Archive for the ‘Rabbit’ Category

What rabbits should really eat

For years rabbits were commonly thought of as the ‘easy’ pet, one that was great as a ‘first’ or ‘child’s’ pet. However they’ve never been all that easy to care for at all, it’s just that many of their needs were being overlooked. Thankfully there’s good news! Rabbit owner awareness has come forward leaps and bounds in recent years.


There are a number of care requirements, now far better known to rabbit owners, serving the bunny population very well indeed. One of these is the requirement for an appropriate diet. As with people, dogs, cats, all animals in fact, a good diet underpins both physical and mental wellbeing. Gone are the days when a handful of rabbit muesli and a carrot will suffice, so here’s our guide to a rabbit-friendly healthy menu.

ROUGHAGE

Top of the list is the foodstuff of which they need most, unlimited quantities in fact. By far and away the largest component to your rabbit’s diet should be hay or grass, and we’re talking up to 90%. Not just any old hay will suffice, pinching a slice from the farmer around the corner won’t necessarily do. Those with rabbits must be prepared to become hay experts as there are many on the market. An adult rabbit should be fed what is known as grass hay. Meadow hay and Timothy hay are good examples of this and they tend to contain a balance of fibre and calcium better suited to the mature bunny; the calcium levels are on the lower side and adult rabbits that are fed excess calcium risk kidney and bladder problems. In contrast, young, pregnant or lactating rabbits will do better with calcium-rich legume hay such as clover hay.

There is good reason that roughage should make such a prominent appearance in a rabbit’s diet; you may be surprised to know that a rabbit’s teeth will never stop growing. So in order to keep them in good, short shape and therefore prevent dental problems, the grinding action of chewing hay or grass helps grind their teeth down. The consequences of overgrown teeth can be dire. As the teeth become too long and misshapen, the rabbit struggles to eat, then weight loss and steady starvation can ensue. Roughage also plays a vital role in maintaining gastrointestinal health. A rabbit’s gut must keep gently moving and the fibre in their diet will help it do so.

Gut stasis (when the gut ceases to work properly) is a painful and life-threatening problem which must be treated as an emergency, signified by lethargy, anorexia, sometimes hiding, and a lack of faecal pellets. It’s important to phone for veterinary advice immediately if you notice these signs.

RABBIT PELLETS

The next component of a rabbit’s diet should be a commercially prepared rabbit pellet. Mixed flakes or muesli type food should be avoided due to the ability for rabbits to selective feed. By this we mean they have a tendency to pick out the tasty bits and leave the rest, something we all know a bit about if we’re honest. It’s like giving a young child the choice between some broccoli and some sweeties, we shouldn’t be surprised that the broccoli remains untouched. As with all commercial diets, follow feeding directions for the individual brand, although one general rule of thumb for many diets is to feed one full egg cup of pellets per kilogram of body weight.

FRESH FRUIT AND VEG

Fresh fruit and veg is next on the menu. Take care with fruit as the sugar content is high and can cause obesity. See fruit as more of a treat and concentrate on fibre-full leafy greens as a daily option instead. Why not mix it up to keep their interest? Vegetables that are suitable for bunnies include asparagus, broccoli, tomato, spinach, radish and cabbage, as well as herbs like basil, parsley and coriander amongst many others. Avocados contain a substance called persin which is highly toxic to rabbits and therefore should never be fed. Whilst treats are available to buy, keeping bunnies in healthy, lean condition is important, so don’t underestimate the worth of alternating fresh fruit and veg instead. A handful (adult-sized) of veg each day is plenty and it’s important to introduce new foods to their diet slowly to avoid stomach upset.

