February, 2020

February 26, 2020

Why Won’t My Guinea Pig Eat Their Pellets

Why Won’t My Guinea Pig Eat Their Pellets

Whether your guinea pig is very young and has never eaten fortified food before, or if your adult guinea pig is suddenly refusing their fortified food, ensuring that your pet eats their daily allotment of pellets is vital. Fortified food contains many vitamins and minerals not found in your guinea pig’s hay, greens, or treats, making them essential to your pet’s daily nutritional requirements.

Covering the Basics

While there could be many reasons for your pet to refuse their uniform food related to normal changes in appetite and personal taste preferences, consider the following to start troubleshooting:

Are you offering a uniform, nutritionally-complete fortified food, or a muesli mix?

If your pet is eating a muesli mix or a type of food that is not species or age-appropriate, we highly recommend changing their food by slowly transitioning diets. You can learn more about the importance of species and age-appropriate foods through our All About Fortified Foods information sheet! Also, be sure to read our blog post mentioned below on transitioning diets.

Have you recently changed your pet’s fortified food?

Sudden changes to your pet’s diet can sometimes lead to refusal, which can result in serious gastrointestinal issues. Small animals are prey species and may naturally refuse food if they detect changes that seem suspect. Refusal can be compounded if your pet has always been a particularly picky eater. Refusal can commonly occur during the following situations:

  • When a pet parent offers a different brand than what the pet is used to
  • When the pet parent offers a different product line within a brand
  • In some cases, when pet parents shift from an old bag of food to a new bag of food within the same product line

Make sure to read our blog post about How to Transition Your Pet’s Food to ensure that this is not the issue. If you are planning on changing your pet’s fortified food, it’s essential to understand how to properly do so before-hand to avoid refusal or GI upset.

Is your pet behaving and eating normally otherwise?

If your pet is acting lethargic, is not urinating or producing normal fecal matter, or is refusing hay, treats, and greens in addition to refusing fortified food, it is pertinent that your pet is seen by an exotics veterinarian immediately. As prey species, small animals adapted to mask any sickness they might have, so as to not be an easy target for predators. This instinct remains even though your pet lives in the comfort of your home, which means they often will not appear ill until they are so sick that they can no longer mask their illness. The symptoms listed above may point to your small pet being very ill, and not receiving treatment for these symptoms could prove to be fatal.

Rewiring your Pet’s Brain

If fortified food is constantly available in your pet’s habitat, try taking out the bowl and food for a short amount of time.

Offer the bowl and pellets to your little one a few hours after taking it out to see if their interest in the food has changed. If the fortified food has not been replaced in the past day, try disposing of the old pellets and offer food fresh from the packaging. The hay aroma from the newly-replaced pellets may entice your little one. It may also help to change where you are placing the pellet bowl within the habitat. For example, if you are placing the bowl far away from your pet’s hiding spot, place it closer to their hide, since this is where small pets tend to feel safest. Treating fortified food like it’s a hot commodity, rather than as part of the unmoving scenery of your pet’s habitat, might help them come to think differently about their pellets.

Offer a few pellets to your pet in place of a treat.

Measure out your pet’s fortified food beforehand and take 5-6 pellets from this allotment. Hand-feed the pellets to your pet while interacting with them, such as during couch time or while teaching them a new trick. Acting like your pet’s pellets are a reward can help to re-wire your small pet into thinking their pellets are a treat, helping ensure later on that they eat their uniform fortified food every day.

Use your “excited voice” when giving your pet fortified food.

If you already use a higher-pitched tone of voice while praising your small pet, using that same voice can be an effective method to help get your pet excited about their food. As many pet parents know, small herbivores can heavily rely on audio cues to help predict when food is on the way (think of how some guinea pigs lose their minds when the fridge opens!). Some pet parents have developed a phrase that their pets recognize to mean “food time” (one of our own employees’ guinea pigs recognize the phrase, “Is it time for piggy dinner?”). Since small animals quickly learn that bag crinkling, fridge doors opening, or a change in their pet parent’s voice can signal that food will arrive soon, this behavior can be used in such a way to help change your small pet’s perception about how exciting uniform pelleted food can be.

