Caring for Your Rabbit

Caring for Your Rabbit

This Caring for Your Rabbit guide from Oxbow Animal Health will teach you everything you need to know about keeping your pet healthy and happy.

CARING FOR YOUR PET RABBIT

Your rabbit is a herbivore, which means he eats only plant material.

Grass hay should be the high-fibre cornerstone of every rabbit’s diet. The fibre in hay helps meet the important digestive health needs of herbivores such as rabbits. A daily recommended amount of a uniform, fortified food provides essential vitamins and minerals not found in hay. Fresh greens are also an important component of a rabbit’s diet, and healthy treats can be beneficial when given in moderation.

HAY

Your rabbit should have unlimited access to a variety of quality grass hays. Among many benefits, hay helps prevent obesity, boredom, and dental and gastrointestinal disease. Since replacing the hay in your rabbit’s habitat can encourage picky eating, we recommend changing it only when soiled.

Young (less than a year old), pregnant, nursing or ill animals can benefit from eating alfalfa hay in addition to grass hay because of the higher nutritional elements. Otherwise, alfalfa should only be given occasionally as a treat.

Hay Selection

Keep in mind: Grass hay should make up the majority of your pet’s daily diet. Offer a variety of hay to your rabbit to promote optimum health. Since hay is a natural product, each bag will look and feel different. Use our Taste & Texture Guide located on every hay package to determine your pet’s taste and texture preferences.

We have many all-natural, farm-fresh hays to choose from including Western Timothy, Orchard Grass, Oat Hay and Botanical Hay. Also, check out our Harvest Stacks line of compressed hays for extra enrichment

Did You Know
Your Rabbits teeth never stop growing. Hay is essential because it stimulates normal chewing and dental wear patterns, helping decrease the risk of dental disease.

 

Fortified Food

Providing a daily recommended amount of a high-fibre, age-appropriate fortified food will help ensure that your pet receives essential vitamins and minerals not found in hay.

Pellet Selection

Always choose an age-appropriate pellet formulated specifically for rabbits. Our Essentials Young Rabbit Food is ideal for rabbits under one year of age. For adult rabbits, choose from one of Oxbow’s three premium adult rabbit formulas.

Avoid
Mixes with nuts, corn, seeds and fruit because rabbits have a tendency to select those tempting morsels over the healthy pellets.

 

Greens

Fresh greens are an important part of your pet’s daily diet. Greens contribute to hydration and provide important vitamins and minerals, as well as enrichment. For a complete list of appropriate greens, visit the House Rabbit Society’s website at rabbit.org.

Offer – Romaine, bib, and red leaf lettuce
Avoid – Leeks, chives and onions

 

Treats

Treats (including fruits and veggies) are great for encouraging interaction between you and your pet, but they should only be given after basic daily foods have been eaten. Offering too many treats can cause your rabbit to refuse his healthy, essential foods. It’s important to remember that not all treats are created equal! All Oxbow treat varieties are designed to be as wholesome as they are delicious.

Did You Know
By caring for your rabbit and with proper nutrition your bun may live ten or more years.

 

HOUSING YOUR RABBIT

As animals of prey by nature, all rabbits need a safe place to spend time and escape potential environmental stressors.

Choose a well-constructed habitat with a solid floor and set it up near household activities, but away from drafts. Your rabbit’s habitat should be outfitted with environmental essentials such as a space to hide (Timothy CLUB Bungalow or Tunnel), a litter box lined with litter and bedding (Pure Comfort bedding layered on top of Eco-Straw litter), some toys, grass hay, a food bowl, and two sources of fresh, clean water.

The confines of a habitat do not allow enough space for a pet’s exercise needs. All animals benefit from activity and love to move and explore; a play yard allows you to create a safe, secure exercise area for your pet.

 

YOUR RABBIT’S HEALTH

When caring for your rabbit, you should visit a qualified exotics veterinarian at least once a year for check-ups on your rabbit’s diet, behaviour, and health.

Be prepared for your pet’s visits by making a list of any questions or concerns you may have ahead of time. Ask your veterinarian to recommend an appropriate age to have your rabbit spayed or neutered; this will increase the chances of a longer, healthier life for your pet. Many rabbit health problems are preventable with proper diet and care. To locate a qualified exotics veterinarian near you, visit aernv.org.

 

Rabbits are inquisitive and curious by nature

REASONS TO CONTACT YOUR VET

  • Loose, soft or lack of stool
  • Small, dry, or infrequent stools
  • Blood in the urine breathing
  • Hunching in a corner or lack of activity (lethargy)
  • Overgrown front teeth
  • Sneezing or trouble front teeth
  • Observed difficulty with chewing
  • Bald patches in the fur
  • Sores on the feet
  • Abnormal eating or drinking

 

 

RABBIT BEHAVIOUR

Rabbits don’t usually like to be picked up or carried.

The best way to interact with your rabbit is to get down to his level and play with him on the floor. Be sure you are always with your rabbit when he is out for playtime; rabbits are curious by nature and could get into trouble if left alone.

Some rabbit behaviours can seem rather strange. For example, you may see your rabbit eat its own poop. This is a normal, healthy behaviour that provides essential vitamins and nutrients.

