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Alabama Rot (CRGV)

Alabama Rot (AKA Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV))

Alabama Rot, apart from one potential greyhound, was first discovered in the UK in 2012.  Prior to this a similar disease by the same name was present in Greyhounds in the USA throughout the 1980s and ‘90s and affected a Great Dane in Germany in 2002.

 

Though Alabama Rot in the UK is very similar to the disorder affecting Greyhounds in the US, it isn’t the same disorder.  The disease in the UK is known by a number of names; Alabama Rot, Alabama Rot-like Syndrome and finally Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV); the latter being the more medical term and describes what happens to the body.

 

Alabama Rot is a very rare but devastating disease but appears just to affect dogs and currently just appears to affect the UK (plus one confirmed case in Ireland).  The reason this disease appeared only during 2012 and its cause are still very much unknown.  There is a chance of cases occurred before 2012 but were missed or misdiagnosed as Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) which is one of the disorders that Alabama Rot causes.

 

Cases first appeared in/ around the New Forest, Hampshire.  Since then there have been cases across the whole of England and Wales with a small number of cases having been diagnosed in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.  The fact that it has spread across to Ireland and NI is particularly worrying due to the natural barrier of the sea which usually stops the spread of disease.  At the time of writing, throughout the UK and Ireland there have been 152 confirmed cases of CRGV.

 

Historically, CRGV has appeared to be seasonal with most cases being between November and May but some cases have occurred outside of this time.

Currently, even with effective treatment, the mortality rate in most cases (once the kidneys are affected) is 80% meaning if 10 dogs were to become infected by the disease between 8 would die.

Possible Causes

The seasonality of the disease has led to some researchers wonder if it is related to bacteria in the mud, with muddy areas being more abundant between November and May.  A fish vet called Fiona Macdonald did come across a bacteria, Aeromonas hydrophila, which lives in water and mud and causes skin ulcerations followed by AKI in fish. The link between this and CGRV has not been confirmed at the time of writing.

The Signs of CRGV

  • Skin ulceration/ wound
    • Usually on the lower leg but may be around the belly or on the muzzle. Some may also be on the tongue.  Some may also be between the toes.
    • These are usually surrounded by a reddened area of skin.
    • If a dog is licking or paying a lot of attention to parts of their body check tha area for a wound
    • Limping; if the sore is on the leg the pain from the skin pulling against the wound when walking can cause a limp
  • Drinking a lot
  • Urinating less than normal
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Not eating
  • Collapse
  • Dehydration
  • Jaundice

 

The signs other than the wound are mostly due to the dog having problems with their kidneys known as an Acute Kidney Injury (AKI).

 

It is ultimately the AKI and associated damage rather than the skin wound that may kill the dogs.

 

Dogs with Alabama Rot tend to develop AKI about 4 days after the skin wound(s) but this is not always the case.  Sometimes the skin wound is the only sign whereas other times they just develop the AKI without any wounds.  Also, sometimes the AKI can start before the skin wounds or quite some time after.

 

This unpredictability, and the fact that the skin wounds look like normal wounds, can make it difficult to diagnose in the early stages and therefore treatment may be delayed.

What Does Alabama Rot Do to the Body?

In the UK, Alabama Rot’s medical name is Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasulopathy.

Cutaneous means the skin.

Renal = Kidney.

Glomerular is the main part of the kidney that it affects; the part that filters the blood.

Vasculopathy= A disorder which affects the blood supply.

This means that it’s a disorder affecting the blood supply to parts of the kidney and skin.

 

It causes small blood clots within the blood vessels of the skin and kidneys.  This stops that area of skin/ kidneys getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs (as well as getting rid of any waste products it has) causing the area to die.

Some red blood cells squeeze past the clots but due to the tiny space, they are often damaged.  This damage may be seen in a blood sample and it can cause anaemia.

The large number of clots throughout the body use up quite a lot of platelets which may show up in the blood sample as there are fewer left in the blood than there should be.

 

The anaemia can also affect organ function across the body, however, most issues are due to the kidney damage.

 

The skin wounds may also become infected too causing further problems.

 

Diagnosis

A complete diagnosis is made by looking at samples of the skin and kidneys for the typical damage for this.  Sampling the kidneys is only usually done after a dog has died by post-mortem examination.

 

In alive dogs, the diagnosis is made by the symptoms and the presence of typical skin wounds/ ulcerations.  Skin lesions are usually on the lower leg or foot but can be under the belly or muzzle and in some cases they are also on the tongue too.

 

Kidney disease is diagnosed by blood and/ or urine samples.  If your dog is suspected of having Alabama Rot, even if well, your vet will usually want to take blood samples.  The blood samples are usually repeated after a few days to see if the markers for kidney damage increase.  If they increase above a certain amount, even if your dog seems well, they likely have AKI and need to be treated.

 

Blood samples may look at the number of platelets and white blood cells (and their types) in the blood. The type of white blood cells can point to the presence of an infection, and sometimes the type of infection (ie if it’s due to bacteria or parasites).

Any abnormalities in the shape of the red blood cells can happen with CRGV due to them squeezing past the blood clots.

Vets also look at the level of something called Bilirubin in the blood.  This can be raised due to damage to the red blood cells or with liver damage.  Dogs with high bilirubin levels are often jaundiced; their skin, gums, and the whites of their eyes look yellow.  This is seen in up to half the dogs with CRGV.

 

Finally, vets look for evidence of other infections which could cause these symptoms eg; Leptospirosis or poisons.

 

Treatment of Alabama Rot

The main treatments revolve around the AKI.

The wounds are treated with thorough cleaning and antibiotics.  They may be covered with a dressing and the dog may have a buster collar on to stop them licking the wounds.

 

They will be put on a drip to help flush out any toxins within the kidneys and help with their dehydration.

Dogs may have a catheter placed into their bladder for vets to measure the amount of urine they pass.  This helps them evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment.

Dogs are usually given anti-sickness medication.  If they are eating they may be fed on a prescription diet to help their kidneys.  Some dogs are fed using a feeding tube into their stomach.

 

Giving them plasma via a blood transfusion replaces the platelets used up during clotting but this may not help to a huge degree.

 

Finally, a new treatment that has been trialled at the Royal Veterinary College called Plasmapheresis.  Here the plasma (the liquid part of the blood) is filtered to remove antibodies.  These are parts of the body’s immune system but sometimes cause harm and thereby removing them, or an excess of them, can help the dog.  In the trial, two out of six severely affected dogs survived which is a significant improvement on the usual odds.  This trial is still very early on so its overall success is still unknown.

 

Prevention

There is no known, reliable prevention for Alabama Rot.

As the cause of this disease is unknown a vaccine cannot be produced.  Also, people cannot be advised on specific protocols to follow.

This disease is more common during muddier times of the year and potentially in dogs walked in specific areas.  Some recommend washing the dogs legs and paws after coming home from a walk.  This usually won’t harm your dog and may actually increase the chances of you finding new wounds on them.  It is important to remember, more often than not new wounds are not caused by Alabama Rot.

 

Once a cause is found likely more information will come out regarding preventative measure to help you protect your dog from this devastating disease.

Methods Animals Communicate with Each Other; Basics

The Different Types of Communication

Communication is present between all animals and, at a microscopic level,  all living cells.  It tends to be species-specific meaning the communication of one species often can only be fully understood by members of the same species; in some respects like people across the world speaking different languages.  Several forms of communication exist which I will broadly introduce throughout the rest of this post.  These are; Vocalisation/ Verbal communication, body language and chemical/ olfactory communication which I imagine the majority of people know little to nothing about.  Alongside this is tactile communication which is where humans/ animals communicate through touch.

 

Most people associate the word communication purely with one type; speech or verbal communication.  Speech is a type of verbal communication used by humans. Whilst speech is widely used between people and towards animals, it plays only a minor role in how non-human animals communicate.

Communication is often similar between species but may be very different

People also use non-verbal communication such as body language.  Body language consists of changes in posture, actions and facial expression.  Most people are adept at reading basic facial expressions however those with neuro-developmental conditions such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder may struggle or unable to read them.

Most animals can read facial expressions amongst their own species but cannot read those of other species which can lead to issues including fighting if two different species are housed together; something still regularly occurring with rabbits and guinea pigs.  Facial expressions between species often do bear some resemblance (though can mean very different things at times) between different species as an artefact of our evolutionary history; as at one point was communicated by Charles Darwin.

The situation between the inability for animals to read the facial expressions of other species is a bit different between dogs and people though.  Our relationship with the domesticated dog and the time we spent together throughout domestication has uniquely lead to many dogs possessing the ability to read our, and especially their owners, facial expression and body language to some degree.  This is one factor leading to the so-called “guilty expressions” that dogs appear to show when they face their owners after performing an inappropriate behaviour (such as emptying the bin or chewing up the sofa); dog’s don’t possess the ability to feel guilt, they are, instead, just displaying this behaviour out of the expectation they are in trouble based upon past experience and their owners body language +/- tone of voice.

Selective breeding may have also lead to those with more traits for this recognition being bred more, thus passing it down to their offspring.  However, the connection between humans and dogs is a very unique one and this recognition of body language is not seen among different species to the same extent.

 

Vocalisation/ Verbal Communication

Though many non-human animals vocalise especially when communicating across long distances (such as warning the rest of their herd of predators), it is usually less commonly displayed than it is between people.

 

Wolves howl to vocally communicate with others

Vocal communication is often thought of as speech but it any noise leaving the mouth of an animal.  No animals have the same complexity to this communication as humans have, even primates, and whilst some parrots appear to talk, they purely mimic the people around them and don’t understand the sounds they produce.

Some animals, especially prey species, remain very quiet such as the rabbit, whereas others have noisy calls and cries such as the dog’s bark and the wolf’s howl (which remains in a few dog breeds).  Some animals have an array of different sounds such as guinea pigs who vocalise a lot with numerous different types.

Whilst other species appear to have developed new vocalisations during domestication.  Wildcats have been observed to purr but generally not to meow.  Meowing is believed to be a vocalisation pattern cats developed, through selective breeding and learning as a kitten, to attract the owner and get them to do what they want them to.  This adaptation demonstrates that an animal’s communication can diversify to meet the situation.

 

Body Language

The most common way animals communicate with both ourselves and others.

A snarl both makes a sound and changes the look of the face to pass a communicate unhappiness to those around

Poor communication or the presence of miscommunication (possibly due to the mixing of two or more species), may cause fights to break out.  Miscommunication is often seen between the animal kingdom and ourselves; chimps for instance, “smile” when afraid.  Humans view chimpanzees as being similar to themselves and see this behaviour as a human smile and believe they are happy when the opposite is true. What we think of as a smiling chimp is one displaying a fear grimace; the chimp is scared and they feel threatened by us smiling at them.

Lop-eared rabbits have reduced body language as they are not able to freely move their ears

Body language can be subtle with just hair standing on end (piloerection) occurring either just in a particular area or over the whole body, or the movement of some whiskers or be more obvious such as a snarling dog.  Whether subtle or more obvious, the animal may be trying to communicate something of true importance and so paying attention to any body language is very important.

