Though most small animals don't require yearly immunizations (the exception being ferrets, who should be vaccinated against rabies), your pet should see a veterinarian at least once a year for a wellness exam - as well as any time illness or injury is suspected. Most small animals are considered exotic pets, so it is important that you find a vet who is knowledgeable about them and their specific biology. For recommendations in your area, visit or call your local MSPCA Adoption Center. Angell Animal Medical Center employs several exotics specialists in the Boston area.
Some veterinarians offer spay/neuter surgeries to guinea pigs or other small animals, but it isn't a routine surgery even for vets who specialize in exotics. To eliminate the risk of unwanted litters, it is important NOT to house different-sex small animals together. Pairs who share a cage should be the same gender. Don't expect pet store employees to be able to determine the gender of small animals correctly!
Most of our small mammal pets are prey animals, and they have instincts that tell them to hide symptoms of illness or injury so they do not appear vulnerable to predators. This means that their human friends must be vigilant and take even small changes seriously. This means keeping tabs on overall health, including activity level and eating habits, as well as body condition (weight, fur and skin health, ears and eyes). If your small pet goes a day without eating, consult your veterinarian - delay in seeking care could be fatal.
Your veterinarian will also offer advice on at-home grooming, including nail trimming (which you should do every few weeks for ferrets and guinea pigs). She will also share recommendation on pet-proofing your home for out-of-cage exercise time for the "larger" small animals - ferrets, chinchillas, and guinea pigs. Many commonplace household items can pose a health risk, particularly electrical cords and stairs. In addition to checking your pet's eyes, ears, skin, fur, and overall body condition (which you should do at home, too), she will also listen to his breathing and heartbeat, and ask questions about diet, exercise, activity level, and other important questions.
For more information on caring for small animals, visit our The Perfect Home for a Small Animal page.