Ask a Vet Responses

golden_mashed_potato (and) ponalape_the_bunny: Just wondering what it could mean when my rabbit is constantly sneezing. Should I be overly concerned or is it just an allergy?

Gesundheit! The cause of a rabbit’s sneeze is widely varied. Just like the humans who love them, rabbits can suffer from allergies to an array of irritants like house dust, room fresheners, perfumes, and cigarette smoke. Beddings made from pine or cedar shavings are also common causes of respiratory irritation as is the use of strong chemicals such as bleach and ammonia. Some of our more sensitive bunny buddies also get the sneezes from the fines and chaffs (fine hay particles) found at the bottom of their hay bags.

A blossoming respiratory infection can also lead to frequent sneezing. Respiratory infections carry a much greater cause for concern and are frequently associated with discharge from the nose and watery eyes. Bunnies with respiratory infections can reach a point where they will no longer eat or drink, which can further complicate the situation. Regardless of the cause of your rabbit’s sneezes, it is always best to seek the advice of your exotics-friendly veterinarian. If the sneezes are a result of allergies, you may be able to pinpoint the cause through trial and error and eliminate it from the environment. If a respiratory infection is to blame, your veterinarian should be able to provide appropriate treatment to help get your bun back to a sneeze-free state. It is important to remember that respiratory infections are highly contagious, so your little one’s enclosure will need to be deep cleaned (including water bottle, hay feeders, food bowls) so that they don’t re-infect themselves once their treatment is complete.

valentinoandvice: When to take a bunny to the vet.. behavior change or appetite change, etc. When is it last resort?

I’m grateful you asked! This is an incredibly important question of which all exotic companion mammal parents should know the answer. Rabbits, like many of our other small mammal friends, are prey species by nature, which means they are incredibly efficient at hiding any signs of sickness or pain until it’s no longer possible to do so. As beneficial as this behavior is in the wild, it makes spotting signs of sickness or injury in our domesticated friends quite challenging. Luckily, there are some common, though subtle, signs even our most stoic friends will show when they are feeling under the weather. Any of the following signs mean your bunny needs to be taken to the vet immediately: not eating or decreased appetite, abnormal bowel movements, white/gritty urine, bloody urine, lethargy or unwillingness to stand or move around, hunched posture, distended abdomen, teeth grinding, discharge from the eyes/mouth/nose, open-mouth breathing, head tilt, wounds or lumps, seizures. Though taking your bunny to the vet can be stressful for everyone involved, often times it is best not to wait until the “last resort.” If you ever have a question as to whether or not the behavior or appetite changes you are noticing in your rabbit are cause for concern, reach out to your bunny’s favorite vet as soon as possible.

itsamndalo: How can I encourage my guinea pig to drink more water?

Adequate water consumption is essential to keeping your piggy healthy, so I’m happy you’ve reached out with your wonderful question! Most of the time, guinea pigs are pretty good at consuming the amount of water they need to stay well hydrated, but occasionally we do run across a stubborn pig who simply won’t drink an adequate amount. Sometimes it is as simple as making sure to provide fresh water every single day. Some guinea pigs don’t mind guzzling tap water, while other piggies, with a pickier palate, simply insist on filtered or distilled water. It is also important to make sure your guinea pig always has access to two sources of water. This can be achieved by providing both a hanging bottle and a crock or bowl. Some guinea pigs find it difficult to lift or turn their heads in a way that makes drinking out of a hanging water bottle comfortable. In these cases, a water bowl will provide a great alternative and will keep your guinea pig in a more natural alignment as he or she drinks. Always make sure to wash your water bottles and crocks regularly as bacteria and other build-up can multiply quickly, leaving the water contained within less-than-appealing. Vitamin C drops that are added to the water can also alter the taste, making some guinea pigs less likely to drink the treated water. If you add a vitamin supplement to your little one’s water, it may be as simple as switching to a hay-based Vitamin C tablet, such as Oxbow’s Natural Science Vitamin C.

