Our Rabbit Companions

 

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Rabbits

There are an estimated 2 million pet rabbits in the UK. This makes our hopping friends the third most popular pet after dogs and cats.  There are many breeds of rabbit varying in size, body shape, coat texture and personality.

The rabbits lifespan ranges between 8-10 years but some may live for longer.

Rabbits are social animals and in the wild live in family groups within a large warren. Pet rabbits benefit from being with others, therefore, owning a bonded pair is something to consider when looking into owning a rabbit. The best combination for keeping rabbits is a neutered male with a neutered female. This prevents unwanted babies and leads to a reduction in fighting.  Neutering will also help in the prevention of medical problems later in life – especially uterine cancer in does.

Rabbits can be a challenge to handle and look after and are not always suitable as a children’s pet. They are often skittish, readily scratch human skin with their claws and can be harmed by inappropriate handling.

If you’ve decided rabbits are the right pet for you, it is well worth considering local rescue centres. Many rescue rabbits are already settled into bonded pairs and are neutered and vaccinated prior to rehoming.

Housing
Rabbits need plenty of room to undertake normal rabbit activities so a small hutch must be avoided. Rabbits love to run, jump and play, but at the slightest hint of danger will run to a secure dark place.  When providing a hutch buy the biggest possible, being tall enough also for your rabbit(s) to stand and stretch up to full height.  Placement of the hutch should be out of the worst of the weather, including being shaded from the sun. The placement should also be secure from predators and be bunny proof as they do like to dig.  Use good quality bedding like shavings or straw, and line the bottom of the hutch with newspaper.

Try to make eating as much fun as possible. Put food into willow toys which are readily available hang some from the hutch roof and the pellet diet can be scattered over the floor. Fruit wood can be offered to encourage gnawing.

Access to outdoors is very important allowing exercise and grazing. A predator-proof garden or run is required for their safety. Some plants are poisonous to rabbits. These include deadly and woody nightshade, poppies, ragwort, buttercups, daffodils, mistletoe, St John’s wort, dahlias, lupins, lily of the valley, tulips and irises.  Please check for these before letting your rabbit roam around the garden.

Always ensure your bunny has access to fresh water.  If using a bottle, remember to regularly check that it works correctly as chemicals in the water can stop the metal ball from moving.

House rabbits: You may like to keep your rabbit(s) in the house.  This can be a good way to keep rabbits but requires more planning to provide a natural healthy diet. Remember to protect any wires and valuable furniture from your rabbits reach as they will chew them.  Rabbits are readily litter-trained, particularly once neutered.  It is also important to remember to give your house bunny some garden time.

Handling

Rabbits can become ill very quickly so daily handling is essential to detect signs of ill health. Handling should be done by lifting under the chest and supporting the hind limbs. Take care not to pick your rabbit up by the ears and always be around when children are handling rabbits. For handling information come in and have a rabbit check with one of our friendly nurses.

Diet

Wild rabbits spend much of their time eating grass and wild herbs.  Grass is abrasive, low in calcium, with a high fluid and poor nutrient content.  Wild rabbits spend most of their waking time chewing this high fibre material, ensuring good consistent wear of their teeth.  When deciding what to feed our pet rabbits we must try to emulate the properties of fresh grass as accurately as possible.  Where possible, access to grazing in a secure outside run is ideal.  Hay should always be available in the hutch/cage. Fresh vegetables, predominantly leafy green varieties, should be fed once to twice daily. Avoid fruit and starchy vegetables such as parsnip, swede and sweetcorn.  Feeding of a good quality concentrate food (extruded pellet food or a muesli style mix) is optional and should be kept to a minimum. Concentrate foods are high calorie, require minimal chewing and therefore provide little abrasion for the teeth.  They can be relatively high in calcium. Pellets are favoured over muesli type foods to prevent rabbits selecting only their favourite bits.

Dental disease

Rabbits have teeth that continue to grow throughout their lives. The front teeth (incisors) grow several mm’s every week, while the back teeth (cheek teeth) grow approximately 3mm every month. Correct diet will help to keep the teeth healthy and many rabbits will live their whole lives without requiring any dental treatment.