 

Body language can also be miscommunicated between animals of the same species.  This may be the case if an animal is, for whatever reason, isn’t adept at interpreting body language such as if they have been isolated from those of their own species.  Another reason, which is seen with dogs in particular, could be from modifications to their body.  Dogs communicate with many different parts of their body, including the position or movement of their ears and tail.  If dogs have their tails docked and/ or their ears cropped the language they can display may be affected and therefore may be misinterpreted.  Those with very long hair may also struggle as the movement of particular parts of their body may not be easily visible to others.

This dog’s hair gets in the way of seeing subtle movements of much of the body and blocks their sight too

Chemical/ Olfactory Communication

Under all different circumstances, each individual cell releases chemicals/ compounds/ hormones to interact with the surrounding cells.  The surrounding cells receive these, often as a signal, allowing the body to react appropriately to the current scenario.

Cat demonstrating the flehman response whereby they ensure pheromones pass to the vomeronasal organ

Along with cells releasing chemicals to act upon other cells, certain areas of the body release chemical signals to send messages to the surrounding animals.

 

Some of these signals may be scents, such as urine helps mark out a territory in dogs due to other dogs smelling it.  Other signals released by one animal may affect other animals but do not a smell to them; these are known as pheromones.  Different pheromones affect animals in different ways. Some calm them down whilst others help them detect when a female animal is in season (“on heat”).

The flehman response of a horse allows them to detect pheromones

Pheromones are usually detected in an organ within the nose (the vomeronasal-organ) where signals are then sent to the brain.  Different animals get pheromones into their Vomeronasal organ through different methods; dogs flick their tongue against part of their mouth whereas others wrinkle their noses up and stretch their necks really long, lifting their heads and noses high in the air.  These are known as the Flehman response.

A tapir demonstrates their flehman response

There are also some chemical signals which are neither a scent or pheromone.  One of these includes a protein released in the milk called Alpha S1-Casein (or variants of that depending on the species).  This calms down infant animals after suckling.  A synthetic version (Alpha- Casazephine, derived from Alpha-S1 casein from cows milk) is now produced as a food supplement to reduce anxiety if used for several days.

 

Cats and dogs both release pheromones, the main ones being Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP), and the Feline Facial pheromones. These, amongst others, can help them to both create territories or calm them down which can then also be used synthetically to alter behaviour in different circumstances and are available in different forms.  These will be discussed more in-depth in another post.

Suckling animals receive compounds in their mother’s milk to calm them down

The Round Up.

This is just a basic introduction to the ways in which animals communicate and is nowhere near exhaustive.  This post is just to demonstrate how complex communication is and why it is difficult to completely follow and understand.

 

I will follow this up with further posts looking at different types of communication and how these are carried out in different animals.

How To : Clip Rodent’s Nails

One of the most common things Rodent/ Rabbit owners as me is;

How do you clip nails?

or

Must they go to the vets for their nails clipping?

Animals do not have to go to the vets for their nails clipping and the majority can be safely done at home if you know how to and with the right equipment.

Being at the vets causes a lot of stress to most animals from;

  • the bright lights
  • the smells of both the animals and the chemicals, and,
  • being handled by someone different.

 

The stress negatively impacts on an animal’s welfare for the time they are there, the journeys each way (travelling is a common fear) and during the time it takes for them to settle on returning home.  Some owners also separate their rodents (presuming they are a social species, obviously Syrian hamsters should always be kept separate) to take them to the vets.  Whilst people may find this easier to transport them, these animals become more stressed when separated and this separation and the altered smell of the one who visited the vets) can making mixing them back together difficult on their return, ultimately leading to fighting and, potentially, needing longer-term separation.

 

Therefore, it is in the best interests of both yourself and your animals, to learn how to trim their nails at home if at all possible.

My video may also help you learn how too;

What do you need?

  • A pair of nail clippers.
    Here are the Rosewood Options (left) and Ancol Ergo (right) small animal nail clippers
    • Human nail clippers usually work well with small rodents (rats, gerbils or hamsters) but they can be quite fiddly.
    • Guinea pigs nails are often a bit too big for human nail clippers so cat nail clippers or those designed for small animals (both are very similar in size and shape) are often needed.  Dog nail clippers are too large with their bulkiness making the task harder.

 

I have two different pairs of small animal nail clippers (I lost one, bought a second and then found the “old”(ie twice used !) pair within a couple of days!).

I first bought the Ancol Ergo Small Animal Nail Clippers and then the newer pair are the Rosewood Options Grooming Deluxe Claw Trimmers.  Both work very well, with the main difference just being the size; the Ancol ones are much smaller.

  • Corn Flour or Silver Nitrate pens
    • These help to stem the bleeding if you accidentally clip the blood vessel.
  • A Towel
    • With some animals the job may be easier (and safer) if you wrap them in a towel as I demonstrate in another blog post. This helps to keep them still and is especially useful if you’re alone.
  • A Friend?
    • You may find it easier, especially the first few times, if you get someone to hold them for you.  You then have both hands free to hold the foot (if needed) and clip the nail.

One Thing to Remember… Stay Calm!

I’m aware this is easier to said than done.

Pet’s are very good at picking up on body language so will pick up on your stress levels.  Them noticing you’re stressed means they will think there is something to worry about, squirm around more and find it scarier.  This will not only make it harder on the first attempt but also in future attempts as even if everything goes COMPLETELY to plan they will still believe there is something to worry about.

 

Nail clipping shouldn’t cause any pain/ discomfort and if you do it carefully the worst you can do is cut the quick (where the nail come from which contains the blood vessel and nerve) which will cause pain and bleeding but will heal over time.  The more you stress the more your hands will shake and more your pet will move leaving it more likely that you do accidentally cut the quick.

Staying calm is key.

If you can’t do it calmly then ask a friend or relative to do it for you (or consider taking them to your vet. Independent pet shops may even be willing to clip nails if you ask).

Clipping their nails is like clipping your own

Their nails are similar to ours, just a different shape.  The small size and the different shape is what puts people off.

 

Just like our own, the nails are made of a protein called keratin and the part you trim doesn’t have a nerve supply so it shouldn’t hurt.

 

Look at your own nails;

You will have a large area covering a pink fleshy bit and a clear, slightly whitened area at the end.  The nail protects that fleshy area below and if you accidentally break your nail or clip that structure it’s very sore.

Image showing where to clip the nail. Clip near to where the black line is

Pet’s nails also can be clear and near the base of it, running down the centre is the pink fleshy bit known as the quick.  The quick contains a blood vessel and nerve.  Further down the nail is completely clear/white (unless the nail is black!) and this is the part that you can clip away.

Clipping too short damages the blood and nerve supply causing pain and bleeding so needs to be avoided when possible.

HOWEVER, saying that, some animal’s nails are black.  Black nails have the same structure, you just can’t see it.  If the end of the nail is really thin (much more so than the base of the nail) and pointed usually this doesn’t contain the quick but otherwise be cautious you could catch the quick by accident.  Often I and clip some clear nails first; these give a good indication of how long the quick is and therefore if you clip them the black nails the same length you are usually safe but there is no harm leaving the nail a bit longer.

It’s impossible to see the quick on Carl’s black nails

Another way is to just clip the nail (or even file it if they will allow it) by 1-2mm per week until it looks about right.  This reduces the risk of catching the quick.  It’s also worthwhile having a quick look at the end of the nail after you’ve clipped it.  This will tell you whether it is bleeding or not. Also the quick is like in a tunnel down the centre of the nail with the keratin around the outside.   When you get near the quick this “tunnel” can be seen as a hole down the middle of the nail.  Therefore if the nail is completely solid with no hollow area you’re usually fine to maybe clip it a bit more but if there is even a slight pin hole down the centre then DON’T cut more away.

How to Actually do it

  • Get someone to hold your guinea pig or secure them yourself.
    • Your dominant hand, in most cases, should be the one you clip with so any holding of the guinea pig or their foot should be with your non-dominant hand (ie if you are right handed hold the pig with your left and clip with your right)
  • Try one of the following;
    1. Have one hand, usually over their shoulders, whilst they are ideally on the floor/ your lap and use the other to clip.
    2. Wrap them securely in a towel and expose one foot at a time (see here and here).
    3. Keep their back legs on the floor/ your lap and have your non-dominant hand secure their front legs with their back against your lap and belly/ chest;
One front leg should be between your index and middle fingers with their back towards your belly/ chest.
One forelimb should be between your index finger and thumb with your thumb going around the back of their shoulder/ neck. Make sure their back is towards your chest/ belly.

  • Clean/rub the nails if dirty to help you to see where the quick ends.
  • Ensure they are secure and are not wrigging around.  They should feel quite comfortable.

If they are moving around a lot get someone else to help, change the way you are holding them or swap who is doing the holding.

  • Pick up the clippers (ideally) similar to how is shown in the pictures; these positions give a better grip and improve the stability of the clippers though some people may find this more awkward/ uncomfortable.
Put the thumb through the small hole, your index finger on the plastic just at the front of the handle, put your middle and ring fingers through the larger hole and finally put your little finger on the hook at the end
Put thumb through the hole on the shorter side. On the other side put the ring finger through the hole, the index and middle fingers on the ridges and the little finger on the hook at the end
  • Place the blades of the clipper blades either side of the nail.  Make sure they are between the pointed end of the nail (furthest end from the foot) and where the end of the pink quick (blood vessel and nerve ) is.
    • Sometimes getting someone to shine a light through darker nails can help to show where the quick is.
  • Ensure the guinea pig is not moving and then close the handles to clip the nail.
  • If the guinea pig squeaks or rapidly moves, release the clippers and check for bleeding
    • Bleeding can be quite quick but don’t worry, they won’t lose too much blood from a bleeding nail.
    • If you have cornflour then place their foot in it to stop the bleeding
    • Silver nitate pens can be placed against the vessel to stem any bleeding
    • Putting pressure on the toe and/ or placing some of their clean substrate over the nail can help but this must be held for several minutes (in most cases) to be effective.
  • Some guinea pigs are nervy by the slight noise of the clippers so may squeak/ jump without any damage being down.

I’ve done One Nail, What Do I Do Now?

Move on to the next.  Sometimes a guinea pig will get bored and start shuffling around a bit.  If that’s the case give them some freedom for a while before resuming.

  • Keep repositioning how you’re holding your guinea pig to ensure they still feel secure and give them plenty of fuss.

Once All The Nails Are Done

  • Check for any bleeding nails that you haven’t already noticed.
    • If some were previously bleeding make sure it hasn’t restarted with them moving around more.
  • Give them a fuss and a treat (suitable vegetables or part of their daily ration of pellets may be a great treat if they are overweight) and let them get back to whatever they were doing before.

In Summary

Nail clipping can be done at home where it is often less stressful for your guinea pigs (and you, once you’re used to it).  It just requires you to hold your pet securely and ensuring you don’t cut the nail too short if possible.

If you do cut it too short and it starts to bleed, don’t worry, the bleeding will stop and they won’t lose too much blood and it won’t cause lasting damage.  Clipping the claws in order will help you keep track of where you’re up to and, importantly, may sure you always give your guinea pig a break if they need it.

 

Take a look at my other blog posts if you found this useful; there will be others you enjoy.  To get informed straight away when other blog posts are released then type your name in the boxes at the top of the right sidebar and click the “Sign Up” button.  Feel free to ask any questions in either the comments below or via my contact form; use these methods to give suggestions for future posts too and I will see what I can do.

