September, 2019

September 25, 2019

How to Tell If Your Rabbit is Sick

How to Tell If Your Rabbit is Sick

Signs of Illness and Injury in Rabbits

Written by Dianne Cook, LVT

Rabbits make wonderful companions. They’re intelligent, social, curious, and oh-so-cute, but sometimes it’s difficult for us to interpret their unique language. Rabbits, by nature, are prey animals. In the wild, they spend a large portion of their day avoiding predators, and any sign of weakness or illness would make them an easy target. Rabbits are hard-wired to mask any and all signs of illness or injury which often means they go undetected by even a diligent and observant owner until a bunny is critically ill. Below are signs of illness and/or injury that every owner should be aware of, and if noted, should lead to immediate communication with their favorite, rabbit-savvy veterinarian.

Appetite Changes

If rabbits aren’t sleeping, they are nearly always grazing, foraging, or eating (with a few breaks for a binky or two). This constant food intake, particularly hay, ensures their specialized gastrointestinal tract keeps running smoothly. If you notice your bunny isn’t eating their usual volume of hay, or they are leaving their pellets and fresh veggies untouched, it is essential that you communicate with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Gastrointestinal stasis is a potentially fatal health concern that can develop quickly if your little one has experienced excessive or sudden environmental stressors, is eating a poor quality diet, or isn’t ingesting the volume of fiber necessary to keep their digestive tract running.

Abnormal or Absent Fecal Output

If there’s one thing rabbits do better than eating, it’s pooping. The unique way in which rabbits digest their food results in two types of feces. The first type is the typical small, round ball. This type of feces, frequently called “fecal pellets”, should be relatively uniform in size and shape. The second type is a glossy, grape-like cluster called cecotropes (pictured). Cecotropes are comprised of nutrients (Volatile Fatty Acids, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc) that were not absorbed the first time through the system. In lieu of letting those nutrients go to waste, your sweet bun re-ingests cecotropes, and all of these important nutrients, directly from their anus. Though not the most glamorous aspect of bunny parenthood, it’s important to keep a close eye on your bunny’s feces. Be on the lookout for small or abnormally shaped fecal pellets, uneaten or excessively-produced cecotropes, soft stools/diarrhea, or lack of fecal output.

Abnormal Behavior

A healthy rabbit is an active rabbit. Rabbits should be allowed ample time outside of their habitats daily to run, jump, and explore in a safe, bunny-proof environment. Even rabbits who aren’t able to leave their enclosures should be alert and active. Though it is completely normal for your bunny’s activity level to decrease with age, changes should be gradual. If your rabbit is suddenly or progressively less eager to move around, more withdrawn, or becoming aggressive, they may be trying to tell you something is wrong. Abnormal vocalization or any changes in normal patterns of behavior should also be noted. Rabbits express a wide array of vocalizations but aggressive growling (low, guttural sound) and teeth grinding tend to be worrisome. Teeth grinding is similar to the soft, content “purring” sound, but is a much louder, sharper sound and is usually a sign of pain.

Changes in Gait and/or Posture

Rabbits are agile, sure-footed creatures. Abnormalities or changes in their gait, agility, or general posture should raise a red flag. Stumbling or staggering may be coupled with head tilt (or “wry neck”) where a rabbit will hold their head cocked to one side. The tilt may be continuous, or it may come and go, and can be the result of anything from an ear concern to a neurologic issue. Another sign to watch for is change in posture. If your bunny is experiencing pain, their naturally hunched appearance becomes much more pronounced. If your little friend is suffering from GI upset, for instance, you may notice them trying to press their belly into the ground or repeatedly stretching as they attempt to move to relieve the pain.

Dull or Missing Fur

Rabbits rarely have a bad “hare” day. If you notice your kiddo’s coat is losing its luster, if they are balding or shedding excessively, or if they suddenly seem to spend an excessive time grooming or scratching, it could be a sign of underlying health concerns. People often associate dull coat or hair loss with external parasites, like mites and lice. While these parasites certainly can cause skin and coat abnormalities, there are several possible causes your sweet friend may be experiencing dull and/or thinning fur. Hormonal imbalances are another potential source of coat abnormalities, as well as underlying digestive issues. Just like many animals, the skin is the largest organ in rabbits and can be the first indicator of clinical signs if your little one is dealing with a systemic health concern.

