Archive for the ‘Rabbit’ Category

Does my bunny need a buddy?

Yes – every bunny needs someBunny!

 

Rabbits are extremely social animals, they need company. In the wild, rabbits live in groups in warrens where they all look out for each other – they huddle together to keep warm and they warn each other if predators are about. Pet rabbits love to play, relax, sleep, eat and groom together.

 

Rabbits do enjoy human company when we can give this to them, but remember, with all the will in the world – our lives are busy, and even if we can spend a few hours a day with our rabbits that still leaves a huge 20+ hours when they are alone. What’s more, rabbits are often most active at dawn and dusk – just when we are hitting the snooze button on the alarm, or getting the dinner ready!

 

What is the best pairing?

The best pairing is usually a male and a female. It is important to have them both neutered (castrated for the males and spayed for the females). This can be done as soon as they are old enough – speak to your vet about when is the best time for your rabbits. Avoid just neutering one rabbit, as this may result in one calm bunny and one frustrated over-amorous one! Not only does neutering prevent unwanted pregnancies and prevents uterine cancer in females, it can also reduce fighting and is necessary when trying to bond your rabbits.

 

If you are looking for a companion for your bunny, consider rehoming a rabbit from a rescue centre. Often they have already been vaccinated and neutered, and you will be giving a home to a bunny in need. Some rescue centres will even help with introducing your rabbit to its new friend and will allow you to bring your rabbit along to meet a potential partner in a neutral territory. Some offer boarding to supervise the bonding process for you.

 

What is the best way to introduce a new bunny?

Bunnies are very sociable but they can also be quite territorial. Introducing two bunnies to each other requires supervision, perseverance and time.

 

First of all, put your rabbits in nearby enclosures – where they can see and smell each other but are separated by a wire fence.

 

Once they are used to the sight and smell of each other, place the rabbits together for a short period of time in a neutral space – somewhere new for both rabbits, to reduce the risk of any territorial squabbling. Ensure plenty of food, hay and distractions are available – enough for both rabbits, in separate piles. Provide cardboard boxes and tunnels for them to hide in. Supervise the rabbits while they are together, and if you notice any signs of tension then separate the rabbits and try again later.

 

Repeat this process until the rabbits are comfortable with each other. When they are grooming or lying with each other they can be left unsupervised. This can take anything from a few hours, to months depending on the rabbits!

 

Once they are bonded together, keep them together, as periods of time away from each other will cause them stress. If you need to take them to the vets, take both rabbits together so they can give each other company and comfort.

 

Housing

Ensure your bunnies have plenty of room; 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 or ‘binkies’ (not steps). Larger breeds will need more space than this. Importantly, 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!

 

There is pure joy to witnessing a bonded, loved up bunny duo together; you’ll never want to keep a solitary rabbit again. It’s never too late, even for bunnies in their twilight years.

Rabbit Vaccinations – Are they necessary?

In the UK we currently recommend vaccinating rabbits against two diseases; myxomatosis and rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (RHD). To understand why vaccinations are so important we need to know what they are protecting our rabbits against.

Myxomatosis

What is it?
Myxomatosis is a disease caused by the myxoma virus and has been present in the UK since 1953. There are different strains of the virus which can result in different forms of the disease some more severe than others (see below). In unprotected rabbits, the disease is usually fatal and so prevention is strongly recommended.

What are the symptoms?
There are two types of myxomatosis, nodular (lumpy) and oedematous (swollen) but the latter is the most common and the most lethal. Symptoms begin between 4-10 days after infection;

 

Oedematous (swollen) Type Nodular (lumpy) Type
  • Swelling around the eyes, mouth, bottom and/or genitals
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dull behaviour
  • Light sensitivity
  • Secondary infections (eyes, nose, lungs)
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing (end stage) and death
  • Lumps in and/or under the skin
  • Lumps become ulcerated (open wound) but can heal over
  • Secondary infections

It is possible for rabbits to get a mixed form with symptoms from both types of the disease which may be milder. The oedematous form acts quickly and after around 1-2 weeks of symptoms rabbits will die from starvation and difficulty breathing.