 

SUPPLIES FOR YOUR RABBIT

  • Fortified age-specific food: Oxbow Essentials Young Rabbit Food for rabbits under one year of age or one of Oxbow’s three premium formulas for adults
  • Two or more varieties of Oxbow’s farm-fresh hays
  • Oxbow treats for healthy bonding and enrichment
  • Water bottle and heavy water dish
  • Heavy food bowl
  • Large play yard for safe exercise outside the habitat
  • Large habitat with solid, non-slip flooring
  • Hiding space such as Oxbow’s Timothy CLUB Bungalow or Tunnel
  • Litter box
  • Litter and bedding material such as Oxbow’s Pure Comfort Bedding

Caring for Your Guinea Pig

Caring for Your Guinea Pig

Caring for Your Guinea Pig is a guide from Oxbow Animal Health, it will teach you everything you need to know about keeping your pet guinea pig healthy and happy.

 

FEEDING AND CARING FOR YOUR GUINEA PIG

Your guinea pig is a herbivore, which means he eats only plant material.

Grass hay should be the high-fibre cornerstone of every guinea pig’s diet. The fibre in hay helps meet the important digestive health needs of herbivores such as guinea pigs. A daily recommended amount of a uniform, fortified food provides essential vitamins and minerals not found in hay. Fresh greens are also an important component of a guinea pig’s diet, and healthy treats can be beneficial when given in moderation.

 

HAY

Your guinea pig should have unlimited access to a variety of quality grass hays. Among many benefits, hay helps prevent obesity, boredom, and dental and gastrointestinal disease. Since replacing the hay in your guinea pig’s habitat can encourage picky eating, we recommend changing it only when soiled. Young (less than six months old), pregnant, nursing, or ill animals can benefit from eating alfalfa hay in addition to grass hay because of the higher nutritional elements. Otherwise, alfalfa should only be given occasionally as a treat.

Hay Selection

Keep in mind: Grass hay should make up the majority of your pet’s daily diet. Offer a variety of hay to your guinea pig to promote optimum health. Since hay is a natural product, each bag will look and feel different. Use our Taste & Texture Guide located on every hay package to determine your pet’s taste and texture preferences.

We have many all-natural farm-fresh hays to choose from including Western Timothy, Orchard Grass, Oat Hay, Botanical Hay, and Organic Meadow Hay. Also, check out our Harvest Stacks line of compressed hays for extra enrichment.

 

Generally, your guinea pig should be eating a pile of hay twice the size of its body daily.

DID YOU KNOW
Your guinea pig’s teeth never stop growing. Hay is essential because it stimulates normal chewing and dental wear patterns healing decrease the risk of dental disease.

 

FORTIFIED FOOD

Providing a daily recommended amount of a high-fibre, age-appropriate fortified food with stabilized vitamin C will help ensure that your pet receives essential vitamins and minerals not found in hay.

Pellet Selection

Always choose an age-appropriate pellet specifically formulated for guinea pigs. Our Essentials Young Guinea Pig Food is ideal for guinea pigs under six months. For guinea pigs over six months, choose one of our three adult formulas.

Avoid
Mixes with nuts, corn, seeds and fruit because guinea pigs have a tendency to select those tempting morsels over the healthy pellets.

 

GREENS

Fresh greens are a vital part of your pet’s daily diet. Greens contribute to hydration and provide necessary vitamins and minerals, as well as enrichment. Check with your qualified exotics veterinarian for a full list of appropriate greens. A good starter list of varieties to offer and avoid includes:

Offer: Romaine, bib and red leaf lettuce
Avoid: Leeks, chives and onions

 

Guinea pigs are inquisitive and curious by nature

TREATS

Treats (including fruits and veggies) are great for encouraging interaction between you and your pet, but they should only be given after daily foods have been eaten. Offering too many treats can cause your guinea pig to refuse his healthy, essential foods. It’s important to remember that not all treats are created equal!  When caring for your guinea pig make sure you include Oxbow treats which have been designed to be as wholesome as they are delicious.

 

HOUSING YOUR GUINEA PIG

Guinea pigs need a safe place that allows enough room to climb, jump, and explore, as well as to escape potential environmental stressors.

Choose a well-constructed habitat with a solid floor and set up near household activities, but away from drafts. Your guinea pig’s habitat should be outfitted with environmental essentials such as a space to hide (Timothy CLUB Bungalow or Tunnel), a litter box lined with litter and bedding (Pure Comfort bedding layered on top of Eco-Straw litter), some toys, grass hay, a food bowl and two sources of fresh, clean water.

The confines of a habitat do not allow enough space for a pet’s exercise needs. All animals benefit from activity and love to move and explore; a play yard allows you to create a safe, secure exercise area for your pet.

 

SUPPLIES FOR YOUR GUINEA PIG

  • Fortified age-specific food: Oxbow Essentials Young Guinea Pig Food for guinea pigs under six months of age. For guinea pigs over six months of age, choose one of Oxbow’s three adult formulas.
  • Two or more varieties of Oxbow’s farm-fresh hay
  • Oxbow treats for healthy bonding and enrichment
  • Water bottle and heavy water dish
  • Heavy food bowl
  • Large habitat with solid, non-slip flooring
  • Large play yard for safe exercise outside the habitat
  • Hiding space such as Oxbow’s Timothy CLUB Bungalow or Tunnel
  • Litter and bedding material such as Oxbow’s Eco-Straw and Pure Comfort Bedding
  • Natural Science Vitamin C supplement, as needed*

*In times of stress, a guinea pig’s need for vitamin C can fluctuate. Supplement with Natural Science Vitamin C

 

GUINEA PIG BEHAVIOUR

Guinea pigs are most active at dawn and twilight, taking naps throughout the day.

