February, 2021

February 17, 2021

From Burrow to Bedroom: Rabbit Behaviors and Their Instinctual Origins

From Burrow to Bedroom: Rabbit Behaviors and Their Instinctual Origins

by Dr. Lorelei D'Avolio

Many rabbit behaviors are directly related to the fact that they are prey species.  This means that they are innately wired to be aware and responsive to the threat of being eaten. As crepuscular species (most active at dawn and dusk) a rabbit’s primary predators in the wild include:  

  • Birds of prey (hawks and owls) 
  • Foxes 
  • Weasels 
  • Snakes 

 Rabbits are highly perceptive to sounds, visuals, scents, and ground vibrations that may indicate a predator.  

Common Rabbit Behaviors Tied to Prey Instincts  

Rabbits live in large groups, sometimes sparring for territory, sometimes grooming and comforting, and sometimes protecting each other from predators. In pets, this translates to interesting behaviors that they use to communicate.  

  • An erect stance, ears focused up and forward, twitching nose, and a focused gaze are all signs that a rabbit has picked up on something of interest.  
  • Using underground burrows to escape to in the wild is an easy way to avoid predators and pet rabbits are often seeking ways to dig and hide if they want to get away. Being able to obtain privacy is important to prevent overwhelming stress responses.  
  • They also use their powerful hind legs to generate thumps and thuds on the ground to alert fellow rabbits of threats, as well as to scare off potential threats. When a rabbit is beating its back feet on the floor, something is bothering it tremendously.  
  • Another good defense mechanism is their agility and speed. Rabbits will kick out using their back claws (as if to spray dirt in the eyes of someone/thing chasing them) and take off at alarming speeds.  
  • While rabbits tend to be very quiet, they do use a range of grunts when threatened and are not shy to use their sharp front nails to box and scratch or their razor-sharp incisors to nip and bite if necessary.  
  • Rabbits inherently do not like being picked up; imagine a large bird or animal lifting them from the ground in their mouths and the panic that would cause. Gentle, careful handling should be started at a very young age to acclimate them and create trust.  

Signs of Comfort and Contentedness in Rabbits 

When a pet rabbit is comfortable and not feeling threatened, they exhibit a host of fun and engaging behaviors.  

Binky – A Playful Expression of Joy  

The rabbit “binky” is used to describe a physical jumping, twisting, and jiggling sort of dance that rabbits do when they are happy and playful. Sometimes it appears as a simple and spontaneous hop straight up or to the side, other times it comes as a series of wild running, zooming, and popping up in the air while twisting.  

Seeking Companionship 

  • A comfortable rabbit will also seek the companionship of other rabbits, animals, and people. 
  • They will nudge with their noses to obtain scents and express interest, and they enjoy petting, particularly around the head.  
  • They will also lick and sometimes give a gentle nip to solicit petting, food, or attention.  

Rest & Relaxation 

Most rabbits do not lounge on a lap for hours as a cat may, but they do enjoy physical contact and comfort. Sometimes, when very relaxed, they will sporadically flop over on their side and lay completely still to take a nap.  

Rabbit Cleanliness & Hygiene  

Other important behaviors of rabbits that owners should be aware of are that in the wild, rabbits are very hygienic. They do not like to urinate and defecate where they sleep and will dig ditches to deposit their waste. They also use their waste to mark territory. In captivity, rabbits will happily use a litter areaSpaying/neutering rabbits at a young age (under one-year-old) will help prevent some of the territorial/sexual markings with excrement.  

My Rabbit Eats What?!  Cecotrope Consumption  

As a pet parent, you may see your rabbit bend forward to reach their underside in an action that means they are eating their cecotropes. This behavior may be alarming to a new rabbit parent, but rest assured it’s a normal, healthy part of their routine.  Cecotropes are a special kind of feces that are an important part of their diet!  

Chewing: Instinctual Behavior 

Chewing is a vital and normal behavior of all rabbits. They spend a lot of time chewing fibrous material and require lots of safe chew items to perform this function. If not given appropriate chewing materials, some rabbits will turn to chewing electric cords, furniture, rugs, or baseboards.   

