Rabbit Nutrition – Rabbit Awareness Week 2017

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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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Rabbit Awareness June 2017

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Rabbits are now more popular in the UK than ever before and we now have many devoted bunny owners visiting the practice each week. They make wonderful pets in the right hands and come in many different sizes and colours, so there is something for everyone; in fact the British Rabbit Council recognises 50 different breeds and over 500 varieties!

Rabbits are social, intelligent and inquisitive creatures who need loving, devoted and patient owners who are prepared to spend plenty of time with them, provide plenty of space and lots of opportunities to play. Although rabbits are not generally expensive to buy, they are not cheap to look after properly and often cost at least as much as a cat or small dog in terms of routine healthcare and vaccinations; they can also live for 8–12 years so they are definitely a long-term commitment.

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Caring For Your Pet’s Eyes

Pug eyes

Your pet’s eyes function in the same way that your own do and are made up of the same components including

  1. Cornea, the transparent outer covering of the eye
  2. Pupil, the circular membrane in the centre of the eye that lets light from the environment enter the eye
  3. Iris, the pigmented membrane that surrounds the pupil and contracts or expands to regulate the amount of light that can enter the eye
  4. Lens, a transparent structure that adjusts its shape as needed to focus
  5. Retina, a sensitive membrane that lines the interior surface of the eyeball. The retina receives the focused light impulses that have entered through the lens and then sends them to the brain,as visual information
  6. Optic nerve, this sends signals to the brain

Keeping eyes clean

Cleaning away any discharges or tear-staining from around the eye area may be necessary for your pet, especially if your pet is short-nosed (brachycephalic breed), has slightly protruding eyes, has light coloured fur that is prone to tear staining or has an eye infection or problem.

  • Wash your hands so that you do not introduce any dirt or infection. Care should always be taken not to touch or contaminate the surface of the eye.
  • We recommend that you use either a sterile solution of boiled and then cooled water on some cotton wool pads or pet eye wipes (available from most pet stores).
  • Always wipe from the inner corner of the eye towards the back of the head or down and away from the eye, using a different side/piece of the cleaning pad each time you wipe.
  • Make sure you always use a separate piece of cotton wool or eye wipe, for each eye to prevent cross-contamination if an infection is present.
  • You may need to ‘soak’ any particularly stubborn eye gunk to make it easier to wipe away. Just gently hold your damp cotton wool pad or eye wipe onto the area.
  • If there are just tiny bits of gunk/sleep at the corners of the eye – you can wash your hands and then just use a finger or your thumb to remove/wipe this away easily.
  • If your pet is particularly hairy, you may need to trim some of the fur away from his or her eyes. Always do this carefully, using round ended scissors and if you are any doubt ask a groomer or vet nurse to do it for you.
  • Do Not use anything in your pet’s eye that you wouldn’t put in your own eye and Never use a salt water solution in or near the eye!

Cleaning the eye

Common Eye Problems

Although eye problems can occur in any species and breed, we tend to see them more commonly in the brachycephalic breeds and their crosses (flat faced, short nosed) such as Pugs, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Persians and Exotic Shorthair cats. Their facial shape and sometimes protruding eyes tends to predispose them to more problems, so if you have one of these types of dog or cat make sure you check their eyes daily.

Cataract: Opacity in the lens in the eye. Similar to humans, this problem can occur with old age, trauma or disease.

Cherry Eye: This looks like a small red, inflamed mass in the corner of one or both of the eyes. It is caused when the third eyelid/nictitating membrane of the eye does not attach properly, which leads to a prolapse and allowing the membrane to flip up and over. It can be quite common in young dogs and is occasionally seen in cats and some breeds of rabbits.

Conjunctivitis: This happens when the lining inside the eyelid becomes red, inflamed and very painful. It may be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, injury, allergic reaction or a foreign body in the eye or conjunctiva.

Dry Eye: This is also known as Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca and is caused by inadequate tear production, which may be initially be due to trauma or infection, Symptoms of dry eye include a thick, yellowish discharge and chronic infections because the lack of tears means that the eye is not able to flush away bacteria and particles such as dus and pollen.

Ectropion: A condition (usually inherited) where the eyelid rolls outwards; giving the impression of ‘droopy eyes’. This can cause the eyes to become very dry which can be very painful .

Entropion: A condition where the eyelid rolls inwards, which causes irritation to the eye and its surrounding tissues because the eyelashes and hair rub against the surface of the eye. This condition may be an inherited problem in some breeds.

