Category: rabbit

How to keep pets safe this Christmas

6 ways to keep pets safe this Christmas

Christmas is a time for fun, festivities and family. Whether your home is going to be crowded with guests over Christmas or empty because you’ve gone visiting relatives, you will need to keep an extra special eye on your canine or feline friend to make sure he stays out of trouble. Your vet will more than likely not be open over the festive season, so the last thing you want is a kitty or doggy emergency while you’re in the middle of roasting your turkey or opening your presents! Here are some tips to make sure your pet has a safe and healthy Christmas.

1. Make sure your tree is pet-proof

Baubles, tinsel and hanging treats will all be objects of temptation for your pet, especially if you have a cat. Be sure that your tree is completely secured so that if your pet does try to pull at it, it will hold firm instead of falling over. Choose a secure holder for your tree and keep hanging decorations out of reach of pets wherever possible. That way. you’re sure to avoid coming home to a toppled tree or an injured kitty.

2. Keep festive plants to a minimum

Mistletoe, holly and some lilies can be poisonous to your pet. If ingested, these can cause serious digestive problems and in some cases kidney failure. So, either keep these out of reach or choose not to buy them at all this year. Ask yourself which is more important: a decorative home or a healthy pet?

3. Keep treats pet friendly

It can be very tempting to slip your pet a morsel from your plate when no one is looking, but think carefully before you do this! Many human foods are toxic to dogs and cats. If there are children around, make sure they know that your furry friend simply cannot have chocolate as it is toxic. In addition, lots of sweet foods containing an ingredient called xylitol are also harmful for pets to ingest. If you do want to treat your cat or dog, make sure it’s with something suitable for animals that you have bought from the pet shop.

4. Leave the turkey bones out

Dogs just love chewing on bones, but be warned: some bones are too small and can be choking hazards. In addition, cooked bones can splinter and cause an injury if swallowed. Stick to raw bones to be safe, and choose the right size for your dog.

5. Don’t leave candles unattended

Candles can easily be knocked over by the swish of a tail, or an inquisitive nose, so be very careful not to leave them within reach of your pet. In addition, never leave a candle burning in a room unattended.

6. Keep pets indoors for new years

Fireworks are not only very scary for your cat or dog, they can be dangerous if your pet happens to be outdoors with you. So, on new year’s eve its best to leave pets safely indoors out of harm’s way. If you can, leave your animals with a pet sitter who will comfort them if they get frightened by loud noises.

Great was to treat your dog this Christmas

5 ways to treat your dog this Christmas

While you’re frantically doing your Christmas shopping this year, spare a thought for the furry friend in your life. That little guy who never asks anything from you, never moans when you get home from work late or when you don’t have time to cuddle. Christmas is the perfect time for treating your canine companion and thanking him for what he does best – simply being there for you. Here are some great treat ideas for doing just that.

1. Agility starter kit

If you have a breed that’s energetic and loves to learn new things, why not get this agility training kit and set it up in your garden? All you need are a few treats to tempt your pooch into trying it out. It should serve as a welcome break from the monotony of Christmas day TV and boring relatives!

Try this one for £58.00: http://amzn.to/1zatCM5

2. Kong Toy

Kongs have become hugely popular with dogs all over the world. They’re a fantastic way to provide mental stimulation and are great for encouraging dogs to chew something other than your shoes or cushions! Simply fill one of these with food and your dog will have hours of fun chewing away, as a little bit of food is dispensed each time to reward him for his efforts. These toys are washable, safe and very pet friendly. They’re available from most online pet shops. This one is £9.89: http://amzn.to/1Bf170a

3. Sofa bed

Do you have a puppy or a small breed of dog that sheds a lot? This sofa bed is set to be your pup’s favourite Christmas present! Simply pop it on the couch and invite your little dog to join you for a spot of couch potato action. He’ll be delighted he is finally allowed to sit next to you! Best of all, your furniture will stay clean and fluff free. Yours for just £21.99: http://amzn.to/1AjP9RS

4. Doggy massage

A free way to treat your pooch with some real TLC. Why not teach yourself some canine massage techniques? Watch a video on You Tube, or get yourself a book and learn all about your pooch’s pressure points. If you’re really keen you could always take a course. Your dog will thank you for it.

