August, 2021

August 24, 2021

The Truth About Mixes And Foraging

The Truth About Mixes And Foraging
by Dr. Cayla Iske, PhD

True or False: Mixes will stimulate my pet's instinctual foraging behaviors.

FALSE: One claim that some manufacturers have begun to make regarding mixes is that the variety of food pieces will stimulate natural foraging behaviors in your pet.  Newer “foraging blends” lean heavily on this claim.   

Foraging is indeed an extremely important and instinctual behavior for small pets, but it must be done correctly to provide any benefit.  Rather than encouraging natural foraging behaviors, mix-based diets often trigger a separate, detrimental instinctual behavior: selective feeding. 

What is selective feeding?

In nature, small animals spend hours each day foraging for sustenance.  As prey species, these animals are wired to consume the most calorically dense foods first; this behavior is referred to as “concentrate selecting” and is directly tied to the survival instinct.  In the process, prey species are instinctively wired to consume the most calorically dense foods first. 

This behavior is directly tied to survival in the wild.  With predators potentially lurking around every corner, it’s essential for small prey animals to consume as many calories as possible, as quickly as possible.

Wait…my pet isn’t wild.  Why do I have to worry?

Great question! Selective feeding is an instinctual behavior that remains intact when animals make the transition from “wild” to “child.”  When offered low-quality nutrition options with a variety of pieces, the natural concentrate-selecting behavior of small mammals will often drive them to eat the least nutritionally appropriate components of the diet first.  These components include pieces primarily made up of low fiber, high starch, high sugar ingredients. 

Examples of ingredients small pets are likely to eat first, given the opportunity, include:

  • Dried fruits
  • Dehydrated veggies
  • Flower petals  
  • Starchy extruded pieces
  • Nuts & seeds

Selective feeding in domesticated small mammals has been observed and documented for decades and occurs when an animal preferentially consumes only certain pieces of the mix, leaving the rest until their bowl is refilled with more preferred pieces.1-4

Okay, that makes sense.  I just won’t refill the bowl until everything is gone. 

While you may have the best of intentions, most pet parents find it incredibly difficult to stay disciplined with those little bunny or piggy eyes looking at you, begging for more food.

  • Research surveys have documented that 70% of rabbit owners will refill their pet’s food bowl when there is still uneaten food left in it.1
  • This directly leads to selective feeding, imbalanced nutrition, and likely eventual negative health impacts.

True or False: Mixes will help keep my pet active and spend more time feeding.

FALSE: It seems logical to assume that a food containing a variety of tastes and textures would encourage pets to spend more time feeding.  In reality, published research looking at this specific topic proves the opposite to be true. 

  • Published research comparing mixes to uniform pellets has shown that mixes actually lead to greater inactivity in pets, especially if the foods aren’t paired with loose hay.7
  • Additionally, rabbits fed a uniform food alongside timothy hay spent more time feeding compared to those fed a muesli diet paired with timothy hay.7
  • It is clear to see that the claims of stimulated activity and feeding time are simply not true when animals are fed mixes, especially without free choice hay.

True or False: Foraging blends are better for my pet than other variety mixes.

FALSE: A recent trend in small animal food involves some mixes being branded as “foraging blends,” with specific claims that these foods are designed to encourage a pet’s natural foraging activities.  The ingredient profiles of these products vary, with some focusing on a more natural appeal by including ingredients such as dried fruit, veggies, and beans, flowers, and seeds.   

Another ingredient that’s popular in foraging blends is loose hay.  While hay is centrally important to the diet and health of small herbivores, the amount of hay included in foraging blends is often trivial and presented in small, choppy pieces.

The inclusion of hay to give these mixes a more “natural” appearance offers little to no impact nutritionally or behaviorally.  In reality, research has shown animals may eventually become uninterested in the hay and select for other pieces in the mix.

Despite product claims, foraging mixes will still result in selective feeding which in turn leads to an imbalanced diet.

