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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.

 

Please Subscribe if you liked this blog post to find out when I release others. You can do this by typing your email address into the box on the right sidebar. Comment below with any questions and queries or to express your views about this blog post. If you want to discuss anything more personal or as complex then feel free to contact me at kim@animalwelfarematters.co.uk.

Crufts 2018; My Thoughts

Being a veterinary surgeon, I’m a very big dog lover. Despite this, over the years, I’ve avoided Crufts.

I vividly remember when the BBC documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” was released in 2008, my third-year of vet school. This documentary brought to light issues facing several pedigree dog breeds.  It was also a precursor to the BBC no longer showing Crufts.

2008 was the last time that I properly watched Crufts. I have caught certain moments over the more recent years on Channel 4 but I definitely haven’t watched much of the show and have turned over when watching the showing classes.

 

For many years I have believed Crufts should not take place as I don’t agree with showing dogs.  I have also struggled to understood why other veterinary professionals go. This year, however, with trepidation, I booked tickets and went yesterday, Saturday 10th March 2018. I decided to go because I didn’t want to judge something I hadn’t personally seen. Though, having said that, I still have strong beliefs that breed showing and ring craft are poor practices for animal welfare and therefore decided, for the most part, to avoid these parts of the show.

 

Throughout the rest of this blog I discuss my experiences of Crufts and how I felt.

I want to state that my comments are not based upon issues with any single individual but more upon the show, activities surround it and commonplace practices.

 

Trade Stands

On entering Crufts, the first thing I came across was a hall filled with trade stands. There were five halls in total. These sold everything you could want, not only for both show and dogs, and occasional cat items. Most large animal-related charities were also represented, especially those related to dogs, alongside displays of the many veterinary and animal health products.

 

My plan was to talk to many of the representatives at these trade stands; get an understanding of their products and services and discuss potential collaborations. Sadly, it was too busy to have an in-depth business-related conversation with anyone, so I decided to contact people at a later date.

 

I’m aware this doesn’t affect dog welfare whatsoever. I note that many of these stalls had reduced prices due to it being a show which is quite common in these sorts of occasions. This is really good value for anyone wanting to buy anything.

 

From looking around, I can safely say my prior belief that you could buy anything for dogs at Crufts is true. Therefore, if anyone wants to buy many items for their dogs at a reasonable price, I recommend Crufts for the trade stands.

 

Discover Dogs

An English Mastiff at Discover Dogs

Hall three housed Discover Dogs.

On arrival, the ring contained a woman discussing Bloodhounds, along with two bloodhounds and their handlers. The surroundings were very loud and the speakers were unclear leaving me struggling to hear what was said. I was horrified to notice that one of the Bloodhounds in the ring was obviously lame on one forelimb. No one else seemed to have noticed or, potentially worse, cared.

 

I moved on to the Discover Dogs breed stands. All of these stands contained pens approximately 1.5 x 3m in size.

The was occupied by three Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are large dogs and, therefore, need more space than something such as the Yorkshire terrier. I noticed many of the stands for large dogs had no more space than those for small. However, the pens appeared to be a standard regardless of the breed.

This was disappointing.

The area for Rhodesian ridgebacks had three dogs in one pen. One of these dogs was obviously stressed, standing with it’s ears back and head down in the far corner where no one could get. It obviously was unhappy and there it was potentially busier around the trade stands.

Many of the dogs on display at Discover Dogs were for hours on end, sometimes for several days. None of the stands I saw had areas for dogs to get away from the crowds.

I believe each pen should have a dedicated area big enough for a dog to safely and comfortably enter to get away from the crowds. This should be covered on both the top and sides to give the dog(s) privacy and any dog in this space should be left alone.

In many cases owners or handlers constantly interfered with their dogs. A Great Dane laid on his very comfortable large mattress appeared to not want to be on show. When I approached, the owner decided I wanted to stroke her dog; she kept telling the dog to get up, encouraging it to walk to me. The owner did this for a couple of minutes until the dog, appearing to have little choice, followed through with this.

I had a similar experience with the Dobermanns.  These were lively and interesting in their surroundings but the owner was making sure they jump up so their paws were resting on the top of the pen.  He especially instructed this when I was there.

The owner also held his sandwich straight in the faces of the Dobermanns. I appreciate he needs to eat but I believe this should have been done away from the dogs, at least outside of their pen given their little space. They were obviously tempted by this sandwich. A woman at that stand was also obviously taunting a dog with her sandwich.

There were other stands that were empty or the dogs were left to their own devices but these were in the minority.

Getting ready for flyball

The Arena

 

Just after lunchtime, we headed to the arena.

This was an approximate 45-minute wait which people unhappy. The exhibitors and dogs entrance was shared with that for the wheelchair users. This became very crowded with the dogs having to walk through a narrow path with people on either side and often got stuck amongst crowds.

Crowded spaces are stressful for dogs who cannot speak up for themselves and may accidentally get bumped into or even stood on.

Personally, I feel a dedicated lane should have been provided for the dogs and handlers to walk along to achieve paramount canine welfare and comfort. As Crufts has been going since 1891 and at its current location since 1991, arrangements should have been made to ensure dogs entering the arena area were given space.

Setting up for international agility
Agility

I watched two international agility classes.

All the dogs competing in these classes were very fit with owners who obviously cared for their welfare.

Whilst the vast majority of owners made a fuss of the dogs once I completed the course, I sadly noticed a few occasions where owners appeared to just take all the glory themselves, raising their hands to the audience and clapping whilst ignoring their dogs. I understand that doing well in an event at Crufts is huge, however, your dog should definitely be acknowledged.

The vast majority of owners were, however, incredibly interested in praising their dogs.

The agility winner just starting the course

I am glad to report I saw no punishment whatsoever for refusals, falling poles, or wrong lines.

These dogs are what I think of as “fit for purpose”, something Crufts kept quoting. I don’t, however, believe all dogs there “fit for purpose” though; for example, the previously mentioned lame Bloodhound.

 

Flyball

I watched a couple of classes of flyball one including youth teams.

Whilst the older competitors acted very calmly around their dogs, I noted young competitors were often winding their dogs up beforehand. I realise increases the dog’s adrenaline and therefore their speed, however, this can cause behavioural issues in other situations as well as anxiety.

About to start flyball

I noticed the new designs of the boards of flyball. No longer do the balls fly out as was the case a few years ago. But now, dogs picked balls out of holes within these boards.

This reduces the chance of injury and strain on the dogs joints and therefore leading to dogs being fitter for longer. Both dogs and competitors appeared to enjoy the event and, in the whole, I have no issues with Flyball whatsoever.

 

West Midlands Police Display

The best event I saw was the display by the West Midlands police.

Though this was heavily scripted, the dogs were acting as they would in a training session.

There was a lot of mention of the positive reinforcement methods used during the training along with a lack of punishment.  I’m hoping many of the dog owners watching this took note of that.

Despite being working dogs, these police dogs were obviously having fun and the display incorporated a lot of play.

The West Midland Police Dog Display

All the dogs looked at the peak of health and, very relaxed in the surroundings despite the spotlights.

