The Hidden Danger Of Grass Seeds & Plant Awns

Grass Seeds and Plant Awns

At this time of year at Castle Vets we start to see a lot of patients (particularly dogs), with grass seeds and plant awns embedded in various parts of the body. This article will hopefully help raise awareness on this extremely painful problem.

During the warmer summer months grasses and plants start to dry out and their barbed seeds begin to scatter. These can cause major problems for our dogs (and occasionally other pets such as cats), who often get these seeds caught in their paws, nostrils, ears, eyes and skin. Continue reading

The Secret To Happy Cats

Cat

Stress and anxiety related cat behavioural problems and illnesses are occurring more frequently than ever before; this is mainly due to the ever increasing cat population that sees our cats living in multi cat households or being forced to share territories and live in close proximity with strange cats. Behavioural problems and illnesses are not only stressful to the cats, they can be very upsetting for owners and are one of the leading causes for cats being put up for adoption or euthanased.

Stress and anxiety may lead to unwanted behaviours such as urination and spraying in the home or stress-related illnesses such as idiopathic cystitis and over-grooming; some cats may excessively groom, sleep or eat as a means of self-soothing.

Problems usually occur when a cat does not feel secure and relaxed in his or her own home and may be due to many things including

  • Problems with other cats – both within the household or from neighbouring areas
  • Changes to their usual routine
  • Changes to the normal household routine , for example the owner changing working hours, a new baby or new pet, new neighbours and/or their pets, visitors, arguments in the home, decor changes, building work etc. (The list could go on and on!)
  • House move – not only are they in an unfamiliar home, they also have to figure out their territory allowance with the other neighbourhood cats.
  • Illnesses such as urinary problems, skin problems, stomach upsets and over-grooming are all commonly linked to stress and may exacerbate stress, or sometimes stress can exacerbate the illness.
  • Lack of mental stimulation (boredom),
  • Lack of exercise

Multicat Households

Multi-cat households are homes where two or more cats live together. For most cats everything is fine and they get on well, but occasionally something will happen that upsets the balance of the social groups within the home and leads to problems.

It is vitally important as an owner, to know whether or not your cats are bonded and in the same social group. Cat behaviour can be very subtle and just because your cats are not actively fighting or hissing at each other, it does not necessarily mean that they are the best of friends. Sometimes cats living in the same household do not perceive each other to be in the same social group, but they may tolerate the presence of others in order to access a resource such as food or comfy resting areas.

Social groups can be complicated for example in a 3 cat household you may find that you have 1, 2 or no social groups at all!

Bonded cats within the same social group will

  • Sleep curled/piled up together (or in very close proximity)
  • Head bump and body rub each other
  • Make greeting noises at each other
  • Groom each other
  • Play together

Non-bonded cats may

  • Stare at each other from across a room
  • Block passage to other areas e.g. by sitting in the middle of a doorway, sit at the bottom/top of the stairs and may also hiss or swipe at others going past
  • Chase another, sometimes ending with a swipe or bite (which a surprising high number of owners think is playing)
  • May have their ears back and tails tucked under (or swishing) when another of the household cats is nearby
  • May sleep in the same vicinity, but not curled up/touching one another

The body language our cats display can be very subtle and cat’s that don’t like each other will not always demonstrate this easily for owners to see. This Feliway Friends Or Foes link demonstrates the signs very well.

Bonded cats will demonstrate mutual grooming, body rubbing and sleep in very close proximity

Bonded cats will demonstrate mutual grooming, body rubbing and sleep in very close proximity

How you can help your cat(s) feel more secure 

If you can meet the environmental needs of your cats, you can avoid some of the potential causes of stress and anxiety in their lives that may lead to behavioural problems and impact on their physical and mental health. It is always impressive to see how much more relaxed and less anxious cats can become once these needs have been taken into consideration, even little changes can help a great deal.

1. Create Safe Havens 

We often overlook the need for cats to have safe havens or sanctuaries within the home. Your cat can use these places to hide away if frightened by something in the environment or just to relax out of reach of people and other animals in the home. In multi-cat households the availability of hiding places in all the different areas within the home is very important, because while they may often choose to be in there together, your cats may also need their own individual space at some point.

