.