This display was very the exciting yet informative showing many of the skills these dogs and handlers have which they use on a daily basis. The scope of these dogs is very wide-spread and all the duties were well explained.

 

Good display West Midlands Police!

 

Heelwork to music

Displays of Heelwork to Music and not only a crowd favourite but show a very high level of skill and obedience with very athletic and lively dogs.

I’m going to admit, it isn’t my favourite of disciplines. I personally just find it a bit bizarre. However, I can understand why people would like it.

The Heelwork To Music Display in Full Swing

When I saw was not the competition but was a display done by the winner of the international competition. The dog was very enthusiastic and often worked at the distance. Due to this distance between handler and dog, there was no way the dog was forced to do many of the exercises so always had the choice to run away if desired.  This demonstrated the skill of the owner and enthusiasm of the dog.  However, I wonder how many hours of training goes into this and whether this is too much for the dog.

I am unable to pass judgement on this without knowing each individual case and speaking to the owners.

 

International Junior Handling Final

I was less impressed by the International Junior Handling Final. As mentioned previously, I am not fan of ring craft. I stayed to watch this as the person I was with want to watch it. I also wanted to see what occurred and was looking forward to Scruffts, timetabled for after this event.

The top 3 Junior handlers

When I heard these were the best junior handlers representing each country I had high standards for them to meet.

These handlers were given three unknown dogs throughout the day. I only saw them with their final one.

Handlers didn’t exhibit their own dogs and only had half an hour to get used to the dogs before showing them. This is a good way of examining handling skills as it doesn’t demonstrate any training in place and looks at how these handlers can deal with an unknown dog.

I saw a lot of use of treats. At first, I believed this to be positive. They were using them as lures to get the dogs looking in the right direction and following commands. I noted many of the handlers, however, appeared to be taunting their dogs.

In a lot of cases, whatever these dogs did they didn’t receive a treat.

 

[Edited] I saw some handlers whose methods of training I didn’t necessarily agree with.  The methods used included what I believed to be excessive holding back of treats.  I noticed this appeared to wind up some dogs which then, due to what I believe as to be frustration in the dog, caused the dog to jump up at the handler.  This behaviour is not something I believe to be bad behaviour of that dog, in fact, I believe all of the dogs in the ring had really good behaviour.  Another handler also appeared from the view I had to place her hand around the muzzle of the dog and turn their head when going around a corner when presenting the dog for the judge.

I feel these skills should be looked upon, more so across the whole of showing rather than just individual cases, or even just the juniors.

Alongside this, I recognise these handlers are still growing and developing and therefore will be learning from each dog they come across.  Getting used to and presenting a dog for showing is a very difficult take especially given the stress of the situation and the short time period. [End of edited portion]

The winner of the class was obviously very proud. He plans to become a professional handler. He was very proud to win and became incredibly emotional at his success. However, I noticed how on the lap of honour the leads on none of the dogs were slackened. I realise not slackening the lead is probably standard with showing and the same was true of all the dogs. Personally, though, I feel at the end a class when celebrating a win, giving your dog space to and enjoy your surroundings as much as possible would be worthwhile.  Laps of honour in the agility as well as in show jumping are done with slackened reins/ leads.

 

I also noticed several competitors wanted to not only become veterinary surgeons alongside professional handlers and I’m wondering whether the two careers are compatible. With many breeds having an array of health issues wouldn’t being a vet and handling these, often overbred, animals be conflicting.

 

Scruffts

Amazing!

 

Finally, a display of how dogs and their owners normally interact.  Real bonds were clearly visible.

A Scruffts Competitor with his owner

Not only were these crossbreeds and therefore not overbred, the dogs and owners were much more relaxed.

All the dogs were given plenty of space when they wanted but also fussed and given reassurance throughout.

All of these were walked on a slack lead with natural postures and all the owners seemed to be truly enjoying the experience which would have contributed to how relaxed the dogs were.

 

The inclusion of the class for crossbreed dogs in Crufts is an excellent start.  A lot of people don’t realise just how rewarding these dogs are and not only pedigree dogs are worth investing in.

Some Scruffts competitors

Given these dogs are not trained in ring craft, they were often much calmer than the actual show dogs. This tells you something about the handling style which I believe some show dog owners need to take on board. Do dogs really need to be stood in often of unnatural position just to enhance breed standards?  Also maybe the handlers should relax a bit and they may achieve better results.

 

Well done to all competitors in this class, you did great!

You should be proud of both yourselves and your dogs. You clearly show demonstrate what dog ownership means to the majority of the general public.

 

Other Observations

I want to end this by discussing my thoughts whilst walking around. Though only dogs within the show or exhibitions, and assistance dogs, were permitted within the grounds, I saw several examples of becoming aggressive.

At points, I was seriously worried there was going to be fights. On such occasions, nothing was done to redirect these behaviours. Dogs being show dogs doesn’t necessarily mean they are well trained. Not only that but it was a very busy and stressful environment so many will act out of character towards each other. I, therefore, wondered whether it was in the dog’s best interests to be at the show when not being exhibited.

 

Many dogs were sat in small stalls with very little space waiting to be exhibited. These are on show much of the time and therefore have no space to themselves or the ability to walk around.

In my opinion, this is unfair for the dogs.

They had nowhere to go for a rest, are constantly surrounded by crowds looking at them and are unable to exhibit normal behaviour or move around freely.

Exhibiting normal behaviour and having space are key factors to the Animal Welfare Act (2006) (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/45/contents). I wonder whether some areas of Crufts potentially go against the Animal Welfare Act (2006) or whether the relatively short time period precludes this.

Breeding of extreme features is currently a huge problem even though the kennel club advised judges to not pick dogs with these features the best of breed this year many were still present.

Many features of pedigree dogs impact upon their welfare. This causes issues the dogs not only during the show, but in the long-term.

Some of these conditions affect the breathing. I didn’t visit the Pug stand at Discover dogs however, I saw several pugs walking around show. These weren’t assistance dogs so I presume they were, in the most part, show dogs.

At one point I was outside in a noisy area. Two pugs walked past approximately 20m from me. their Even from that distance I could clearly hear the on furthest from me breathing really clearly and they were only walking. They sounded to be wheezing and snorting, signs of potential Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS), a syndrome in brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds impacting upon their breathing.

There is currently a British Veterinary Association campaign, #BreedToBreathe, for this syndrome. #BreedToBreath aims to raise awareness of BOAS, mainly affecting Pugs, English Bulldogs, and French Bulldogs, amongst others. A recent study showed 77.6% of show Pugs are affected by BOAS.

I did not see any of the judging for these dogs, though, as said, I saw several examples of extreme features throughout this display.

 

Something also bothered me with show dogs being transported in metal cages. I believe transporting dogs in such a way will be stressful for the dog.

All show dogs should be fit enough to walk and therefore, I believe this should not be done.

If your dog is unable to walk the distance is needed are they really fit enough to be shown?

I understand the need to keep them clean however with areas indoors for them to toilet, getting wet outside is not a factor, getting rid of the need for these sorts of cages.

Walking dogs gives plenty of exercise which then allows them to calm down and therefore would’ve reduce the stress on such an occasion. However, as stated before, I do feel that more needs to be done to separate the crowds from the dogs to ensure that the dogs are not walked over or bumped into.