Your cats may already have their favourite go-to places, so you can make these more cosy and add something for them to hide behind, such as a piece of card or a cloth cover. Examples of good safe places include

  • The top of a wardrobe or cupboard
  • A high shelf/perch (putting a small lip on the shelf will make your cat feel more hidden)
  • Space under a bed or in a cupboard
  • A box with a bed in it behind the sofa or chair (you can also use a cat carrier).
  • Secure a box to the top of a cat tower
  • Cat Tunnel or similar
  • A comfy bed/box in the shed or garage

When your cat is in the safe haven, he or she should be left completely undisturbed by everyone; no talking no touching, no enticing. When your cat is out and about you can talk to, stroke and interact with him or her.

Cats can really benefit from having a total sanctuary like this where they can escape from everything (we know many people do too) and it can be especially helpful for nervous or reactive cats. The thing to remember is that even after hundreds of years of domestication, cats are ultimately solitary animals and sometimes desperately need their own space – even from their loving owners.

Sanctuaries

2. Position Resources Carefully

The vital resources your cat needs include

  • Water
  • Food
  • Litter trays
  • Beds / Resting Areas
  • Scratching posts
  • Play Areas and Toys

Make sure that these resources are spread out and that food, water and litter trays are not near each other or near windows, doorways and cat flaps, particularly where another cat may be able to see or sneak up on your cat while he or she is using them. If there is no option but to put resources in these places, try to create a bit of camouflage for your cat in those areas using a curtain or frosted window coverings for example.

Cats prefer their water source and food sources to be separate from each other, so bear this is mind while you are planning where to put things.

In a multi-cat household make sure you provide resources for each social group as far away as possible from the other to reduce the risk of conflict and relationship breakdown. If you don’t have much space, think about using shelves, work surfaces or other slightly higher places to create separate feeding stations for your cat.

Use surfaces on different levels to create separate feeding stations in Multicat households

3. Litter Trays

Litter trays can be invaluable resources for anxious and stressed cats as having to go outside to eliminate can add to their problem.

  • For multi cat households it is recommended that you have one tray per cat plus one extra. This is not always possible in smaller spaces, so look at the social groups within the home and try to have at least one per group.
  • Make sure trays are placed in quiet, secluded areas in your home and not in busy places like the kitchen or hallway; if you can’t put the tray in a secluded area, put it behind some sort of screen i.e. a piece of cardboard or a curtain (nobody wants to go to the toilet with an audience!)
  • Trays should be as big as possible, preferably 1.5 times the length of your cat from nose to base of tail. For older, ill, or injured cats that may have trouble squatting, a tray with higher sides, but a lower entrance may be necessary and in these cases converted plastic storage boxes or large seed trays may be helpful.
  • The tray should contain a depth of at least 3cm of cat litter in them. If your cat is having any urinary tract-related problems, then he or she may require deeper litter.
  • Remember that cat litter is marketed at owners rather than cats and your cats may not appreciate strong smelling de-odorizing cat litter!
  • Don’t use tray liners, they can get caught up in your cat’s claws while they are raking the litter.
  • Trays should be scooped out at least once daily (more frequently for cats with urinary problems) and topped up with litter as necessary. Covered trays may also need to be scooped more frequently as they will hold odours inside, which can be quite unpleasant for cats.
  • Litter trays should be thoroughly cleaned every 1-2 weeks using soap and hot water (avoid using strong smelling soaps, strong chemicals or ammonia based products).

Low sided litter trays can be great for older cats.

4. Make Time For Play And Hunting Games

Play and mental stimulation is sometimes overlooked once our cats reach adulthood and boredom can intensify usually normal behaviours that could potentially lead to problems such as obesity, destructiveness and over grooming.

  • Remember that cats prefer short but frequent bursts of activity so keep your play sessions to around 2-5 minutes.
  • Make sure that your cat gets the opportunity to win games by catching the ‘prey’ otherwise you will end up with a very frustrated kitty!
  • Individual play can be with small toys and balls. While interaction with the owner can involve the use of fishing rod type and moveable toys.
  • Using cat food/treat dispenser systems, games or making your own can be a great way of providing mental stimulation – Several toilet roll inners stuck together on a board with dry food placed into the tubes works well in both an upright or flat position.
  • Encourage food foraging by placing food parcels around the house in packages, boxes or on ‘cat shelves’.
  • Cardboard boxes can provide lots of entertainment for cats; try cutting some different sized holes in them, body sized and paw sized for extra entertainment. Scrunched up newspaper in the bottom of a box with a few pieces of dried food or treats can also be fun.
  • High shelves and cat towers are fun to play with and can also give cats a sense of security when they are up high.
  • Scratching posts/places are really important for cats (especially indoor cats and those that don’t go far when outside), they provide a place to mark territory and sharpen claws and give cats an opportunity for a proper stretch of their limbs, muscles and spine. Cats often like a variety of scratching places, so try to include a vertical and horizontal surface. Remember to ensure that upright scratching posts are secure and won’t topple as the cat is using it and that they are tall/long enough to allow the cat to stretch out fully.
  • In multi cat homes, create a play area for your cats that contains things to play in and around, for example fabric or cardboard tubes, boxes, cat towers, bags etc. as this will often prevent quarrels.
  • Cats of different social groups may need an area to be able to play individually and with the owner.
  • Rotate toys regularly to keep interest levels high

