Archive for the ‘Rabbit’ Category

How to keep your rabbits sane

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing a bunny ‘binky’, you will know that it’s hard to beat. The leap and twisting of their body is a sign of pure enjoyment and it’s a true delight to witness. We want bunny ‘binkying’ to be a regular feature in your rabbit’s life, so we’ve got some advice to help them enjoy life to the full.

Imagine being locked in your home and garden, with just the odd trip out to a friend’s house a couple of times a week. Then imagine having no television or radio or anything to keep you occupied. Similarities can be drawn in keeping rabbits cooped up with nothing to play with and no real change to their surroundings, and rabbits can become bored and depressed. So unless they have acres to roam in safety (and let’s face it most of us can’t afford them that luxury), then guess who they will rely on as their source of entertainment? That’s right, you! Quite the responsibility, but don’t panic, we have some handy tips to get you started.

Firstly, make your job easier; give your rabbit as much space as possible for their home. As a minimum, a pair of medium sized rabbits should have an enclosure of 3 x 1 x 1 metres in size. They require at least an uninterrupted three metre length to run and play naturally, as well as a sleeping area. The height of a rabbit enclosure is often overlooked, because their shape is seemingly low to the ground. Rabbits will stand on their hind legs and they must have provision to do so for the health of their skeleton and muscles. With the basics in place, why not also consider whether they can be let out in the garden for a really good explore every now and then. Obviously not recommended unless your garden is enclosed and supervising them is the only way to be sure they’re safe from predators such as cats and dogs and foxes.

Now the real fun starts!  There are all sorts of novel ways you can provide enrichment to your rabbits’ lives, let’s first consider toys. Never underestimate your rabbit’s desire to play. They are full to the brim with character; you just need to press the right buttons to expose it, something which you will find very rewarding. Rabbit toys are available to buy in abundance these days, from balls that they love to push and throw, to activity toys where they must find the hidden treat. But you needn’t spend lots of money, sometimes the simple things in life are the best – consider making your own. A toilet roll stuffed with hay and other treats can provide hours of entertainment.

How about stringing a ‘washing-line’ across their cage and pegging various delights all the way along? Don’t forget furniture too. In the wild a rabbit is used to jumping over logs and roots, and burrowing and tunnelling. So provide platforms and tunnels for them to re-enact this natural behaviour. You will encourage them to run and jump and duck and scurry, and it will do them the world of good. Take food foraging one stage further and recreate ‘the wild’ by spreading their food around the enclosure. Hide pieces of carrots as a treat (not daily), in different areas and make them work for it a little.

Entertaining your rabbits can massively increase the bond between you. Take the time to handle them, stroke and massage them and also take the opportunity to check them over for health concerns. If your rabbit isn’t used to being handled then start slow and with short sessions. Human interaction will really break up your rabbits’ day and give you the opportunity to enjoy them as a pet. Consider teaching them some tricks – rabbits can learn a surprising number of party-tricks, from jumping through hoops to running through tunnels. If you’ve ever seen rabbits ‘show-jumping’ you’ll know it’s a sight to behold. If not, then you must Google it! Always ensure training methods are positive and reward based to further increase the bond.

So a rabbit’s horizon needn’t be small, there is so much you can do to broaden it. With a little creativity and investment of time we think you’ll enjoy play-time just as much as they will.

The cost of a rabbit

Rabbits are charismatic, inquisitive and intelligent beings. They can be wonderful pets, if you can offer them sufficient space and time, and the ability to express natural behaviours such as company with their own species, and plenty of food to forage on. We must also consider the financial implications of welcoming a Peter Rabbit or a Bugs Bunny into our lives; despite their small size, regular vet trips on top of bedding and food costs can really add up! Let’s have a look at some of the costs of getting – and keeping! – a long-eared friend.

One off costs

  1. A home! A rabbit will need a large hutch to stretch his powerful legs in, and, ideally, an outdoor run too. A nice outdoor home for your rabbit can cost around £200, and often considerably more, and will require replacement or fixing if the wood begins to rot. Indoor homes can be under half the price of an outdoor run, but do be careful to ensure your rabbit has enough space to take big hops comfortably, stand up on his hind legs, and lie down fully stretched out.
  2. Water bottles and food dishes. Equipment like this will also need to be bought, and many people decide to use a hay-rack, fitted inside their rabbit’s home, to enable them to keep their bedding and food separate. It is also a great idea to get your rabbit toys to gnaw on, and wear down their ever-erupting teeth.
  3. Castration and spaying. It is highly advisable to have a doe (female rabbit) spayed, or a buck (male rabbit) neutered. These procedures can prevent cancers in both males (testicular cancer), and females (uterine and ovarian, and greatly reduce the chance of mammary tumours). It will also allow you to keep bucks together with a reduced chance of fighting, or mixed-sex pairings without the risk of some kittens! (A ‘kitten’ is the term used for baby rabbits.)