Foreign Body: Occasionally foreign objects such as tiny pieces of grit, thorns or other plant substances may become lodged in the eye or the surrounding tissues, causing pain and irritation.

Tear duct obstruction: the ducts that normally drain tears from the eyes become blocked resulting in tear overflow onto the face. This may be caused by an infection or be the result of a dental problem. Rabbits and very short-nosed breeds of dogs and cats can be particularly prone to this problem.

Tear overflow: Tears may leak from the corner of the eye, causing staining to the hair in light coloured animals or a build up of crusty “eye gunk” that gets caught up in the animals hair. If the eye area is persistently wet or the gunk is in contact with the eye itself it can lead to inflammation and infection.

Ulcers: The surface of the eye can become damaged or ulcerated following injury or infection.

Persian cat watery eyes

How to tell if your pet has an eye problem

Eyes are very delicate and sensitive organs and when problems occur they can be accompanied by a number of symptoms. If you see anything out of the ordinary you should contact your vet as soon as possible.

  • You pet is blinking more
  • Your pet seems to be squinting or the eye looks half closed
  • Your pet is rubbing the eye (either with a paw or rubbing against something in the house)
  • The eyes are producing more tears than usual
  • The eye or surrounding area looks red or inflamed
  • The eye itself looks to have a scratch, mark or something in it
  • There is any discharge (clear or gunky)
  • The eye looks cloudy or discoloured
  • The eye is bulging
  • Your pet has started to bump into things
Watering/Tearing Eye & Eye Gunk

Watering/Tearing Eye & Eye Gunk

How eye problems are diagnosed and treated

Eye problems are diagnosed with a thorough eye examination by a veterinary surgeon. They may use one or more of the following

Physical Examination – Sometimes eye problems can be linked to or caused by other illnesses and disease within the body, such as herpes virus, Feline Leukaemia, cancer and diabetes.

Ophthalmoscope – used to examine the inside and outside of the eye. The ophthalmoscope consists of a light source, mirror, and view hole through which a circular series of convex and concave lenses can be used to examine different parts of the eye.

Tonometer – measures intraocular pressure

Fluorescein Stain – this is a dye that can be applied to the eye which will stain any areas of injury such as ulcers and scratches or foreign particles.

Schirmer’s Test – this is a small paper strip that is used to measure tear production.

The treatment of eye problems depends on their cause; some pets may need a short course of antibiotic drops to clear up an infection, while those with problems such as Dry Eye may require ongoing treatment with eye drops and lubricating solutions. Pets with problems such as ingrowing eyelashes may require surgery to correct the problem. In all of these cases it is very important that your pet cannot cause further damage or irritation to the affected eye, so a buster collar may be necessary to prevent this.

Ulcers can be seen with a special dye

Ulcers can be seen with a special dye

How to Apply Medication or Eye Drops To The Eye

Your pet may need to have eye medication in the form of drops or a cream at some stage and giving this medication should be relatively simple if you follow our guide. The key thing with pets is to be prepared, have everything to hand and, most importantly, Don’t Faff About – Be direct and quick!

  1. Get the medication ready and within reach
  2. Wash your hands, you do not want to introduce infection to an already sensitive area
  3. It may be necessary for someone else to hold your pet for you while you apply the medication. For smaller animals we recommend placing them onto your lap or on a table.
  4. Gently clean any discharge / gunk away from your pet’s eyes (as mentioned above). You may have to skip this step if your pet’s eyes are too painful.
  5. Gently pull down on your pet’s lower eyelid and up on your pet’s upper eyelid and drop the medication onto the eye or onto the inner part of the lower lid as directed by the vet . I often find this easier to do if you are positioned behind the pet, rather than from the front as it helps to prevent your pet moving their head back and away from your fingers.
  6. Make sure that the medicine container does not touch the surface of the eye or any surrounding tissues Try to hold the eyelids open for a few seconds as this will help prevent the medication from being blinked out .
  7. Reward your pet with a really tasty treat and/or a game of something fun. This is especially important if your pet will need to have eye medication regularly.
Applying Eye Drops

Applying Eye Drops

If your pet has an eye condition that requires eye medication your veterinary nurse will usually be happy to demonstrate how to do this for you.

Opening the eye

Eye Medication

 

Should you neuter your pet?