Difficulty Eating, Drooling, and Facial Swelling

As animals with constantly erupting teeth, it’s essential your bunny has access to a constant supply of high-quality, grass-hay to support proper wear of their 28 chompers. Rabbits can develop two types of dental disease, acquired and congenital. Like humans, rabbits can suffer congenital abnormalities like overbites, underbites, or other malocclusions. In these instances, a rabbit’s teeth may not align properly and the teeth can become overgrown. The second, and more common, type of dental disease is referred to as acquired and most commonly occurs because of lack of fiber in a rabbit’s diet. There are many potential clinical signs that can be associated with dental disease, but some of the most common include irregular chewing patterns, dropping food, weight loss, drooling, and facial swelling.

Upper Respiratory Signs

Rabbits are obligate nasal breathers and have especially delicate respiratory systems which can make them prone to upper respiratory infections. “Snuffles” is a generalized term often bestowed upon rabbits suffering from a runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing. Though a runny nose may seem like a minor issue, it can quickly balloon into a bigger problem if not addressed quickly. Frequently, upper respiratory signs are the result of a bacterial infection and can be contagious to other rabbits.

Though subtle, rabbits do express signs of illness and injury, so as pet parents, it’s essential to keep a close eye on your rabbit every day. Rabbits are creatures of habit and routine, so familiarizing yourself with your rabbit’s “normal” is the best way of determining when something is “off”. If your rabbit begins to exhibit any of the above-mentioned signs, or simply isn’t acting like themselves, it is always best to seek the advice of your favorite rabbit-savvy veterinarian. The mantra of “better safe than sorry” is especially true with rabbits.

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September 24, 2019

How to Feed Picky Rabbits

How to Feed Picky Rabbits

As many rabbit pet parents know, some bunnies are pickier than others. This means some pet parents may need to get a little creative when it comes to feeding hay. Here are some of our recommendations to encourage hay consumption in the pickiest of rabbit friends:

Feed new varieties of hay.

It is possible for your pet to grow tired of eating the same kind of hay every day. Offering new types of hay opens your pet up to a variety of new tastes and textures to make mealtime exciting. We like to think of grass-hay varieties like apples; some may prefer the tart crunch of a Granny Smith, while others prefer the softer, sweeter nature of a Red Delicious, but at the end of the day, their nutritional content is nearly identical. Oxbow currently offers several grass-hay varieties to cater to all kinds of pets’ different taste and texture preferences.

Mix hays to create a custom blend just for your pet.

Your hay mix can be as simple as combining two hays together, or can be more involved by including an appropriate serving of your rabbit’s favorite green or treat to make a “hay salad.” For a convenient mix, Oxbow offers Hay Blends, which is a mix of Western Timothy Hay and Orchard Grass Hay. Oxbow’s Organic Meadow Hay also contains a variety of different pet-favorite forages, such as orchard, timothy, brome, alfalfa, and clover.

Add some species-appropriate flowers to make a sweet-smelling hay.

Adding some safe floral elements to hay can make a regular meal more enticing for your rabbit! For convenience, Oxbow’s Botanical Hay comes loaded with lemon balm, chamomile, lavender, and clover for a one of a kind taste experience. As always, make sure to ask your vet what flowers are appropriate for your rabbit specifically.

Who says you shouldn’t play with your food?

Another way to increase hay consumption in your picky rabbit is to make it fun! Try stuffing hay into your rabbit’s favorite natural chew to make a fun and challenging puzzle. Play hide and seek by hiding your rabbit’s favorite food in their habitat. The added mental stimulation might help stimulate your rabbit’s appetite.

Change up the hay feeder.

If your pet has a hay feeder, consider changing up how you offer hay. Some hay feeders aren’t comfortable or efficient for rabbits to use at all times, or might provide too much of a challenge for your pet. You can try a new hay feeder, or even go without one for a day or two, and monitor for any changes of your pet’s eating habits.

Rabbits are cautious animals and will sometimes not accept food that is suddenly new or different.

Make sure the hay and pellets you regularly feed your rabbit are transitioned properly from bag to bag, even if the type of hay and pellets are the same. Your rabbit can recognize even the most subtle, natural differences in scent or taste from one bag of food or hay to another. When not transitioned properly, our pickier furry friends often are not keen on these differences, and they sometimes reject their food or hay even if it’s a variety they have always loved.