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References

  1. Harcourt-Brown, F.M. 1996. Calcium deficiency, diet and dental disease in pet rabbits. Veterinary Record 139.23: 567-571.
  2. Lebas, F., P. Coudert, H. De Rochambeau, and R.G. Thébault. 1997. The Rabbit - Husbandry, Health and Production (2d edition) FAO publ., Rome, pg. 223.
  3. Mullan, S.M., and D.C.J. Main. 2006. Survey of the husbandry, health and welfare of 102 pet rabbits. Veterinary Record 159.4: 103-109.
  4. Meredith, A.L., J.L. Prebble, and D.J. Shaw. 2015. Impact of diet on incisor growth and attrition and the development of dental disease in pet rabbits. Journal of Small Animal Practice 56.6: 377-382.
  5. Prebble, J.L., and A.L. Meredith. 2014. Food and water intake and selective feeding in rabbits on four feeding regimes. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 98.5: 991-1000.
  6. Jekl, V., and S. Redrobe. 2013. Rabbit dental disease and calcium metabolism–the science behind divided opinions. Journal of Small Animal Practice 54.9: 481-490.
  7. Prebble, J.L., F.M. Langford, D.J. Shaw, and A.L. Meredith. 2015. The effect of four different feeding regimes on rabbit behaviour. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 169: 86-92.
  8. Miller, G.R. 1968. Evidence for selective feeding on fertilized plots by red grouse, hares, and rabbits. The Journal of Wildlife Management: 849-853.
  9. Somers, N., B. D’Haese, B. Bossuyt, L. Lens, and M. Hoffmann. 2008. Food quality affects diet preference of rabbits: experimental evidence. Belgian Journal of Zoology 138.2: 170-176.
  10. Gidenne, T., F. Lebas, and L. Fortun-Lamothe. 2010. Feeding behaviour of rabbits. In: Nutrition of the Rabbit, Eds: de Blas, C. and Wiseman, J. CAB International. Pgs: 254-274.
  11. Mykytowycz, R., 1958. Continuous observations of the activity of the wild rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.), during 24-hour periods. C.S.I.R.O. Wildl. Res.
  12. Myers, K., and W.E. Poole. 1961. A study of the biology of the wild rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.), in confined populations II. The effects of season and population increase on behaviour. C.S.I.R.O. Wildl. Res. 6, 1–41.
  13. Gibb, J.A. 1993. Sociality, time and space in a sparse population of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Journal of Zoology 229.4: 581-607.
  14. Franz, R., M. Kreuzer, J. Hummel, J.M. Hatt and M. Clauss. 2011. Intake, selection, digesta retention, digestion and gut fill of two coprophageous species, rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus), on a hay‐only diet. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 95.5: 564-570.
  15. National Research Council (NRC). 1977. Nutrient Requirements of Rabbits: Second Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  16. European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF), 2013: Nutritional Guidelines for Feeding Pet Rabbits. FEDIAF, Brussels (Belgium).
  17. Lowe, J.A. 2010. Pet Rabbit Feeding and Nutrition. In C. de Blas and J. Wiseman (eds.) Nutrition of the Rabbit 2nd ed.). CAB International. Pp. 294-313.
  18. Gidenne, T. 2003. Fibres in rabbit feeding for digestive troubles prevention: respective role of low-digested and digestible fibre. Livestock Production Science 81.2-3: 105-117.
  19. Rees Davies, R. and J.A.E. Rees Davies. 2003. Rabbit gastrointestinal physiology. Veterinary Clinics: Exotic Animal Practice 6.1: 139-153.
  20. DeCubellis, J, and J. Graham. 2013. Gastrointestinal disease in guinea pigs and rabbits. Veterinary Clinics: Exotic Animal Practice 16.2.: 421-435.
  21. Melillo, A. 2007. Rabbit clinical pathology. Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine 16.3: 135-145.
  22. Clauss, M., B. Burger, A. Liesegang, F. Del Chicca, M. Kaufmann-Bart, B. Riond, M. Hassig, and J.M. Hatt. 2012. Influence of diet on calcium metabolism, tissue calcification and urinary sludge in rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 96.5: 798-807.
  23. Tschudin, A., M. Clauss, D. Codron, A. Liesegang, and J.M. Hatt. 2011. Water intake in domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) from open dishes and nipple drinkers under different water and feeding regimes. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 95.4: 499-511.
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August 18, 2021

How to Handle Aggression Issues in Rabbits

How to Handle Aggression Issues in Rabbits
by Dianne Cook, Licensed Veterinary Technician

Adorable. Docile. Friendly. All words rabbit parents frequently use to describe their fur babies, but the truth is rabbits are just as capable of having grumpy attitudes as their human companions. Like their wild ancestors, domesticated rabbits generally prefer to express themselves through body language, often displaying clear signs of aggression before physically lashing out. Learning to understand the cues your rabbit displays, determining the root cause(s) of aggressive behaviors, and patiently establishing trust can lead to a mutually rewarding, long-lasting friendship with even the most cantankerous of bunnies.

Common Signs of Aggression in Rabbits 

Rabbits are incredibly intelligent animals and will do all they can to make sure their needs and preferences are being met. When they’re upset, rabbits may not be as vocal as cats or dogs, but if you take the time to understand their unique language, it’s clear they are just as expressive. Aggressive rabbits rarely jump straight into attack mode. Instead, they usually provide warnings that grow in intensity. If their initial cues are missed or ignored, your bunny may be provoked to strike out physically. Aggressive behaviors can be directed at human caregivers, bunny companions, or even inanimate objects (like power cords, furniture, rugs, etc). Below are common signs of aggression, ranging from more subtle hints of impending indignation to manifestation of absolute outrage.

Posturing - “Please don’t come any closer.” 

  • Bared teeth – lips pulled back to expose teeth 
  • Upright or flattened ears 
  • Raised tail – tail is often held up and out 
  • Intent eye contact – they’ll watch your every move; pupils are dilated 
  • Alert, upright posture – either with all four feet on the ground, or sitting up on their haunches (sometimes called a “boxer stance”) 
  • Thumping – a surprisingly loud sound made by smacking the ground with their powerful hind leg; they may thump once or multiple times 

Vocalizations - “You’re not listening! I told you to back off!” 

