April, 2020

April 28, 2020

Spending Time Outdoors with Your Small Mammal

Spending Time Outdoors with Your Small Mammal

by Dianne Cook, LVT 

As the days grow longer and warmer, who can resist going outside to fill their lungs with fresh, lilac-scented air and soak up some much-needed Vitamin D? As humans emerge from our wintery cocoons, it seems only fitting to share the brilliance of spring with our furry companions. What could be more enjoyable for a small mammal than to frolic through a lawn of fresh, green grass and experience the glorious scents and sensations only spring can bring? While time outside can be wonderfully enriching for our small mammal friends, there are extra steps and considerations that need to be made to ensure the experience is both pleasant and safe. 

Species Considerations 

No matter how perfect the weather is, you need to make sure to take your pet’s species-specific needs into consideration. While it is possible to spend time outside with your rat, hamster, gerbil, or mouse, these tiny kiddos are incredibly small, fast, and agile, and their humans can quickly lose sight of them if they happen to escape their outdoor enclosure. For this reason, it is generally recommended to keep these especially diminutive friends indoors and use alternate options for enrichment and exercise.  

Chinchillas are another species that should generally be kept indoors. Chinchillas’ impossibly thick coats make them especially sensitive to heat and make them quite difficult to dry off if they get wet. Chinchillas should never be placed in an area that is in direct sunlight (whether inside or out), as it can quickly cause them to overheat. If a chin should find themselves in a damp environment (e.g. dew or moisture from a lawn), moisture could get trapped near the skin and increase the risk of irritation/infection. For more specific chinchilla considerations check out our Common Chinchilla Health Issues blog. 

Setting the Stage 

First and foremost, never leave a small mammal outside without direct adult supervision. For many of our domesticated companions, the outdoors is a brand new, bewildering experience. Having direct supervision will not only ensure their safety but will provide them with a trusted friend with whom they can brave the wild. Though appropriate, well-supervised time outside can be a great source of physical and mental enrichment, it is important to remember our small friends are prey species, and a gradual, secure introduction will help limit stress as they decide whether they approve of outside time.  

To help create a safe location for your pet to explore, it is best to have a secure play area/enclosure set up so your little one can experience the wonders of nature while remaining safe from potential dangers. Using a playpen or bottomless enclosure will allow your little one to enjoy the feel of chemical-free grass between their toes, but if they are especially adept at digging, you may want to consider an enclosure with a removable bottom. The sides of the play area should be tall enough your friend cannot jump (or climb) over them and should be secure enough that they cannot squeeze through the bars/sections. It is strongly recommended to also have a wire or mesh top to allow for plenty of ventilation and airflow while ensuring maximum security. Never place your pet’s outdoor play area in direct sunlight. A portion of the enclosure should always be kept in the shade so your little one can stretch out and cool-off if needed. It is also essential to provide a hide-out, a couple of water sources, and some treats and toys in the play area. Small herbivores should also be provided with a small pile of their favorite hay to nibble on while they take in the scenery. 

The outdoors can be a very enriching environment. We do our best to mimic our pet’s natural environment within our homes, but nothing comes close to actually experiencing the sights, scents, and sounds of being outside. While some small mammals immediately love spending time outdoors, others are slower to acclimate. Pets who are normally social and interactive in the home can become withdrawn and timid while outside. Be patient and understanding, and do not force your friend to interact with their environment. Start with short 5 –10 minute intervals, and slowly increase the time spent outside to 30 – 40 minutes over the course of a few weeks. This gradual introduction will help your little one grow accustomed to the great outdoors. While supervising your pet’s outdoor excursions, watch for subtle clues that will tell you how they feel about the experience. Every pet is an individual and some may find the outdoors more stressful than relaxing. If you notice your friend is overly stressed, they are likely telling you they do not want to go outside. If their appetite wanes or they’re exhibiting any abnormal behaviors after spending time outdoors, please keep them inside and consult your trusted veterinarian. 