Regular costs

The expenditures don’t stop once you have bought and housed your rabbit; in fact, that’s only the tip of the iceberg (lettuce)!

  1. Food! Rabbits will require a small amount of specially formulated rabbit food, as well as plenty of green, leafy vegetables, hay and grass to keep their incredible guts moving along. The prices of rabbit food are very variable and, of course, a Continental Giant will require more than a Netherland Dwarf!
  2. Bedding. Rabbits love to make little nests, and will require ample, thick, clean bedding to prevent conditions such as pododermatitis (sore feet and hocks). Wood-chip shavings and a nest of hay are often advisable, however, rabbits will most probably eat the hay, so be careful in our overweight friends.
  3. Veterinary bills. Rabbits will need to be vaccinated against Myxomatosis; this virus can cause large sores on the rabbit, a severe eye inflammation and infection (conjunctivitis), and severe secondary bacterial infections. Couple all of this horribleness with inappetence, and the virus will almost certainly kill your rabbit. We must also protect against Viral Haemorrhagic Disease, or VHD. VHD can kill rabbits in under 48 hours. Both of these conditions are highly traumatic for a loving owner to have to witness, but thankfully, they are both preventable with a vaccine. Unfortunately, this does come at a cost, please call us for the latest vaccination prices.

Rabbits’ teeth are constantly erupting; they have a large amount of reserve tooth below the gum line, which means your rabbit’s teeth are always getting longer. It is essential that they have plenty of forage to grind their teeth down, however, they may also require dental treatment from us.

We must always be on the alert for accidents, and emergency veterinary bills can be covered by insurance, where you will pay a premium (monthly or annually), and an excess (a minimum contribution towards all vet costs, and the insurers will pay the rest). For this reason, we will usually encourage you to take out an insurance premium to cover your rabbit, too.

We wish you all the very best with your rabbit. They are loving, endearing and intelligent pets, and with the joys of owning a rabbit come responsibilities. It is best to be aware of the financial implications of taking on a rabbit, as many people underestimate the expenditure of rabbits on the basis of their small size!

“Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter” – Beatrix Potter, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”

 

I’m taking my dog abroad – what do I need to treat for?

Ultimately, of course, it depends on where you’re going. In addition, you will need to make enquiries and find out what the legal requirements for entry are – and for re-entry into the UK afterwards!

So, what are the legal requirements?

For most EU countries, there are no particular entry requirements to take your dog abroad; however, they will not be allowed straight back into the UK afterwards unless they have been vaccinated against rabies and have a legal Pet Passport to prove it. In addition, they must have been treated against tapeworms between 24 and 120 hours before returning (unless you’re coming directly from Ireland, Finland, Malta or Norway).

If you’re travelling outside the EU, it gets more complicated. Each country sets its own entry requirements, and most of them require that your dog is certified as free from disease by a vet before entry. If in doubt, give us a call and we can advise you! Coming back from non-EU countries is also complex; some destinations are “listed countries”, which means that their requirements for re-entry into the UK are similar to those for the EU (for example, Canada, Japan and the USA); these “Listed Countries” are specified here. If you’re coming from any other country, you still need to have your dog rabies vaccinated, but they must also pass a blood test (unless the vaccination was done in an EU country and certified on a Pet Passport).

We strongly advise all clients wishing to take their dogs outside the EU to read our website and research themselves the guidelines and information well in advance of travel. Click here for the website page.

If you want more information about the legal requirements, see the DEFRA pet travel website.

What if my rabies vaccination is out of date or I don’t have the paperwork?

In that case, your dog will have to spend time in quarantine before being allowed back into the UK. They will have to stay there for up to 4 months, to demonstrate that they aren’t carrying rabies.

OK, that’s the law – do I need to do anything else?

Definitely – the legal requirements are the bare minimum, designed to protect the UK from disease (mainly rabies and the Hydatid Tapeworm, Echinococcus multilocularis). They are not intended to protect your dog from any health risks.