Work needs to be done by the organisers to ensure the dogs can freely and safely without stress or risk of injury.

 

In summary

Many aspects of Crufts were good but it was very busy and some aspects are far from what I’d like.

The key elements of the show I’ve disagreed with for many years are the ring craft and breed showing elements. I did avoid these to limited amounts which is why I’ve said less regarding this.

I felt the displays for the West Midlands Police alongside the Agility, Flyball and Scruffts were very good overall. However as stated, I had issues with both Discover dogs and the junior handler events.

 

Will I go again?

To be honest, I am unsure. I don’t know if I want to give the organisers my money once more. However, I feel spending the day mainly around the trade stands may be worthwhile and informative as I could talk to a lot of the businesses to see what they offer and learn quite a bit.

 

Whilst it was a good day it was infuriating in equal measures.

I feel the most important thing should be the welfare of the dogs and, as it currently stands, I’m not sure this show abides by all aspects of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This is very worrying and more needs to be done by both the Kennel Club and Crufts to ensure improved welfare not only with the breeds and altering of the breed standards, but throughout the four days of the show including maximum time periods when dogs should be displayed at Discover dogs.

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 demonstrating! I need to up my game both with speaking to a camera and editing!

 

Carl currently is not 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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Fourteen Signs of Pain in Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs (Cavia porcellus) are very common pets.  The interactions between themselves and people and them being easy to tame means they’re often sought after as pets.

Guinea Pigs are naturally prey animals and to stop themselves being caught by predators they hide signs of pain and illness really well, similar to the rabbit.  When scared, guinea pigs tend to freeze, a process known as tonic immobility, rather than show obvious behaviours of pain or fear.

Pain in guinea pigs often shows as very different to our own people often overlook it and don’t usually realise it’s due to pain.  People naturally associate how humans react to pain and expect painful animals to cry out which often is not the case.  When people don’t recognise the signs of pain in their pet they often misinterpret it, sometimes believing their pet doesn’t feel pain in the same level or some things which are painful to us don’t hurt them. Usually, this is not the case, they experience pain just demonstrate it in a different way. Species such as cats, dogs, and rabbits all experience pain the same but the signs they show are unique to the species (though there are some similarities present).

 

Though Guinea Pigs are common pets, as well as sadly being used as lab animals in potentially painful procedures, the symptoms they show when in pain still haven’t been fully studied and are often unknown.  Throughout this blog I will explore already known or highly suspected the signs of pain in guinea pigs  I’m hoping this will help you identify if your guinea pig is ever in pain.

1.Change in Posture

This is a very consistent sign and shown in various ways depending where the pain in a guinea pig is.

Having the back arched is seen with other species such as the dog.  This is seen if they have belly ache for instance if their guts are not working properly or they’ve had surgery like neutering.  They stand or walk with their bodies very tense and their spines curved over making their back appear rounded rather than flat.

Changes in posture are also seen when lying.  Normally guinea pigs lay with their back legs tucked under them. Pain in guinea pigs from their spine, belly or legs may lead to them holding one or both back legs stretched out behind them or splayed to the side.

Remember healthy guinea pigs sometimes alter their position even when not in pain.  When looking for signs of pain you need see if they are in this position lot or are also showing other signs of pain.

  1. Squeaking/ Screaming (AKA Vocalising)

Sometimes, with sudden pain, guinea pigs may make loud and high-pitched squeaks which sound different and often lasting longer than their normal lower pitched noises.

They don’t always cry out when in pain, but sudden, intense types of pain rather than aching pains can cause this.  One example is if a sore part of their skin is touched or if they hit a sore leg against something.

If you’re only trying to identify pain through them making noises, you’ll miss it most of the time.  Lack of noise doesn’t mean their pain is less severe.  Pains which are grumbling away often don’t lead to them crying out.

  1. Eating less and Weight Loss

When you’re feeling unwell you don’t want to eat as much and, to some extent, that’s the same in Guinea Pigs.  Guinea Pigs enjoy eating and spend much of their day eating.

When in pain, guinea pigs often eat less but may still readily accept treats they like when offered.

Guinea Pigs may still eat treats when in pain

 

Guinea Pigs eating less usually isn’t noticed instantly, usually, it’s only noticed the next time you feed them where you will likely find more leftovers than usual.  Monitoring eating as a sign of pain can be difficult and inaccurate because you’re likely to only realise they’re in pain after several hours have passed by which point they may have improved or have suffered in a lot of pain in the meantime, adversely affecting their welfare.

  1. Drinking Less

Similar to eating, pain in guinea pigs may be seen as them being uninterested in drinking.  This doesn’t necessarily mean they stop drinking altogether, but, they drink less and noticed when you change their water.  Therefore, this sign, like with eating less, may not be that helpful by the time you notice.

Noticing your guinea pig eating or drinking less and possibly losing weight gives you a clue they’re not feeling 100%.  Once you notice this behaviour change it’s worth looking for other signs of pain to help decide if they are in pain or what else is occurring.

  1. Unkempt Coat and Grooming Less

Any animal in pain tends to stop grooming themselves either because they don’t well enough due to the pain or their pain worsens in positions needed to properly groom themselves.  As Guinea Pigs don’t groom consistentlyand may groom themselves when hiding, this sign is difficult to spot.

With pain in Guinea Pigs it’s not always easy to notice a reduction in the time spent doing a relatively sporadic behaviour.

The first way you may notice your guinea pigs aren’t grooming fully is due to their coat looking unkempt.  It may be dirtier than usual, full of dandruff or, if long-haired, there may be more knots in it.  A guinea pig’s coat being unkempt takes a while to develop and become visible with the guinea pig being in pain for some time (usually longer than twelve hours) before their hair gets to the state where it’s noticeable, before then there often won’t be a visible change in the coat at all.

Guinea pigs may be in sore when touched
  1. Moving Less and Lying More

When in pain, any movements can worsen the pain so animals tend to stay still to avoid further pain.  Pain is also tiring leading to your guinea pig lying down and sleeping more.

Along with lying and moving less to avoid pain, your guinea pig will be scared due to the pain.  When guinea pigs are scared they tend to freeze their body.

Pain in guinea pigs are likely to make them quieter if you’re around due to increased fear that you’ll pick them up or touch them and them naturally hiding pain when in front of people.  Therefore, some will act normally if you’re watching them for signs of pain.

Guinea pigs moving less could be for many reasons such as stress from the surgery or due to medication side effects.  For instance, the pain killer, Buprenorphine, causes Guinea Pigs to lay more even when they’re in less pain so this can become confusing. Therefore, guinea pigs being quiet should not be interpreted as them always being in pain.

  1. Writhing/ Abdominal Contractions

Like in Rabbits, the signs of pain in guinea pigs are very subtle.  One of these is them writhing and having abdominal contractions.  Some abdominal contractions, to make it more difficult, can be normal in Guinea Pigs, however, these tend to worsen with pain.  Looking at them carefully and seeing contractions and them stretching their body out at the same time is likely due to pain, especially if they do it often.