Environmental Considerations 

Before venturing outdoors with your little one, it is important to ensure the environment is safe for a prey animal. As domestic species, and beloved pets, our small friends have grown accustomed to the comforts of living indoors. Unlike their wild ancestors, our pets are not equipped to handle weather variances, are more susceptible to predators, and run a greater risk of ingesting something they shouldn’t. Luckily, with some forethought and close, uninterrupted supervision, most of these concerns can be circumvented. 


Though spring weather is often serene, extreme weather patterns can develop quickly, so it is important to watch the forecast closely and try to choose a time when the weather will cooperate. Try to choose a warm, sunny day with minimal winds, and no rain (or worse) on the horizon. As we’ve discussed, small mammals are quite sensitive to extreme temperatures, with optimal outdoor temps ranging 65 – 75°F (16 - 24°C). Even if you are within the ideal temperature ranges, remember to keep at least a portion of your kiddo’s play area in the shade with access to a hide-out, thus ensuring your little one will have a cool, safe retreat if needed. Regardless of the temperature, watch for signs of heat exhaustion like panting, rapid breathing, drooling, and/or lethargy. Not only can your pet’s hair coat and color impact how quickly they heat up, each pet has their own unique heat tolerances, just like the humans who love them. If you notice any signs of heat exhaustion, take your pet inside immediately and contact your veterinarian. 


Many of the chemicals that are used to keep lawns, flowers, and vegetable gardens looking beautiful all season are quite harmful to our little companions. Public areas, like municipal parks, are generally not safe environments for small herbivores as herbicides and/or pesticides may be used on the grounds. Even if your yard and gardens are not treated with chemicals, you should make sure your neighbors haven’t applied any chemicals to their yards, as there is potential for drift. The same is true if your yard backs up to a street or public area, as the risk of unintentional chemical contamination and/or pollution from passing motorists may make it unsafe. 

Wildlife and Other Animals 

Though most people think to look out for the neighbor’s dog or the local stray cats, small pets can fall victim to numerous species of predators. Raptors such as owls, hawks, and falcons are quick and can snatch an unsuspecting small mammal very quickly. Even smaller birds, such as crows, should be watched closely. Another predator pet parents don’t always consider are snakes. These silent predators seem to appear out of nowhere and often strike without warning. Familiarizing yourself with the snake species that are common in your area, and times of day in which they are most active can help you to avoid these opportunistic hunters.  

The outdoors also increases the chances of your furry friend picking up a parasite or communicable disease from wildlife. If caught early, risks presented by parasites are most often treatable, but there are some viral and bacterial infections that can have a significant impact on your companion’s health. While flea and tick preventatives are a great idea for dogs and cats who make frequent visits outdoors, it is best not to treat your kiddos with these products without the direct supervision of an exotics-savvy veterinarian. It is also important to keep an eye on the native wildlife that frequents your yard. A worry that is especially true in domestic rabbits is the risk of contracting a viral or bacterial infection present in the local wild rabbit population. Before treating your little one to some fun in the sun, make sure your little one receives a clean bill of health from their favorite veterinarian. During your pet’s visit, have a serious conversation with your veterinarian regarding the risks and benefits of taking your little one outside. Veterinarians should be aware of any known threats that may be impacting the native wildlife (such as the recent RHDV2 outbreak in the Southwestern United States) and can help develop a plan should your little friend start to show signs of a potential parasitic infestation or other signs of sickness.  


It is important to familiarize yourself with the plants that grow in your area, and which species could be potentially harmful to your small pet. Before you venture outside, walk the area yourself and make sure you don’t see any unusual weeds or potentially toxic vegetation. Most small mammals are quite curious and may take a nibble of a plant simply to appease their inquisitive nature. By first ensuring there is no harmful plant-life growing in the area, you can avoid any potential health risks.  