Incisor disease can occur due to poor conformation at an early age (congenital malocclusion) or due to acquired malocclusion caused by a deficiency of abrasive foods and things to gnaw. Lifting the upper lips and checking your rabbit’s incisor teeth should be possible at home and form part of a regular home health check.  If the incisors look long or irregular then a check-up with the vet is recommended.

Cheek teeth are hidden at the back of the mouth and can’t be examined at home. Too little grass and hay in the diet can lead to elongation of the crowns of the cheek teeth within the mouth and damage to the tooth roots deep in the bone. The longer crowns often grow in altered directions as the tooth roots become damaged.  The lower cheek teeth usually tilt inwards and lacerate the side of the tongue, while the upper cheek teeth usually flare outwards into the cheek lining. Cheek tooth disease is suspected when rabbits alter their food preferences to softer foods, stop eating, lose weight and dribble saliva onto their chin and bib. If your rabbit suffers from any of these symptoms, seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible. The vet can use a special scope to get a look at the cheek teeth during a consultation.

Prevention is far better than cure as many rabbit dental diseases are recurrent for the rest of the rabbit’s life. A good grass/hay based diet will help to prevent dental disease.

Vaccinations

Vaccinate your rabbit against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorragic Disease (VHD). Both of these diseases are fatal in rabbits and require yearly vaccinations to reduce the risk of your rabbit catching them. Booster vaccination reminders will be sent out to you one month prior to vaccination date, giving you time to call to make a convenient appointment.

Myxomatosis
Myxomatosis is a pox virus which is spread between rabbits by blood sucking insects such as the rabbit flea and mosquitoes.  If unvaccinated, infected rabbits suffer severe swelling of the skin the eyelids, nose, ears and genitals. There is no treatment and rabbits die from pneumonia or starvation.

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD)
VHD is a rapidly fatal calicivirus of rabbits. Virus can spread to pet rabbits via fleas and insects but will also spread via contamination of shoes and clothing. Death occurs rapidly after the onset of symptoms.

Neutering

At the Cat and Rabbit Care Clinic we recommend the neutering of all rabbits. We have neutered over a thousand rabbits – approximately equal numbers of bucks and does. With such a wealth of experience, neutering has become a very safe procedure and carries a mortality rate of less than 1%.

Male rabbits can be castrated from four months of age. Castration helps with bonding rabbits into pairs, stops unwanted offspring, facilitates litter training and reduces anti-social behaviours such as spraying urine and mounting toys/rabbits/feet!

Female rabbits can be spayed from five months of age. The procedure involves the surgical removal of both ovaries and the uterus. Spaying has many of the same advantages as castrating male rabbits including the prevention of breeding, spraying, mounting and improved toilet training. It also reduces dominant territorial behaviour common in female rabbits and prevents malignant cancer of the uterus which otherwise affects over fifty percent of senior female rabbits.

Flea Control

Fleas are an important carrier of diseases between rabbits and can become serious infestations of the house if present on house rabbits. There are several flea preparations available which are safe to apply to rabbits and can be used to treat and prevent flea infestation. Treatment of other pets within the household, especially dogs and cats, will help reduce the risk of fleas (and therefore the risk of myxomatosis and VHD) from infesting our pet rabbits.

Worming

Rabbits can suffer from intestinal worms. Often these worm infestations go unnoticed by the rabbit but can be significant where multiple rabbits are grazing the same patches of grass, especially in the case of young rabbits. Worming paste containing fenbendazole administered via an easy to dose syringe can be given two to four times yearly.

The parasite Encephalozoon cuniculi, frequently cited as a cause of neurological disease (head tilt, back leg weakness) in rabbits, can also be prevented and/or treated using the same fenbendazole worming treatment.

Flystrike

In the summer months, blow flies can lay their eggs on your rabbit.  The eggs hatch into maggots which start to feed on the skin and underlying tissues of the rabbit. They can cause horrific injuries often resulting in death. Flies tend to be attracted to rabbits soiled around their bottoms – usually obese, elderly, and ill rabbits.  Daily checks of your rabbit will help you to spot signs of fly strike and a clean hutch is less likely to attract flies. Please ask about fly strike at your next appointment for more information and to discuss treatments available to minimise the risk of flystrike for high risk rabbits.

