October, 2020

October 27, 2020

Obesity in Small Mammals

Obesity in Small Mammals
by Dianne Cook, LVT 

As pet parents, we want to give our furry friends everything their hearts desire. Sometimes it can feel next to impossible to look into those soulful little eyes and abstain from handing out another treat or adding a few more pellets to their food bowl. Unfortunately, obesity is as common in the animal kingdom as it is in humans and can lead to just as many serious health concerns. Though you can certainly indulge your little one from time to time, it’s important to provide a healthy, well-balanced diet and plenty of opportunities for physical activity in order to avoid the risks associated with excessive weight gain.  

Why Is Obesity So Dangerous? 

The dangers of obesity are far more substantial than just carrying around a little extra weight. Obese and overweight pets are more prone to a myriad of serious health concerns. Treating these issues themselves can be very difficult unless the root cause (obesity) is addressed. The following conditions are some of the most common obesity-related health implications seen in small mammals, but it is not an all-inclusive list.  

If you’ve noticed your furry family member is gaining a bit of excess weight, if they’re showing any abnormal signs (decreased appetite, decreased or excessive thirst, lethargy, decreased grooming, decreased or increased urinary output, abnormal fecal output, etc.), or if you’re worried your little one may have one of the following health conditions, make an appointment with an exotics veterinarian as soon as possible for a thorough examination. 


Though more common in some species of exotic companion mammals than others, Diabetes Mellitus is a dysfunction of the pancreas. The pancreas is a specialized organ that secretes insulin into the blood to control blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. If the pancreas is unable to perform this task properly, blood glucose levels will be consistently elevated and may lead to many of the same ill effects seen in diabetic humans. Luckily, diabetes can often be reversed in small mammals through weight loss and maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet. 

Liver Disease 

The most common liver ailment facing obese small mammals is Hepatic Lipidosis (also known as Fatty Liver Disease) and is caused by excessive fat accumulation in liver cells, impeding overall liver function. The onset of this condition is often rapid and can quickly become life-threatening.  

Heart Disease 

Just like overweight humans, an obese pet’s heart must work much harder than that of their healthy-weight counterparts. Though some pets are sadly predisposed to heart-related health concerns regardless of their weight, even a little bit of excess weight can exacerbate an underlying cardiac condition.  

Painful Feet 

One of the most common foot concerns noted in obese small mammals is ulcerative pododermatitis, more commonly known as “bumblefoot.” This painful condition is caused by consistent pressure being applied to the skin and soft tissues between the bones of the feet and a hard and/or abrasive surface. If enough pressure is applied, the delicate skin and tissues in the foot can begin to die, resulting in sloughing, ulceration, and secondary bacterial infections. If left untreated, this condition can necessitate amputation. Making sure your little friend remains active and a healthy weight can help prevent this condition entirely. 


Arthritis can happen to any species and at any age. Though we often associate arthritis with older animals, young pets can develop arthritis as well, especially if they are obese. The excessive weight puts additional strain on joints, leading to painful damage and deterioration, and can substantially impact your pet’s ability to get around and properly groom themselves.  

Respiratory Issues 

In an obese animal, fat can accumulate in any area of the body. Fat that builds up within the thoracic cavity (chest) can put pressure on the lungs. This pressure often results in an increased effort to breathe and may lead to respiratory distress, which could prove life-threatening. 

Bladder Concerns 

As discussed, obese animals tend to live a sedentary lifestyle. Through normal daily activity and play, a healthy small mammal will “shake up” the contents of their bladder and stimulate frequent urination. Obese animals, on the other hand, tend to be sedentary, resulting in urine that sits in the bladder too long, which can increase the risk of bladder sludge formation or lead to a urinary tract infection.  