When using food and treats with toys, it is important to remember to reduce your cat’s daily food allowance for his or her main meal appropriately to avoid obesity.

cats at play

5. Secure Your Cat Flap

It is really important to ensure that other cats in the neighbourhood are not coming into your home and causing further upset and stress to your cats. Investing in a microchip-reading cat flap is a really sensible idea to prevent this.

cat flap

How relaxed would you be if a stranger kept wandering into your home?

6. Use Feline Pheromones

The use of pheromone diffusers can really help stressed cats.  At Castle Vets we recommend FELIWAY® for cats that are being bothered by Strange cats and are generally unsettled in the home and FELIWAY® FRIENDS for multi cat homes, as it is proven to help reduce tension and conflicts between cats in multi-cat households. Both of these products can be used together, however, it is no good just plugging them in and assuming they will do the job! Unless you make some or all of the recommended environmental changes mentioned above, your cat will very likely still be anxious and stressed.

If you think that your cat is having problems with stress and/or anxiety or you would like any further information please contact Castle Vets for advice and/or to make an appointment to see Clare Espley RVN.

Holiday Plans For Your Pets

 

With the summer holidays upon us once again, you may already have your holiday arranged, but are your pets ready for that “restful” break you are planning?

We humans love our holidays because they provide a welcome break from our normal daily routines, but it can be a very stressful time for our pets who may find a change to their normal routine very unsettling and this may present itself as behavioural changes and even a loss of appetite.

Your pet will deal with their change in routine far better if they are fit and healthy, so a veterinary check before you go away can be helpful in spotting any problems that may arise whilst you are away, it is also a great idea to let your veterinary practice know that you will be on holiday in case they need to see your pet in your absence or discuss your pets clinical notes with another vet. If your pet needs to take regular medication you will need to make sure that you have enough to last.

Kennels and Catteries

If your pet will be staying at a kennel or cattery, make sure that you arrange to visit it beforehand; You should be able to inspect it for cleanliness and see how happy the other boarders are. You will also be able to discuss the individual care your pet will receive and what their daily routine will be.

Many pets don’t mind going into kennels and there has been recent research that suggests some dogs find it really exciting. Some pets, however, really do not like the extreme change and sometimes noisy environment of a boarding kennel or cattery and can be very distressed by the whole experience.  Before you leave, make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date as they will not be allowed to stay in kennels if they are not; dogs may also require a kennel cough booster vaccination before their stay in kennels, so discuss this with your vet and the boarding kennels (ideally needs to be given at least 10-14 days before your dog goes in to kennels).

It is also a good idea to make sure your pet’s preventative flea and worming treatments are up to date before they go into kennels.

Kennels and cattery

Pet Sitters

Some pets cope much better if they are looked after in their own home environment and many companies now offer pet sitting services. Someone will either pop in to see your pet once or twice daily or move into your home until you get back to provide 24 hour care. these services are becoming more and more popular with pet owners and are a great alternative to the stressful kennel environment.

Make sure that you are comfortable with the person/company who will be looking after your pet, that they are reputable and have the relevant insurance policy for this job.

Dog sitters

Another option for dogs is that they go and stay in someone’s home until you get back from your holiday. After a chat with you about your dog’s requirements and favourite things a host or carer takes your dog into their home for the duration of your holiday.

Pet Sitter

Whichever type of care your choose for your pet, make sure that you let your veterinary practice know how long you will be away for and that you give permission for someone else to authorise treatment for your pet in case they cannot get hold of you in an emergency. If your pet is insured, make sure that your vet has a copy of the relevant paperwork/policy documents.

Taking your pet with you 

If you are lucky enough to be taking your pet on holiday with you, remember to take food, toys, bedding, any medication and your pet insurance details with you.