5. Dog flap

Probably the most exciting present a dog could find under the tree. This is a cat flap that’s big enough for your dog – the perfect way to make sure your pooch isn’t bored when you’re busy, allowing him to wander out into the garden whenever nature calls, or even just to bask in the sun. Make sure your garden is completely secure before installing this! From 24.99: http://amzn.to/cm8YIf

Reasons not to get a pet for Christmas

4 big reasons NOT to get a pet for Christmas

It can be very tempting to get an adorable puppy or kitten for that special someone in your life, but if you’ve decided to give the gift of a pet this Christmas, you should think again. There are lots of reasons why this is simply a bad idea. Here are some of them.

1. Christmas is a noisy, chaotic time

Bringing a new pet home at this time of year is not only going to be tough on you with all the extra responsibilities it involves, it’s going to be immensely difficult for your pet! Just think of all the extra activity, noise and strange people who will be filling your home over the holiday period. Imagine a new puppy or kitten (or even a new adult pet!) trying to get used to a new environment with all this going on. Bringing them into this stressful atmosphere is not a nice thing to do, and will only make them nervous and unhappy. Puppies and kittens need to have very positive experiences while they are at an impressionable age, or they can grow up to associate certain experiences as triggers for fear or aggression. So, to give your furry friend the best start in life, wait until after Christmas before bringing them home. It’s the kindest thing to do.

2. Presents are surprises

It’s a very bad idea to surprise someone you love with a pet. Pets are a huge responsibility and the decision to become a pet owner should never be taken lightly, or forced on someone who is unprepared. Some cats and dogs can live for 15 years or more – this is a big commitment to take on and the recipient of your gift might feel obliged to agree at first, but may later end up surrendering their cat or dog to a rescue shelter because it turns out to be too much work. So, unless you have fully talked through the decision to get a pet well in advance, then an animal should never be given as an impromptu gift.

3. Toilet training will be tough

When a new puppy or kitten enters your home, they will probably need to be toilet trained. This takes a considerable amount of time and effort, so much so that you’ll need to be able to be there with your pet for the whole day. Puppy owners in particular often find themselves doing hourly toilet breaks, and even waking up during the night to let their little friends out to pee. Christmas is a very busy time – between cooking, looking after guests, keeping children occupied and going to parties and relatives houses, are you really going to have time to toilet train a new pet? And if you don’t, are you willing to deal with the bad habits that might form in the meantime?

4. Christmas pets are not ethical

A breeder or a rescue shelter who agrees to give an animal away at Christmas time will probably not have the animal’s best interests at heart. If you do find a breeder who is willing to part with a pup or kitten at Christmas time, they are probably not going to be an ethical one and will usually be more concerned about making themselves some extra cash. Going to an unethical breeder such as this means that your puppy or kitten can turn out to have behavioural or health problems as a result of careless breeding. By buying from these people you’ll only be supporting the practice of breeding for profit, which is the reason so many beautiful and lovable animals end up abandoned and on the streets.

What are the alternatives?

You don’t have to give a live animal as a pet for Christmas – there are lots of other brilliant gifts you can give! For example:

  • If your loved one is an animal lover, why not buy them a voucher for a wildlife experience in an animal shelter or wildlife park?

  • You could sponsor an abandoned pet, or make a donation to an animal charity in your loved one’s name

  • If your loved one has their heart set on getting a puppy or kitten, why not simply buy them a pet bed, toy or collar so that they can start to prepare and think about their decision in advance?

  • Ask your local animal rescue shelter if they need people to foster abandoned pets in the new year. By fostering a cat or dog, you can get an idea of what owning one entails before you make the commitment to become a permanent owner

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) is a highly contagious viral disease that affects rabbits.

All rabbits are at risk, even indoor rabbits. The virus is spread by direct contact between rabbits (both wild and pet rabbits), as well as by indirect contact via people, clothing, shoes, inanimate objects and fleas. The incubation period is up to 3 days but many rabbits die suddenly without showing any clinical signs. If clinical signs are apparent then they may display the following symptoms;

  • lethargy/collapse
  • anorexia
  • fever
  • fits/convulsions
  • difficulty breathing
  • blood stained nasal discharge
  • paralysis

Unfortunately there is no cure available and it is almost always fatal once contracted as the virus attacks the major body organs, especially the liver, causing massive internal haemorrhage. Given the horrendous death experienced by affected rabbits, we strongly recommend that you vaccinate your rabbit.