Improper/Decreased Grooming Habits 

Overweight pets have a difficult time grooming themselves. While they may still be able to reach some parts of their bodies, they are often unable to properly clean their hind end, which can result in urine scald (a condition in which an animal is unable to clean the urine from their fur resulting in burns to the skin on or around the genitals and back feet/legs) or an accumulation of feces that gets trapped in the fur around the rectum. If urine scald or fecal matts are unnoticed or left untreated, they can result in serious skin infections and can even invite flies to lay their eggs in the dirty areas. 

Inability to Reach Cecotropes 

Cecotropes contain a large diversity of essential nutrients and healthy microorganisms that are naturally shed from the gut. Re-ingesting these nutrients helps small herbivores meet their dietary nutrient requirements. Unfortunately, obese small herbivores are often unable to reach their anus in order to ingest their cecotropes, meaning they are missing out on these essential nutrients which can result in serious health ramifications. 

How Can I Tell if My Pet Is Obese? 

There are plenty of resources and charts to help parents assess the body condition (amount of body fat an animal carries) of their cats and dogs, but there are fewer guidelines available for exotic companion mammals. This can make it a bit more difficult to assess whether your little one is overweight. Just like dogs and cats, differing breeds, statures, and musculature of small mammals can make the use of weight alone an inadequate and inaccurate measurement of body condition. If you think you are feeling a growing layer of fat, it is best to reach out to a trusted veterinarian so they can properly assess your little one’s body condition and make appropriate suggestions.  

How Can I Prevent My Pet From Becoming Obese? 

Choose the Right Food (Say “No” to Mixes)  

It may come as no surprise that the cause of obesity in pets is the same as it is in humans: overeating, excessive intake of treats or sugary foods, and minimal exercise. A healthy, balanced fortified food should be a daily staple in every small pet’s diet. With so many options available in the pet food aisle, choosing one that’s best for your kiddo’s needs can be confusing and intimidating. It is helpful to remember that small mammals are classified as “concentrate selectors”. As prey species, they are hardwired to select and eat the most energy-dense foods available. For domesticated pets, these instincts are no longer tied to survival, but your little one is still likely to exhibit this inherent behavior. Choosing a high-quality, fortified, uniform food prevents selective eating patterns and helps limit the potential of obesity. 

Understand That Not All Treats Are Created Equal

If your little one has earned a treat for good behavior, or if you’re working on strengthening that ever-important human-animal bond, make sure you reach for a treat that is as healthy as possible. While those packages of colorful yogurt drops and sticky seed-filled treats look appealing to humans, it is important to remember they are not nutritionally appropriate. Do your best to avoid products that contain dairy and high levels of sugar. If your little one has earned a treat for good behavior, reach instead for a favorite green, a small piece of fresh fruit, a little bit of species-appropriate lean protein (for our omnivorous friends only), or a nutritionally balanced, pre-packaged treat with no added sugar, colors, or preservatives.  

Encourage Your Pet’s Physical Activity  

All species of small mammals are naturally inquisitive, curious, and agile, but they also have a propensity for laziness. As cute as it is to watch our furry friend’s lounge around, inactivity can quickly lead to obesity. In order to encourage a healthy, physically active lifestyle, it is important your furry friends are provided with a spacious enclosure and daily opportunity for exercise. For small herbivores, provide a large, “pet proofed” area outside of their habitats in which they can run, play, and explore. Small pets such as rats, mice, and hamsters should always have access to an appropriately sized exercise wheel within their enclosure but should also be allowed plenty of closely supervised time outside of their habitats to explore. In addition to the benefit of a trimmer waistline and better overall health, providing ample living and play space will help limit boredom-based behaviors and help strengthen the bond with their humans. 

Reversing Obesity 

If your furry friend is carrying around some excess weight, it is essential to work with an exotics-savvy veterinarian to determine the best weight loss option for your pet’s personal needs. Diet changes (such as decreasing the volume of pellets offered daily and limiting access to sugary and high-fat foods) and increasing your pet’s daily activity will lead to gradual, healthy weight loss. Because rapid weight loss can stress your little one or upset their delicate digestive system, extreme and sudden diet changes are never recommended.  