CHECK THEIR WEIGHT

Getting a rabbit’s diet right will pay dividends to their health and wellbeing. Obesity in the rabbit population is sometimes overlooked, not least because it can be difficult to determine what the perfect bunny body should look like in the first place. Please ask us if you’re concerned about your rabbit’s weight (whether under or overweight) so that we can advise. Obesity should be avoided for a whole host of reasons many of which we humans can empathise with. From exercise intolerance to additional pressure on joints (especially in the aged bunny who might suffer with arthritis), obesity can also lead to diseases like diabetes.

There is one rather more sinister problem too – rabbits carrying extra weight can’t easily clean themselves, so they are less likely to keep their rear end in check. What’s more, the extra weight is also likely cause their behind to drag through faeces and urine. A dirty bottom will encourage flies (particularly during the summer months) to lay their eggs within your rabbits fur. These eggs develop into maggots which literally use your rabbit as a food source. A painful and sometimes heartbreaking condition, definitely one that’s best to be avoided.


So that’s our guide to get you started. We’d love the opportunity to tell you more about how best to care for your rabbits or answer any specific questions you may have.

Can diet really affect my pets 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 require further advice please contact to your local Goddard vet who can share details on what’s best for your pet.

Tips on exercising your pet

In order to be happy and healthy, pets have needs that can be broken down into 5 areas: health, behaviour, companionship, diet and environment. Owners need to provide these needs. It is not only ethically right to do so, but also our legal responsibility. Follow our tips below on exercising your pet.


Exercise fits into 4 out of the 5 welfare needs…

  • It helps maintain our pets’ health. It’s estimated that 46% of dogs seen in practice and 34% of cats are overweight or obese. Interestingly, research shows only 15% of owners describe their dogs as overweight and 54% of cat owners don’t know their cat’s weight.
  • Exercise is essential for pets’ mental health too, providing them the ability to carry out natural behaviours. This can help prevent unwanted behaviours that can otherwise build up.
  • To allow your pet to carry out their natural behaviours they need to be given plenty to do. This is known as enrichment. Providing a safe and enriched environment is our responsibility.
  • Many of our pets prefer to exercise and live with company. In some cases companionship is actually essential for wellbeing.

Tips for dogs

ALL dogs need walking daily, but statistics say 13% are not. Different breeds, ages and personalities need varying amounts of exercise. Our team can recommend what your pet needs. A fit Labrador needs at least 2 hours of exercise daily whereas a Yorkshire terrier may only need 30 minutes. Puppies and elderly or debilitated dogs will need special consideration.

Time off-lead gives opportunities to sniff and explore which is important for mental health. Dogs appreciate a varied route for different experiences but if recall is an issue, a large garden or enclosed play area is ideal. Always keep dogs on the lead in built-up areas and use high-vis jackets during the dark nights.

If your pet is getting tired you have done too much. If they are full of energy then you may have not done enough. Dogs love human companionship, so playtime indoors or outdoors is also important. When alone, you can keep dogs occupied and exercised by using puzzle feeders. Sticks can cause serious injuries so perhaps instead throw a ball (but one that is big enough to not be swallowed).

Tips for cats

Outdoor cats scratch, stalk, pounce and batt outdoors, but it’s still important to provide opportunity for these behaviours indoors. If cats are indoors this is essential. Cats all have individual preferences. If your cat doesn’t want to play, try different toys. Interactive toys provide companionship and bonding time, and you can change the pace and speed of play. Cats exercise in short bursts, so 5-10 minutes frequently throughout the day is better than one long period. As cats naturally hunt at dawn and dusk they may prefer these times for play.

Putting part of your cat’s food ration inside food puzzles can keep them mentally amused and exercised when alone. Research shows puzzle feeders can reduce stress, contribute to weight loss, decrease aggression towards humans and other cats, reduce anxiety and fear, and eliminate attention-seeking behaviour and inappropriate toileting problems. You can buy puzzle feeders or make your own – try putting kibbles inside plastic bottles with holes cut in them. The cats can then roll them around and retrieve; or perhaps within a constructed toilet roll tube tower for your cat to reach into and grab.

