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Care and Feeding of Rabbits

Rabbits are very popular and rewarding pets to keep both in your house as well as out in an appropriate hutch. There are some basic principles that we need to keep in mind to help keep rabbits healthy.

  1. Rabbits are herbivores - this means that rabbits get their nutrition from the plants that they eat. In the wild, rabbits eat grasses and plants continually. Consequently, their teeth continually grow and are kept at the right length by grinding up the plants that they eat. Hay is very important to keep their teeth from overgrowing. Look for green hay that does not have a lot of woody stems in it (orchard grass hay and timothy hay are good examples of good quality hay). The pelleted diets are made out of hay, but it is powdered and compressed, so it provides nutrition, but not the grinding action that we want to keep their teeth healthy. I recommend feeding 60-70% hay, 20-25% dark, leafy greens (kale, endive, collard greens, dandelion greens), and then supplement them with pellets and treats. As a general rule, I like to have hay in the enclosure at all times. If they have good quality food, there is no need for supplements.
  2. Rabbits wear little furry jackets - Rabbits are sensitive to overheating (even more so than getting too cold). Keep your rabbit in a cool, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. Avoid enclosures that block airflow (like aquariums) or sit in direct sunlight (a hutch with a dark roof can get very warm in the sunlight).
  3. Rabbit’s feet are very important to them - Make sure to check your rabbit’s feet for sores or balding spots. Also, adding some straw or other bedding will help pad their feet. Avoid shavings made of cedar and even pine, since the oils that smell so good to us, can harm your rabbit’s respiratory tract. We recommend a paper-based bedding or straw.

Rabbits hide their illnesses - In the wild, there are lots of animals that view rabbits as a snack. Because they are prey animals, they tend to hide their illnesses so if they don’t look sick, they are less likely to be picked on by predators. For this reason, it is important to have your rabbit checked out by your veterinarian at least once a year and if there is any change in behavior, particularly eating. If a rabbit doesn’t eat, they can get sick very quickly.

 

Dental Disease and Prevention

Dental disease affects many of our pets.  Problems can range from mild plaque and bad breath to thick tartar and serious infections.  Infections in the teeth and gums can lead to tooth loss, but also to more serious life threatening diseases.  Heart, lung, liver, kidney  and joint problems may be caused or worsened by dental disease. A dental exam is an important part of your dog’s and cat’s health care, and should be performed at least once a year.

Brushing your pet’s teeth is one of the best ways to prevent serious dental problems. This is not always an easy task for many of us. It should be performed daily with an enzymatic pet toothpaste. Starting your pet at a young age, makes brushing a much more pleasant and tolerated activity.

Many of the pets we see have dental and gum problems that require cleanings. Dental cleanings are needed to remove plaque and tartar, extract diseased teeth, and treat gum and root infections. We have several cleaning options available in our practice.

For mild dental disease we often can scale and polish the teeth without sedation.  This is a great option to add to your pet’s preventive dental care. Pets are wrapped snuggly in a blanket and their teeth are scaled and polished in the same way they would be under anesthesia.  This cannot be done if there is serious infection or gum disease, or if extractions are needed.

In more advanced cases, the pets need to be placed under anesthesia. This allows us to fully clean and treat your pet’s teeth without causing them pain.  Blood work to assess their overall health and ability to handle anesthesia is required in these cases. X-rays may be needed to check for bone disease and abscesses.

 

What Can I Do About Fleas??

This is probably the most frequent question asked in our hospital.  This year has been nothing short of a nightmare for flea problems.  We are seeing pets nearly every day that are infested.  People are struggling to rid their homes of the nasty creatures.  We have been finding that the flea products we have available are working, just not as well as they used to.  Some of the products out there don’t seem to work to kill fleas at all.  The older treatments such as Frontline and Advantage still work, but we are definitely seeing some resistance or failure with these products.  The situation is muddled by the fact that there is also a lot of counterfeit product out there.  There are many products available in our office that are very effective against fleas.

Prevention
At the North Shore Veterinary Hospital we have had the best success with prevention. This means applying a monthly topical flea product or using a monthly flea pill during all the warmer months of the year.  If you have had a recent flea problem or it is unseasonably warm, it may be needed year round.  Many people, understandably, do not want to use these products unless necessary.  If this is the method that you choose, you must be vigilant and comb through your pet regularly with a flea comb to check for any flea dirt (poop) or live fleas.   This should be done once or twice a week.  A flea product should be used at the first signs of any fleas to prevent infestation. 

Treatment
Unfortunately, many people do find that their pets and homes become infested with fleas. Depending on the degree of the problem the solution may be very simple, or it may require a bit of work.

The first step is making your pet comfortable and trying to kill the fleas that are on their skin and biting them.  All dogs and cats in the house should be treated. Small mammals such as bunnies and guinea pigs should be carefully checked.  If possible it is a good idea to bathe your pet.  This is usually difficult with cats, and may end with scratches and bites.  It is often not worth the battle.  Any pet shampoo will kill fleas.  It is not necessary to use a flea shampoo.  Bathing will also soothe your pet’s irritated skin.    After your pet is completely dry, you can apply the topical flea product.  This is best done by separating the fur on the back of the neck and between the shoulder blades, and applying the product directly to the skin.  There are also flea pills available that kill fleas very quickly and last for up to 1 month.  These pills must be given with a meal.

The second step in getting rid of a flea infestation is treating the environment.  Depending on the level of infestation, this may not be necessary.  Before treating your home, all pets should be removed from the area.  Special care must be taken with birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, as they are extremely sensitive to pesticides.

The benefits of vacuuming in getting rid of fleas cannot be overstated.  Vacuuming not only picks up all stages of fleas from your floors, rugs and furniture, it also triggers the emergence of fleas from their cocoon stage.   They then move up to the surface of your floors and rugs, making them more vulnerable to pesticides, Borax, etc.  After vacuuming, apply spot area treatments with an appropriate indoor flea spray or Borax.   Fleas are most likely to be concentrated in the areas where your pet spends the most time.  They will also be in dark places such as cracks in floors, under furniture and under furniture cushions. These are the areas where treatment should be focused.  The behavior of fleas and where they hide is also the reason that flea bombs are completely ineffective and a waste of your hard earned cash.   After treatment, wait several hours and vacuum again.  Place the contents of your vacuum in a plastic bag and remove it from your home.

With these treatments you will see a significant decrease in your flea problem.  However, no treatment will immediately eliminate all of the fleas. You will very likely need to repeat treatment in a few weeks.  Even if you think you have the problem under control, remember to continue to use a topical or oral prevention for your pets.

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