  1. Flinching

Most animals flinch when in pain.  This is a sudden involuntary movement where the animal is trying to move away from whatever is causing the pain.  This may be from you if you try to touch them or they could be appearing to just flinch if nothing is near them due to pain within the body rather than just in the skin.  Flinching is more common with sudden and shocking pain rather than a duller constant pain.

Eating less is a sign of pain
When in pain, Guinea pigs often eat less

 

  1. Shaking

Pain in guinea pigs, either due to fear or adrenaline, may cause them to shake.  Shaking may be very difficult to see as it is only very subtle.

As shaking is a very subtle potentially due to not only pain but also medication side effects and stress, it is not the most reliable of signs.  Due to this if you see your guinea pig shaking you should keep an eye on them and monitor them for other problems to try and work out what their problem is.

  1. Paying Attention to a Painful Area

Like ourselves, if a guinea pig has a painful area they will tend to look at it or touch it.  Your guinea pig may groom, lick, scratch or chew at that area more which may be noticed by them having wet hair or it could even lead to the skin or hair being damaged in some cases.

  1. Moving slower

Pain in Guinea Pigs tends to worsen when they move.  Therefore, as a result, they tend to move slower.

Guinea pigs will tend to move slower, potentially an altered posture and moving more stiffly.  However, medications causing sedation such as painkillers or anaesthetics may cause your guinea pigs to move slower even without pain so they should be monitored for other signs of pain.

  1. Limping

Limping is only a sign of pain if the pain is in their legs or sometime in their spine.  Lameness is usually due to pain, especially if it suddenly comes on, however in some cases it could be due to other problems such nerve or muscle problems.

Whichever leg your guinea pig is limping on is likely the one causing the pain. If they’re in pain with several legs, then the one they’re limping on is likely the most painful.

Not all guinea pigs in pain will be limping.  Also, even if they are in pain and are limping they may show no further signs of pain than the limping.

Metacam is tasty!
Carl nibbling on the Metacam  (a painkiller) Syringe

 

  1. Cage Bar- Biting

    Rodents normally chew but this can worsen or change when stressed.

    Most happy, healthy guinea pigs don’t chew their cage bars a lot unless they are stressed or bored.  If they suddenly start cage-biting it’s a sign something isn’t normal.

    Once they start cage-biting it is important for you to find the cause and try to treat it or correctly alter their behaviour whenever possible.

    Though you can buy foul-tasting liquids to spray on cage bars to prevent chewing.  This just acts as a deterrent and is unlikely to stop them chewing in the long term.  Also, chewing is only a sign of another underlying problem in a lot of cases so you need to discover what this is, correct it and then try to resolve their chewing if it continues.

  2.  Grinding Teeth (Bruxism)

 

Guinea Pigs sometimes grind their teeth when their mouths or teeth are sore.  This is usually the case if their teeth are overgrown or not meeting properly so some grow more than others.

If your guinea pig is grinding their teeth you need to see your vet ASAP as issues with their teeth/ mouth stop them eating properly, leading to other health problems.

The summary

The signs of pain in Guinea Pigs are very subtle and still poorly understood.

Unlike rabbits, mice, rats and other species, no long has studied the effects of pain on facial expression to aid with grading pain.  There are some easier signs to detect such as limping or crying out but otherwise you need to focus on subtle signs which, each on their own, could be unrelated to pain by being related to behavioural or medical issues or are a result of medication side effects.

The best way to detect signs of pain in guinea pigs is to look out for all potential signs and, if they show any, then try to identify if others are present, monitor them and look for the cause.

 

If your guinea pig show signs of pain you should take them to your vet.  Your vet can help to work out if they are in pain, where this is and then diagnose and treat them.

 

With Guinea Pigs, just being stressed from pain or them eating less can cause other health problems, some of which may be fatal.  This means trying to resolve pain not only improves your guinea pig’s welfare but, if you don’t they could become very ill.

Finally, the signs of pain fit into a couple of big groups, normal behaviours they have stopped doing (such as being active or eating) and pain behaviours they have started (such as writhing or sleeping).  It must be remembered that Guinea Pigs hide pain when people are around, so it can be very hard to spot; even if you only see a pain behaviour performed a couple of times it may suggest a major problem.

Final Words

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If you have any questions regarding pain, guinea pigs or something else entirely feel free to ask in the comments below or, otherwise, contact me directly via my form.

What’s Involved with Spaying Your Cat

A cat spay is considered in veterinary surgeries as a routine procedure. Vet students (under the direct guidance of qualified Veterinary surgeons) spay cats before qualifying and they’re performed on a daily basis by most small animal vets.

Many UK rescue centres, such as Cats Protection, offer deals for certain groups of people to get their cats neutered either free of charge or at low cost. Many rescue centres also insist on female cats (Queens) being spayed before, or very soon after, being adopted.

What’s the reason behind this, should all cats be neutered and what are the potential pros and cons. These are factors I’m going to explore over the rest of this blog.

What is Spaying?

Spaying is the name given to neutering female cats. It involves removing the ovaries and often the uterus. With women, this is known as an Ovariohysterectomy (“Ovario-” refers to the ovaries whereas “Hysterectomy”, removal of the uterus (or womb) so, put together, it means removal of the uterus and ovaries) and it’s definitely not a routine procedure in human medicine. In fact, in human medicine, it’s not done when at all possible.

With people, though they usually just perform a hysterectomy (ie they leave the uterus alone), the ovaries are almost always removed in veterinary species. Usually, with the cat, sometimes it is only the ovaries removed and the uterus left in place; the opposite to women.

Women without ovaries are at risk of Osteoporosis (meaning pores, or holes, in the bones) but this doesn’t appear to be the case in spayed cats. Osteoporosis in women is often due to the reduction in oestrogen levels post-ovariohysterectomy/ menopause.

Though a lack of oestrogen doesn’t appear to have the same issues in cats, however, conversely, the presence of Oestrogen causes undesirable traits or conditions in cats. The fact that the removal of oestrogen causes few issues whereas the presence causes more problems is a big reason for spaying.
Oestrogen, along with other sex hormones it, lead to queens coming into season (“on heat”), becoming pregnant and increases the risk of some diseases.

Early neutering can be done from 4months old, sometimes earlier
Photo; Instagram @ xa_j_sx

About the Op?

In cat’s spaying is a major surgery but is relatively easy to do with adequate training and skills. Most new graduate vets (remember these have already undergone at least 5years of training at university) can spay a cat unassisted. Experienced vets can often manage the whole procedure in under fifteen minutes, often leaving an around 2cm in length if on the flank (side) or slightly longer if under the belly (known as midline).

Two methods are commonly performed in the UK. The flank spay is where cats are spayed through the (usually left) side of their abdomen. In a midline spay, the incision is underneath their belly, like in a bitch. Each vet tends to prefer one method over the other and use that method most of the time but the method used depends on a number of factors.

A flank spay is good for stray cats as you can monitor the cat’s wound from a distance following the surgery. Whereas, when you clip the hair of some oriental breeds, such as the Bengal, the hair regrow a darker colour. If you spay these breeds via the flank approach they will have a square patch of visibly different hair on their side whereas this is less visible under their belly.