You should be able to update your pet’s microchip information record with details about your holiday address and contact number (just contact your microchip company for advice) but remember to change it all back when you return!. You should also ensure your pet is wearing an identity tag with your contact details on it at all times, in case he or she gets lost (This is a legal requirement for all dogs in the UK when in a public place).

It is a very good idea to know where the local veterinary practice is and their phone number in case of emergencies.

Dog owners should make sure that they know of any local rules and regulations regarding where and how dogs can be walked – this is especially important on beaches and in protected areas.

Remember not to leave your pet alone in a car or caravan, especially sunny days as they will get far too hot.

You can read our articles on travelling with pets for more information about how to keep them as comfortable as possible during the journey.

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Pet Holiday Checklist

  • Food and bowls
  • Lead
  • Bed/bedding
  • Pet first aid kit
  • Collar with id tags
  • Id chip details updated as necessary
  • Contact number and address of a local vet (plus your own vet’s number in case they need to contact them)
  • Pet insurance details
  • Let your usual vet know if you are going away and your pet is in someone else’s care
  • Recent photo of your pet in case he or she runs away from where you are staying

Im coming too

Summertime Pet Care

summer

With summer in full swing most of us are spending more time outdoors enjoying the warm weather (when it occurs!) Your pets will hopefully be enjoying the weather too but there are a few things you can do to ensure they stay comfortable and safe in the summer months.

How To Keep Your Pet Cool On Warm Days

  • Provide fresh drinking water at all times. Of course you are doing this already, but it is really important to check water bowls and bottles frequently and freshen the water as necessary as your pets will likely be drinking more in the warmer weather. If you are taking your dog out in hot weather it is a good idea to take water and a bowl with you.
  • Provide access to a shaded area and make sure your pet can get out of the sun. Watch out for pets who may be sun-worshipers and try to encourage them into the shade if possible. Make sure hutches and runs are moved to shaded areas too. If it is too hot outside bring your pets inside.
  • Use pet-safe sunscreen to prevent sunburn. This is especially important for pets with white ears, pink noses and/or hairless tummies.
  • Think about ventilation and air cooling. Make sure hutches and cages are well ventilated. You can use a fan to cool and move the air in a room (placing a bottle of frozen water directly behind it, will help even more) but make sure your pet can get out of the air flow, cannot touch the fan and cannot chew the electrical cable.
  • Think about the best times for exercising dogs. Early in the morning and later in the evening will often be slightly cooler. A good rule of thumb is if the pavement is too hot for you to touch your wrist to for more than a half a minute, it is too hot for your dog’s paws.
  • Move cages containing indoor pets away from windows and/or direct sunlight, these can soon heat up to unbearable temperatures.
  • Avoid long journeys in cars if possible and definitely do not leave your pet in a parked car, caravan or conservatory (see our heatstroke article)
  • Use water to help your pet cool down. Some pets will really appreciate some water to cool off in, dogs especially like to play in paddling pools, but they should always be supervised.  Some pets may like a gentle spray with some water to help keep them cool but if your pet does not like it, don’t do it.

  • Provide cooling places and objects such as a wet towel on the ground for pets to lie on or access to nice cool kitchen tiles. You can freeze water in plastic bottles or ice packs and wrap these in a towel then place near to your pet – rabbits and dogs love lying on or against these in the hot weather (just make sure the icy surface is not directly next to their skin. (Make sure your pet is not going to chew these objects though – especially ice packs as they may contain chemicals) You can also use ceramic tiles that have been chilled for small animals to lie on.
  • Check Habitat Temperatures Carefully for tropical fish tanks and reptile vivariums as these may get too hot if the external temperature rises.
  • Watch your pet for signs of heatstroke. This can happen to any species of pet, but is more common in animals that are overweight, senior, hyperactive even in hot weather, short nosed breeds, or animals that have existing health problems with their heart or lungs. Symptoms of heatstroke can include Rapid or frantic panting, Excessive thirst, Anxious behaviour, Rapid heart/pulse rate, Dizziness and/or disorientation, Collapse. See our article on Heatstroke for more information
  • Don’t forget the wildlife. Small, shallow bowls of water dotted around your garden will help out greatly.

Summertime Hazards

Barbecues and Parties

These will be on the agenda for a lot of households but, while they are fun for us, they are a scavenging hazard for ourpets! In the summer months veterinary practices often see a lot of pets with tummy upsets or burns after scavenging food, as well as pets that need operations to remove things like corn cobs, bones and wooden meat skewers that have been eaten and got stuck in the stomach or intestines.

If you have a nervous pet who becomes distressed when you have lots of visitors, make sure he or she has a room they can retreat to where they will be undisturbed.