In the Meantime…

Working to restructure how your small pet perceives their uniform fortified food can help keep your pet from refusing their food long after they’ve gone through the re-learning process. However, reconditioning small animals does not happen overnight. It will likely take time, and that is time that your pet may still have a tepid-at-best interest in their fortified food. While you are working to alter the long-term behavior of your pet, here are a few methods that might help in combination with the methods above:

  • Dilute a bit of organic apple juice with drinking water and use a spray bottle to lightly spritz the dilute solution onto a daily allotment of your pet’s pellets. The pellets should be thinly spread on a clean plate or cookie sheet first. After you have sprayed the pellets once or twice with the solution, allow the pellets to dry, then serve them to your pet. The small amount of solution can help bring out the hay aroma of your pet’s fortified food, and can also add a bit of sweetness to the pellets. It’s very important to not give your pet any non-diluted apple juice, as the high amount of sugar can upset their stomach. We recommend a dilute solution of 1 part apple juice, 3 parts drinking water. After 8 hours, dispose of the spritzed pellets. If you decide to keep the solution in the spray bottle rather than mixing a new solution each time, store the solution in the refrigerator. Make sure to avoid juices that have added sugars, as these are not healthy options for your pet.
  • Sprinkle a small amount of dry Critical Care Herbivore onto the pellets, mixing the powder throughout the bowl. Offering uniform food in this way can make the pellets more interesting to your pet, especially if they already love the different flavor offerings of Critical Care. Critical Care Herbivore is currently offered in Anise, Apple-Banana, and Papaya flavors.
  • If your pet is eating their greens, you can try mixing the greens with pellets in order to make a small salad! We recommend that pet parents shred the greens into smaller pieces first, making it easier to mix the pellets in. Unless a vet recommends it, do not withhold greens in hopes that they will eat their fortified food instead. Greens are an essential part of your pet’s daily diet and help keep your little one hydrated.

It’s important to remember that if you use any of the three methods mentioned above, you need to slowly transition your pet away from the method you chose. Suddenly ending these methods of presenting pellets might cause your pet to go back to refusing their fortified food, meaning you’ll have to start the process over.

If the methods above are attempted and fail to help, it’s worth exploring the possibility of offering a different line of pellets to your little one. Since some pets are especially discerning individuals, Oxbow has two fortified food lines for young guinea pigs, and three pellet lines for adult guinea pigs. All of Oxbow’s food are nutritionally complete, and one line is not necessarily “better” than another. The different lines are simply available to both provide pet parents with options that align with their personal values, as well as to provide different flavor profiles that appeal to small animals’ individual taste preferences. Here’s A Side-By-Side Look at Oxbow Fortified Foods.

Other Notes and Considerations

Guinea pigs are highly scheduled animals. Offering pellets at the same time every day may help your pet anticipate when food will be provided, and by extension might help them become more interested in pellets over time. You might even find that your guinea pig will get very excited (or become very demanding) at the approximate time of day that you feed them pellets!

If your guinea pig is under 6 months old, offering alfalfa hay (if it is not present already) can help ensure that your young pet is receiving some of the nutrients their growing body needs. Alfalfa hay is legume hay and therefore high in calcium, so while you accustom your little one to fortified food, mixing alfalfa hay into their grass hay can help fill in a couple of nutritional gaps. Alfalfa hay tastes sweet, so pet parents may find that their young pet takes to it quickly! Keep in mind, alfalfa hay should only be offered to adult herbivores as an occasional treat and should not be a regular part of their diet due to its high calcium content.

If you have tried many of these methods and your pet is still not interested in their uniform food, schedule an appointment with your qualified exotics veterinarian. Your pet might be refusing their food for a reason that is not easily seen without the aid of a professional’s eye. Your veterinarian may also provide additional resources and advice to make sure your guinea pig is getting enough vitamins and minerals to stay happy and healthy.

Learn More

Guinea Pig Life Stages

The Importance of Young Formulas for Small Animals 

Can I Compost My Guinea Pig's Poop?

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February 20, 2020

Ask The Small Pet Vet: How Do I Keep My Rabbit or Guinea Pig’s Teeth Healthy?

