Rabbit Care, Health & Behavior
Articles on Rabbit Care
We always suggest taking your rabbit to a rabbit knowledgeable vet for
a well check up at least once a year. It is important to find a vet who
treats a lot of rabbits and who stays up to date with the latest treatments.
You can find vet referrals on our website, plus a list of questions
and answers to ask a vet if you are not sure if they are rabbit knowledgeable.
Spay & Neuter
It is very important to have your rabbit spayed or neutered to prevent
health and behavior problems. Even if you just have one rabbit make sure
you get this done. We suggest doing it at about five to six months old.
Please read our separate handout about GI Stasis. This problem can be
related to diet, or can occur because of an underlying illness. If you
know how to recognize it you can save your rabbits' life.
Eating, Drinking, Pooping
It is important to know your rabbits eating, drinking, pooping and peeing
habits. If your rabbit ever stops eating or drinking, is drinking more
or less than normal, or if your rabbit stops using the litter box, is
straining to urinate or the urine is sludgy, you must take your rabbit
to a rabbit knowledgeable vet right away.
Check your rabbits litter box everyday to make sure there is the normal
amount of poop for your rabbit in there, and that the poop is the right
size and consistency.
It is important to check inside your rabbits ears for wax or debris build
up, or infection. Smell inside the ear to make sure there is not a yeasty
or bad smell. Look inside the ear to make sure it is nice and clean
Check the bottom of your rabbit's feet for sore hocks. These are patches
of skin where the fur has worn away, often from being on a wire bottom
cage or a hard surface. They can be come very sore, swollen and infected,
and must be treated right away.
Fur and Skin
Check the fur and skin for white flakes or tiny black dots. If you notice
either of these your rabbit probably has mites (white flakes) or fleas
Rabbit's teeth continually grow. The front teeth must be lined up correctly
in order for them to be kept trim. The cheek teeth must also be lined
up; sometimes rabbits can grow molar spurs or have other teeth problems
such as impaction and abscesses. If you ever notice your rabbit drooling,
having trouble eating, or having a runny eye this could be a sign of a
tooth problem and the rabbit must be seen by a rabbit vet. Some rabbits
have malocclusion where the teeth don't line up. In most cases the teeth
will have to be trimmed or filed, in some cases they have to be removed.
It is VERY important that you find an expert in this field who has a lot
of experience with rabbit teeth.
Run your hands over your rabbit's whole body, including head and jaw area
to check for any unusual lumps or bumps. Rabbits can often get abscesses
which need to be treated right away. The sooner you notice a problem and
get it treated the better the chance you have for a good recovery.
Rabbits get bored if left with nothing to do, so you must provide them
with bunny safe toys. These may include baby rattles (not the teething
type), cardboard rolls from the inside of paper towel or toilet paper
rolls, balls, untreated wicker baskets stuffed with hay and cardboard
boxes (no tape or staples). Call The Bunny Bunch for toys available through
our Bunny Bunch Boutique, 909-548-0034.
Rabbits do much better in pairs and
with the proper introduction they will bond for life. Rabbits are very territorial
and bonding rabbits must be done very carefully in a neutral territory for about
10 minutes a day. You can call us for our information sheet on Bunny Bonding for
more details. Make sure your rabbits are spayed or neutered before starting the
Chewing is necessary for rabbits
as their teeth grow continuously so they need to be provided with bunny
safe wooden chews at all times. Your rabbit will chew on other items such
as furniture, electrical cords and just about anything left in its
path, so be sure to bunny proof and not leave anything on the floor
you do not want chewed. To stop your bunny from chewing on your furniture
clap your hands and move your bunny away. Spaying and neutering also helps
with behavioral problems. Your bunny should never be punished or put in
his cage for bad behavior.
Rabbits are meticulous groomers, but they will need some help from you.
It is very important to brush your rabbit on a daily basis to remove any
loose fur, especially when they are shedding.
Trimming the Nails
Rabbit's nails grow continuously so they will need to be trimmed about
every four to six weeks. It is important to know how to trim a rabbit's
nails, because if you cut them down too short you may cut into the quick
which will be very painful and bleed. This can also lead to infection.
We do free nail trims at our weekend adoption events and at the Burrow
and will be happy
to show you how to trim nails. A rabbit vet can also show you as well.
Male and female rabbits have two scent glands on either side of the genitals.
These are two small pockets which need to be cleaned about every three
months or so. When cleaning the scent glands it is important to be gentle.
We suggest using a q-tip dipped in warm water to gently wipe out the
SPAY AND NEUTER!
At The Bunny Bunch all rabbits are spayed or neutered before adoption,
and this is for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is to prevent unwanted litters
(the Humane Societies are full of unwanted rabbits being euthanized due
to lack of homes). Also, for health and behavioral problems. Unneutered
males and sometimes unspayed females will spray urine to mark their territory,
some will show aggressive behavior and there are many health risks, such
as cancer, related to unfixed rabbits. Help us stop over population
by spaying/neutering your rabbit. Call The Bunny Bunch Hotline for low
cost spay and neuter referrals.
Never pick a bunny up by its ears! You must support its back
legs and hold it against your chest. Young children should not be allowed
to pick up a rabbit as the rabbit has powerful back legs and can scratch
very deeply. Also a rabbit can break its own back by struggling
if it is held incorrectly. Have children sit on the couch or floor and
let the bunny come to them. Always supervise!
Rabbits should live inside your house with you, as part of the family.
Rabbits should never be kept in a hutch, and most cages are too small
for a rabbit to live in. Keep in mind that rabbits need just as much exercise
as a cat or dog and must have room to run around. Some rabbits live free
in the house. The house must be rabbit proofed, meaning all cords are covered
or out of reach, no poisonous plants, no animals or children that can
harm them and no way to get out. Some live in a rabbit proofed room, and
some live in an exercise pen and are let out for exercise in a rabbit proofed
room or house. Keep in mind that the smallest space a rabbit can live in
is 4ftx4ft square. Small rabbits need just as much room to run around
as large rabbits do.
Rabbits will easily train themselves to use a litter box. Just provide
a large litter box with rabbit safe litter, such as Carefresh and pile
hay on top. Rabbits like to graze and poop at the same time so keeping
hay in the litter box gets them to use it and to eat more hay.
Toys & Chews
Because rabbit's teeth are continually growing they need a lot of items
to chew. Make sure whatever you provide for your rabbit to chew on is
rabbit safe. Chew blocks, untreated willow baskets, willow balls, willow
wreaths and untreated apple twigs all make great chews. Rabbits also like
to play, some favorite rabbit toys are balls with a bell inside, baby
keys and rattles. Rabbits like to have a hiding place to lie in or under
such as a bunny tent or cardboard box.
A rabbit's diet should be made
up of unlimited grass type hay, fresh veggies and limited pellets. Only
healthy treats should be fed. It is a good idea to split the veggies and
pellet rations into two feedings, morning and evening. Hay must be available
at all times.
Hay is a very important part of a rabbit's diet. It should be piled in
the litter box at all times as rabbits like to poop and graze at the same
time. Hay is the main source of fiber and helps in preventing GI stasis,
plus it is good for keeping the teeth trim. Rabbits will start munching
on hay at about two to three weeks of age. Adult rabbits should be fed
grass hays such as Timothy, Bunny Bunch Blend or Oat. Baby rabbits can
eat alfalfa. Hay cubes should NOT be fed in place of loose hay. Read
more about Hay below.
Adult rabbits should be fed a good quality, high fiber (20% or more),
alfalfa pellet, or Timothy pellet (we feed Timothy pellets). Feed only
¼ of a cup a day for a 5 lbs rabbit. Rabbits that are free fed
pellets tend to become overweight and will not eat as much hay. Young
rabbits should be free fed pellets up to about seven or eight months,
then slowly cut back to what is correct for their weight. Never feed pellets
that have nuts, seeds or cereal looking items added in, these are high
in sugar and carbohydrates.
Veggies should be fed twice a day in the form of a bunny salad. Feed about
three cups of veggies per day for a 5 lb rabbit. The salad should be made
up of about three different kinds of fresh, washed, pesticide free vegetables
such as parsley, cilantro, bok choy, endive, escarole and dandelion greens.
Rabbits should be introduced to veggies at about three to four months
old, starting with one kind of veggie and slowly adding in others a few
Rabbits can have a limited amount of fruit in their diet such as strawberries,
blueberries, apples, melon, pineapple, papaya and peach (no seeds or
pits). Only feed it a couple of times a week and not more than a tablespoon
for an average size rabbit. Some fruits can be very high in sugar such
as banana and grapes so it is best to avoid those. Feed fruit sparingly,
just once in a while as a treat.
Never feed nuts, cereal, crackers, cookies or any other kind of snack
food to your rabbits. All of these are high in sugar and carbohydrates,
and should not be part of a rabbit's diet. Healthy treats can be fed such
as fresh dried pesticide free herbs, rabbit safe flowers such as rose
petals, hibiscus and nasturtiums.
Fresh water should be available at all times, in a clean, large, heavy
crock. Rinse the water crock out every day and give it a good cleaning
about three times a week to prevent algae build up.
HAY! HOW ABOUT
A rabbits diet is very important.
Many people tend to feed the wrong pellets and not enough hay. And store-bought treats
that can be very harmful to rabbits. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unhealthy
items out there that are made for rabbits and marketed towards their humans, making
the treats and pellets look like candy. The bad thing is that these items are
often full of sugar, which can cause health problems in rabbits and can even be
At The Bunny Bunch we have cared
for over twenty years and have discovered the best diet for optimal health.
Hay plays a very important part in
a rabbits diet and should be provided at all times. It is very important
that you have a good reliable source for getting hay for your rabbits.
Hay should be fed unlimited (meaning
as much as your rabbit wants) on a daily basis. We pile the litter boxes full of
every morning and evening so our buns will get as much hay as they want. Hay
can also be put into hay baskets in your rabbit's pen, or around the house for
extra munching. Hay is one of the most important parts of a rabbits diet.
Make sure your rabbit is eating lots of hay! If you are overfeeding pellets your
rabbit will not eat as much hay, so make sure you are limiting pellets and giving
the right amount based on your rabbits weight.
We do not suggest putting hay in
hay racks. While rabbits will pull at the hay and eat it, the hay consumption
tends to be much less.
Rabbits need lots of fiber to keep
their GI tract healthy. Hay plays an important part in keeping the intestinal
tract moving. Rabbits (unlike cats) cannot vomit, so everything must pass through
their GI tract. One of the most common rabbit illnesses is GI Stasis,
which occurs when the GI tract slows down or stops. You will often hear that a
rabbit has a hairball, which slowed down the GI tract. The fact is, the GI tract
slowed down before the hairball. Because the GI tract slowed down, the hair and
other food particles did not move through the intestines or stomach, causing the
rabbit pain. Rabbits in GI stasis can die within twelve hours. (Click here
to read our article on GI Stasis for more important information). Eating unlimited
hay and a healthy diet can help to prevent this illness.
If you notice that your rabbit has
small poops, large poops, misshapen poops, soft poops or poops that have a bad
smell, go to a rabbit vet right away. Often, these are signs of not enough hay
or a poor diet. Your rabbit should see a rabbit savvy veterinarian right away as these signs could
also be the result of an underlying illness or parasites.
Types of Hay
Timothy -This is a great hay
to be fed unlimited on a daily basis. Lots of nice stems with great color and
Bunny Bunch Blend -This
is a blend of delicious Oat, Wheat and Barley. Our buns go crazy over it!
Oat -Another one the buns
love. Lots of seed heads for munching on.
Orchard -A softer, fine hay
that rabbits enjoy. We often give a handful as a treat.
Alfalfa -This hay is for the
young ones only. Good for growing buns that need calcium for strong bones and
teeth. We do not recommend giving this to adults, though.
How to store hay
Hay should be stored in a cool, dry,
dark location. It is very important to make sure your hay does not get damp or
wet, as this could cause mold to grow, which is life threatening to rabbits and
other small animals.
Hay should not be stored in an airtight
container as it needs air to circulate. If you go through your hay pretty quickly
(which most of us do), you can store it in a hay bin with a loose lid. Or, you
may want to store it in a large cardboard box. If your hay is in a plastic bag,
do not seal the bag; leave the top open.
If you have cats, make sure they
do not have access to the stored hay, as they often like to use it as a litter
Bunch Boutique ships hay all over the United States. Rabbits just love
it. Our supplies are also available for will call in Southern California at our
location in Chino and at our many adoption and education events. Please make sure
that your rabbit is getting unlimited amounts of good quality hay at all times.
Back to other
Veterinarian Articles on Rabbit Care
to Get Your Rabbit to Cooperate
Caroline Charland, President, The Bunny Bunch
Does your rabbit come to you
when called? Can you pick up and hold your rabbit? Does your rabbit sit
still to be groomed? Can you get your rabbit into a carrier for a trip
to the vet? The answer I often hear is "No". It seems to me
that most rabbits have their humans under a spell.
Almost everyday people tell
me they cannot pick up their rabbit, that their rabbit just won't cooperate.
At our weekend adoption and education events we have a line of people
with their rabbits in carriers waiting to get a nail trim, because their
rabbit won't let them do it at home. The stories I hear about how long
it took to get the rabbit into the carrier or how traumatic it is for
the rabbit to be picked up are endless. To tell you the truth, half the
time I think it is the people who are having the hard time and the rabbits
just have them fooled.
Rabbits are built to be low
to the ground; even though they jump up onto the couch or onto a bed,
they are not climbers like cats are. Therefore, they prefer to have all
four feet on the ground and that is part of the reason they may resist
being picked up.
It is important to spend time
with your rabbit at their level, meaning lying on your tummy on the ground.
Your rabbit will come up to you after a while and settle down by you hoping
for head and ear strokes. This will start a growing trust between you.
It is also important to know
how to pick up and hold your rabbit, how to groom your rabbit and how
to put your rabbit into a carrier. If your rabbit is sick or injured and
needs a trip to the vet, or if there is an emergency such as an earthquake,
fire or flood, you need to be able to do this quickly and safely.
to get your rabbit to cooperate
Get your rabbit
to trust you
Give your rabbit veggies or healthy treats from your hands
Use a clicking sound when you feed
Pick your rabbit up in a safe, calm manner
Provide a safe and secure carrier for travel
Provide a safe, adequate indoor living area
Protect your rabbit from unsafe animals or people
Never discipline your rabbit
Give your rabbit praise
Respect your rabbit
A rabbit must feel safe and
secure when being approached, picked up or held. So here are a few tips
to show you how to accomplish this.