How do rabbits get it?

Rabbits can become infected with the virus from direct contact with other infected rabbits but also from being bitten by blood sucking-insects with the virus. These insects become carriers when they feed on infected rabbits but don’t become ill themselves, allowing them to move on and feed on another rabbit passing on the infection. Any blood-sucking insect can be a carrier but fleas and mosquitoes are the most common and because mosquitoes can fly long distances, they also help spread the disease to new areas.

Can you treat it?
Treatment of the oedematous form is usually hopeless, particularly if the rabbit is already having difficulty eating or breathing. Due to this our vets sadly will most likely recommend euthanasia to stop the rabbit from suffering. Rabbits with a mixed form of the disease may be able to survive with supportive care if the disease is mild. Supportive treatment is typically aimed at maintaining adequate nutrition and alleviating other symptoms while the immune system clears the virus. This may include;

  • Fluid therapy
  • Syringe feeding
  • Antibiotics if there is a secondary infection
  • Anti-inflammatories for the swelling
  • Active warming

How can I prevent it?
Rabbits can be vaccinated against myxomatosis from 5 weeks old. This vaccine should be repeated every year to maintain adequate protection. Rabbits in high-density populations such as those used for breeding can be vaccinated every 6 months. Vaccinated rabbits can still become infected with the virus but the symptoms are normally very mild and treatable.

You can reduce the risk of infection further by ensuring your rabbit does not have contact with wild rabbits which may be infected, or eat food from areas where wild rabbits live. Protect your rabbits from insects that may carry the disease by using insect screens and flea prevention spot-ons. If you’re introducing a new rabbit, quarantine it for at least a fortnight to ensure it is not infected before exposing it to your current rabbit/s.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD)

What is it?
RHD is a deadly disease caused by a calicivirus which can be transmitted both directly and indirectly. The RHD virus is currently divided into subtypes including RHD1 and RHD2. The virus has been present in Europe since 1988 but a recent outbreak of RHD2 in the UK started in 2013 and has caused a large number of rabbit deaths.

What are the symptoms?
Sadly, one of the most common symptoms of RHD is sudden death, with many owners believing their rabbit died of “fright” or a heart attack. External symptoms are not always seen and so many rabbits dying from RHD are not known, meaning the disease is likely more widespread than we think. The disease acts so quickly (within 1-3 days of infection) that rabbits can look completely normal the day before. Possible symptoms include;

  • Sudden death
  • Bleeding from the nose/mouth/bottom
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever (early)
  • Seizures
  • Vocalising
  • Collapse

A mild form of the disease does exist but this is very uncommon and those rabbits are normally just generally unwell with non-specific symptoms which often mean we do not recognise they have RHD.

How do rabbits get it?
The virus can survive in the environment for many months, especially when it’s cold, allowing it to cause disease outbreaks year after year. RHD can infect rabbits directly through bodily fluids such as faeces/urine/saliva and mating as well as indirectly by contaminated objects such as clothing/cages/bedding/food/humans as well as insects, birds and rodents carrying the disease. There is even suspicion the virus can be carried on the wind. Blood-sucking insects such as mosquitoes and fleas can cause the virus to spread quickly and over considerable distances.

Can you treat it?
RHD is usually fatal and cannot be treated so vaccinating your rabbit is strongly recommended to prevent them from getting it. We may be able to provide some supportive care to infected rabbits but normally our vets will recommend euthanasia to alleviate suffering. Rabbits known, or suspected, of being infected should be isolated from all other rabbits and strict hygiene protocols used to prevent the virus from being transported elsewhere. All equipment and housing should be thoroughly disinfected and cleaned.

How can I prevent it?
Vaccines exist in the UK for both the RHD1 and RHD2 types of the virus. As there is no way of predicting when a rabbit may become infected with RHD, vaccination to protect every rabbit is the best-recommended action. Vaccines can be given from 4-5 weeks old and then a booster every 6-12 months is advised as the reported duration of immunity is 9 months-1 year. In the UK the RHD1 vaccine can be given at the same time as the myxomatosis vaccine, then the RHD2 vaccine is licensed to be given a minimum of two weeks later.