Ask The Small Pet Vet: How Do I Keep My Rabbit or Guinea Pig’s Teeth Healthy?
 

Join Dr. Micah Kohles as he discusses important tips and tricks for keeping your small herbivore's teeth healthy. 

In this video, Dr. Kohles goes over a helpful 5 Step Dental Health Checklist and covers the top reasons to contact your veterinarian in relation to your pet's dental health.  
 

Additional Dental Health Resources:  


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...Read More

February 19, 2020

Dental Disease in Small Mammals

Dental Disease in Small Mammals
by Dianne Cook, LVT

February is National Pet Dental Health Month! Veterinarians across the country frequently celebrate by providing discounted dental cleanings for dogs and cats, but what about our small herbivore and rodent companions? Is dental health as important for our exotic companion mammal friends? Absolutely, but in different ways! As animals with constantly growing teeth, dental disease is one of the most common health-related reasons small mammals are taken to their veterinarian every year. Though the cause varies, dental disease can result in substantial, and even life-threatening, health concerns in small pets, so it is essential to learn as much as possible about prevention and early detection.

Normal Tooth Anatomy

Because many exotic companion mammals were designed to eat diets comprised of thick, coarse vegetation, they evolved hypsodont teeth. These long-crowned teeth lack an anatomical root, and continuously grow throughout the animal’s life, making up for the substantial wear and tear resulting from a lifetime of chewing on abrasive materials. If their teeth become overgrown it can result in uneven wear, malocclusions (the teeth not lining up properly) or other uncomfortable abnormalities, which can ultimately affect your pet’s ability to feed themselves.

Rodents and small herbivores have easily visible incisors - the long, chisel-like teeth at the front of their mouths (two upper and two lower). Many small mammal pet parents are surprised to learn their pets’ tiny mouths are also hiding numerous cheek teeth. Believe it or not, rabbits have a total of 28 teeth (including two small teeth right behind their upper incisors called “peg teeth”), guinea pigs and chinchillas boast 20 teeth, and hamsters, gerbils, rats, and mice all have 16 teeth! Interestingly, small herbivores like rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas have a mouth full of open rooted teeth. Though small omnivorous rodents like rats, mice, hamsters, and gerbils also have perpetually growing incisors, their cheek teeth do not continue to grow, as rabbits and other small herbivores do. Regardless of species, that’s a lot of teeth to keep an eye on, especially when you can’t easily visualize the majority of them at home. This is what makes it so important for pet parents to monitor for any signs of dental concerns, and to ensure routine dental care by a trusted veterinarian.

Causes of Dental Disease

Any physical or anatomic anomaly that interferes with the eruption and/or wear of your pet’s teeth can lead to dental disease. The causes of dental disease are lumped into two categories: congenital and acquired. Congenital dental disease is the result of an issue present from birth, whereas acquired dental disease is a result of external factors, meaning it has not been inherited. Since the dental issues are present from birth, congenital dental disease is often detected when the animal is much younger. Acquired dental disease, on the other hand, is far more common than congenital dental disease, and most often results in subtle changes over time; therefore, most animals are diagnosed when they are older. Though no dental disease is good, acquired dental disease is most often preventable, so proactive pet parents have a chance to prevent this serious health concern, eliminating it from ever becoming an issue in the first place.

Diet and Husbandry

What may come as a surprise to some pet parents is the substantial impact appropriate diet and husbandry has on the dental health of small mammals. Improper diet and husbandry are arguably the most common cause of acquired dental disease seen in our exotic companion friends. For small herbivores, a diet lacking in a diversity of free choice grass-hays is the single most common cause of acquired dental disease and can quickly result in improper wear of the teeth, causing painful sharp points, overgrowth, and even potentially abscessed teeth. Though more and more pet parents are learning how important hay truly is to their small herbivore’s overall well-being, some pet parents still feed diets consisting predominantly of a commercially manufactured food, considering hay as more of a treat or snack. Though a high-quality, uniform, fortified pelleted diet is an essential way to provide your little one with the daily macro- and micro-nutrients they need, a combination of free-choice grass hay varieties should make up the overwhelming majority of your small herbivore’s diet. Beyond appropriate food choices, small herbivores should be provided with plenty of opportunities to interact and play with species-appropriate chews made from all-natural materials. Though these chews will only work to keep your herbivore’s incisors worn down, they will also provide a substantial amount of physical and mental enrichment.