  • Snorting 
  • Hissing 
  • Grunting 
  • Growling 

Physical Aggression – “If you won’t listen, I’ll show you I mean business!” 

  • Scratching 
  • Kicking 
  • Charging/chasing 
  • Biting 

Why Do Rabbits Resort to Aggression?

There is always a reason a rabbit resorts to aggression. Though some individuals are naturally more confrontational than others, rabbits are not born mean. The overwhelming majority of grouchy bunnies have learned to express themselves aggressively as a way of meeting needs that have been overlooked or otherwise ignored. 

The list below covers some of the more common reasons rabbits lash out, but it is important to note that there may be other factors playing a role in your bunny’s bad behavior. It is important to speak with a trusted, rabbit-savvy vet regarding concerning behaviors as soon as they appear.

  • Hormones: Like moody human teenagers, a rabbit’s bad attitude is often hormonally driven. Rabbits tend to be quite territorial by nature, and if your rabbit is still intact (not spayed or neutered), an intense desire to procreate makes aggressive behavior much more common and difficult to deal with. 
  • Fear: Even the sweetest, most easygoing rabbits can show signs of aggression if they feel threatened and perceive a need to defend themselves.   
  • Pain: Rabbits have mastered the art of camouflaging illness or discomfort. Though this inherent behavior helps wild rabbits avoid predators, it can make it difficult for pet parents to determine whether their domestic rabbit’s nasty behavior is a sign of an underlying health concern. Any sudden behavior changes, including unexpected aggression, should be discussed with a trusted veterinarian as promptly as possible. 
  • Stress: Is your rabbit new to the household? Have you recently brought home a new baby or added another household pet? Have there been any home renovations or abrupt changes to your rabbit’s environment? Your bunny may have resorted to aggressive tactics as a stress response. 
  • Inappropriate Environment: Though less common, some rabbits will resort to aggressive behavior due to an inappropriately small, chronically unclean, or under-stimulating

Working With an Aggressive Rabbit 

Though it takes time and patience, it is possible to build a strong, loving bond with an aggressive rabbit. Aside from working with an exotics-savvy veterinarian to rule out underlying health concerns, it may take some investigative work to uncover the root cause(s) of your bunny’s anger issues. As soon as your bunny displays signs of aggression, regardless of how small they seem, stop what you’re doing and evaluate the entire environment. What were you doing just before you noticed the behavior? Were you making any sounds? Were you touching something in their line of sight? Were you approaching their enclosure/environment? Is it possible you smell or look different than you usually do? If you can determine the cause of the behavior, you can take appropriate steps to limit future occurrences.  

Following the steps below will help create a safe, comfortable, low-stress environment, and is essential when establishing a mutually positive relationship with an ill-tempered rabbit.  

  1. Get Your Rabbit Spayed or Neutered: Spaying or neutering your rabbit can go a long way in minimizing the risk of aggressive behavior, especially if the operation is performed before your rabbit has reached sexual maturity. It can take several weeks for a rabbit’s hormones to stabilize after the operation, however, so it is not an instantaneous fix. 
  2. Stay Safe: If you’re worried your bunny might bite, kick, or scratch, it’s best to wear long sleeves, long pants, and shoes when you interact with your feisty furry friend. You might also consider donning a pair of gloves if you must have your hand(s) anywhere near your rabbit’s face (e.g., feeding time). If your skin is protected when your rabbit lunges, you are much less likely to jump, squeal, or make any sudden movements, which could further exacerbate your rabbit’s foul mood. 
  3. Remain Calm: Rabbits tend to be quite stubborn and will often cling to behaviors that have served them well in the past. Your job as pet parent is to alter your crabby bunny’s perception of reality and meet his aggressive behavior with patience and affection. While it might seem counterproductive, if you remain calm and composed when your bunny lashes out, they will soon realize their behavior isn’t getting the intended result and that you mean them no harm.   
  4. No Physical Punishment!: Never, ever hit a rabbit! Don’t pop them on the nose. Don’t swat their behinds. Don’t push or kick them away. This can be difficult to remember if you have a livid lagomorph on your heels, but it is essential to maintain your composure and meet your bunny’s aggression with affection and understanding. Keep in mind rabbits are often expressing fear in the form of aggression. Physical discipline will only make the situation worse. 
  5. Establish Trust: Other than avoiding physical punishment, one of the best ways to establish trust and make your rabbit feels safe is to stop picking them up and forcing interaction. Despite many humans’ desire to snuggle all things soft, many rabbits, regardless of their innate personality, do not enjoy being picked up as it puts them in a very vulnerable position. Instead of forcing your grumpy bunny to cuddle, it’s best to sit quietly on the floor and allow your rabbit to come to you on their terms.  
  6. Create a Healthy, Comforting Space: Rabbits are active, agile, and smart, and need daily exercise and plenty of mental enrichment to remain happy and well-adjusted. If their enclosure, or the environment to which they are allowed access, is too small or under-stimulating, your rabbit may become bored and resort to aggression out of frustration. When it comes time to clean your rabbit’s habitat, allow them the opportunity to leave their enclosure on their own (vs reaching in and picking them up) before you start messing with anything. Rabbits are quite territorial and may not appreciate your attempts at sprucing up.  
  7. Review Your Rabbit's Diet: A healthy, well-balanced diet is important for all living things, but it rings especially true for small herbivores, like rabbits. Thanks to their unique physiology, rabbits must have a near-constant intake of fiber to keep their specialized digestive tract running smoothly and keep their constantly growing teeth worn down. If their diet is inappropriate or insufficient, it could lead to a host of health concerns, which may manifest as aggressive behavior in your little one.   
  8. Consult a Trusted Vet: As mentioned above, any time your furry friend exhibits behavior changes (aggressive or otherwise), it is best to speak with an exotics veterinarian who is well-versed in rabbit care. It is helpful to bring a list of behaviors you have noted and any corresponding activities or environmental changes that proceeded your bun’s quarrelsome demeanor.   

