Caring for bunnies
Bunnies make wonderful pets and form great bonds with people, including children. Similar to dogs and cats, they each have their own individual personalities and are lots of fun. However, they also require lots of attention to be cared for properly.
Most rabbits are expected to live for between 6 -14 years, reaching a maximum body weight of between 2 to 6 kg at adulthood.
Rabbits start breeding from 4 -10 months. It is therefore important to get them desexed (usually at 6 months).
Rabbits need to be handled regularly especially when they are young, so that they get used to it and do not scratch or bite.
The best way to handle a rabbit is when seated to avoid the rabbit falling. Rabbits should be picked up with two hands and held close to the chest or on your lap so they can rest their feet and feel secure (see figure 1). It is also recommended to wash your hands before (and after!) handling a rabbit, as other animal smells can frighten and cause stress in rabbits.
Rabbits require daily exercise. If your rabbit is living in a hutch of minimum size make sure it has an exercise area that is safe and can be left in for at least two hours each day.
Figure 1 - Handling of the rabbit
Basic Veterinary Care
New rabbits should ideally be checked by a vet. Rabbits, like all pets, are vulnerable to diseases, in particular diseases such as myxomatosis and calicivirus. These diseases are generally fatal for pet rabbits.
Both diseases were previously introduced into Australia in order to control the wild rabbit population. Unfortunately pet rabbits are just as susceptible to them.
There is no vaccination available for rabbit myxomatosis. However, you can have your rabbit vaccinated against calicivirus annually by your veterinarian. Rabbits are initially vaccinated at 10 - 12 weeks of age and then every 12 months to maintain immunity throughout life.
Rabbits should be desexed between 4-6 months of age, regardless of sex. This helps to prevent diseases and to avoid territorial disputes, as well as other behavioural problems, such as scent marking in the house especially in male rabbits. It is even more important to desex female rabbits as it prevents the development of cancer of the uterus, which affects up to 80% of undesexed female rabbits.
Rabbits are susceptible to both mite (ear and fur mites) and flea infestations.
Rabbits with fur mites tend to develop dry skin which appears similar to dandruff in humans. This does not tend to be itchy. However, rabbits with ear mites tend to scratch their ears alot, and sometimes there is wax visible in the ear canals (see figures 2 and 3).
Both types of mites as well as fleas can be treated easily with Revolution, a product available at all of our hospitals. Never use Frontline in a rabbit as it is toxic to them.
Demonstration of ear mites in a rabbit
Microscopic appearance of the ear mites
Rabbits can develop dental problems easily, as their teeth are constantly growing. It is important that they are constantly chewing on something; either grass, hay or a gnawing block as their teeth grow at a rate of 2-3mm per week. Overgrown incisors (front) and molars (back) are commonly seen at our hospitals, either due to a poor diet, trauma, or developmental problems (see figure 4). Clinical signs of overgrown teeth include weight loss, severe pain and discomfort.
Rabbits with overgrown teeth require regular teeth trims. Trimming of incisors is simple and can be done at all of our hospitals; however it is recommended that rabbits with overgrown molars be taken to the Southern Animal Hospital as they can develop spurs, which require specialised equipment to remove.
Figure 4 - Rabbit with overgrown inscisors
Feeding of the rabbit
Being herbivores, rabbits feed on grass and other plant materials. Rabbits need a high fibre diet for proper gut function and for dental wear.
Rabbits require a constant source of grass hay (pasture hay, meadow hay, oaten hay, cereal hay). Legume hays (lucerne, alfalfa or clover) can be fed to young, pregnant and lactating rabbits, but should be avoided at other times as they contain too much calcium and protein.
Fresh leafy green vegetables should also be provided and they should have at least 3 different types every day.
Feed at least 2 packed cups (or 250g) per kg body weight per day.
Suitable vegetables include celery, carrot/beetroot tops, spinach, asian greens (eg bok choy), mustard greens, herbs and grass.
