Rabbits, Guinea Pigs and Birds

RABBITS

Domestic rabbits are becoming more popular pets and can be kept as house pets or outside in a suitable hutch. Generally they are social animals and like human company. They can easily be toilet trained to use a litter tray or to use a cat door!!

There are a number of important factors to be aware of when keeping a pet rabbit as they are quite different to a cat or dog.

Vaccinations

Teeth

Rabbits teeth grow continuously and they wear down during eating. The correct diet high in fibre is vital to ensure adequate wear and prevent dental problems. Signs of dental problems include dribbling of saliva, reluctance to eat, weight loss, lack of grooming and discharge from the eye.

Diet

Rabbits in the wild eat a diet of grass! Rabbits must have adequate fibre in their diet. Many commercial rabbit foods do not contain the right fibre content which should be above 18-20%. This is best provided as fresh hay and grass daily. Examples of suitable hay varieties include Timothy, Wheaten, Oaten, Pasture, Meadow, Paddock and Ryegrass hays. A supply of fresh grass is also important. Hay or grass should make up 80% of the rabbits diet. Vegetables are great to feed too but chose the right varieties. Choose from broccoli, cabbage, celery, beet tops, carrot tops, bok choy, spinach leaves, endive, other Asian greens, dark leafed lettuce varieties and herbs such as parsley, mint, dill, basil, coriander and dandelion. Concentrate pellet foods can be used as treats only but are not suitable to use as a main part of the diet as they are generally too low in fibre. It is best to avoid “rabbit mixes” as rabbits will feed selectively and often avoid eating the fibre in the loose mix. Fresh water must be freely accessible and is best supplied in a water bottle dispenser.

It is normal for rabbits to eat some of their own faeces and it is an essential part of their diet. It is important to leave some faecal pellets in the hutch for this reason.

Housing

Rabbits can be kept as indoor pets. They can be toilet trained to use a litter tray. This can be initially achieved by putting some of their droppings in the litter tray to encourage them to use it. Wood or paper- based litter should be used. Rabbits will also readily use a cat flap to gain indoor/outdoor access. Remember that rabbits will chew so it is important that they do not have access to power cords etc. An old telephone book is a good chewing aid for them.

Outdoor rabbits must have a suitable hutch which provides protection from the elements as well as being elevated off the ground. It should have a waterproof roof. It is important to avoid extreme temperatures as heat stress and heat stroke occur easily. Fly and mosquito control should be considered in the summer months to minimise fly strike and transmission of myxomatosis.

Desexing

Rabbits reach puberty at 4-6 months of age and are prolific breeders! Smaller breeds mature faster than larger breeds. Desexing rabbits helps to reduce aggression between pets and also towards humans! It also eliminates the risk of uterine cancer in older female rabbits. Rabbits can be desexed from 14-16 weeks of age.

n March 2017  a new strain of Rabbit Calicivirus (RHDV K5) will be released in Australia. The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) has updated its recommendations regarding protecting pet rabbits from the various strains of calicivirus in Australia. Please note that the new vaccination protocol is “off label” which means it is not the protocol set out by the manufacturer of the vaccine. Also, there is no guarantee that the vaccine will be 100% protective against all strains of calicivirus in all rabbits.

Current Vaccination Recommendations :

Baby Rabbits (kittens) 4,8,12 weeks of age then 6 monthly for life

Adults (Not up to date with vaccine) : 2 vaccinations 1 month apart, then 6 monthly for life

Please contact the clinic immediately if your rabbit has not been vaccinated in the past 6 months.

 

Other ways to protect your rabbit :

Calicivirus is spread by mosquitoes and flies. Therefore it is important to minimize your rabbit’s exposure to these by keeping them in well protected hutches or indoors especially at dusk and dawn (when mosquitoes are most active).
Also restrict contact between your rabbit and wild rabbits - including any grass areas where wild rabbit are suspected to have been.

 

GUINEA PIGS

Guinea pigs are common children’s pets and are generally social, non aggressive pets. They should not be kept with rabbits as bullying by both species can occur, but particularly by the rabbit.

They do not require regular vaccinations.

Diet

Complete pelleted guinea pig foods should be fed. Avoid mixtures as guinea pigs are selective feeders and thus may avoid some essential parts of the food, resulting in an unbalanced diet. Hay and grass must be available at all times to ensure adequate fibre in the diet. Fibre is essential for dental health. Guinea pigs must receive adequate supply of vitamin C in their diet as they are unable to synthesise it themselves. Vitamin C will be added to good quality guinea pig pellets but storage conditions and shelf life of the diet must be adhered to. Fresh water must be freely accessible.

Housing

Guinea pigs are best kept in a hutch. The hutch should have an enclosed solid walled nesting area for protection from the elements and a mesh fronted section. It is important to avoid extreme temperatures as heat stress and heat stroke occur easily. In extreme cold temperatures, the hutch is best bought inside or into the garage to provide some protection from the cold.

Teeth

Guinea pigs teeth grow continuously and they wear down during eating. The correct diet is vital to ensure adequate wear and prevent dental problems. Adequate fibre in the diet is essential to minimise dental problems.

Desexing

Both females and males can be desexed if breeding is not intended. Mating of females is best delayed until after 14 weeks of age. They should not be mated for the first time if they are over 9 months of age as this can lead to dystocia or problems with the birthing process.

 

BIRDS

Over the past decade, birds have increased in popularity as pets. Parrots in particular are very popular as they can be hand reared to become tame and entertaining companions.

Housing

Cages must be of an adequate size to allow the bird to extend its wings fully and to enable adequate exercise.

Care must be taken with brand new, cheaper cages which are often made from galvanized metal. The bird will often nibble at the galv ballls (small beads of galv found on galvanised wire used in bird cages) which can lead to the potentially fatal zinc poisoning.

The perches that are supplied with most cages are usually plastic or wooden dowels which are too smooth and usually too small in diameter for the birds. This can lead to overgrown nails and skin problems. They are best replaced with natural branches from fruit trees.

Tame caged birds should be let out regularly into a safe enclosure to exercise to improve health and reduce boredom. Toys should be provided and changed regularly to help reduce boredom. Ensure that the toys are zinc free. Wing clipping is not recommended as it can lead to feather disorders and psychological problems.

Birds should not be housed in dusty areas as this can lead to respiratory disease. Tobacco smoke should also be avoided.

Diet

Access to clean water is essential.

Poor or unbalanced diets lead to disease. Good quality commercial bird foods should be fed. The avian enthusiast should research the dietary needs of the particular species of bird.

Illness

Birds are often good at disguising an illness. Once an owner notices that their bird is sick, the bird has often been sick for a number of days. Signs of illness include lethargy, tail bobbing due to an increased respiratory effort, changed appearance of stools, and a fluffed up appearance. Veterinary attention must be sought straight away as delay worsens a bird’s prognosis.