Getting to know your rabbit
When you first bring a rabbit
home, it is important to give the rabbit a safe place to call its own.
Even if your rabbit is going to have full run of the house or a room,
for the first week or so it is a good idea to provide an exercise pen
for your rabbit to live in. This does a couple of things. First of all,
your rabbit has its own space to call home. Second of all, rabbits coming
to a new home will litter train much better in an enclosed pen at first,
rather than in a large room. Once you have had your rabbit for a few days,
open the pen and let it come out for exploring and run-about time. Be
sure to rabbit proof any room your rabbit will have access to by removing
any dangers such as poisonous plants and cover all electric cords so they
cannot be chewed.
Picking up your rabbit
Some rabbits are more shy than
others and may take longer to come around to you. If this is the case,
try spending time on the floor in the rabbit's living quarters. Just sit
and read and spend time in there. The rabbit will be curious and start
coming to you and with time will want fuss and to spend time with you.
First, go up to your rabbit crouching down and give it a stoke on the
head talking calmly. Some rabbits will run when you approach them as they
are used to the routine of you trying to pick them up and them running
away from you. If this is the case, you first need to gain your rabbit's
trust. Sit on the ground and wait for the rabbit to come up to you. Once
that happens, hold your hand out with a treat in it, such as a couple
of sprigs of parsley or cilantro. Eventually, your rabbit will come up
and eat the treat. Do this a couple of times a day, without trying to
pick the rabbit up. This will establish trust between you.
Then firmly (but not squeezing)
put one hand under the rabbit's chest, with your thumb around the rabbit's
side or back, and your forefinger in between the rabbit's front legs.
With your other hand, scoop up the rabbit's bottom. Do this all in one
motion, putting the rabbit against your chest.
If the rabbit starts to struggle,
that means it does not feel safe and you may need to hold him a little
tighter, keeping in mind not to squeeze too hard.
It may take a few tries for
you and your rabbit to feel comfortable. It is a good idea to practice
doing this from a kneeling position on the floor so you don't have to
lift the rabbit up too high.
Clicking will have your
rabbit running to you
If you have a hard time getting
your rabbit to come to you, start making a clicking sound with your tongue,
or click every time you feed your rabbit, also calling your rabbit's name.
This is a super way to get your rabbit to recognize a noise and associate
it with food. All my rabbits know that if they hear the clicking sound
or I am calling their name that means to come to me, and that all started
by training them with a small healthy treat. Now they just come even without
getting a treat. Be careful though to give only healthy treats such as
veggies, untreated rose petals or rabbit-safe flowers and herbs such as
rosemary or bay leaves. Too many pellets or fruit can be fattening, and
store-bought treats are often full of sugar, which is not a good idea.
Never give crackers, cereal or junk food to your rabbit.
The good thing about handfeeding
a treat to your rabbit is that it will not just associate your hands with
being picked up, but will know your hands as offering a treat, too.
Getting your rabbit to sit
still for a nail trim and grooming
First of all, get everything
you need to groom your rabbit: nail clippers, Quikstop, q-tips for cleaning
the scent glands and a brush for removing the loose hair. Decide where
you will be grooming your rabbit. If you are using a counter or table,
make sure your rabbit is not going to be able to run and jump off. Holding
your rabbit on a towel on your lap often works very well. Pick up your
rabbit and place him on your lap. Let your rabbit settle by talking to
him calmly and stroking his head or ears. If he wants to get off, just
hold him firmly. Sometimes covering his eyes for a little bit will settle
him down. Once he gets used to the routine and knows he cannot do want
he wants, but has to do want you want, you should have no trouble.
Getting your rabbit into
a travel carrier
Your rabbit's carrier does
not need to be a place your rabbit does not like to go. It can be made
into a good experience for your rabbit. Look at it from a rabbit's point
of view. First they are chased, and then after a while caught and stuffed
into a carrier they only see once in a while. Often the carrier is not
appropriate for transporting a rabbit, which makes it all the more a bad
experience for the rabbit and the owner, too.
The kind of carrier you transport
your rabbit in can make a huge difference in making your rabbit feel safe
and secure. Get a hard plastic carrier. You need to be able to easily
get your rabbit in and out of the carrier, either through a top opening
or a large front door. Many carriers in the stores are made for cats,
who will often just walk out of the carrier whether the opening is small
or large. Rabbits, however, need to be taken out so make sure there is
enough room to put your hands in and take the rabbit out without catching
its legs on the door.
Never use cloth or cardboard
carriers. The cardboard carriers do not hold up and the cloth carriers
are just not safe. For one thing, your rabbit may chew out of a cardboard
or cloth carrier, plus they are just not protective.
In the bottom of the carrier,
fold up a nice soft towel so your rabbit has something to lie on and to
prevent him from sliding around in the carrier.
If you leave your rabbit's
carrier out in his area with the door open, he will often use it as hidey
place to go and nap. If you don't have room to leave it out all the time,
try to put it out from time to time, putting the towel in and a few veggies
in the back. Before long, your rabbit will go in by itself, munch on the
veggies and not feel scared of it.
If you still have trouble getting
your rabbit in the carrier, don't forget the clicking sound. By having
the carrier out on a regular basis, putting a few veggies in it and then
clicking so your rabbit knows it is food time, it will get him in a routine
to run into the carrier and munch on the veggies. Then you can
close the door and be on your way. Make sure you secure the carrier in
your car by putting the seat belt around it.
your rabbit by chasing it around the room, yelling and screaming its name
Don't try to trap your rabbit in a corner, under a couch or by blocking
Do not let young children pick up a rabbit
NEVER pick up a rabbit by the ears.
NEVER scruff a rabbit by the skin on the back of its neck
NEVER grab your rabbit by its legs or tail
How to avoid being scratched
A rabbit's nails are continually
growing, which can make them very long and sharp. When a rabbit is being
picked up and does not feel safe, it will struggle to be put down, often
resulting in the person being scratched, sometimes quite badly. This does
not mean that the rabbit was trying to hurt you; it just means it did
not feel safe and struggled to be put down, resulting in scratching you.
So always keep your rabbit's nails trimmed.
Rabbits rarely bite. Some rabbits
can become aggressive if not spayed or neutered, or if they are kept in
a cage. Often the combination of both can result in the rabbit protecting
its living area by lunging, boxing and sometimes biting. If this is the
case, a few simple changes can prevent this. First of all, the rabbit
should be spayed or neutered. Once that is done and the hormones die down,
they don't feel the need to be so protective of their area. Then the rabbit
should be provided with adequate space for living. We suggest an exercise
pen instead of a cage. The minimum space a rabbit should live in is 4
ft wide x 4 ft deep. Make sure you provide lots of toys and chews so your
rabbit does not become bored. Last of all, rabbits should not live alone
and need to be bonded to at least one other rabbit. Rabbits naturally
live in groups, so having them by themselves can cause a rabbit to become
lonely and destructive.
Getting your rabbit to use a litter box
It is natural for rabbits to
use a certain spot to go to the bathroom. They are very clean animals
and do not like a dirty area. Get a large litter box, big enough for your
rabbit to lie in. Put rabbit-safe litter (like Carefresh) in the bottom
of the box and pile a good-quality grass hay on top of the litter. Rabbits
like to graze on hay and poop at the same time, so by putting hay in the
litter box not only will your rabbit start using the litter box, he will
also start eating more hay. The hay should be piled up in the morning
and again in the evening. Depending on how many rabbits use the litter
box it should be changed every day or every other day.
If you find your rabbit is
pooping outside the litter box, just pick up the poops and put them in
the litter box and that should solve the problem. Make sure you clean
your litter box out with white vinegar once a week to keep it free of
built-up urine. For good litter box habits, it is important that your
rabbit is spayed or neutered.
Do have a large
Do use rabbit-safe litter
Do keep hay piled on top of the litter
Do keep the litter box clean
Do not use cat
Do not use small or corner litter boxes
Do not use unsafe cleaning agents
Do not use a cage as a litter box
Should I discipline my rabbit?
The answer is a big NO. Rabbits
do well with kindness and rewards, not harsh words or punishment. If you
use some form of discipline with your rabbit, your rabbit will not want
to be around you, will become scared and frightened of you and could become
depressed and withdrawn.
Rewarding your rabbit for coming
to you with strokes, praise and sometimes treats will benefit your relationship
and grow into a strong trust between you.
keeping a single rabbit happy
Have your rabbit
spayed or neutered
Provide lots of toys and chews to keep your rabbit occupied
Spend at least three hours a day with your rabbit, even if it is cuddling
in bed at night
If your rabbit is confined to a cage or pen, make sure you provide at
least four hours of out-of-pen time in a safe room for exercise and play
The best thing for a single rabbit is another rabbit
getting rabbits to cooperate with each other
to go through the bonding process before they can be together
Start by having them together in a small neutral place such as a bathtub
or laundry basket
Limit each meeting time to only about ten or fifteen minutes for the first
couple of days
Stroke both of their heads while they get to know each other
They will try to nip or fight so you must watch their every move
Try doing the bonding at least twice a day
You will notice they will start to groom each other
Bonding can take from a week to months
Only bond rabbits if you intend for them to live together
NEVER leave them alone until they are bonded as they could get into a
Charland is founder and president of The Bunny Bunch Rabbit Rescue &
S.P.C.R. (Society for the Proper Care of Rabbits), and Bunny Bunch Boutique.
She has been caring for rabbits for over twenty years. For free rabbit
care information or advice, you may contact her at (909) 591-7200 or at
www.bunnybunch.org or www.bunnybunchboutique.com
on Topical Flea Products
Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM http://www.drexotic.com
Medical Alert: Problems Reported
with New Topical Flea Products
Our hospital has become aware of
problems with one of the new topical flea products, Frontline, marketed through
veterinarians by Rhone Merieux Inc. To date, we have consulted with veterinarians
who have prescribed Frontline which resulted in the death of three rabbits; another
rabbit has been successfully treated for severe seizures it developed after Frontline
The active ingredient in Frontline
is not supposed to cross into the central nervous system of mammals, and has proven
to be safe for dogs and cats. It kills both fleas and ticks, and is difficult
to wash off.
However, it is important to note
that use of this product on rabbits is an "off label use" and has never
been recommended or approved by the manufacturer. (This is the case with most
pharmaceuticals used in rabbits.)
Representatives of Rhone Merieux
Inc. admit they have received other reports of "adverse reactions" to
Frontline when used on rabbits, but would not go so far as to say that they knew
if other rabbits had died. They went on to say that they strongly recommend Frontline
NOT be used on rabbits or other exotic species.
In addition we have heard an anecdotal
report (someone had a friend whose neighbor told them of a rabbit that developed
gastrointestinal upset after licking a large volume of Advantage off another rabbit
just after it was applied). Before recommending Advantage for our clients' rabbits,
our hospital did an in-depth literature search, consulted with the manufacturer
(Bayer) and tested the product on many un owned rabbits to make certain that the
product was safe. Gastrointestinal upset has been reported in cats who lick a
large volume of the product off another animal.
We recommend that multiple pet households
separate rabbits or rabbits and cats for 12 hours after Advantage has been applied
so the product can disperse on the animal's coat before another animal has the
opportunity to groom the treated rabbit.
The reason that these products are
sold by prescription only is that there is some risk involved with their use.
It is important for the veterinarian prescribing the product to understand those
risks and in this case, those risks specific to rabbits,and be able to explain
Should you have questions about the
use of a prescription product or should you experience a problem during the time
your rabbit is taking a prescription medication, it is important for you to contact
your veterinarian immediately.
Back to other Veterinarian
Articles on Rabbit Care
Enteritis and Enterotoxemia
By Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM
Why must your veterinarian take care
when choosing antibiotics for use in a rabbit, and which antibiotics are not
recommended for use in a rabbit?
Many antibiotics suppress the healthy
population of intestinal bacteria (flora) resulting in "dysbiosis" (meaning
upset bacterial flora) which leads to "enteritis" or "enterotoxemia,"
and/or diarrhea and can potentially take the life of a rabbit. Disease is caused
when an overgrowth of disease-causing bacteria produce toxins and damage the cecum
and colon, as well as affecting other body systems. Clostridium spiroforme, a
bacterium normally present in the rabbit's lower intestinal tract in very small
numbers, is the most common cause, and produces a toxin similar to the toxin that
causes botulism food poisoning. E. Coli and other pathogenic bacteria, which may also
proliferate and be the cause of disease.
Not all antibiotics are a problem;
rather, only those that affect the "normal" bacteria that populate the
rabbit's lower intestinal tract. These antibiotics typically kill the normal,
healthy bacteria in the rabbit's cecum and colon. Most of these "healthy"
bacteria are classified as "Gram positive bacteria" and/or the bacteria
that grow in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic bacteria).
The chance of the antibiotic causing
enteritis or enterotoxemia is greater if it is administered orally, rather than
A diet rich in simple carbohydrates
(sugars, starches such as grain and refined flour, as well as high-sugar-containing
fruits such as grapes or bananas) will increase a rabbit's chance of developing
enteritis when taking antibiotics. This is because of the destabilizing effect
simple carbohydrates have on the normal bacteria and because Clostridium spiroforme
needs simple carbohydrates to produce its toxin. A diet high in fiber, such as
grass hay, will decrease the chance of antibiotics upsetting the rabbit's flora
because the fiber increases the motility (motion) of the cecum and colon.
Antibiotics in the macrolide family,
such as clindamycin, erythromycin and lincomycin; the penicillin family, such
as ampicillin and amoxicillin, as well as several other antibiotics have been
reported to cause enteritis in rabbits. Less likely, but capable of causing problems
is the cephalosporin family of antibiotics. Antibiotics that rarely if ever cause
problems include the quinalone family, such as enrofloxacin (Baytril); the potentiated
sulfa drugs, such as trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole; sulfa drugs such as sulfadimethoxine;
and the aminoglycoside antibiotics such as amikacin.
Signs that a rabbit has enteritis
include one or more of the following symptoms: anorexia (not eating or drinking),
depression or lethargy, abdomen distended with gas, abdominal pain and diarrhea
with or without blood, or even no stool production.