The decision about whether to have your pet neutered or not is likely to be one of the biggest that you make as a pet owner. There is no doubt that neutering your pet can have really great benefits to their health and you will also be doing your bit to help the growing crisis of the thousands of pets already in rescue centres around the country, because there aren’t enough homes to go around. However, for many different reasons, not all pet owners (especially dog owners) will want to have their pets neutered and as long as these unneutered pets are managed responsibly, this decision is fine.  This article will describe the pros and cons of neutering and hopefully give you all the information you need to make your decision.

What is neutering?

Neutering is the general term used to describe the surgical removal of the sex organs in animals to prevent them from breeding. Neutering or de-sexing are terms that can be used for both male and female animals.

Spaying: When we spay a female animal, we perform an ovario-hysterectomy , which is the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus. The surgery involves a small abdominal incision in the dog, rabbit and guinea pig just below the umbilicus, or a small flank incision in the cat (unless the owner specifically requests an abdominal spay).

Castration: When we castrate a male dog, cat, guinea pig or rabbit we remove the testes to prevent reproduction. The surgery involves a small incision just in front of the testicles in the dog, guinea pig and rabbit or a small incision into each side of the scrotum in the cat. Sometimes male animals have a problem called cryptorchidism, in which one of the testicles has not descended properly, in these cases they may require abdominal surgery to remove the retained testicle.

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The first picture shows where the operation site would be for a female dog, guinea pig and rabbit . The second picture shows the operation site for a female cat. The third picture shows where the operation site would be for a male dog, guinea pig  and rabbit. The fourth picture shows the operation site for a male cat.

The reasons for neutering

There are many reasons to recommend that dogs, cats and rabbits are neutered; it benefits their health and helps reduce pet overpopulation. So many animals end up in rescue centers, or are even put to sleep, because there are just not enough homes available for them. Each year, approximately 150,000 stray or abandoned animals are taken in by animal welfare organisations in the UK, such as the RSPCA, Dogs Trust, and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, who try to find homes for them.

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The health benefits of neutering

Female animals

  • Prevents “heat” or oestrus (also known as being in season)
  • Prevents unwanted litters
  • Prevents hormone fluctuations that cause false pregnancy
  • Prevents Pyometra, a serious and potentially fatal womb infection
  • Prevents mammary (breast) cancer.
  • Prevents uterine and ovarian cancer.
  • Prevents the urge to escape and find a mate during heat.
  • Prevents unsociable behaviour during heat (Think PMS!)
  • Prevents genetic problems, deformities and bad temperaments being passed on.
  • Prevents urine spraying and marking behaviour that sometimes occurs in entire female rabbits (does).
  • Neutered female cats cats are less at risk of diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia (FeLV), which are highly infectious and incurable diseases.
  • Enables some animals to live in mixed-sex groups without fighting and/or pregnancy

 Male animals

  • Lowers the risk of serious conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostatitis and hormone-related (testosterone) diseases such as perianal adenoma in dogs.
  • Eliminates the risk of testicular cancer, a common cancer in entire dogs.
  • Removes sexual urges and the need to escape or roam to find a mate. Entire male cats can have huge territories and are more likely to get into fights.
  • Reduces certain types of aggression in male dogs
  • Prevents genetic problems, deformities and bad temperaments being passed on.
  • Neutered animals are less likely to mark their territory with strong smelling urine.
  • Neutered male cats cats are less at risk of diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia (FeLV), which are highly infectious and incurable diseases.
  • Neutered male rabbits and guinea pigs are less likely to show aggression towards other males
  • Enables some animals to live in mixed-sex groups without fighting and/or pregnancy

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Problems that can occur in un-neutered animals

Pyometra: This is an infection of the uterus (womb) in female animals. The uterus fills with pus, and toxins quickly spread throughout the body causing the animal to feel very unwell. If this condition is not treated quickly it can be fatal.

Mammary (breast) Cancer: Mammary cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal mammary gland cells. If left untreated, certain types of breast cancer can metastasize (spread) to other mammary glands and organs throughout the body. While any pet can develop mammary tumors, these masses occur most often in older female dogs and cats that have not been spayed.

Ovarian Cysts: The symptoms of ovarian cysts will depend on the type of cyst but can include; swelling of the vulva, due to the high amounts of estrogen in the body, vulvar discharges that may contain blood and occur outside the regular bleeding in the heat cycle, hair loss, irregular heat cycles or lack of heat cycles, extended heat cycles, abdominal swelling due to pus or fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity.