Guinea pigs often show their affection through vocalizations. For example, you may hear a sound called “wheeking” when your pet is looking for a treat or purring when being held. Also, your guinea pig may “popcorn” – bounce excitedly and repeatedly to express happiness. The best way to interact with your guinea pig is to play with him on the floor. As creatures of habit, guinea pigs need to be introduced to changes slowly in regards to feedings and routines.

Some guinea pig behaviours can seem rather strange. For example, you may see your guinea pig eat its own poop. This is a normal, healthy behaviour that provides essential vitamins and nutrients.

 

YOUR GUINEA PIGS HEALTH

When caring for your guinea pig you should visit a qualified exotics veterinarian at least once a year for check-ups on your guinea pig’s diet, behaviour, and health.

Be prepared for your pet’s visits by making a list of any questions or concerns you may have ahead of time. Ask your veterinarian to recommend an appropriate age to have your guinea pig spayed or neutered; this will increase the chances of a longer, healthier life for your pet. Many guinea pig health problems are preventable with proper diet and care. To locate a qualified exotics veterinarian near you, visit aemv.org

 

REASONS TO CONTACT YOUR VET

  • Loose, soft or lack of stool
  • Small, dry or infrequent stools
  • Blood in the urine
  • Sneezing or trouble breathing
  • Hunching in a corner or lack of activity (lethargy)
  • Overgrown front teeth
  • Observed difficulty with chewing
  • Bald patches in the fur
  • Sores on the feet
  • Abnormal eating or drinking

 

For more information about your guinea pig’s nutrition and behaviours, visit www.oxbowanimalhealth.com


Caring for Your Rat

Caring for Your Rat

Caring for your Rat is an educational guide from Oxbow Animal Health will teach you everything you need to know about keeping your pet rat happy and healthy.

FEEDING AND CARING FOR YOUR RAT

Your rat is an omnivore, which means he eats both plant and animal material.

Your rat requires a simple diet composed of a complete fortified food, freshwater served in both a sipper bottle and tip-proof dish, and veggies, greens, and fruits in appropriate daily amounts. Like humans, rats are prone to eating when bored, so it’s important to provide healthy foods in proper amounts.

Fortified FoodD

Fortified food like Oxbow Essentials Adult Rat Food or Essentials Mouse & Young Rat Food is the best option for your rat. These specially designed foods are formed into the ideal shape for nibbling, which promotes healthy teeth.

Food Selection

Always choose an age-appropriate food formulated specifically for rats. Our Essentials Mouse & Young Rat Food is ideal for rats under six months of age, and our Essentials Adult Rat Food is recommended for adult rats.

Avoid: Mixes with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit because rats have a tendency to select those tempting morsels over healthy food pieces.

Did you know
Small amounts of high-quality seeds, such as oats, sunflower seeds, barley and cooked brown rice make great treats for rats.

 

VEGES, GREENS & FRUITS

Veggies, greens, and fruits are an important part of your rat’s daily diet. These items offer important vitamins and nutrients, contribute to hydration, and provide enrichment to your pet’s daily routine. Check with your qualified exotics veterinarian for a full list of appropriate veggies, greens, and fruit choices. A good starter list of varieties to offer and avoid includes:

Offer: Romaine, kale, parsley, apples (without seeds), strawberries, bananas, peas, and squash
Avoid: Leeks, chives and onions

 

HAY

Supply grass hay to stimulate natural foraging and nesting, which helps in the prevention of obesity. Many rats especially enjoy Oat Hay, which often contains tasty, immature seed heads.

Hay Selection

Use our Taste & Texture Guide located on every hay package to determine your pet’s preferences. We have many all-natural farm-fresh hays to choose from including Western Timothy, Orchard Grass, Oat Hay, Botanical Hay, and Organic Meadow Hay. Also, check out our Harvest Stacks line of compressed hays for extra enrichment.

 

TREATS

A part of caring for your rat includes treats.  Treats are great for encouraging interaction between you and your pet, but they should only be given after basic daily foods have been eaten. Offering too many treats can cause your rat to refuse his healthy, essential foods. It’s important to remember that not all treats are created equal! All Oxbow treat varieties are designed to be as wholesome as they are delicious.

 

Caring for your Rat

Rats are intelligent and social by nature

RAT BEHAVIOUR

Domesticated rats are clean, docile pets that rarely bite.

They enjoy socialization with both other rats as well as humans. In addition, rats are very smart and can be trained to respond to their names and clicker training, to “fetch” objects, use a litter box, and climb ropes.

Want to keep your pet rat busy for hours? Fill a box with one of Oxbow’s grass hays and hide your rat’s favourite treat inside. He’ll enjoy both the excitement and challenge of the treasure hunt!

 

YOUR RAT’S HEALTH

When caring for your rat, you should visit a qualified exotics veterinarian at least once a year for check-ups on your rat’s diet, behaviour, and health.

Be prepared for your pet’s visits by making a list of any questions or concerns you may have ahead of time. Many rat health problems are preventable with proper diet and care. To locate a qualified exotics veterinarian near you, visit aemv.org

 

REASONS TO CONTACT YOUR VET

  • Wet or soiled tail
  • Blood in the urine
  • Sneezing or trouble breathing
  • Hunching in a corner or lack of activity (lethargy)
  • Overgrown front teeth
  • Bald patches in the fur
  • Lumps or sores on the body
  • Sores on the feet
  • Abnormal eating or drinking

 

DID YOU KNOW
Rats cannot burp, because of this, avoid feeing gas-causing vegetables such as cabbage

 

HOUSING YOUR RAT

Rats require lots of space to foster creative living, playing, and burrowing.

