Bunnies, bunnies, bunnies!

With Easter around the corner it seems a good time to talk about rabbits as pets.  Although they do make good pets, they aren’t the most ideal for children and certainly should not be purchased on a whim, just because, well it is Easter bunny time after all.   As with all new pet additions to any home, it is good to do your research first.  Be aware of the time, feeding, housing and care required for the pet you are considering, and remember that your veterinarian is your best source of information.

Our most exotic knowledgable and experienced tech Meghan has written this great post to provide you with the information you need if you are considering adding a rabbit to your household.

by: Meghan Eggertson

The popularity of rabbits as house pets has grown greatly in the last couple decades.  They are very social, most active in the morning and evening (when their people are usually home), clean, and quiet, making them a great companion for many people.  For most of their domesticated history, rabbits have been used as production animals (for meat and fur) and more recently in research settings – but the needs for these rabbits are different from those of the pet rabbit, which is what will be discussed in this article.

Behaviour

Rabbits are very social animals that like companionship; however, they have very strong feelings of like or dislike towards other rabbits.  When introducing rabbits to one another, do not allow them direct access to each other initially.  Place them in separate cages/areas where they can see and smell each but cannot physically interact for a few days.  If both of the rabbits seem comfortable with the other’s presence, they can be placed directly on either side of a barrier (such as a baby gate or wire mesh cage top).  If they continue to do well in each other’s presence (laying down near each other, touching noses, etc.) the

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Tech Meghan snuggling a surgery patient

rabbits can be allowed in the same area under supervision.  Dogs and cats can also be trained to accept the presence of rabbits, but they should not be left alone with them unsupervised.

Enrichment is necessary for a rabbit’s well-being.  They should be provided with lots of items to chew on such as branches from fruit trees, untreated sisal mats, and cardboard rolls.  They also enjoy toys that they can toss around such as hard plastic cat balls and toy keys.  Places to hide such as tubes or tunnels, boxes, or “igloos” also need to be provided.

If kept in a cage, your rabbit needs to also be provided with access to larger areas where they can run around and exercise.  Exercise is not only mentally beneficial but also helps with digestion and decreases the risk of foot and bone issues.  If inside the house, make sure all electrical cords are covered or out of reach and plants are not accessible.  Be aware that some rabbits also like to chew on baseboards and drywall or furniture; baby gates or exercise pens may be set up to keep them out of certain areas.  If your floors are smooth (wood, tile, linoleum, etc.) place a mat or rug down so that your rabbit can get traction.  Outdoor exercise areas can also be set up for your rabbit using a dog exercise pen.  Make sure the grass is not treated and the area is protected from predators (including dogs and cats).

Housing

There is a wide variety of commercial and homemade options available for housing your rabbit, but they should all follow the following guidelines:

  • Your rabbit should have enough room to stretch and hop around and the roof should rabbit homenot touch its ears when it is standing.
  • The area should be will ventilated (i.e. wire mesh should be used, not glass) as rabbits are more sensitive to the heat than the cold.
  • Due to their sensitivity to heat they should not be placed in direct sunlight.
  • Ideally the bottom should be solid, not mesh, to prevent pododermatitis (foot sores) and plastic because it is easy to clean.

Bedding may consist of hay, wood shavings, newspaper, or a blanket/towel.  Fabric (blanket or towel) should only be used if the rabbit does not like to chew on it.  If using shavings, make sure they are not made of preserved pine or cedar as the fumes from these are toxic to the rabbit’s liver.  Newspaper may cause staining on the feet of light coloured rabbits, but the ink is vegetable based and nor harmful.  If the rabbit is not litter trained the bedding should be changed every couple of days, but if it uses a litter box the bedding only needs to be changed every 1-2 weeks.

rabbit houseLitter training is relatively easy for rabbits.  Use a pelleted litter, like Yesterday’s News, not clumping or clay based litter which if ingested can impact the caecum.  Place the litter box in the area of the cage that the rabbit already uses as its toilet.  It is sometimes helpful to place your rabbit’s hay next to or in the litter box because rabbits like to eat as they defecate.  Clean the box out every day or two.  After a few weeks using the box, it can be moved to whatever location the owner desires and the rabbit should continue using it.

If the housing area needs to be cleaned, diluted vinegar or CLR can be used to remove urine scale.  Let it sit for a few minutes, use a scrub pad if needed, then rinse very well with running water (especially if using CLR).  Bleach can also be used for disinfecting at a ratio of 30mL bleach to 1L water; again, make sure to rinse very well afterwards.

Feeding

Rabbits are vegetarians and hind-gut fermenters – this means they need to re-ingest their “night feces” (caecotrophs), which are a source of amino acids and vitamins.  Caecotrophs look like a little mucous encapsulated cluster of grapes.  Rabbits normally ingest these right away, so they are not usually seen by the owners.