Small omnivores should also be provided with a uniform, high-quality, fortified diet, but it is essential they are also offered a variety of supplementary foods rich in fresh greens, vegetables, and species-appropriate proteins. These fresh foods will not only provide your little one with substantial mental and nutritional enrichment, but their coarse consistency will help keep those constantly erupting incisors worn down. Small omnivores should also have access to species-appropriate chews fashioned from materials such as dried sticks and cardboard. It is important to make sure you are always providing chew items that are nutritionally appropriate and have been grown/made without the use of chemicals.

Regardless of species, a diet lacking in calcium and other essential micro-nutrients can also result in weak, especially fragile teeth. Though broken hypsodont teeth will generally grow back, any missing/damaged teeth can result in a malocclusion, which can result in tooth overgrowth and lead to self-feeding difficulties for your little one.

Trauma and Disease

Any injury to the face or head, regardless of how minor it may seem, can result in abnormal dental growth and acquired dental concerns. Serious traumatic injuries, such as a broken jaw, can result in misalignment of the teeth if the jaw heals in an abnormal position. Less severe injuries like a chipped tooth can disrupt the apex (the portion of the tooth below the gum line) which can affect the rate and direction of tooth regrowth. Tooth breakage can happen naturally because of especially hard food items, but can also be the result of cage chewing, falling or being dropped, or even fighting with a cage mate. Though open rooted teeth grow quickly, it can take several days to weeks for teeth to grow back, depending on how far back the tooth was broken to begin with. During this time of regrowth, changes in occlusion (how the teeth meet) may result in improper alignment, meaning your pet’s other teeth run the risk of becoming overgrown. As a pet parent, it is essential to monitor this regrowth and communicate with your veterinarian if anything seems abnormal.

As prey species, small mammals are incredibly efficient at hiding health concerns. Sometimes the first indication of a severe underlying systemic disease is minor-to-moderate dental disease. As discussed earlier, appropriate calcium levels are essential to promote healthy teeth, but beyond diet, some diseases can deplete calcium levels within the body, resulting in weaker teeth and bones. If the jawbone softens around the base of the teeth, the teeth can shift positions, resulting in malocclusions. Any health concern that affects your pet’s desire or ability to eat appropriate types and volumes of foods can also affect your pet’s teeth. As we’ve discussed, open rooted teeth are designed to be ground down by a consistent intake of course, fibrous vegetation. If a sickly small mammal isn’t eating as much as they should, or if self-feeding ceases altogether, their teeth will have nothing to wear against and therefore run the risk of overgrowth.

Localized infections, such as tooth root abscesses, are also quite common causes of acquired dental disease in exotic species. Dental infections are most commonly arise when the apex of the tooth becomes overgrown, leading to instability in the tooth, inviting inflammation and infection to set in under the gingiva.

Genetics

Congenital dental disease is any dental issue that is a direct result of an issue that was inherited by your pet and was present at birth. Throughout years of selective breeding for certain physical traits, humans have altered the anatomical structure of many breeds of small mammals. Sometimes, these selective breeding programs have resulted in changes in skull shape, which can have a significant impact on how the teeth connect and wear on each other. Inbreeding or genetic mutations can also result in jaw structure abnormalities affecting the length of the jaw itself, or how well the mandible (lower jaw) and maxilla (upper jaw) align. It is important to remember that congenital dental disease is a chronic health concern and will require frequent visits to an exotics friendly veterinarian for life-long maintenance. With proper care, however, small mammals suffering from hereditary dental issues can live long, happy lives.

What To Watch For

As species hardwired to disguise signs of sickness, weakness, or pain, the early signs of dental disease are often quite subtle. Therefore, routine physical and dental exams by a trusted veterinarian are incredibly important for all small mammal friends. If dental problems are not caught early, they will continue to worsen and if no intervention is made, they will inevitably result in a painful condition that even the most stoic of small mammals won’t be able to conceal and sadly, may not be able to overcome. If your small friend exhibits any of the following signs, it’s important you reach out to your veterinarian immediately.