Rats love to climb and explore, so choose a multi-level habitat for these athletic adventurers. Choose a wire cage with a solid bottom to accommodate bedding such as Oxbow’s Pure Comfort Bedding, places to hide such as Timothy CLUB Bungalow or Tunnel, cardboard tubes, ropes, an exercise wheel, grass hay for burrowing and nesting, a food bowl, and two sources of fresh, clean water.

Set your rat’s cage up near household activities, but away from drafts. Newspaper, paper towels, facial tissue, and old mittens or socks also make excellent nesting materials for rats.

 

Avoid: Aromatic cedar and pine shavings that may contain resin and could irritate your pet’s lungs and skin.

 

SUPPLIES FOR YOUR RAT

  • Fortified age-specific food: Oxbow Essentials Mouse &Young Rat Food for rats under six months of age or Oxbow Essentials Adult Rat Food for rats over six months of age
  • Variety of Oxbow’s grass hays for nesting
  • Oxbow treats for healthy bonding and enrichment
  • A mix of healthy veggies, greens, fruits, and seeds
  • Heavy food bowl
  • Water bottle and heavy water dish
  • Cage designed specifically for rats
  • Wheel, tube, and hay habitat such as Oxbow’s Timothy CLUB Bungalow or Tunnel for hiding and playing
  • Oxbow’s Pure Comfort Bedding

For more information about your rat’s nutrition and behaviours, visit www.oxbowanimalhealth.com


All About The Science of Hay

All About The Science of Hay

ALL ABOUT THE SCIENCE OF HAY

This guide from Oxbow Animal Health provides a closer look at the science of hay – how and where it’s grown, how it can vary based on factors of nature, the anatomy of a hay plant, and the essential role hay plays in the daily health of small herbivores.

Hay has been harvested for thousands of years, and it remains the cornerstone of small herbivore health. Hay offers many nutritional and health benefits, including the prevention of obesity and digestive issues and maintaining dental and mental health.

 

MAKING HAY WHILE THE SUN SHINES

The science of hay - a guide from Oxbow Animal Health


Hay Field as Eco-System

A hayfield is a very diverse eco-system. Throughout the growing season, a single hayfield can contain a number of micro-habitats that host a variety of insect and animal life. In addition to providing valuable food sources in the form of nectar and leaves, the dense canopy of a hayfield protects these organisms from predators.

Hay Harvest

Hay is harvested using a series of simple mechanical processes. These include: mowing, tedding, raking, and baling. Oxbow hay is mowed when it is determined that the nutrients are at optimum levels to support small animal health.

Mowed hay is organized into large swaths, or rows, in the field. Next, a process called tedding fluffs up the cut hay, promoting curing and drying. Once hay has been tedded and is nearly dry, it is raked (flipped over) to dry the underside and form a windrow.

The final step in the hay harvest process is baling. The baling process mechanically compacts hay into large bales.

 

Hay Anatomy 101

Seed

      • Soft and enticing to most pets – contains the most protein.
      • Typically eaten second, after leaves.
      • Size depends on the maturity of hay (smaller seed heads indicate more immature hay).

Stems

      • Supporting structure or “scaffold” of hay.
      • The coarsest part of the hay plant.
      • Contains the most fibre – 25% more than leaves & seed heads.
      • Provides the most beneficial dental wear.
      • Typically selected last to be eaten by pets, but very important.

Leaves

      • The softest, most enticing part of the hay plant.
      • Typically selected first by pets.
      • Beneficial source of fibre and protein.

 

Quick Tip: Mix it up! If you find that your pet leaves behind stems, don’t throw them out! Instead, mix them in with fresh hay to encourage your pet to eat these important fibre-packed pieces.

 

 


Mother Nature & Hay Variability

Hay is very much a “farm fresh” product. It is grown and harvested naturally, and minimally handled between the field and your pet’s preferred dining area.

As a product of Mother Nature, even slight changes in factors such as temperature, humidity, rain and wind will cause the taste, texture, colour and aroma traits of hay to vary slightly from bag to bag, it’s all about the science of hay.

However, it is important to note that a change in one of these traits does not necessarily indicate a change in quality.

Some common ways that your hay might vary from purchase to purchase include:

Colour

Beautiful green hay is everyone’s first choice, but it’s important to know that brown or sun-bleached hay is not “bad” hay. Hay becomes brown as it matures and less light reaches the lower leaves through the canopy. Hay loses some of its natural green colour while drying in the field. While hay with alternate colour attributes may not be as visually appealing, the nutritional profile of hay is not affected by colour.

Texture

Hay texture varies naturally between varieties. Orchard Grass, for example, is typically very soft, while other varieties such as Oat Hay are coarser by nature. You will naturally notice some variability between bags of the same variety. Generally speaking, texture is an indicator of maturity. The more mature hay is, the coarser the texture will be.  To help you choose your pet’s preference, every bag of Oxbow hay features a taste/texture guide ranging from sweet and hearty to soft and crunchy.

 


Whats in a hay bale - Oxbow Animal Health

What’s In a Hay Bale?

Considering the vast ecosystems contained within a hayfield, it’s inevitable that some bales will contain small artifacts of nature, including miscellaneous plant life, dried insects or small rocks or bits of soil from the field.

Purchasing hay from a trusted expert will help to significantly limit the amount of “foreign materials” encountered in the hay you purchase.