Supervision, Supervision, Supervision 

The world can be a big, scary place for a small prey animal. Especially if your furry friend rarely ventures beyond the safety of the home, your yard may seem like a very intimidating place. The key to ensuring a fun, safe experience is always to keep your kiddo under direct adult supervision. Prep the outdoor area and check on the above-listed items before bringing your pet outside. Always ensure you have everything you need and the area is safe to limit the temptation to run inside to grab a forgotten item or rush to remove something that shouldn’t be there. Above all, never leave your pet unattended and always be focused on the safety of your fur baby when outdoors.  

Mother Nature has finally shaken off winter’s dull grays and browns and stepped into the vibrant technicolor of spring! By taking the appropriate precautions, you can share this splendid weather with your favorite furry friend. Just be sure to keep your pet’s species and individual needs and preferences in mind to ensure the experience is pleasant and safe for all involved. 

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April 24, 2020

Oxbow Launches “Full Bowls, Full Hearts” Campaign to Support Pets and Pet Parents Impacted by COVID

Oxbow Launches “Full Bowls, Full Hearts” Campaign  to Support Pets and Pet Parents Impacted by COVID

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to affect pets and pet parents worldwide, Oxbow Animal Health has announced its “Full Bowls, Full Hearts” campaign to provide direct support in the form of essential nutrition and supplies.  Part of Oxbow’s KINDSWELL initiative, the “Full Bowls, Full Hearts” campaign will supply 100 Pet Care Packs consisting of pellets, hay, treats, and enrichment items to pets and pet parents in need.  In total, the pet packs will supply approximately 5,000 meals for pets in need. 

Entries for “Full Bowls, Full Hearts” are being accepted between April 23rd and April 30th on Oxbow’s website at oxbowanimalhealth.com/full-bowls.  At the end of the entry period, Oxbow will randomly select one hundred recipients to receive a Pet Care Pack. 

“At Oxbow, we know that every pet parent and pet has been impacted by COVID-19,” said Deb Buhro, Oxbow’s CEO.  “Many pet parents are facing financial uncertainty, and some are finding it difficult to shop and locate products during this challenging time.  We want to help.  Our “Full Bowls, Full Hearts” campaign is a way for us to support pet families with essentials such as food, hay, and other supplies.  We’re hoping to make life a little less stressful.”

Oxbow’s KINDSWELL Initiative
Oxbow’s KINDSWELL Initiative reflects the company’s commitment to making the world a better place for people and pets and builds upon the company’s foundation of giving back through long-running programs such as its animal rescue grants, event and emergency assistance, and academic scholarships.  Learn more about Oxbow’s KINDSWELL initiative at oxbowanimalhealth.com/blog/kindswell.   


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April 21, 2020

What Are the Best Vegetables and Leafy Greens for Rabbits?

What Are the Best Vegetables and Leafy Greens for Rabbits?

by Dr. Cayla Iske

Greens and veggies are loaded with incredible nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, not to mention water that provides essential hydration to your little ones. Thinking of a rabbit’s overall diet, the variety of greens and veggies available far outweighs different types of available hays and pellets. Thus, these greens and veggies are a perfect way to diversify the diet and provide mental and nutritional enrichment to keep your bun interested at mealtime. Like guinea pigs and chinchillas, about 70% of a rabbit’s diet should be high-quality grass hay paired with 20% species and age specific pelleted food, plus 8-10% greens and veggies. Dark leafy greens should make up the majority of the latter category and fruits should be offered infrequently in very small amounts. 

What Does 8-10% Look Like? 

Every animal is an individual and unique in their nutritional needs, so it is always best to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best diet for your individual pet. General feeding recommendations are around 1 cup of dark, leafy greens per 2 pounds of a rabbit’s body weight daily. You can also provide other vegetables besides leafy greens, such as bell peppers and cucumbers, but these tend to be higher in simple carbohydrates like sugar and starch and should be provided in smaller quantities. A good rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of non-leafy green veggies per 2 pounds of body weight per day. For example, a rabbit that weighs 3 pounds should get roughly 1/8 cup (2 Tbsp) pellets, 1.5 cups leafy greens, and 1.5 tablespoons of chopped veggies (non-leafy greens). A general feeding chart for various body weights can be found below. Providing 3 to 5 different types of greens and veggies daily is encouraged, rotating types and varieties each day or week. These greens and veggies can be offered all at once, but it is best divided into multiple daily feedings if possible, to provide more enrichment, interaction, and avoid rapid intake in a short period of time. If available, organic produce is preferred to avoid pesticides and produce should be washed before offering. 