Treats such as fruit, carrot, sweet potato and capsicum can be given but up to a maximum of 2 tabletspoons daily.
Avoid foods high in fat, protein and sugar such as cereals, grains, nuts, seeds, corn, beans, peas, breads, biscuits, sweets, sugar, breakfast, chocolate.
It is important to make any changes to your rabbit's diet slowly over a week, to prevent any intestinal upsets.
Housing of rabbits
Hutches should be large, safe and secure to provide shelter, allow for proper movement, and security from predators. Rabbits should also be given the opportunity to exercise outside the hutch daily, for a few hours. Hutches should ideally be protective against extreme weather conditions such as rain and heat, and should be well ventilated.
Fly screen or mosquito nets (available from most camping or army op-shops) should be fitted over hutches to protect rabbits from mosquitoes.
Hay, straw, shredded paper will all provide suitable bedding for a rabbit's hutch. Please note that wire floor is not suitable as bedding as it can cause damage to rabbits' feet.
Hutches should be cleaned thoroughly at least once weekly. Soiled bedding does need to be changed once a day as well.
Hutches should also include a 'burrow' for rabbits to hide in in case they feel stressed or threatened. Burrows can be created using turned over boxes or a covered corner of the room. By providing rabbits with a greater sense of security, we reduce the risks of stress-related diseases. New rabbits tend to be very easily stressed.
Other ways of reducing stress in rabbits include keeping more than 1 rabbit and the provision of proper 'play-time'. Rabbits have been shown to be very social animals and a companion is usually recommended. Mixes of 2 females, 1 male and 1 female or a mixes of neutered rabbits are recommended; we do not recommend mixing 2 entire males. Do not mix rabbits and guinea pigs, as rabbits and guinea pigs can catch diseases from each other.
Toys can include old phone directories to chew on, boxes to crawl around in and some wooden toys. Stimulate mental activity by hiding treats among toys.
Exercise is also very important in rabbits- similarly this helps to stimulate mental activity, and provides rabbits with sunlight, which is important.
Ferrets, whilst not the most common pet animal in the world, certainly make good companions. They are small and intelligent and are easy to take care of. Here is some information on general ferret care.
The average size of a male ferret is 45 cm, and he normally weighs between 1.2 - 2.3 kg. The average female ferret weighs 0.5 - 1.2 kg and is 35 cm long. The lifespan of ferrets tends to range from 6 - 12 years although 20 year old ferrets have been reported.
Ferrets prefer to live in pairs or in small groups so consider that maybe one is not enough! Ferrets can get along with cats and dogs but supervision is recommended. Introductions to existing pets need to be done gradually.
Ferrets must be kept in a cool area to avoid heatstroke in summer. Ferrets are happy to be housed in a cage but will need to be let out for a few hours each day for socialising and to avoid behavioural problems. Cages for two ferrets should be a minimum of 2 metres square. Most cages are made of metal wire with a solid floor and at least some shade area. Cages are divided into zones of:
• Sleeping quarters (a sleeping box containing old towels, blankets, clothing etc.)
• Litter tray (cat litter tray kept separate from feed).
• Food and water bowls
Use your imagination to make your ferret a great home.
Ferrets in the house
To enable your ferret to spend some time out its cage you will need to "ferret proof” your home. Ferrets can get into anywhere and destroy many items. Block off holes, make cupboards inaccessible, and take care with heaters, air conditioners, bins, toilets and fragile items. Avoid leaving small objects, such as bits of rubber that can be ingested and cause a bowel obstruction.
Ferrets love toys but care needs to be made to ensure they are not small enough to be swallowed or can be broken down into components that could be swallowed. Plastic balls and lengths of flexible pipe as tunnels are good toys.
