December 23, 2021

Do Rabbits Need Calcium?

Do Rabbits Need Calcium?
by Dr. Cayla Iske, PhD

Should my rabbit have more or less calcium in his diet?  Am I providing too little?  Too much? How do I know? 

The age-old debate about the role of calcium in the diet of rabbits is an important one as we know there are potentially significant implications to calcium content contributing to bladder sludge. But, thinking about calcium only in the narrow context of its role in bladder sludge formation can lead to dangerous one-sided thinking about calcium.  

The truth is that calcium is an essential component of a rabbit’s diet and, furthermore, balance of calcium with other nutrients must be taken into account when evaluating its role in the diet and health of rabbits. Rabbits require certain levels of calcium in the diet for a multitude of important physiological processes including healthy growth of bones and dentition, as well as to maintain health once they are adults.  

Why is Calcium Important for Rabbits? 

 Calcium plays an essential role in numerous processes in the body. Perhaps most notably, calcium is vital to maintaining strong, healthy teeth and bones.  

A majority of calcium in the body is stored in teeth and bones where it is a key component of maintaining structural integrity. When we consider the open-rooted (constantly growing) dentition of rabbits, calcium becomes even more important to maintain dental health.  
Calcium’s role in bone growth and maintenance is often highlighted for young animals but can be equally important for those older animals to avoid metabolic bone disorders like osteoporosis and provide vital bone support throughout life.  

Other Roles of Calcium for Rabbits 

Other less commonly talked about roles of calcium include muscle contraction and nerve signaling. Calcium is required for muscles to contract and, more specifically, to enable muscles to relax after contraction. Signaling of nerves throughout the body with the brain also requires calcium.  

Calcium also plays a major role in coagulation (proper blood clotting) as well as enables the release of molecules such as enzymes and hormones. In this way, calcium is required for and impacts hundreds if not thousands of processes in the body.    

Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency in Rabbits

Even some of the simplest body functions and movements involve or rely on calcium. For this reason, symptoms of calcium deficiency can include weak bones and teeth as well as confusion, muscle spasms and cramps, and numbness. Unfortunately, by the time symptoms of hypocalcemia (i.e. low blood calcium) are noted clinically, rabbits may have irreversible consequences.  

Rabbits (as well as guinea pigs) absorb calcium differently than most other species. Whereas other animals regulate how much calcium is absorbed based on how much calcium the body needs, rabbits absorb almost all ingested calcium and excrete what is not needed through their urinary system. Therefore, calcium deficiency may be less common in rabbits, but eliminating calcium completely from the diet is not safe. When thinking about calcium in the diet, goals should be incorporating the correct amount in the correct balance with other nutrients.   

Proper Calcium Ratios with Phosphorus for Rabbits 

We have discussed a lot about calcium specifically, but as alluded to above, it is just as important to consider calcium in ratio to phosphorus. Calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood are regulated by the same hormone (parathyroid hormone) which is released by the parathyroid gland when blood calcium levels get too low.  

Parathyroid hormone stimulates the release of calcium and phosphorus from stores (bone) along with a reduction of calcium excretion and increase of phosphorus excretion in the renal system. This is why a proper calcium to phosphorus ratio is so important in the diet, to not only maintain proper blood levels, but to protect bone integrity. A ratio of 1.5-2 parts calcium to 1 part phosphorus is widely accepted as a dietary target and may be slightly higher for young, growing rabbits.  

Considering all of the potential health concerns associated with high calcium, it is tempting to want to eliminate dietary calcium entirely from your rabbit’s diet. However, as we have discussed, calcium is an essential nutrient to maintain hundreds of vital processes in the body and rabbits, like all species, will always need certain levels of calcium in their diet to maintain health.  

It is also important to remember that all animals are individuals, and their specific needs should also be considered. Some diseases or genetic predispositions may alter their acute and ongoing needs, so it is always important to consult with your animal’s veterinarian when developing their dietary schedule. Monitoring how much calcium is in your animal’s dietary components is vital to ensure a proper overall diet. Commercially available foods/pellets should state calcium levels or ranges on the bag but high calcium greens and veggies should be rotated and fed less frequently in order to balance dietary calcium concentrations. 