Benefits and Options 

Greens and veggies are excellent sources of vitamins A, B, C, and K, not to mention soluble fiber and trace minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, and zinc. The truly unique contribution of these dietary items, however, are the phytonutrients which are only found in plants. There are more than 25,000 phytonutrients found in plant-based ingredients including flavonoids and carotenoids, to name a few. There is not a known requirement for most phytonutrients, but they help to protect the body from stress, boost the immune system, and mitigate some issues commonly associated with aging animals (joint, skin/coat, disease).  

While not an exhaustive list, the following are bunny-approved greens and veggies to consider: 

Leafy Greens  Vegetables
  • Leafy green lettuce (Romaine, butterhead, Bibb) 
  • Red or green leaf lettuce 
  • Arugula 
  • Endive 
  • Turnip Greens 
  • Dandelion Greens 
  • Chicory 
  • Raspberry Leaves 
  • Radicchio 
  • Basil 
  • Mint 
  • Watercress 
  • Kale (all types) 
  • Cilantro 
  • Bok Choy 
  • Dill Leaves 
  • Parsley 
  • Spinach 
  • Mustard Greens 
  • Swiss Chard 
  • Wheat Grass 
  • Escarole 
  • Bell peppers (any color, seeds removed) 
  • Cucumber with leaves 
  • Parsnip 
  • Summer/zucchini squash 
  • Kohlrabi 
  • Celery (try to remove veins or cut into chunks) 
  • Broccolini 
  • Carrots with leaves/greens intact 
  • Broccoli (leaves and stems) 
  • Brussel sprouts 
  • Cabbage 

Gradual introduction of any new food item, especially greens and veggies, is important to avoid overwhelming and upsetting your bunny’s digestive tract. Even if a food is completely appropriate for an animal, a fast or lackadaisical transition can lead to gastrointestinal upset simply because the gut is not used to processing that food. Additionally, never introduce more than one new food item at a time. Start with very small amounts and slowly increase over time monitoring for any changes in attitude, appetite, or stool production.  


As we discussed above, all animals are unique and therefore it is always imperative that you factor your fur baby’s medical history into their dietary decisions. Some veggies and greens have specific nutritional factors that might determine if they are appropriate for your specific pet. For example, parsley, spinach, mustard greens, and Swiss chard should be fed sparingly or avoided for animals with a history of bladder issues as they are higher in calcium and oxalates than other greens and veggies. As a quick reference, the charts below compare calcium and oxalate concentrations in selected greens and veggies to control, monitor, and balance intake of these nutrients as they are often of high consideration when making dietary selections for your bun.  


For others with particularly sensitive tummies, it should be considered that broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage may cause some gastrointestinal discomfort (gas, bloating). Examples such as carrots and parsnips, which include a higher concentration of calories and simple carbohydrates, should be fed sparingly or only as a treat. If you have questions about what is best for your pet it is always best to consult with your veterinarian before making dietary changes.  

Many greens and veggies may have similar nutritional compositions but can be quite unique in aroma, taste, and textures so experiment with different kinds to find varieties your pet likes! These differences provide excellent mental and physical enrichment beyond even the nutritional benefits we have discussed. It is always important to do your research and consult with your vet before making dietary changes but providing a diversity and variety of appropriate greens and veggies can help keep you and your bun happy for years to come. 


Learn More

Rabbit Life Stages

How to Tell If Your Rabbit or Guinea Pig is Overweight or Underweight

How to Litter Train Your Rabbit

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April 21, 2020

Pet of the Month April 2020

Pet of the Month April 2020

Congratulations to our Pet of the Month, Moon! This sweet little 8-month-old chinchilla loves posing adorably and nomming on Simple Rewards Timothy Treats! Thanks for being a fan, Moon!