Oxbow has an extensive Quality Assurance program in place and is always making process improvements. Oxbow’s production team members are trained experts when it comes to sorting and evaluating hay.

 


The Importance of Hay in the Diet of Small Herbivores

 

Digestive

The fibre in hay facilitates the constant digestive movement that small herbivores require to maintain digestive health. Disrupting this movement can lead to a number of gastrointestinal issues, some of which can be life-threatening. Providing grass hay most closely mimics the foraging activity small herbivores would perform in nature.

 


Dental

Small herbivores require constant chewing of hard, fibrous foods (i.e. hay) to provide necessary dental wear. The teeth of rabbits and guinea pigs never stop growing, making it critical to provide a proper diet centred around hay. A diet with insufficient hay can lead to dental issues, including disease and malocclusion.

 


Mental

Hay is not just great for the body of small pets, it is essential to their mental health as well! Access to a variety of hay provides mental stimulation, keeping pets active, stimulated and healthy. To maximise this important mental stimulation, try placing hay in as many locations as possible through your pet’s living space.

 


 

 


All About Fortified Foods for Herbivores

All About Fortified Foods for Herbivores

All About Fortified Foods

 

Healthy balanced food should be a daily staple in every small pet’s diet. With so many options available in the food aisle, choosing one that’s best for your furry family members can be a confusing and intimidating process. Especially for new parents and long-time pet caretakers alike.

The following guide is designed to provide the basic information necessary to help you choose a food that meets the specific nutritional needs of your beloved pet.

 

Why Do Small Pets Need Fortified Food?

A measured amount of a uniform, balanced food provides key vitamins and minerals small pets need to thrive.

In the wild, your pet would consume a variety of plant material each day, receiving ample amounts of micronutrients (i.e. vitamins & minerals) in the process.

In captivity, it becomes your responsibility as a pet parent to provide these important components of nutrition.

 

How Much Should I Feed?

Daily food requirements vary depending on age, species, and additional factors specific to your individual pet(s). Young, growing, pregnant or nursing pets have higher nutritional requirements and will generally require a larger quantity of food than mature pets.

Always follow the feeding guidelines on your pet’s specific food package. Consult your veterinarian if you have questions about how much food your animal should eat.

HERBIVORES

For herbivores such as rabbits and guinea pigs, a uniform fortified food should make up 20% of the daily diet. The majority of the diet (70%) should come from unlimited fresh grass hay. The remainder of the diet should come from fresh greens (8%) and healthy, all-natural treats (up to 2%).

 


OMNIVORES

For omnivores such as rats, a uniform kibble should make up 75% of the daily diet. The remainder of the omnivore diet should come from a mix of fresh veggies, greens, and fruit (20%) and healthy, all-natural treats for bonding (up to 5%).

 


Premium & Nutritionally Correct Food Checklist

Uniform pellets = complete nutrition in every bite.

  • Species & Life-stage specific (Grass hay-based for adult, Lucerne-based for young, growing, pregnant & lactating)
  • Prebiotics to feed good bacteria
  • Chelated minerals (e.g. “proteinates”) for most efficient absorption
  • Natural Preservatives (Mixed Tocopherols, Rosemary Extract)
  • No refined sugars (e.g. glucose, dextrose sucrose, corn syrup)

 

All Oxbow foods are formulated with the guidance of leading exotics veterinarians and nutritionists Oxbow foods are uniform, complete, and species and life-stage specific to meet the specific needs of pets.  Learn more about Oxbow foods at OxbowAnimalHealth.com

 

CONCENTRATE SELECTOR

Rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small animals are classified as “concentrate selectors.” As prey species in the wild, these animals are wired to select and eat the most energy-dense plant materials available, as quickly as possible. For domesticated pets, these instincts are no longer tied to survival, but they are still likely to lead to selective eating. Choosing a uniform food helps prevent this potentially unhealthy behaviour.

TYPES OF FOOD

Uniform Pellets Vs. Mixes

One of the biggest differences you will notice when comparing options in the food aisle is the visual contrast between uniform and mix-based foods.

What are the primary differences between these food types and which is the best choice for your pet? Let’s take a closer look.

 

Mix-Based Diets

  • Contain seeds, nuts, fruits & miscellaneous pieces which are often high in carbohydrates & simple sugars.
  • Typically, lower in fibre than uniform pellets.
  • Come in bright colours to appear “fun” & appeal to young customers.
  • Can lead to obesity, selective eating & GI illness.

 

Uniform Pellets

  • Prevent selective eating common amongst small pets.
  • Provide complete nutrition in every bite.
  • Typically, higher in fibre than mixes.
  • Less likely to contain added sugars, artificial colours or flavours.

 

 

CHELATED MINERALS: A More Absorbable Source

Fortified Food - Oxbow Essentials - Adult Rabbit Food In the wild, small animals receive all the minerals they need from the variety of plant material they consume. As pets, it’s important that these animals have access to high quality, bioavailable minerals via their daily food. Some minerals can be more difficult than others for small pets to absorb. Through the process of “chelation” minerals are bound to amino acids or other organic compounds to form a more easily absorbable mineral complex. Chelated minerals are designed to survive digestion and are more readily absorbed than their nonchelated counterparts. Chelated minerals can be typically be identified by the suffix “-ate” following a mineral’s chemical name. Oxbow foods contain chelated minerals in “proteinate” form (e.g. zinc proteinate).