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February 15, 2021

Foods Rabbits Should Never Eat

Foods Rabbits Should Never Eat

by Dianne Cook, LVT

Rabbits are eating machines!  Thanks to their unique physiology, these remarkable small herbivores must consume a near-constant intake of fiber to keep their specialized digestive tracts running smoothly. Just because rabbits are herbivores, however, doesn’t mean they can eat all varieties of greens, veggies, and fruits. Their unique dietary requirements also make many “human treats” (and even some marketed for rabbits) inappropriate as they can lead to serious health concerns if consumed.  

The list below outlines the most common foods that should never be fed to rabbits, but it is always best to check with your favorite rabbit-savvy veterinarian before introducing any new food to your rabbit’s diet. Similarly, if your rabbit ever ingests one of the items listed below (regardless of quantity), call your veterinarian immediately. 

  • Avocados
  • Chocolate
  • Fruit seeds/pits
  • Raw onions, leeks, garlic
  • Meat, eggs, dairy
  • Broad beans and kidney beans
  • Rhubarb
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • House plants
  • Processed foods (bread, pasta, cookies, crackers, chips, etc.)
  • Raw potatoes

Avocados 

Though an excellent, healthy snack for humans, avocados contain a compound called persin which can be dangerously toxic to rabbits. This compound is found in all parts of the avocado: skin, pit, leaves, and flesh. If a rabbit consumes toxic levels of persin, it can cause behavioral abnormalities and difficulty breathing, and, if not properly treated, can lead to congestive heart failure (fluid around the heart) which can prove fatal.  
 

Chocolate 

As is the case with many other members of the animal kingdom, chocolate is incredibly toxic to rabbits. This favorite human treat contains theobromine and caffeine, both of which can be very harmful to our furry friends. The darker the chocolate, the higher the risk of toxicity. Signs of chocolate toxicity include diarrhea, restlessness or hyperactivity, trembling, panting, squirming or difficulty getting comfortable, tachycardia (elevated heart rate), and hyperthermia (elevated temperature). Without swift treatment, chocolate toxicity can prove fatal. 
 

Fruit Seeds/Pits 

Take care to remove all seeds and pits before offering fruit to your bunny. While feeding small amounts of many fruits’ flesh is perfectly safe, the seeds and pits from many fruit varieties contain trace amounts of cyanide. Apples and pears are the most notorious examples, but the pits from apricots, peaches, plums, and mangos also contain cyanide, as do cherry pits. While the amount of cyanide contained in fruit seeds and pits is generally scant, it is best to avoid feeding them to rabbits altogether. 
 

Raw Onions, Leeks, Garlic 

Raw allium vegetables, such as onions, leeks, and garlic, contain an oxidant called n-propyl disulfide that likes to attach itself to red blood cells. While humans are relatively unaffected by this oxidant, rabbits are more susceptible to “oxidative damage.” As the body tries to rid the blood of the unrecognized oxidant, it will destroy the red blood cells in the process. This leads to a condition called hemolytic anemia which can be fatal if not treated promptly and aggressively. Symptoms of hemolytic anemia include pale gums, ataxia (stumbling), weakness, disinterest in food or water, and lethargy.  
 

Meat, Eggs, Dairy  

Though this likely will not come as a surprise, it is worth mentioning that rabbits, as herbivores, should never be offered meat, eggs, or dairy. Unlike carnivores or omnivores, whose digestive systems are designed to properly digest animal protein, rabbits’ sensitive gastrointestinal tracts are specifically equipped to break down low-fat, high-fiber vegetation.  

Though most rabbits would turn their nose up at a piece of steak, they do have a notorious sweet tooth, and often find yogurt drops (or other dairy products) enticing. While it may seem harmless to offer a sweet, dairy-rich treat from time-to-time, it can lead to gastrointestinal upset and substantially increase the risk of obesity or dysbiosis (disruption of the microbiome). For these reasons, it is best to avoid feeding rabbits any product containing meat, eggs, dairy, or other animal-derived proteins. 