Your can protect your rabbit against this deadly disease – vaccination is essential and successful. There is a combination vaccination available which vaccinates against VHD and Myxomatosis in one simple innoculation in the scruff of the neck. Your rabbit will need a booster once a year to remain protected. Given the horrendous death experienced by affected rabbits, we strongly recommend that you vaccinate your rabbit.

Other precautions should be taken to prevent your rabbit contracting VHD;

  • maintaining good hygiene, always washing your hands before and after handling other rabbits
  • regular, up- to- date flea treatment for all in-contact pets in the household, with a suitable product from your veterinary practice, as these are potent enough to ensure the fleas and their eggs are killed.

Written by Laura Sullivan MRCVS

Snuffles

Snuffles is the term given to upper respiratory tract infections, usually related to Pasturella sp bacteria. The condition is highly contagious.

What are the signs?

  • runny nose – discharge from the nose, may also be seen on the paws as they try to wipe it away
  • runny eyes – tear stained fur on the cheeks and hair loss around the eyes, discharge can be tear like or white (pus)
  • sneezing
  • head shaking/scratching/head tilt – if the infection spreads to their ears
  • can progress to pneumonia

Rabbits with dental disease are more prone to developing snuffles. This is because the tear duct runs very close to the roots of their cheek teeth. When the teeth are overgrown or don’t meet properly, the roots impinge on the tear duct causing blockage of the tear duct. This prevents the normal flow of tears and allows bacteria to grow. If a hutch is poorly ventiliated, the fumes from a build-up of urine could cause irritation to the yes and this could trigger Snuffles

How is it treated?

It is important that you take your rabbit to the vets as soon as you notice any of the above signs, the longer the condition is left the more difficult it is to treat. Your vet will fully examine your rabbit, including its teeth and discuss its diet and environment with you.

A sample of the discharge from the eye may be taken and sent off for ‘culture and sensitivity’ to assess what bacteria are present, and determine which antibiotics will best treat the infection. Your may need to give your rabbit topical antibiotics in the form of eye drops. They will also need a course of oral antibiotics (usually for at least 2 weeks) to treat the infection in the nasal passages, which you can administer orally using a syringe. In some cases supportive therapy including fluids, supplementary feeding and nursing may be required.

It may also help to flush the blocked tear ducts – to remove any pus and bacteria and allow the antibiotics to penetrate further. Once the teeth have been assessed it may be necessary for appropriate dental work to be carried out, and gradual changes to the diet implemented.

Snuffles can become a chronic or lifelong condition that needs to be managed effectively to be kept under control.

How can I prevent it?

Ensure your rabbit’s living area is well ventilated and regularly cleaned out to prevent build up of fumes.

As rabbits with dental disease are prone to snuffles, it is important that your rabbit is fed the correct diet. See the handout on ‘Rabbit Nutrition’ for more information.

Written by Laura Sullivan MRCVS

Rabbit Nutrition

Feeding your rabbit the correct diet is vital to their health – research has shown that most of the common diseases that rabbits suffer from can be prevented by feeding them a healthy diet.

Feeding the incorrect diet can result in;

  • overgrown teeth and dental disease
  • obesity
  • sore eyes and conjunctivitis
  • gut stasis
  • fly strike

What is the best diet for your rabbit?

The best diet is one that mimics as closely as possible what wild rabbits eat. They need a high fibre diet, so the bulk of your rabbit’s diet should be grass and hay. Ensure that the hay is good quality meadow or timothy hay, it should be sweet smelling and not dusty. It should be stored carefully so it doesn’t become damp or mouldy. Hay racks are available for rabbits to prevent the hay from being contaminated by droppings. Allow your rabbit direct access to grass to allow it to graze. Lawnmower clippings should not be fed. It is important to provide your rabbit with fresh vegetables and greens on a daily basis – such as carrot tops, cabbage, parsley, celery leaves, basil, broccoli, kale etc. They should be washed before feeding.

What about commercial rabbit food?