False Pregnancies: False pregnancy is a term used to denote a common condition in a non-pregnant female animal that is showing symptoms of pregnancy or nursing without producing babies. Symptoms usually occur after her oestrus (heat) is over and is thought to be caused by a hormonal imbalance. Symptoms can include; behavioral changes, mothering activity, nesting and self-nursing, restlessness, abdominal enlargement, enlargement of mammary glands, vomiting, depression, loss of appetite (anorexia), fur plucking (rabbits).

Prostate problems (dogs): Enlarged prostate occurs in more than 80% of un-neutered male dogs past the age of five. Some dogs with an enlarged prostate have difficulty with urination or bowel movements.

Testicular cancer (dogs): About 7% of un-neutered males develop a testicular tumor. Fortunately it seldom spreads. Although castration has a complete cure rate of approximately 90%, neutering prevents it entirely. If your dog has one or both testicles tucked up inside his body (called cryptorchidism) he is far more likely to develop a testicular tumor compared to a dog with descended testicles; this condition can also be passed on to offspring so a cryptorchid dog should definitely be neutered.

Behavioural problems and injuries: Roaming is the main problem for both un-neutered males and females as they are likely to want to try and find a mate. This can lead to road traffic accidents, fighting with others and injury. Dogs often have problems with recall and focusing on their owner if they are being led by their hormones. Some animals will also demonstrate hormone-related aggression.

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Neutered rabbits can live together happily

Common myths about neutering

“It changes the pet’s personality”
The only behaviour changes are likely to be positive ones. Neutered animals often make better companions and are more affectionate. Pets are less likely to roam, which means less chance of getting lost or hit by a car, they are also less likely to mark territory or get in fights.

“Neutered pets become fat and lazy”
While it is true that a neutered animal needs fewer calories in the diet, it is ultimately overfeeding and/or a lack of exercise by the owners that causes obesity in animals. Make time for walks and play, and ask your veterinary nurse about reducing calories once your pet has been neutered.

“My pets are brother and sister so they won’t mate”
The fact that they are related to each other will make no difference to your pets, they will still mate and produce offspring.

“My pet is a pedigree and shouldn’t be neutered”
Your pet is a companion, not a financial investment or status symbol. Unless you are planning on showing your pet and plan to breed, you should consider having it neutered. Remember that one in four animals handed in to animal shelters is a  pedigree.

“I don’t want my male pet to feel deprived or less masculine”
You shouldn’t confuse human sexuality with an animal’s hormonal instincts. Neutering won’t cause any negative emotional reaction in your male pet. In addition, it greatly reduces the risk of prostate and testicular diseases in dogs and the possibility of FIV & FeLV and fight related wounds and abscesses in male cats.

“It’s too expensive to have my pet neutered”
The surgery is a one-time cost and a small price to pay for the health of your pet and the prevention of life threatening illnesses, not to mention preventing more homeless animals. Our pet health club offers a 20% discount on neutering and there are also several animal charities that may provide assistance with the cost of neutering.

“Having a litter is good for her and it will be a great experience for the family”
Motherhood will not make your pet healthier or happier (and some animals make terrible mothers!). In fact, early spaying greatly reduces the likelihood of mammary cancer, and eliminates potentially life threatening infections of the uterus and ovaries.

If you are thinking about letting your pet have a litter, is important that you think things through properly and ensure that you make the health and welfare of your pet and its offspring an absolute priority. Breeding because you think a male and female will produce cute offspring or because you think you will make some money is extremely irresponsible. Care must to be taken to ensure you can find good homes for the whole litter, that you will not be allowing genetic/hereditary problems to be passed on to the offspring and that you can afford to look after the mother and her offspring properly.
Before you let your pet get pregnant, think about the following things