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December 15, 2021

Top 10 Toys and Accessories for Hamsters

Top 10 Toys and Accessories for Hamsters

Hamsters are not only adorable but tend to be very active as well. Since they’re nocturnal, you may miss seeing a good deal of their activity unless you are a night owl as well. But rest assured that they crave interaction and love playing with new items in their space! Hamsters also have a variety of instinctual behavioral needs that need to be met regularly to keep them mentally and physically healthy. These behaviors include: 

  • Exploring – Satisfy your little one’s need to discover by providing ample opportunities to poke in and around toys to forage for treats and food. 
  • Playing –   Just like people, pets just need to have fun! Not only does it offer mental stimulation, but providing accessories that promote play helps you build a bond with your little one.  
  • Chewing – If chewing was a sport, hamsters would be Olympic gold medalists. Those cheek pouches are there for a reason, and anyone who has ever owned a hamster knows that they love to gnaw and hide pieces away at their leisure when they’re not busy chowing down on their pellets. 
  • Hiding – Supporting your small pet’s prey instincts by strategically placing hiding accessories is a great way to make your hamster feel safe and protected.  

Supporting these behaviors is easier than you think. Here are our top 10 toys and enrichment accessories for hamsters! 

1. Attachable Quiet Wheel

Great For: Playing 

You can’t think about hamsters without thinking about hamster wheels – and for good reason! Wheels are great for your hamster’s physical health! Not all wheels are made the same, however. We recommend using a wheel that doesn’t contain spokes to avoid gaps where your little one’s legs may get stuck and injured. It’s also worth checking out this quiet wheel because it’s, well, quiet. There’s nothing quite as grating as that constant squeak in the middle of the night when your dwarf hamster is doing their nocturnal workout routine. 

2. Nesting Disk 

Great For: Hiding 

Hammies are big fans of burrowing.  These 100% paper pet-safe disks are perfect for digging in, hiding in, and you guessed it – nesting! 

3. Corner Fleece Hideout 

Great For: Hiding 

Ah, rest and relaxation. Everybody needs it, including our pets! This soft, machine-washable fleece hideout will keep your furry friend safe, warm, and happy when they need to take a little break from the outside world. 


4. Celebration Cake 

Great For: Chewing 

Every day can be a special day for your hamster with the Celebration Cake! Colorful and fun to nibble on, this chew is a great way to let your hammy gnaw to their heart’s content. 


5. Hanging Mulberry Chew 

Great For: Playing and Chewing 

Keeping everything eye-level can be a little boring for small animals. By hanging a tasty Mulberry Chew from the top of their habitat, your hammy will have to reach a little bit to play and chew – talk about a fun workout with a yummy reward at the end! 


6. Apple Stick Bouquet

Great For: Playing and Chewing 

This gorgeous chew is made with marigold, rose, and cornflower petals. Talk about a decadent yet delicious treat! 


7. The Treat House 

Great For: Playing, Hiding, and Chewing 

Keep your hamster busy as they search for their favorite nom in the Treat House! This darling accessory attaches to your little one’s habitat for easy access and hours of entertainment. 


8. Garden Forage Puzzle 

Great For: Exploring and Playing 

Supporting your hamster’s need to explore and play is easy with the Garden Forage Puzzle! Fill these 9 spacious cutouts with nesting materials, treats, food, small enrichment items, and more for your little one to forage for. 


9. Colorful Woven Dangly 

Great For: Chewing and Playing 

Looking to inject a little liveliness into your hamster’s space? This woven dangly not only brightens up a habitat with its colorful pet-safe dyes, but it also easily attaches to the side of your hammy’s habitat so that it can be used as a hanging dangly or a loose chew. 


10. Hide ‘n Wobble 

Great For: Exploring, Playing, and Chewing 

Looking for another fun way to try and hide treats, food, and other fun objects for your hamster? The Hide ‘n Wobble is a great option. 


Check Out Oxbow’s Entire Enriched Life Product Line! 