Rabbits eat constantly and require a high fibre diet.  The majority of their diet should be hay: not only is it high in fibre, but it wears the teeth down and can be grazed on all day long.  Grass or timothy hay is ideal; alfalfa hay is high in calcium and protein and can lead to obesity and urinary crystals.  Make sure the hay looks and smells fresh and is stored in a dry area.timothy-hay

Pellets are good as a more concentrated source of nutrients.  They should be timothy (not alfalfa based), have no artificial colours, and be uniform.  “Mixed ration” type food is not ideal as some rabbits pick out their favourite ingredients which can lead to a deficit in vitamins and minerals.  Pellets should not be fed ad-lib but restricted to about 20% of the daily diet; most recommended feeding amounts on bags are for commercial rabbits and are usually more than what a pet rabbit needs.  Offer the pellets just once daily, and whatever isn’t eaten in a couple of hours should be removed.

A variety of fresh vegetables can also be fed as a supplement to the hay and pellets.  Limit the amount of fruits and carrots given as these are high in sugar.  Some greens such as kale, spinach, alfalfa, and dandelion greens should also be fed in moderation as they are high in calcium which can be hard on the kidneys.  The best vegetables to feed include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot tops, parsley, cauliflower leaves, parsnip, and green beans.  If a change in diet needs to be made, it should be done over at least a 5 day period so that the rabbit’s gastrointestinal system has time to adjust.

Salt and mineral blocks or vitamin supplementation are not needed as long as the rabbit is receiving a balanced diet (as described above), unless specifically recommended by your veterinarian.  Some rabbits chew their mineral blocks out of boredom which may result in harmful levels of calcium.

A good supply of fresh water should always be available to your rabbit.  Rabbits have high water consumption and a 2.5kg (5.5lb) rabbit can drink a cup of water a day.  Water is extremely important in the digestion of the rabbit’s high fibre diet and therefore should not be withheld for any length of time.

Types

Lionhead, dwarf, angora, lop…. the list goes on.  Although there are many types of rabbits when it comes to the information provided above, all pet rabbits are the same – they all require the same stimulation, housing, and feeding.  The only thing to consider is that longer-haired rabbits, such as the angora, may require additional coat care with brushing and possible shaving of the backend to prevent matting and urine scalding.

Rabbits truely are a fun and interactive pet and can provide a lot of companionship. If you do decide to get a pet rabbit, it is recommended that they receive a yearly veterinary visit (just like cats and dogs!) with a veterinarian with rabbit experience to make sure there aren’t any underlying health issues. If you are considering getting a rabbit (or alreay have one) and have any other questions, please call the clinic and we will be more than happy to help.

Additional Resource:

House Rabbit Society

 

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Your Role, Your Responsibility

Every year the last week of September/first week of October is dedicated to Animal Health Week sponsored by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA).  Each year a new focus of veterinary medicine is highlighted.  This year it is on responsible antibiotic use.  Just like the phrase in human medicine goes “not all bugs need drugs” so too does this apply to veterinary medicine.

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The message taken from the CVMA’s website is:

“Using the campaign slogan Our Role, Our Responsibility, we will encourage animal owners to trust in their veterinarian, use antibiotics safely and keep their pets healthy.

ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE AND HOW IT AFFECTS YOUR PET

September 15, 2014

When the first antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered in 1928, infectious disease treatment took a turn for the better. Rates of sickness and death in humans and animals were greatly reduced, thanks to these antimicrobial products.

Antibiotics are life-saving drugs, but their use must be appropriate in order to preserve the effectiveness of these drugs. A recent report from the World Health Organization indicates the last new class of antibacterial drugs was discovered in the 1980s. There is now an emergence of resistance to antibiotics and the inappropriate use of these life-saving medications is a factor. Widespread resistance may take us back to a time similar to the early 20th century, when many epidemics spread unchecked.

These threatening dog with medsmulti-resistant bacteria don’t only affect humans, but pets as well.   It’s important that we protect the effectiveness of antibiotics for both people and our pets. As a responsible gatekeeper of the reliable medicines that keep your pet healthy, your veterinarian will determine whether or not an antibiotic is required when your pet is sick. If required, your veterinarian will do testing to determine whether or not antibiotic treatment is needed.

As a pet owner, you should administer your pet’s antibiotics exactly as prescribed by your veterinarian. People will sometimes stop taking the medication once we feel better, but for both humans and pets, the full course of treatment is necessary in order to prevent resistant bacteria from developing.

Leftover antibiotics should never be flushed down the toilet, as this can have an adverse effect on amphibians, aquatic species, and the birds and mammals that prey on them. Ask your veterinarian or the veterinary team for advice on disposal.

Finally, healthy animals can better fight off potential illnesses. A healthy lifestyle includes regular veterinary examinations, vaccinations, parasite prevention, exercise and good nutrition.”

Further to their message it should be noted that if antibiotics are taken correctly, there should not be any leftover.  It is important to take the entire course of cast pillantibiotics, even when the infection is looking much better, it may not be entirely healed on the inside, so continue giving your pet the medication as prescribed by your veterinarian until they are all gone.  If you are coming to the end of the round of antibiotics and the infection is still visibly healed, contact your veterinarian.  A longer round of the antibiotics may be required or in some cases a different antibiotic may be necessary.