All Oxbow foods are made with chelated minerals to ensure maximin absorbability of important compounds

 

 

PREBIOTICS vs. PROBIOTICS

Prebiotics: are non-digestible ingredients that provide food for the good bacteria in your pet’s GI tract. Fermentation of prebiotics within the GI tract produces beneficial fatty acids which aid in the digestion process. Examples of beneficial prebiotics to look for in a high-quality food include inulin (chicory root), yeast culture and hydrolysed yeast.

Probiotics: are live bacteria intended to maintain healthy levels of good bacteria in the GI tract. While probiotic supplements are popular in humans and certain pet species, these bacteria have not been proven to survive the manufacturing process in conventional foods, nor the acidic environment of the stomach. Additional research is also required to understand which specific strains of good bacteria exist in the GI tract of different small animals. Avoid foods making health claims relating to probiotics.

 

 

YOUNG vs. ADULT

The Importance of Choosing Life-Stage Specific Food

Small animals have specific nutritional needs at various stages in life. For example, young, growing and pregnant or lactating animals have higher energy requirements and should be offered food that is specifically designed to meet these needs. A lucerne-based uniform pellet provides a more nutrient-dense diet that supports animals during these stages of life. For adult animals, grass hay-based food provides appropriate levels of protein and fat to meet maintenance.

 

 


5 Things Your Rat Wants You to Know

5 Things Your Rat Wants You to Know

5 Things Your Rat Wants You to Know

  1. I love fresh veggies and fruit and sometimes even a crunchy bug.
  2. I am really smart so I can be trained and enjoy athletic challenges.
  3. Please don’t feed me with mixes of nuts, seeds and dried fruit.
  4. I’m an omnivore so I need to eat healthy protein and fats as well as fibre.
  5. I’m social so I’d love to share my home with another rat friend.

Your rat is an omnivore so he eats both plant & animal material. Most of a rat’s diet should include a complete fortified food/ pellets with veggies, greens and fruits offered in appropriate daily amounts.

Always ensure there is freshwater in both a sipper bottle and a tip-proof dish.

This nutrition wheel is a great guide showing how much and what sorts of food should be fed to your rat.

Did you know that mixes with nuts & seeds are not good for your rat? Rats tend to select those tempting bits over healthy food, and like humans, can overeat when bored. So it’s important to provide healthy foods in proper amounts.

Fresh vegetables, greens & fruits are an important part of your rat’s daily diet, as these offer important vitamins & nutrients, and also contribute hydration and enrichment to their daily routine.

Rats are super smart and can be trained to respond to their names, to fetch, to use a litter box & to even climb ropes! Choose a multi-level habitat with places to hide and play such as cardboard tubes, an exercise wheel, ropes and grass hay to burrow & nest.

Rats enjoy socialisation with both other rats & humans. Consider getting a de-sexed pair as companions. Rats need a cage with lots of space to play and burrow. Layer a solid bottomed cage (not wire) with soft bedding such Oxbow’s Pure Comfort which is ultra-absorbent and has minimal dust for your rat’s sensitive respiratory system. Avoid cedar & pine shavings which can irritate his lungs & skin.


5 Things Your Guinea Pig Wants You to Know

5 Things Your Guinea Pig Wants You to Know

5  Things Your Guinea Pig Wants You to Know

 

  1. I need Vitamin C every day in my food.
  2. I am most happy when I am with a friend.
  3. I’ll live a lot longer if you don’t feed me grains, corn and seeds.
  4. My cage is my home, please keep it clean and safe from predators.
  5. I love lots of fresh hay.

Guinea pigs LOVE fresh hay, this should make up most of the food you give them.

Not only is hay good for your piggy, it’s very important to keep his tummy healthy and teeth strong.

This nutrition wheel shows how much hay and pellets should be fed to your pet.

 


Did you know that grains, seeds and corn are not good for your guinea pig? These might be good for you to eat, but your piggy struggles to digest starch and may become overweight if fed these foods.

 

Vitamin C should be given to your guinea pig daily to prevent them from getting Scurvy, which can be really painful. All of Oxbow’s guinea pig pellets are made with stabilized Vitamin C, but if your piggy is not on Oxbow pellets then it will be a good idea to give them a Vitamin C supplement. Try Natural Science Vitamin C tablets.

 

Your guinea pig is social and would love a friend to interact with while you are at school or work. Please just make sure the companion you choose is the same sex or de-sexed so that they don’t fight or have babies which also need to be cared for. There are lots of piggies in the world needing loving homes and we don’t want to add to the problem of unwanted guinea pigs who need to be rescued.

 

How and where you keep your guinea pig’s cage is very important in keeping happy healthy pets. Think carefully about choosing the right size cage, cleaning it once a week and placing it in a cool place where your guinea pig won’t overheat. Remember if keeping your pet indoors that they do benefit from time in gentle sunlight.


5 Things Your Bunny Wants You to Know

5 Things Your Bunny Wants You to Know

5 Things Your Bunny Wants You to Know

  1. If I am desexed, I will live a happier, healthier life.
  2. I can easily be litter box trained and live indoors with you.
  3. I’ll live a lot longer if you don’t feed me grains, corn and seeds.
  4. Please vaccinate me against Calicivirus & protect me from biting insects that can make me very sick.
  5. I need LOTS of fresh hay.

 

Bunnies should LOVE fresh grass hay and this should make up most of the food you give them.

Not only is grass hay good for your bun, but it’s very important to keep his tummy healthy and teeth short & strong.

This nutrition wheel shows how much hay and pellets should be fed to your pet.