Where possible you can try and limit exposure of your rabbit to RHD by quarantining any new rabbits, using insect screens and flea spot-ons, and avoiding contact with wild birds and rodents. General hygiene is also important; we advise that all objects (e.g. water bottles, bowls, cleaning equipment) are cleaned and disinfected regularly as well as your rabbit’s housing. Bedding should be changed regularly and along with hay, should be sourced from a supplier where it has been grown with no known infected wild rabbits.

Conclusion: Is vaccination necessary?
There has been a lot of concern in recent years about over-vaccinating our pets and whether annual vaccination is needed. Given the large number of deaths reported for both diseases and the ability for these diseases to spread to different geographical locations we feel vaccination is essential to protect all rabbits as there are no “safe areas”. In rabbits, a single vaccine has only been shown to provide protection for 9-12 months when vaccinated rabbits are challenged with RHD2, which is why we recommend that you give your rabbits annual vaccinations. Additionally, one study showed that cross-immunity between RHD1 and RHD2 was minimal and so both vaccines are needed to ensure adequate protection.

How can regular check-ups benefit my pet?

Regular check-ups for animals might not seem so important if they appear healthy, after all, we don’t usually go to the doctors’ just for a check-up!  So why is that different in our pets? Hopefully, this blog should highlight how they can benefit your pet whatever stage of life they are at.

Firstly, what is a check-up?

It’s a chance to discuss any changes or concerns you may have about your pet. This involves a full nose to tail exam – including checking teeth, weight, body condition (another way of assessing if your pet is an ideal weight), heart, lungs and abdomen. This full check over allows us to pick up any problems like heart murmurs or dental disease early and discuss what we can do to monitor or combat them.

The majority of owners would agree that their pet gets nervous at the vets. In fact, one of the most common things said in a veterinary surgery is “my pet doesn’t like it here”. By regularly attending the vets when there are no needles and plenty of treats, you can slowly teach your pet that being with us isn’t always bad by creating positive experiences. If they become less anxious about seeing the vet, it will be less stressful for everyone involved if they do get sick and have to come in.

With regular check-ups, any problems like arthritis and diabetes can be picked up at an earlier stage. Our pets cannot always tell us when something is wrong and will only begin to show signs when the problem gets worse. If we pick up these hidden issues at an earlier stage, we may be more able to treat it, giving your pet a better and longer life. You may have noticed small changes in your pet’s behaviour and a check-up is a great opportunity to ask if these are normal and get them investigated further if not.

Use us for advice!

Not everything you read on the internet can be believed and this can lead to confusion as there is so much conflicting information. When you bring your pet in, we are more than happy to explain both sides of competing theories and why some may not be as helpful as they look. We can give advice about anything from feeding to neutering, common toxins or a recent article you read. We can debunk any myths and give you sound advice so you can give your pet the best care possible. That is what we are here for so, if you have a question, this is the perfect moment!

Monitor that waistline!

Weight can be gained so easily and can slowly creep on over time, so it can be difficult to notice. Whenever you visit us, the weight of your pet will be recorded and we can let you know how they are doing. The sooner it is recognised if your pet becomes overweight, the easier it is to correct.  Being the ideal weight is important to stay happy and healthy, especially as pets come into their senior years when arthritis starts to become a problem.

Preventative care is at the centre of what we do, we want happy and healthy pets. By bringing your pet in for vaccinations annually you have already got a semi-regular check-up as well as protecting your pet against serious and fatal diseases.

Just bringing your dog in to weigh them for flea and worming treatment is an easy way to keep an eye on your pet’s weight as well as reducing stress by creating positive memories. Even by signing up to ProActive Pets, you can take care of all your pet’s preventative healthcare, get discounts on vet consultations, and have two nurse assessment checks per year, along with a whole host of other benefits – because we think this is so important.