Insurance

We strongly recommend insuring your rabbit in case of illness or injury. Click here for further details.

Some Useful Links…

www.houserabbit.co.uk
Rabbit welfare association improving the lives of pet rabbits across the UK.

www.rngp.org
Rabbit and guinea pig welfare, rehoming rabbits and guinea pigs

www.bunnyhopsboarding.co.uk
Northampton rabbit and guinea pig boarding

Our Feline Patients

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Cats

Cats have over the years become one of the most popular pets in the UK with over 8 million being owned. The veterinary sector is advancing all of the time increasing its knowledge of our feline friends with new treatments for disease, operating techniques and instrumentation. This along with studies into behaviour and alternative medicine helps us to give your feline the best veterinary care. At the Cat and Rabbit care clinic your cat will be cared for as if they are one of our own.

Vaccinations

At the cat and rabbit care clinic we recommend vaccinating against cat flu (feline rhinotracheitis virus and feline calicivirus), feline enteritis, and feline leukaemia virus (FeLV). We recommend FeLV testing on older cats which have not been vaccinated before and for kittens with an unknown FeLV parentage. This is a simple procedure requiring a small sample of your cat’s blood this can be taken in the first vaccination consultation.

Kittens will be given two vaccinations, one at 9 weeks and the second at 12 weeks of age. For older cats the vaccinations are given three weeks apart.  Booster vaccinations including an annual health check are given yearly thereafter.  We will send you a reminder one month in advance giving you flexibility for making your booster appointment.

Neuturing

We recommend neutering of all non breeding cats. We generally recommend neutering both sexes from 5 months of age though earlier neutering can be carried out. Castration helps prevent urine spraying in the home, limit roaming and fighting which can lead to serious viral diseases such as FeLV or FIV. Spaying of females stops unwanted pregnancy and womb infections. The risk of mammary tumours is also greatly reduced after spaying.

Worming

New worming treatments are coming onto the veterinary market all of the time and worming can now be given in various forms including tablets, paste and spot on preparations. These give owners the freedom to treat their cat at home without the worry of them not taking their wormer (we have all found the wormer on the floor after kitty has conveniently held it in the mouth until human has turned away).

Roundworm treatment can be given monthly as part of some spot on flea treatments. Tapeworm treatments should be given every three months though more frequent worming for tapeworm can be required in the case of prolific hunters. Please ask one of our friendly staff members for up to date worming advice.

Prevention of fleas

As with the worming treatments there are new flea preparations are coming onto the veterinary market regularly. A complete flea program should include not just your feline friend but the house too. One flea can produce up to 50 eggs a day. Once they have turned into pupae, fleas can lay dormant in the environment for several years until the right conditions to hatch to adult fleas are present.  Monthly treatment of your cat eliminates the adult fleas and thus prevents further egg laying.  Many products either contain a growth inhibitor or reduce eggs and larvae in the environment as they are shed into the cat’s environment in hair and dander. Regular use of a household flea spray will help to minimise contamination and kill eggs and larvae already in the house. Please discuss your individual requirements with a member of our staff.

Periodontal Disease

Cats can suffer from several severe and painful dental diseases.

The most common of these is periodontal disease caused by calculus (tartar) build up which can lead to gum inflammation (gingivitis) and tooth root abscesses. Approximately 50% of cats suffer from resorptive  lesions (cavities in the tooth roots or crowns), which are painful for the cat and can lead to fracture of the tooth crown. Traumatically fractured teeth, especially the tips of the upper canine (fang) teeth are also common. Finally, severe inflammation of the gums which spreads throughout the back of the mouth (caudal stomatitis) is recognised as a cause of severe mouth pain for affected cats. This type of dental disease is often related to infection by the calici flu virus of cats.

Cats are experts at hiding pain, thus, your cat could have one or more of these diseases without you noticing obvious signs. A dental check is an important part of your cats annual health check and allows the veterinary surgeon to recognise early dental diseases.

Dental diagnosis and treatment of dental disease is performed in the clinic under general anaesthetic. Dental x-rays of the mouth give a detailed picture of the tooth roots and surrounding jaw bone and help us to reach an accurate diagnosis.