It takes dedication to meet aggression with affection instead of fear or anger, but it is so worth the effort. Treating your grumpy bunny with patience, consistency, and understanding will help establish a strong, trusting bond and alleviate much of your rabbit’s insecurities. Though changes will not be instantaneous, there’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve created a comforting, nurturing environment in which your rabbit can flourish.   

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August 13, 2021

The Truth About Mixes And Ingredient Quality

The Truth About Mixes And Ingredient Quality

by Dr. Cayla Iske, PhD

Muesli and seed-based mixes have populated the small animal food aisle for decades. The ingredient profile for these products will vary, but most mixes consist of a mixture of loose components including various combinations of the following:  

  • Cereals
  • Legumes
  • Dried fruits and/or veggies
  • Pellets
  • Colorful extruded pieces
  • Hay

Muesli mixes were originally the food of choice for small pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and others due to their low cost, abundance in the marketplace, and the misconception that they are nutritionally appropriate for small pets.  As we have learned more about the nutritional needs of these small mammals, however, it has become clear that muesli mixes are far from what is best for our little companions.

What Role Does Food Play in the Health of Small Pets?

To understand where mixes fall short from a nutritional perspective, it’s important to first understand the role that foods play in the health of small pets. The primary purpose of your small pet’s food is to provide vital micronutrients in the form of essential vitamins and minerals while supporting gastrointestinal (GI) tract health with adequate fiber.

While much focus has been put on rabbits and guinea pigs when it comes to research into nutritional inadequacies and health dangers related to mixes, many of these same findings and principles apply to other herbivores such as chinchillas and degus as well as small omnivores including mice, rats, hamster, and gerbils.

Debunking Common Mix Myths

Many popular mix-based diets are marketed in a way that leads consumers to believe they are appropriate and even beneficial for the family pet.  Though many of these claims lack supporting evidence, it’s understandable why they would be perpetuated by influencers such as pet store employees, fellow members of online pet communities, and others. 

In this four-part series, we’ll examine some of the most prevalent claims regarding mix-based diets and provide the facts so that you can make an educated choice when choosing the right diet for your furry family member.

The Common Questions We Will Answer in the Series Include:

Part One: The Truth About Mixes and Ingredient Quality

  • Are Mixes Made of Higher Quality Ingredients Than Other Kinds of Foods on the Market?
  • Do Mixes Provide Complete, Balanced Nutrition for my Pet? 

Part Two: The Truth About Mixes and Foraging

  • Will Mixes Stimulate My Pet's Instinctual Foraging Behaviors?
  • Will Mixes Keep My Pet Active and Increase Time Spent Feeding? 
  • Are Foraging Blends Better for My Pet than other Mixes?

Part Three: The Truth About Mixes and Your Pet's Health 

  • Is There Evidence That Mixes Are Bad For My Small Pet?
  • Will Mixes Support My Pet's Health and Wellbeing? 

Part Four: The Truth About Mixes and Selective Feeding

  • Can't I Just Supplement My Pet's Mix With Other Healthy Foods?
  • Can't I Just Train My Pet to Not Selectively Feed? 

True or False: Mixes are of higher quality than other kinds of foods on the market.

FALSE: Most mixes are made with low-quality, inexpensive ingredients designed to keep costs down.  And, while the diversity of ingredients may look healthy and nutritious, the opposite is often true.

When it comes to mixes, the least expensive ingredients typically make up a larger proportion of the diet and, unfortunately, these components most often offer limited to no nutritional benefit to your pet. 

Examples of these inexpensive, non-functional ingredients include:

  • Ground corn
  • Peanuts
  • Raisins
  • Various dried fruits

Why Are These Ingredients Bad?

These inexpensive ingredients have no added micronutrients (i.e. vitamins and minerals) and tend to be higher in starch, fat, and sugar that can cause havoc on your pets’ digestive tract if not regulated.
They also often utilize artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives that offer no nutritional value and don’t belong in quality pet food.

Some companies may also cut costs by using food components from other species’ food lines. For example, the colorful extruded bits in your guinea pig or rabbit food may also be found in a bird food product from the same manufacturer.


True or False: Mixes provide complete, balanced nutrition for my pet.