Want to know more? Pop in and ask us!

Can Diet Really Affect My Pet’s Health?

Your pet’s diet has a big impact on their health and wellbeing. The wrong diet could lead to your pet developing health issues such as obesity, diabetes, pancreatitis, allergies or dental problems, so getting it right is crucial!

 

Dogs

It’s important to feed your dog a complete, balanced, high-quality diet. High-quality commercial dog food will contain all the right nutrients and vitamins, and in the right amounts. The best way to recognise a decent quality diet is to take a look at the list of ingredients. The first item should be an animal protein e.g. chicken or pork. If the item is, for example, chicken ‘derivative’ or ‘meal’ this tends to imply a lower-quality diet. Avoid any diets where the kibble is a range of bright colours which means there are likely to be added colourants and additives. These are added to make the food look more appealing to you, whilst your dog doesn’t care what colour his food is!

It’s also key to feed a diet appropriate to life stage and age of your pet. As you can probably imagine, a Great Dane puppy has a completely different calorific and growth requirement compared to say, an elderly Chihuahua. You should feed a good quality puppy or junior food up to the age of about 1 year (sometimes longer for large breed dogs – usually to about 15-18 months), then gradually switch to an adult diet, then to a senior food from the age of 8.

If you have a large breed dog, then you should feed your dog a diet specially formulated for large breeds. This is because joint problems tend to be more common in larger dogs, so these diets contain additional joint supplements to support bone and joint health. Small breed dogs can be more prone to dental disease so generally diets suited to smaller breed dogs have a smaller kibble size and contain supplements to reduce tartar build-up (which can lead to dental disease).

Once your dog has been spayed or castrated, it’s a good idea to feed a neutered diet. These diets are calorie restricted to help prevent post neutering weight gain. It’s vital to maintain a healthy weight and body condition score (BCS) – extra weight puts your pet at health risks including diabetes, arthritis and heart problems. If your pet is a little on the porky side and is already carrying a few extra pounds, then special prescription weight loss diets are available.

 

Cats

Cats are obligate carnivores, so it’s important that they are dependent on their diet containing meat to thrive and survive. In a similar way to dogs, they should be fed a life stage-specific diet based on their age.

Most adult cats are lactose intolerant (they lack the main enzyme required to digest lactose in milk) so it’s best to not feed your cat milk.

Prescription diets are available for certain health concerns including – kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, arthritis, overactive thyroid (cat), skin problems, urinary problems and cystitis, obesity and many more.

 

Rabbits

 The bulk of a rabbit’s diet should be hay (fibre) or dark green leafy vegetables – a minimum of 80%. This should ideally mimic what a rabbit would eat in the wild. A small amount of dry concentrate food can be offered, usually about 1 tablespoon per rabbit. It’s important to feed a complete pellet concentrate, as muesli mixes promote selective feeding and can lead to dental problems. Diet is particularly important for rabbits to wear down their teeth, which continuously grow. Feeding an unsuitable diet can lead to overgrown teeth, weight problems, fly strike and lack of grooming.

If you need any advice regarding what to feed your pet, don’t hesitate to contact our friendly team for a chat – we’re here to help!

How Can I Tell If My Pet’s Overweight?

It can be hard, we know! However, our vets and nurses can weigh your pet and assess their body condition score (BCS) which is a method of categorising weight, ranging from 1 (very thin) to 5 (obese), with 3 being normal and healthy. You can also do some checks at home:

 

  • Look from above. Your pet should go in a little at the waist. If not, they may be overweight.
  • Feeling along the side of the chest, you should be able to feel the ribs. They should not be under a thick layer of fat, but they should also not be sticking out.
  • Feeling along the back of your pet, the spine and hip bones should not be sticking out but should be easy to feel.
  • Look and feel underneath your pet for any bulges.

 

It’s estimated that around 60% of dogs and 39-52% of cats in the UK are overweight or obese. A report last year found 80% of dog owners stated their pet was an ideal weight, but 40% knew neither their pet’s weight nor body condition score. 74% of cat owners believed their cat was an ideal weight, but nearly two thirds (65%) acknowledged not knowing their cat’s current weight and/or body condition score.