Did you know that grains, seeds and corn are not good for your rabbit? These might be good for you to eat, but bunnies struggle to digest starch and often become overweight & unhealthy if fed these foods.

Bunnies are clever creatures that can be litter box trained and live indoors where they will be protected from dogs, summer heat and exposure to illnesses. Just remember to rabbit-proof your home (power cords, plants etc.) to protect your bunny and your belongings.

 

Oxbow / Specialised Animal NutritionThree Reasons to Desex Your Rabbit:

1.) It minimises unwanted aggressive and territorial behaviours.

2.) It reduces the risk of illnesses such as cancer of the womb in females.

3.) There are so many bunnies in the world needing loving homes, we don’t want to add to the overpopulation problem.

 

Calicivirus and Myxomatosis are two very deadly illnesses facing rabbits. You can get your bun vaccinated against Calicivirus, but there is no vaccine for Myxomatosis in Australia, so it is important that you protect your bunny from biting insects like fleas and mosquitoes, which carry this disease.


Rabbit Nutrition

Rabbit Nutrition

The two primary keys to rabbit nutrition are providing plenty of fibre, primarily in the form of hay, and being consistent in what you feed. 

Rabbit Anatomy

First, let’s address the fibre issue.  Rabbits are hind gut fermentors meaning they digest much of their food in the caecum and colon (large intestine), which are at the end of the digestive tract.  In the rabbit, the caecum (in humans our appendix is our caecum) is a large blind-ended sac located at the junction of the small and large intestine.  The caecum is about 10 times as large as the stomach and makes up approximately 40% of the digestive tract.  Within the caecum, bacteria and protozoa aid digestion of foods taken in by the rabbit.

The Need for Fibre

Fibre is needed for bacteria and protozoa in the caecum to stay in balance and function properly. Fibre also stimulates motility or movement of the gastrointestinal tract and allows the rabbit to keep ingested food moving properly so that normal digestion can take place.  Without fibre the gastrointestinal tract slows down, resulting in subsequent changes in the caecum pH, fermentation, and bacterial population.

With time these changes result in rabbit indigestion or gastrointestinal (GI) stasis.  The rabbit with GI stasis will be anorexic or have a reduced appetite.  An affected rabbit produces very small stools or none at all and may be hunched or in pain due to increased gastrointestinal gas formation. Diarrhea may or may not be present.

Hay in the Rabbit’s Daily Diet

Since hay is the primary source of fibre in a rabbit’s diet, feed it free-choice, which means you always have plenty of fresh, good quality hay available for your bunny.

Hay is a dried, cured preserved plant product fed to animals.  The primary types of hay include grass hay (timothy, oaten, brome, and orchard) and legume hay (alfalfa/lucerne, clover, pea, and peanut).  Many factors go into the nutritional value and quality of hay. These include soil, weather conditions during growth and harvest, and the stage of maturity when the hay is harvested.  These factors will affect the appearance and palatability of the hay you purchase and how long it can be stored and stay in good condition.

What Hay to Feed

As a general rule we recommend grass hay over legume hay (timothy vs. lucerne) for the average adult house rabbit.  The primary reasons are that timothy hay is lower in protein and calcium and higher in fibre than most lucerne hay.  High dietary calcium has been associated with urine crystal or bladder stone formation.  Therefore, feeding timothy hay over lucerne hay can potentially prevent this problem.  The higher fibre helps keep the rabbit’s digestive system in balance and along with lower protein encourages the ingestion of nutrient-rich cecotrophs or night faeces.

When to Feed Lucerne

Lucerne can be fed to young bunnies under the age of six months since it provides extra calcium necessary for growing bones.  Just be sure you offer grass hay as well, so when it comes time to wean them to strictly grass hay they will know the taste and be less likely to resist change.

Furthermore, you can feed lucerne to rescue bunnies that are thin and weak or bunnies recovering from major surgery or severe illness.

Lucerne tends to be very appealing to the rabbit’s taste bud and will promote weight gain and give a nice bloom to the fur.
Another consideration is in our older bunnies, which during the last stages of their lives may have reduced appetites, and can be enticed to eat by offering lucerne.

Rabbit Pellets

When it comes to feeding pellets we recommend high-fibre pellets that are over 20% fibre and less than 16% protein.  As a general rule we recommend ¼ cup pellets per 1.13 kg of body weight per day. Of course this can vary.  Obese rabbits and rabbits with gastrointestinal motility problems need limited amounts of pellets, regardless of how much fibre the pellets contain.

Pet Care Veterinary Hospital’s pellet of choice is Oxbow Essentials – Adult Rabbit Food.  It is specifically formulated for the adult mature house rabbit and helps prevent obesity as well as urinary stone or ‘sludge’ problems (again because of the lower calcium level in timothy hay).  Also, if your bunny absolutely refuses to give up lucerne hay, the timothy-based pellet doesn’t compound the problems associated with eating excess lucerne.

Consistency in the Rabbit’s Diet

WOW!  All that time discussing fibre – but only because it is sooooo important!  The other key to maintaining a nutritionally healthy rabbit is consistency in what you feed.

If you stick with a consistent healthy diet, the bacterial population within the rabbit also stays healthy and consistent.  So, if we are to supplement our bunny’s hay and pellets with greens, vegetables and fruits, we need to be consistent and offer the same types of these foods every day.  The reason for this goes back to the all-important microbial (bacterial) population within the rabbit’s intestinal tract. These microbes thrive on consistency and stay in balance when offered the same foods to digest day-in and day-out.