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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April 17, 2020

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) – Important Information and Frequently Asked Questions

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) – Important Information and Frequently Asked Questions

New RHDV2 Info & Updates: 7/2/20

New RHDV2 Info & Updates: 6/2/2020

New RHDV2 Info & Updates: 4/30/20

Please watch the below video for new information and updates from Dr. Kohles:



We have received a number of questions regarding the recently confirmed cases of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.  We would like to assure all pet parents that Dr. Kohles, our veterinarian on staff, is working with the entire veterinary community to remain in close contact with those on the front lines to better understand this dangerous disease and its potential impact on both domestic and wild populations of rabbits in North America.  As we continue to learn more, we would like to provide some additional information and address some frequently asked questions as they relate to RHDV2 and its potential impact on domestic and wild populations of rabbits in North America.   

How is RHDV2 different from RHDV1?

RHDV1 has been around since the 1980s and was identified in the US in 2000. RHDV2 first emerged in France in 2010 and was first confirmed in North America in the Vancouver area In 2018. The most important difference between the two viruses is that, unlike RHDV1, RHDV2 has been confirmed to affect both domesticated rabbits AND our wild populations of North American rabbits (e.g. cottontails and jackrabbits). 

How is RHDV2 spread?

RHDV2 can be spread through direct contact or exposure to an infected rabbit’s excretions or blood. The virus can also survive and spread from contact with carcasses, food, water, and any contaminated materials. People can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing and shoes.  Learn more about the spread of RHDV2 from the USDA here.

Where have cases of RHDV2 been confirmed in North America?

  • Delta and Vancouver Island, Canada – February 2018
  • Ohio – September 2018
  • Orcas Island, Washington – 2019
  • Pennsylvania - 2019
  • New York City, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas – 2020

Is there a vaccine for RHDV2 and is it available in the U.S.?

There is a vaccine for RHDV2 currently being used in Europe where the disease has been a more endemic outbreak for a longer period of time.  To date, no vaccine is currently available in the U.S.  Veterinarians are working with the USDA to evaluate the process of potentially bringing the vaccination into the United States.  With that being said, it is important to note that the risk in most areas of the United States remains extremely low.  If/when the vaccine becomes available in the future, we would suggest consulting with your veterinarian to discuss if the use of such a vaccine is the right decision for your pet(s).

What should I do to keep my rabbit(s) safe?

It’s important to note that risk to domestic populations of rabbits in most parts of the United States remains extremely low.  With that said, there are measures all rabbit owners can and should take to keep their animals healthy from RHDV2.  These measures include:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after interacting with your rabbits.
  • Do not introduce new rabbits from unknown or untrusted sources.
  • If you bring new rabbits into your home, keep them separated from your existing rabbits. 
  • Practice good cleaning and sanitation measures in an around your rabbit’s habitat.
  • Don’t share equipment, toys, or materials with other owners.
  • If you have outside time with your rabbit, make sure it’s during the day and supervised.
  • Eliminate possible contact with wild rabbits such as cottontails or jackrabbits through monitoring and the use of protective fencing, xpens, etc.  
  • Avoid social gatherings such as “hoppy hours” that involve your animals coming into contact with other rabbits.
  • Pay close attention to you rabbit and contact your veterinarian right away if you notice any potential symptoms.
  • Do not touch any dead wild rabbits you may encounter in your local area.  If you see multiple dead wild rabbits, report it to your state wildlife officials.

How long can RHDV2 survive in the environment?

At present, the data in the research relevant to this remains mixed. Current estimates from the USDA indicate that RHDV2 could theoretically remain viable on a carrier for up to 3 months under ideal environmental conditions. 

Should I be worried about my rabbits contracting RHDV2 from the hay I purchase?

The risk of your rabbits contracting RHDV2 from the hay you purchase from a trusted manufacturer are very low.  Unlike other potential sources, a trusted manufacturer will be much more likely to have the appropriate quality and safety measures in place to ensure the best practices to keep any transmission risk as low as possible.  While RHD can be transmitted via fomite (non-living objects), this transmission would require the presence of an infected animal in a hay field, as well as specific environmental conditions which supported the stability of the virus.    