Another benefit to a midline spay is that the uterus can still be easily removed if the cat is pregnant. This is sadly done quite often and sometimes because before the vet starts to spay the cat the owner isn’t aware of the pregnancy or, the owner wanted the cat spaying as a way to stop the pregnancy.

If your cat goes to be spayed and the vet finds out your cat is pregnant during the surgery, find that she is already pregnant, don’t worry. Before the vet proceeds further with the surgery he or she will contact you to discuss the situation. Your potential options will be for the surgery to be halted and your cat stitched back up so the pregnancy should proceed as normal or for her to still be spayed meaning the kittens will die.

Spaying for both species, despite the different approaches and complexities, is basically the same. For both, they have stitches internally and in the skin (which may or may not need taking out), and they should be rested for a couple of weeks to some extent.

In cats, it depends on the individual vet whether the ovaries are removed alone or with the whole of the uterus removed with them. Most issues affecting the uterus are due to the hormones released by the ovaries. If the ovaries are removed, therefore, these often don’t occur or, at least, are much less likely to. The reason the uterus may not be removed is that sometimes this is more difficult to do due to the position of the incision but shouldn’t make a difference to the cat overall.

Young kittens who have only just been born

Positives to Spaying

  1. Stops your cat going into season.
    1. You won’t get the few days every three weeks throughout Spring to Autumn of them constantly calling out waking you up from your sleep.
    2.  The constant worry and risk of them becoming pregnant is gone. This means you no longer have to worry about them going out and meeting with a Tom. Therefore, once cats are spayed many owners are happier about them going outside which is often better for their welfare, at least from a psychological point of view however it does depend on the traffic in your area as to whether you feel it is safe or not.
  2.  Birth control.
    1. Pure and simply once spayed a cat cannot get pregnant.
    2. To avoid pregnancy, most vets advise you do not allow your cat to go out before they are neutered. This is especially the case with young kittens. It is possible for kittens to get pregnant from four months old in some cases; at this point, they are not fully grown themselves and becoming pregnant can jeopardise the health of them and their litter.
    3. As the population of cats UK exceeds the demand (as seen by rescue centres constantly being filled to the brim), kittens are difficult to sell so may end up in shelters or straying.
      1. An entire (not-spayed) queen is responsible for the birth of 20,000 kittens over just five years, many of whom may be unwanted.
    4. Sex hormone-related cancers
      1. Mammary cancer (a cat version of breast cancer) risk rises after a queen’s first season; those spayed before six months old have a 91% less chance of developing mammary cancer compared to those spayed when over six months. Up to a year of age cat’s are still at a 86% lower risk of getting mammary cancer than those who are older.
      2. Mammary cancers are still quite rare in cats likely at least partially due to the majority being spayed early.
      3. The risk of mammary cancers is NOT reduced by a queen having a litter.
        1.  It is a myth that a cat should have a litter.
        2. Cat’s aren’t like us in that they don’t dream of having offspring or view it as something that should happen.
        3. Cats can get quite unwell when they have kittens. They often lose a lot of weight, they may have infections develop in either their uterus or mammary glands which will make them really unwell.
        4. Some don’t build an attachment with their young leading to them rejecting so the kittens will need hand-rearing. Whilst hand-rearing sounds cute, it takes a lot of work. Hand-reared kittens are more prone to disease as they don’t get the immunity they usually would from their mother. Many also don’t thrive well In the early stages they only drink very slowly and need to drink milk every two hours throughout both the day and night, leaving you, your family, and potentially your friends exhausted.
        5. Cats can either have benign mammary cancers which are usually resolved by surgically removing the affected mammary gland or malignant ones.
      4. Malignant mammary tumours are cancers that spread to other parts of the body. In dogs there is a 50:50 chance of getting one type or the other. Sadly in cats there is an 85% chance that the cancer is malignant. Malignant cancers will spread to other mammary glands or further around the body, often to the lungs causing coughing, breathlessness and weight loss.
        1. Cats with malignant cancers have a very poor prognosis, they are unlikely to survive long. If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body then removal of the mammary glands will not dramatically improve survival rates. For this reason, In cases of mammary cancer vets will usually advise taking XRays of the lungs to look for spread before doing surgery. These are not done to cost you more money but to see if surgery is the best route for your cat.
      5.  Ovarian Cancers
        1.  These only occur if the ovaries have not been removed. As these are removed the vast majority of the times when cats are spayed they will not be present in unsprayed animals (unless only the uterus has been removed)
        2. Ovarian cancers are rare in cats and only make up approximately 3% of cancers, mainly affecting older cats. The reason for the low level of this is the high percentage of cats being spayed.
        3. These can spread to other areas of the body or also be benign, sometimes just looking like cysts. If they are benign then removing the ovaries will sure them.
        4.  With a function of the ovaries being to release sex hormones, tumours there can affect hormone release. This may lead to changes in fertility, changes in their cycle, behaviour changes (aggression developing), vaginal discharge, pyometra
        5.  Other, non-hormonal signs of an ovarian tumour are weight loss, vomiting, eating/ drinking less, pain, lethargy.
      6.  Uterine Cancers
        1. These are rare and account for less than 1.5% of cancers in the cat.
        2. They tend to be hormone related so it’s very rare these occur after Ovariectomy (removal of just the ovaries which some vets perform when spaying).
        3. Many are malignant so spread to other areas of the body, often within the belly but not all of them. In benign cases often a hysterectomy will resolve them.
        4.  These can cause your cat to have a swollen up belly, increased or bloody vaginal discharge, changes in fertility and their cycle of when they’re in season or not. Some cats also lose weight and eat/ drink less and may become more sleepy or inactive.
      7.  Pyometra= “Pus in Uterus”, a life-threatening hormone-associated uterine infection.
        1. Less common in queens compared to bitches however they shouldn’t be ignored as they require urgent treatment, usually an emergency spay.
        2.  A pyometra spay is a much bigger surgery than a routine spay.
          1. if the uterus is damaged before it is removed, pus can leak into the belly which is very dangerous and potentially lethal.
          2. To ensure the uterus and ovaries are removed intact, and there is space to remove the enlarged uterus, the wound is bigger so they may be in pain for longer.
          3.  They will usually require antibiotics after to kill any bacteria leached into their bloodstream and ensure your cat fully recovers.
        3.  Approximately 5.7%, which is just over 1 in 20, of cats suffering from a pyo will die even with appropriate treatment. This figure that is slightly higher in dogs who are more commonly affected.
          1.  Approximately 17 cats out of 10,000 unspayed queens in any one year suffers from a pyometra.
            1.  This figure varies between breeds though.
            2.  For instance, 433 out of 10,000 unspayed sphynx cats get a pyometra every year, that’s almost one in twenty and 25x the risk of an average cat getting one.
            3.  Across all breeds, the likelihood of getting a pyometra is increased when your cat reaches seven years old, compared to dogs where risk increases once they reach ten years. Therefore, pyometras shouldn’t be thought of as an old age condition in the cat.

              A cat uterus thickened likely due to pyometra or cancer
      8.  Spayed cats are less than likely to roam.
        1. This reduces the risk of Road Traffic Accidents and them going missing.
        2. They also are less likely to get fighting-related or sexually transmitted diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV, similar to HIV in people.