Underestimation of Pet Ownership Costs or Poor Welfare (PAW Report 2018)

What is the PDSA PAW Report?

The 2018 PDSA Animal Welfare (PAW) Report was released on 12th June.  Late to the table, I read the report last week.  The PAW Report is based around a nationwide survey of cat, dog and rabbit ownership and has been produced annually by the PDSA since 2011.  The PAW Report stats are used by animal industry, animal welfare scientists/ advocates and the veterinary profession to see the latest trends and find the areas of animal ownership which need to be focussed upon to bring about change and improve UK animal welfare.

 

Amongst other things, this year the PAW report looked at the believed costs of pets with the PDSA reporting owners underestimating the cost of ownership.  For instance, the PDSA estimates a pair of rabbits cost around £70/month to own whereas 67% of rabbit owners estimate spending up to £20/month with a further 16% estimating a spend of only £21-£40/month.  I looked at these numbers and wondered if they truly were an underestimation or whether, in fact, owners could spend such a small amount just with basic (or perhaps inadequate) care.

Carl with a treat

I wanted to investigate this possibility!

 

I admit to not knowing exactly how much I spent on my guinea pigs but my rough estimate was around £50/month.  I believe that the care of my guinea pigs would be roughly the same as the cost of two dwarf rabbits especially considering those would have a lower fresh fruit and veg cost compared to guinea pigs.  Therefore, I decided to look at the cost, per month, of what optimal care with good products would cost (ie what I pay) vs really basic care and see if I could safely, and within welfare remits, reach this cost of £20/month.

Some basic rules

  1. Use the normal price; no discounts
  2. Look at the costs for one place, not just go looking everywhere for the cheapest item; I first decided to set this at the costs for Pets at Home (being a nationwide company) but then realised the costs online are cheaper and if I could find everything on one store then this would also be practical.
  3. Fruit and vegetables could be bought elsewhere but still from a nationwide business where I could get online prices.
  4. The prices are correct only at the time of writing 22/07/18

What I Buy and Other Options

My guinea pigs have two separate types of substrate used together; Back2Nature and CareFresh.  I use these two products as they both have low dust, good odour control and Back2Nature is made from recycled paper.  I only use CareFresh in their bed area for comfort alongside the Back2Nature.  With Carl having respiratory issues and only one eye I use product which won’t irritate his airways nor damage his remaining eye (mainly due to me being paranoid!!!).  I, therefore, don’t want him to have hay or straw as bedding which would be a cheaper option especially as bedding hay is much cheaper than CareFresh but if Carl or Ralph take their hay into their bed it remains there.   Cheaper substrate/ bedding to these would be the use of sawdust/ wood shavings, cheaper cat litter or an increasingly favourable option; using fleece as bedding with a towel layer underneath.

 

In terms of hay they usually have Burgess Excel Feeding Hay with Dandelion and Marigold .  The reason for me feeding them the Dandelion and Marigold hay is in a different post but they have other hays at times for variety or if I am looking after other animals and there is some hay left over.

 

With food, I only give a small amount of Burgess Excel Nuggets with Mint per day.  They have a great feeding response to this and it tops up their nutrients.  Nuggets are definitely advisable compared to a muesli-style diet which tends to leave your pet eating the parts they like the most and leaving the rest.  Over time if the bowl does not get emptied it can end up full of what your pet doesn’t like leaving them deficient in vitamins and minerals.

Rabbits in pain may be aggressive
Photo courtesy of Sarah Tait (Twitter @SarahTait23)

Approximately once per month I also give them a new cardboard tunnel covered in hay. These allow stimulation, enrichment and a hiding spot, even well after they’ve stripped the hay away.  The alternative to these are plastic or plain cardboard tunnels which still allow them somewhere to hide.

 

I also then provide them with a few treats which, of course, is optional.

Alongside this, I have costs associated with vegetables.

 

What I Spend

My monthly costings (based on current Pets at Home online prices (not inc offers)) are as follows;

One Back2Nature 30l bag lasts 3.5 weeks = £22.27/ Month

Burgess Excel Dandelion & Marigold Hay 1kg bale lasts 10 days= £19.47/ month

Burgess Excel Nuggets with Mint 2kg  lasts 2 months = £3.25/ month

Carefresh Natural 14l bag lasts a month= £6.99/ month

One Woodlands Medium Hay Tunnel month = £8/ month

One bag of treats costing (commonly VetIQ Nibblots) approximately £1.99/ month

This all adds up to approximately £61.97 per month not including vegetables.

My cage set up

Often I don’t pay this much though due finding deals and often using online stores to buy products; my most commonly used one being VetUK.

If I were to buy the same items on here it would tot up to £47.12/month so that’s already a nice saving however still doesn’t add in vegetables.

 

To come to an approximate cost for vegetables, something which Guinea Pigs need to meet their Vitamin C requirements, I put in approximately the amount of vegetables I’d need to buy in a month into ASDA online shopping which came to £10.52 which, if anything, I believe is an underestimation. One difference between rabbits and guinea pigs is that rabbits don’t need the same amount of fruit and vegetables as guinea pigs so there may be a difference in cost with that.

 

Therefore, for me caring for my two guinea pigs it would come to at least £57.64-£72.49, very similar to the PDSAs estimate for the cost of keeping a rabbit.

The Tunnel Carl and Ralph Currently Have

I priced up different products per month based on the amount I used.  Without actually buying all of the products and seeing how much space they would take up and the amount I would actually need it would be impossible say for definite how much is needed.

Price of Lower Cost Pets at Home Products

Firstly, as before, I looked at products available at Pets At Home based on their normal pricing on their website.  I am not going to note all of the products viewed as this would be a huge list as I compared the pricing of a lot of products.  I also looked at two different types of foods; one muesli type and one nugget.  Per month the nuggets cost around 41p more, however, I believed the need for nuggets from a dietary point of view far outweighed the cost difference.  In order to get to a cost which could come lower than the £20/month they needed to be bedded down and fed the same hay not typically something I recommend as bedding hay doesn’t have the courseness needed to ground down the teeth and doesn’t stimulate the guts as much.

So costings came to the following;

One Pets At Home Nuggets 2kg would last two months= £2.40/month

One large bag of Pets At Home Bedding Hay for Small Animals would last approximately one month= £3.49/month

Two Medium Bales of Pets at Home Wood Shavings would likely last a month = £6.98/ month

 

This totals to be £12.87 and doesn’t include any vegetables so, including those estimated earlier this would total £23.39, over the amount the majority of owners estimated the spent per month on their rabbit.

 

Are Online Products Cheaper?

I looked at a couple of websites but only VetUK had all of the products I’d need.

My estimates don’t include P&P which only becomes free on spending £29 so that may have an influence on price.

 

Here I worked out my spend as;

One Back2Nature 30l bag lasts 3.5 weeks = £13.88/ Month

Burgess Excel Dandelion & Marigold 1kg Hay bale lasts 10 days= £11.46/ month

Burgess Excel Nuggets 2kg with Mint lasts 2 months = £2.05/ month

A new delivery of hay

Carefresh Natural 14l bag lasts a month= £4.37/ month

One Boredom Breakers Naturals Hide ‘N’ Hay Gnaw Tube (Large) = £5.99/ month

One bag of treats costing (commonly VetIQ Nibblots) approximately £0.74/ month

This all equals £38.49 + Vegetables elsewhere (+£10.52)= 49.01; a significant saving but still 2.5 times the £20 target!

Now the Online Cost for more Basic Products

So once again I worked through other options and came up with the following;

Mr Johnson’s Advance Guinea Pig Nuggets would last 1.5 months =£1.90/month

Approximately 4.5kg Pillow Wad Meadow hay= £6.66

VetUK Paper bedding is another alternative I’m just trying

 

Just over a bag of VetUK Woodshavings= £4.00/month (NOTE: woodshavings can be very dusty so are not recommended for any animals with breathing issues.  Always check them for pieces of wood and ensure you remove these and always remove any wet bedding as shavings do notdry or hold in smells as well which your pet will be sensitive to.  Woodshavings is therefore not recommended as the best option)

This comes to £12.56 plus the vegetable bill of £10.52= £23.08, once more over the estimated under £20/month.  This amount also doesn’t include P&P which would only be deducted if you bought over 2months worth at once.

Dandelion leaves are an often free green you can feed

Fleece Bedding Reduces Some Costs

The main other option I could see as reducing this bill further would be the use of fleece bedding.  This would completely get rid of most of the need for woodshavings/ cat litter apart from maybe some in a litter tray.

However,  rabbits enjoy digging so this may not be the best option from an enrichment point of view.

If you were to replace all the substrate with fleece bedding (and towels/ similar underneath) the bill would be reduced to £19.08/ month, NOT including the cost of cleaning the fleece/ towels at least twice weekly.  This would therefore theoretically JUST come under the £20/month but includes no treats/ toys etc and the price would almost definitely go slightly above £20/week when taking into account washing the bedding plus any water given to the animals to drink.

Ways of Further Cost Reduction

Of course, there are ways to reduce costs further;

  • going to bargain stores
  • buying whatever products are discounted
  • buying vegetables close to their use by date can be considerably cheaper (I once purchased a big piece of broccoli for £0.01… I then realised Carl doesn’t like broccoli!).
  • feeding them muesli based diets; NOT RECOMMENDED due to them picking and choosing which bits they eat.

 

Pricing is based on the full clean out of a 140cm*70cm cage every week (plus spot cleaning where more substrate needs to be added); some may believe less often cage cleaning reduces costs.  This is counterproductive.  It can lead to your pet sitting on wet bedding causing sores to the feet (known as bumblefoot) and the ammonia from wet bedding affecting their breathing, putting them at risk of upper respiratory tract infections.  Both conditions need veterinary treatments as well as significantly lowering the welfare of your pet and therefore is not a fair choice to make.

Vaccinations for Rabbits Come At a Cost Too

When budgeting for rabbits (though not guinea pigs) it is important to remember them needing to be vaccinated against Myxomatosis, RHD1 and RHD2; together this will come to approximately £50-70 per rabbit per year so £100-140 per pair of rabbits, adding an extra £10 to the monthly cost of ownership, bringing the costs of ownership above £20/month.  However, despite campaigns, the PAW Report found that 49% of owners are not taking their rabbit for their first course of vaccinations and 58% not giving them boosters, putting them at risk of these potentially life-threatening conditions especially given how rife both Myxomatosis and now RHD2 can be now across the whole of the UK.

It is also important to discuss with your vet about the need for worming and flystrike prevention for any rabbit you have.

Conclusion

This has shown that owners either underestimate the costs or don’t give their pets as high a quality food as possible.  Even the use of bedding hay for both bedding and feeding may be counterproductive as it is less likely to wear the teeth down as well meaning they are more likely to need costly, and potentially dangerous, dental procedures and could both reduce the efficiency of their gut or make them less likely to at it which will also mean their gut is less efficient and therefore lead to them needing treatment to resolve this.

As rabbits need less fresh fruit and vegetables than guinea pigs it may be that though they are larger their care may actually be cheaper to some degree; especially with breeds such as the Netherland Dwarf.  However, likelihood is if you are managing to pay less than £20 per month on your guinea pigs or rabbits then the likelihood is their welfare may either be reduced ot you are getting some really good deals.