Occasionally a piggy will come along who simply will not drink enough water, despite the aforementioned suggestions being observed. For these kiddos, adding a sprinkling of Critical Care - Fine Grind, a splash of unsweetened, 100% apple juice (preferably organic), or a washed and peeled slice of cucumber to your guinea pig’s water may help increase their desire to drink by adding a layer of flavor to the otherwise bland liquid. It is important to remember that apple juice, even the unsweetened variety, has a high sugar content and can cause diarrhea if offered in large quantities, so it is best to start with as little as possible. One tablespoon of apple juice added to a full water bottle can be very effective. It is also important to note that adding any kind of additive to your little ones’ water will also increase the frequency in which the water bottle and crock will need to be washed.

Finally, it is possible that your little one is actually consuming enough water as is, especially if you feed a wide variety of fresh greens daily. Greens such as herbs and lettuce, and veggies like cucumbers, have a high water content that provides a substantial amount of hydration for your little friend.

sallison27: How much should my ten-week-old rabbit really be eating? I’ve had her two weeks and she’s growing at an exponential rate. We have Oxbow young rabbit food.

You are spot on when you say your sweet bunny is growing exponentially! At 10 weeks of age, we recommend feeding an unlimited quantity, which helps ensure your young lady will get plenty of the micronutrients and protein she needs as her body quickly matures. When I say “unlimited quantity,” please understand this does not mean filling her bowl to the top every day. Generally, I would recommend adding 1/8 cup of pellets to her dish in the morning and checking on it again toward the end of the day. If needed you can add enough pellets to her dish at night to reach that 1/8 cup mark again. The goal is to provide enough pellets that there are always some available, without giving her the option to “gorge” herself. Once your kiddo has reached that important 12-month milestone, and she has been transitioned to an adult formula, you will want to limit her pellets to the volume indicated on the back of the packaging for her ideal weight. This will become her daily volume, and, if possible, should not be exceeded unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian.

caresgomez: I would like to know how we can best help our bunny when she experiences gas problems (upset tummy)?

Good morning.While we always want to control their discomfort, it is important to work adamantly to try and determine a root cause. GI upset is a clinical sign of an underlying problem, and our goal should be to try and identify, correct and or prevent this underlying problem from occurring. Sadly, it is common in these species that we are unable to find that root cause, but we should always try. I would first look at diet and other environmental factors to see if anything is consistent with the GI upset. I have seen these occur due to a specific treat, a certain type of greens, or other environmental stress such as remodeling work in the home.

Communicate with your veterinarian what you are seeing and if your little one has not had a physical exam and wellness check lately, I would do that soon. Specific to controlling the GI upset, while we work to identify the underlying cause we can do some things to support them.This is focused on proper fiber and hydration as well as potentially offering pain medications. Some people believe in anti-gas products like simethicone, and while I don’t feel they do any harm, I don’t have complete belief in their efficacy. I am also a big fan of keeping the little ones moving around. Even gentle abdominal massage can help break up gas pockets and keep the GI system moving which is essential. Good luck!

robinandrosiebuns: I’m relocating and so I am taking my 2 bunnies with me! It’s a long flight, it’s from southeast Asia to Europe so I want to know what I can do to make sure it’s the most comfortable for them and the least risk. What should I include in the carrier besides hay and water? Unfortunately, they will have to be in pet cargo.

Good luck with your move and, on behalf of your bunnies, thanks for preparing to make their trip go as smoothly as possible. I would suggest first off give them some types of travel experiences if possible ahead of time. Even if just road trips, I would do this so they are somewhat desensitized to the noise, movement, etc.Of course, this won’t be the same as an actual plane ride, but anything we do ahead of time will potentially help.