Treatment of enteritis and enterotoxemia
consists of aggressive supportive care and efforts to increase cecal and colonic
motility, and to discourage the growth of pathogenic bacteria and the production
of toxins while supporting the growth of normal flora. Correction of dehydration
and maintenance of normal hydration are of paramount importance. Intravenous or
intraosseous fluids are often indicated. Motility stimulating drugs such as metaclopramide
HCl (Reglan) and a diet high in fiber, force fed if necessary, give the most favorable
results in the author's experience. Cholestyrine, an ion-exchange resin capable
of binding bacterial toxins, has been used with very good results. Antibiotics
have limited value in treating the disease and are used primarily as "supportive"
Prevention of enterotoxemia depends
on maintaining optimal husbandry and minimizing stress. Feed a diet with no less
than 18% to 20% fiber from a good quality grass hay. Sudden changes in the diet
should be avoided. Weaning rabbits should have feed, including hay, available
from three weeks of age, and early or forced weaning should be avoided.
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Veterinarian Articles on Rabbit Care
Stones and "Sludge"
By Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM
Pet rabbits are commonly affected
with urinary stones or more properly "calculi." These calculi present
themselves in two common forms: as large stones (at times reaching sizes more
than an inch in diameter) and as very small sand or crystals (smaller than a grain
of sand). The small calculi are typically present in large numbers and are collectively
referred to as "calciuria," "sand" or "sludge."
Urinary calculi are a disappointing
problem in the pet rabbit as they are difficult to treat effectively and the problem
The exact cause of calculi formation
is poorly defined. Both urinary tract infection and the contribution of a high
calcium diet are strongly suggested. Other contributing factors include any change
in the rabbit that makes it difficult to completely empty his bladder. These include
neurological problems such as disc disease or back trauma, abdominal adhesions
related to the castration or spaying of the rabbit, inguinal hernias and congenital
abnormalities of the bladder. Some cases may be related to a behavior of not urinating
frequently (such as a rabbit who will not urinate in his cage and thus goes all
night without urinating).
Signs of calciuria in the rabbit
are poor appetite or anorexia, frequent and sometimes painful, straining urination
and, in some cases, the passing of sand-like stones. The bunny may be reluctant
to move, have a hard or painful abdomen and "hunched-up" posture caused
by a painful, overly distended bladder. A sandy urine precipitate may be found
on the fur between the legs, on the tail or seen where the rabbit has urinated.
The diagnosis of calciuria in rabbits
is made by the veterinarian using a combination of urinalysis, abdominal radiographs,
stone analysis, urine cultures and blood tests. Urine for urinalysis should be
collected just before it is examined and is best collected into a sterile syringe
using a urinary catheter or by "cystocentesis" where a syringe needle
is passed through the abdominal wall into the bladder. In this way the urine is
not contaminated by bacteria in the urethra or from the substrate, if the rabbit
urinates normally. Cultures taken from the urine should be performed before any
antibiotics are given to maximize the chance of finding the bacteria responsible
for the infection. Radiographs (X-rays) will tell the veterinarian if the stones
are limited to the bladder or if the patient has stones in the kidney(s) or ureter(s)
as well. Stones in the kidneys or ureters present a much worse situation.
Stone analysis helps the veterinarian
determine the underlying cause of the stone formation. In most cases there is
an underlying bladder infection that must be completely corrected to prevent the
stones from returning. In other cases, the stones may be related to very high
levels of calcium in the rabbit's diet or to other metabolic abnormalities.
The most important aspect of treatment
for a rabbit with urinary calculi is to remember that calculi are a symptom of
an underlying problem, much like a cough is a sign of an underlying respiratory
tract disease. Stones or sludge calculi must be removed surgically or flushed
from the bladder and the rabbit started on appropriate antibiotics. Correction
of the underlying problem may also involve changing the diet to remove sources
of excess calcium and management changes that facilitate frequent and complete
urination. Treatment may also involve supportive care, such as hospitalization
for fluid therapy.
Prevention of urinary tract calculi
is best accomplished by assuring good urinary tract health through proper hygiene.
Equally important is replacing or diluting high-calcium foodstuffs in the diet.
This includes alfalfa hay and alfalfa-based pellets.
Rabbits absorb calcium efficiently
from their gut in proportion to the calcium concentration in the diet. Therefore,
high blood calcium concentrations (12-16 mg/dL) are commonly found in rabbits
on a calcium-rich diet, such as alfalfa.
The primary way for the rabbit to
control calcium concentrations is through excretion of calcium into their urine.
It is therefore important to assure adequate water intake so that urine is not
concentrated. A safe, private location for the rabbit's litter box as well as
frequent periods and adequate space for exercise all help to increase the frequency
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Veterinarian Articles on Rabbit Care
CALCIUM METABOLISM IN RABBITS
by Leah Postman, DVM
Calcium is a common mineral element
which is fundamental to many normal bodily functions. Of the 15 known essential
mineral nutrients, calcium is the one found in largest amounts in animals, and
therefore is required in the largest amounts. Almost all (99%) of the total body
calcium is found within the bones and teeth. While most mammals make one or two
sets of teeth to last a lifetime, rabbits and horses continually form and wear
down their teeth throughout their life span. For rabbits, continual tooth eruption
is a factor in long-term calcium requirements. The other 1% of body calcium supports
critical metabolic functions, including nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction,
heart rate and contraction, and blood clotting.
Most mammalian species follow a similar
pattern of calcium metabolism. While rabbits do not follow the typical mammalian
prototype, I will describe it for comparison purposes. After calcium is eaten,
it is absorbed by the small blood vessels supplying the intestines, into the bloodstream.
The level of calcium in the blood is closely controlled by two hormones: parathyroid
hormone and calcitonin. These two hormones act in tandem to keep calcium levels
within the blood optimally balanced. Parathyroid hormone (parathormone, PTH) is
produced by the parathyroid glands: tiny glands located adjacent to the thyroid
glands. When the parathyroid detects that the level of calcium in the blood is
getting too low, it secretes extra PTH. This increased level of PTH in the blood
acts on cells in the kidney to stimulate formation of an active form of Vitamin
D. This activated Vitamin D in turn acts on cells in the intestine to increase
calcium binding capacity. In this way, more of the ingested calcium is picked
up by the intestines, and the low blood calcium is corrected by increased intestinal
absorption. This intricate loop acts to protect animals from the potentially deadly
consequences of low blood calcium -- heart attacks, seizures, and muscular tetany.
Just as too little calcium in the
blood can be dangerous, so can too much. To protect against elevations in the
blood calcium level, the thyroid glands produce calcitonin. The thyroid produces
more calcitonin when it senses an increase in circulating calcium. This increased
level of calcitonin acts on cells within the bones to increase absorption of calcium
into the bones. The calcium within bones not only provides structural integrity,
but serves as a reserve supply for the body, should nutritional sources of calcium
become scarce. Just as PTH protects animals from the consequences of LOW circulating
levels of calcium, calcitonin protects animals from the consequences of HIGH circulating
levels of calcium-- seizures, mineralization of tissues and blood vessels.
Rabbits metabolize calcium very differently
from other animals. Unlike other mammals, rabbits' blood calcium levels fluctuate
widely, dependent upon the level of calcium in their diet. Rabbits also have very
complete intestinal absorption, and thereby end up with blood calcium levels that
are generally higher than other mammals. Although Vitamin D mediates intestinal
absorption of calcium in most mammals, intestinal calcium absorption in rabbits
is apparently independent of Vitamin D. Only rarely, in conjunction with the changes
in calcium metabolism associated with birth and the high calcium requirements
of lactation, do their calcium levels drop to a dangerous level, resulting in
tetany. On a practical level, for the spayed house bunny, this is not a concern.
What is a concern however, is the upper end of the blood calcium range.
In other mammals, the thyroid-produced
hormone calcitonin acts to lower blood calcium levels, to keep them below a ceiling
value. This type of control does not seem to exist in rabbits. Their blood calcium
levels become elevated in direct proportion to the calcium consumed in their diet.
To make the bunny calcium situation even more of a conundrum, rabbits are even
more unusual because they, being inherently prone to elevations in blood calcium,
filter excess calcium through their kidneys, and excrete it through their urine.
Whereas most mammals can rid their bodies of excess calcium efficiently and without
adverse effects through bile and intestinal secretion, bunnies apparently cannot.
Studies on pika, jackrabbits and mountain hare have demonstrated that the wild
lagomorph relatives of domestic rabbits share this pattern of urinary excretion
The kidney's serve as the body's
filtration system -- to discard waste products, to conserve normal levels of electrolytes
within the body, and to regulate water balance. To accomplish this, incoming blood
is juxtaposed with a network of fine tubules, across which filtration occurs.
The delicate tissues within the kidneys are ideally suited to filtering soluble
substances --ions, glucose, proteins. But once the kidneys have reached their
(limited) capacity for reabsorption, calcium precipitates within the urine, and
is excreted as insoluble crystalline salts. This is what is in that cloudy white
urine ("sludge"), or gritty puddles that you may have cleaned. It has
been theorized -- not proven yet -- that the red pigment often seen in rabbit
urine, although not blood, is a blood pigment indicating damage to the kidneys'
tubules, most likely by calcium salts. Some feel that "red urine" is
caused by harmless plant pigments, and is in no way a problem.
We do know that calcium stones are
a significant problem for pet rabbits. These stones can be found anywhere within
the urinary tract -- kidneys, ureters, bladder, urethra. Depending on their location,
they can be painful and often require surgical removal. And they can be very difficult
to remove. We also know that urinary excretion of calcium correlates directly
with the level of calcium in the diet. In other words, the more calcium that the
bunnies eat, the more their kidneys process and eliminate. Given the potentially
serious, and all-too-common problems associated with calcium excess, it makes
sense to provide no more calcium than what is needed for maintenance of skeletal
and neuromuscular needs.
There are two standard sources for
determining rabbits' nutritional requirements: the National Research Council (NRC,
1977) and Francois Lebas (Lebas, 1980), both referenced in Cheeke's _Rabbit Feeding
and Nutrition_, 1987. The NRC did not determine the maintenance requirement for
calcium, but sets 0.4% as the growth requirement; maintenance should be considerably
less. Lebas determined the maintenance requirement to be 0.6%. Based on this data,
current recommendations are for a calcium content of 0.4% to 0.6% (dry matter
basis). Almost all of the commercial pellets currently available exceed this,
some by almost double.
All of these pellets share a common
trait -- they are formulated primarily from alfalfa meal. And alfalfa meal, like
the alfalfa hay from which it is made, has a very high calcium content -- 1.5%.
So it is a challenge to make a pellet that starts with alfalfa -- inherently high
in calcium, and dilute the calcium content by 60%. There is really only one pellet
that avoids this formulation dilemma. Oxbow Hay Company's Bunny Basics/T starts
out with Timothy meal, not alfalfa meal, and thereby produces a pellet with 0.4-0.8%
The other potentially significant
source of calcium in rabbits' diets is fresh greens. Although many people worry
about the greens noted for high calcium content -- kale, spinach, collards --
I do not. All fresh greens are about 70% to 85% water, which greatly dilutes all
nutrients. To eliminate the potential to misrepresent nutrient content due to
variability in water content, it is essential to compare calcium content on a
dry matter basis, which is how the nutrient requirements are expressed on labels
and in tables. For example, kale, which many recommend avoiding by virtue of its
calcium content, has 1.6% calcium on a dry weight basis. In other words, dehydrated
kale has roughly three times the NRC recommended calcium content. However, the
fresh bunch of kale is mostly water, so the calcium content drops dramatically,
to 0.24% when fed fresh. If you were to feed a medium-sized (5 pound) bunny 1/4
cup (about 60 grams) of a pellet meeting NRC recommendations, he would consume
about 0.30 grams of calcium. To obtain a similar quantity of calcium from kale,
the bun would have to eat over 4 ounces (130 grams) of kale. That is a sizable
pile of kale -- about as much as you could stuff in a half gallon milk carton.
Similarly, dandelion greens, have a calcium level of 1.6% on a dry matter basis.
But since our bunnies eat them fresh, they are only getting 0.20% calcium. Again,
we see that even for greens with a relatively high calcium content, the calcium
level of the leaves the bun is munching is actually quite low.
So, what does all this mean in real
life? It mean's that to protect a rabbit's kidneys from calcium overload, we must
minimize the calcium we feed them. Alfalfa -- both hay and alfalfa meal derived
pellets -- is the biggest source of calcium overload for domestic bunnies. Minimizing
the alfalfa in rabbits' diets will automatically reduce their calcium levels.
While some veterinarians (notably, Dr. Susan Brown) may recommend eliminating
pellets entirely from the house rabbit's diet, I do not. I think a balanced pellet,
fed in limited quantities, can help even out the fluctuations inherent to hay
-- soil content, day length, first cutting vs. second cutting, etc.
From my point of view, there is one
preferred pellet -- Oxbow Bunny Basics/T. Oxbow has been the only manufacturer
to date to realize that basing a pellet on Timothy hay just fundamentally makes
more sense. Although there are a few alfalfa meal based pellets with a reasonably
low calcium content, they do not have the fiber content of Bunny Basics/T (29%),
so on the fiber count they don't stack up. I think Bunny Basics/T is the best
thing to happen to bunnies since Farmer McGregor retired. Of course, good quality
grass hay should be the bulk of your rabbit's diet, with fresh greens for variety,
added fluids and vitamins. I believe that this combination of feeds offers the
best available complete nutritional profile, as well as taking into account a
rabbit's idiosyncratic calcium metabolism, and minimizing the risk of associated
urinary tract disease.
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Veterinarian Articles on Rabbit Care
Care of the
By Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM
Contrary to common wisdom, many well
kept rabbits live long and happy lives. With better owner education, improved
diets and husbandry, and better medical care, more rabbits are living into their
senior years. In this article we will review some of the special care and problems
we see in the senior house rabbit.
Rabbits often live into their second
decade. Early House Rabbit Society literature reported rabbis living only 4 to
5 years. This misconception was likely because of rabbis dying at an early age
due to poor management, rich diets and lack of ovariohysterectomy (spaying). In
our experience, 10- to 12-year-old rabbits are not uncommon, and rabbits as old
as 14 years have been presented to our practice. We have not as yet determined
the record-breaking age for a rabbit, but there are anecdotal reports of rabbits
living 16 to 18 years.
Breed may have a significant effect
on the aging process. Breeds with specific conformational traits (long or floppy
ears, small size, long backs, etc.) appear to live shorter lives. These are many
of the breeds kept as house rabbits, including dwarf and lop breeds.
Signs of aging may be noticed in
rabbits as young as 5 or 6 years of age. Decreased activity, weight gain or loss,
problems with mobility (especially problems with back legs), dental problems,
problems with eyesight and hearing, growths on skin or mucous membranes, and changes
in behavior may all herald old age in your pet.