Flystrike

This is another common summer problem. It occurs when a fly lays its eggs on an animal and the maggots that hatch eat the flesh of the animal. Flystrike mainly affects rabbits, but other pets including dogs and cats can and do get affected. The flies are attracted to soiled bottoms, poo and wounds, so make sure you check your pet daily and keep hutches, cages and bottoms clean. Flystrike is a veterinary emergency, so if you suspect your pet has flystrike contact your vet quickly.

Grass Seeds and Plant Awns

These can be a real nuisance at this time of year and we see a lot of patients (particularly dogs), with grass seeds and plant awns embedded in various parts of their bodies. Check your pet’s coat daily and remove any seeds or awns that you find. (You can read more in our Grass Seed article)

If you have any questions regarding your pet’s care or would like any advice then please contact the practice on 01189 574488 or through our website

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Problems In Dogs

SONY DSC

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Disease or Injury is one of the most common causes of hind leg lameness that we see in dogs. The stifle (knee) is a hinge joint that allows the hind leg to bend and is also one of the joints in the body that is most prone to injury.

Inside each knee are two bands of tissue called the caudal and cranial cruciate ligaments which cross over each other inside and help to stabilise the joint. Problems can occur when the cranial cruciate ligament deteriorates and is torn or breaks completely. If it is left untreated it will not only cause pain and lameness in the affected leg, but will ultimately lead to irreversible degenerative joint changes.

Type Of Cruciate Damage

Traumatic Cruciate Damage is usually caused by a sudden and strenuous twisting of the knee joint when moving at speed and suddenly changing direction (similar to what happens in people during activities such as football, squash, rugby etc)

Cruciate Disease is a chronic (on going) problem that is often the result of general wear and tear such as everyday use during walking, running and jumping. This causes the ligament to deteriorate until it tears or ruptures completely (unfortunately it is not yet known what causes the canine cruciate ligament to deteriorate so fast in some dogs). This causes dogs to either become more lame over a period of time as the ligament deteriorates and tears or, to become very suddenly lame as the deteriorating ligament tears or ruptures completely (usually after engaging in strenuous activities or, in some dogs with severe ligament degeneration, the ligament may rupture after a small stumble or even when jumping off a sofa/chair). An important aspect of this gradual deterioration is that both knees are usually affected and 40%-60% of dogs with cruciate problems in one knee will develop problems in the other knee.

Which Dogs Are Affected?

Cruciate disease or injury can occur in a dog of any breed, sex or age, however it has been found to be more common in the following circumstances

  • Overweight dogs (more stress is put on the joints in general)
  • Unfit dogs who engage in sudden strenuous activity (weekend warriors!)
  • Dogs with conformational abnormalities
  • Dogs with poor body condition and muscle mass
  • Certain breeds such as Labradors, Rottweilers, Staffies, Mastiffs, Saint Bernards and Akita’s seem to have a higher incidence of the problem, which suggests that it may be an inherited or conformational problem.

Symptoms of Cruciate Problem

Cruciate ligament disease may initially present as anything ranging from a mild, occasional limp to the sudden onset of complete lameness and is, in most cases, extremely painful. Symptoms of a problem can include one or more of the following

  • Lameness/Limping/weakness in one or both hind legs
  • Completely holding the hind leg up
  • Lameness that gets worse with exercise but improves with rest
  • Stiffness and/or difficulty getting up from sitting or lying down
  • Swelling around the knee joint
  • Reluctance to jump up or climb stairs/steps
  • Sitting at an odd angle
  • Abnormal posture when standing
A dog that is limping or holding it’s leg up will be in pain and should be seen by a vet as soon as possible.

Diagnosing Cruciate Problems

Initially the vet will physically examine the knee to check for any pain, swelling and looseness in the joint, an X-ray may then be taken to check for any other problems within the joint, such as arthritis. A CT Scan or Arthroscopy (keyhole procedure involving a tiny camera) may ALSO be performed if they are available,  so that the vet can assess the extent of the damage to the ligament and whether there are other factors to consider such as arthritis, meniscus damage etc.

Surgical Treatment Of Cruciate Ligament Problems

The aim of any surgery is to stabilise the knee joint to prevent further damage (and pain) and improve mobility. The type of surgical procedure carried out will often depend on whether it is a straightforward (singular) problem i.e. just the cruciate ligament, or whether there are other complications to be taken into account e.g. a luxating patella or meniscal damage (these are the cartilaginous shock absorbers in the knees). It may also depend on the size and activity levels of the dog.