While everyone deserves a yummy, indulgent treat from time to time, it’s important to provide the healthiest lifestyle possible for your furry family members to avoid the risk of obesity and the potential of obesity-related health risks. The best way to do this is to offer a balanced, nutritionally appropriate, species-specific diet and plenty of space and opportunity to run, play, and explore. If your little one happens to be a bit on the chubby side, work with a trusted exotic-savvy veterinarian to help determine the best weight loss regimen for your kiddo’s needs. 

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October 12, 2020

DIY Agility Jumps

DIY Agility Jumps

Ready for a super fun and enriching DIY project that will get your rabbit, guinea pig, or other small pet moving? With some simple, easy to find materials, you can create these fun and enriching DIY Agility Jumps!  


  • 1 Enriched Life Apple Stick Bundle
  • 8 toilet paper tubes (or 4 paper towel roll tubes cut in half)
  • Scissors
  • Your pet’s favorite hay (Hay Blends-Timothy and Orchard is used in this video)


  1. Using scissors, carefully create a small puncture in one of the cardboard tubes.
  2. Estimate the placement of a second puncture in the cardboard tube. It should be straight across from the first puncture on the other side of the tube.
  3. Create the second puncture.
  4. On a second cardboard tube, repeat steps 1-3. The punctures on this tube should be placed at the same height as the first tube.
  5. Remove a twig from your Enriched Life Apple Stick Bundle.
  6. On each end of the twig, attach the tubes using the punctures you created. This should result in a single-bar agility jump.
  7. Repeat steps 1-6 with two more sets of cardboard tubes, creating different heights. At the end of this step you should have a one high, one medium, and one low agility jump for a total of 3 jumps.
  8. Using your final set of cardboard tubes, create two punctures per cardboard tube. Each puncture should be on the inside wall of the jump and line up with each other.
  9. Add a twig to one set of punctures so the stick is sitting at an angle, rather than straight across.
  10. Looking at the twig, mentally mark where the end of the apple stick hits the outside of the cardboard tube. After removing the twig from the tube, make a puncture in this spot. Replace the twig so it goes all the way through the cardboard tube’s punctures.
  11. Flip your jump around and repeat step 10, so your first twig is allotted a total of 4 punctures (2 per each cardboard tube).
  12. Remove the twig and repeat steps 9 and 10 so you can add a second diagonal twig to your jump. The end result should be a sturdy cross jump.
  13. Add a small amount of hay to the top of each cardboard tube to add some flair to your jumps!
  14. Using a distraction-free area in your home, set up the lowest jump. Your pet will not understand what the jump is for at first. Using a small handful of pellets or your pet’s favorite treat, lead them slowly over the lowest jump. When they seem to have this down, replace the low jump with the medium jump. Work your way up until they can accomplish the challenging high jump and cross jump. Make sure to not overfeed your pet while training them.
  15. When your pet is ready, set up all the jumps and practice with your pet to become agility course stars!


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October 05, 2020

2020 Oxbow Rescue Grants Award More Than $33,000 in Funding and Product Support

2020 Oxbow Rescue Grants Award More Than $33,000 in Funding and Product Support

Oxbow Animal Health has announced the recipients of its 2020 Oxbow Animal Health Rescue Grants. The eleven recipient organizations will receive funding and donations totaling more than $33,000 for a variety of projects and programs that benefit the welfare of small animals throughout the United States. Grant winners are chosen for excellence in the areas of educational outreach, public awareness, and project impact.