If your rabbit has suddenly stopped eating or is showing signs of sickness (such as lethargy, hunched posture, or abnormal fecal shape/size/output) they need to be seen by an exotics veterinarian as soon as possible. GI Stasis is a very serious illness that small herbivores like rabbits can face if they refuse their hay for a long period of time. As hindgut fermenters, rabbits need a near-continuous input of fiber to keep their digestive tract running smoothly. If rabbits stop consuming adequate volumes of fiber (i.e. hay), their gastrointestinal system slows down, and if left untreated, can completely stop moving. GI Stasis is a painful medical emergency, and can quickly claim the life of your beloved pet if not addressed immediately. The sooner your pet can get to a qualified professional for diagnosis, the better the odds your pet will make a full recovery.

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September 16, 2019

Greens for Good - Oxbow’s Fresh Greens Garden for Rescue Pets

Greens for Good - Oxbow’s Fresh Greens Garden for Rescue Pets

All pets are special, and rescue animals and their advocates have always had an extra special place in our hearts. We believe that every animal deserves a safe and loving home. From our beginning, we’ve looked for ways to support the rescue communities that give so much to help pets in search of their perfect forever home.

After last year’s long winter, spring was on our minds early in 2019. As we began dreaming of green leaves and spring gardens, the idea came to us! What if we planted a fresh greens garden at Oxbow – just for rescue pets in need?! As a company committed to premium nutrition for small pets, the idea was perfect!

Planning the Perfect Garden for Pets

Struck with inspiration, it was time to begin planning our garden. We consulted Pinterest for ideas, choosing a horseshoe-shaped raised bed garden that would allow guests to “step inside” the garden while harvesting fresh, nutritious greens.

Our next step was to scout out our company grounds for the perfect location. We chose a section of green space near our employee picnic area where the Oxbow team could enjoy the garden while relaxing on their lunch break.

Team Building – Raised Bed Edition

When our maintenance team heard about our idea for the rescue garden, they jumped at the chance to lend their essential carpentry skills to the project. This skilled team dedicated an entire afternoon to transforming our plans into a beautiful raised bed structure – complete with serene pathway!


Oxbow's maintenance team begins building the raised garden bed.

The team builds on a beautiful spring day!

Oxbow's garden bed under construction!

Selecting and Starting the Seeds

Rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small animals love fresh greens, and these delicious plants provide essential vitamins and minerals and help with hydration. 

For our garden, we selected a variety of beautiful heirloom lettuces from the wonderful people at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The species-appropriate varieties we chose included: Bronze Beauty, Tom Thumb, Garnet Rose, Crisp Mint, Buttercrunch, Marvel of the Four Seasons, Big Boston, and Flashy Butter Gem. 

The variety of greens grown in Oxbow's garden.

Once the seeds arrived, a garden-loving member of the marketing team got to work starting the seeds indoors to give the plants a head start. The lettuce seeds were planted in flats and placed under growing lights where they began their journey. 

From the Earth, Something Grows

Within a few days, the seedlings began to emerge! Over the next several weeks, the lettuce plants grew quickly and were transplanted into larger pots in preparation for their big moment in the sun. 

Planting the Garden

At long last, the day had come to transform the raised bed into a proper garden. With trays full of lettuce seedlings in hand, the marketing team was eager to get their hands dirty and spent an afternoon transplanting the greens into the garden. By the end of the day, the once bare garden was now home to several hundred new plants.

Transplanting begins

One of many transplants

Watching Our Garden Grow 

Over the coming weeks, we excitedly watched our garden take root and grow. When growing fresh greens for animals, it’s important to focus on natural methods. With this in mind, we chose to grow our greens completely naturally, with no pesticides or fertilizers. 

Meanwhile, we got to work planning the perfect way to share our upcoming harvest with animals in need. Several Oxbow team members have adopted animals from Town and Country Humane Society in Papillion, so we felt like this wonderful organization was the perfect fit. After talking to the small animal manager, Misty, we set a date for a very special field trip.

Sampling the Garden with the Oxbow Animal Family

Eagerly awaiting the big day, we invited some Oxbow family pets to sample the garden. First up were rescue pigs, Beaver and Smore, and their mom, Dawn – Oxbow’s Sales Support Specialist. 
As you can see, the garden was a big hit with Beaver and Smore! 

Smore (left) and Beaver explore the garden.

Beaver and his pet parent admire greens from the garden.

“Which one should we pick, Smore?”

Next, we invited adorable bunny, Joy, and her loving family, including Oxbow’s Vice President of Business Operations, Jeremy. 
Joy had a wonderful time safely exploring the garden while munching on some fresh greens.