Because the surgery can be quite costly, especially for larger breeds of dog, it will be important to check that the surgery is covered by your pet insurance before your vet proceeds with the operation; this is usually done via a pre-authorisation claim between your vet and your pet insurance company.

The two most common procedures performed today are the Tibial Plateau Levelling Osteotomy (TPLO) and the Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA); Both of these procedures alter the conformation of the joint and the way that forces are transmitted in the moving knee joint. The TPLO and TTA procedures greatly reduce the need for the cruciate ligament to stabilise the joint.

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Replacement Surgery may be performed to stabilise the joint and reduce rotational instability, by either replacing the torn or ruptured ligament using a graft (rarely performed nowadays) or by replacing the ligament with an extracapsular ‘non absorbable’ line and crimps. This is usually only suitable for small to medium sized dogs.

Copyright Castle Vets Pet Healthcare Ltd

Some veterinary practices such as Castle Vets, may have an orthopaedic or specialist vet who is able to carry out these procedures, but other practices may need to refer their patients to another practice, especially if there are concurrent problems in the joint such as a luxating patella, meniscus tears, arthritis, bone spurs or bone fragments.

 After any of these surgeries it is vitally important to follow the veterinary surgeon’s advice regarding,
  1. Exercise and activity: in most cases your pet’s activity will need to be severely restricted for the first six weeks after surgery.
  2. Physiotherapy: your dog will need physiotherapy and often hydrotherapy to help with building up their muscles and mobility. This is also vital for maintaining the stability and strength in the other knee.
  3. Weight Management: It is vitally important that your dog is at his or her correct body weight to ensure no extra stress is placed on the joints.

Non-Surgical Options For Cruciate Problems

Surgery is usually the recommendation and the best course of action for dogs with cruciate problems, especially those over 15kg in body weight,  except when a general anaesthetic and surgery may put the patient’s life at risk (e.g. severe heart disease, immune related conditions).

A non-surgical approach to treatment may be tried in the case of a torn cruciate ligament. The dog will need a very strict  and severely restricted exercise plan, proper weight management, medication/pain relief, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy; they may also require veterinary acupuncture, nutraceuticals and possibly, platelet-rich plasma therapy . We advise that if you want to try this option for your dog that a treatment plan is discussed thoroughly with your vet to ensure that you understand what is involved to best help your dog.

How You Can Help Lower The Chances Of Cruciate Injury

Unfortunately, there is no definite way to prevent  a cruciate injury but you can help lower the risk if you 

  1.  Avoid sudden strenuous activities by ensuring that your dog has a good warm-up walk for at least 10-15 minutes before going off-lead to play with other dogs or chase balls etc. and by making sure that your dog starts chasing toys/balls from a standing position rather than from a sit or lying down position.
  2. Give regular, moderate exercise every day
  3. Ensure that the dog does not become overweight as this will add to the strain on his/her joints. If you need advice on your dog’s weight, please speak to one of our veterinary nurses.
  4. Feed a good quality diet that is appropriate for your dog’s age, size and activity levels.

Rabbit Nutrition – Rabbit Awareness Week 2017

Rabbit_eating_carrot

Nutrition plays an enormous part in rabbit health and at Castle Vets we find that a poor diet can be responsible for many problems in pet rabbits including bad teeth, weight gain, poor gut motility, tummy upsets and bad skin.

Rabbits have cleverly evolved over thousands of years to extract all the nourishment they need from the poor quality vegetation available to them in the wild. This means that our pet rabbits require a diet that is low in calories and very high in fibre. If a rabbit is fed on a diet that is high in calories and low in fibre it can lead to problems with obesity, soft stools or diarrhoea, bone and tooth problems.

In order to look after your rabbits nutritional health you will need to provide the following things

Water

Fresh, clean water should be available at all times. Even if your rabbits eat a lot of greens and may appear not to drink much, water must always be available. It can be provided in gravity bottles or in bowls (although bowls tend to become soiled very quickly). Bowls and bottles should be cleaned regularly and bottles should be checked for leakage.

Food

The following three foods are listed in order of importance:

FEEDING HAY/DRIED GRASS – low in calories, high in fibre.
FRESH VEG – medium calories, medium fibre.
DRIED FOOD – high in calories, low in fibre.