Adopting Ralph the Guinea Pig

Carl’s the Guines Pig’s Early Days

Two years ago, pretty much to the day, I was operating on Carl, a black seventeen-week old guinea pig.  This was the second time I’d operated on him within eleven weeks.  The first surgery I removed his eye and, following months of complications I then closed up the wound during the second surgery.  One week prior I had considered I adopting Carl if no one else was and, during the surgery, I decided I was definite rehoming him.  On that hectic Sunday, as I was sat writing up the last of my clinical notes for the day he was in an open box next to me coming around from the anaesthetic.  This is the start of the journey to adopt Ralph, a long journey!

Guinea pig plastic surgery
Carl after his second surgery sporting his stitches and shaved face

Having adopted Carl, my interesting in guinea pigs grew further and during my MSc I did some work with Cavy Corner Guinea Pig rescue in Doncaster.  We both passed information to each other with me volunteering at some of their events.  I decided that should I adopt another Guinea Pig it would be from them.

Why Carl Was a Lone Pig for Two Years

I do not advocate housing guinea pigs alone. They not solitary species and should always be housed with other guinea pigs whenever possible. Saying that, I kept Carl by himself for almost 2 years. The reasons;

  • Carl was isolated for over guinea pigs from the age of eight weeks so I didn’t know how well he would reconnect with one.
  • Secondly, and the main reason, since before I adopted him, Carl suffered from upper airway infections which proved to be contagious having spread to a friend’s rabbit I sometimes care for. Initially he had flares very often, showing symptoms for several days at a time though, luckily, he always recovered without the need for antibiotics. Any stressful period he faced he suffered with another infection. However, over the last year these reduced in both severity and frequency, with him now not showing signs of them even when stressed.

 

Over the first year of having Carl, it became obvious that me getting him a friend would almost definitely cause him to have a severe bout of infection which would spread to whichever guinea pig I adopted. Therefore, at that point, the risks were really high and, given Carl had been isolated from eight weeks old, the chances of them not making friends of another guinea pig were quite high. It was decided that at that point the risks of getting a friend outweighed the potential benefits.

Guinea Pig in cage

Over the last six months, the tables have reversed that. It became clear Carl wanted friend and, the odd time he’s had an airway infection it is only been very mild. As a result, I decided it was time to try him with a friend.

Discussing Adoption

I contacted Sue at Cavy Corner regarding getting Carl a friend and Sue’s response was very positive. She was very happy about trying him with another guinea pig to see what would happen. However, when I first contacted her the time wasn’t right. I was away from home quite a bit so I wanted things to stabilise before I look to getting him a friend.

 

I stayed in contact with Sue over the weeks and had further discussion with her a few days after I volunteered at Cavy Corner’s most recent fun show. We discussed the possibilities of me getting a friend for Carl and how you go about this in a safe way; both of us deciding it would be a good idea.

 

From my point of view, the first step, order a bigger cage!

 

From Cavy Corner’s point of view, the first step; invite Carl around for a date!

Sue knew that due to

Carl chilling out

Carl’s airway infection and his previous experience of surgeries, I didn’t want him undergoing surgery unless he really needed it so I wasn’t fond of getting him castrated so it was decided to try and match him with a boar. Bonding two boars together is less successful bonding either to sows or a sow and boar but, I knew these risks. There was also a very high risk that Carl, having not been around guinea pigs for so long, would not appreciate the company of another guinea pig and, therefore, leaving him a lone guinea pig. But, I felt it was only fair to turn the decision over to Carl himself.

Carl Goes on a Date

One evening,  myself and Carl took a trip to Cavy Corner. We decided the best way to go about it was the Carl to stay in a separate room to the rest of the guinea pigs at cavy Corner to reduce the risk of his infection spreading; it spreading around the “Caviary” would have been a disaster. However, the chances of a successful bonding were higher if the bonding took place in a neutral environment such as at Cavy Corner. I sat and had a drink with Sue and just discussed what I was up to as well as what she was up to and all the guinea pigs at Cavy Corner I then went home, having left the Carl at Cavy Corner for the night.

 

It was a quiet night at home!

 

Putting Together the New Cage; Nightmare!

 

The next day there was a knock on the door; the new cage. A Ferplast Plaza 140; a flatpack cage. I’d read online reviews saying it took around 90 minutes to 2 hours to put the cage together. I didn’t believe it would take me that long. Having spent times putting many cages together when working at a pet shop in my early 20s (during a break from vet school) and mending cat cages as a vet, I decided after 20 minutes max I’d have it sorted.

An hour and half later I’d only just got it put together! It was a nightmare of a cage to put together.

All of the joints were really stiff and the instructions were unclear. However, once put together, it is a really nice cage which comes to pieces which, to some extent, should help with transporting it. I still struggle to get most of it apart which does make life more difficult when moving it.

The Result of the Bonding

The previous day, whilst at Cavy Corner, Sue asked me what the latest time I’d like to be contacted regarding whether Carl’s bonding was successful or not. My response, any time I don’t mind. Sue’s reply, “I’m often up till 3AM with the guinea pigs, I don’t think you want to be contacted at that time!” I then replied, any time up until midnight but I do want to sleep after then!

 

Sue contact me at around 11 o’clock the next day to inform me that Carl had a friend. My reply do we have a name.

 

“Ralph”

 

That is all I asked.  I didn’t really care about anything else.  I only wanted his name so I could refer to him in some way other than “the new pig”.

Bringing Ralph Home

I returned Cavy Corner later in the afternoon to meet Ralph, a mere nine week old tricolour guinea pig with a very very long nose, huge feet, and facial markings that make look like he has really long fringe!

 

Him and Carl were curled up together and getting on great.

 

After talking to Sue about Ralph and signing the forms, we arrived home and I put them both in the new cage for the first time and, within seconds they were both eating and remained very very calm. Definitely a successful bonding and I was very glad I got Carl a friend. It was obviously just what he needed. My only regret was that I hadn’t done this sooner.

Photo courtesy of Cavy Corner Guinea Rescue

Over the next three weeks Carl and Ralph got on great. Ralph was a very cheeky boy who, for the most part, got his own way. He stole food from Carl, pushed Carl out of bed, and always got the first lot of veg.

 

I also took to task with taming Ralph. This process has already started Cavy Corner but, with having been young, this wasn’t complete. Alongside this, Ralph hadn’t had the best start in life. He’d been adopted from a breeder who had too many guinea pigs and therefore had been neglected on that front.

Not all was Rosy; The Squabbles

Two months on, for the most part, Carl and Ralph are still getting on. As soon as I had owned Ralph for three weeks, coinciding with him hitting puberty at twelve weeks old, we faced some struggles. Before this point Ralph and Carl had never had a squabble but the testosterone surges within Ralph took over a bit and lead to a lot of arguing and some fighting. The opposite to what I thought, Carl is always the one to win fights. Before he was such a pushover but he obviously wanted to remain dominant. They were a rough couple of weeks but it all seems sorted for the most part now.  Carl is the boss but Ralph tries his luck and in some situations get his own way.

Ralph also has one huge benefit, the huge fluffy bed! Luckily for Ralph, Carl has never liked that bed so has never slept in it but Ralph hopped in it when he first arrived home and so it’s definitely his.

How Things Are Now

 

Ralph is still sometimes nervous of being handled but, is chill

 

ed out in virtually any other circumstance. I recently moved house so at times there was a lot of banging and Ralph didn’t even turn round throughout the noise, often sleeping straight through!

 

There is one problem left, when I first adopted Ralph I put twice as much food in the cage. Pretty much all of which was consumed by a very greedy Carl. Carl slammed on weight very quickly and is now very overweight. I have taken action and rationed their food.  I’m sure with Carl now on a diet and losing weight, he will slowly regain a waistline, but I’m not sure is completely happy about the reduced food!

 

Ralph is getting on well and has definitely retained his cheeky side!

Guinea Pigs Need to be Sociable

I want to reiterate that in almost all circumstances guinea pigs should be kept together. They are very sociable species and need to be able to interact with other guinea pigs, ideally within the same enclosure however, if you cannot bond your guinea pigs, the next best thing is for them to be in cages next to each other.  These will allow them to smell, see, verbally interact with, and possibly touch each other.

Carl in his fluffy bed!

Though they are a sociable species, they should only be housed with other guinea pigs. Housing them with other animals is inappropriate. Their body language and other methods of communication are different to those of other species, as is their diet. Many believe they can be housed with rabbits and they sometimes still are in pet shops but, rabbits being a lot bigger can hurt them. Also, the dietary requirements change with eat species and therefore they should be kept separately. Astonishingly I recently heard of someone housing guinea pigs and birds within the same cage! This is wholly inappropriate for both species and is likely going to cause a lot of fear amongst the two.

Guinea Pigs, like rabbits, do enjoy interacting with people either through gentle handling or talking to them.  Every little thing helps for them to remain happy, have interactions with others and settle with as little stress as possible.

Unless there is a strong medical or psychological standpoint, as was the original case with Carl, it is of utmost importance for guinea pigs to be housed with others.  On the odd occasion where this is impossible and a guinea pig has to be completely isolated from others of their species, housing them close to another mammal will provide some socialisation, interaction and enrichment to their lives.  If your guinea pig is alone it is of huge importance that you spend a lot of time with them to help with their need social needs.  However, it is important to realise that however sociable you are with your guinea pig, it will be nowhere near as beneficial to your pig as them having another guinea pig friend if at all possible.

A special thanks to everyone at, or supporting, Cavy Corner. You have all in some way helped with the rescue recuperation and adoption of my little tricoloured Ralph and, Carl’s increased, sustained happiness and welfare.

Photo courtesy of Cavy Corner Guinea Rescue

The more information on Cavy Corner Guinea Rescue, visit their website or Facebook page and, to discuss the care or possible adoption of a guinea pig contact Sue or Winston; details are on their website. Feel free to also ring them with any concerns about the welfare of any guinea pigs and they can give advice or support on these matters.  Alongside that, feel free to contact myself regarding the behavioural or social needs of animals.  I will also answer aim to answer any comments left below.

 

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Rabbit Housing Requirements

The 2017 PDSA PAW Report estimated the UK rabbit population to be 1.1 million.

The PAW Report also revealed approximately 35% of rabbits inappropriately housed meaning potentially a massive THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-FIVE THOUSAND rabbits in the UK are housed in a way which doesn’t meet their minimum requirements.

This rabbit is in a hutch which is waaaayyyy too small for its needs

The RSPCA guidelines are the basis for how animals in the UK should live.  They are what the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is judged upon.

The main guidelines for the cage size for rabbits are that they can;

  • easily hop at least three times down the length of their cage/ hutch
  • can lie fully across the width of it
  • are able to stand up freely with their ears pricked so their ears are not touching the top of their cage over the majority of their floor space.

These guidelines also are only for their cage. It is suggested rabbits have a pen or another space outside of their cage to spend much of their time.

 

Rabbits in the Wild

Wild rabbits live in the complex housing structure.

Their territory covers a range of 50,000m² with them living with a huge number of companions.

Underground, they create a large number of tunnels and warrens in which they burrow into. These burrows keep them nice and warm in the winter yet cool in the Summer.  They also protect them from the winds and keep the inhabitants hidden to reduce the risk of attacks from predators. Finally, the tunnels are very dark and so keep them away from the harsh bright lights which can cause them to feel scared and, in some cases, damage their eyes.

