Archive for the ‘Rabbit’ Category

Ten tips for keeping your pet safe this summer

We know you want to do all you can to keep your pet healthy and happy this Summer. There are a few things to think about to keep them safe from harm – we’ve listed our top ten tips below!

Number One: Barbeques

  • Burns are common in both dogs and cats. Make sure your pet can’t get near the barbeque until it has cooled down.
  • Skewers and chicken bones in leftovers or in the bin are a big problem for dogs if they get to them. They may not even realise they have eaten them with the meat but they can do massive internal damage. To prevent this, make sure that skewers or chicken with bones aren’t left in your dog’s reach, or are put in a container. It’s also wise to take the bin out straight away to stop them from getting to any meat and skewers left in there. We know they’ll sniff them out otherwise, given the chance!

Number Two: Heatstroke

  • Hot cars are a common cause of heatstroke in dogs, which can be fatal. Never leave a dog in a car in hot weather, even if it is shady and you only intend to be 5 minutes. It isn’t worth the risk.
  • Shade and water is key at this time of year to prevent heatstroke. All of your pets should have this at all times in hot weather. If you are going out with your dog consider taking an umbrella and a pop-up water bowl so that they can rest in the shade and have a drink wherever you go.

Number Three: Hot pavements

Hot pavements can burn dogs’ paws. Ideally only take your dog out for a walk in the morning or evening when it is cooler. Also, you can try and walk on the grass instead. If you are unsure if it is too hot, take your shoes off and try walking or standing on the pavement – you will soon know if it would burn their paws! If it’s too hot for you – it’s too hot for them.

Number Four: Summer travels

It’s very important that when you are going away, your pet will be safe (if they’re coming with you or not!).

  • If your pet is on regular medication, then make sure that you come to see us before you go away so you don’t run out.
  • If your pet is coming with you on holiday and you are travelling by car, then you need to schedule in lots of breaks (ideally at least once an hour) so that your pet can get out of the car, go to the toilet and just stretch their legs. Always make sure there is plenty of water for them to drink. Be prepared for travel sickness, many dogs and cats get travel sick. If they are beginning to look unwell then pull over at the next services to let them get some air and start to feel a little better. A long journey can be much more stressful than we can imagine, you can use pheromone sprays to reduce stress – get in touch with our team if you’d like more advice.

Number Five: Staying in the cattery or kennels

Make sure they are fully vaccinated (you can get the extra kennel cough vaccine for your dog), flea treated and wormed before they go in, you don’t want them to come out sick or infested!

Number Six: Going abroad with your pet

If you plan to take your pet abroad then you will need to come in and see us. Pets must have a passport to travel and to qualify they will need a rabies vaccination and wormer in advance of the trip. Our vets will also give you advice about travelling and others risks when abroad.

Number Seven: Flystrike

Rabbit owners, this one’s for you! Flystrike is where flies lay eggs on moist areas (often the back end), which then hatch to become maggots. This is very painful, as the maggots eat their way into the poor rabbit’s flesh. Any rabbit in the summer is at risk of flystrike, especially those with a wet or dirty back end as this attracts the flies.
If you notice your rabbit has flystrike, ring us straight away. To prevent this, you need to check your rabbit’s bottom every day and clean it up. This should stop the flies from being attracted to that area and means you can catch it early if there is any flystrike.

Number Eight: Fleas

Fleas are very common at this time of year and if you have a pet that goes outdoors then it is inevitable for them to get fleas. You can’t always see fleas on your pet when they have them, so it is always best to treat whether you can see them or not.

  • It is important that you treat your pet regularly (once a month normally but check the product you are using) and ideally with a prescription-strength product bought from us – that way you can be sure it is safe to use and is going to work!
  • If your pet already has fleas your house will also be infested. You will need to wash all bedding at a high temperature, hoover thoroughly including crevices in sofas and treating the house with insecticidal flea spray.

Number Nine: Ticks

These little bloodsuckers carry some very nasty and potentially fatal diseases such as Lyme disease and, more recently, babesiosis. This is mostly a risk for dogs that go walking through long grass. To prevent diseases from ticks, you can regularly treat for ticks (you can get a combination product with the flea treatment) and check your dog over every time you come back from a walk. We can always give advice on tick removal and there are specific tick removal tools, this allows you to be sure you have removed it all and have not left the mouthparts in.

Number Ten: Suncream

In the summer months, the UV rays from the sun can be a problem for our pets, just like us. There is a form of skin cancer that can be caused by too many UV rays, especially in our white (or pink nosed) pets. You can buy pet-friendly sun cream at most pet supermarkets and this only really needs to be applied to the nose and ears (especially important in cats).