  • Have you ensured that your pet is healthy, vaccinated and is not going to be passing on genetic or hereditary problems to the offspring? Have you had the appropriate health screening tests carried out such as checking for hip dysplasia and eye problems in dogs (further information can be found on The Kennel Club website), viruses in cats and dental misalignment problems in rabbits?
  • Is your pet’s temperament good? Do they have any fear or aggression issues?
  • Is your pet fully grown and mature enough to have a litter?  Usually between 18 months and 3 years old, but this is dependent on species and size, so ask your vet or veterinary nurse if you are not sure.
  • Can you find an appropriate mate? It is vitally important and you ensure that the mate is healthy and has also had the appropriate vaccinations and health tests. Just letting your female pet out to get mated by any roaming male suitor is highly irresponsible, she may end up with disease or illness (particularly in the case of cats) that can not only make her sick, but could be passed on to her offspring.
  • If your pet has difficulties giving birth you may end up paying for a very expensive caesarean operation. This could result in complicated surgery for the mother and you may end up with no babies or, worse, the mother could die too! (Pregnancy complications are not usually covered by pet insurance). For your information, the dog breeds most likely to require a Caesarean Section are the English Bulldog, Boston terrier, French Bulldog, Mastiff, Scottish Terrier, English Bull Terrier, Miniature Bull Terrier, Clumber spaniel, Pekingese and Chihuahua (as well as crosses of these breeds).
  • If the mother cannot or will not feed her litter are you prepared to hand-rear them and to give them food every 2 hours for 24 hours a day until they are weaned?  
  • Food and care of the litter will be expensive until they go to new homes. Can you afford the cost of feeding, worming and possibly vaccinating them all? If the mother and/or her offspring become unwell can you afford the veterinary treatment that they will need? The puppies will also need to be microchipped and registered before they go to a new home (this applies to all litters, whether planned or accidental).  
  • Do you know how to look after your pet during pregnancy and raise, habituate and socialise the offspring properly, before they go to their new homes?
  • Can you find good homes for all of the litter? What will you do if you can’t find homes for them or if they are returned to you because their new owners cannot keep them? Are you comfortable with the fact that you could be adding to the many thousands of animals in rescue centres that cannot find homes? 

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Should you have your cat neutered?

We do generally recommend that cats are neutered, unless you have a registered pedigree cat that you are planning to breed from. This is because the vast majority of cats cannot be ‘chaperoned’ in the same way that dogs are and, when they are let outside, they are generally left to their own devices; making pregnancy in females highly likely and also increasing the risk of disease transmission through sexual activity and wounds, as well as injuries from territorial fighting. So unless you can prevent this by keeping your cat indoors and well mentally stimulated, or by cat-proofing your garden to prevent your cat getting out and other cats getting in, then neutering is usually the best option for your cat.

Should you have your rabbit or guinea pig neutered?

Whether to neuter your rabbit or guinea pig will very much depend on their housing circumstances and group dynamics. Female rabbits can often become territorial and aggressive from 4-6 months of age,  they may have repeated false pregnancies, and may growl at, bite and scratch their owners as well as other rabbits. Spaying reduces (and sometimes eliminates) these problems.  Male rabbits can be territorial, aggressive and spray urine. Neutered males of both species are often much happier and relaxed, they can also live with a spayed female or even another neutered male. Since rabbits and guinea pigs should be kept in groups of 2 or more, neutering of one or all is usually the best option.

Should you have your dog neutered?

It is up to you as the responsible owner to decide whether or not to have your dog or bitch neutered. At Castle Vets we generally do not recommend that male or female dogs are neutered until they have finished growing and have reached maturity, which is usually between 8 months and 2 years old, depending on the breed (bigger breeds take longer to fully mature). However, we also understand that some young and hormonal dogs can be a real handful, so we will neuter at a younger age if you request it.

We have discussed the risks of not neutering above, but here are some of the benefits seen in dogs that have delayed neutering until they have reached maturity, or have not been neutered at all

  • Fewer fear-related behavioural problems, especially in male dogs (1)
  • Lower risk of Hip Dysplasia and Cruciate Ligament damage in larger breeds (2)
  • Lower risk of some cancer types such as hemangiosarcoma and lymphosarcoma (3,4)
  • Lower risk of hypothyroidism (4)
  • Lower risk of obesity (although frankly this has more to do with what and how much is fed by the owner)
Being a responsible owner of an unneutered dog
  • Male dogs: If you own a dog and do not want to get him neutered, you need to make sure that you can prevent him roaming the neighbourhood and running away every time a bitch comes into season locally. It is as much your responsibility as the owner of a bitch in season, to prevent an unwanted mating. You also need to ensure that he has had proper socialisation, training and behaves well around other entire and neutered male dogs. If you can do this then you may not need to neuter your dog.
  • Bitches: If you own a bitch and do not want her neutered, you need to be sure that you can prevent her from being mated and becoming pregnant potentially twice a year and that you can cope with her seasonal bleed twice yearly as well (which can be very messy in some bitches). You will need to be careful about where and when you take her for walks during her season; she will still need exercise, but will be very attractive to any unneutered male dogs in the area. You also must never leave a bitch in season unattended outside, even in your own back garden, unless you are 100% sure that she cannot get out and other dogs cannot get in (you would be surprised at the length some male dogs will go to for a bitch in heat!)