A wild rabbit in its natural surroundings

Their large territory allows rabbits to move freely across huge expanses of land on a daily basis. This land is unrestricted and the movement allows them to keep both psychologically and physically fit. It also means you can get away from other members of their group if there are any squabbles going on.

 

Any amount of land often has areas which are higher up; even if only slightly.   Rabbits use any higher land to their benefit; they use it as a vantage point, especially if they stand on their back legs on it.  This helps them to survey the surroundings and look out for predators. The higher the ground, the further they can see and therefore, the more warning they get of approaching predators and, often, the calmer they can become.

 

Rabbits As Pets

Within captivity, whether as pets, lab animals or when farmed, most rabbits are confined to cages, hutches or pens for the majority of their lives. Even if they are not, they often only have a small proportion of the space of wild rabbits.

The lack of space can cause both physical and psychological problems and spur on fights between rabbits potentially causing the death of newborn bunnies.

 

Inadequate housing doesn’t just refer to the space provided, but also whatever is in (or importantly, not in) their cage which either doesn’t meet their requirements.

The outside of a rabbit warren

Pet rabbits have little control. They will only be let into bigger space if a human wants to and this may involve them being lifted, something which the majority of rabbits do not like. If possible, lifting should be avoided and therefore, a great compromise would be the attachment of a pen to their cage. This would reduce stress and, in some cases, it may be possible to give them continuous free access to a secure pen.

 

A lack of basic requirements may lead to something stereotypical behaviours. These are behaviours which animal do repeatedly and they do not have a normal function (an example eating is a behaviour which has a normal function).

Stereotypical behaviours include pacing around the cage or gnawing at the bars.

In order to ensure a rabbit can live as best as possible, there should be objects within their cages to replicate normal behaviours in the wild. I will explain this in more detail later on in this post.

 

How Big Should the Rabbits Cage Be?

The UK has guidelines for how big cages should be in labs, farms and those used for pet rabbits. These should not be seen as the ideal accommodation a rabbit should have but the very minimum and, if possible, a rabbit should have more space to ensure they remain healthy as possible.

 

As stated, the RSPCA guidelines suggest rabbits should be able to freely hop at least three times across the length of their cage and lay flat out across the width. Not only this but they should be able to stand straight up with their ears pricked and touching the top of the cage.

 

So, What Are the Measurements

For the average size rabbit, this equates to a cage being at least 1.8 m long and, 60 cm wide.

Large rabbits, who in some cases can hop 90 cm, their cage should be at very least 2.7m long and, 1m wide due to some rabbits reaching 0.9 m when laid out flat.

This is the not only space they need.

Rabbits need extensive time outside of their cage.

This can either be;

  • space dedicated to them within the house,
  • a space used for other things but is made safe rabbits to jump around (ie wires are moved out of the way from the rabbits),
  • or a pen which is often out in the garden.

These spaces should be larger than their cages and should be at least 2.4 m long and 1.2 m wide for small to medium rabbits.

Of course, large rabbits needed to be much bigger as a rabbit should be able to run freely within these pens.

Ideally, rabbits could have free access to large proportions of the house and/or the garden.

Though these rabbits have some good resources, like plenty of access to food and water and their hide, they have limited space and only few rabbits can go in/ on the hide at once

Both within pens and cages, rabbits need to be able to stand completely straight. This means, for the average size rabbit, this space should be at the very least 75 cm high and with larger rabbits, potentially 90+cm.

 

Apart from Space, What Do Rabbits Need?

Rabbits don’t just need water, food, hay and bedding, they also require other things to keep them busy and feeling secure.

Rabbits evolved to spend much of their time in dark small spaces so feel at ease with these.

These dark spaces help them feel safe from their surroundings by creating a barrier through which they can hide behind. Therefore, rabbits need something like a hut to go inside and either hide or sleep where neither they can see out and you cannot see in.

These dark spaces protect their eyes from any bright light. This is extremely important in albino breeds whereby even relatively low lightlevels may be too bright for them and could cause them to be unable to see their surroundings.

 

In the wild, rabbits spend quite a bit of their outdoor time watching for predators. They like to survey their surroundings so they feel like they can run from anything which may suddenly appear. Rabbits, therefore do not need their cage fully covered over or to be completely dark.

With them often standing on things to increase the distance they can see,providing them shelves or other secure objects to stand on will be beneficial and often enjoyed. Rabbits do not need to be able to stand up fully when on top of these (though that would be beneficial) however, they need enough space to comfortably sit on them.

Many rabbits enjoy tunnels. These replicate the small space in a borrow. Some tunnels also suitable for them to gnaw on, helping them to grind their teeth down and may taste nice, for example, those with cardboard coveredin hay.

Hay covered cardboard tunnel

With rabbits having continuously growing teeth, they should be provided with things to gnaw on. This may just be provided as a piece of furniture or,it may be something dedicated to such as a block of wood.

 

Issues with Lack of Space

The main issue with a lack of space is that rabbits cannot move as freely as they usually would. This negatively impacts upon their physical health.

When any animal is moving, their muscles continue to either maintain or gain their strength. If you move less your muscles become weaker and smaller.

If a rabbit can’t move as much the muscles around their spine become very weak which increases the risk of them injuring their spine compared to those with plenty of space and exercise.

Rabbits with weak spines can break their back just from jumping from small heights or, in some cases, even from thumping their feet.

I’ve seen a rabbit which had a disagreement with its cage mate and ran intoa tube. When he was in his tube he thumped his foot and then when the owners saw him leave the tube he was screaming in pain (rare for a rabbit and only seen with excruciating pain) and dragging his back legs.  He no longer had any movement or feeling in his back legs and sadly was put to sleep. Any other treatment wouldn’t have helped. Rabbits notoriously have weak backs and the lack of movement that comes from living in small spaces means increases their problems.

 

A lack of space also means rabbits are likely to become bored. They have less to do and can’t move around as far and therefore may start pacing around.This affects them really badly mentally and pacing can become a big compulsion.

 

Being confined to small cages means cagemates cannot get away from each other. They were often forced to be right next to each other in very close quarters.

It is like you being forced to stay in a room with a friend.  It may be fun at first but all it takes is one small argument and it can set up a fight which neither of you can get away from.  Having to stay close together will causethe argument to spiral and lead to both of you no longer wanting to spend time together and maybe even falling out.

Fighting due to a lack of space is a big problem.  This is intensified with rabbits who don’t know each other well, when one is in season, pregnant or has newborns.  Fighting is also common when there isn’t enough space for rabbits to eat together. With fighting worsening when kept in small spaces, keeping rabbits in small houses increases the odds of them becoming seriously injured or even needing to be separated.

 

One example of a structure which is both a hide and a platform to survey surroundings

 

Rabbits who cannot move around much become frustrated. Imagine you’re stuck it in your house for weeks can’t get out. You start feeling like you could run up the walls. Rabbits feel the same. They become frustrated that they can’t anything move around much and may have little to do which can lead to them becoming apathetic. Becoming apathetic means your rabbit has no interest in what is going on.  They often just sit or lay in a corner and do little else; they may even ignore toys.  In more severe cases they may not even react to loud sounds which would usually startle mentally healthy rabbits or at least lead to them becoming alert. Apathy is a bit like depression so rabbits in this state are not happy and may have lost hope of things improving.

 

Lack of space and things to hide under/play with can also lead to stereotypical behaviours.

These are things such as gnawing at the bars or pawing at the bars or cage walls. Behaviours such as this don’t help the rabbit and may hinder them; bar chewing can sometimes damage the incisor teeth.  These are known as stereotypical behaviours or stereotypies.

Stereotypies may be done at any time.  Rabbits are usually more active during the night and therefore these behaviours are usually worse then. As most rabbit owners are asleep at night they may not see all of these behaviours and/ or not realise how frustrated their rabbits are.

Some people spray cages and hutches with bitter substances to stop them gnawing on the walls.  This is not something I recommend.  Doing this punishes rabbits for a behaviour that they do out of frustration, boredom or as a compulsion (like OCD).  Instead, it is better to try and improve your rabbit’s cage and let them out more. Punishing or preventing them from carrying out stereotypical behaviours will make them feel insecure and become apathetic which may lead to more destructive behaviours such as self-mutilation (biting themselves).

 

Rabbits Need Friends

Just like humans, rabbits are highly social animals and need to be with other rabbits. Stereotypical behaviours and apathy are often worse when rabbits are isolated from others.

The best thing is to always house to rabbits together or, if this is not possible, house them in close contact with others such as having the cages touching.

In the few cases where rabbits cannot be housed together, placing a safe, non-breakable mirror (or something which will act as a mirror) in there cages will give them something to interact with and may reduce stereotypical behaviours. This can work well in horses who have been confined to their stables and isolated due to needing box rest to recover from an injury.

Two cage-mates cuddled up together in their cage (Twitter @sarahtait123)

As humans cannot play with rabbits 24 hours a day, and human behaviour and body language are completely different to rabbits, a person just spending time with their rabbit is inadequate; though better than nothing.

Housing rabbits with guinea pigs should not be done due to the risk of injury to the guinea pig and them having different dietary requirements.

 

Surprisingly, in some cases, both lab and farmed rabbits have more space than pets. At least with lab and farmed rabbits, there are clear requirements over the sizes and things that need to be in the cages.  The guidance for pet rabbits in the UK are much looser and open to interpretation; how can you tell for certain how long three hops are for each rabbit especially before you buy the cage.

 

To Summarise

Pet rabbits often have inadequate environments with them often being too small and having not enough resources.

Your rabbit should be able to lie down fully and flat-out along the width of the cage and hop at least three times along its length. Alongside this, they need something to stand upon and hide underneath whilst still having areas where they can see outside the cage. Finally, rabbits should have access to areas outside their cage for several hours per day to ensure that they remain mentally and physically healthy.  Ideas of what a rabbit needs can be seen in this post; though related to guinea pigs most of the suggestions are relevant.

 

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How to Give Medications to Guinea Pigs/ Rabbits

Today I thought I’d do a tutorial on how to give medications.  Here I show you with Carl, my guinea pig, but it’s a similar method with hamsters (though they are much more wriggly!), rats, degus and rabbits.

 

Along with this blog, I have filmed a basic tutorial of how I do this with, of course, Carl and Ralph demonstrating!

They are not currently on medications so I gave him water.  I would not have given him anything he didn’t need and I would not have done this if he minded!

 

Step 1; Get a Syringe and the Medication

Prescribing medications usually come in a bottle which you can fit a syringe into.  Your vet should also have given you an appropriately sized syringe.  Usually, with rodents, this is a 1ml syringe but it may be bigger if you have a rabbit.

A 1ml syringe; the size used for most medications in rabbits and rodents

If you have a medication called Metacam (the active ingredient is Meloxicam which is also sold as Loxicom) this may come in a special bottle with its own syringe; follow the instructions from your vet.

Make sure the syringe is clean.  The first time you use it it will be sterile.  You should clean it after each time you use it.

 

Step 2; Fill the syringe with the medication

To fill the syringe, submerge the end into the liquid and pull the plunger back.

Put more of the medication in that what they need.

Drawing up the medication into the syringe

Take the syringe out of the medication, and then carefully press the plunger to put any extra medication back in the bottle.