We’d like to wish all our patients and their owners a very happy and safe holidays!

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 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.

Can I Share Food With My Pet?

Our pets love to share our food. The act of hand feeding itself is a reward because of the attention. Also, the foods we offer often have high-fat content, making them super tasty. Having their own food in a bowl is much less attractive than a higher calorie feast that has been making the kitchen smell amazing while it cooks. Fat makes food more palatable and as we need more calories, our food is often much more tempting than theirs! The focus in human nutrition is to move away from pre-prepared foods and cook from scratch. Fresh ingredients with as much variety as possible (eating a rainbow every day) are hard work but yields long term health benefits. So, as we improve our own diet, we may feel that it would be better to feed our pets in this way rather than open a can or bag.

Unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as that. We know a lot about our calorie requirements, which nutrients we need, in what proportions and what vitamins and minerals are essential, but these are all different for our pets. All these parts of formulating a complete and balanced diet to promote health and long life are unique. If we feed a diet deficient in a specific nutrient this is likely to cause illness. For example, both cats and dogs need a protein called taurine in their diet, they cannot make it from other proteins as humans can. So, a human diet is likely to cause a taurine deficiency. Unfortunately, taurine deficiency, which used to occur more commonly before pet foods were generally fed, is now on the rise again in animals fed unbalanced diets. It is a devastating deficiency as it causes heart disease resulting in heart failure. Early cases can be rectified and then heart disease managed, it can often improve on a balanced diet. Taurine deficiency can also cause serious eye problems.

A balanced diet also varies within a single species depending on what age the pet is. An adult animal will be a lot better at compensating whereas a younger pet needs specific nutrients in exact ratios which feed the growth of muscle and bone. A trend to feed meat only without any other ingredients sometimes means that a growing animal does not have enough calcium to form strong healthy bones. Although diseases like rickets are in the past for humans, we see it in young animals fed on diets without enough calcium. These puppies and kittens develop deformed limbs or fractures of their back or limbs.

These are just two examples of the problems that can arise from a diet that is not designed for the animal concerned. In this blog, we will briefly review the differing diet requirements of pets. However, if you have any concerns about the diet or health of your pet, come and see us. Together we can discuss all the needs and requirements of your individual pet and find a diet that optimises their health and enjoyment.

Calorie requirements vary between species. We may need roughly 1500-2000 calories daily, but a cat needs only 250-350 a day and a small dog under 400. So, the volume of food and calorie density is important. Obesity is very common in our pets. This results in joint disease, osteoarthritis as they age and can lead to diabetes, and liver disease in cats. When we are investigating diets, it can be best to feed a low-calorie density food, so they feel full, especially if we are going to add in the odd treat. Sometimes our pets can’t get as much exercise. For example, if the weather is terrible our cat won’t go outside and exercise as usual, or if we have surgery and can’t walk our dog. In this case, we need to reduce the calories they eat for a short time.

Protein is an important part of any diet. Cats need twice the amount of protein in their diet that we or dogs do. They are called obligate carnivores as they need animal protein in their diet to supply all the amino acids they need. Vegetarian diets can be formulated for dogs, but it is important that the diet includes a source of every one of the amino acids they need. The proportion of amino acids varies with age – for example, a growing pup needs much more arginine than an adult dog, to avoid liver problems. Fat is essential in the diet for certain fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins which aid health and organ function. Carbohydrates need to be carefully considered in cat diets, some cats put on a lot of weight on high carbohydrate diets.

As cats are desert-adapted species, they have a low drive to drink. This can sometimes mean that they don’t feel thirsty and can become dehydrated or their urine becomes very concentrated. Some cats need some wet food in their diet to combat this. Otherwise, they can develop bladder stones. Many cats enjoy fresh water, and some will drink more if they have a water fountain.

Our small furry pets, rabbits, guinea pigs and rats love the odd high-calorie treat from us, but their dietary requirements are so different that we must take care not to make treats more than 10-20% of their diets. For rabbits and guinea pigs, it is important that the bulk of their calories comes from fibrous food so that their constantly growing teeth are kept in check. The small furry species have very small calorie requirements so can put on weight very easily, which prevents them grooming and can lead to skin problems.

We are always keen to provide the best preventative health care for your pet or pets and are always here to discuss their diet as part of keeping them well and happy. We can work together to choose the right diet that will contribute to a long and healthy life.