 

Does it matter if my pet is overweight?

 

Pets who are a healthy weight are more likely to enjoy a happy and healthy life. Here are some reasons why:

 

  • Older pets often suffer from degenerative joint disease (arthritis). Being overweight can speed the progression of arthritis and the pain caused, ultimately reducing the quality and quantity of their life. Simple mechanics mean a dog weighing 20 kg that should weigh 15kg will place 33% more force through each limb. Even a small weight reduction can make a huge difference to their quality of life.
  • Being overweight increases the chance of diabetes in dogs and cats. Diabetes shortens life, can come with complications, and usually requires lifelong insulin injections. This poses a significant time and financial commitment for owners.
  • Obesity is not known to increase the risk of coronary heart disease as in people, but it does have adverse effects on cardiac and pulmonary function and blood pressure.
  • Operations are more risky for all pets that are overweight.
  • Rabbits naturally eat a part of their faeces known as caecotrophs, which helps recycle enzymes enabling them to digest roughage. If they are overweight, they will not be able to groom or to reach their bottom to eat these caecotrophs.
  • Obese or overweight cats are more at risk of hepatic lipidosis and lower urinary tract disease, both of which can be very serious or even fatal.

 

What can I do?

 

We can check your pet’s body condition score and weight, and perform an examination looking for other health issues, especially ones that may be weight related.

 

We can recommend a regime to help your pet lose weight, but it is important not to lose weight too rapidly. We aim for no more than 1-2% of their starting weight each week.

 

If they are only slightly overweight then feeding a bit less, or changing to a lower-calorie food may be all that’s needed. Pets needing more drastic weight loss may need a special diet, as reducing their food too much may mean they go hungry or with insufficient nutrients. A food diary for a week may highlight where your pet is getting extra calories. Each weight loss plan we suggest is individual and would involve exercise as part of the weight loss regime, but here are some general points:

 

  • Good pet food companies produce food for varying life-stages, as a developing pup, for example, will have different needs to an ageing dog.
  • Take the nutritional information of your current food along to your appointment and our team can assess if it’s appropriate for your pet.
  • Feeding a complete commercial pet food is the easiest way to ensure your pet gets the nutrients they need. Use feeding guidelines and weigh the food out. It seems obvious, but pets that eat too much get fat.
  • Treats and scraps on top of a complete food will unbalance the diet and most likely be turned into fat.
  • Pet lifestyle makes a difference. In the same way, an elite athlete will need more calories than an office-worker, a working greyhound or sheepdog will need more calories than a sedentary dog.
  • If considering a diet change, do it slowly to avoid upsetting the gut.

 

Dogs:

 

  • Prefer regular mealtimes. Ideally, split your dog’s daily food into two equal-sized meals, meaning your dog will be less hungry and eat more slowly. It may also help them sleep and make it less tempting to treat.

 

Cats:

 

  • Are obligate carnivores, meaning they cannot survive without meat. They cannot produce an amino acid called taurine (a protein building block) which can only be found in meat. Without it, they can develop a severe heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy and even blindness. Their gut is not designed to digest a plant-based diet, just like a cow’s gut is not designed for a meat-based diet.
  • Prefer to graze, eating 8-16 times daily, so have food available all the time weighing out the daily quota. Most cats are very good at self-regulating but some are greedy, and with these cats, meals may be needed.
  • That drink milk often gets tummy upsets due to the lactose.

 

Rabbits should:

  • Eat around 50% of the time so they need at least their body size in good quality hay per day to keep boredom at bay, to keep their gut health and to keep their continually growing teeth worn down.
  • Have a handful of fresh vegetables, morning and evening. They love carrots, but as they are high in sugar, use them sparingly.
  • Have an eggcup of commercial rabbit nuggets (NOT muesli-type mix) once a day if under 3.5kg, or twice a day if larger. If fed too many nuggets, they may eat less hay and veg which are both vital for rabbit health.