Joy explores the garden.

Joy wants the cameraman to get her best side.



Fresh Greens Field Trip – The Big Day Finally Arrives! 

Finally, it was time for the big day! Members of Oxbow’s Marketing and Customer Care teams hosted some very special guests from Town and Country Humane Society. Small animal manager, Misty, and one of Town and Country’s foster families brought along three adorable and adoptable friends for a fun field trip: Edna, Perky, and Pepper! Joining in the fun were Duffin and Hank, two guinea pigs one of Oxbow’s Customer Care Specialists recently adopted from Town and Country. 
The guests had a wonderful time exploring the garden under the watchful supervision of their caretakers!

Pepper explores the garden.

Pepper seems to like Bronze Beauty Lettuce the most!

Edna explores the garden.

An Additional Donation to Say “Thanks”

After enjoying fresh greens from the garden, we invited the guinea pigs inside Oxbow for an adoption photo shoot and to present a product donation on behalf of Oxbow. The products included food, bedding, treats, enrichment items, recovery food, and hay. In total, the donations filled up two cars! 

​Misty, small animal manager at Town and County Humane Society, poses with Perky and Oxbow’s donation.

Misty poses with part of Oxbow’s donation. We drove 2 cars full of product to the humane society’s storage!

Planning the Next Harvest 

Our favorite part of Oxbow’s greens garden is that we will be able to continue producing fresh greens for more rescue friends in need! We are already looking forward to growing and sharing our next crop of fresh greens with more local pets. 

To see more of Oxbow’s garden and to learn more about how Oxbow supports rescues, follow Oxbow on Facebook and Instagram






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September 16, 2019

How to Support Your Pet’s Instinctual Hiding Behaviors Video

How to Support Your Pet’s Instinctual Hiding Behaviors Video

Hiding is an instinctual behavior of small pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas. Even in captivity, all small pets need a place to rest and relax from environmental stressors. Watch as Dr. Micah Kohles of Oxbow Animal Health provides some quick tips on how to support this instinctual behavior.

Learn More About How to Support Your Pet's Instincts

All About Exploring

All About Chewing

All About Playing

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September 13, 2019

What Should I Feed My Pet Rat?

What Should I Feed My Pet Rat?

How to Support a Rat’s Omnivorous Diet 

by Dr. Cayla Iske

Rats are unique, nocturnal, social critters that make excellent pets. In the wild, rats are both prey and predator, naturally consuming am omnivorous diet including a huge diversity of foods such as vegetation, seeds, grains, and occasionally invertebrates and animal proteins. For your furry little friend, it is important to offer a similar level of dietary diversity to meet nutritional requirements and provide enrichment. Like hamsters and gerbils, the largest part of a rat’s diet should be a well-balanced, uniform, fortified pellet/rodent block free of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. This serves as the foundation of the diet to ensure nutrient and caloric needs are met. A uniform pellet or block also prevents selective eating of high fat and high-calorie items, which rats will naturally gravitate towards. Controlling caloric intake and coupling to stimulating activity is essential to their overall health and wellbeing as rats are prone to obesity which has many negative secondary effects.  

Fortified Food  – The Foundation of Your Rat’s Diet  

When evaluating a fortified food, it is important to evaluate the guaranteed analysis for macro and micronutrient amounts. Start with the macros such as protein, fat, and fiber, but don’t forget that you really need to evaluate and understand all of the ingredients to get the full story of the diet. Ingredients in the food are required to be listed by order of their inclusion. It may be tempting to just look at the first 2-3 ingredients and assume they make up 95% of the diet, but that can be a mistake! All ingredients, independent of inclusion amount, will have an impact on the overall nutritional profile of the diet and understanding this is key to understanding what you are feeding your furry friend. We recommend looking at all ingredients on the label and focusing on minimally the first 8-10 ingredients and what nutrients they are contributing, keeping in mind they are declining in inclusion as you read. 

Protein And Fat are Essential, But Don’t Overlook Fiber! 

As omnivores, it is commonly understood that protein and fat are critical in a rat’s diet. However, fiber is an often overlooked, yet crucial dietary component. The two major types of fiber to initially consider are soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber comes from many different sources (e.g. oats, barley, flaxseed, some fruits and vegetables, and many others). Functionally, as it passes through the body, soluble fiber attracts water to form a “gel” that helps you stay fuller longer. Soluble dietary fiber, in appropriate amounts and types, has been shown to be beneficial to many species of rodents and contribute to improved colon health, stool quality, and may help reduce cholesterol.  