Tips for rabbits

The more space rabbits have, the happier they are. Outdoor runs should let them sprint and stand up without touching their ears on the bars so should be at least 3 x 6 x 10 ft. This space includes an attached enclosure (6 x 2 x 2 ft) so they can enjoy the outdoors and run about when they want. Rabbits like to play and dig so make sure they have lots of toys.

Wild rabbits spend 80% of their waking time foraging. Food can be hidden and dispersed to encourage exercise. Research shows rabbits suffer from stress and loneliness if kept alone and rabbits love to play and exercise together. They actually value companionship as much as food. If you have a single bunny, talk to us about finding them a buddy.

Tips for small pets

Hamsters travel great distances at night in the wild. They need as large a cage as you can provide (at least 60 x 30 x 30cm). Many breeds dig, so an area of deep sawdust will satisfy this need. Most love climbing on different levels, but make sure levels are not too tall as a fall may cause harm. Hamster wheels should be solid as spokes can cause injury, and wide enough so the hamster doesn’t bend its back when moving. Restricting access to wheels to 3-4 hours ensures they don’t keep going until they are exhausted.

Hamster balls with no way to escape may also cause exhaustion, so always supervise if using these. Food can be hidden to promote foraging behaviour through the night and boxes, tubes and ladders provide stimulation for exercise and climbing opportunities. Remember, although many breeds of hamsters like company, the Syrian hamster does not. Syrian hamsters are happy to exercise alone, or with their humans.

For guinea pigs, RSPCA recommendations are minimum size hutch of 4ft by 2ft but, like rabbits, the bigger the better. Like rabbits they also need companionship, and ideally constant access to a large grassy area so they can decide when they want to go out. Hiding food can increase exercise through foraging and, like any pet, toys will increase exercise and mental stimulation.

Rats’ cages should be at least 50 x 80 x 50 cm and they need at least an hour’s playtime outside their cage per day, in a safe rat-proofed room with no cracks or wires to chew. Boxes or tubing provide extra entertainment and, although they enjoy human company, it’s unfair to keep them alone.


As all pets have different needs, do speak to us to ensure yours is getting the right amounts of the right exercise.

How to have a Pet-Friendly Christmas

For most humans, Christmas is when we meet up with friends, celebrate with rich food and drink, put up sparkling decorations and have a wonderful time! However, for our pets, it can be really tough. Stress from strangers in the house, a change of routine, unexpected hazards from decorations and tasty foods that prove to have nasty toxic side effects. So, what can we do to make the festive season pet-friendly?


MINIMISE STRESS

“God rest ye merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay…” But all those merry gentlemen certainly can dismay our pets! Almost all of them find the presence of strange people in the house stressful. Dogs may respond to this by aggression, destructive behaviours or hiding; rabbits freeze and try and stay motionless; whereas cats are more likely to start urine spraying, hide or just vanish for the duration. However, even an apparently excited and waggy dog may not be as happy as they seem – while some dogs genuinely do love company, others try and cope with the stress by being extra friendly.

Ideally, you should avoid putting your pet into a stressful situation at all. This means allowing them to have their own quiet space, away from people, minimising the amount of interaction with strangers (so those festive cat and dog costumes probably aren’t a good idea) and, as far as possible, keeping to their normal routine.

However, they aren’t going to be able to avoid the holiday season completely, so you will also have to look at managing their stress. For dogs and cats, the best approach is the use of pheromones – Feliway for cats and Adaptil for dogs. Sadly, there aren’t any products designed specifically for rabbits, but if your pet is really suffering, whatever their species, bring them down to see us and our vets can prescribe anti-anxiety medications that are very effective in the short-term.