Changes in Eating or Appetite

One of the most recognizable signs something is wrong with your little one is when they suddenly stop showing interest in the food they once loved. Sometimes, the first sign of dental disease is a sudden shift to being more selective about their food choices. If you notice that your pet has stopped eating coarser items such as pellets, veggies, and hay, but will still eat softer foods such as fruits or soft leafy greens, they may be trying to tell you their mouth hurts. Dental disease often results in sharp points along the edge of the teeth. These jagged edges can cause painful ulcerations along the cheek and/or tongue, making chewing painful. If the dental disease progresses to the point of substantial overgrowth, you may also notice your small friend trying to pick food up, only to have it fall out of their mouth as they attempt to chew. If your pet becomes physically incapable of eating, they may stop trying altogether which is always an urgent situation.

Physical Changes

Dental disease can also lead to watery eyes, nasal discharge, and drooling. A large percentage of the overall tooth structure is located beneath the gum line and is also adjacent to the sinuses and tear ducts. Any infection or inflammation of the teeth can result in partially or totally blocked tear ducts, or irritation to delicate mucous membranes causing nasal drainage. Excessive salivation is most often a result of pain or the inability to completely close the mouth due to overgrown teeth. If your furry friend’s eye(s) start to bulge, or if your pet’s face appears swollen or lopsided, it may be a sign of a tooth root abscess. It is important to visit with your veterinarian as soon as any of these changes are noted.

Prevention and Early Detection

The best treatment for dental disease is prevention. Though some circumstances are out of our control, providing your pet with optimal care is the best possible way to avoid the serious consequences of uncontrolled dental disease. Though congenital problems are regrettably unavoidable, many forms of acquired dental disease are preventable. First and foremost, it is essential to provide your furry family members with a high-quality diet that is nutritionally appropriate for their species. Ensure small herbivores are provided a diet consisting of unlimited access to grass hay varieties and a measured volume of uniform, fortified pellets. It is also important they have daily access to a healthy assortment of dark, leafy greens and plenty of enriching chew toys to play with. Small omnivores should be provided with a high-quality, uniform fortified diet, along with species-appropriate supplementary foods and access to plenty of natural chews.

Though it is difficult to visualize our small pet’s cheek teeth, it is important for pet parents to familiarize themselves with the normal appearance of their pet’s incisors. If any changes in color or shape are noted, or if the incisors appear excessively long, report these changes to your veterinarian as quickly as possible. Since examining the incisors alone is not enough to ensure complete dental health, it is important to seek routine veterinary care at least once a year. Part of a complete and thorough physical examination includes a dental exam, during which your veterinarian may use specialized tools to visualize your small pet’s premolars and molars. Dental examinations may even include low-grade sedation or anesthesia, or even the potential of dental radiographs, to truly evaluate all teeth.

As pet parents, we all do our very best to make sure our pets live the healthiest, highest quality life possible. Though some causes of dental disease are outside of our control, ensuring your little one is fed a high-quality diet and receives routine veterinary care are easy ways to keep your small friend’s choppers nice and healthy throughout their entire lives. Even if sudden trauma or hereditary misfortune means your pet develops dental disease, frequent veterinary care for routine maintenance can help keep your little one happily munching for years to come. 

Learn More

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What Are the Best Vegetables and Leafy Greens for Guinea Pigs?

How to Tell If Your Rabbit is Sick

All About Chewing

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February 18, 2020

February Pet of the Month

February Pet of the Month

Congratulations to February's Pet of the Month, Henry (AKA Henry Lop Holland) and his pet parent, Valeriya!

How old is Henry?

Henry is an 11-week old baby Holland Lop.

What is his favorite Oxbow product(s)?

Henry is an adventurous, inquisitive and fast-growing baby bunny, so he needs the right feed to help fuel his day. He relies on and LOVES a combination of Oxbow Simple Harvest Young Rabbit Food & Oxbow Timothy Meadow Hay.

How long has your pet been a part of your family?

He's only been home 3 weeks but in our hearts since we first met 6 weeks ago.

Do you have any fun stories about your pet that you'd like to share with us?