Insoluble fiber comes from sources such as wheat bran, cereal hulls, and grass hays and does not absorb water. Instead, insoluble fiber passes through the digestive tract relatively unchanged, promoting gut motility and supporting overall gut health. Research has also shown that rodents benefit from insoluble dietary fiber via improved insulin sensitivity (mitigation of diabetes), control of weight gain, and reduction of fat mass (mitigation of obesity). While soluble and insoluble fiber are both beneficial to rats; in reality, rats need both kinds of fiber and research has suggested a combination of the two types leads to more beneficial effects than soluble fiber alone. 

To summarize, a high-quality, fortified pellet or rodent block will ensure the protein, fat, fiber, vitamin, and mineral requirements of your little furry are being met. With a good baseline diet, supplemental foods can contribute additional micronutrients to your little one’s overall diet, along with the added benefit of providing nutritional, mental and physical enrichment.  

Supplemental Foods For Your Rat 

Rats are naturally opportunistic omnivores and are willing and able to ingest a larger diversity of foods than many species. This is one reason they are one of the most widely distributed species across our planet. Given rats tendency to preferentially consume high fat, high-calorie dietary items, these foods should be limited. Therefore, greens and veggies should be a predominant proportion of the supplementary foods along with a variety of grains, proteins, fats, and fruits. Some great options for each of these categories and feeding recommendations are listed here: 

Veggies & Greens (1-2 tsp daily)

  • Diversity of Lettuces 
  • Kale 
  • Squash 
  • Green pepper 
  • Cucumber 
  • Zucchini 

Grains (0.5-1 tsp daily)

  • Cooked brown rice 
  • Whole-grain cereal (unsweetened puffed rice or wheat) 
  • Cooked whole-wheat pasta 
  • Oats 
  • Barley 
  • Whole-grain crackers 

Proteins (2-3 times/week 0.5-1 tsp)

  • Hard-boiled eggs 
  • Mealworms 
  • Cooked beans 
  • Cooked chicken 
  • Crickets 
  • Cottage cheese 

Fruits (2-3 times/week < 1 tsp)

  • Apple (no seeds) 
  • Melons 
  • Banana 
  • Blueberries 
  • Strawberries 
  • Kiwi

Fats (2-3 times/week 0.5 tsp)

  • Pumpkin seeds (unsalted) 
  • Sunflower seeds (no shell, unsalted) 
  • Pistachios (no shell, unsalted) 
  • Pecans (unsalted) 
  • Brazil nuts (unsalted) 
  • Avocado (no skin) 

Offering your fur baby a diversified diet is essential, but may require some patience and finesse. Rats are generally neophobic, meaning they will avoid new foods or even foods they have previously consumed if they are placed on or in a novel object. Thus, it is very important to slowly and gradually introduce new foods. To avoid overwhelming your rat, it is best to offer new foods in small amounts (no larger the size of a pea) in common feeding places or mixed with food items they are fed normally. Once your rodent friend has become used to a new food, you can try hiding or scattering the food throughout their enclosure for an added level of enrichment. As always, it is always best to consult your veterinarian to determine the specific feeding regimen appropriate for your individual animal.  

Enrichment is Essential for Rats 

Enrichment is vital to supporting any animal’s wellbeing, no matter what they eat. By exploring new supplemental food options, you are enriching your animal via their diet and keeping mealtime interesting to avoid picky eaters. As we’ve discussed, neophobia can sometimes make it difficult to offer new foods to rats, but a slow introduction is key. Beyond nutritional enrichment, rats also need mental and physical enrichment. Given rats are incredibly social creatures, many experts and rescues highly recommend housing at least 2 rats together. Keeping a small mischief (group of rats) will ensure your little friends will have the interaction needed to keep them mentally fit, as well as provide them an outlet for physical enrichment through play. Toys also offer great enrichment and can come in the form of store-bought toys such as natural chews, or homemade toys such as toilet paper/paper towel rolls or cardboard boxes. An enrichment option many pet parents don’t often think of is loose hay. Providing hay to rats can encourage foraging and nesting, and offering grain hays, such as oat, can provide nutritional enrichment via the small grains or seed heads. 

The first step to caring for your pet is knowing what they need and how they thrive. Ensuring you are aware of the nutritional, physical, and psychological needs of your little furry can set them up for a long, high-quality life.

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