1. Hay/Dried Grass

Hay (feeding hay) is the staple diet of your rabbits and should be fed AD LIB (as much as your rabbits will eat) and should make up at least 85-90% of a rabbit’s daily food intake. The fibre that is in hay is extremely important as it helps keep the food moving through the gut. It also contains other essential proteins and nutrients. Rabbits eat small amounts of food several times throughout the day and good quality grass hay must be available in unlimited amounts at all times. Alfalfa hay should be avoided, as this can contain excessive calcium.

You can use the good quality feeding hay that is sold in bales to feed horses or you can buy dried grass and hay from pet shops which will come in a variety of different types and ‘flavours’. Nice long strands of hay and dried grass are preferable because rabbits have to spend more time chewing the long fibres and this is better for their teeth and digestion. If you do buy large quantities of hay, make sure you store it carefully to prevent it becoming damp or mouldy – we find it lasts longer and stays fresher when stored in a plastic bin or box rather than in plastic bags.

The best way to offer fresh hay to your rabbits is by using a hayrack. This keeps the hay clean and eliminates much of the waste through hay getting trampled or soiled. As a rule there should be a small amount of hay left over each morning, then you know that you have made enough available for your rabbits.

2. Fresh Foods

Vegetables – Vegetables should be given to your rabbits daily. The hay can lose some of its vitamins when the grass is dried, therefore it is important to supplement the hay diet with fresh greens. A minimum of 3 types of fresh vegetables should be given daily alongside the hay. Variety is the key so try and offer small amounts of several items. Young rabbits should be introduced to new foods gradually, a small piece at a time.

A carrot or other root vegetable can be suspended from the hutch roof; this helps to increase feeding time and also enriches the rabbit’s environment and creates an interesting feeder toy.

The following are some examples of vegetables that can be given, but care should be taken not to feed large quantities of leafy greens or calorific veggies such as carrots and sweet potato.

  • Artichoke leaves
  • Asparagus 1 or 2 spears
  • Beetroot (small amounts)
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts 1 or 2
  • Cabbage (Pak Choi / Spring Greens) 1 or 2 leaves
  • Carrot (only give leaves occasionally)
  • Cauliflower
  • Celeriac (peeled)
  • Celery (including leaves)
  • Chard
  • Chicory
  • Courgette & flowers
  • Cress
  • Cucumber (few slices)
  • Fennel
  • Kale (small amounts ½ a leaf)
  • Lettuce (small amounts only)
  • Parsley (few sprigs)
  • Parsnip
  • Pepper (bell) (Not seeds or stalks)
  • Pumpkin
  • Radishes
  • Rocket
  • Runner beans
  • Spinach (1/2 leaf only)
  • Squash (peeled)
  • Swede
  • Sweet potato (small amounts peel 1st)
  • Sweetcorn (baby) 1 or 2
  • Turnip (peeled) small amount occasionally

Fruit – Fresh fruit should only be given in small quantities due to the increased sugar content. Too much can lead to tooth decay and obesity problems.

  • Apple
  • Apricot
  • Banana
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Mango
  • Melon
  • Nectarines
  • Papaya
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapple
  • Plums
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes cherry or vine (NOT the leaves or stalks)

3. Dried Food

If a dried food is to be offered then a nutritionally balanced food, presented in a pellet or nugget form, can be offered every day. We don’t recommend a muesli or mixed flake diet because rabbits fed on these diets can become picky about which bits they eat and therefore may not receive a balanced diet. A pellet or nugget diet prevents picky eating and will ensure your rabbits are getting the right amount of nutrients.

A maximum of 20g per day is enough to feed a pair of adult rabbits of approximately 2.5kg bodyweight and it is important to accurately weigh the amount of food to be fed. The aim is to keep adults at a constant weight so regular weighing of your rabbit is essential. Do not estimate the amount you should be feeding – overfeeding of dried food is one of the main causes of health problems in rabbits seen by veterinary surgeons. If your rabbit starts to put on too much weight, the amount of dried food he or she is receiving should be reduced. Vitamin supplements should not be necessary if your rabbits are getting a balanced diet and an indiscriminate usage of vitamins may lead to overdose and serious disease.

Nugget-type food may look unappetising to us, but it is much better for your rabbits than the muesli-type food

Food and Enrichment Toys

There are many food and boredom breaker toys available for rabbits. Some of these are made of tightly packed grass or hay and others are made from fruit wood. You can also by little ‘cages’ or containers to put fruit and vegetables in so that they hang from the top of the cage. Food toys will ensure your rabbit has lots of variety and provide mental stimulation.