The 2020 Oxbow Rescue Grant Recipients are:

  • Florida Wildlife Hospital - Melbourne, FL
  • Binky On! Rabbit Rescue - Hahira, GA
  • Hunter Hollow Bunny Bed and Breakfast - Syracuse, NY
  • Animal Assisted Happiness - Sunnyvale, CA
  • Bunny Lu Adoptions - Waynesboro, VA
  • The Fluffle House - Traverse City, MI
  • Humane Animal Welfare Society (HAWS) of Waukesha County - Waukesha, WI
  • Fort Wayne Wildlife Center - Fort Wayne, IN
  • Kaitlyn’s Critter Castle - Bluffton, IN
  • Wheek Care Guinea Pig Rescue - New Kensinton, PA
  • Twin Harbors Wildlife Center - Montesano, WA

“Oxbow is honored to support the small animal rescue and wildlife rehabilitation communities through our 2020 Oxbow Rescue Grant Program,” said John Miller, President and Founder of Oxbow Animal Health. “The groups work tirelessly each day on behalf of animals in need and Oxbow is humbled to support their passionate work.”

Binky On! Rabbit Rescue - Hahira, GA
“Binky On! Rabbit Rescue, Inc. is incredibly honored to be chosen as one of the 2020 Oxbow Rescue Grant recipients,” said Jennifer Barfield, Director. “With over 20 new rabbits in from the Savannah Hoarding case, this grant will help cover the immense food costs as well as help with spay and neuter. We humbly accept this award and appreciate Oxbow Animal Health for giving us the opportunity to help save bunnies one binky at a time!”

Fort Wayne Wildlife Center - Fort Wayne, IN
“We’re so thankful for this awesome gift from the Oxbow Rescue Grant,” said Holly Eggelston, Fundraising, Social Media and Marketing Manager at the Fort Wayne Wildlife Center in Fort Wayne, IN. “ We’re so thankful to be able to upgrade our small animals to offer them the 5 star care they deserve! Having larger cages will help us serve as an example of exemplary care these little ones so deserve and having extra money for spays and neuters will help prevent accidental litters!”

Hunter Hollow Bunny Bed and Breakfast - Syracuse, NY
“Hunter Hollow Bunny Bed and Breakfast is thrilled to receive a 2020 Oxbow Rescue Grant,” said Annie-Laurie Hunter, Executive Director at Hunter Hollow. “The bunnies often arrive here from difficult situations and providing quality nutrition is a large part of getting bunnies healthy and ready to find a new home. This grant will help make that possible.”

Twin Harbors Wildlife Center - Montesano, WA
“Twin Harbors Wildlife Center’s team includes 2 wildlife veterinarians that are licensed wildlife rehabilitators, volunteers, partners, Grays Harbor Veterinary Services staff, and the communities we serve, “ said Sonnya Wilkins, Director. “We opened our doors in early 2019 in order to meet the needs of more than 150 species that inhabit the Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties. This grant has created widespread excitement throughout our volunteers. In a year of so much uncertainty and anxiety, this grant has infused us with a renewed sense of purpose and hope that will motivate us to continue with our work. Thank you so much Oxbow!”

Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha County (HAWS) - Waukesha, WI
“We are thrilled to be supported by an Oxbow Rescue Grant,” said Lynn Olenik, Executive Director of the Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha County. “We are expanding, adding a 77 acre farm for the purpose of Humane Education. This grant from Oxbow will allow us to build an area specific to rabbits and guinea pigs, allowing children to enter and learn how to care, interact and to provide love and attention to our resident rabbits and guinea pigs. After learning the ins and outs of appropriate care, these youngsters, with staff oversight of course, will care for these little critters. They will be coached on nutrition, housing requirements, enrichment activities and they will add the final ingredients: LOVE.”

Wheek Care Guinea Pig Rescue - New Kensington, PA
“We work so hard to give the guinea pigs in the rescue a better life than they may have had previously, but there are some basic improvements we would like to do to the rescue to make our job easier or more effective,” said Julene Robinson, Executive Director at Wheek Care Guinea Pig Rescue in New Kensington, PA. “This grant will enable us to achieve most of our goals and we are so excited to get started. Thank you, Oxbow, for giving us that chance.”