Broad Beans and Kidney Beans 

Broad beans (otherwise known as fava beans) and kidney beans are very high in carbohydrates and can throw off your rabbit’s delicate gastrointestinal system, resulting in soft stools or diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, bloating, and even disruption of the gastrointestinal GI) bacterial flora (Dysbiosis). They also contain a high level of phosphorus and calcium and tend to be quite acidic, making them unsuitable to rabbit’s unique nutritional requirements.

Rhubarb 

This tart vegetable contains an impressive concentration of a compound called oxalic acid in all parts of the plant. Though oxalic acid is not toxic if consumed in small quantities, if fed in excess, it can interfere with calcium absorption and lead to other unpleasant toxic effects. Rabbits experiencing oxalic acid toxicity can experience a swollen, painful mouth, decreased appetite, bloating and abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and lethargy. 

Iceberg Lettuce

While there are several varieties of dark, leafy lettuces (like romaine and green leaf) that make wonderful staples in a well-balanced rabbit diet, light-colored lettuces, like iceberg, contain a chemical called lactucarium that can be harmful to rabbits if ingested in large quantities. Additionally, iceberg lettuce is anything but nutrient-dense and will add no nutritional value to a rabbit’s diet. It’s best to be avoided. 

Mushrooms 

When people think of toxic mushrooms, they often envision the toadstools that mysteriously pop up in their yards overnight. Though these wild mushrooms can certainly be dangerous, even store-bought mushrooms should not be fed to rabbits. Mushrooms can contain a variety of mycotoxins that remain present in the fungi whether raw or cooked and can be harmful to rabbits if ingested in large enough quantities. Effects of mushroom toxicity can include diarrhea, gastrointestinal discomfort, organ damage, and neurological deficits.

Houseplants 

When adding a houseplant to the home, it is safest to treat it as though it is toxic to your rabbit. Even if the plant you’ve purchased is proven safe for rabbits to consume, it is often difficult to determine whether or not it may have been exposed to any chemicals (either directly or indirectly) before you brought it home. As a result, it is generally best to keep all houseplants well-trimmed and out of reach from curious little bunny mouths.

Processed Foods (Bread, Pasta, Cookies, Crackers, Chips, Etc.)

As humans, some of our favorite foods are convenient, highly processed products that barely resemble the ingredients from which they were made. While it might seem like a wonderful bonding opportunity to share a potato chip or a cracker with your bunny, it is never recommended. Many of the processed foods humans eat are high in carbohydrates and sugar which can lead to digestive upset, abnormal stools, abdominal discomfort, and dysbiosis while also substantially increasing the risk of obesity and obesity-related health concerns. If you want to share a treat with your bunny, try offering a small amount of appropriate fruits or opt for one of Oxbow’s many nutritionally appropriate treat options.

Raw Potatoes 

Though not as toxic as some of the foods on this list, raw potatoes aren’t particularly healthy for anyone, including humans. Before being cooked, potatoes contain a toxic alkaloid called solanine which can lead to decreased appetite, digestive upset, abdominal pain, and lethargy in rabbits. Even if toxic quantities of solanine are not ingested, potatoes are calorically dense and high in starch, which can throw off a rabbit’s delicate gastrointestinal system and lead to serious digestive concerns. 

It can be very hard to resist the temptation to share some of your meal with your fur baby, but for their health and well-being, none of the foods listed above should be fed to your rabbit. Luckily, there are a host of rabbit-approved greens, fruits, and veggies that will ensure you can keep mealtime interesting for your rabbit while also making sure you’re providing the most nutritionally appropriate diet possible. If there is ever a time you are unsure whether your rabbit may have ingested a food item from this list, or if they exhibit any of the symptoms listed above, contact your veterinarian immediately for advice. 

Learn More

5 Fascinating Questions Answered

The Importance of Spaying or Neutering Your Rabbit

What Are the Best Vegetables and Leafy Greens for Rabbits

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February 11, 2021

Getting to Know Supplements: Natural Science Joint Support

Getting to Know Supplements: Natural Science Joint Support
by Dr. Cayla Iske

The next supplement in our “Getting to Know Supplements” series is Natural Science Joint Support.  This supplement was designed to support common skeletal issues, such as degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis.  