The Negatives

  1. Weight gain and obesity
    1. Spaying your cat will make her more prone to weight gain or obesity
    2. You will need to keep an eye on their weight and perhaps put them on a low-calorie diet and give them fewer treats.
    3.  Making sure your cat gets plenty of exercise also helps to keep them fit and lean as well as mentally stimulating them.
  2. Spaying is not a quick and easy way to alter their behaviour
    1.  This is not a negative to the surgery but disappoints people who hope it will reduce any issues they may have with their behaviour which may have initially been linked to hormones.
    2.  Usually, spaying doesn’t alter behaviour at all though, in males, castration can sometimes reduce aggression in some cases but often doesn’t entirely stop it.

Early Neutering

Most veterinary practices and rescue centres recommend early neutering in cats, usually when they are between four and six months old but could be as young as 12weeks (or earlier in some cases).

Early neutering ensures cats cannot reproduce at all. Depending on when your cat is born, they may enter puberty at four to eight months of age (the variation is because they don’t come into season and, therefore enter puberty, over the Winter). It also reduces the risks of mammary tumours when older.

Another reason for early neutering is the surgery is easier and has fewer risks. At this age, cats have less belly fat so this doesn’t surround the ovaries and uterus in the same way as in older cats. Therefore the organs can be seen and removed easier, usually with a lower risk of bleeding.

Summing up the factors involving spaying your cat

Female cats can be spayed from as young as twelve weeks in most cases. The main reasons for neutering them is to prevent pregnancy, reduce the risks of hormone-related cancers and a pyometra. It can also reduce the risk of them roaming and, therefore, the chances of them getting hit by a car. The main negative is that it can cause them to gain weight especially if they have little exercise.

If you still have any questions regarding spaying, either what involved or the pros and cons then feel free to contact me to discuss it in more detail or leave a comment below. Other than that your vet or a veterinary nurse is the ideal person to talk to regarding this and they can also discuss any policies within the practice you use.

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What is Involved with Spaying your Dog?

Spaying in veterinary surgeries is classed as a routine procedure.  Vet students spay cats and often spay bitches before qualifying.  Spaying your dog is definitely not a simple surgery. You should weigh up the pros and cons to decide the best choice for you and your dog.

I know of experienced vets who are anxious when spaying bitches but why is that the case?

What is Spaying?

Spaying is the name given to neutering female animals.  It involves removing both the ovaries and usually the uterus.  In women, this is known as an Ovariohysterectomy and it’s not a routine procedure.  In fact, in human medicine it’s avoided whenever possible and is usually only performed by Gynaecologists with several years’ experience post-graduation from Med School.

Broken down, Ovariohysterectomy means; “Ovario-” refers to the ovaries whereas “Hysterectomy”, removal of the uterus (or womb) so, put together, it means removal of the uterus and ovaries.

In humans, though they usually just perform a hysterectomy (ie the ovaries are not removed) whereas if vets are spaying your dog the ovaries are almost always removed.  Women without ovaries have low Oestrogen (a female sex hormone) levels.  People’s need Oestrogen for their bones to absorb sufficient Calcium. Without Oestrogen, the bones poorly absorb Calcium.  Naturally post-menopause the levels of Oestrogen in women put them at risk of Osteoporosis (meaning pores, or holes, in the bones) and removal of the ovaries causes this to occur sooner.

In dogs, however, this doesn’t appear to happen.  The relationship between Oestrogen and Calcium is unknown.  This means the removal of the ovaries causes fewer problems in our pets.

Oestrogen does cause issues.  Along with other sex hormones, oestrogen leads to bitches coming into season (“on heat”), makes them fertile and increases the risk of some diseases (eg mammary cancer).  These factors together demonstrate why vets spay bitches.

Normal Bitch spay
A normal bitch spay showing the anatomy of the female reproductive tract which is removed via spaying.
Why is Spaying Your Dog a Big Surgery?

Spaying isn’t an easy surgery, especially not with larger breeds or overweight dogs. With these, it’s harder to get to the ovaries and sufficiently cut off their blood supply.

If blood supply isn’t sufficiently cut off it leaves a blood vessel close to the Aorta (the biggest artery in the body, coming straight out of the heart into the tummy) open leading to blood pulsing out which, in severe cases and when not immediately dealt with, can lead to death.

Dogs also have a large amount of fat around the ovaries making them harder to find and cut off the blood supply, risking future bleeding.

This surgery can be incredibly stressful for the veterinary surgeon and whilst most bitches are fine, especially those who are young and a healthy weight, there are occasional complications.  The complication rate is around 17-22% but most of these are related to issues with the wound healing rather than complications in the surgery (6% of spays).

Spaying your dog is usually done by open surgery where a cut is placed down the centre of the tummy and both the ovaries and uterus are removed through that hole.

To have bitch spay
A young female YorkieX puppy who will be spayed in a few months.  Instagram; @TenaciousTilly

Otherwise, some practices do it via keyhole surgery.  Here, several small incisions are made and usually just the ovaries are removed.  Even if the uterus is not removed, with the ovaries gone the bitch can’t get pregnant or get a condition known as a pyometra which is partially caused by female sex hormones.

Spaying requires the vet to close your bitches muscle layers with dissolvable stitches.  These do not need removing. They then close the skin with either the same material or stitches which need to be removed seven to ten days later.

After the op your dog will be sore so will usually go home with several days worth of painkillers.  You should try to keep them quiet for the first few days and prevent them jumping up.

After a week has passed treating them like normal is fine most cases.  However, your dog’s muscles still won’t be fully healed so you should not let them run off the lead for around three weeks.

 