FALSE: In most cases, the food left behind by pets offered a mix-based diet is the high fiber, vitamin and mineral fortified pellets. This has been shown in studies where rabbits selectively ate the majority of grains and extrudates (e.g. colorful extruded bits) when offered muesli diets and most often left the uniform pellets uneaten up to 68% of the time.5

What Happens When Pets Selectively Eat These Items?

Selective eating behaviors tied to mix-based diets can result in nutritional imbalances, including:

  • Inadequate fiber
  • Excessive starch and sugar
  • Vitamin deficiencies

The nutritional inadequacies of mixes have been documented in the past and several studies published by veterinarians and exotic animal experts specifically recommend against feeding mixes and/or advocate feeding uniform, homogenous pellets.


References

  1. Harcourt-Brown, F.M. 1996. Calcium deficiency, diet and dental disease in pet rabbits. Veterinary Record 139.23: 567-571.
  2. Lebas, F., P. Coudert, H. De Rochambeau, and R.G. Thébault. 1997. The Rabbit - Husbandry, Health and Production (2d edition) FAO publ., Rome, pg. 223.
  3. Mullan, S.M., and D.C.J. Main. 2006. Survey of the husbandry, health and welfare of 102 pet rabbits. Veterinary Record 159.4: 103-109.
  4. Meredith, A.L., J.L. Prebble, and D.J. Shaw. 2015. Impact of diet on incisor growth and attrition and the development of dental disease in pet rabbits. Journal of Small Animal Practice 56.6: 377-382.
  5. Prebble, J.L., and A.L. Meredith. 2014. Food and water intake and selective feeding in rabbits on four feeding regimes. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 98.5: 991-1000.
  6. Jekl, V., and S. Redrobe. 2013. Rabbit dental disease and calcium metabolism–the science behind divided opinions. Journal of Small Animal Practice 54.9: 481-490.
  7. Prebble, J.L., F.M. Langford, D.J. Shaw, and A.L. Meredith. 2015. The effect of four different feeding regimes on rabbit behaviour. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 169: 86-92.
  8. Miller, G.R. 1968. Evidence for selective feeding on fertilized plots by red grouse, hares, and rabbits. The Journal of Wildlife Management: 849-853.
  9. Somers, N., B. D’Haese, B. Bossuyt, L. Lens, and M. Hoffmann. 2008. Food quality affects diet preference of rabbits: experimental evidence. Belgian Journal of Zoology 138.2: 170-176.
  10. Gidenne, T., F. Lebas, and L. Fortun-Lamothe. 2010. Feeding behaviour of rabbits. In: Nutrition of the Rabbit, Eds: de Blas, C. and Wiseman, J. CAB International. Pgs: 254-274.
  11. Mykytowycz, R., 1958. Continuous observations of the activity of the wild rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.), during 24-hour periods. C.S.I.R.O. Wildl. Res.
  12. Myers, K., and W.E. Poole. 1961. A study of the biology of the wild rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.), in confined populations II. The effects of season and population increase on behaviour. C.S.I.R.O. Wildl. Res. 6, 1–41.
  13. Gibb, J.A. 1993. Sociality, time and space in a sparse population of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Journal of Zoology 229.4: 581-607.
  14. Franz, R., M. Kreuzer, J. Hummel, J.M. Hatt and M. Clauss. 2011. Intake, selection, digesta retention, digestion and gut fill of two coprophageous species, rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus), on a hay‐only diet. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 95.5: 564-570.
  15. National Research Council (NRC). 1977. Nutrient Requirements of Rabbits: Second Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  16. European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF), 2013: Nutritional Guidelines for Feeding Pet Rabbits. FEDIAF, Brussels (Belgium).
  17. Lowe, J.A. 2010. Pet Rabbit Feeding and Nutrition. In C. de Blas and J. Wiseman (eds.) Nutrition of the Rabbit 2nd ed.). CAB International. Pp. 294-313.
  18. Gidenne, T. 2003. Fibres in rabbit feeding for digestive troubles prevention: respective role of low-digested and digestible fibre. Livestock Production Science 81.2-3: 105-117.
  19. Rees Davies, R. and J.A.E. Rees Davies. 2003. Rabbit gastrointestinal physiology. Veterinary Clinics: Exotic Animal Practice 6.1: 139-153.
  20. DeCubellis, J, and J. Graham. 2013. Gastrointestinal disease in guinea pigs and rabbits. Veterinary Clinics: Exotic Animal Practice 16.2.: 421-435.
  21. Melillo, A. 2007. Rabbit clinical pathology. Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine 16.3: 135-145.
  22. Clauss, M., B. Burger, A. Liesegang, F. Del Chicca, M. Kaufmann-Bart, B. Riond, M. Hassig, and J.M. Hatt. 2012. Influence of diet on calcium metabolism, tissue calcification and urinary sludge in rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 96.5: 798-807.
  23. Tschudin, A., M. Clauss, D. Codron, A. Liesegang, and J.M. Hatt. 2011. Water intake in domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) from open dishes and nipple drinkers under different water and feeding regimes. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 95.4: 499-511.
...Read More

August 05, 2021

Top 10 Toys and Accessories for Chinchillas!

Top 10 Toys and Accessories for Chinchillas!