Aging is inevitable but there are
things you can do to slow the process and make your friend more comfortable in
his senior years.
Problems of older rabbits
The first change you may notice in
the older rabbit is a decrease in activity. This may start with moving at a slower
pace and progress to a reluctance to venture far from favorite places. Changes
in activity may be due to weight gain, weakness, and aches and pains from back
problems and/or arthritis. Keeping your rabbit active will help keep him fit and
slow this aging process.
Several new medications help rabbits
with painful joints and backs. Dont put off caring for mobility problems.
Properly diagnosed, your veterinarian can make a significant difference for these
rabbits. Precursor of joint material and joint fluid can be given to help slow
arthritis and decrease arthritis pain, thereby greatly improving the quality of
life for rabbits with arthritis.
Keeping your rabbit on a diet high
in fiber (grass hay) and low in simple carbohydrates (grains, refined carbohydrates
and sugars) will help him stay slim. Rabbits must spend time out of their cage
to get regular exercise. A confined rabbit will live a shorter life and have a
poorer quality of life.
Back and neck problems are common
in rabbits, especially breeds with long backs, including large lop breeds. Ruptured
intervertebral disks and arthritic spinal problems both result in partial to total
paralysis. The onset of paralysis may be acute or chronically progressive. Early
intervention in these cases similarly improves their long-term prognosis. Radiographs
(X-rays) are needed to diagnose these problems. Again, keeping your pet slim with
a good high fiber, low calorie diet and regular exercise will aid in preventing
back and neck problems. Also, try to prevent large, long-backed rabbits from leaping
off high perches such as couches, beds and chairs. Treatment for spinal diseases
includes those medications mentioned for arthritis above as well as judicious
use of steroidal anti-inflammatory therapy.
A complication of arthritis and spinal
disease is urine scald caused by urine dripping or spraying on the skin between
the rabbits back legs causing a diaper rash-like irritation. The best treatment
for this problem is to correct the underlying cause, however this may not be possible
in all cases. Shaving the hair from the affected area, bathing with mild soap
and the use of topical products (A&D Ointment) offer temporary relief. Many
rabbits benefit from surgery that moves the skin or urinary opening so that urine
does not collect on the skin of the perineum and inner thighs.
Dental problems may plague the older
rabbit. This is most often due to the gradual tipping of the cheek teeth leading
to sharp edges forming that can irritate the tongue or cheek. Signs of this problem
include the gradual rejection of hard foods (hay, pellets, and hard vegetables
such as carrots), salivation and a foul or sweet odor to the rabbit. As the problem
progresses the rabbit may lose weight or stop eating altogether. An oral examination
under isoflurane anesthesia may be required to diagnose the problem. Sharp edges
are trimmed from the teeth to correct the problem.
Many rabbits ultimately die of renal
(kidney) failure. Early signs of kidney problems include breaking litter box training,
increased frequency of urination or urine volume, or increased thirst. Urinary
tract infections, bladder stones or sludge and kidney stones may make a rabbit
more prone to kidney failure. Early treatment and good follow up of these problems
are highly recommended to keep your rabbit healthy. Feeding a diet low in calcium,
good litter box hygiene and lots of fresh water will help prevent urinary tract
disease as well..
Rabbits should be examined by a veterinarian
familiar with rabbits annually. Starting at 5 years of age, blood tests and urinalysis
should be performed at least every other year to 9 years. Rabbits with decreased
mobility should have survey radiographs taken to rule out early arthritis or spinal
Care must be taken to provide a healthy
diet to the older rabbit and not allow him to become obese. As with all rabbits,
we recommend a diet of grass hay, dark leafy greens and limited, if any, high
fiber pellets. This diet will promote a healthy gastrointestinal tract and prevent
Eventually the time comes when the
aging process causes our friends to have aches and pains. Many new analgesics
(pain killers) are on the market that hold promise of helping in these times.
Never forget that the quality of our pets lives is more important than the quantity.
All too soon the times comes to say good-bye and offer euthanasia to an old friend
no longer happy with his daily existence. Signs that this may be the case include
refusal of food, and ceasing of grooming behavior. Your veterinarian will be able
to help you with this decision when the time comes. Euthanasia is typically accomplished
with an overdose of an injectable anesthetic. A gas anesthetic may be administered
initially to minimize any restraint or perception of the injection.
The best way to have your rabbit
live a long and healthy life is to offer him a happy healthy environment, a healthy
diet and regular medical care. Not surprisingly, avoiding fattening foods, getting
exercise and a happy social environment all contribute. Early attention to health
problems and a good preventative health program will keep little problems from
turning into life threatening ones.
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Veterinarian Articles on Rabbit Care
Treatment of Common Dental Problems in Rabbits
By Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM
Two major problems occur with the
cheek teeth of rabbits: malocclusion, or overgrowth of the cheek teeth, and dental
abscesses of the cheek teeth. Of the two, malocclusion is the more common and
can often be dealt with easily by trimming the sharp points from the offending
tooth or teeth. Cheek tooth abscesses are much more difficult to treat and, in
the past, have required a lifetime of antibiotics to prevent their return. Recent
research, published in March 1995, may offer new hope to rabbits with this condition.
To better understand the diseases
of the rabbit's cheek teeth we need to discuss the workings of their teeth and
the nature of the abnormalities that cause problems.
Rabbits have open rooted molars that
grow throughout life. The upper and lower incisors (front teeth) of rabbits grow
4 and 5 inches a year, respectively. Similar statistics for cheek tooth growth
are not available; however, the rate is significant. In the normal rabbit mouth,
biting and chewing of food continually grinds down the teeth, keeping this growth
in check and the teeth at stable lengths.
Malocclusion or "Slobbers"
Any interference to normal wear results
in malocclusion of these constantly growing teeth. Malocclusion leads to difficulty
in biting, chewing and swallowing of food. As the growth of cheek teeth is altered,
the lower cheek teeth overgrow toward the tongue, whereas the upper teeth overgrow
toward the cheek. Sharp points develop on the longer sides of the teeth causing
lacerations of the adjacent cheek and tongue.
A common sign of this problem is
the rabbit trying to pick up or eat food, only to drop it without chewing. As
the condition advances, the rabbit will drool excessively, causing wet, matted
fur around the mouth, chin, chest and forelegs. Here, secondary bacterial infections
may develop, leading to hair loss in those locations.
Malocclusion has been blamed on a
number of things. A genetic defect (mandibular prognathism, or MP) that leads
to malocclusion of incisors is well documented in rabbits. In this recessive disorder,
both the doe and buck (mother and father) rabbit must carry and pass the trait
to their offspring and, then, only 81% of those who get the trait will have a
problem with their teeth. Rabbits with this trait typically show signs by 8-10
weeks of age- at or just after the time of weaning-starting with incisors that
Rabbits with early signs of MP often
also have problems with malocclusion of their cheek teeth. In this instance, the
cheek-tooth malocclusion is likely caused by the overgrown incisors, preventing
normal wear of the cheek teeth, and resulting in overgrowth. Rabbits whose abnormal
incisors are cut regularly do not appear to develop problems with their cheek
Similar to the animals with incisor
malocclusion, rabbits who show cheek-tooth malocclusion at a young age may be
victims of genetics affecting the angle of cheek-tooth growth. Diet and nutrition
may also be involved. Excessively high levels of fluoride (chronic fluorosis)
and a diet deficient in folic acid have been shown to cause similar problems.
However, the group we see most often
afflicted with malocclusion is older rabbits, where the changes in the cheek teeth
are usually the result of aging. As with the horse, older rabbits develop elongated
tooth-enamel points even though the length and angle of tooth growth may be normal.
Lastly, loss or damage of a tooth may lead to the overgrowth of the opposing tooth.
Because of the depth of the oral
cavity caused by the long diastema, the space between the incisors and the cheek
teeth, and the limited amount that the mouth will open, it is difficult to treat
Treatment of malocclusion requires
the rabbit go under general anesthesia, either with isoflurane, a safe gas anesthesia
agent or a short-acting injectable agent. Instruments are used to prop open and
light the rabbit's mouth. This makes it easier to see the teeth and gives sufficient
space to work. The teeth are cut with specialized bone-cutting instruments designed
not to splinter or shatter the tooth. Animals typically return to normal eating
behavior within a day or two after their teeth have been trimmed. If the sharp
tooth points have caused significant damage to the oral cavity, an antibiotic
is administered for several days.
Cheek tooth root abscesses
Abscesses of cheek teeth are not
uncommon in rabbits. Most often, food impacted alongside the tooth or in longitudinal
tooth fractures causes mixed infection. Occasionally pure cultures of Pasteurella
multocida or Staphylococcus aureus are found. Because a cheek abscess cannot be
completely cut out, it has heretofore been typical that the rabbit would need
lengthy, perhaps lifelong, treatment.
Treatment begins with extraction
of the tooth or teeth involved and a surgical scraping of the abscess sac. The
resulting lesion is left open following surgery and treated with a cream (Kymar
ointment) or spray (Granulex) containing digestive enzymes, long-term systemic
antibiotics and daily irrigation with a disinfectant solution using a Water-Pic.
Cleansing and irrigation with the Water-Pic and antibiotics continue until the
lesion has begun to grow healthy skin.
Now, at last, comes good news. Recent
research shows that packing the abscess with a dental preparation, calcium hydroxide,
may greatly increase the chances of total elimination of dental abscesses. In
a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry (vol. 12, no. 1, March,
1995) 10 rabbits treated in this manner healed without recurrence of the abscess.
At the Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital we have begun using this treatment for
cheek tooth abscesses. We hope our success rate will equal that of the researchers.
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Veterinarian Articles on Rabbit Care
in the Intestines, Liver
By Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM
We seem to spend a lot of time in
the clinic talking to rabbit owners and referring veterinarians about coccidia.
Coccidia are commonly found in rabbits, but only rarely cause disease. As a result
they are poorly understood by the rabbit owner, breeder and veterinarian alike.
So much so that a local Humane Society shelter once euthanized all rabbits that
were found to have the parasite, not knowing that a majority of normal, healthy
rabbits are carriers. [The shelter has since changed its policy.-Ed.] Finding
coccidia in a fecal parasite examination may not even indicate a need for therapy.
The aim of this article is to give you a better understanding of coccidia. I have
included some scientific names for those who are interested in the more technical
end of things. Don't let them throw you, however, because the underlying message
is pretty simple: Prevention depends on keeping rabbits in hygienic conditions
and avoiding infected feces, or food and water contaminated with feces. New rabbits,
especially those with an unknown past, should be quarantined for at least 30 days
before they are introduced to other rabbits.
Coccidia are microscopic, one-celled
protozoal parasites that affect the intestinal tract and liver of rabbits as well
as other animals. Coccidia are the most common parasites of the rabbit's gastrointestinal
tract and a common cause of illness in young rabbits.
All rabbit coccidia are members of
a single family, Eimeria. There are 12 species of rabbit coccidia reported to
infect rabbits, but only a very few of these are important from a disease standpoint
and, then, the rabbit's immune system may have to be compromised, or two or more
species of coccidia present to create a disease situation. Therefore, the precise
roles of the different species of coccidia in causing disease are not clearly
understood. While, the presence of only a few coccidia oocyst (the stage shed
in the feces of the rabbit) in a fecal parasite examination does not rule out
a diagnosis of coccidiosis, neither does it confirm the diagnosis, since many
healthy rabbits are infected to some degree.
Only one species, E. stiedae which
parasitizes the liver, is found outside the intestinal tract. E. stiedae may be
found in any large groups of rabbits, from rabbitry to foster home. In mild infections
there may be no symptoms or there may be only mild to moderate retardation of
growth, but the disease may be fatal, especially in young rabbits. Heavily infected
rabbits show signs related to the interference of liver function and blockage
of bile ducts. These rabbits stop eating and become debilitated; either diarrhea
or constipation may be noted late in the disease. Occasionally a rabbit's abdomen
may be enlarged and the skin may appear to have a yellow coloration. X-rays may
show that the liver is enlarged and fluid may have accumulated in the abdomen.
Blood tests will confirm that the liver is damaged and suggest the diagnosis of
hepatic (liver) coccidiosis.
Confirmation of the disease is based
on finding oocysts in a fecal or bile samples. Numerous drugs have been used to
prevent and treat E. stiedae. The sulfa drugs appear to be the most effective.
We recommend sulfamethazine and trimethoprim potentiated sulfa drugs. All the
rabbits in an infected rabbitry or household must be treated until the disease
has run its course. The major role of these drugs is to control the organism until
the rabbits' immunity develops, and immunity resulting from mild infections may
The most important species of intestinal
coccidia are E. perforans, E. magna, E. media and E. irresidua, although the exact
species involved may not be as important as the health status of the rabbit. Rabbits
become infected by ingesting feces containing the coccidia oocyst. This can happen
when the rabbit cleans its feet or fur that has been contaminated with the feces
of another, infected rabbit. Although rabbits are cecotrophic (eaters of their
cecotropes or soft feces), it is generally accepted that cecotropes do not contain
Clinical signs of intestinal coccidiosis
vary widely depending on the age of the rabbit, the organism involved, the degree
of infection and the relative susceptibility of the animal (affected by age, stress,
diet, etc.). Signs are more often seen in young rabbits with their immature immune
systems. Weight loss, mild intermittent to severe diarrhea which may contain mucous
or blood, and resulting dehydration may be seen. Animals with severe diarrhea
may develop intussusception, a blockage of the intestines caused by a telescoping
of the bowel on itself.
Deaths caused by coccidiosis are
most often attributed to dehydration and secondary bacterial infections. Treatment
and prevention of intestinal coccidiosis are as for hepatic disease. Currently
there are no vaccines available against coccidiosis.
However, for the rabbit owner there
is this good news: Many rabbits diagnosed with coccidiosis don't have coccidia
at all! A common mistake made by veterinarians not familiar with rabbits is to
confuse Cyniclomyces guttulatulus, a rabbit-specific Ascosporogenous yeast in
the Saccharomyces family and part of the normal cecal flora of rabbits, with coccidia
on fecal examinations.
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Veterinarian Articles on Rabbit Care
as a Rabbit: Anatomy and Physiology of Fear and Stress in the Rabbit
By Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM
We know rabbit's reputation with
respect to fear. It is not at all surprising considering that the rabbit is positioned
just above vegetation on the "food-chain." You cannot watch a nature
show, it seems, without having the opportunity to see a helpless little bunny
satisfy the nutritional needs of a much larger predator that is a click or two
up "the ladder."
It may be of some interest to you
to know what is happening to your long-eared friend during periods of fear and
stress and how that affects the way he reacts.