Henry was born on a 400-acre horse farm and seems to get along fine with other types of animals. He also may be part dog, he likes to chew on his dad's shoes sometimes.

What are Henry's favorite pastimes?

Henry loves exploring and has recently been taking walks outside and even visited a park where he got to run around and explore nature. He also loves to eat, sleep, play with his parents and binky jump a lot.

Check our Henry on Instagram at his handle @henry.l.holland! 

How Your Pet for Pet of the Week

Would you like your pet to be considered for Pet of the Week? Follow Oxbow on Instagram or Facebook and follow the instructions on our Pet of the Week posts to submit your photos! We select our Pets of the Month from our Pets of the Week submissions.

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February 11, 2020

Cane Molasses: Why Is It in My Pet’s Food

Cane Molasses: Why Is It in My Pet’s Food

By Dr. Cayla Iske, PhD

The digestive tracts of small hindgut fermenting mammals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas, are not designed to digest large amounts of simple carbohydrates and sugars. Because of this, it can be concerning to see ingredients that evoke thoughts of sweet, sugary food in your small pet’s daily diet.  One prime example of an ingredient that sometimes gets a bad name (but one that serves an important purpose in our foods) is cane molasses. 

What is Cane Molasses?

Cane molasses is a dark, viscous liquid made from sugar cane.

It is made by crushing the fresh-cut plant to extract its juice. This juice is then boiled to make a thick syrup to promote sugar crystallization. The sugar crystals are then extracted, and the liquid is boiled again. After a second sugar crystal extraction, molasses remains.

Nutrient Profile

Cane molasses is completely made from the sugar cane plant and also contains several beneficial nutrients. Molasses is relatively rich in several important minerals such as potassium and iron which help promote healthy blood pressure and bone health as well as B vitamins such as pyridoxine (B6) which support nutrient metabolism and cellular maintenance. Additionally, molasses contains beneficial antioxidants that help protect the entire body from oxidative stress and associated diseases.

Simple vs. Complex Carbohydrates

One common misconception is that cane molasses is just a simple sugar like glucose, sucrose, and others. Molasses is not a refined sugar and actually contains many complex nutrients, including complex carbohydrates. Both simple and complex carbohydrates are important to animals as they are converted to glucose and used by the body for energy. Simple carbs (e.g. sugars), however, are broken down very quickly and cause sudden spikes in blood sugar (hyperglycemia). Complex carbs, however, digest more slowly and don’t result in dramatic blood sugar spikes as is the case with simple carbs.

Studies have even shown that low inclusions of molasses in the diet improve good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) in rats. This good cholesterol (HDL) can help prevent atherosclerosis by promoting movement of cholesterol away from the heart to prevent buildup and plaque formation.

But Why is it Needed? 

You still may be asking yourself why molasses is needed in small animal pellets at all. Your pets don’t need added sugar or carbohydrates, so what’s the point? Oxbow pellets are fortified and uniform to prevent selective feeding that commonly occurs in high sugar, high starch muesli mixes. Our foods are formulated to be high in beneficial fiber and these ingredients are often very dry. To incorporate these healthy hay and grain ingredients, cane molasses is added at low inclusions in some of our products to aid in the binding of naturally high-fiber ingredients and provide product stability. This natural, plant-based ingredient ensures a uniform pellet that has the structural integrity to not fall apart and crumble before it reaches your fur baby’s bowl.

How Much Molasses in Actually in My Pet’s Food?

At typical inclusions, the molasses in our formulas adds only about 0.5 to 1.5 grams of sugar per half cup of pelleted food. For reference, this is the same amount of sugar that is in 3 or 4 grams (or roughly 1 teaspoon) of apple or carrot.

At Oxbow, we believe every single ingredient in our diets should have a beneficial purpose.  Cane molasses is no exception. This plant-based, natural binder helps us create tasty fiber-packed morsels your little friends will gobble up.

Learn More About Pet Nutrition

All About Fortified Foods

How to Transition Your Pet's Food

A Side-By-Side Look at Oxbow Foods

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February 07, 2020

Rabbit Life Stages

Rabbit Life Stages

Rabbits often live much longer than most people realize. Gone are the days of the “disposable pet” mentality and the belief that a rabbit’s natural life expectancy is only a few short years. With proper nutrition, husbandry, and medical care, most rabbits will live long, happy, healthy lives. As your pet grows and matures, each life stage comes with some specialized and tailored care.  Keep reading to find out more about properly supporting each stage of your bunny’s life.