Do you want more fun and enriching toys and accessories for your hamster? View our full Enriched Life product line


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December 15, 2021

Helpful Tips for Living with Multiple Pet Species

Helpful Tips for Living with Multiple Pet Species
by Dianne Cook

There are few relationships as rewarding as the bond shared between pet parents and their furry family members. The unconditional love and acceptance provided by companion animals have been shown to lower blood pressure, decrease stress, and improve mental health. It’s no wonder so many folks feel drawn to sharing their home with a menagerie of furry friends of all shapes and sizes.  

Though it can be trickier to create a safe environment for a multi-species household, keeping your lifestyle and your pets’ unique species requirements and individual personalities in mind will ensure the safest, most harmonious home life possible.

Things to Consider Before Adding Multiple Pets to Your Home  

While not the most exciting aspect of pet parenthood, it is important to take the following considerations into account before adding additional species to your home:  

  • Financial Constraints 
  • Husbandry Needs  
  • Daily Demands of Multiple Pets  

Financial Constraints 

Caring for multiple species requires a significant financial investment. To keep everyone safe, happy, and healthy, you will need to consider the cost of purchasing and maintaining multiple species-appropriate enclosures (or securely pet-proofing an area of your home) for each species.  

Additional animals also mean frequent trips to the pet store (or your favorite online retailer) to purchase high-quality, species-specific diets, enrichment items, and bedding. It is also essential to ensure you can cover all routine and unexpected veterinary costs for every member of your furry family.

Husbandry Needs 

Despite their small stature, exotic companion mammals need a lot of space to run around and explore. If you’d like to add a new species to your existing crew of companions, survey your home and make sure there’s plenty of room for everyone. 

Each species will need their own enclosure(s) or living environment(s), as well as a secure play area tailored to their individual needs.

Daily Demands of Multiple Pets  

Living with multiple animals requires a significant time commitment. This is especially true if you share your home with numerous exotic species. For example, the following activities need to happen every single day: 

  • Keeping enclosures tidy 
  • Washing food dishes and water bottles 
  • Feeding and watering 
  • Supervising playtime 
  • Giving everyone individual attention  

Before adding another furry friend, make sure you’re not stretching yourself too thin. 

Safety First 

While some little ones completely dismiss the idea of including different species in their social circle, others may be very intrigued by the other animals in the home. Regardless of their interest, it can be unsafe to allow different species to interact. Giving due attention to the following areas will help keep everyone as safe as possible: 

  • Supervise for Safety 
  • Provide Personal Space  
  • Consult the Experts  

Supervise for Safety 

Like humans, pets will bicker from time to time. Even a pair or group who normally share a close bond will occasionally get fed up with one another. While these disagreements are natural and generally safe to be worked out between individuals of the same species, the same may not be true if a squabble breaks out between furry family members of different species. 

Any time your small mammals are out of their enclosure or designated living space, they must be under constant adult supervision. Maintaining continual surveillance will make sure no one escapes their respective safe zones, thereby putting themselves at risk, and will limit the potential of a larger animal (like a cat or dog) jumping into a smaller pet’s enclosure or play yard.

Provide Personal Space 

In addition to proper supervision, it is generally best to keep each species separate from one another, even during playtime. Despite the number of heartwarming stories on social media depicting unlikely interspecies friendships between predators and prey, relationships like these are typically the exception not the norm.  

Even the most mellow dog or cat is still a predator at its core and the quick, unpredictable movements often exhibited by prey species (like rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, etc.) can provoke an instinctual predatory response, resulting in a dangerous scenario or tragic accident.  

Limiting interaction between predator and prey seems logical for most folks, but it may be surprising to learn it can also be risky to introduce prey species to other prey species (e.g. rabbits to guinea pigs). While most prey animals are incredibly social by nature, they tend to prefer the company of their own kind.  

Each small mammal species communicates differently and when forced into a situation with other animals who don’t “speak” the same language, they may lash out or become overly stressed resulting in injury or illness.

Consult the Experts 

If you truly feel your fur babies would benefit from a closer multi-species relationship with one another despite the risks mentioned above, it is best to consult with an exotics-savvy veterinarian before making any introductions. A veterinarian who is well-versed in proper exotic companion mammal care will have a fundamental understanding of these sensitive species’ innate behaviors and may be able to provide guidance on ways to introduce the species carefully and gradually. It is important to remember, however, that some species will never be compatible.  