Make sure you check the bottle; your vet should have put a label on it to say how much your pet wants and how often.  Give them the amount they say; if you’re unsure how much to give then contact your vet.

Often when a syringe is first used there is an air bubble in it.  This takes up space that should have the medication in so if you leave the bubble there your pet will get less medication than they need.

You my see a bubble in the middle of the picture; that is normal when using a syringe for the first time

To get rid of the bubble(s) put the syringe upright with the nozzle at the top and the bubble should rise to the top.  If it doesn’t rise then flicking it and pulling the plunger back may help it to rise.

Once the bubble is at the top of the syringe, pull back on the plunger to suck more air in then push the plunger until there is no air left in the syringe (don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if there is a small amount due to it just going into their mouth).

As you put in more medication than your pet needed, push the plunger until there is only the prescribed amount of medication in the syringe.

If you end up with not enough liquid left in the syringe then don’t worry, suck some more back up.

Certain medications have a specialised syringe fits a nozzle on the bottle. If this is the case, attach the syringe to the bottle, turn the bottle upside down then pull the plunger back until the desired amount is in the syringe.

Step 3; secure your pet/ get someone else to hold them

Try to get someone else to hold your pet whilst you give them their medication.

Your pet should be held ideally on the floor so they don’t fall if they get away.  Otherwise, they could hold them over a table or on your lap.

They should hold them with 2 hands if they are guinea pig or rabbit sized, one hand over each shoulder, and hold them firmly but not tight.  They should allow you to take your pets head if need be.

Make sure the guinea pig is held in both hands

Another option is to wrap them in a suitably sized towel.  Depending on the size of your pet and towel it may help if this is folded in half first.

Then place the towel over the surface

Put your pet in the middle of the width of it with their head at the front of the towel.

Placing your guinea pig in the centre of the towel

Place 1 half over their back then the other side.

Make sure their front legs are tucked into it

Have both sides of the towel over them and firmly t the top near where both sides meet

Hold it by the top firmly but not too tightly; they need to be able to move their heads and not have their chests squeezed.

I’m securely and firmly holding Carl in a towel

If you’re just doing in by yourself, hold them in one hand with 1 or 2 fingers between their legs and the rest of your hand around their side and back.  It may be easier if you lift them up and rest their back against your chest.  Make sure they’re not lifted far above the surface though in case they get away.

Place your hand around one side of them with a finger or two between their front legs

Step 4; Place the Syringe into their mouth

Pick up the syringe with the medication in your free hand.

How I’d recommend syringing medication if without a towel and on your own

 

They have a gap in the side of their mouth between their front teeth (incisors) and cheek teeth (premolars and molars).

Place this syringe into this gap pointing towards the back of their tongue.

Put it in some distance but don’t force it back too far.

Carl is calmly allowing me to give him his medication (in this case water as an example)

Don’t worry if your pet chews on the syringe, it won’t harm them.

Step 5; Press the Plunger

Press the plunger before removing the syringe from their mouth.

Step 6; Give them something nice and tasty or give them a fuss

Though some medication tastes nice, most of it doesn’t.  Most animals get stressed when you give medications to them.  To make sure that they are as happy as possible and to make it as easy as possible give them a stroke in their favourite spot or maybe a treat or piece of food they like.

 

Be careful when you give medications; it will take a while to get used to.  You don’t want to scare your pet.  Take it steady and if you’re struggling and only manage to get half their medication into them stop, give them a break, and then try again.  You’ll be more successful and have an easier time in the future if you don’t allow yourself or your pet to get too stressed.

 

 

Do you have any further questions? Leave them in the comments below or contact me directly.  If your animal rabbit or guinea pig has an illness causing pain then check out my guides on signs of pain in those species to help you monitor that.

If you found this useful or interesting then subscribe for more animal-related blogs by typing your email address in the box in the sidebar.

Feeding Hay to Herbivorous Pets

Here I will be investigating the need to feed hay and it’s alternatives.  I will mostly cover small rodents and rabbits but will also mention farm animals and horses.

What is Hay?

Hay is dried grass.  It’s as simple as that.

It is usually cut from fields in the late Summer/ Early Autumn and then is sold throughout the rest of the year.  Hay can have differing colours with newly cut hay being a much greener colour than older hay.

The type of hay purely depends on the type of grass or crop that was cut and dried.

Hay can be cut to different lengths, made from different grasses and contain other plants. For instance, the hay I feed Carl contains Dandelion and Marigold.

Hay tends to be fed when either it’s not possible to feed grass all of the time or there isn’t enough grass.

Small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas tend to be kept in cages with little access to grass much of the time.

With large animals such as horses or cattle, however, hay may be fed when there isn’t access to enough lush grass.  Though hay may not always be as good to feed as grass. The nutritional value of grass may reduce as it dries and it containing less water means more needs to be drunk.  However, as a replacement to grass, hay is usually completely fine.

 

Why is hay important?

Grass, hay or alternatives to hay is the staple dietary component for most herbivores.  Not only does this mean sheep, cows and horses need to eat it but also rabbits and guinea pigs.

 

These animals have digestive systems that rely on a very high fibre diet and a large amount of roughage (grasses/ hays) needs to pass through it to keep the guts moving.  If they stop eating this or don’t eat enough they are at risk of their guts stopping.  This is worsened by many of these animals being unable to vomit.

Why is this important?

Rabbits, for instance, groom lots so develop hairballs in their stomachs.  Unlike cats, rabbits are not able to vomit these back up leading to the potential for blockage.  The high fibre diet ensures that the guts keep moving and, in doing so, stop a blockage developing.

Herbivores bodies are designed to have constant energy production from food.  If this stops then it may lead to low blood sugars.

These animals also rely on the naturally good bacteria in their gut to both break down food and prevent bad bacteria invading and causing them to become ill. If they don’t get grass or hay this bacteria will not get the fuel they require to survive and thrive and therefore could die, affecting digestion.

 

Guinea pigs, chinchillas and rabbits, as well as the aforementioned farm animals have continuously growing or erupting teeth. These teeth need to be ground down to prevent them overgrowing or becoming sharp next to the tongue or cheeks, causing damage. These animals must eat plenty of grass or hay as the movement of the teeth across this and each other allows them to become ground down.

If teeth do not grind down against each other appropriately they will become unevenly worn.  This uneven wear will make eating more difficult and prevent them getting adequate nutrition which can then lead to greater problems such as gut stasis, where the guts stop working.  It can also cause the teeth to develop sharp points which cut into the tongue or cheeks leading to severe pain.

 

How Much Hay do they Need?

The amount of hay needed depends what species your pet is. A rabbit requires 80 to 90% of their diet being hay or grass. A guinea pig, on the other hand, need slightly less than this; requiring approximately 70% of the diet being hay. The reason why these need less is that they must also eat fruit and vegetables daily to get enough vitamins C, which is not the case in rabbits. Fruit and veg will give some of the nutrients it Hay would otherwise and it also helps to grind down the teeth.

calm cat
A farm cat asleep on a large bale of haylage

It is often for that rabbits and guinea pigs should have approximately the same amount of hay during a day as their body size. However, rabbits and guinea pigs should have hay available throughout the day which is both clean and easily available for them to eat. This means that should be separated from the bedding.  Their bedding hay often has droppings and urine getting mixed in and therefore affecting not only is quality but reducing the likelihood of your pet wanting to eat it. For instance, you wouldn’t want to eat and go to toilet in the same room, and this is the same rabbits.

One way to do this is to provide hay in a hay net or a hay rack and keep this regularly topped up, checking is plenty of hay at very least twice a day. If out in a garden, remember these animals can eat grass which may even be healthier for them dependent on both the quality of hay and that the grass. This means they will need to have as much hay throughout the day. However, before giving your pets access a garden you must make sure you don’t have any poisonous plants throughout it.

If you do your pets could eat these and then become unwell. Alongside this, weed to killers can also be dangerous to make sure that you don’t use these on any grass that your pets may eat.

 

Other animals have slightly different requirements for hay. Horses, sheep and cattle all need about 2.5% of their bodyweight in hay each day. This does, however, depend on how much grass they have access to as well as whether horses are ridden, and how much, and if the cattle or sheep are pregnant or producing milk. It also depends on the amount of water within the hay.

Some horses are fed haylage rather than hay which contains more water and therefore they will need to have a higher weight to accommodate the weight of the water. Many cows and sheep are fed silage which again weighs more than hay due to the water within it and so need more than that. Realistically, the best way to feed hay is just to give a slight excess of it unless the animal is overweight at which stage, it should be reduced slightly until that animal no longer gains weight or, have a healthy weight.

 

Types of Hay

The main types of hay a Timothy hay and alfalfa hay.

Alfalfa hay is much higher in energy so is great for young and growing animals.  But it can lead to obesity in older animals. It is recommended guinea pigs, chinchillas and rabbits switch to Timothy hay as adults in most cases.

There are also other types of hay such as Oak hay which can be fed instead of meadow or timothy hay to horses. Oak hay is good for overweight horses due to it’s fewer calories.

There is also meadow hay. This tends to be finer. Whilst it is great for bedding in small mammals, it’s not the best for feeding. Meadow hay isn’t the best feeder hay as it easier to eat.  Though this sounds beneficial, it means it grinds his teeth down less as it takes less time to eat. As a result, it’s poorer for dental health.

Sometimes the best option is to buy hay baled with a mix of grasses creating several types of hay within one bale.  Often this type of hay is obtained from the farm rather than from a pet store.

 

Pre-packaged hay designed for small mammals can come with other ingredients mixed with it. A common one is Dandelion’s which both improves the taste and with picky animals but can help with kidney disorders especially if alongside Marigold. This is seen with Burgess hay. Often adding things to hay can also improve how well your pet eats it and therefore can help those picky eaters.  Other manufacturers add in Carrots and Apples.  These extra flavours improve how well some animals eat the hay and thus improve their health.  Along with that, it encourages foraging behaviour and thus is good for enrichment.

Burgess Dandelion and Marigold Hay when out of packaging

One thing to look for is the stem length.

To aid grinding down the teeth, and to improve their guts, long stem hay is advised. This is where the grass was longer when cut and has not been shredded down further.

A large proportion of the good quality hay in pet stores is now sold like this though not all of it. The aforementioned Burgess Dandelion and Marigold hay is cut to a shorter length. This may be good for those pets with longterm dental issues (which grinding more won’t help) whereby they can’t chew well.  However, short-stemmed hay will not wear down the teeth as well so it’s weighing up the pros and cons of each type of hay.

My own guinea pig has Burgess Dandelion and Marigold hay and he has had no dental problems. But, Carl has had urinary tract issues so the benefits of this of this hay is worthwhile.

 

What should I look out For with hay?

Hay should be sweet smelling and not be too dusty.

With horses, dusty hay is often soaked in water, especially for horses with COPD.  Soaking hay reduces it’s nutritional quality and, in most cases, it should not be left to soak for longer than 10 minutes.

Soaking hay isn’t a technique used with small animals and, instead, buying dust extracted hay is the best option. Dust extracted hay is recommended as small animals have sensitive airways so dust is likely to irritate.