Florida Wildlife Hospital - Melbourne, FL
“We are honored and excited to be a 2020 Oxbow grant winner,” said Tracy Frampton, Executive Director of the Florida Wildlife Hospital. “We see about 5,000 wildlife patients per year and Oxbow products help us in many ways. Specifically, we have been using Critical Care Herbivore and Critical Care Carnivore and will continue to do so. We will also use the grant to purchase some enrichment and chew toys for our fast growing patients such as baby squirrels and rabbits and well as many songbirds.”

Kaitlyn’s Critter Castle - Bluffton, IN
“We are so excited to receive a rescue grant from Oxbow,” said Renee Vitatoe of Kaitlyn’s Critter Castle. “We have rescued over 200 animals in the last year and currently have almost 65. We took a loan to have a building put on our property but due to needing to have it finished we have not been able to use it. This grant will help us get the building finished allowing us more room and to help more animals. This will also help us afford more vet bills.”

2021 Oxbow Rescue Grant Applications
Applications for the 2021 Oxbow Rescue Grants will be accepted from June 1, 2021, through August 31, 2021 for small animal rescue and rehabilitation projects throughout the United States and Canada. For more information about the program and Oxbow Animal Health, visit www.oxbowanimalhealth.com.

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October 05, 2020

What Are the Best Fruits for Small Pets?

What Are the Best Fruits for Small Pets?
by Cayla Iske, PhD

Fruit is a great source of flavor, color, and texture variety for your small pet. This, along with beneficial nutrients such as antioxidants, polyphenols, and potential anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, make fruit a great addition to your little one’s diet. Fruit also provides a wonderful opportunity to increase bonding opportunities with your pet and can be an especially delicious way to positively reward good behavior. But, along with these benefits come some key nutritional downsides to be aware of. When fruits are fed incorrectly, the result can be negative impacts on your little one’s health.  

In this article, we will cover the following important topics regarding fruit and your small pet:  

  • Health concerns associated with too much fruit 
  • What fruits can be safely fed to several small pet species 
  • Outline basic limits on how much fruit can be safely be included in the diet of small mammals. 

Recapping Carbohydrates in Your Pet’s Diet  

We have talked in past articles about carbohydrates in the context of fiber and simple carbs, with fiber being the indigestible portion and simple carbs being very quickly digested. The fiber component of carbohydrates pushes food material along the digestive tract and hindgut to help prevent stasis while simple carbohydrates provide quick energy to the animal. However, in animals designed to consume relatively large amounts of fiber, too many simple carbs (sugar) can wreak havoc on the digestive system. Sugar is typically quickly digested in the small intestines but if there is too much in the diet some can escape to the hindgut where it is rapidly fermented. This can cause soft stools and even negative changes in the microbiome (those billions and billions of microscopic living organisms responsible for a myriad of physiological functions).  

Monosaccharides vs. Disaccharides: a Closer Look at Sugars  

Just as fiber is a complex nutrient, simple carbohydrates aren’t actually so “simple” either. There are many kinds of sugars starting with the simplest: glucose, fructose, and galactose. These are termed monosaccharides (“mono” meaning one, “saccharide” meaning sugar). From here these monosaccharides can link together to form other, more complex sugars. Disaccharides (“two sugars”) are formed by 2 monosaccharides. For example, sucrose is a disaccharide formed by one glucose and one fructose. Saccharides can link to form complex polysaccharides including starch and cellulose. 

What Types of Sugars Do Fruits Typically Contain? 

Sugars from fruit are typically naturally occurring monosaccharides. Fructose is commonly found in many plants including many fruits. As mentioned before, fructose is very rapidly absorbed and can lead to sudden blood sugar spikes and too much at once can ferment in the hindgut. So, while fructose is considered a natural sugar, its intake is still something that should be monitored daily so that large amounts are not consumed. Too much sugar too often, or even too much in one sitting, can contribute to serious and costly health issues, such as obesity, diabetes, negative changes in the microbiome (dysbiosis), and even gastrointestinal stasis.  