Chinchillas are not only fluffy and adorable, but they are also intelligent animals that need physical and mental stimulation throughout their day. Chinchillas have four instinctual behaviors that need to be met to help keep them healthy, happy, and active.

  • Exploring – Chinchillas are the Sherlock Holmes of the animal kingdom! These curious little fluffs love to check out their surroundings and discover new things.  
  • Playing – Anyone who has ever parented a chinchilla knows that these cute creatures are always on the go and love interaction!
  • Chewing – Since chinchillas have open-rooted teeth that never stop growing, it’s important that they have an abundance of opportunities to naturally wear down their teeth. Providing healthy chew options that are made of 100% pet-safe materials is key in maintaining your little one’s dental health.
  • Hiding – As a prey species, chinchillas need hideouts where they can rest, relax, and re-charge. To keep your little feeling safe and stress-free, we recommend placing hideouts in their habitat and in the places within your home where they play they can quickly and easily access when needed.

Here are 10 toys and accessories to help meet your chinchilla’s instinctual needs!

 

1. Timothy Bungalow – Large

Perfect For: Hiding

The Timothy Bungalow is made of 100% Timothy hay (with no chemicals, wires, or thread) and it’s 100% edible. We imagine hanging out in this hideaway is something like the Hansel and Gretel fairytale where the kids get to live in a house made of delectable treats – sans scary witch, of course!

 

2. Orange Timothy Carrot

Perfect For: Chewing and Playing

High-fiber Timothy Hay and yummy carrots? Now you’re speaking your chin’s language! The Orange Timothy Carrot will give your little one all the noms they need to keep their teeth in check while also making their GI tract happy. It’s a win/win for you and your pet!

3. Chinchilla Accessory Pack

Are you a first-time chinchilla owner? Or do you need to replace a few of your items all in one go? The Chinchilla Accessory Pack offers a metal hay feeder, chew-proof water bottle, and non-tip food dish. And the dust bath… did we mention the dust bath? It’s shaped like an actual bathtub and its cuteness knows no bounds.

 

4. Hide Box Hangar

Perfect For: Exploring, Chewing, and Playing

Want to challenge your chinchilla a little bit for a fun reward? Attach the Hide Box Hangar to your little one’s habitat, hide a treat in one of the boxes, and watch your chinchilla have the time of their life as they try to find and eat the treat!

 

5. Celebration Pom Pom

Perfect For: Chewing and Playing

2, 4, 6, 8, who do we think is adorable and great? Your chin! Whether it’s their birthday, their Gotcha Day, or maybe you just want to show your little one that you’re thinking of them, the Pom Pom is a great chew! PS. It features food-safe colors.

 

6. Wood Disk Dangler

Perfect For: Playing and Chewing

Placing enriching items vertically in their habitat will help to keep your chinny physically stimulated as they reach and manipulate the chew to grab a quick chomp! Be prepared to be in awe of your pet’s dexterity as they engage with this five-tiered chew.

7. Hide 'n Wobble

Perfect For: Exploring, Chewing, and Playing

Looking for a way to hide treats without hanging the item? The Hide ’n Wobble is a perfect option! Your chinchilla will love using their cute little mitts to play with and try to open the egg-shaped box to find a delectable treat or food within!

 

8. Hanging Bulrush Bunches

Perfect For: Playing and Chewing

Another great option for vertical interaction, Hanging Bulrush Bunches are for additional visual and tactile enrichment, not to mention dental wear! The coarse material will do wonders for your pet’s teeth.

 

9. Woven Hideout – Medium

Perfect For: Hiding

Who doesn’t want their own little woven hut to hang out in? Bonus? It’s washable and super durable for long-term use!

 

Learn More

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August 02, 2021

How to Make Sense of Pet Food Packaging

How to Make Sense of Pet Food Packaging

by Dr. Cayla Iske, PhD

With more and more pet food options entering the market each year, interpreting your little loved one’s food packaging is an increasingly difficult task.  If you’re like most pet parents, you may find yourself asking how to decipher what’s good, what’s bad, and what is just marketing speak.  Sound familiar?  Don’t worry – you’re not alone!  

The amount of required information listed on a pet food label, coupled with the claims companies use to catch your attention, can make pet food packaging a source of frustration and confusion for even the most knowledgeable of pet parents. To help demystify these labels, we’ve put together a list of key elements to look for when shopping the small animal pet food aisle.  

What’s Inside the Bag? 

Before reading the outside of a pet food package, start by taking a look at the product inside. In many cases, you can do this through clear windows on the package designed to let you inspect the product.  If a window isn’t present, you will likely find a picture of the food in its place.  

In many cases, a visual inspection of the food itself may be all you need to decide against certain options.  For species such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas, for example, it’s generally advisable to steer clear of foods featuring chunks or pieces of single ingredients. While whole pieces of fruits, veggies, grains, or seeds may look appealing and natural, these components are likely to lead to selective feeding and an unbalanced diet. A safer bet is a uniform food featuring complete nutrition in every bite.   

What’s On the Front of the Package? 