The specific risks to your dog’s health will of course depend on where you’re going, as the world is full of “exotic” diseases not found in the UK. In Europe, the major threats to dog health are:

Leishmania

This is a parasite that is transmitted by sandflies living around Mediterranean coastlines; it causes weight loss, skin and eye infection and inflammation, enlarged lymph nodes and chronic lameness. Although it can be treated, it is almost impossible to cure completely. The best way to prevent it is to avoid woodland and shady areas during the dawn and dusk periods, prevent your dog from sleeping outside and use an effective sandfly repellant. There is also a vaccine available – talk to one of our vets about suitable repellants and medications.

Heartworm

This is (unsurprisingly) a worm that lives in the dog’s heart, called Dirofilaria immitis. It is transmitted by mosquitoes, and eventually (but often not for 6-12 months) causes heart failure and difficulty breathing. The best prevention is by using effective mosquito repellants for dogs (our vets can advise you) and, if you’re travelling to a high-risk area (like southern France), medications to kill the parasites before they become established.

Canine Brucellosis

This is an infectious disease transmitted through infected birth fluids of bitches, and also by the venereal route (essentially, it’s a dog STD); it is most common in Eastern Europe. It can, rarely, affect humans as well, so don’t be tempted to help out with newborn puppies in a high-risk area! The best method of prevention is to avoid contact with whelping bitches, and not to let your pet have sex with any locals…

Tick-borne Diseases

Ticks can carry a wide range of nasty conditions (even in the UK we have Lyme disease and now Babesiosis); in continental Europe, infections also include Ehrlichiosis (which damages blood vessels and causes abnormal bleeding), Hepatozoonosis (most common around the Mediterranean, a protozoal parasite causing fever, weight loss, pain and anaemia), and Tick-Borne Encephalitis (a virus that damages the brain and nerves, and can infect humans, found sporadically across mainland Europe). The best way to prevent infection with these diseases is to use a tick repellent and tick-killing drug; and to remove ticks rapidly once found – ticks are unlikely to transmit disease in the first 24-48 hours of feeding.

So, if you’re planning to take your dog abroad, come in and talk to one of our vets in plenty of time, and we can put together a suitable treatment plan to make sure they come back happy and healthy!

Why do some rabbits need regular dental checks?

Actually, all rabbits need regular dental checks — at least every 6 months! Rabbits are very well adapted to eat rough, coarse vegetation. However, there are a number of things that can go wrong and that need to be detected as early as possible to have the best chance of fixing them.


What types of teeth do rabbits have?

As a result of their lifestyle, rabbits have open rooted teeth. This means that their teeth continue to grow throughout life – so (in theory) they grow back as fast as they are ground down by chewing rough grass or hay.

Rabbits have only 28 teeth – 2 main incisors top and bottom (the big teeth you see at the front), 2 peg teeth (little tiny incisors beside the main top ones), and 22 premolars and molars (the grinders at the back – each side has 6 on the top and 5 on the bottom). Between the two is a diastema – a gap separating the incisors from the premolars.

The incisor teeth are used to cut grass and the molars for chewing it. The incisors, in particular, grow incredibly fast – between 2.0 and 2.4mm per week! This means that any problems can become severe very, very fast, as the teeth keep growing. It is possible, for example, for a massively overgrown incisor to grow round in a circle and embed itself in the skull…


So, what problems can rabbits get?

The most common problem rabbits suffer from is malocclusion – this is where 2 teeth that are supposed to meet in the middle don’t meet quite square, leading to asymmetrical wear. This can result in abnormal overgrowth of the incisors, and sharp spurs, points and edges on the molars that cut the tongue and cheeks when chewing. Although these problems are more common in older rabbits, younger animals may also suffer (this is sometimes called Progressive Syndrome of Acquired Dental Disease, PSADD). The cause is unclear, but it is probably at least partly due to diet – the condition is rare in rabbits who eat mostly hay or grass, but is very common in house-rabbits and those who live on a muesli-style diet.

Other potential problems include tooth infection, which may progress to tooth root abscesses. These occur when the bacteria are able to enter the root of the tooth (often due to either another untreated dental disorder or a fracture of a tooth) and multiply there. This causes severe pain, swelling of the face, and may be fatal if not treated. 


What are the symptoms of dental disease?

Once it becomes severe, symptoms of dental disease are usually obvious – reduction in appetite, selective eating, runny eyes (due to damage to the tear duct), excessive salivation, diarrhoea (due to inadequate chewing causing intestinal upsets) and tooth grinding. In severe cases, the rabbit may stop eating entirely, which is a medical emergency – rabbit guts are intended to work 24/7/365, and if they ever stop it can be very hard to get them started again.