It is important to make sure there is no mould in the hay, whatever the species. Something else look for is whether or not there is Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) in the hay. Ragwort is a very poisonous plant and is well known to cause liver damage in horses, farm animals and humans. I have not heard reports of whether or not it causes this in rodents and rabbits however, I feel that the likelihood is that it will. Therefore, if a bale of hay contains any rag worked I strongly suggest that you not only discard the whole bail without feeding it to your pet but, also contact the suppliers immediately to ensure they investigate this further as they potentially need to recall the whole batch.

The bright yellow ragwort plant. Watch out for it when dried in amongst hay

Mould should also not be in a bale of hay. Mouldy hay causes respiratory diseases but can cause issues to the guts as well and make your pet very unwell. Therefore, like you’ve rag worked is in a bale, I suggest that you discard the bail and contact the suppliers ASAP.

 

The colour of the hay depends on its age, when it was cut, the type of the hay and its quality. Usually, hay should be slightly green coloured however as said this does vary. The main thing easily is sweet smelling as this is a sign of not only good quality but also the lack of mould.

 

Alternatives to Hay

Many people are allergic to hay.

Alternatives to hay depend on the species. Horses often are given hayage as an alternative. This is higher in energy and is, therefore, more likely to cause obesity and so may be avoided in overweight horses. However, haylage may be much lower in dust, but I have experiences with mould within it.

 

Cattle sheep and goats tend to be fed silage which is very acidic. This has been partially fermented and should not really be fed to small animals.

 

In most cases, guinea pigs, rabbits and chinchillas should be fed hay. There is an alternative called ReadiGrass which is partially dried grass. Realistically though, if you are allergic to hay you’re likely allergic to this.  It is not suitable to use instead of hay due to it being very high in calcium and energy which increases the risk of obesity. However, ReadiGrass is great as an occasional treat.

In summary

The main take-home message is that guinea pigs, rabbits, chinchillas and herbivorous farm animals need hay or grass as a main part of the diet. Hay aids both dental and digestive health.

Unless animals are overweight, they ideally should be offered hay continuously. This is definitely the case in rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas and if these become overweight the best option is to reduce their pellets or muesli feed.

There are several types of hay such as meadow, Timothy, oat and alfalfa hay. It is important that you avoid hay containing lots of dust or any mould or Ragwort in it.

Freshwater should always be provided alongside hay. If your animal stops eating hay you must seek veterinary advice straight away. Also, ensure that the supplied with hay offer before such as within a hay rack or hay net to prevent it becoming mixed with their droppings or urine.

 

If you found this educational or interesting feel free to subscribe to get informed when similar blog posts are released. Subscribing can be done by placing your email address in the box on the right sidebar. If you want to discuss anything on this blog feel free to drop a comment below or contact me via email at kim@animalwelfarematters.co.uk

Guinea Pig Accessories

Pet shops sell a large number of items for small mammals, some of which are suitable, others just aren’t. Sometimes it can take a while to find items which not only suit your pets but also yourself.

Here I’m going to say what Carl has and also, perhaps more importantly, what he doesn’t have and the reasons I don’t endorse these products.

For various reasons right now his set up isn’t completely how I want it; I plan on getting him a larger cage soon but most of it I’m happy with.

Hay

I’m the first to admit, Carl’s hay isn’t the cheapest option. Hay (and grass) should make up at least 70% of a guinea pigs diet (the next biggest component should be fresh fruit and vegetables followed by a concentrate food, ideally pellets). If you’ve got a rabbit then 90% of their diet should be hay or grass due to them not needing as much fruit or veg.

The hay carl has

I want him to be as healthy as possible which means I would prefer to spend money on good quality hay which suits him. Cheaper hay often has a lower nutritional value (it hasn’t got as much good stuff in) and may be full of dust and, in worse cases, mould.  This is more likely to cause them to be ill so may end up being false economy (alongside it not being nice for your pet).

When I first adopted Carl drank huge amounts of water, a sign of kidney damage/ failure. He hadn’t had the best upbringing and had a large amounts of medications and serious infections which took their toll.

I feed Carl Burgess Feeding Hay with Dandelion and Marigold. I was aware Marigold is supposed to help with Kidney Disease in rabbits and so I decided to give it a try.  The worst it could do is not help (and cost me more!). Gradually over the next six months he began drinking less, he was no longer drinking the huge amounts he previously had.  His improvement could be for a number of reasons, some being that he gradually recovered from his previous problems, however, I like to believe the hay helped.

But would I always recommend this hay? No

Burgess Dandelion and Marigold Hay when out of packaging

Though it suits Carl, it isn’t perfect. One of the main functions for hay is for rabbits and guinea pigs (as well as farm animals) to grind their teeth. Hay should, therefore, ideally, be in large strands. With this product, the hay has been cut shorter. If your pet has this hay they don’t have to grind the hay as much and therefore, especially in those prone to dental problems, this hay may cause more issues. Instead, some other products, including some made by Burgess (eg. long stem feeding Hay), may be more appropriate.

This hay is not designed to be used as bedding, partly due to the expense of it.

Some other types of hay are very dusty. Guinea pigs, like many rodent species, have very sensitive airways. Dust can irritate them and therefore causing them to sneeze, cough or breathe with more difficulty. Along with this, some types are quite old or made from low-quality grass and therefore do not contain all of the goodness they otherwise could have. These should be avoided.

One of these is the Pets at Home brand Timothy Feeding Hay which I’ve always found to be very dusty.

It is also possible in some cases to buy hay directly from a farm. Whilst this may be good a high quality, it must be remembered that this has not been dust extractors like hay from many companies producing products for small mammals. This means that the hay is more likely to contain dust and therefore, irritate their airways more.  If this appears to be the case you should avoid hay from this supplier.

Concentrate Food

Carl is on a pelleted diet.  He’s on Burgess food with mint and he seems to really like that.

Recently a relative fed him for a night.  She couldn’t find Carl’s food so bought him another brand (unsure which) and he left most of it.  With Burgess Nuggets, throughout the course of a few hours (he eats his vegetables in preference to it much of the time), he eats every single nugget.

Burgess Excell nuggets with mint seem to suit Carl

With rodents there is usually a choice of pelleted food or the more traditional muesli style.  I would strongly recommend avoiding the muesli form and instead going with pelleted versions.

Pellet foods are slightly more expensive but they tend to be the better quality diets and with the length of time they last the extra cost shouldn’t be that noticeable in the long term and reduces the risk of other problems.

Muesli style foods tend to have parts which your guinea pig/ rabbit will eat and other things they’ll avoid.  Often people feed them too much leading to them picking out the bits they want.  Owners quite often leave the uneaten bits in the bowl and when these seeds accumulate over a few days they leave their pet with just these to eat.  Their pet will often still refuse these and go without concentrate food for a day or more.

Muesli-style foods tend to be higher in fat and sugar, especially the parts most pets find tasty.  This puts them at higher risk of diseases such as diabetes which affect small mammals and are quite common in hamsters.  These foods also often lead to obesity, causing animals to become unfit.  Therefore, when possible, muesli-style foods should be avoided if there is a pelleted version.

Bedding

Carl has space Back2Nature litter as his bedding/substrate.

This is very much like cat litter (in fact the company produces cat litter which looks identical) and is both very absorptive and good at reducing odours. This is great for a male guinea pig as these often smell more than females and, I found that larger areas of this remain dry compared to other substrates.

Carl has Back2Nature bedding which is 100 recycled, dust extracted and reduces odour

 

I have tried CareFresh bedding before, in fact, Carl was on that when I first got in. Though I liked the low amount of dust as well as the odour control properties, I did find  Back2Nature, this was less absorptive. This was a problem for a guinea pig who urinated a lot and meant I was often cleaning out large amounts of his bedding in one go so it cost a fortune.

Personally, I don’t like the use of shavings or sawdust. These are sometimes produced from pine which is toxic to many small animals so they could become ill if eating it.

The main reason I don’t like shavings is that I have seen many eye injuries caused by shavings getting under their eyelids.  This causes damage to the surface of the eye which can be both painful and, in more severe cases, can cause permanent, severe damage to the eye. Carl had one eye removed when he was only eight weeks old and therefore, wherever possible I aim to reduce the risk of him having injuries to his remaining eye. Therefore, I choose not to use wood shavings or sawdust.

Another downfall of shavings is they don’t contain the odour as well leaving cages with this substrate smelling worse.

 

Hay rack

Carl has a hay rack which came of his cage.

This is solid and attaches to the outside of his cage.

The reason I use a hay rack is to ensure that this hay remains as clean as possible and does not get mixed with his urine or droppings. I like the use of a solid hay rack as this reduces the amount of hay spilling out.  It is also more stable and therefore is less likely to cause problems if Carl somehow gets his leg stuck in it.

Carl eating from his hay rack

I have got a metal ball that can be used to feed both treats and hay to him. This is more of an enrichment activity rather than something which wouldn’t contain all of his food as it’s really small. I do sometimes use this though due to its size I don’t use alone for his hay.

A metal wire ball that you can put hay or treats such as veg) in

You can also buy hay nets for small mammals. These are not too dissimilar from the metal ball above however, these are much softer and, often larger. These, like the hay rack, prevent the hay from touching the floor and therefore help to keep it dry. I have never personally used these and therefore cannot fully endorse them however I thought there were worth a mention.

 

Tunnel

All guinea pigs need somewhere to hide.  Even the most confident of guinea pigs spend a large proportion of their lives hiding.  One of the most common hiding places is a tunnel.

The Tunnel Carl Currently Has

Personally, I like using either Sea Grass tunnels or hay based tunnels.  These give Carl something safe to chew which not only means there’s less of an issue if they chew on them but also gives them something to do; enrichment is very important.

The hay tunnel Carl has once gnawed on

It’s very common to see plastic based tunnels.  Though these last longer they will likely get gnawed upon leaving a risk of the plastic cutting their mouth.  There’s even a small risk of them swallowing some plastic which could cause them a lot of damage.

 

Carl also has a log tunnel.  This comes flat and is pieces of wood connected by  wire.  It can then be bent into a circle to create a tunnel or, like Carl’s, bent to create a bridge going onto a raised area of his cage.  This not only is used for him to climb up onto but he can also hide underneath it.  It is also safe for him to chew and he’s had it since I got him over 18months ago and it will last him for years to come.

This is the log tunnel when straightened
Kong

Kongs were originally designed to fill up with treats/ biscuits for dogs to chew on when you’re out at work/ at night.  Ones for small mammals/ birds are similar and it just gives them something to do.

You can put treats or food into a kong and small mammals chewing it or moving it to release food keeps them busy and mentally stimulated

Carl has a Kong.  I put some of his treats in there and occasionally some of his veg.  He doesn’t tend to use it much though and leaves things in it and I end up just emptying them back out.

Though you can use these it is important to check them daily for things stuck in them and empty them out.  If you don’t, food or treats stuck in them will go mouldy causing you guinea pig to become ill from breathing in the mould particles or eating mouldy food.

 

Wooden Toy

Carl has a weird wooden toy.  It is like a cage on the outside with a wooden ball inside.  He doesn’t play with it much but does chew on it.  This gives him something to do and some animals enjoy moving them around.

The chewing helps to grind their incisors down and allows them to carry out normal behaviour whereas moving it around and exploring helps engage their brains.