The first thing you will see sitting on a shelf (or online product listing) is the front panel of the pet food packaging. The front panel features valuable information such as:  

  • The species and life stage (adult, young, senior, etc.) the food is intended for  
  • The company/brand that makes the product 
  • May also include other important descriptors that could be important to you in selecting a pet food, such as non-GMO or organic certified.  

In addition to this basic but important information, you’ll likely find miscellaneous marketing callouts about the food which may include adjectives like “natural” and claims such as “supports healthy digestion.”  Other common claims may suggest the food leads to more foraging or natural feeding habits.  

These callouts are designed to catch your eye and while there are regulations that govern what you can and cannot say on a bag of pet food, many of these marketing claims are subject to interpretation and not backed by research. 

What’s On the Back of the Package?  

While there is beneficial information on the front of a package, the most valuable information is located on the back. If you were only going to look at one portion of the food packaging before making your purchase decision, this should be it.  Before you take anyone else’s word, decide for yourself if the food is high quality by looking at the actual ingredients and nutrients the food contains. 

Ingredient Statement 

There are much stricter rules and regulations around what is listed in the ingredient statement than what can be said on the front of the bag. Therefore, the ingredient list serves as more of an unbiased way to gauge the quality of a pet food.  
 
Ingredients are always listed in order of descending inclusion, so the first ingredient has the highest inclusion while the last has the lowest. When thinking about a high quality small herbivore food, for example, the first ingredient should always be a high fiber grass hay to support their unique digestive tracts.  

High starch and sugar ingredients should be absent or appear far down the ingredient list to avoid potential digestive upset or gastrointestinal stasis.

For small omnivores such as rats, mice, gerbils, and hamsters, diversity is the key, so it is important to factor in the entire ingredient list. Diets for omnivores will often include more grains for energy but should also include insoluble fiber in the form of hay or other plant-based ingredients to support a healthy gastrointestinal tract as well as maintain proper body weight. 

A couple of good rules of thumb when it comes to interpreting ingredients include:  

  1. The more specificity, the better   
  2. Look for ingredients that you’ve heard of  
  3. Avoid all artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives 

1. Ingredient Specificity 

Ingredients can either be listed by specific name (such as “Timothy Grass”) or by grouping similar ingredients by type (such as “Forage Products”). While groupings may still sound like quality ingredients, listing ingredients this way allows companies to change their formulas without updating their packaging. For instance, if you read “Grain Products” in the ingredient list what is actually included in that food could vary with each production run and include barley, wheat, rice, corn, or several other grains.  

Furthermore, that food could include barley as an ingredient on one occasion and then change to corn the next, and you will never know because the ingredient listing stays the same. Selecting a product that provides specific ingredient listings rather than groupings ensures you know what’s in your pet’s food every single time you feed them. 

2. Ingredients You’ve Heard Of

Looking for ingredients you’ve heard of can mean looking for “whole barley” or “oat groats” but also means avoiding “hydrolyzed” or “isolate” ingredients, such as “hydrolyzed soy protein” or “soy protein isolate,” unless your animal has very specific needs or requirements. These kinds of ingredients have been heavily processed to isolate certain components of ingredients to make them more absorbable by the animal or provide certain flavor profiles. While increasing absorption may sound like a benefit, this is unnecessary in a healthy animal and the heavy processing of these ingredients makes them best to avoid if possible.  

Don’t Fret About “Fractionals” 
It is not uncommon to see fractions of grains or other ingredients listed on a package of pet food. This may include oils, hulls, or meals from ingredients such as soybeans, wheat, or canola.  

It is tempting to think these fractions may be lower quality or unhealthy to the animal, but when used in the correct amounts, these specific components allow greater control over formulations as well as nutrient profiles and result in a nutritionally superior product. Some whole ingredients may actually contain imbalanced levels of specific nutrients which could be detrimental to the animal if not accurately balanced. For example, if using whole canola as a protein source it may provide excessive levels of fat.  

Furthermore, for small herbivores whole plants do not supply as much fiber compared to ingredients such as hulls which bring much more beneficial fiber to the diet. Including plant fractions in very specific amounts allows precise formulation to meet protein, fat, fiber, and other nutritional targets.  

Vitamins Are Vital (But May Be Hard to Pronounce) 
One caveat to the “ingredients you’ve heard of” rule can be some vitamins that often have complex-sounding names but are vital in the diet.  

Some vitamins can be listed in a straightforward way (e.g “Vitamin A Supplement” or “Vitamin E Supplement”), while others such as vitamin C can have longer, more scientific names (e.g. “L-Ascorbyl-2-Monophosphate (Vitamin C)”). In the case of vitamin C, this complex listing is due to the specific form of stabilized vitamin C companies such as Oxbow use to protect the vitamin against degradation as well as to ensure shelf stability.  

Pet food labeling requires some vitamins be listed by their proper names rather than abbreviations. This is seen with many B-complex vitamins. For instance, “Vitamin B1” must be labeled as “Thiamine Mononitrate” and “Vitamin B6” must be listed as “Pyridoxine Hydrochloride.”   

This can be the case for many vitamins and minerals, so before ruling it out as an inappropriate ingredient do your research to ensure it’s not a vital micronutrient in the food.  