AVOID ORNAMENT INJURIES

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly…” And fir trees, glass and plastic ornaments, ribbons, tinsel, lights and candles. All lovely to look at, all potentially dangerous! Cats often like to play with bright shiny things, but they can easily get themselves cut (on a broken glass bauble, for example) or burned by candle flames or hot fairy lights. Cats also love to play pounce with tinsel and ribbons, but if swallowed they can form a “linear foreign body”, cutting into the intestinal walls. find out more about what you can do with advice from Cats Protection

Dogs, on the other hand, are more likely to try eating things – and any ornament can cause an intestinal blockage, or break and cut the mouth or bowel.

Christmas trees are a particular threat, as to cats they are nice climbing frames (potentially resulting in it raining cats as well as needles), while to dogs they are a convenient urinal (which may result in electric shocks in a rather unfortunate location).

The simplest way to avoid injuries is by preventing pets from having any unsupervised contact with ornaments or decorations!

PREVENT POISONING

“So bring us a figgy pudding, so bring us a figgy pudding, so bring us a figgy pudding and bring it out here…” Sadly, so many of our festive favourites can be toxic to our pets. Most people know how dangerous chocolate is for dogs (and the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is). However, did you know that coffee, peanuts, Macadamia nuts, onions, and even raisins and dried fruit are all poisonous to dogs and cats? So no slices of Christmas pudding, mince pies, festive nuts, sage and onion stuffing for our pets! The Dogs Trust have created a Doggy Christmas Menu – especially designed with dogs in mind!

In addition, cooked bones are highly dangerous as they can splinter in the mouth or gut, leading to sharp wounds and even perforated bowels. So, watch out for left-over turkey carcasses!

Finally, be very careful not to give them too much rich food and treats – dogs and cats do not thrive on rapidly changing diets, and a sudden change can lead to nasty vomiting and diarrhoea. Likewise, rabbits shouldn’t have too many seeds and treats, but make sure they have plenty of good quality hay.


Christmas with pets can be great fun for both of you, but you do have to take certain precautions! If in doubt, contact your local Goddard vet for more advice.

Fireworks and Your Pet

Fireworks season is fast approaching and although we may enjoy it as humans, it may be a little stressful for our furry friends. See below our advice on keeping your pet happy and safe during this time, or have a look at our top 10 tips on keeping your pet safe this firework season. 


ALWAYS

  • Keep dogs and cats inside when fireworks are being let off.
  • Close all windows and doors and block off cat flaps to stop pets escaping and to keep noise to a minimum. Draw the curtains, and if the animals are used to the particular sounds of TV or radio, switch them on.
  • Make sure your pet is microchipped so should they run away you are more likely to be reunited with them.

NEVER

  • Walk your dog while fireworks are going off.
  • Leave or tie your dog up outside while fireworks are being let off.
  • Take your dog to a firework display. Even if your dog does not bark or whimper at fireworks it doesn’t mean they are happy.
  • Shout at your pet if they are frightened as this will only make them more distressed.

DOGS

To further minimise distress, we suggest you install an Adaptil® diffuser in your home. The Adaptil® diffuser works like a plug-in air freshener, continuously releasing an odourless natural pheromone which helps to keep your pet feeling safe and calm. The diffuser contains a natural solution and there is no sedative effect. Xylkene® is an oral tablet which can also be used to help relieve anxiety without the use of potentially sedative drugs. In severe cases we may need to prescribe a sedative. Please discuss this with one of our veterinary surgeons.

CATS

A Feliway® diffuser is the feline equivalent to the Adaptil® diffuser. Feliway® releases feline facial pheromone, mimicking the cat’s own pheromones, helping to create a state of calmness and well-being, allowing reactions to stressful situations to be better controlled. Xylkene® can also be used in cats to help relieve anxiety without the use of potentially sedative drugs.

SMALL ANIMALS

Rabbits and guinea pigs living outside should not be forgotten. They can also become very stressed from loud noises. Bring small animals indoors or into an outhouse to muffle the sound of the fireworks, helping them feel safe and calm.


If you are concerned or would like further advice, please speak to your local Goddard vet soon.