What is Oxbow doing to ensure your products are safe?

From a product perspective, please know that all Oxbow hay currently in the marketplace is from the 2019 growing season.  As we mentioned, current estimates from the USDA indicate that RHDV2 could theoretically remain viable on a carrier for up to 3 months under ideal environmental conditions.  Looking at the timing of the recently confirmed cases, we can assure you that no Oxbow hay in the marketplace is currently at risk for carrying RHDV2. 

The veterinary and public health communities are working diligently to expand our understanding about RHDV2.  In the meantime, it is our responsibility to use the best and most complete information available to make recommendations when it comes to helping pet parents protect their pets.  Based on the available information, please know that the transmission of RHDV2 from a packaged product such as hay or food remains exceedingly unlikely, even with rabbits from native populations testing positive.  While RHDV2 can be transmitted via fomite (i.e. non-living objects), this transmission would require a number of specific and unlikely circumstances for the virus to be present and remain stable. 

Even with the extremely low risk, we will continue to practice extreme caution when it comes to product safety regarding RHDV2.   As we look to the future, we are currently evaluating additional safeguards to ensure that all of the hay we source in the coming months has been processed in a manner that minimizes the chance of Oxbow hay carrying RHDV2 to the greatest degree possible. 

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April 17, 2020

Foster 101: How to Help Your Fosters Find the Perfect Forever Home

Foster 101: How to Help Your Fosters Find the Perfect Forever Home

Foster parents play a vital role in helping place the foster pets in their care in the perfect forever home.  Many humane societies will provide a listing of key information to make note of as you interact with your foster pet.  Listed below are several key bits of information that a foster parent should note about the animals in their care.  

  • Food is a big motivator in establishing trust with a new pet!  Keep a list of their likes and dislikes when it comes to food and treats.  Do they respond better when a specific treat is offered?
    • Quick Tip: Learn more about the best kind treats for rabbits, guinea pig, and other small pets here.
  • Bonding between a new pet and new family is vital.  Make notes of the current level of socialization in the animal and any changes and improvements that have been observed.   
  • Offering various type of enrichment can increase the animal’s comfort level as well.  What type of enrichment has been offered and what have they responded too?  Do they like to hang out in hides?  Play with toys?  Rest in cozy caves or hammocks?  This is all extremely helpful information to record and share. 
    • Quick Tip: How can you support your small pet's instinctual behaviors? Learn more!
  • Many people looking to add a new pet into their family have children.  If you have children in your home, make sure to let them interact in a safe environment with the foster pet.  This will help identify any concerns and build the confidence of the pet with kids.   
  • The same can be said for other pets.  Allowing the foster pet to safely experience and learn about other pets can bring to light concerns that could cause the animal to be put back in a shelter situation.  Remember, we want to find those forever homes as often as possible!   
  • Always share any health concerns you have witnessed and make sure the animal has been examined by a qualified veterinarian.   

As a foster parent, there may be some cases when you are asked to interview a potential new parent.  This is an excellent opportunity to share your experiences.  If you find yourself in this position, there are several key questions to talk over with a potential pet parent.  Helpful questions may include:    

  1. Does anyone in your home have allergies to animals or hay, if applicable?  
  2. Do you have children?  If so, what experience do they have with pets?  
  3. What other pets are in the household and how will you ensure the appropriate safety during interactions?  
  4. Are you able to transport the animal to the vet and administer medication if needed?  
  5. Are you committed to the long-term adoption of the animal, knowing it could be a 10+ year commitment?   

Fostering pets is an extremely rewarding experience and a great way to give back to animal communities in need.  Through careful observation, diligent notetaking, and thoughtful daily activities, you can do your part to make sure your foster pets find the perfect forever home. 

Learn More

Should I Foster a Pet?

Five Steps for a Successful Small Animal Foster

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