What are the Positives to Spaying
  • Stops your dog going into season.
    • You don’t have to worry about not taking them for a walk or to doggy day-care when in season in case there are any males around.
    • The mess involved with bitches bleeding when in season no longer occurs.
  • Birth control.
    • Pure and simply once they are spayed they cannot breed.
    • The UK dog population exceeds the demand (with rescue centres completely full) puppies are difficult to sell and may end up in a shelter
  • Pyometria = “Pus in Uterus”
    pyometra bitch spay
    The pus-filled uterus of a pyometra being removed in surgery
    • This is a life-theratening condition killing approximate 5% of treated cases meaning 1% of entire female dogs older than 10 years die from it.
    • There are two main treatments for Pyometra’s;
      • Emergency or urgent spaying; main treatment most vets use.
        • This involves the removal of the whole uterus which also removes all the infection.
        • Dog’s will also be put on a drip and needed large amounts of antibiotics to kill the bacteria in their bloodstream.
      • Medical Treatment
        • Giving the bitch with two or three different medications, to open the cervix (sometimes it’s already dilated), expel pus from the uterus and antibiotics to kill the bacteria.
        • This is often successful however in 80% of cases bitches will go on to develop a pyometria after their next season.  Bitches should be spayed once they’ve recovered.
        • Spaying is a big operation and riskier in ill animals. The advantage of this approach spaying your dog when they are healthier to reduce the risk of surgery.
        • I have seen this method not be fully effective leading to the bitch needing to be spayed urgently when unwell.
        • Though Prometra’s most commonly occur when bitches are over 10yrs old, 2% of bitches get this within any year when they are younger.
  • Mammary cancers (breast cancer in dogs)
      • The risk of dogs getting mammary cancer if they are spayed before their first season is virtually nothing, 0.5% meaning 1 in 200 bitches will get it.  However, the risk rises with each successive season they have, being at 8% if spayed after their first season and 26% after their second.
      • Mammary Tumours are grouped into two main types, benign ones which spread (malignant) with chances being 50:50.
      • If it’s benign it can usually be removed by surgery and if all of it has been removed there should be no further problems.
      • In malignant cases, tumours are likely to spread throughout the other mammary glands and elsewhere; most commonly to the lungs.
        • These are harder to treat and once they’ve spread to the lungs further treatment may only extend/ improve your dog’s life rather than cure them.
      • Studies have shown spaying a bitch once she has mammary cancer will not improve their survival times.
  • Ovary and Uterine Cancers
    • These are less common and can mostly only affect animals who haven’t been spayed.
      • Uterine cancers are seen in only approximately 0.3-0.4% tumours in dogs whereas Ovarian cancers are seen in 0.5-6% of dogs.
      • If they’ve only had their ovaries removed they can still get uterine cancer though the chance is low.
    • These are often diagnosed quite late and are difficult to treat.
What Are the Cons?
  • Urinary incontinence when older associated with a loss of hormones they would’ve had if they weren’t spayed.
    • Most cases caused by spaying the bitch would have incontinence to some degree prior to their first season.
      • With these bitches if you still want them to be spayed it is recommended that you wait until after their first season as often the hormones leading to this help stop the incontinence from continuing.
    • Generally even if they had no issues when young, being spayed after their first season reduces the risks and severity of spay-associated urinary incontinence when older, however, it still occurs in approximately 20% of spayed bitches.
  • Obesity
    • Neutered animals need approximately 30% fewer calories than entire ones so it is easy for them to quickly gain weight once spayed.
    • It is recommended you put them on a lite/ low calorie or “neutered dog” diet post-spaying. These have all the nutrients in normal diets but fewer calories.  As opposed to feeding them less of a normal diet where they’ll also receive fewer vitamins/ minerals/ proteins that they need.
  • Hypothyroidism
    • A disorder where the metabolism is slowed.
    • It can also cause hair loss, lack of energy, mood changes, aggression, obesity and make the dogs feel cold much of the time
    • It needs lifelong medication, usually in the form of tablets, to improve your dog’s symptoms
  • Vaginal Dermatitis
    • Swelling, pain and infection of the vagina, vulva and some of the areas around them.
    • Signs of this are hair loss and thickening of/ discharge from the skin around the vagina and vulva. She will often be licking the area a lot and making it really sore and reddened.
    • This usually starts before a bitch hits puberty and is due to a lack of sex hormones
    • The first surge of hormones prior to their first season usually resolves this
    • If affected dogs are spayed prior to their first season this will worsen rather than resolve and may affect them for life and can be very uncomfortable.
  • Osteosarcoma
    Xray showing Osteosarcoma; a bitch spay risk
    Xray with arrows showing suspected osteosarcome. See the increased bone an the “fuzziness” in it indicating some of the bone has been eaten away.
    • This is a really nasty bone cancer
    • It tends to affect big breeds of dog, especially Rottweilers
    • It causes huge swellings most commonly around the elbow which are excruciatingly painful and solid.
    • They are very quick to come up and this cancer causes much of the bone to be eaten away often leading to the bone fracturing. It also spreads to the lungs very quickly can affecting your dog’s breathing.
    • Most cases will be diagnosed with XRays. A vet will not only xray the leg but also the chest to look for spread.
    • The biggest chance of survival is to amputate the leg or at least remove all of the affected part and replace it with bone grafts (bits of bone taken from dead animals) or metal plates.
      • With Rottweilers being such heavy dogs, along with other breeds prone to this, these interventions often aren’t very successful
    • In the majority of cases there’s already spread to the lungs before amputation is performed, thus the chances of them surviving longer than a year or two even with intensive treatment are very small. If chemotherapy or radiotherapy is not attempted in these cases the dog often has weeks to live, if that,
      • To avoid this it is often worthwhile delaying neutering Rottweilers and other large breeds until at least after their first season.

 

In Summary

Spaying your dog has several positives and negatives.  Firstly it prevents them getting pregnant as well as reduce the risk of mammary cancers and prevent ovarian and uterine cancers and Pyometras.  These can all be fatal.

The downsides, however, are the increased risks of obesity, incontinence, Hypothyroidism, Vaginal dermatitis and Osteosarcoma’s, especially in Rottweilers.

Most of the positives are aided by early neutering before bitches have their first season and having puppies does not reduce the risk of problems; in fact there’s the risk of her having health issues during the pregnancy, birth or afterwards.  However, the opposite can be said for the cons; these may be reduced with later spaying.

Whether you choose to spay your dog early, later on, or not at all is up to you but you should definitely have a think about it and discuss it with your veterinary surgeon.

 

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Fourteen Signs of Pain in Rabbits

I have commonly met owners who’ve told me that rabbits don’t feel pain.  As rabbits don’t show easily obvious signs of pain these owners completely believed this.  They believed that like people or other vocal species, rabbits in pain and act totally different which often isn’t the case.  The truth is, the signs of pain in rabbits are similar, just more subtle, than in other species.

Not only did I constantly hear this from owners but I also noticed a lack of recognition of pain amongst my colleagues in rabbits.  As a result of many vets not being able to recognise pain in rabbits I suspected they underestimated the amount of pain relief rabbits needed after injuries or  operations.

One day after being frustrated with these thoughts and after meeting another owner stating the same to me, a lightbulb shone in my head.  My brain woke up and said,

“If they don’t recognise it and there’s few studies demonstrating pain in rabbits then why not study it yourself”

A few enquiries to different universities later and, to make a long story short, my Masters Degree dissertation developed.  I spent several months reading about the recognition of pain in rabbits (amongst other species).  This was spent many many hours filming, watching and analysing video clips of rabbits who may or may not have been in pain from potentially being castrated; I say potentially, some clips were filmed before rabbits were castrated!

So, you could say detecting pain is an interest of mine, especially with my favourite rotation at vet school being Anaesthesia which included Analgesia (the posh word for painkillers!).  Some people think it’s a bit of a weird interest and that I maybe have a morbid fascination with pain.

The reality, if we are in pain we take a couple of paracetamol tablets or see a doctor for stronger painkillers.  If animals are in pain they can’t do this (well, ignoring research studies where Chickens have both normal feed and feed laced with painkillers in their pens.  Then chickens who’re in pain will likely eat the feed with painkillers in… yes I’m a geek!).

Given the choice, chickens select food with pain killers in.

How do Rabbits Show Pain?

  1. Hiding or laying more
    1. This is seen in most species
    2. Rabbits in pain tend to hide or sleep more.
    3. You may not see them at all or as much.
    4. This is to protect themselves both from predators (our pets believe there may still be one) and make sure their injuries don’t get worse.
  2. Less Active
    1. Rabbits in pain move around less as they avoid doing anything that hurts.
    2. This may not be as obvious as them stopping moving completely; many are still active at times.
    3. However, if you scare them or go to pick them up (something which most rabbits hate) painful rabbits will usually still dart away.