How Long Will My Rabbit Live?

A rabbit’s life expectancy depends on many factors. Breed, genetics, diet, gender, living conditions, and consistent healthcare all play a role in determining lifespan, but on average, most rabbits live 8 to 10 years. That being said, through good nutrition and quality wellness care, many rabbits are living to see 11, 12, or even older. Similar to other species like dogs and cats, rabbits mature at a much faster rate than humans. Knowing that your little one will mature rapidly, it is important you have a plan in place to address their needs as they age. 

Young Rabbits

A “young rabbit” is typically classified as any rabbit under the age of 12 months, though some giant breeds may be considered an adult around 9 months of age. During this first year of life, rabbits will go through three distinct stages: 

  • Baby (newborn – 3 months)
  • Adolescence (3 months – 6 months)
  • Teenager (6 months – 12 months)

We strongly encourage feeding a uniform young rabbit formula until a rabbit reaches 12 months of age. All of Oxbow’s complete and balanced young rabbit pellets are formulated to meet the specific nutritional needs of young, growing rabbits. These alfalfa-based pellets contain a diversity of ingredients nutritionally-focused on supporting the specific needs of growing animals. Alfalfa provides optimal protein and calcium to support healthy muscle and bone formation, as well as good amounts of fiber which all rabbits need for proper digestion and overall health. While your youngster is still on the young formula, we recommend feeding an unlimited quantity of pellets. The goal is to provide enough pellets that there are always some available, without giving your little ones the option to “gorge” themselves. This helps ensure your little one will get plenty of the micronutrients and protein they need during this phase of quick maturation.

In addition to a uniform, fortified, alfalfa-based pelleted diet, loose alfalfa hay provides added vital nutrients and fiber for tooth wear in the daily diet of young rabbits. Though alfalfa is a good base, it is equally important for them to have access to a variety of grass hays (Western Timothy, Oat Hay, Orchard Grass, Botanical, etc).  Eating a variety of hays adds nutritional enrichment for young herbivores and will make for a much smoother transition to a grass hay-exclusive diet when your rabbit reaches adulthood and their growth demands begin to slow. Offering a variety of grass-hays will also increase exposure to different tastes and textures which will help limit picky eating down the road.

It is important to ensure your young friend has a large, safe area in which to live and play. Young rabbits are especially curious and active, and they need plenty of time outside of an enclosure to stretch their legs and help build strong, healthy muscles and bones. Since rabbits are often quite simple to potty train, many rabbit parents allow their furry friends free roam of their home for at least a few hours each day. If you opt to allow your bunny to roam freely, it is essential to make sure your house is completely “bunny proofed” before allowing them to do so.

Adult Rabbits

Rabbits are considered adults typically between the ages of 12 months and 5 years of age (depending on breed). Though growth has slowed or ceased, adult rabbits still have specific nutritional requirements. Balanced macro-nutrients (such as fiber, protein, and fat) and micro-nutrients (like vitamins and minerals) are essential to ensure your furry friend maintains their good health. Providing a controlled amount of high-quality, grass hay-based fortified pelleted food is a great way to ensure your little one is getting all of their nutritional needs met. Though we encourage feeding an unlimited volume of pellets to young rabbits, it is essential to feed adults a measured volume daily based upon their ideal weight and body condition. This will help ensure your friend gets those nutrients they need but will help limit the risk of obesity.

In addition to a fortified, high-quality adult pelleted diet, it is essential to provide your rabbit with a wide variety of free choice grass hays. Nutritionally, all of Oxbow’s grass-hay varieties (Western Timothy, Oat, Orchard, Organic Meadow Hay, and Botanical) are nearly identical and provide your companion with essential fiber to keep their delicate gastrointestinal system running smoothly and their constantly growing teeth worn down to a healthy level. Though nutritionally similar, each hay variety has a unique flavor and texture profile, which in turn provides your little one with natural, healthy nutritional and mental enrichment. Though rabbits love to eat hay, they also find comfort and enjoyment using the hay as nesting material, or even as something to nibble upon while in their litter box, so ensure fresh hay is available at all times.  