The perception of a dangerous or
frightening situation causes the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters
from the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. These neurotransmitters affect
many tissues in the rabbit's body, but most notably the adrenal glands that release
epinephrin (adrenaline) and, with protracted periods of stress, glucocorticosteroids.
Epinephrine causes the rabbit's heart
rate and blood pressure to increase. Blood flow is directed to vital muscles and
organs and away from those that are nonessential in this dangerous situation.
The rabbit's respiratory rate increases, his eyes dilate, and his blood sugar
(the fuel for the bodies tissues) soars. Other neurotransmitter and hormonal effects
of fear not as easily understood are that they cause an ileus of the gastrointestinal
(GI) tract-that is, they cause the GI tract to stop moving.
The effects of these hormones for
the short term are obvious. The rabbit is placed in a heightened level of awareness
and in a physical state where he can better sense the danger, and can run faster
to get away from that danger. He can bolt from the danger in an instant.
However, when these physiological
conditions exist for a long period, they affect the rabbit negatively. Restriction
of blood supply to "nonessential tissues" leads to their dysfunction.
Ileus results in changes in GI tract bacterial balance and potentially can lead
to gut stasis, diarrhea, enteritis or even enterotoxemia. Exhaustion of liver
energy stores leads to a starvation of body tissues that may be lethal.
A not uncommon example of this is
a syndrome named "Shock Disease," originally described in snowshoe hares
in the 1930s. Researchers saw the disease when they trapped the snowshoe hares
for study. We have seen this "disease" in obese pet rabbits or pet rabbits
who have been on a rich (pellet) diet and have undergone a stressful event.
In our practice we have seen shock
disease in two rabbits dipped in lyme-sulfur dip, several rabbits infested with
fly larvae (maggots), in a rabbit locked on a balcony for the night, and other
similarly stressful situations. These rabbits, because of fatty changes in their
liver caused by their poor diet, became hypoglycemic (developed low blood sugar
levels) once they had exhausted their glycogen stores following stress and adrenaline
We can't always protect our rabbit
pets from stress, but we can work to protect them from some physiological effects.
A diet high in fiber (that means mostly good quality grass hay) helps to protect
the GI tract from enteritis, and helps prevent gastric stasis and the development
of fatty liver.
Familiar smells reduce stress as
does a favorite companion. If your rabbit experiences a stressful situation, you
should return him to a "normal" environment as soon as possible and
ensure that it eats and drinks. Should he become depressed, quiet or weak, you
must undertake medical intervention immediately. When choosing a veterinarian
look for one who has a "rabbit only" ward and takes special precautions
to protect the rabbit from the sounds and odors of hospitalized dogs and cats.
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Veterinarian Articles on Rabbit Care
GASTROINTESTINAL STASIS, THE SILENT KILLER
by Dana M. Krempels, Ph.D., Department
of Biology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124
It's an all too familiar story. "My
bunny stopped eating, and then she just died." When we ask for details, we
often learn that not only did the bunny stop eating, but she had been producing
extremely small or even no fecal droppings, or showed symptoms of "runny
stool." True diarrhea (unformed, liquid fecal matter) is uncommon in rabbits.
The runny stool sometimes misdiagnosed as "diarrhea" in rabbits is often
simply unformed, almost-liquid cecotropes.
Rabbits produce two types of pellets:
fecal pellets (left in the litterbox) and cecotropes (soft, pungent, normally
shaped like a cluster of grapes and reingested by the rabbit to obtain essential
nutrients). Liquid or mushy cecotropes are usually caused by an imbalance of the
normal bacterial and fungal flora of the cecum (the bunny's intestinal "fermentation
vat"). The floral imbalance can be caused by a number of factors, such as
the wrong antibiotic (oral penicillins can be deadly to rabbits for this reason!)
or a diet too rich in digestible carbohydrates and too low in crude fiber. Often,
however, it is caused by a slowing of the normal peristaltic muscular contractions
which push food and liquids through the intestines. The slowdown or cessation
of peristalsis of the intestine is known as gastrointestinal (GI) stasis or ileus.
What Causes GI Stasis?
A rabbit's intestine can become static
for a variety of reasons, including (1) stress, (2) dehydration, (3) pain from
another underlying disorder or illness (such as gas, molar spurs, bladder problems
or infection) (4) an intestinal blockage or, most commonly, (5) insufficient dietary
crude fiber (which is why unlimited grass hay is so essential in the rabbit diet).
Left untreated, the slowdown or complete cessation of normal intestinal movement
(peristalsis) can result in a painful death, in a relatively short period of time.
If your rabbit stops eating or producing feces for 12 hours or more, you should
consider the condition an EMERGENCY. GET YOUR BUNNY TO A RABBIT-SAVVY VETERINARIAN
An intestinal slowdown can cause
ingested hair and food to lodge anywhere along the GI tract, creating a blockage.
Also, because the cecum is not emptying quickly enough, harmful bacteria such
as Clostridium spp. (related to the ones that cause botulism and tetanus) can
proliferate, their numbers overwhelming those of the normal, beneficial bacteria
and fungi in the cecum. Once this overgrowth occurs, gas emitted by the bacteria
can cause extreme pain. Some Clostridium species produce deadly exotoxins. It
is the liver's job to detoxify these harmful poisons, at a terrible cost to that
all-important organ. Often, the ultimate cause of death from GI stasis is damage
to the liver.
How Can GI Stasis be detected?
Symptoms of GI stasis include very
small (or no) fecal pellets, sometimes clinging to the bunny's bottom. In some
cases, very small fecal pellets will be encased in clear or yellowish mucus. This
indicates a potentially serious problem (enteritis, an inflammation of the intestinal
lining) which must be treated as an emergency.
With GI stasis, the normal, quiet
gurgling of the healthy intestine is replaced either by very loud, violent gurgles
(gas blorping around painfully!) or a desolate silence. The bunny may become lethargic,
have no appetite and may hunch in a ball, loudly crunching his teeth in pain.
GI Stasis and the "Hairball"
Too often, a rabbit suffering from
GI stasis is diagnosed as having a "hairball." In reality, an apparent
hairball usually is a result of GI stasis--not the cause. A vet who has not palpated
many rabbit abdomens may be unfamiliar with the normal, sometimes doughy feel
of the healthy rabbit stomach. A doughy stomach is cause for concern only when
accompanied by an empty lower GI and symptoms of abdominal discomfort.
Like those of most herbivores, the
stomach and intestines of a healthy rabbit are never empty. A rabbit may eat relatively
normal amounts of food, almost up to the time the GI shuts down. Because of this,
the stomach may retain a large bolus of food when stasis occurs. Unlike the typical
cat hairball, which usually consists completely of hair, the mass misdiagnosed
as a "hairball" in a rabbit is usually composed mostly of food held
together by hair and mucus. Unless it is allowed to dehydrate into an impassable
mass, this bolus of ingested material can be slowly broken down with enzyme supplements
and plenty of oral fluids. However, treating a mass this way without addressing
the problem of GI stasis will generally be unproductive.
If you suspect that your bunny is
experiencing GI stasis, you must take him/her to your rabbit-experienced veterinarian
without delay. Tell the vet your suspicions. S/he will probably listen for normal
intestinal sounds and palpate the bunny's abdomen. The vet also may wish to take
radiographs (x-rays) to see whether the various parts of the digestive tract contain
normal ingested matter, feces or foreign objects--or are empty and gassy. The
appearance of the digestive tract will help the vet determine whether there is
an obstruction and, if so, where it is located.
If a true intestinal obstruction
(almost always accompanied by severe bloating and acute pain) is present, the
use of intestinal motility drugs (described later) could make the situation worse
by pushing it into a narrow area where it completely obstructs the intestine,
resulting in intestinal rupture. However, if the mass is not causing a complete
blockage, it is best to consider medical alternatives to surgery. A gastrotomy--surgical
opening of the stomach--may be performed to remove an obstruction, but rabbits
who undergo this procedure have an abysmally low survival rate. It is very difficult
to get a rabbit's intestines moving normally again post-operatively. Those who
survive the surgery itself often succumb a few days later to peritonitis or other
complications, even when under the care of the most practiced, skillful rabbit
surgeon. Surgery on the rabbit GI tract should be considered only as a last resort.
Can GI Stasis Be Successfully
If your vet has determined that there
is no intestinal obstruction, there are several treatments s/he may wish to use
to help your bunny in distress. As always, do not perform any of these procedures
or try to administer any of these medicines without the supervision of a veterinarian
experienced with rabbit disorders and treatments.
I. Mechanical Treatments
A. Abdominal massage. One of the
single most effective ways to stimulate a lazy gut into action is with gentle
massage. Place the bunny on a secure countertop on a towel (or in your lap, if
the bunny feels secure there), making sure he can't jump down and hurt himself.
With your hands and fingertips, gently massage the abdomen. Knead as deeply as
the bunny will allow, but back off immediately if he expresses pain. We have found
that gently lifting the rabbit's hindquarters a few inches (with the bunny's head
safely tucked into the massager's elbow) helps gas to pass more easily, and seems
to be comforting to the bunny. Once s/he gets over the initial surprise of being
held this way, a rabbit will often allow his/her legs to droop in comfort and
relief as the massage helps gas pockets move towards the exit.
A rabbit's internal organs are very
delicate; care must be taken to avoid bruising them and making the situation worse.
After a bit of manual massage, try an electric vibrating massager. This seems
to be even more effective than manual massage, and it's worthwhile to invest in
some type of massager with a large, flat surface that can be held against the
bunny's tummy for relatively long periods. Press the massager firmly against the
abdomen, start on low and work your way up. The bunny may be a bit taken aback
at first, but almost every bunny on whom we've tried massage has settled down
and enjoyed the soothing vibrations. In addition to stimulating the muscles, the
massage seems to help break up gas bubbles and ease colic. Massage as long and
as often as the bunny will allow and enjoy.
B. Simethicone (liquid, pediatric
suspension or tablets) is essential for the relief of gas pain which usually accompanies
ileus. For relief of acute gas pain, 1-2 cc (20mg/ml suspension) can be given
as often as every hour for three doses, then 1 cc every three to eight hours.
This substance has no known drug interactions, is not absorbed through the intestinal
lining and acts only on a mechanical principle: it changes the surface tension
of the frothy gas bubbles in the gut, joining them into larger, easier-to-pass
bubbles. Simethicone is practically inert, and is safe to give, even as a precaution.
(Note: liquid suspensions of simethicone are relatively expensive. Less expensive
versions, such as 125mg gel capsules are equally effective. A bunny can safely
receive the contents of half a capsule at the rate described above.) A flatulent
bunny is a happy bunny!
C. Petroleum-based laxatives: use
with caution. (laxative-grade mineral oil or commercial products Products such
as Laxatone or Petromalt) do not affect intestinal motility. Some veterinarians
prescribe them in the hope that they might help to slide dry, impacted matter
through the intestine more easily.
Note, however, that if the intestinal
contents are severely dehydrated and brick-hard (yes, we have seen this!), a coating
of vaseline-like substance over them will merely impede their re-hydration and
make it more difficult for the mass to break up and begin passing. For this reason,
it is probably wise to concentrate on re-hydrating the intestinal contents *before*
using petroleum-based laxatives, if they are to be used at all.
Note also that whereas malt-flavored
remedies in a tube are often preferred by the bunny, some vets believe that their
higher viscosity may actually contribute to holding a mass of impacted food together,
especially if the intestinal contents are dehydrated. Unscented, laxative grade
mineral oil is less viscous, and may be more effective. Petroleum-based laxatives
should not be given daily or long term, as they can impede the absorption of important,
D. Enema. It may be helpful to administer
an enema of warm, clean water and a very small bit of unscented, laxative grade
mineral oil. The addition of epsom salts to the enema liquid (at a rate of about
1 tablespoon per 30-40 cc's of water) may help draw fluid from surrounding tissues
into the intestine, helping hydrate impacted matter. If you use epsom salts, however,
you must be certain that the bunny is generally well hydrated with subcutaneous
fluids so the reservoir of fluids in the bunny's body will not be depleted.
Before you attempt to perform an
enema on your rabbit, please ask your veterinarian to instruct you in this process
during a regular office visit. Don't wait for an emergency to learn how to do
this. If you cannot reach your vet when your bunny is in stasis, you are out of
We administer the enema with a pediatric
rubber ear bulb/syringe. A 5 lb rabbit can safely be given 10-15 cc's of liquid
enema. Mix the water and oil well. Place the bunny on her back, well supported
so she doesn't kick. Gently insert the lubricated tip of the syringe into the
anus, no deeper than 1/2 - 3/4 inch. (Note: if you're not sure which orifice is
the right one, the anus is the one that winks back at you when touched.) Be gentle.
NEVER FORCE ANYTHING! Slowly empty the bulb and let the bunny remain on her back
for at least 30 seconds, to allow the liquid to travel up the tract a bit. You
may need to gently hold the anus closed to avoid a fountain.
WE DO NOT RECOMMEND THAT A CATHETER
BE USED TO DELIVER AN ENEMA. The rabbit's lower GI tract is extremely delicate
and fragile, and it is distressingly easy to perforate the rectum or small intestine.
The ear syringe works very well, and is far safer than inserting a catheter deep
into the lower GI tract.
An enema delivers liquid to the source.
It can help hydrate hardened, dehydrated fecal matter in the lower GI, even when
subcutaneously administered fluids don't seem to help.
II. Non-prescription supportive
A. Oral fluids (administered at a
rate of 100cc per kg of body weight per day--or about an ounce per pound of body
weight per day) are essential for hydrating intestinal contents which may have
formed a hard mass and be nearly impossible to pass. Water is fine, but unsweetened
Pedialyte, an electrolyte drink designed for human infants (and available in the
infant section of the grocery store), is even better. Avoid any fluids containing
large amounts of sugar (even Gatorade), as these can exacerbate the overgrowth
of harmful bacteria in the cecum.
B. Force feeding. Anorexia can rapidly
cause gastric ulcers and hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) in rabbits. Even
12 hours without eating is cause for concern. As long as your vet has determined
that there is no actual blockage, and that there is enough slow movement of the
GI to keep the stomach from becoming overly full, keep the bunny eating! An excellent,
ready-to-mix emergency food for compromised rabbits is Critical Care, available
from Oxbow Hay Company (www.oxbowhay.com). However, if you do not have ready access
to Critical Care, one quick and easy recipe is to soak about 2 - 3 tablespoons
of pellets in about 1/2 cup of Pedialyte or chamomile tea until soft and fluffy.