Rabbits thrive on a hay, grass and vegetables alone, but sometimes owners want to feed a commercial mix as well. Lots of rabbits will only eat certain components of mixed ‘museli-type’ mixes (they pick out the tasty bits and leave the rest) which risks causing an unbalanced diet and nutrient deficiencies – leading to the heath problems mentioned above. A high quality ‘nugget’ mix, such as ‘Burgess Excel’ is a far better choice as all the nutrients are present in each nugget. Care should be taken not to overfeed commercial food as this will lead to obesity and other health problems.

What about treats?

Many commercial treats are high in fat and carbohydrate and should be avoided as they risk causing tummy upsets and obesity. Healthy, natural treats can be given in moderation.

How should I change my rabbit’s diet?

Sudden changes in diet must be avoided. Any changes should be made gradually over the course of a couple of weeks to allow the digestive system time to adjust. Mix the new food in with their current food, at a ratio of 20:80 for 3-4 days and monitor for any signs of weight loss, diarrhoea, or bloating – if all is ok then increase to 60:40 for another 3-4 days, then 80:20, then finally to 100% of the new mix. Introduce grass and greens gradually to reduce the chance of diarrhoea

Fresh water should always be available. Some studies have shown that rabbits drink better from bowls rather than bottles, so both should be offered. Remember to check your rabbits water daily, especially in colder weather when it can freeze.

Written by Laura Sullivan MRCVS

Neutering Rabbits

Rabbits are very social animals, and should be kept as a pair. The ideal combination is a spayed female (doe) and a castrated male (buck).

Males

Males should be castrated if they are to be kept with entire females (although see below), or are being kept with other males and there is fighting. Un-castrated males may show sexual, territorial or dominant behaviour towards other rabbits or humans.

Females

We strongly recommend neutering female rabbits. Malignant womb cancer (called Uterine Adenocarcinoma) is common in female rabbits over 5 years old. Entire females often become quite territorial and even aggressive once they reach sexual maturity (usually at 4-6 months)- they can bite, scratch and kick! They can also experience false pregnancies, during which their behaviour could become worse.

Neutered rabbits live healthier, longer lives due to the reduced risk of reproductive cancers and sexual aggression. They make better companions; as they are calmer and more loving.

When should my rabbit be neutered?

We recommend neutering male and female rabbits from 4-5 months old.

What does neutering involve?

Castration involves removal of the testicles through an incision on the scrotum.
Spaying involves the removal of the ovaries and uterus, through an incision on the rabbit’s abdomen.

Written by Laura Sullivan MRCVS

Mites

Cheyletiella sp also known as ‘Walking Dandruff’ is a fur mite that causes mild dermatitis in the rabbit.

The mites are transmitted either by direct contact with another infested animal or from contaminated bedding or hay (the female mite can live off the host in the environment for several days)

What are the signs?

The most common sign is skin irritation along the back and neck area – you may notice;

  • hair loss
  • scaling (dandruff)
  • itchiness
  • redness
  • scabs

How is it diagnosed?

It is usually possible to diagnose the condition from the clinical signs and identification of the mite. This can be done with the naked eye, brushing the coat and examining the scale (dandruff) on a dark surface, you should be able to see the mites moving around (hence the nickname ‘walking dandruff’). They can also be viewed under a microscope.

How is it treated?

There are a range of treatments available – including a course of fortnightly injections or topical spot-on preparations which kill the mites. Your rabbit should be re-examined at the end of the course of treatment to ensure that it has all cleared up. Any other rabbits in contact with the infected one should be treated, as the mite is very mobile and is easily transferred from rabbit to rabbit. It is important to use an appropriate insecticide as directed by your vet, as many preparations are toxic to rabbits.

It is important that the environment is treated properly to avoid re-infestation. All of the bedding and hay will need to be removed and destroyed and the hutch and living quarters thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

Written by Laura Sullivan MRCVS

Rabbit Housing

“A hutch is not enough!”

Rabbits are not designed to live in a confined space. Hutches were originally used by the Victorians when they kept rabbits in backyards as a source of cheap meat, and were housed on a short term basis while they were fattened up. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, rabbit owners are required by law to meet their rabbit’s welfare needs – which includes providing a suitable environment.

Space

The Rabbit Welfare Association recommend a minimum hutch size of at least 6’ x 2’ which allows rabbits some room to move, stand on their hind legs, and enough space for the food, toilet and sleeping areas to be kept apart. They should be able to perform at least 3 consecutive hops. Larger breeds will need more space than this.