Once rabbits hit adulthood, they tend to slow down and may even gain a propensity for laziness, so it is important that they are consistently encouraged and provided opportunities to run, jump, and explore. Allowing rabbits time to stretch their legs and feed their natural curiosity provides them with a healthy dose of physical and mental enrichment. Be aware, however, that rabbits can become bored when exposed to the same environment day after day. Rearranging your rabbit’s habitat and all the various environments they may interact in can help limit boredom. Simple actions such as providing a new hide-out, tunnel, or cardboard box can certainly pique a bunny’s interest, as can the addition of new chew toys. The more they chew, hide, explore and play, the happier they will be!

Senior Rabbits

While rabbits are all unique individuals, they generally ease into their “golden years” starting around 5 years of age. When it comes to our senior bun friends, feeding suggestions should truly be focused on the individual pet’s overall condition and observed health concerns. It is always smart to include your veterinarian in this discussion, as they will be able to provide useful feedback in determining the overall nutritional profile that best suits your little one’s needs. While not always the case, many senior rabbits tend to go one of two very opposite directions as they age; they either lose weight and muscle mass or they become obese. Always start by seeking the advice of a trusted veterinarian, and ensure their annual wellness exam and bloodwork all check out before discussing the nutritional adjustments outlined below:

  1. The gradual addition of young rabbit pellets to his existing adult rabbit pellets (up to and not exceeding a 50/50 ratio) while feeding loose grass-hay varieties. This should be done slowly, over the course of a few weeks.
  2. Keeping them on an adult formula and supplementing with loose alfalfa hay.
  3. In some cases, a combination of the above may be used, or your veterinarian may suggest the inclusion of other calorie sources, like Critical Care – Herbivore.

The addition of alfalfa will provide your bunny with a tasty snack that happens to include a caloric boost as well as additional protein and calcium to help maintain muscle mass and bone health.

If your senior friend happens to be on the chubby side, it is still essential to work with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying health concerns. If your slightly pudgy pal gets a clean bill of health, they can continue eating their favorite, high-quality adult rabbit food, but your vet may suggest slightly reducing the daily volume of pellets they are fed (by only 10 – 20%) and attempting to find new, interesting ways to keep your bunny moving. Encouraging exercise at this stage of life is important regardless of their weight, as it promotes mobility and helps sustain muscle mass and healthy joints. It is also essential to continue feeding unlimited volumes and varieties of grass hays.

As your bunny reaches their elder years, you may also consider speaking with your trusted veterinarian about adding supplements to their daily regimen. Based upon your senior pet’s overall health, and any underlying health conditions, your veterinarian may suggest our Natural Science Digestive Support, Joint Support, and/or Skin and Coat, as all have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant ingredients to help in aging animals.

Don’t Forget the Good Stuff

Regardless of what stage of life your rabbit is in, a variety of fresh, low oxalate, dark leafy greens should always be on your rabbit’s daily menu. In addition to vitamins and minerals, fresh greens provide your rabbit with another source of hydration and plenty of nutritional enrichment by better mimicking the wide array of vegetation they would consume in the wild. We suggest introducing new greens gradually and in small amounts. This will allow your rabbit’s sensitive system time to acclimate to the new food and help avoid any soft stool or gastrointestinal upset.

Though treats are not an essential aspect of your rabbit’s daily diet, they are a wonderful way of building and maintaining that unique human-animal bond. When choosing treats, make sure to choose varieties that are hay-based and nutritionally appropriate for your rabbit. Avoid anything containing artificial colors, preservatives, or refined sugar, and remember that treats should not make up any more than 2% of your pet’s overall diet.

Regardless of your rabbit’s age, they are certain to add their quirky charm to your life. Proper nutrition, mental enrichment, and routine vet care are essential throughout every stage of your pet’s life. Ensuring their needs are met from babyhood through their senior years will help them experience the highest quality of life possible and will ensure their companionship in your life for many years to come.  

Learn More About Rabbit Care

Download Oxbow's Rabbit Care Guide

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