The pellets will fluff more quickly in slightly warmed solution, but overheating
may destroy some of the nutrient content of the pellets. Mix the pellet fluff
with vegetable baby food or canned pumpkin until it forms a somewhat liquid paste
(you may need to add more liquid). Allow to cool before using a large-bore feeding
syringe (available at most pharmacies) to deliver the goods.
Insert the tip of the syringe into
the space behind the incisors and squeeze gently sideways to avoid squirting food
down the trachea (windpipe). Give only 1-2 cc at a time, allowing the bunny a
chance to chew and swallow. Aspiration of food can be life threatening, so do
this with great care!
C. Unlimited grass hay. Even if the
rabbit won't eat timothy, oat, brome or other grass hays, it is probably best
to avoid giving more than a few strands of alfalfa hay, especially if the rabbit
is unused to eating it. A sudden change in the diet can exacerbate Clostridium
overgrowth (and alfalfa is an excellent food for certain species of Clostridium)
and cause severe, potentially fatal bloat. For this reason and others, grass hay
is always better than alfalfa.
D. Fresh, wet, leafy herbs. The fiber
and moisture in fresh vegetables will also help stimulate the intestine. Kale
is a good choice. If the rabbit refuses to eat, try fragrant, fresh herbs such
as mint, basil, dill, cilantro, tarragon, sage, fennel, parsley and others. Sometimes
it helps to nip off the ends of the stems with your fingernails and wave the fresh,
juicy stems under the bunny's nose or even gently insert the stem into the corner
of the bunny's mouth. You can even lightly pat the herbs against the bunny's face
until she gets annoyed with you and grabs the offending sprig. Sometimes all it
takes is a little taste to get the bunny nibbling. Try a variety until one of
them gets the bunny to eat. You never know which herb will stimulate the appetite,
so it's best to have a variety on hand.
E. Lactobacillus acidophilus is not
normally a member of the rabbit's intestinal ecosystem, but we have noticed that
a good dose of dried Lactobacillus powder (available at health food stores in
powder or capsules) seems to help the rabbit survive the crisis until the intestine
starts moving again. No one knows why, but it seems to help. Use nondairy powder--NOT
yogurt. The milk sugars and carbohydrates in yogurt may promote harmful bacterial
Probiotic pastes such as Benebac
are available at feed stores, and might also be helpful. Products designed for
horses are generally safe and possibly effective for rabbits.
F. Cecotropes Some veterinarians
believe that cecotropes from a healthy rabbit, although difficult to obtain, can
be used to re-establish normal cecal flora in a compromised rabbit. However, other
veterinarians and experienced rabbit caretakers are of the opinion that administering
cecotropes to a sick rabbit may do more harm than good for two reasons: (1) force
feeding cecotropes is very stressful to a sick rabbit, since no one likes being
force-fed someone else's poop and (2) even a known, healthy donor rabbit could
harbor microorganisms in the cecotropes that could become pathogenic in an already
Also, because the normal cecotropes
is coated with mucus that protects the bacteria while they travel through the
stomach, mashing the cecotropes into a pellet mush or baby food might well render
them useless. Given time and the proper supportive care, your rabbit will be able
to reestablish a healthy cecal flora on his own, without the stress of being force
fed foreign cecotropes.
However, if you and your vet absolutely
insist on trying this, you can obtain cecotropes from a donor rabbit by diapering
the donor, or briefly placing an E-collar on him/her during the late afternoon
when cecotrophy usually occurs. Don't use the E-collar if the donor rabbit seems
very stressed or upset by it! You don't need *two* rabbits suffering from GI stasis!
A. An intestinal motility agent,
such as cisapride (Propulsid) or metaclopramide (Reglan) will help get a static
intestine moving again. Both of the aforementioned drugs are safe and effective
for rabbits. Cisapride, a more recently developed drug, has fewer potential nervous
system side effects with long term use than Reglan. We have used it long term
(for several weeks at a time) without apparent adverse side effects. However,
as with any drug, your veterinarian should be aware of any potential drug interactions
between cisapride/metaclopramide and any other medications your rabbit may be
For example, narcotic painkillers
should never be given with Reglan due to the potential for dangerous interaction
between the two.
It may take as long as two weeks
on metaclopramide and/or cisapride before the intestine is fully motile again,
and patience and careful nursing for the duration are essential. In severe cases
of GI stasis, both drugs can be used simultaneously. Because they work on different
areas of the digestive tract (Reglan on the upper GI and cisapride primarily on
the lower GI), they may have a synergistic effect.
Conventional wisdom holds that if
there is a possibility of an intestinal obstruction, these drugs should not be
used. However, more and more rabbit-savvy veterinarians are noting that unless
there is a problem with the pyloric valve, motility drugs will not necessarily
make the problem worse. So far, there is no consensus on this aspect of the problem,
and it will be up to your veterinarian and you to determine the course that seems
right for your bunny. Once again, it is imperative that you not take matters into
your own hands. Have an experienced rabbit vet diagnose the problem and prescribe
B. Subcutaneous Fluid Therapy. Note
that examining a rabbit's skin turgor (via "tenting" the skin) will
often not give an accurate indication of the animal's hydration status. A more
useful diagnostic procedure for rabbits is palpation of the intestinal tract,
which will feel *very* "doughy" throughout if the rabbit is dehydrated.
Because rabbits absorb large amounts of water from the intestine to fuel other
bodily functions, a rabbit whose skin feels well-hydrated may still have an intestine
packed with a dehydrated mass. Keeping the tissues well-hydrated via administration
of subcutaneous Lactated Ringers Solution (LRS) will not only keep the bunny well
hydrated, but will also assure that the electrolytes are balanced and make the
bunny feel better in general.
A dehydrated rabbit will feel tired
and ill, and may not have as much will to live as one who is well-hydrated. Rabbits
in GI stasis tend to be unwilling to eat or drink, so it is a good idea to administer
subcutaneous fluids as a precaution, unless the rabbit has known kidney or heart
As with the enema described previously,
you should be able to do this procedure at home. But do not wait for an emergency
to learn how to do it! Have your vet teach you how to administer fluids during
a regular office visit. It could save your bunny's life.
C. Cholestyramine (Questran) is a
granular resin with a high affinity for negatively charged, hydrophobic compounds,
of which Clostridium spiroformes toxins are one type. This product is used primarily
to reduce serum cholesterol in humans, and is available at most pharmacies. If
the rabbit has mucous stool, there is a good possibility that Clostridium bacteria
are proliferating and producing dangerous exotoxins. Questran will absorb these
and be passed out harmlessly in the feces. Questran should be suspended in a generous
amount of liquid (1/2 teaspoon of powder in at least 20 cc of water) and administered
orally: because of its hydrophilic properties, it can dehydrate intestinal contents
if given with insufficient water. Questran does not affect the action of the intestine;
it is not absorbed by the body. Rather, it works directly upon the contents of
the gut. We believe this substance has helped save the lives of many rabbits suffering
from a severely inflamed intestine simply by sequestering toxins and buying time
while gut motility medications and other treatments get the intestine moving again.
It is very safe, used as directed.
D. Enzymatic digestive aids can be
helpful in loosening and softening an impacted mass of food and hair (which, we
remind you, is usually a symptom, not the cause of the problem!). Proteolytic
(protein-dissolving) enzymes may be of either plant or animal origin. Papain (found
in papaya) and bromelain (found in pineapple) may help to break down mucus binding
an obstruction, thus allowing it to slowly break up and pass. However, there is
no evidence to suggest that these enzymes break down keratin, which is the main
protein component of hair. Both papain and bromelain are available in powdered
form at most health food stores, and should be reconstituted in water or Pedialyte
shortly before use to ensure maximum potency. Papaya tablets are little more than
a sugary treat: they contain very little active enzyme. Canned pineapple juice
is useless, as it has been cooked, and its enzymes denatured and inactivated.
Even fresh pineapple juice is not as desirable as powdered bromelain, since it
is high in sugar, which is just about the last thing you want to add to a compromised
Your vet may wish to try a more powerful,
animal-derived enzyme product such as Viokase, which contains pancreatic enzymes
to break down proteins, amylases to break down indigestible carbohydrates and
lipases to break down fats. Although these enzymes may be better at breaking up
an obstruction composed of ingested matter, they should be used with great caution,
as they can burn the esophagus and cause temporary (two-three days) discomfort
in an already sick bunny!
E. Appetite stimulants. B-complex
vitamins, administered orally or injected, or Periactin (cyproheptadine) can be
used to stimulate appetite. The former not only help stimulate appetite, but might
also help supply what the bunny is missing by not producing or eating his cecotropes.
Periactin is available in 4 mg tablets or a 1 mg/ml liquid suspension. An average-sized
(4 - 6 lbs.) rabbit can be given 1mg by mouth, twice per day. It is vital to keep
the bunny eating, even if you must force-feed. Anorexia can rapidly result in
gastric ulcers and serious liver degeneration.
F. Antibiotics: Use with caution,
if at all. Some vets routinely prescribe antibiotics for a rabbit suffering from
GI stasis, either to combat the overgrowth of Clostridium spp. (metronidozole
[Flagyl] is often used for this purpose) or to prevent secondary bacterial infection
in the compromised rabbit (other rabbit-safe antibiotics such as the fluoroquinolones
or sulfas might be used for this purpose.) While such cautionary measures may
be taken, the practitioner should recall that unnecessary use of antibiotics is
a prime reason that so many resistant strains of bacteria are evolving even as
we speak. Unless the rabbit shows signs of bacterial infection (which may be the
reason the intestine shut down in the first place), we urge a conservative approach:
don't use antibiotics unless they are absolutely necessary. The above-mentioned
medications and treatments should be enough to get the rabbit's intestine working
IV. Pain Relief: The key to
keeping the bunny fighting to live!
The importance of analgesia to a
rabbit's recovery cannot be overstated. A rabbit suffering from GI stasis will
sometimes just seem to give up and die because of the sometimes extreme abdominal
pain. Although officially approved only for use in horses, flunixin (Banamine)
is one of the best NSAIDS non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) for use in rabbits.
Although this drug can produce gastric ulcers in some species (most notably, dogs),
we have substantial anecdotal evidence (involving many hundreds of rabbits over
a period of many years) to suggest that Banamine is tolerated quite well by rabbits
even when administered daily for several weeks. We have observed no adverse side
effects from Banamine in our rabbits, some of whom have had to receive it daily
for a week or longer.
Rimadyl is a newer anti-inflammatory
drug which has been used with good results in rabbits.
Torbugesic, an opioid analgesic,
provides excellent pain relief at relatively low doses. Although some practitioners
fear that an opioid might contribue to GI slowdown, pain can certainly do the
same. We have used opiods repeatedly in cases like this, with very good results.
We also have had excellent success at relieving colic pain and inflammation of
the intestinal lining with sulfasalazine, a combination sulfa antibiotic and non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory compound. Sulfasalazine works topically to reduce intestinal
Barium may also be useful as an intestinal
tonic to relieve pain and help stimulate peristalsis, but its action is slow compared
to that of the aforementioned analgesics. As always, your veterinarian is the
one best able to decide which type of pain relief is best for your rabbit, given
the specific conditions of his/her illness.
V. The Road to Recovery: Reduce
Stress, and If it Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It.
It is absolutely essential that the
caretaker faced with a rabbit in GI stasis be patient, allowing the treatments
and medications to work. Rabbits are easily stressed, and excessive handling should
be avoided. It may take several days before any fecal pellets are seen, and it
may take two weeks or more on intestinal motility agents and therapy before the
intestine is moving normally again. We have had one case in which a rabbit produced
no fecal pellets for 14 days, but finally did respond to gentle, consistent administration
of the above treatment regimen. Patience and persistence are key!
Do not make more trips to the veterinarian's
office with the rabbit than absolutely necessary (the stress of travel can slow
recovery), but DO contact your veterinarian frequently to report on progress and
any changes. Whenever possible, administer medications at home, where the rabbit
feels safe and secure.
While you are treating your sick
bunny, NEVER separate him/her from his/her bonded partner(s). The stress of separation
itself can make the problem worse. We have known bunnies who seemed at death's
door to recover when they were provided with the love and constant attention of
their bonded mate. If your bunny does not have a mate, it is even more important
that you, his best friend, show him a great deal of attention and affection during
his ordeal. Rabbits seem to understand when they are being fussed over, and it
may help them recover more quickly to know that they are not being abandoned in
Every bunny parent should have a
stethoscope (not necessarily an expensive one) to monitor intestinal sounds. The
gradual return of gentle gurgling is a very good sign: once this begins, the rabbit
is on the road to recovery, even if fecal pellets don't begin pouring out the
chute. Administration of intestinal motility agents, gentle massage and supportive
care as listed above should be continued, and gradually tapered as fecal pellets
slowly begin to come through the system.
Do not be alarmed if the first batch
of fecal pellets are small, hard and misshapen. This is to be expected. Also do
not be surprised if the rabbit produces a small bunch of pellets, nothing for
a day, and then a bit more. The intestine sometimes seems to regain its function
in fits and starts, rather than all at once. Consistent, gentle nursing and reduction
of stress are essential at this time.
PLEASE RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO FORCE
ADDITIONAL, AGGRESSIVE TREATMENT ONCE THE RABBIT BEGINS TO RECOVER. RECOVERY FROM
GI STASIS IS SOMETIMES MADDENINGLY GRADUAL. We know of one instance in which a
rabbit was starting to produce fecal pellets and showing signs of recovery, but
the veterinarian overseeing the case insisted on anesthetizing the rabbit to perform
oral gavage, enemas with an extension tube and vigorous abdominal massage. Despite
our advice to the contrary, this veterinarian believed that the mass in the stomach
could not possibly pass without such treatment. Tragically, this rabbit died.
The autopsy revealed a ruptured liver. We cannot help but wonder whether excessive
handling and the unnecessarily aggressive treatments contributed to, or even caused
this rabbit's demise.
VI. Backtracking to the Cause
Once you and your bunny have defeated
the GI stasis threat, it's time to look for the cause of the problem. Does your
rabbit get insufficient fiber in her diet? Are you giving her too many starchy
treats? Does she have an underlying infection or illness that's causing enough
stress to shut down her intestine? Does she have overgrown molars or an abscessed
tooth? (NOTE: It is wise to check this possibility at the first sign of any change
in your rabbit's eating habits. If your bunny has overgrown molars, this alone
can cause an unwillingness to eat certain items, or even result in complete anorexia.)