A hutch should not be their only living space – it should be attached to a secure run of at least 8’ x 4’. Bear in mind, these are the minimum recommendations – as with most things in life, bigger is better!

Exercise

Your rabbit should never be kept in its hutch permanently. They need daily exercise; at least 8 hours per day in a large run or garden.

Location and Design

Their living area should be sheltered; out of direct sunlight with some shade, and also against driving wind or rain. It should also provide a hiding area where your rabbit can hide away and feel secure from predators.

The hutch should be raised on legs to prevent rising damp and deter vermin. The roof should be covered with roofing felt to allow rain water to drain off.

Safety

Unfortunately, each year many pet rabbits are unfortunately snatched by predators. You need to make sure your rabbits are safe from foxes, dogs, cats and birds of prey. Strong mesh is better than chicken wire.

Stimulation

Rabbits are very social animals, and should be kept at least in pairs as they rely on the companionship from another rabbit – they love to snuggle together, groom each other and keep each other warm. The best pairing is a neutered male and a neutered female. Keep them occupied with toys such as tunnels, plant pots or even a cardboard box. Scatter food around to encourage them forage rather than feeding from a bowl, and ensure they have constant access to hay.

House rabbits

Many people nowadays choose to keep their rabbits indoors, which can be very rewarding. The area needs to be well bunny-proofed.

Litter training

Rabbits can be litter trained relatively easily. A litter tray should be placed in a corner of the area that the rabbit has already used to soil. Make sure the sides of the litter tray are low enough so that your rabbit can easily get in and put. It’s best to use newspaper or paper based litter. It may help to put some droppings in the litter box to start with, to encourage your bunny to use it.

Written by Laura Sullivan MRCVS

Useful Links

Dental Disease in Rabbits

Rabbits teeth grow continuously throughout their life; this applies to both their incisors (front teeth) and molars (back teeth). In fact, their incisors can grow at a rate of approximately 2mm a week! The normal length is maintained by the wearing action of the upper and lower teeth working against each other. Sometimes, these teeth can overgrow; the front teeth become very long and curl or stick out at angles, and the sharp spikes form on the molar teeth.

What causes the teeth to become overgrown?

Inherited: some rabbits are born with a congenital malocclusion (present from birth) – rabbits with this condition should not be bred from.
Diet: lack of a good quality, high fibre diet prevents the teeth from wearing down appropriately.
Trauma: young rabbits can damage their incisor teeth pulling or gnawing on the wire on their cage.

What problems can overgrown teeth cause?

Pain: dental disease can cause immense pain as the incisor teeth can grow up or down into the opposing lips, molar teeth rub on the inside of the mouth causing ulcers on the cheeks or tongue.
Runny eyes: this is a common sign of dental problems, as the overgrowth of the upper molar roots can impinge on the rabbit’s tear duct, causing an overflow of tears on to the rabbit’s face, which makes the area around their eye very sore and matted.
Abscesses: the roots and grow up into the eye or down into the lower jaw

Common symptoms include; weight loss, salivation, going off certain foods, runny eyes, lumps under the chin, grinding teeth, or loss of interest in their surroundings.

How is this condition treated?

Overgrown incisors can be temporarily corrected by burring down the overgrown incisors with a dental burr. This can be done while the rabbit is conscious, but it may need to be repeated every 3-4 weeks. The incisor teeth can be removed to solve the problem.

To treat malocclusion of the molar teeth, regular dentals under anaesthetic are required to allow better visualisation and examination of the molars and rasp down the rough spiky edges.

It is important to realise that long term management is essential and corrective dental work may need to be repeated.

Can I prevent my rabbit’s teeth from becoming overgrown?

Yes – prevention is better than cure!

  • Buy your rabbit from a reputable breeder, who can assure you that only rabbits with no dental disease have been used in the breeding line.
  • Fed an appropriate diet – one that mimics what wild rabbits eat. They should have unlimited access to good quality hay and grass, which is high in fibre and abrasive and will help to wear the teeth down. Avoid ‘muesli-type’ diets as they are low in fibre and rabbits selectively feed, so instead feed small quantities of a pellet mix.
  • Check your rabbit’s teeth on a regular basis.

Written by Laura Sullivan MRCVS

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