I would start with the cage and giving them as much room to move around and stretch as possible. You will need to be sure to know the airline's specific limitations, but bigger is better in my opinion. Then pack it with hay and a solidly mounted and protected water bottle. I don’t think it would hurt to have some liked treats, but plenty of hay would be my first preference. While we want ample airflow into and out of the cage, we also want to protect the bun, so I would pick a carrier that I not only airline approved but also provides a solid layer of protection to the little one. The good thing is that in my experience if you are prepared and work with a good caring airline most of these little travelers do really well. Take care!

brownrigg123: What is the best oil to give a rabbit with dry skin? Should I feed it or massage it in? Or is it best to feed seeds like flax and sunflower to put natural oils into him? Thank you.

Hello and thanks for your question. I would first ensure we are hitting the key aspects of the overall nutritional profile - starting with the right quality of pellets, ample greens, and hydration. If you live in an area that is very dry, I am also a big proponent of running a humidifier in the room where they sleep or are most active in.

Speaking specifically to oils, I am not a big fan of applying anything topically to rabbits unless treating a very specific disease. If there truly is dermatitis or another skin disease, then treating topically is the best thing we can do. Rabbits are very effective groomers and when we start messing with their haircoats, we are inviting even more grooming. This can become excessive and potentially worsen the underlying problem. I would rather work nutritionally from the inside out.

Some nutrients, like flax, have naturally higher levels of Omega 3 and 6 oils which have been shown to be beneficial to hair coat and skin health. The key is thinking about the amount and frequency. I would prefer to actually feed the entire seed versus just the extracted oil. In small amounts, this will likely be tolerated well by your little bun.

lmvacekpierce: I have two 7-month-old mini Rex rabbits, brother (neutered) and sister(soon to be spayed). They live indoors. They get plenty of fresh Timothy/grass hay, two tbsp of pellets each twice a day, a handful or so of spring greens each twice a day, fresh apple branches and two 16oz bowls of water. I have noticed the past 2 -3 months that they have been drinking more and more water. Before, I would fill both bowls once a day, but now I have to fill them twice a day and still by the am the bowls are very close to empty. They do use potty boxes, lined with newspapers, so I know easily that they are producing TONS of urine! I have discussed this with my vet, who thought it seemed like a lot, but also felt that if they were making plenty of urine that it was likely fine. I saw this opportunity to ask another rabbit savvy vet, so thought I'd see what your opinion was. Do you think it's an excessive amount of water or perfectly normal? Their stools are normal consistency and of very good size as well.

Hi! Thanks for the great question! It sounds like if I eventually become a rabbit, I should try and come live at your house! while rabbits naturally drink and urinate a great deal (and frankly more than many species), any time that we notice a significant change we want to dig a little deeper. It could be that this is just a seasonal or diet-related thing, but minimally I would suggest a wellness exam on both and/or a urinalysis (urine test). This would help us ensure that the kidneys are doing their job and there are no underlying issues with overall urinary function. 

I would spend some time really thinking if anything else has changed. This could be a new green, a new bag of pellets, or a change in their water source. Can we identify anything husbandry-wise that could have led to the change in drinking?

katiebethc123: Can guinea pigs go under anesthesia and still make it out alive? Just wondering since my guinea pig has long teeth and he is having trouble eating. The vet said he needed surgery but I don’t know if I want to do that to him unless it’s safe. Also, do you have any tips on how to keep guinea pig teeth short and healthy?