Canine behavioural problems that neutering cannot solve

There are some canine problems that are often misinterpreted as being caused by the dog’s sex hormones and unfortunately neutering will not solve these problems. In some cases your vet may be able to give your dog an injection of a hormone suppressing drug that will mimic the effects of neutering and enable you to see if neutering will have any effect on the behaviour.

  • Over excitability and unruly behaviour: This problem is commonly due to adolescence and/or a lack of training and these dogs often respond really well to reward-based training and appropriate mental and physical stimulation. Increasing the amount of daily exercise and, if possible, giving them more opportunity to exercise off-lead can make a huge difference to these dogs.
  • Predatory hunting, herding or chasing behaviours: This is down to the breed/type of dog and what it has been bred to do rather than a hormonal issue. These problems often need the input of a qualified behaviourist to help you and your dog.
  • Fearful, unconfident dogs: Anecdotal evidence from many qualified animal behaviourists suggest that neutering these dogs may actually make the situation worse. Seek out advice from an appropriately qualified canine behaviourist to help you if your dog is fearful.
  • Bitches that show signs of aggression or reactivity when not in season: Spaying is unlikely to improve the behaviour and there is a small risk that spaying could make the behaviour worse. We advise that you speak to an appropriately qualified canine behaviourist to help you if your dog is showing signs of aggression.

What happens when your pet is neutered ?

At a good veterinary practice the following should happen when your pet is neutered

  1. Your pet will usually be admitted at the practice between 8am and 9am (dogs and cats will need to have an empty stomach – so no food after 10pm the night before).
  2. Your pet should be given an injection of a mild sedative and a long acting pain relief injection.
  3. Your pet should be placed in his or her own kennel with a nice snuggly blanket to sit on (or something to hide under if they are a cat)
  4. After the sedative has taken effect, your pet will be given an anaesthetic and some hair will be clipped away from the surgical site.
  5. The vet will perform the surgery whilst a veterinary nurse closely monitors the anaesthetic and records your pet’s breathing rate, heart rate, colour and reflexes throughout the whole of the surgery.
  6. After the operation a veterinary nurse will watch and monitor your pet closely until he or she is fully awake. We will then contact you to let you know how your pet is and when you can pick him or her up from the surgery.
  7. When your pet goes home they should have a buster collar or a medical pet t-shirt to prevent them from interfering with their wounds
  8. Your pet may have some medication to take for the next few days, so a veterinary nurse will explain how and when you should give this to your pet. Make sure your pet receives all of his or her medication, don’t stop it because your pet looks fine.
  9. You will need to take your pet back to the practice 3 days later for a check over and then 7 days after that for any sutures to be removed.

Always check with your veterinary practice that either a veterinary nurse or vet will be monitoring your pet’s anaesthetic and vital signs throughout the procedure and will be monitoring your pet carefully as he or she wakes up after the operation.

Problems that could occur with the procedure

Every anaesthetic and surgical procedure carries a small risk, whether it be on an animal or a human. At castle Vets your pet will have a thorough health check prior to the operation, to ensure that he or she is healthy and well enough for the procedure to take place on that day.

Postoperative infections are very rare but if one does occur, your pet will be examined and given any necessary treatment and/or medication to help them get well again.

Occasionally a patient may need to be re-sutured if they pull out their stitches, which is why we always recommend they go home with buster collars to prevent this;  We even offer a refund if your pet does not need to use the collar because we would rather they had one just in case.
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References

1. Association Pet Behaviour Counsellors
2. Slauterbeck, et al Canine Ovariohysterectomy and Orchiectomy Increases the Prevalence of ACL Injury
3. Gretel Torres de la Riva, et al Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers
4. Laura J. Sanborn, Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs

We hope you find this article useful and informative. Please contact Castle Vets if you wish to discuss neutering your pet.

Easter Holiday Pet Care Advice

easterEaster is nearly here and whether we celebrate or not, most of us will enjoy spending some quality holiday time with our family and our pets. With all that time to fill it may be a good opportunity to focus on our pets and perhaps teach them something new. Dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents, ferrets and even birds can all be trained to perform simple tricks. Find a treat they really love to reward them for behaviour and they will usually repeat it.

High Five

High Five

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Fleas – A Year-Round Problem

Fleas

These pesky blood-sucking parasites are a year-round problem for our pets and they can be a real nuisance. They can really make your pet’s life miserable by causing symptoms ranging from minor irritation and scratching to hair loss, severe allergic reactions and anaemia (This is made even worse if they start biting the humans in the household as well!). Continue reading