      Rabbits in pain eat and drink less
      Like many animals, rabbits eat and drink less when in pain
  3.  Eat and Drink Less
    1. Studies have consistently shown that rabbits in pain eat and drink less.
    2. To see if your rabbit is in pain you can just compare how much they eat and drink compared to what they usually have.
    3. If you have two rabbits it may be impossible to tell as if one rabbit eats less due to pain the other may just enjoy the extra food it has left to eat so you don’t notice.
    4. It’s not always the case, some rabbits don’t change their eating patterns at all.
    5. Also, if your rabbit stops eating there may be a reason other than pain such as stress or feeling ill.
    6. Not eating can, in itself, make a rabbit very unwell.  A rabbit’s digestive system is designed for them to eat almost constantly.  If they stop eating or eat very little this can actually stop their guts from working.  This can be life-threatening so if your rabbit stops eating for whatever reason get it checked out ASAP; sometimes even just leaving them a few hours to get checked may be fatal.
    7. An advantage to checking their food and water is that you don’t have to disturb your rabbit.  This is definitely a bonus as they don’t want to be messed with when ill or in pain.
  4. Limping
    1. If your rabbit has a sore leg they may limp.
    2. Not all rabbits that are in pain will limp, even if their legs hurt, and not all rabbits limping are in pain.  Limping rabbits may have something affecting their brain or an old injury which cause them to limp despite not causing pain.
    3. However, if your rabbit starts limping and they weren’t before it is likely they are in pain.  Just don’t rule out pain because they’re not limping.
  5. Stand differently
    1. Rabbits with bellyache may stand with their backs arched up similar to what a dog or cat may do.
  6. Move Differently
    1. Rabbits in pain, when stood, may writhe a bit.  This is often seen with belly ache where they are twisting and stretching their bodies to relieve the pain.
    2. This is not always obvious as it often is done very quickly, each time lasting only a second or two.
  7. They may sleep more
    1. Being in pain is tiring.
    2. Often they sleep more due to having less energy left
    3. This means they may be in their bed more.
    4. Rabbits may also lie with their eyes shut when in pain, even if they’re awake.
  8. They may become more aggressive
    Rabbits in pain may be aggressive
    When it pain often rabbits stay away from each other or become aggressive
    1. Rabbits often don’t want to be played with or lifted by people even when they’re not in pain.
    2. When they’re in pain this is even more likely as they don’t want people making that pain worse.
    3. To try to make sure they’re not in more pain, rabbits do all they can to stop people handling them and stop playing with other rabbits.
    4. This may mean your rabbit becomes more aggressive and may even scratch or bite especially if someone is touching a sore area.
  9. High Breathing or Heart Rate
    1. Most owners don’t constantly check their rabbit’s heart or breathing rates. But, when a rabbit is in pain, you may notice their chest rising and falling as they breathe quicker.
    2. Them breathing quicker or their heart beating faster is both a sign of pain and stress so it can be difficult to use this as a method of detecting pain.
    3. This is especially so for rabbits who become stressed when around people or if people decide to lift them to check their heart rate.  In these cases, their heart or breathing rates would rise when lifted even with no pain.
    4. A vet may notice high heart or breathing rates when examining your rabbit BUT it may be hard to tell if this is due to pain or simply stress.
  10. Changes in Grooming Habits
      1. If your rabbit is in pain it will tend to clean itself less.
      2. However, if they’re in pain in an area of the body they can get to they may lick it more.
      3. Sometimes if a rabbit has surgery and they are in pain they may remove their stitches from nibbling at the area.
  11. Screaming
    Pain in rabbits can be seen by them lying down
    Rabbits may lie down more when in pain
    1. As a rule, rabbits do not cry out when they are in pain.
    2. However, there are exceptions to every rule.  In this case, rarely and when in severe pain, a rabbit may scream out.
    3. It is unlikely that they will scream but it is heard in some cases.
    4. Sometimes rabbits can be heard making slight whimpering noises but again this is uncommon and is very quiet.
  12. Grinding Teeth
    1. This may be seen with tooth pain and, uncommonly, with gut pain.
    2. Sometimes very ill or stressed rabbit’s abdomens bloat up.  This may also be caused by certain foods. Bloating is a result of your rabbit’s digestion slowing or even stopping.
    3. This is incredibly painful and can, sometimes, cause them to grind their teeth, especially if you’re feeling over their belly.  Bloat also causes rabbits to writhe.
  13. Weight Loss
    1. Rabbits in pain over several days or longer may lose weight.
    2. Your rabbit will both eat less and use up more energy from stress and having higher heart and breathing rates.
    3. If your rabbit appears to have lost weight then it may be due to pain but there are many other causes too.
  14. Change in Facial Expression
    This rabbit is just resting rather than in pain. His ears are back but his nose is a U shape
    1. Pain causes us to screw our eyes shut and open our mouth.
    2. Many mammals do similar with pain and rabbits aren’t an exception.  Some of the signs they show are subtle but all of them together may be due to pain.
    3. Eyes Closed; rabbits in pain, even when awake, may have their eyes closed or only partially open.
    4. Tense Whiskers; their whiskers may become tense and instead of pointing outwards from their face and moving quite a lot, they may be held very close to the face, together and be held downwards
    5. Nose Changes; Rabbits normally have a U shape to their nostrils when relaxed.  When in pain, however, this alters as the bottom part of their nose is tensed causing it to become smaller and leaving their nostrils to form a V shape.  This is very subtle though
    6. Ears Closed; Rabbits normally have nice open dome-shaped ears which are help upright.  When in pain this completely changes. Their ears may be held back, sometimes lie along their backs.  Their ears also close leaving the opening very narrow.
    7. Cheeks may flatten.  This is very hard to spot.  Rabbits cheeks are usually very rounded and easy to see.  However, when they’re in pain these become tense and no longer stick out but, instead, flatten and may even curve inwards.

What Should I do If My Rabbit Is in Pain?

The first step is recognising pain.  Once you’ve noticed your rabbit may be in pain you should take them to your vet.  As rabbits stop eating when they are in pain and them notIf your rabbit stops eating you must take them to a vet straight away as not doing so could, along with the pain, make them severely unwell.

Vet checks may be scary for both you and your rabbit but they are the only way to find out exactly what is wrong and treat it.  As rabbits don’t like being handled they may find it even more stressful than other pets but if they’re in pain then getting them checked is definitely the best thing.

If your vet finds out what is wrong with your rabbit and they need medications, don’t worry the majority of thse for rabbits are liquids.  These medications can be squirted straight into their mouths and your rabbit may like the taste of some of them.  The quicker you find the cause of their pain and start their treatment, the better and the less stressed and ill they’ll become overall.

 

Quick Recap

The main signs of pain in rabbits are changes in their facial expression, an increase in their heart and rates, them eating less, wanting to be left alone, sometimes becoming aggressive, and being quiet.

If they’re in pain take them to the vet to find and treat the problem.

 

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Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions or discussion points.  Also feel free to get in touch with me to find out more about this topic.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Tait (Twitter.com/ SarahTait123)