A rabbit's intestine often responds
to stress by shutting down. Hence, GI stasis may be your first clue that something
else is wrong. If the rabbit does not seem fully normal, even after the GI is
moving well again, its time to do some blood work, radiographs (don't forget the
head!) and other additional diagnostics as deemed necessary by your rabbit-experienced
During recovery from GI stasis, careful
monitoring of body temperature (use a plastic thermometer, which cannot break
off in the rectum) will allow the caretaker to tell whether the rabbit is homeostatically
stable. Normal rabbit body temperature ranges from about 101o - 103o F. A higher
temperature may indicate either stress or an infection, the latter requiring immediate
veterinary attention. A temperature lower than 101oF is actually of greater concern
than a mildly elevated temperature. Abnormally low body temperature may indicate
shock or septicemia, a bacterial infection that has entered the bloodstream. A
rabbit with a temperature lower than 100o F should be considered an extreme emergency.
Pack the rabbit with warm water bottles wrapped in towels and get to your *rabbit-savvy*
DO NOT wait for an emergency to find
a veterinarian who is experienced and good with rabbits. Unfortunately, many emergency
clinics will not even see rabbits, let alone know how to properly care for one
in acute distress. A veterinarian who treats a rabbit as if s/he were a dog or
cat can do more harm than good. Plan now and avoid heartache later!
VII. Prevention: The Best Medicine
The best cure for GI stasis, of course,
is prevention. Be sure your rabbit companion gets plenty of dietary fiber from
fresh grass hay. Feed high fiber (22% or higher crude fiber) pellets. Be sure
your rabbit is drinking sufficient water to keep ingested food hydrated and moving
smoothly. It helps to offer at least 4 cups of fresh, wet leafy greens per 5 lbs.
of rabbit daily. And don't forget that regular exercise not only keeps the skeletal
muscles strong: it also keeps the smooth muscles of the intestines well-toned
Regular visits to your rabbit-experienced
vet will ensure that your bunny pal doesn't develop health problems that go undetected.
Once such a problem becomes serious, it may manifest itself as GI stasis. So here's
to healthy peristalsis! May your home be blessed with great, healthy piles of
gorgeous bunny poops. All in the litterbox, of course.
copyright July 1997 - Dana
Revised: October 2001
This article is dedicated to Alex,
who died because no one attending him recognized the symptoms of ileus before
it was too late. Alex, I wish I had known then what I know now. But your life
and untimely passing inspired this article, which I hope will save the lives of
The author gratefully acknowledges
the assistance of Mary Cotter, Ed.D. and Susan Kelleher, D.V.M., for their input
I also thank George Flentke, Ph.D.
(University of Wisconsin Pharmacology Dept.) for information on the pharmaceuticals
named in this article. I thank Mary Cotter, Ed.D. for her contribution to treatment
protocols and for her editorial expertise. I also thank Kevin Johnson for his
support and editorial expertise.
The treatments and protocols outlined
in this article were developed after discussions with many veterinarians familiar
with the condition of ileus in rabbits. In particular, I wish to thank (in alphabetical
order) Thomas Goldsmith, D.V.M., Jeff Jenkins, D.V.M, Susan Kelleher, D.V.M. and
Maya Menchaca, D.V.M. Also, several experienced, knowledgeable rabbit rescuers
have contributed hints and tips for home treatments. Of these contributors, Mary
Cotter Ed.D. has been an invaluable resource and constant inspiration.
The treatments included herein are
subject to constant revision as new information becomes available.
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Veterinarian Articles on Rabbit Care
and Feeds: A Brief Summary
by Dr. Ron Rompala
Mold growth in feed is always a major
concern to animal owners. Moldy feed is usually the result of improper storage.
Molds can grow on any type of feed provided that it receives adequate amounts
of water, oxygen and warmth. Eliminating any one of these necessities will suppress
the growth of molds.
Molds by themselves can cause problems
in palatability and allergies. Certain molds produce metabolites that are extremely
toxic to animals. Molds of the species Fusarium, Aspergillus, Penicillium and
Claviceps under certain conditions will produce mycotoxins. Many mycotoxins exist
but aflatoxin B1, fumonisin B1, ochratoxin A, vomitoxin, zearalenone and ergot
alkaloids are the most dangerous to livestock and companion animals.
Most feed manufacturers go through
painstaking efforts to prevent the growth of molds in feeds. Products are dried
to have moisture contents less than 12% to prevent mold growth. Mold growth is
prevented in coarse texture feeds and other high moisture feeds by the addition
of propionic acid derivatives or calcium propionate. However, improper storage
of feed or feed left in the bunk, pail or bowl for an excessive time during hot
weather can result in mold growth and subsequent formation of mycotoxins. In addition,
hay, pastures and silages can become sources of mycotoxins because these feeds
are never free of mold spores.
Several steps can be taken to limit
mold growth in feed:
* Store in a cool and dry place
* Limit exposure to air and moisture
* Put only the amount of feed in the bunk that can be consumed in a reasonable
time during hot, humid days.
* Keep residue from building up in the feed bunk
* Use proper harvesting techniques
However, there are times when the
feed may contain mycotoxins even when proper handling techniques are used. Molds
produce spores when exposed to inclement conditions. A spore is like bomb shelters
for the mold. The spore keeps the mold viable and able to regenerate and reproduce
when conditions are no longer hostile.
In addition, mycotoxins are very
stable compounds that are resistant to temperature, drying, light and other variables
that can destroy other organic compounds. Consequently, molds may have produced
mycotoxins and died leaving no evidence of existence except for the mycotoxins
that cannot be seen. The presence of molds does not always imply that the feed
is contaminated with mycotoxins. Only certain types of molds make mycotoxins.
On the other hand, there is no guarantee that the feed is free of mycotoxins if
there are no molds present. Somewhere in the history of the feed, molds could
have grown leaving no evidence of existence except for mycotoxins.
Adding certain ingredients into the
feed may help if one suspects mycotoxins contamination. It is believed that these
ingredients bind the mycotoxins in the gut of the animal and prevent these toxic
substances from being absorbed and harming the animal. There are some ingredients
that have been considered good for binding mycotoxins that include:
Clays that include bentonite, montmorillonite, zeolite
Hydrated calcium aluminosilicates
Yeast cell walls (Saccharomyces cerevisiae fermentation solubles)
Results from research involving the
use of these ingredients for neutralizing the effects of mycotoxins have not been
consistent. Studies have shown that certain binders have a greater affinity for
certain mycotoxins. There also have been studies that showed certain binders capable
of binding essential dietary minerals. A number of studies have showed no benefits
from the addition of these binders to feeds contaminated with mycotoxins. Consequently,
it has been difficult to judge which binder is superior under any given condition.
Thought must be given to the type of binder to match a certain mycotoxin and to
possible modifications needed to dietary minerals and other nutrients. FDA has
not approved the use of these ingredients for the purpose of binding mycotoxins
because of the unpredictable nature of the action of these substances under any
given situation. However, binders are commonly and legally added to feeds suspected
of being contaminated with mycotoxins provided no claims are made with respect
to mollifying problems associated with mycotoxins.
(c) April, 2002. Blue Seal Feeds,
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of Rabbit Poop by Dana Krempels, Ph.D.
Unlike most other mammals, rabbits
produce two types of droppings, fecal pellets (the round, dry ones you usually
see in the litterbox) and cecotropes. The latter are produced in a region of the
rabbit's digestive tract called the cecum. The cecum contains a wild brew of bacteria
and fungi that are normal and beneficial for the rabbit. In fact, the rabbit cannot
live without them, since the cecal flora produces essential nutrients (fatty acids
and vitamins) that the rabbit cannot produce on her own.
How does the rabbit get those vitamins?
She *eats* the cecotropes as they exit the anus (or shortly thereafter). Sounds
disgusting, but the rabbit will tell you it's delightful with that blissful bunny
grin she gets on her face when she's twitching her hind end and munching her cecotropes.
She'll usually produce cecotropes only at night or early morning when you're not
watching. This is why cecotropes are sometimes called "night droppings."
A normal cecotrope resembles a small
but long cluster of grapes. It is composed of smaller pellets, shiny because of
a coating of mucus, stuck together in an elongate mass. The cectorope is rather
pungent, as it contains a population of normal cecal bacteria. When the bunny
ingests the cecotrope, the proteinaceous mucous coat may help protect the bacteria
as they pass through the stomach on their way back to the cecum, where they rejoin
to the constantly fluctuating population.
The cecum is a delicately balanced
ecosystem. If the bunny is stressed, ill, injured, is getting an improper diet,
or if the normal movements of the intestine slow down for some other reason, the
complex flora in the cecum can become unbalanced. This means that with the loss
of normal physical conditions (such as pH, carbohydrate content, etc.) in the
intestine, the beneficial bacteria such as Bacteroides spp.) lose their competitive
edge against the less desirable denizens of the cecum. If the condition is not
rectified, potentially harmful species will soon outnumber the beneficial ones,
causing health problems in the rabbit. Microorganisms which can cause problems
if they overgrow in the cecum include yeast (a fungus, usually Saccharomycopsis
sp.) and bacteria such as Clostridium spp. (related to the ones that cause tetanus
and botulism), which can produce potentially deadly iota toxins which take a terrible
toll on the liver.
True diarrhea is rare in adult rabbits,
though it can occur due to parasitic infection. Your rabbit-experienced veterinarian
will be able to examine a fecal sample (you should probably provide the vet with
a bit of each type of sample mentioned above, in case a fresh sample is not forthcoming
on the exam table) to check for parasites such as coccidia, roundworm or tapeworm.
True diarrhea is watery (and often
profuse) feces. It is not the same as loose cecotropes, which are usually thick
and mushy, or have the consistency of thin pudding. Diarrhea and loose cecotropes
are not only different in origin, but usually caused by completely different problems.
The latter are usually caused by an imbalance in the cecal flora. The symptoms
can be addressed, but you must also find the underlying cause for the intestinal
trouble to ensure permanent relief from these symptoms.
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Make Flea Prevention, Control Easy
By Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM http://www.drexotic.com
Here we are in the depth of flea
season and once again we are seeing all too many rabbits presented to the hospital
with heavy flea loads. This is especially unfortunate because we have available
today a better arsenal of effective flea products than ever before. Therefore
I am going to take this opportunity to review my favorites and tell you why and
when I think you should use them. Let's look at two situations: You currently
don't have fleas, or you do have them. The degree of a flea infestation is not
as important as just do you have them or not.
If you do not currently have fleas
there is a very good chance that you will (if you live here in Southern California).
Fleas are limited in the distance they will or can travel on their own power;
however, they have a fondness for hitching a ride on any passer by. I remember
finding a flea on my pant leg one day at the mall. I had not been any where near
an animal and had no fleas at home when I found it. Somehow it had found its way
to the mall and then found its way to me. Had I not noticed, it would have found
its way home to my pets.
The likelihood of finding new fleas
on your pet is greater if they live in or frequent the out of doors. It is greatest
if you have a pet that leaves the environment that you control. In other words,
if your cat, dog or bunny is able to visit the next door neighbor's yard, goes
for walks around the block or visits Dog Beach, you are certain to have another
flea infestation. If your pet never leaves the living room it is less likely you
will bring home fleas; however, living in San Diego's subtropical climate, sooner
or later one will find its way into your home.
For you, the product called PROGRAM
is perfect. Program is the brand name for a drug named lufenuron, made by the
Ciba Animal Health, Ciba-Geigy Corporation. Program is a once a-month oral medication
to treat and prevent flea infestation. Program has been available by veterinary
prescription in the United States since spring 1995 and in other countries for
several years. Program is licensed by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
for use on dogs and cats. Although no formal study using Program in rabbits has
been done (nor are any planned by the manufacturer), it has proven to be safe
and effective in our in house studies when used on several hundred rabbits over
the past three-plus years.
When a female flea eats a blood meal
from an animal treated with Program, the lufenuron is deposited into her eggs.
Lufenuron prevents these eggs from hatching and the further development of the
flea. This is accomplished by the interruption of chitin production. Chitin is
the material that makes up the exo-[outer]skeleton of the flea. Mammals (rabbits)
do not make chitin or have an exo-skeleton and therefore are not affected by lufenuron.
Program does not affect the adult
flea. Preexisting flea populations may continue to develop and emerge after treatment
with Program has begun. Studies on dogs and cats have shown that emergence of
fleas may continue for 30-60 days and noticeable control from PROGRAM alone may
not be observed for several weeks after the treatment is begun. This lag phase
is the result of the survival of immature fleas hatched from eggs laid before
the Program was administered. Animals with a significant flea infestation will
require the concurrent use of insecticidal products (see below).
An injectable form of Program was
licensed for use in cats this year. The remarkable difference in the injectable
product is that it only needs to be administered once every six months to be effective.
Complications at the injection site have made this product unavailable for dogs.
We are currently evaluating whether this product will be safe for use in rabbits.
The obvious advantage of using Program
is that all is required to prevent, or even cure minor flea infestations, is to
give your friend a medication once a month. We recommend the use of Program to
all our rabbit-owning clients as flea prevention.
Flea control and eradication
If you currently have a flea problem,
steps must be taken to reduce the numbers or fleas on the pet as well as in the
environment. Using Program alone will not accomplish this as quickly as I would
like. I therefore recommend the use of ADVANTAGE on the pet as well as Flea Busters
powder in the indoors environment.
Advantage is the brand name of the
topical agent imidacloprid made by Bayer Animal Health and available only by veterinary
prescription. It, too, is licensed by the FDA only for use on dogs and cats. As
with Program, thousands of doses of Advantage have been used safely on rabbits.
Imidacloprid is a new compound that binds to nerve receptor sites and blocks nerve
transmissions. It is different and will not cross react with other common insecticides
such as organophosphate and carbamates.
Advantage is applied to the skin
of the rabbit at the base of the neck. From there it is distributed to the skin
and hair coat by body movements. A single treatment kills 98% to 100% of the fleas
on the pet within 24 hours and continues to kill fleas for at least 30 days.
In severe infestations treatment
of the environment is also recommended. To a great extent, this is for the comfort
of the pet owner. We have noticed that once the animal is treated with Advantage,
the fleas often turn their attention to the owner.
Indoors we recommend the boric acid
product made by Flea Busters. This product is very safe for both rabbit and owner
and has proven to be much more effective than sprays or forgers. Outdoors we recommend
organophosphate insecticides: Malathion or Diazinon.
As you can see, flea prevention and
treatment has become much more simple than in days past. The new long lasting
flea products make taking care of this unpleasant chore as easy as remembering
when to give the next dose of medicine.