Over the decades, we have learned a lot about how to better care for small mammals.  As a result, the average lifespans for these species have lengthened, allowing pet parents to spend more quality years with their companions. Along with these longer lifespans come some health issues associated with an aging population. Issues with joint health are atop this list of age-related concerns. There are also instances where younger animals may experience joint issues - as a result of trauma or congenital defects, for example.   

Whatever the source of a small mammal’s joint-related issues, if your pet is struggling with joint health, adding Natural Science Joint Support to your animal’s daily nutrition may be a great option to discuss with your trusted veterinarian.  

An Overview of Joint Function and Health

Joints are the connection points where bones meet.  They allow the body to bend, accommodating mobility and movement. Joints are composed of bone, muscles, membranes, fluid, cartilage, and connective tissues (tendons and ligaments) and are designed to provide fluid movement and keep bones from coming in contact with each other.  

A healthy joint is well lubricated by synovial fluids and contains healthy tissues (such as cartilage) to reduce friction during movement and structurally support the joint. Over time, cartilage wears down and degrades.  This wear and degradation can lead to inflammation of the joint and hinder movement, not to mention cause a great deal of pain (this is generally referred to as arthritis).  

The Role of Diet and Husbandry in Joint Health

Diet and husbandry play an integral role in joint health. Proper hydration helps maintain lubrication of joints and a proper diet can mitigate inflammation and obesity. Furthermore, appropriate bedding/flooring alleviate unnecessary stress on joints and regular exercise keeps joints active and moving to build strength and delay degeneration. If and when a greater need for support is identified, however, supplementation can be a great addition to the diet.

Could My Pet Benefit from Joint Support? 

As animals age, the daily wear and tear on joints leads to cartilage loss. This is a major cause of joint issues in small mammals and one reason this is a common ailment in older animals.  

Other factors that can contribute to joint issues at any age include:  

  • Obesity 
  • Previous injury affecting the musculoskeletal system 
  • Trauma 
  • Genetic disposition 

*Less common causes for joint issues can include infection or immune-mediated disease.  

No matter the cause, some signs that may indicate your pet is having joint troubles include: 

  • Dirty hind end (urine, feces, or cecotropes) 
  • Uneaten cecotropes 
  • Unkempt haircoat, matted or tangled fur 
  • Changes in urination or defecation patterns  
  • Reduced appetite 
  • Inactivity 
  • Changes in behavior (aggression, disinterest in favored things, etc.) 
  • Impaired mobility 
    • Limping 
    • Stiffness 
    • Difficulty jumping 
    • Difficulty getting in or out of litter tray or cage 

Some of these symptoms stem directly from inflammation or degradation of the joints while others are secondary effects of impaired mobility or pain. Because of the pain masking tendencies of small mammals, observation of any of these signs (or even just minor changes in behaviors or patterns) is cause for a prompt visit to the veterinarian.  

A full physical examination by your small mammal veterinarian, possibly along with radiographs or other diagnostics, can determine the cause of these symptoms and the best way to address them. 

Ingredient Functionality 

Natural Science Joint Support is specifically formulated to be nutritionally appropriate for small mammals and provides key natural ingredients to aid in joint maintenance or recovery. Aging animals, those diagnosed with arthritis or degenerative joint disease, those recovering from post-surgical fractures, or any animal with acute or chronic musculoskeletal issues can benefit from Joint Support. Ingredients in this supplement are targeted to reduce degeneration of joints as well as reduce swelling and inflammation that commonly cause pain in joints.

Ingredient Nutrient Function
Glucosamine (Plant based)  Glucosamine  Aids in the prevention of cartilage degeneration and improved lubrication of joints 
Flaxseed Meal  Omega Fatty Acids  Anti-inflammatory to reduce joint swelling 
Brewer’s Dried Yeast  Mannan Oligosaccharide (MOS)  Acts as a prebiotic and promotes the growth of healthy bacteria for whole-body health 
Turmeric Powder  Curcumin, carotenoids, flavanoids  Exerts anti-inflammatory properties  
and helps alleviate chronic pain 
Ginger Root   Gingerols  Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant to reduce inflammation and pain in joints 
Yucca Schidigera Extract  Polyphenols (such as resveratrol), saponins  Exerts anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties 
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)  Omega 3 fatty acids  Anti-inflammatory to reduce joint swelling and pain 

Is Joint Support Appropriate for Omnivores? 