We stock several tooth pastes and mouth washes. Daily brushing can significantly reduce the need for dental treatment and dental diets can also reduce tartar build up on the teeth.

Identichip

Placement of a microchip into the loose skin at the back of the neck can be done during a consultation. Each microchip has its own unique number. The numbers are stored on a national database along with details of the cat and its owner. Lost pets are scanned for the presence of a microchip and if present will allow rapid identification including contact details for the owner.  Microchips can now also be read by specialist cat flaps preventing unwanted cats from entering your house.

Our Guinea Pig friends

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Guinea pigs

At the Cat and Rabbit Care Clinic, we see a large number of guinea-pigs from all over the country. We now have many years of experience dealing with all aspects of guinea-pig health and disease. We regularly carry out the neutering of male and (less commonly) female guinea-pigs.  We treat medical conditions such as skin diseases, respiratory diseases and bowel diseases.  We have full anaesthetic, radiography, ultrasound and surgical facilities to investigate and treat disease. We have also developed effective ways of dealing with difficult conditions such as dental and urinary tract disease. Dental disease in guinea-pigs can be particularly frustrating to manage with severely affected guinea-pigs requiring long term or even life-long therapy. At the Cat and Rabbit Care Clinic, we have developed methods of treating severe dental disease with the minimum requirement for general anaesthetic.  Where conscious filing of the cheek teeth is carried out, our techniques are designed to cause as little stress to the guinea-pigs as possible (see the dental disease section below for more detailed information).

Husbandry

A comprehensive review of guinea-pig husbandry can found at www.guinealynx.info/. This website provides information about everything you need to successfully look after guinea-pigs.  Discussed below are some of the most important issues but further research is recommended before owning guinea-pigs.

Guinea-pigs are social creatures and require company and plenty of space to exhibit normal social interactions. Generally groups of sows or a neutered boar with one or more sows is preferred.  However, neutered males will often live together and bonding guinea-pigs tends to be less problematic than bonding rabbits, especially where they have sufficient space.

A correct diet is essential for guinea-pigs. Guinea-pigs require a low calorie, high fibre, abrasive diet similar to the grass-based diet they would eat in the wild.

  • Access to grass and/or hay at all times
  • Fresh green leafy vegetables, cucumber, peppers, chopped celery and herbs should be offered daily
  • A small amount of dry food such as extruded pellets, muesli-style mix or rolled oats could be offered daily.  This food is less abrasive and higher calorie than the natural diet and should be strictly rationed.
  • Free access to water should be provided at all times.

Guinea-pigs have a requirement for Vitamin C in their diet as they cannot make Vitamin C for themselves. Fresh vegetables and fresh grass and dry foods will provide Vitamin C and Vitamin C can also be supplemented via the water or sprinkled onto the food if the levels in the diet are thought to be low.

Dental Disease

Dental disease is a frequent cause of reduced or complete loss or appetite (anorexia) in guinea-pigs. Dental disease can be caused by an inappropriate diet deficient in low calorie, abrasive foods such as grass and hay.  It can also occur as a result of prolonged anorexia following periods of long-term illness.

The front teeth (incisors) can be readily examined in a conscious guinea-pig during a consultation with the vet. Experience of normal guinea-pig teeth is essential as their incisors, especially the lower incisors, are much longer than those of rabbits and incisors are often burred (or worse, clipped) short when in fact they were the normal length. This prevents the guinea-pig being able to pick-up/gnaw food until they have regrown and also leads to a wrong diagnosis of dental disease.

The back (cheek) teeth are more difficult to examine since they are situated far back in the mouth and the mouth is usually full of food material. Washing out the mouth with water and using a spring loaded gag and cheek dilator allows a good assessment of the cheek teeth. A guinea-pig’s cheek teeth are very different from a rabbit’s cheek teeth and so experience is essential to correctly diagnose and then treat dental disease.