Sharing your life with a multitude of animal species is many animal lovers’ dream come true. Luckily, it is quite possible to build a safe, secure, loving environment that meets the requirements and preferences of many different companion species. With some additional time, lots of space, a deep understanding of each species’ intrinsic needs and behaviors, and the assistance of a trusted veterinarian, you can safely open your home (and heart) to a plethora of these special beings.   

Learn More

Daily Care Checklist For Your Small Pet
How Do I Make My Pet’s Habitat Fun and Enriching?
Which Pet is Better for You: Rabbits or Guinea Pigs?

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December 02, 2021

How Much Exercise Does Your Small Pet Need?

How Much Exercise Does Your Small Pet Need?

by Dianne Cook, LVT

Nimble and aerodynamic, exotic companion mammals are built for speed. Despite their athletic predisposition, many small pets don’t get nearly enough exercise. As dedicated pet parents, it is our responsibility to ensure our furry family members have everything they need to live their very best lives, including lots of time and space to run around every single day. Keep reading to learn how much exercise time your small friend truly needs, and the steps you can take to ensure they remain just as safe as they are active.   

Why Is Exercise So Important? 

As prey species, our furry friends’ wild ancestors used their velocity and intrinsic athleticism to outrun even the sneakiest of predators. Despite generations of domestication, our beloved pets remain energetic powerhouses. Providing safe, engaging environments in which your little one can release all their pent-up energy will keep their bodies fit and functioning at peak performance. In addition, plenty of playtime also provides the following benefits: 

  • Guards against obesity and obesity-related health concerns 
  • Helps to keep arthritis at bay by building strong muscles and sound joints 
  • Mitigates boredom  
  • Aids in avoiding or redirecting destructive behaviors 
  • Examples: bar chewing, repetitive movements, over-grooming, aggression 

How Much Is Enough? 

While there are certain situations in which “more” does not equate to “better,” when it comes to exercise, it’s difficult to provide “too much.” Just like humans, the more active the pet, the healthier they tend to be, both physically and mentally. Providing your fur baby with 2 – 4 hours of playtime outside of their enclosure every day is a noble goal, but even an hour or so is better than no time at all. It is important to note that this time does not have to be consecutive. Your pet will get just as much benefit from splitting the time up throughout the day and will probably prefer having a mid-day break to nap and re-energize.  

As with all things, exercise time should be tailored to your pet’s unique species and individualized needs. It is always best to work with an exotics-friendly veterinarian to make sure you are adapting your furry friend’s playtime routine to their species and breed predispositions, current health status, and future goals (e.g. weight loss, building muscle, maintaining weight, etc).   

How Can I Encourage My Pet to Stay Active? 

Despite their powerful physiology and athletic ancestry,  it is not uncommon for our small, furry friends to have a predisposition for laziness. After generations of acclimating to life as a pampered house pet, the need to forage for food and escape predation has been completely removed from our fur babies’ lives. While keeping our little ones safe and well-fed is the privilege of every proud pet parent, keeping them active and spry should also be a top priority. The following suggestions will help keep your kiddo as kinetically inclined as possible.  

In-Home Entertainment 

Exercise and exploration should always be encouraged, even when your pet is hanging out in their enclosure or designated living space. As a result, it is important to make your pet’s habitat as stimulating as possible. Though not an exhaustive list, the tips below provide several ideas to ensure your kiddo remains physically and mentally active from the safety and comfort of their enclosure. 