Chewing this toy helps to grind their incisors and moving it around keeps them stimulated further. Note; it’s becoming well gnawed!
Beds
One of Carls beds. Its pretty big but very comfy

As mentioned previously, I am worried, perhaps overly so about Carl’s eye becoming damaged and that lead to me buying him beds to place in his cage instead of using hay/ paper bedding/ shredded straw.  He doesn’t always sleep in a bed but he does have the option.

Carl lives in my house where it’s kept warm enough for him.  He also does take some of his hay and create his own bed.  I see this as a normal behaviour and a form of enrichment.  Yes, it’s expensive hay for him to use as bedding but if this is what he chooses to do then it’s up to him.

 

Water bottle

All animals need water.  In the case of mammals, this needs to be given in a way they can drink it.

Usually, small mammals are given water from a bottle or bowl.  Personally, with Carl, I use a water bottle.  This gives him constant access to clean water.  I ensure it is changed daily to make sure it’s fresh and the bottle is clean.  I also make sure that there are no issues with the bottle not working.

Carl likes to play with the nozzle and ball within it.  Though this sometimes causes parts of his cage to be wet it does give him something else to do so I don’t mind replacing some of his Back2Nature a bit more often.

 

Large Classic Crystal De-Luxe Water bottle. Potentially the most popular water bottle for rabbits and guinea pigs.

 

Water bowls are more natural for them to drink from.  However, both guinea pigs and rabbits tend to poo in them which causes the water to quickly become very dirty.  They also, often, tip these over or walk through them leading to their substrate becoming wet too and them having no water left.

 

Using a bottle or a bowl comes down to preference.  So long as animals have water in a form they will drink from is the main thing.  Some animals will refuse to drink from a bowl whereas others refuse to drink from bottles.  The main thing is finding out what your pets will drink from and providing them water in that form.

If your pet is ever going to spend time at the vets (either when ill or being neutered) it is important you inform the staff the way that your pet drinks their water.  This will ensure they will be given water in the way they are used to and so they are more likely to drink which will improve their health and healing.

 

Finally
Kitchen roll holder; a free toy

1 of Carl’s favourite toys and free is the inside tube from a toilet roll or kitchen roll.  He throws this around and chews them.  You can also stuff them with hay (or goodies) and hang them up to the sides of the cage using parcel string if you wish; I’m yet to try this with Carl but it is on my list of enrichment activities.

To End

So that’s a bit of a summary of what he has and why.  I haven’t included his cage in this (he’s getting a new, bigger, cage soon) or his vegetables, I will likely cover those at a different time.; in short, Carl gets a variety of veg and fruit on a daily basis.

To find out more about Carl then click here.

This blog post is a bit different to most of the others but I hope you found it educational and enjoyable.   To discuss anything then please write a comment below, especially if you have any questions.  If you’re interested in reading further animal-related blog posts then please put your email address in the subscription box in the box in the right sidebar to get emails when new blog posts come.  To discuss something with me more privately then feel free to contact me directly.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (RHD2)

Introduction to Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 1 (RHD1) is a disease affecting rabbits first which was discovered in 1984 in China and causes sudden death in rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus).  RHD1 spread quickly but overtime was controlled by a combination of improved hygiene and a vaccination program, one which is still available today.

Fast forward until 2010, a new version of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, this time Type 2 (AKA RHD2), appeared. By 2014 RHD2 had spread to the UK and from there it spread as far away as Canada and Australia.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 2

RHD2 affects European rabbits of all ages and, unlike type 1, also affects hares.  In 2015 it also started to really cause problems among shows, breeding colonies and in rescue centres where it spread quickly between animals sharing a small space and where rabbits were coming and going. The presence of it in shows also accelerated it’s spread across the UK.

Unlike RHD1, Type 2 can affect many species of rabbit/ hare

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 1 tends to cause sudden death with nothing much else seen otherwise.  RHD2, however, only causes sudden death in a minority of cases, in fact only killing approximately 20% of affected rabbits (though it can kill as few as 5% up to as many as 70% dependent on the area and the timing). Instead, RHD2 often leads to a longer period of illness followed by a recovery.

Between a rabbit catching RHD2 and showing signs of illness there, is approximately 3-9days, known as the incubation period.  During this period, the rabbit can pass it to other rabbits without you even knowing they had it.  Therefore, RHD2 is often spread before you have the chance to improve or alter your cleaning practices and therefore you need to be prepared. It is important you improve your methods and act as if your animal may have it right now; clean their cages to the best of your ability all the time and, perhaps the best prevention, keep rabbits vaccinated against RHD2 to protect them from catching it.

The signs of RHD2

The virus can cause your rabbit to become ill in three different forms;

Percute type
  • This looks similar to RHVD1 in terms of it just leads to sudden death
Acute Type
  • Fatal in a lot of cases, often within the space of 36htrs.
  • Signs of it are
    • collapsing,
    • large amount of bleeding; blood in their urine, any discharge from their body, bleeding gums and nosebleeds.
    • Some show signs of brain and nerve problems
    • collapse,
    • seizuring,
    • poor balance,
    • falling over, or,
    • walking like they are drunk (Ataxia).
    • crying out a lot.
Subacute/ Chronic Form
  • This sometimes causes rabbis to die but often not for over a week and is due to liver failure, the main organ affected by RHD.
  • During this time they have
    • severe jaundice (meaning their skin and the white of their eyes, along with other places, looks yellow),
    • they refuse to eat
    • very quiet
    • lethargic.

Treatment

Firstly if you suspect one of your rabbits has RHD2 it is important for you to contact your vet straight away.

When rabbits have Subacute/ Chronic RHD2 they often stop eating and drinking. To prevent rabbits becoming dehydrated, make them feel better and increase their odds of survival you should make sure they’re kept warm (be careful using heat pads or hot water bottles; these can burn their sensitive skin. Only use heat pads if they are no warmer than around 40C and they are able to move away from them on their own). If they are very unwell or not drinking your vet may want to put them on a drip until they are drinking and eating enough.

How it’s Spread

RHD2 is highly contagious meaning it can spread from one rabbit to another very easily.

However, it’s not just rabbits you have to make sure don’t pass it on, if any of the virus gets on the bowls, cages, your shoes etc, anything another rabbit may come into contact with it can be passed along.

The main things the virus is passed on in is the tears, saliva and nasal discharge but it also stays in and on any of the rabbit’s bodies who died from it.

Indoor rabbits may be affected by RHD2 too. Image; Twitter @SarahTait123

To make it worse and even less predictable, if a fly has been near an infected rabbit they can pass it to another rabbit they spend time near/ bite.

Finally, RHD2 is spread in the rabbits urine and faeces throughout the whole time they are infected until around one-two days after the infection has resolved.  The risk is if one cage is stacked on top of another then it could be spread easily if they are not completely waterproof and any urine seaps from one cage into another, infecting the second group of rabbits.

It is unknown how long the virus survives to reinfect other rabbits when it’s in the environment.  One thing to watch out for is later infections if a previous rabbit had one such as a rabbit catching it from bits of virus left in its cage.

Therefore, if you are keeping rabbits near/ in an area where a rabbit has been previously infected with RHD2 it is important you keep up with high levels of hygiene, vaccinate all of the rabbits and be vigilant for signs of infection.

If your rabbits have previously had it or you own a breeding colony/ similar leaving rabbits your rabbits are at high risk of getting it.

Preventing the Spread of RHD2

If you have several rabbits and one has come down with RHD2 you should isolate the affected one and look after that one totally separately. Your hands should be thoroughly cleaned and/ or alcohol rub used to clean your hands and you should wear different clothes when looking after/ interacting with your healthy rabbits to try and prevent its spread.

RHD2 is a very difficult virus to kill and prevent its spread so often doing this isn’t 100% effective especially with rabbits spreading the disease before they show any signs of illness.

One any affected rabbits have been separated from the healthy ones it is important you get the healthy rabbits vaccinated against RHVD2.  A vaccine for type 1 has been shown to now really help against type 2 (though in some cases may offer a small amount of protection). Your rabbits will then need to get boosters at least every year, ideally every six months if your rabbits are at a higher risk of catching it such as you show or breed them or you’ve owned affected rabbits near where your current rabbits are housed.

Really young rabbits are at risk of RHD2 and, in high risk areas, vaccinating them at four weeks old should be considered

With the disease spreading very easily and being difficult not only to save rabbits but to prevent others from becoming infected, rabbit shows are now cancelled in an affected area. You should not take a rabbit to a show if you suspect they are infected or if you have another rabbit who has it or recently did.

To prevent RHD2 from spreading you should use plenty of good quality disinfectants when cleaning their cage and anything they come into contact with. Sadly, the RHD2 virus is difficult to kill so not all disinfectants are effective.  The use of alcohol skin rubs rather than a disinfectant called Chlorhexidine (either within a rub or as a soap with water) is more effective.  Other than that, when cleaning their cages diluted household bleach may be one of the most reliable things. If you use bleach make sure the cage is thoroughly rinsed out afterwards to prevent it burning your rabbits skin or the inside their mouth if they gnaw on a treated area.

 

Vaccination

For rabbits at high risk, it is worthwhile considering vaccinating kits from four weeks old.  Prior to this age if their mother has either had RHV2 or has been exposed to it the kits will get immunity from their mother’s milk, however, this immunity wears off at four weeks.

At four weeks old these rabbits no longer are protected by their mother and are very susceptible to it due to their underdeveloped immune system. If they’re not vaccinated at four weeks and are exposed to RHD2 they will likely get it.  Current vaccines have a licence to be used from 10weeks of age but are believed to be safe to use from four weeks of age.  However, if given the vaccine at four weeks old, young rabbits will need a second vaccination when they are ten weeks old as it hasn’t been shown to last longer than this 8n such young rabbits.

It is still important they have vaccines against myxomatosis which, itself, is often lethal

Vaccinations, once given at ten weeks of age or older last for a year in mild-moderate risk areas.  However, if your rabbits are at high risk of an infection it is recommended they have a booster every six months.

RHD2 vaccines are on top of Myxo-RHD1 vaccinations which are the normal vaccines given annually in the UK against myxomatosis and RHD1.  This vaccine is very important for rabbits to still get as RHD2 vaccines do not work against myxomatosis or RHD1 and vice versa. Myxomatosis in its own right is a very common and often fatal disease which can be easily prevented by annual boosters s9 these should be unavoided as other methods o& prevention are less effective.

Currently, there is no evidence of whether the Myxo-RHD and the RHD2 vaccines interfere with each other if given at the same time and, therefore, it is recommended that at least two weeks is given between a vet giving your rabbit each of these vaccines. Though, it doesn’t matter if the vaccines are separated by a longer period of time, or which is given first.

The new vaccine in the UK by Filavacs however, does cover both types of RHVD. However, it must be remembered that this vaccination still doesn’t cover myxomatosis at all so getting that vaccine too is still highly recommended.

In Summary

There are two types of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease; type one tends to cause sudden death. Type two however can cause a more long-lasting disease.

Both types can be prevented by vaccination and Filavacs does a vaccine protecting against both but rabbits should also be vaccinated against Myxomatosis in a separate vaccine.

Rabbits at high risk should be vaccinated from very young (4weeks of age) and maybe twice a year as well as thorough cleaning and prevention strategies.  Shows should be avoided in high risk areas too.

If you believe your rabbit may have RHD then contact your vet immediately.

 

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