Natural Food and Grazing Opportunities

A run or grazing ark is essential to provide exercise and grazing for a few hours each day, weather permitting, preferably at dawn and dusk when rabbits are more naturally active. If a garden is enclosed and rabbit proofed then your rabbits can be allowed free run of the garden. However, it is important to ensure protection from predators, either wild animals or other domestic pets. Safe plants for rabbits such as Clovers and vetches can be planted for your rabbits to nibble on and can help provide variety to the diet. Please also be aware that some plants can be poisonous to rabbits, so make sure they do not have access to these.

Plants that are safe for rabbits and toxic to rabbits (PDF)

  • Basil
  • Borage
  • Calendula
  • Camomile
  • Chickweed
  • Clover (leaves and flowers)
  • Coltsfoot
  • Coriander
  • Comfrey
  • Dandelion
  • Dill
  • Goose grass
  • Lavender (not while pregnant)
  • Mallow
  • Mint (peppermint)
  • Nasturtium
  • Nettle
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Plantain
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Shepherd’s purse
  • Sow Thistle
  • Thyme
  • Yarrow

rabbits

How To Change Your Rabbits Diet

It is extremely important never to change your rabbit’s diet suddenly. Gradual changes should be made over a period of at least 2 weeks. This is to allow the rabbit’s digestive system time to adjust to the changes being made. Give your rabbit a healthier diet by introducing hay, grass and greens and change the dried food to a high fibre one as discussed above. Grass and greens should be introduced gradually to reduce the likelihood of diarrhoea.

Mix the new dried food in the same feeding bowl with the original food in a ratio of 1 measure of the new food to 3 measures of the original food. Feed this for 3-4 days to ensure your rabbits are eating all of it. Watch carefully for signs of loss of appetite, abnormally runny droppings, bloating and any changes in behaviour and demeanour as these may indicate that your rabbits are not adapting well to the new diet. If everything is normal, increase the quantity of the new dried food and decrease the quantity of the original food to give a ratio of half of the new food and half of the original food, again feeding this for 3-4 days and watching for any problems as before. If all is ok then increase the ratio to 3 measures of the new food to 1 measure of the original food for another 3-4 days, and finally 100% of the new dried food.

Useful links for rabbit care

Action For Rabbits

Rabbit Awareness Week

RSPCA Information Sheet

House Rabbit Society

Best4Bunny

Free Rabbit Advice Clinics

Copyright Castle Vets Pet Healthcare Ltd

Rabbit & VN

The veterinary nursing team at Castle Vets offer FREE rabbit clinics for advice on rabbit care and welfare for any rabbits that need it all year round (by appointment only). During the month of June we will also be offering Free rabbit nail clips to those that need it as part of our Rabbit Awareness Month.

Our veterinary nurses are happy to chat to anyone who is thinking about getting some rabbits about how to look after them and the costs that may be involved.

If you would like any information on rabbit health or have any questions, please contact us and we will be happy to help.

Are You Thinking About Getting A Pet?

pets

The prospect of getting a new pet can be very exciting and it is a wonderful feeling to be a proud owner. Anyone who has taken on a pet will know that within a matter of hours you are completely hooked, but there are a few things to think about before your commit to and bring home your new bundle of fun and cuteness.

Cost

piggy bank

This is not just the cost of actually buying the pet (which can be anything from Free to thousands of pounds!). Can you afford the costs necessary to give your chosen pet the correct care? The average annual costs of owning a pet can be quite high and have been estimated at £1000 – £2000 for a dog (depending on size), around £1200 for a cat, £400 – £500 for a ferret, £500 for a rabbit and £400 for a guinea pig and Chinchilla. (For cats and dogs that amounts to approximately £10000 – £31000 over a lifetime!) You will need to think about the costs of providing good quality food, bedding, housing for small animals, boarding kennels or pet sitters, routine vet bills for things such as parasite control and vaccinations, as well as the cost of vet bills should your chosen pet become poorly and require treatment.

Pet Insurance

This will cover your pet for any injuries or illnesses he or she may suffer from. Most types of pets can be insured, including rabbits, rodents and reptiles. The policy premium (the amount you pay in monthly or annually) will vary depending on the different cover levels and different animal breeds, so a very basic level of cover may be as little as £5.00 a month but a premium level of cover may be as much as £40.00 a month. It is also worth noting that many insurance companies now exclude certain types or breeds of pet from their policies, so check that your desired breed of pet is able to be insured. If you would like to find out more about pet insurance and what to look for in a policy, please read our pet insurance article.
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