  • Always provide the largest species-appropriate enclosure or living space possible. 
  • Multiple levels provide plenty of room for exploration. 
    • Especially important for “vertical species” such as chinchillas, rats, hamsters, gerbils, and mice who do best with plenty of space to climb and jump. 
    • As animals who do not climb, rabbits and guinea pigs do not require as much vertical space, but providing low, secure platforms and accompanying, slip-resistant ramps are a great way to keep your kiddo moving and using their body in healthy ways. 
  • Offer an assortment of species-appropriate chews and activity centers. 
    • Items that encourage foraging are a great way to provide both physical and mental enrichment. 
    • Give your little one access to a variety of chews and activity centers, but rotate each item routinely to avoid boredom. 
    • A species-appropriate wheel is essential for small omnivores. 
  • Food dispensers make your furry friend work for their dinner, helping to keep their brains just as fit as their bodies. 
  • Offer different styles of hideouts (i.e. interactivecozychewable, etc) to spark curiosity and allow for variety. 
    • If fleece or a similar bedding is used, consider using paper bedding or nesting disks under at least one of the hides to encourage nesting, digging, and tunneling. 
  • Use hay as a source of physical (and nutritional) enrichment. 
    • For small herbivores, a hanging hay feeder provides a healthy way to encourage a full range of motion by making your little one lift their head or use their body in unique ways to access their hay. 
    • In addition to a hay manger, offer big mounds of hay directly on the enclosure floor to encourage rooting, playing, and nesting. 
    • Though loose hay is not a staple part of a small omnivore diet, many small omnivores thoroughly enjoy using small handfuls for rooting, burrowing, and nesting. 

Exercise Alfresco 

Though a stimulating enclosure or living space is essential for your pet’s overall well-being, it is also important that they have a separate (and staunchly supervised) play area in which they can stretch their little legs. The following tips will help create an inspiring play space that will help your furry friend maintain peak physical prowess.   

  • Food/hay and water (preferably from two sources) should always be available and easily accessible.  
  • Provide plenty of hiding options in case your little one gets startled or needs a safe place to unwind during playtime. 
  • Make the space as fun as possible by providing species-appropriate chews and activity centers your pet does not have access to in any other environment. 
  • Cardboard boxes, paper bags, old phone books, or a heap of tissue paper will provide hours of chewing and shredding fun. 
  • Dig boxes are a safe, controlled way to give your kiddo an outlet for their natural digging/burrowing behavior. 
    • Fill a cardboard box with a thick layer of paper bedding, shredded paper, and pelleted litter then hide a few of your little one’s favorite treats, greens, or veggies to encourage digging, rooting, and one heck of a good time.  
  • When used properly, exercise balls are a great way to allow your small omnivore to run around to their little heart’s content. 
    • It is important to only use exercise balls designed for your pet’s species and size. 
    • Even though your little one is enclosed within the ball, it is essential to supervise them closely to prevent them from becoming entrapped, loosening the opening and escaping, or taking a tumble down the stairs. 
  • Use the time to build upon the special bond you share. 
    • Sit in or near your pet’s play space and allow them to approach you at their will. Never force interaction. 
    • Play games that encourage your little one to use their bodies and their minds. 
    • Keep the situation low stress. Return your pet to their enclosure, or otherwise quiet, safe environment, if they start to show signs of stress. 

Enlist the Help of a Workout Buddy 

Studies have shown that most humans are far more likely to exercise if they have the motivation of a workout buddy. The same is true of our small pets. Many exotic companion species are herd animals, making them notorious socialites who tend to do best when hanging out with friends of their own kind. Despite our pets’ ability to form a close human-animal bond with their favorite people, we cannot provide the same level of comfort and encouragement as a same species sidekick. Aside from the unparalleled acceptance and understanding that comes along with having exercise buddies who understand each other on an intrinsic level, keeping most of these unique species in pairs or small groups allows for interactive play both in and out of their enclosure(s).  

While having a fitness friend is a great option for many small mammals, it is important to note that it is not right for every species or every individual pet. One of the most notable of these exceptions are Syrian hamsters. These adorable little friends are fiercely solitary, territorial beings who do not appreciate the companionship of their own kind. While some dwarf breed hamsters (like the Roborovski) do well in groups, make certain to work with a trusted veterinarian well-versed in exotic animal care before enforcing joint playtime.  

As is the case with humans, our furry family members tend to live longer, happier, healthier lives when they engage in daily exercise. While daily time outside of their enclosure is important for your pet’s total health, make sure the environment in which they live is just as enriching to keep your little one as active as possible. It is always best to work with a trusted exotics-savvy veterinarian to help create the best exercise space and routine for your kiddo’s personal needs.  

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