What does this mean for your pet? Ultimately, it means that fruits should only be fed in moderation due to their generally high sugar content. However, when fed in moderation, fruits can be a highly valued special treat by your small pet!  

Small Mammal Approved Fruits & Their Sugar Content 

Navigating sugar in fruits can quickly become confusing and frustrating, but it’s important to know that not all fruits have the same sugar content. The graph below is a simple and accurate tool to show average sugar contents of several small mammal-approved fruits. It’s important to keep in mind that foods considered safe to eat for some species are not safe to eat for other species. While rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats, and mice can eat the fruits discussed in this blog post, we do not recommend feeding these fruits to species not included on this list, such as chinchillas and degus, without first consulting a vet. 

Chinchillas and Degus: Approach Fruits with Caution (or Avoid Completely)  

In their native, mountainous habitat, chinchillas and degus largely consume hearty, fibrous vegetation that can survive the climate. Even the small amounts of native berries, flowers, and fruits they may find in this harsh environment tend to be more fibrous than the fruits we are familiar with. This, coupled with relatively recent domestication and generally more sensitive digestive tract compared to rabbits and other small mammals, means degus and chinchillas may be particularly sensitive to fruits that are commercially available to us. If you choose to offer your degu or chinchilla fruits you should be sure to research the nutritional profile, feed sparingly, and heavily monitor your pet. While treats are not necessary for nutrition, they do support and often strengthen the human-animal bond. If degu or chinchilla pet parents are looking for an appropriate treat to offer their little one, we highly recommend hay-based treats such as our Organic Barley Biscuits. To read more about chinchillas and their unique physiology, read our Common Chinchilla Health Issues blog post. 

Fruits and Small Pets: Limits and Guidelines 

Now that we know more about sugars and concentrations in various fruits, how much fruit can be safely offered to your pet? A general rule with any small herbivore is fruit is a treat not a required component of their diet and less fruit is better. Herbivore (rabbit, guinea pig, chinchilla) diets should heavily focus on hay and greens/veggies while omnivore (hamster, gerbil, rat, mouse) diets should be balanced for supplemental proteins, grains, and fats. But it is helpful to have an idea of how much is too much, so we have provided some basic limits below if you choose to offer fruit: 

  • Rabbits: The maximum amount of fruit that rabbits should consume is 1 teaspoon for every 2 pounds of body weight 3-4 times a week. 
  • Guinea Pigs: The maximum amount of fruit that guinea pigs should consume is 1 teaspoon for every 2 pounds of body weight 3-4 times a week. 
  • Chinchillas: Many chinchilla owners will choose not to feed any fruits. If you do, we recommend only using fruits as an infrequent training or enrichment tool offering 2-3 small pieces 1-2 times a week. 
  • Hamsters and Gerbils: The maximum amount of fruit that hamsters and gerbils should consume is less than 1 teaspoon every other day. 
  • Rats: The maximum amount of fruit that rats should consume is less than 1 teaspoon 2-3 times a week. 
  • Mice: The maximum amount of fruit that mice should consume is less than 1 teaspoon 2-3 times a week. 

Remember that these are guidelines—it is always good practice to regularly consult with your vet to ensure that your little one’s diet is ideal for their individual health needs. Depending on your pet’s health or preferences of you or your vet, different amounts of fruit than what is discussed here may be offered or recommended. 

No matter what species-appropriate fruits you decide to feed your pet, always thoroughly wash any fruits you offer. Using organic produce whenever possible can also help you and your pet avoid potentially harmful chemicals, such as pesticides. 

We hope this article has provided valuable insight into the role of fruit in your pet’s diet!  

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October 01, 2020

The Oxbow Way: Enjoy the Journey

The Oxbow Way: Enjoy the Journey

Why is the value 'Enjoy the Journey' an intrinsic part of Oxbow Animal Health’s company culture? Oxbow's Controller, Niki Riecken, explains.

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The Oxbow Way

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