Small mammals of every kind can experience joint issues, so Oxbow’s Joint Support was designed to support both herbivores as well as omnivores. With that said, you should always consult your veterinarian should before adding a supplement to your pets’ diet.  If they indicate it is right for your pet, Natural Science Joint Support can be a great addition to a balanced omnivorous diet for species such as rats, micehamsters, and gerbils.  

What is the Daily Feeding Recommendation for Natural Science Joint Support? 

  • For herbivores such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas, we recommend 1/2 to 2 tabs per day (depending on weight). 
  • For omnivores, we recommend feeding 1/8 tablet daily for mice and dwarf hamsters to 1/4 tablet for larger species such as rats, gerbils, and Syrian hamsters.

Supplement FAQs 

Many questions may arise when evaluating whether supplementation is right for your pet. Along with your veterinarian, you must consider your pet’s health history as well as other medications they might be on. Oxbow’s Natural Science supplements can be added to your pets’ diet for short or long-term use and can be fed in combination with other Natural Science supplements. For answers to the most common supplement questions, you can find some FAQs in our previous supplement blog

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February 04, 2021

Signs Your Pet Loves You

Signs Your Pet Loves You

We all enjoy our pets’ company, but how do we know if “that loving feeling” is mutual? We’ve listed several behaviors here that you can translate as signs of affection from your pets. 

They "Pancake" During Lap Time

“Pancaking” is when your pet lays down flat on your lap as if they have become putty. They often relax their muscles when they’re pancaking, and sometimes their eyes may even fully close. This is a huge sign that they trust you! Your pet feels safe in the environment that you have built around them. 

Adult and senior pets are more likely to pancake.  Young pets often have so much energy that “pancake” isn’t a word in their vocabulary yet! 

NOTE: “Cuddle puddle” is an accepted term for multiple pets pancaking together. 

Your Pet Runs Up to the Front of Their Enclosure to Greet You

Whether you’re getting home from work or just passing by your pet’s enclosure, when your pet runs up to the front of their enclosure, it’s a sign that they enjoy your presence. Sure, sometimes they do this because they think a treat is in store, but the plus is that they associate you with tasty food! The fact that they feel safe enough to be out in the open (and not hiding) says a lot about the bond you have built. 

Your Voice Comforts Them

It’s likely happened in all the households that are reading this: you drop your phone on the hardwood with a loud “thud,” or a pencil rolls off the table and clatters to the ground. Maybe the timer for dinner goes off with its shrill ring. Sudden sounds may not always startle our small companions, but when they do get startled, it’s obvious. Your wide-eyed pet races to the back of the enclosure, or takes refuge in their hideout. Sometimes they just freeze in place, unsure of what to do.  

These behaviors served our pets’ ancestors well in the wild—so well these behaviors are still instinctive in domestic animals. Sometimes pets can “snap out of it” and learn that things are okay if you walk to their enclosure and calmly talk to them. While this may not work every time, your voice can help bring some normalcy back to your pet’s life after being frightened so badly. If your pet “unfreezes” and cautiously comes back out into the open, that’s a sure sign that you’ve brought them some comfort! 

They Love Play Time

Another sign your pet loves you is that they really enjoy play time with you. It can be a challenge to find enrichment that your pet loves, but once you find that choice item, they’ll enjoy playing every day! Some pets love highly involved enrichment such as our Play Centers, while others’ favorites are a simple crumpled up ball of kraft paper. Play time doesn’t have to be limited to toys, though. Sometimes just spending time together in a large playpen can give your pet the same amount of joy physical enrichment might give them. Remember that just like you, your pet is a social animal, too! 

Learn More

How to Make Sure Your Guinea Pig is Happy

Daily Care Checklist for Your Small Pet

Creating Foraging Opportunities for Your Small Pet

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