I’m so sorry to hear your piggy is facing dentition concerns. It is true that all surgeries, regardless of whether they are performed on humans, cats, horses, or guinea pigs, come along with inherent risks, but these risks are more worrisome in regards to our small pet pals. There are times when the life-saving benefits a procedure outweighs the risks associated with anesthesia. Unfortunately, it sounds as though your little friend may be in a situation where it is best for him to be sedated or anesthetized to have his overgrown teeth properly addressed. Providing unlimited access to grass-hay is the best bet to keeping your guinea pig’s teeth in check, but there are situations when a malocclusion (an imperfect positioning of the teeth when the jaws are closed) is the culprit and no amount of hay will keep those chompers worn down. Generally speaking, once a guinea pig’s teeth have become overgrown, there is often nothing that can be done to grind them down naturally, so medical intervention must be sought. Though it would be lovely if we could convince our small mammal friends to hold their little mouths open while their vet works on their teeth, that simply is not a possibility. The only other option is to anesthetize little ones so their teeth can be worked on quickly and efficiently. An added bonus to anesthesia is it also ensures your piggy will not become overly stressed during the procedure itself. It is essential you seek the care of an experienced exotic companion mammal veterinarian and make sure they are able to answer any questions or concerns you may have before agreeing to the procedure.

empress_max: My rabbit is molting I give him plenty of hay and brush him every other day. Can I be doing anything else to make sure he doesn't develop hairballs or a blockage? Also, I have long hair and worry he may ingest some. I make sure to never brush my hair in his space. Is this a valid concern? Do rabbits have problems with human hair?

Oh, the joys of molting. It sounds like you are off to a great start by providing that ever important fiber (aka hay) and brushing your furry friend regularly. Though both steps will help decrease the risk of hairball formation, sometimes further action is warranted. During molting season, you may want to consider offering Oxbow’s Natural Science Papaya Support. Papaya Support is an all-natural, high fiber, timothy hay-based enzyme supplement that contains the active enzymes papain and bromelain, which are believed to assist in the breakdown of proteins (such as hair) in the digestive tract.

Though your rabbit may try to “groom” you from time-to-time, it is unlikely he would ingest any of your hair he found in his space. If it turns out he does have an affinity for consuming your hair, the Papaya Support should help break down the proteins in your hair, just as it would his own. Keep a close eye on your little guy and watch for any signs of GI distress such as decreased appetite and water consumption, lethargy, abdominal distention, or decreased fecal output. If any abnormal signs are noted, please consult a trusted veterinarian as soon as possible.

isabelandrewss: I have two mini rex bunnies and we've recently moved to a new place. The place has laminate flooring rather than carpet and it has taken them a while to figure out how to walk/hop on it normally. They still do slide around a bit sometimes so I am just wondering if they will ever fully learn how to hop properly on it or if it is bad for their feet? We are hoping to get a big area rug for the living room soon and maybe a runner in the hallway/kitchen (our apartment is a one floor, open concept). Just wondering your thoughts! Thank you!

Congratulations on your recent move! Given rabbits don’t have paw pads like dogs and cats, they don’t have nearly as much traction on slick flooring such as laminate. Some rabbits learn how to cope relatively quickly and will get around without much difficulty, while others simply refuse to even try. Providing your munchkins with a large rug and/or runner is a great idea! Until you’re able to purchase an area rug, you can use fleece blankets or even pieces of cardboard to act as “bridges” and “islands” over the unfamiliar flooring. This will still allow them the opportunity to explore more of their environment. Though laminate flooring is not “bad” for their feet, if your bunny pals are allowed to jump onto the furniture or climb stairs, it is essential to provide a solid, non-slip surface so when they jump, their hind legs do not slip out from under them, which could result in injury. I also encourage you to watch your little friends closely once your new area rugs are in place to ensure they are not chewing (and ingesting) your new floor covering.

brownrigg123: My rabbit seems to be losing weight! Is there anything that I can give him to put on weight? He's 5 years old and a lion head.

I’m sorry to hear your little man is losing weight! If you have not already done so, the most important thing you can do is seek the advice of a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause of your rabbit’s weight loss, especially if your munchkin is still eating and drinking normally. There are numerous disease processes that can manifest as weight loss, but until the underlying cause is determined, it is difficult to suggest a safe way to increase your little one’s weight. It is also a good idea to keep track of your rabbit’s weight so you can chart how quickly he is losing weight and keep your veterinarian informed. If you would like to learn how to effectively monitor your pet’s weight, please watch this short video.