If we work together we can work to ensure that antibiotics will always be effective in treating infections that require them.  If you have any questions  about your pet’s medications, please contact your veterinarian.

 

 

Household Toxins for Birds

by: Dr. Tracy Fisher, DVM

shopping bird

As many people know birds are especially sensitive to a number of potential toxins that are present in our homes.  This is due to their unique physiology and their curious nature, many birds will try and eat almost anything! Here is a list of common toxin exposures for our pet birds that are present in many homes:

Inhaled toxins

Miners in the old days knew very well what they were doing when they took small birds down into the mines with them.  Due to adaptations to flight that allow birds to extract much more oxygen from the air than mammals can they also absorb gaseous toxins much more efficiently too.  The “canary in the coal mine” would succumb to any noxious gases much sooner than the miners, allowing them to escape before they too were overcome.

There are a lot of potential toxic gases in our homes too:

Polytetraflouroethylene (PTFE): these are very common causes of respiratory distress and sudden death in pet birds.  These compounds are released when heating most non-stick cookware, irons and ironing board covers, and when a self cleaning oven is on the “clean” cycle.  Fans above the stove are usually insufficient to disperse the fumes.  Birds should be kept well away from the kitchen when these items are in use.  Better yet to avoid Teflon pans if you have a bird in the home.  When you clean the oven move the bird to a well ventilated room as far away from the kitchen as possible.

Smoke Inhalation: Smoke from household or cooking fires is very toxic to birds.  Birds are also very sensitive to Carbon Monoxide poisoning – it is a good idea to have a CO detector in your home for you and your bird.  Tobacco smoke exposure can cause chronic respiratory problems, increases succeptibility to infection and cancer.

Aerosols: It is generally advisable to avoid exposure to any aeresolized air fresheners or essential oils.

Ingested toxins

Heavy Metals

Lead: Ingestion of lead leads to a number of health problems in birds including severe digestive upset, neurological problems and death.  Lead is found in the galvanized wire of many older style bird cages, the foil wrappers around wine bottle tops, weights in many toys or drape weights, lead based paints, stained glass solder, linoleum and costume jewellery.

Zinc: Symptoms are very similar to lead poisoning.  Zinc is found in galvanized wire, staples, fertilizers, pennies, and many shampoos and creams.

Insecticides/Pesticides

Birds are very sensitive to insecticides and pesticides.  If your house needs to be fumigated for insects the birds need to be removed from the home for at least a week to let the fumes dissipate.  If you use DEET containing mosquito sprays or lotions on yourself wash your hands well before handling your bird and never spray your bird with these products.

Rodenticides: Birds can be poisoned with mouse/rat poisons and slug bait. Keep these products away from your bird – many of the baits are brightly coloured and flavoured which makes them attractive to birds

Drugs

Many birds will quite happily steal pills or vitamins that are within their reach due to the bright colour of many medication – it looks like a berry to them.  Due to their small size pretty much anything that is the right dose for a human of any medication or vitamin will be a massive overdose for a bird.

pet birdsPlant Toxins

Fortunately most birds are fairly resistant to many of the toxins produced by plants.  There are a few things to avoid however:

    • *Avocado: This is controversial as to wether or not the flesh of the avocado is toxic.  There are reports of birds becoming ill after eating avocado but other seem to eat them regularly with no problem.  Probably safest to avoid.  The pit is very toxic
    • Chocolate
    • Black Locust
    • Clematis
    • Lily of the Valley
    • Oleander
    • Philodendron
    • Pointsettia
    • Rhododendron
    • Yew
    • Virginia Creeper

Mycotoxins

Fungal toxins are found in contaminated grains and feeds.  Birds are extremely sensitive to these toxins.  Peanuts in the shell are often contaminated with mycotoxins.  This is one of the reasons we recommend not to feed peanuts to your bird

Other Household Toxins

Cleaning Agents Birds are very sensitive to most household cleaning agents.  Use dish soap and water to clean the cage/perches and toys or a diluted vinegar solution.  Wipe well with warm water. If using a floor cleaner remove the bird from the room until the floor is dry.  Pine oils, phenols and ammonia compounds are very irritating to birds.

Topical Disinfectants/Creams Do not use your own topical disinfectants or creams on your bird without checking with your veterinarian first.  Detol, alcohol, antibacterial creams, tea-tree oil etc may all be toxic if used improperly

Cooking oils Ingestion of excess amounts of oil or a bird who has had its feathers soaked with oil can be a serious problem.

There are of course many other things in our homes that may cause problems in pet birds. If you are concerned that your bird may have been exposed to any of these toxins please call your veterinarian.  It is also highly recommended that you check with your veterinarian prior to using any medication or supplement on your bird even if it says it is “all natural”.

Birds plate