Ferrets are obligate carnivores (they need to eat meat). An outline of a feeding plan includes:
DAILY - Fresh water at all times. Feed a combination of meat and dry biscuits. Include fresh raw chopped meats such as lamb, beef, chicken or rabbit and high quality cat biscuits such as lams or Advance. Ferrets under the age of 3-4 years should be fed kitten or growth formula biscuits, but older ferrets are best fed an adult cat version.
WEEKLY - Raw chicken wings or necks to clean teeth. Egg yolk but not egg white.
NEVER - Dairy products, chocolate, fish-based biscuits, cooked bones, salt, dried coconut, dogs hide chews, sausage mince.
Desexing is recommended for both male and female ferrets from 4-6 months of age. Desexing is essential for female ferrets that are not being bred from. A female ferret will usually come into season in September and will remain in season until she is desexed, mated or receives veterinary treatment to bring her out of season. Unless she is brought out of season there is a real danger she will die from oestrogen induced anaemia!
Without desexing, males can have a coat colour change (yellowing), and tend to have an unpleasant odour. Entire males can also become quite aggressive and try very hard to escape from their cage in search of a mate.
Vaccination and Health Checks
Ferrets need vaccination at 6-8 weeks of age, 12 weeks of age and 16 weeks of age against distemper. Your vet needs to be aware of the need to use suitable brands of vaccine and to dilute the dog dose for ferrets. This vaccine is repeated annually. A health exam is done at each vaccination visit. As ferrets get older it is recommended to have blood screening for various common ferret diseases.
Gastrointestinal parasites are uncommon in ferrets compared to dogs and cats. They require intestinal worming only once every 6 months, and also need to be on a heartworm preventative.
All ferrets are prone to ear mites and fleas. A very useful product for ferrets is called "Revolution". This is a topical spot on product used once a month. Although it is not registered for use in ferrets, it appears to be safe with careful dosing in healthy ferrets. It covers against gastrointestinal parasites, heartworm, ear mites and fleas. The usual dose is half a vial of the kitten or puppy pack once a month.
For further information regarding special needs or health issues, please phone to speak with one of our vets.
Goldfish care (aka goldfish 101)
Goldfish are members of the fish family Cyprindae. The scientific name of the goldfish is Carassius auratus. The name Carassius refers to many of the carp family, and auratus literally means "overladen with gold". Along with Koi and pond carp, goldfish make up a large portion of this group of fish.
Caring for your goldfish
Goldfish are temperate animals, and can withstand a wide range of temperatures. In a natural pond, or a large water garden, goldfish may winter over even if the water freezes at the surface. Aquariums should be kept at 20-24 degrees Celsius. However, due to their metabolic demands, cooler water is best.
The biggest obstacle for many goldfish keepers is maintaining the water quality. Goldfish are messy eaters, and they eat a lot, resulting in dirtying and lowering of water quality.
Goldfish prefer to live in clean water. They can tolerate a wide range of pH, but prefer neutral to slightly basic water. They do not do well if ammonia or nitrite is present. Since they can easily produce huge quantities of wastes and ammonia, they should be kept in well-filtered aquariums.
Goldfish should be housed at the rate of one small fish per 30-40 litres of water. Larger fish can require up to 100 litres each.
Goldfish are peaceful, but have different needs than most other fish, so usually should not be in a community aquarium. This is because they need lots of space; they root up gravel; they disrupt plants & rocks; and they prefer cooler water temperatures.
Feeding your goldfish
Whenever a goldfish is confronted with food, its instinctive reaction is to eat it. Most foods available today have a very high protein component. This is quite different from the mostly-fibre diet they consume in nature. They eat mostly algae, grasses, and aquatic plants in the wild. This means we have to be careful how much "high protein" food they consume in the aquarium.
Another problem is overfeeding. Because goldfish will always eat when presented with food, they always appear to be hungry. Owners can kill goldfish trying to appease that bottomless appetite. Aquarium goldfish have few caloric needs, so one to two pellets a day may be all that's necessary to maintain and grow a goldfish.
Please do not hesitate to contact us at any of our hospitals for more information.