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Veterinarian Articles on Rabbit Care
What Is It and Should You Fear It?
By Jeffrey R. Jenkins, D.V.M.
torticollis, metritis, mastitis, abscesses and many other problems of rabbits
are clinical expressions of infections caused by Pasteurella multocida, a bacterium
that is present in most all pet rabbits. There is a great deal of misunderstanding
about both the bacterium and the diseases that it causes in our friends.
Pasteurella multocida lives in the
upper respiratory tract (nose and sinus) of rabbits and other mammals. This is
its niche, where it likes to live. Most strains of the bacterium have evolved
to NOT cause diseases in their host, the animal which they live. Rather, a balance
is established between the rabbit's immune system and the bacterium in which the
number of the bacteria are kept in check and no disease develops.
But disease does, of course, occur.
Three factors may be involved in these situations. The rabbit may "pick up"
a strain of Pasteurella that is more virulent (prone to disease), the bacterium
may find its way into tissues or organs where it is more likely to cause disease
(such as a bite wound, lactating mammary gland or uterus) or something may happen
in the rabbit's life that decreases its immune system's ability to keep the Pasteurella
The manifestations of the infection
depend mostly on "where." If the infection starts in the upper respiratory
tract, a mucopurulent nasal discharge (thick, cloudy to almost white) and sneezing
or a cough are the most common signs. As the rabbit tries to clean his nose, the
discharge may collect on the inside of his front paws. Some may act sick, even
stop eating, but most go on with their daily lives, much as we would if suffering
from a cold. Some may have a similar discharge from their eyes. In these cases
the infection has moved up the tear ducts into the eye or may have passed into
the eyes as the bunny tried to clean his face.
It is possible for the infection
to be only in the eyes or the tear ducts. In this case, the tear ducts may be
blocked with discharge and tears may collect in the hair of the face, leaving
a collection of salts as they dry. If the infection moves up the rabbit's auditory
tube, connecting the respiratory tract to middle ear, ear infections result. Ear
infections most often cause problems of balance. We call this "torticollis"
or "wry neck" because the rabbit twists his neck around to compensate
for the misinformation he is receiving from the irritated or damaged vestibular
(or balance) organ.
Other common places for Pasteurella
to cause disease are bite or puncture wounds, where it causes abscesses; in the
mammary glands of nursing does, where it causes mastitis (an abscess of the gland);
and in the uterus following giving birth, causing metritis (uterine infection).
On rare occasions, Pasteurella may
cause a rapidly developing pneumonia that may lead to death in a matter of hours.
It is important to realize, however, that this is a very uncommon situation. From
reviewing the literature, it is unclear if these cases are caused by the rabbit
picking up a deadly strain of Pasteurella, some failure of the rabbit's immune
system, or simply bad luck. It is interesting to note that we commonly see situations
where a single rabbit in a multi-rabbit home passes away from such a pneumonia,
but none of the other rabbits is infected. This would seem to support the latter
Pasteurella is most often diagnosed
from symptoms, because the bacterium is very difficult (but not impossible) to
culture from the rabbit.
Treatment involves antibiotics that
kill the Pasteurella but don't kill the healthy bacteria in the rabbit's lower
intestinal tract. This is a bit challenging because the antibiotics most often
used to treat Pasteurella in other animals, such as the modified penicillins like
amoxicilllin, are hard on the rabbit's healthy bacteria. The two antibiotics most
commonly used in rabbits are the trimethoprim and sulfa-drug combinations (Septra,
Bactrim and a number of generic products) and enrofloxacin (Baytril). These products
can be given for long periods without complications of digestive upset. In serious
cases, more aggressive antibiotics may be used knowing that upsetting the digestive
tract is a possibility that must be risked.
In our experience, the complete "cure"
of Pasteurella abscesses is greatly enhanced by the surgical removal of the infected
part, when the location of the infection makes surgery possible. Lesions such
as bite wound abscesses, metritis and infected mammary glands are examples where
surgery speeds recovery. Abscesses in locations where complete removal is not
possible, such as the middle and inner ear and tooth root abscesses, have a much
worse prognosis for cure of the infection, but still may have a good prognosis
for survival. Many of these cases require weeks and maybe a lifetime of treatment
The prevention of problems related
to Pasteurella is possible and relatively easy. For most bunnies, all that is
needed is a happy (low stress), clean home and a good diet (lots of long-stem
hay and fresh, leafy greens with limited pellets). Early treatment of wounds,
especially bite wounds and punctures, helps to prevent abscesses. Likewise, early
correction of dental problems, including the correct trimming of teeth (with a
dental drill or diamond saw, not a toenail clipper) and the early removal of incisors
from rabbits with malocclusion help prevent dental abscesses.
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Veterinarian Articles on Rabbit Care
Bonded For Life
By Caroline Charland
Some call it
bunny bonding, others call it bunny dating, and it is also
known as the bonding ritual. No matter what you call it, it
is something most of us need to go through at one time or
another if you are a rabbit lover.
rabbits are such social creatures, they should always live
with at least one other rabbit. Once your rabbit is bonded
to another rabbit you will enjoy hours of watching them
cuddle, groom, play, and sleep together. Also, your rabbits
will have each other for companionship, especially in
illness and old age.
The fact is
that you can not just put another rabbit with your rabbit
though, as they are very territorial, and usually a serious
fight will break out.
If you do
not have any rabbits and are considering adopting a rabbit
or two, it is best to get a bonded pair or threesome, that
way the bonding is already done for you. This way you can
spare yourself the time of match making and daily bonding
sessions that you would otherwise have to go through.
rabbit rescue or shelter will often have many rabbits that
are already bonded. Rabbits like to live in groups, so you
could consider getting two or more that have been living
together, as they are already bonded. If you already have a
rabbit, then you should seriously consider getting him a
live alone often get very sad and lonely. Even if you are
able to spend time everyday with your rabbit, he will still
be lonely at night or when you leave the house. Rabbits,
unlike some other animals, will stay bonded to their human
even when you get them rabbit friends of their own. Just
think, now instead of one rabbit adoring you, you will have
two or three!
There is no
one way to bond rabbits together, but there are some tips
and proven rules to follow. Before we get into all the
bonding tactics there is some preparation to do to make sure
it will work.
must be spayed or neutered before starting the bonding
process. If you rabbit is not already fixed then you should
find a rabbit knowledgeable veterinarian to spay or neuter
rabbit spayed or neutered has many benefits, the obvious one
being to prevent unwanted litters from being born. This will
also prevent your rabbits from spraying urine to mark their
territory. Some rabbits develop bad behavioral problems when
they are not neutered. Also, many female rabbits will die
at an early age of uterine cancer if not spayed. It is
important to take out the ovaries and the uterus.
rabbits being bonded should also be spayed or neutered, as
they will continue to fight when they are not fixed.
I have found
that male/female is the easiest to bond, but I have also
bonded male/male and female/female.
already have one rabbit and would like to find him a friend,
it is best to contact your local rabbit rescue group.
Sometimes these groups will do the bonding for you, although
that will mean leaving your rabbit with them for a week or
two. The benefit is that you will get back two rabbits
which are in love!
You can also
go to your local animal control or shelter. Often people do
not realize that many wonderful rabbits end up in shelters.
By adopting from a shelter you are truly saving a life. I
suggest that you quarantine your shelter rabbit for two
weeks before starting the introductions to your rabbit.
like to take their bunny on a bunny date to see if he gets
along with a particular bunny. This may work sometimes, but
most of the time rabbits are going to be either territorial
and want to fight, or so scared that they just sit next to
each other panting.
your rabbits are both spayed or neutered, you will need to
set up two areas for each rabbit to live until bonded.
exercise pen works nicely as you can put in a litter box,
food and water crocks, and lots of toys.
the two or three rabbits you are going to bond have never
met, it is best not to let them see each other until you
start the bonding.
some important things to remember when you start the bonding
First, it is
very important to introduce the rabbits in neutral territory
(somewhere neither rabbit has been before). The reason for
this is because rabbits are very territorial and they will
try to protect their territory from another rabbit by
fighting. Sometimes it is hard to find a spot where your
rabbit has not been, especially as many rabbits have the run
of the house. When looking for a neutral spot, keep in mind
that the bath tub works well, as it is also a little scary.
start bonding, place both rabbits next to each other in the
tub (no water). You need to be in total control of the
situation by resting your arm across the back of both
rabbits and stocking their heads at the same time.
is strange and unusual to the rabbits, they will often find
comfort in each other. Because they have never been in this
area before, they are not worried about protecting their
It is best
to have lots of short meetings with the rabbits. Try to
schedule two ten-minute bonding periods per day to start
with, increasing each meeting by about five to ten minutes,
depending on how well they are getting along.
such a thing as love at first sight, when two rabbits just
meet and never go through all of the usual bonding
behaviors. Rabbits can be bonded in about seven days, but
it may take weeks.
I will take
you through, step-by-step, telling you what to expect and
what to look out for. Remember that every rabbit is
different, and I am just going by what I have found to be
the most common.
leave the rabbits alone for even a second, if you are not
controlling the situation a nasty fight, resulting in
serious injuries, could break out when you are not there to
do the bonding in neutral territory.
in a small space.
your rabbitsí body language so you can detect their actions
before they happen.
both rabbits in the bath tub, side by side. Make sure they
can not get to each other by placing your arm across their
backs. Gently stroke their heads. Do this for about ten
the above again the same day.
the same as above, extending the time to about fifteen to
the same day, do the same again, except this time do it a
meetings twice every day, each day extending the time
together. Before you know it, you will notice that one of
the rabbits is being submissive by putting its head down.
In bunny language this means PLEASE LICK MY HEAD! When the
other bunny realizes this, and starts licking, the bonding
bonding gets a little easier. When you have them in the
bath tub, let them run around. If one rabbit gets on top of
the other as if mating, you can let this continue as long as
there is no fighting or hair pulling. The reason this is
happening is to figure our who is head bunny. It is not the
male, or the largest bunny that is always on top.
rabbit has been submissive, by putting its head down for a
good licking, the other rabbit will want the same thing.
This does not always happen the way we would like. Sometimes
we have a stubborn rabbit that refuses to do any licking.
This just means the bonding process may take a little
know it, the other rabbit will put its head down for a good
licking. Then both rabbits will start to groom each other.
This is a great sign. You still have to have controlled
bonding sessions, but it means you are closer to having two
It is a good
idea to put some veggies in with the rabbits so they can eat
together. Start extending the time they are together, and
before long you will have two rabbits that are in love.
your rabbits are bonded in the bathtub, you need in increase
their territory. You want to do this slowly and in small
areas, getting a little bigger as you go along.
using the bathroom floor as an area to start with, doing the
same as you were in the bath tub. Once you rabbits are fine
in that area, take them into another room and put them in an
exercise pen to see how they do. More that likely they will
be fine, but just to be sure you should supervise.
are fine in an ex-pen, you can start putting them in a small
room and eventually let them have the run of the house.
rabbits are bonded it will be the most rewarding thing you
have ever seen. They will love each other, groom each
other, play together, and sleep together.Once you have a
pair of bonded rabbits you should never let them be apart.
They bond for life.
rabbit becomes ill and has to stay at the vet, it is very
important to take the other rabbit along too. If you
separate them they will pine for each other, and being apart
can do more harm than good.
ask if they should have more that one rabbit. All rabbits
should live with at least one other rabbit. This isnít for
the person to have more rabbits, but because rabbits should
never live alone.
should always be spayed or neutered before being bonded.
Two un-neutered males will fight, two un-spayed females will
bond to other animals, but it is not the same as being with
My dog loves
my rabbits, and interestingly enough he has bonded to some
of my foster rabbits that are waiting to go to a home with
another rabbit. When thinking about having a dog around a
rabbit you can never be too careful. Many people have
called me to say "My dog was fine at first, and then he just
went for the rabbits". This is not a situation you want to
put a rabbit in. Some dogs do actually bond to rabbits, but
you can never be too careful.
will bond to rabbits. You often find that house rabbits
will go up to cats to say hello and the cat will take off
into another room. If you have a cat around your rabbit,
make sure you are clipping the catsí claws so that it can
not scratch your rabbit.
puppies are not suggested with rabbits, as all they want to
do is play, and they see the rabbit as something to toss up
in the air and have fun with.
bond very closely to people. Your rabbit will learn to know
its name and will come when called. There are many things
rabbits know, such as the refrigerator door opening for
veggies. My rabbits are always right there, waiting for me
to give them a veggie treat.
are very close to their rabbit and are afraid that if they
bond their rabbit to another rabbit they will lose the
relationship they have with their rabbit. What generally
happens is that you have the same great relationship, but
with two rabbits instead of one!
be bonded into groups. I have fourteen rabbits all bonded
and living together. This may take some time to do, but is
it great to have that many rabbits living together and all
two rabbits are getting along are that, of course, they are
not trying to kill each other. Also, that they are lying
next to each other and grooming.
rabbits are not getting along are, of course, that they keep
being territorial and keep fighting after lots of bonding
time. Once in a while you will find rabbits that just do
not like each other.
there is love at first sight, which I wish happened every
time. This is when two rabbits just fall in love. There is
no fighting, just grooming and lying next to each other.
They just fall in love!
do not take up any more room than one. Often people say "I
just donít have room for another rabbit". If that is the
case, then the area that their rabbit is living in is too
small. I suggest that rabbits start off by living in a 4x4
foot exercise pen. Once they are used to their new
surroundings, you can let them out to be house rabbits,
living in you rabbit-proofed home. Rabbit-proofed meaning
that there is nothing dangerous for them, such as poisonous
plants, uncovered electrical cords, or animals that could
I have found
over the years that time and patience is the most important
thing when introducing any animal to another. I have heard
many interesting stories of rabbits and birds being in love,
rabbits and guinea pigs, rabbits and cats, and rabbits and
dogs. When you are ready to find a friend for you rabbit,
the best thing to keep in mind is the safety of your
rabbit. Remember, other people may have told you about dogs
or cats with rabbits, but that does not mean all dogs and
cats will get along with rabbits. I have taken in rabbits
that have been injured by cats and dogs in the same
household. Just remember to use common sense, go slow, and
take the time needed to find your bunny a bunny to love.
Burrow we do bunny dating and help with bonding rabbits.
Your rabbit/s do need to be spayed or neutered first. Come
and visit us during our open hours. No appointment needed.
Windows to the Bunny
Your Rabbit's Eye
by Astrid M. Kruse,
you to a