3. Avoid Artificial Colors, Flavors, and Preservatives   

The pet food world is making great strides to remove artificial flavors, preservatives, and colors, but some do still exist in lower quality foods. With the natural color, flavor, and preservative options available today, the use of artificial ingredients is wholly unnecessary and used only as a way to cut costs and catch your (or your children’s) eye with a “fun” presence on the shelf.  

Common artificial ingredients to beware of include: 

  • Artificial Flavors: Acetaldehyde (ethanal), Glycerol, Ethyl Acetate, Benzaldehyde, or anything just labeled as “Artificial Flavors” 
  • Artificial Colors: Titanium Dioxide, Citrus Red No. 2, FD&C colors, or anything just labeled as “Artificial Colors” 
  • Artificial Preservatives: Benzoic Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), Ethoxyquin 

Guaranteed Analysis 

The guaranteed analysis (GA) outlines the nutritional composition of the food. While it is tempting to look at the guaranteed analysis before the ingredients, it’s important to remember even low-quality ingredients can result in a food that meets all the nutritional needs of an animal. This is why you should always factor both ingredients and GA into your food choice.  

Pet food companies have the option to list additional nutrients on the GA but minimally foods for exotic companion mammals must include the minimum amount of crude protein and crude fat and maximum amount of crude fiber and moisture. Let’s talk about each of these nutritional factors:   

Protein

Protein is made up of chains of individual amino acids that are required in certain amounts by each species. Upon ingestion, proteins are digested and absorbed as amino acids which are used in the body for thousands of processes, such as growth and maintenance of muscle, hair, skin, and nails to name a few.  

Additionally, many molecules in the body are made up of amino acids including enzymes, hormones, and antibodies; without sufficient amino acids to synthesize these molecules, their functions deteriorate. If a diet is lacking in protein (or any individual amino acid) it can have serious negative health implications.  

When shopping for small mammal foods, ensure the following protein levels are met: 

  • Herbivores: adult – minimally 12%; young – minimally 15% 
  • Omnivores: minimally 15% 

Fat

Fats (also referred to as lipids) are also made up on individual components called fatty acids. These fatty acids are integral components of cellular membranes which keep the body functioning. Fatty acids are essential for things such as brain development and some serve anti-inflammatory roles.  

Fats in the diet are an essential source of energy and aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, and E.  

Fat levels in small mammal foods should fall within the following parameters: 

  • Herbivores: 2-5% 
  • Omnivores: minimally 4% 

Fiber

We have written at length about the importance of fiber in small herbivore diets as a way to promote proper dental health and gastric motility. Fiber also serves to provide energy to small herbivores and promotes colon health and intestinal integrity via products of fermentation (short-chain fatty acids).  

While omnivores need less fiber in the diet, appropriate levels are still essential and provide the same benefits as seen in other species. Soluble fiber can come from ingredients such as oats and barley and can help mitigate obesity and control cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, the type of fiber is not discernable from the GA, so it is important to review the ingredient list to determine what types of fiber are included in the food.  

Soluble and insoluble fiber are important for both herbivores and omnivores, but herbivores benefit from more insoluble fiber (grass hays) while omnivores require more soluble fiber (grains).  

The following general guidelines can serve to evaluate fiber in small mammal foods: 

  • Herbivores: minimally 18% (>20% preferred for adults) 
  • Omnivores: less than 15% 

Feeding Directions 

On most pet food packages, you’ll find the feeding directions near the ingredient list and GA. It is important to remember that these guidelines are developed using “average” individuals, so there will be variation. Use the feeding directions on the bag as a starting point but don’t be afraid to slightly adjust the feeding volumes based on your animal’s specific needs which are affected by body condition, lifestyle, activity level, overall health, etc.  

Work directly with your exotic animal veterinarian to consider these factors when building and adjusting your animal’s individual feeding plan. Also, be sure to note how the food fits into the overall diet of the intended species. For small herbivores, bagged food should only make up a portion of the overall diet (~20%) with loose grass hay being the major dietary staple and fresh greens and veggies also playing a key role in an enriching and well-balanced diet.  

Uniform kibble should make up a larger portion of a small omnivore’s diet (~75%) but should also be supplemented by a wide variety of appropriate produce, proteins, fats, and grains.  

Summary

Reading and understanding pet food packaging is understandably intimidating and confusing. Diet is the single most important decision you will make for your pet and is the foundation of a long, healthy, happy life, so you want to make the absolute best choice. The decision should not be taken lightly so don’t be afraid to do your homework and reach out to pet food companies if you have questions.  

The following steps can help alleviate some stress in the pet food aisle: 

  • Avoid mixes with whole chunks of fruits and veggies and/or whole seeds/nuts 
  • Start with the back of the package  
  • Look for specific ingredients rather than vague groupings 
  • Avoid artificial ingredients or those that are “hydrolzyed” or “isolates” 
  • Remember some complex-sounding ingredients are essential vitamins or minerals 
  • Ensure the GA meets your animal’s needs through the use of high-quality ingredients 
  • Take note of other dietary items that should be fed alongside the food 
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