At the Cat and Rabbit Care Clinic, special gags and cheek dilators are used to gain access to the cheek teeth of guinea pigs.  In most cases, conscious dentistry is well tolerated allowing accurate filing of the cheek teeth back to more normal occlusion. Conscious dentistry reduces the otherwise high risk associated with anaesthetising unwell, underweight guinea pigs and encourages a more rapid return to eating as they don’t have the prolonged recovery that may follow a general anaesthetic. Guinea pigs require frequent follow-up treatment of their dental disease with re-growth of cheek teeth occurring within 1 to 2 weeks.  The high risk and high cost of anaesthesia-based dentistry at 1-2 week intervals makes conscious dentistry the preferred technique for maintenance of cheek tooth dental disease. Burring of the cheek teeth under general anaesthetic is required in the most severe cases or where radiographs (x-rays) of the tooth roots are required.  Regular follow-up dentals can then be carried out in the conscious guinea-pig as part of the long term management of the teeth.

Skin Disease

Guinea-pigs commonly suffer from diseases of the skin.

Mites are suspected when the skin is itchy and when there is fur loss and scabs on the skin, especially over the neck and back.  Affected guinea-pigs will scratch and bite at themselves and start to lose weight. Some will start to ‘seizure’ when handled due to the intense itchiness (pruritis) caused by mites.

Ringworm is a fungal disease of the skin and be found anywhere on the body or head. Affected guinea-pigs are usually less itchy than with mites and the fur loss is often more localised with excessive scaling of the exposed skin. Ringworm is a zoonotic infection meaning that it can also spread to the skin of humans.  We therefore recommend any guinea-pig with skin disease be taken to the vets to rule out ringworm. Sometimes a hair pluck is required for looking under the microscope and culturing for ringworm to accurately diagnose the cause of the skin disease.  Both mites and ringworm can be successfully treated and your vet will discuss the appropriate products with you.

Lumps in the skin are also common. We tend to see abscesses, sebaceous cysts and fatty lumps most commonly. Some lumps can be managed by lancing, while the majority require surgical removal. Treatment of lumps is most successful while the lumps are small.

Urinary Tract Disease

If your guinea-pig passes urine with blood in it or squeaks when passing urine, a urinary tract infection (cystitis) is most likely. Urine can often be obtained during a consultation to confirm the presence of blood and treatment started with antibiotics and pain relief.  Cystitis is most common in female guinea-pigs.

Recurrent or persistent cystitis can suggest the presence of bladder stones. Radiographs of the guinea-pigs abdomen will help check for presence of stones anywhere in the urinary tract from the kidneys through to termination of the urethra. Stones (>90% of which are calcium carbonate) can be found in the kidneys, ureters, bladder or urethra and vary greatly in size and number. Urethral stones in sows can be felt just inside the vulva but the diagnosis of stones in the rest of urinary tract requires imaging by x-rays or ultrasound. Bladder stones can be removed surgically from the bladder. Recurrence of bladder stones post-operatively is common and can occur within weeks of surgery. Feeding timothy hay, fresh grass, greens low in calcium and restricting or removing commercial foods (pellets or muesli) from the diet can help prevent recurrence. It is also important to encourage fluid intake, reduce obesity and treat cystitis promptly.

Kidney and ureteral (between the kidney and the bladder) stones are harder to treat and surgery is very risky. Many guinea-pigs with these stones will respond to symptomatic treatment with dietry change, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.

Respiratory Disease

Guinea-pigs suffer from both upper respiratory disease involving the nose and upper airways and lower respiratory disease involving the lungs. Sneezing and nasal discharge is usually caused by upper respiratory disease. Treatment with antibiotics is usually successful. Laboured breathing and coughing can be caused by both upper and lower respiratory disease. Where guinea-pigs have reduced appetite and weight loss or when the gums and ears have a grey/blue tinge (cyanosis), pneumonia is suspected. Pneumonia can become rapidly fatal and so any guinea-pigs with respiratory symptoms, especially where lethargy, poor appetite and cyanosis are present, require immediate veterinary attention. If treated promptly, many guinea-pigs will recover, though recurrence of pneumonia can occur. Where the response to treatment is poor or where auscultation of the chest finds altered heart sounds, chest x-rays and an ultrasound scan of the heart are indicated to rule out heart disease as the cause of laboured breathing.

Some useful Links

www.guinealynx.info
Medical and care guide for your guinea pigs

www.theguineapigforum.co.uk

www.rngp.org
Rabbit and guinea pig welfare