So why does it need checking? Can’t I wait until my rabbit actually has a problem?

By the time the disease has reached this degree of severity, it will require radical treatment to fix it (often involving tooth removal). It is far, far better to check the teeth regularly!


Can I check the teeth at home?

You certainly can – and we encourage it. Check the incisor teeth, if they aren’t lining up, or if they seem uneven or asymmetrical, get your rabbit checked out by your vet. However, the back teeth cannot be checked, even superficially, without special equipment. This is because the diastema (the gap between incisors and premolars) is blocked by an infolding of the cheeks, so you cannot see the premolars or molars from the outside. The only way to check is for your vet to use a scope – a device like a speculum that they can use to part the folds of cheek tissue and look at the surfaces of the teeth. This isn’t perfect – in a conscious rabbit, not every part of every tooth can be seen – but it allows most problems to be detected with no anaesthetic needed.


What can be done if there is a problem?

Most dental problems in rabbits can be managed with dental surgery under anaesthesia to grind down sharp edges and spurs, and burr away overgrown teeth. It is important to remember, though, that because rabbits’ teeth grow so fast, regular repeat treatments often needed – however, severely deformed or overgrown incisors can sometimes be surgically removed so that they don’t grow back (but then you need to watch out for the one opposite!).


If you think your rabbit may have a dental problem, make an appointment and get them checked out. Even if they seem fine, it is important to get their teeth checked at least every six months.

Do rabbits really get womb cancer?

In a nutshell – yes, they do! Any entire doe (unneutered female rabbit) is at risk – the most common is uterine adenocarcinoma and this is a really nasty, aggressive and malignant disease. 

How common is it, really?

There is very good evidence to suggest that it is the most common tumour of female rabbits – roughly 60% of entire female rabbits aged over 3 years will have a tumour growing in their uterus, and by the time they reach 6 years, this may be as high as 80%. Essentially, the evidence suggests that pretty much every female rabbit will develop uterine cancer if they live long enough.

Why does it happen?

The rabbit is supremely well evolved to reproduce (left in ideal conditions, a single pair of rabbits could theoretically produce 185,000,000,000 descendants in just 7 years!). However, this means that their reproductive tract is having to “work” really hard. This results in “metaplasia” – chronic changes to the uterine wall associated, it seems, with an environment where the hormone levels are fluctuating relatively rapidly. In time, these changes become more and more pronounced until a “neoplasm”, or cancer, forms.

It’s important to note that whether or not a doe has been bred doesn’t seem to impact her cancer risk. In other words, you cannot protect her from developing uterine cancers by breeding from her, or by not breeding from her.

What are the symptoms?

The nasty thing about tumours in general, and uterine tumours in particular is that there often aren’t any symptoms until fairly late in the course of the disease (by which point it is likely that the cancer has spread to other organs). Often, the first sign is an irregularity in the doe’s oestrus cycle (which you’re unlikely to notice unless you’re trying to breed from her). Sometimes, owners mistake this for the menopause – but unlike humans, rabbits don’t get a menopause and any disruption in their reproductive cycle is seriously abnormal!

Later, symptoms may include weight loss (often despite having a healthy appetite), then blood in the urine or bleeding from the vulva.

Once the tumour spreads to other organs, they too may start to fail (for example, causing kidney or liver disease); but most commonly it spreads to the lungs, resulting in coughing, wheezing or breathlessness.

Eventually, the affected rabbit will die, usually from starvation (as the tumour is eating all her food), internal bleeding, or asphyxiation as her lungs fail.

How bad is it?

Pretty bad. These tumours rapidly spread from the uterus to other abdominal organs, and then to the lungs. If untreated, the average survival time is just over 18 months – but this is from the appearance of the tumour, not from the appearance of clinical symptoms, which usually occur at the end of the disease anyway. Once a rabbit starts showing symptoms, death often occurs within a few months without rapid and radical treatment.

How can it be treated?

The only treatment is complete surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries – and this must be done as early as possible, before the tumour spreads to other organs. Sadly, once that has occurred, there is no effective treatment available.

Is there any way to prevent it?

Yes, there is – spay rabbits as soon as possible after puberty. Without a uterus, she cannot develop uterine cancer! However, earlier is definitely better – about one in 25 does has a tumour by 2 years of age and while these probably aren’t causing any symptoms yet, they may already have started to spread. As a result, and also to improve her temperament (and prevent you being flooded with kits!) we’d recommend spaying at 5-6 months of age.

If you want to talk about your rabbit’s health, call and talk to one of our vets!