You see, when you feed carrots, let’s say for three days, you stimulate the growth and reproduction of the bacteria that digests carrots.  Now if you stop the carrot for several days, those bacteria, which have a short life span die due to lack of carrot to digest.  When microbes die in large numbers they sometimes give off gas which can be painful and uncomfortable.  The rabbit can stop eating for awhile, and without new fibre intake, intestinal gut motility slows down.  This is the start of bunny indigestion, which can lead to gastrointestinal stasis or “hairball” syndrome if this pattern repeats itself.

Greens & Vegetables

Be consistent and intelligent in the types of and quantity of greens and vegetables you feed your rabbits.  Introduce vegetables one at a time to make sure each agrees with your rabbit’s digestive tract.

Approximately 1 cup vegetables per 1.8 kg of body weight daily are appropriate for most rabbits.  Some suggestions include: Cos lettuce, Butter crunch, Red leaf lettuce, Coriander, Parsley, Carrot tops, Dandelion greens and Kale.  Carrots aren’t my favourite (as they contain a lot of sugar and carbohydrates) – but if you must use them, feed only small amounts daily.  Avoid gas-forming vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.

Treats

Many owners want to offer treats to their rabbits.  A treat should be enjoyable to eat and provide interaction between you and your pet.

When fed in limited quantities, herbs (fresh or dried) or fruits can be offered as treats.  Pieces of banana or apple are favorites with rabbits.  Again, in order to prevent gastrointestinal upset, it is best to feed the same treats consistently.

Conclusion

I see so many rabbit health problems in my practice which are related to nutrition and improper diets.  Hopefully this information will help keep many a rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract moving smoothly and their overall health top notch.

 


Dr. Peter Fisher is owner and director of the Pet Care Veterinary Hospital in Virgina Beach, Virginia.
He specialises in the critical care of small mammal exotics.

References

  • Hillyer, EV, KE Quesenberry, and TM Donnelly.
  • “Biology, husbandry and clinical techniques [guinea pigs and chinchillas].” Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. Eds.
  • Quesenberry and Hillyer. Philadelphia: WB Saunders, 1997. 243-59.
  • Kupersmith, D. “A Practical Overview of Small Mammal Nutrition.” Seminars in Avian and Exotic Medicine 7:3, WB Saunders, (1998) 141-47.

Feeding the Adult Guinea Pig

Feeding the Adult Guinea Pig

Get to know your guinea pig’s digestive system, nutritional concerns and how to properly feed your adult guinea pig.

Guinea pigs are well developed at birth and within a few months are able to eat an adult diet. They are strict herbivores, that eat only plants, and like rabbits, are hind-gut fermentors that practice coprophagy (ingestion of one’s own faeces).

Digestive System

Coprophagy may be a source of B vitamins and a means of optimizing protein utilization.  However, its precise contribution to the nutritional needs of guinea pigs is not fully known.  As hind gut fermentors, guinea pigs digest much of their food in the caecum and colon (large intestine), which are at the end of the digestive tract.  The caecum, a large, thin-walled sac located at the junction of the small and large intestine, contains up to 65% of gastrointestinal (GI) contents.  Within the caecum, bacteria and protozoa aid digestion of foods taken in by the guinea pig.

Fibre

Fibre is needed for these bacteria and protozoa within the caecum to stay in balance and function properly.  Fibre also aids in maintaining normal GI motility or movement.  Without fibre, the gastrointestinal tract slows down, resulting in subsequent changes in the caecum pH, fermentation and bacterial population.  With time these changes in the intestinal tract environment can lead to indigestion.

You can provide this essential fibre by feeding your guinea pig free-choice grass hay. Oxbow recommends feeding unlimited quantities of timothy, orchard or oat hay.

Hay also helps prevent boredom by satisfying your guinea pig’s innate desire to chew, which is an important means of dental health maintenance.

In addition to hay, Oxbow’s Adult Guinea Pig Food is a high-fibre pelleted diet which contains stabilized vitamin C and is designed to meet the specific nutritional needs of your guinea pig.

Health Concerns

Guinea pigs are becoming a more valued, loved and cared for pet in the eyes of their owners, and as a result, veterinary care for guinea pigs has increased.  Veterinarians seeing guinea pigs are noticing several health problems attributed to nutrition: vitamin C deficiency, gastrointestinal ileus, obesity, enteritis and urolithiasis.

Vitamin C Deficiency

Signs of vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) include:

  • Hind leg weakness
  • Gum inflammation
  • Unkempt fur coat
  • Bleeding in the joints or under the skin.

Like humans, guinea pigs are unable to produce their own vitamin C and require a dietary source.  Daily requirements of vitamin C range from 20-50 mg per kg of body weight.  In order to prevent vitamin C deficiency and subsequent scurvy, Oxbow recommends feeding your guinea pig Adult Guinea Pig Food, a pelleted diet containing stabilized vitamin C.

Gastrointestinal Ileus

Gastrointestinal ileus (malfunction of the digestive tract due to gut slowdown) is commonly seen in guinea pigs on low-fibre diets. Many times pet owners do not notice the signs associated with gastrointestinal slowdown until it is too late.  Decreased appetite, a bloated or tense abdomen, along with lethargy and a decrease in the volume and size of faeces passed are all signs of gastrointestinal ileus.

Diets that incorporate high levels of nondigestible fibre in the form of free-choice grass hay promote increased gut motility and thereby prevent this gut slowdown.  Oxbow’s Adult Guinea Pig Food is made from high-quality timothy hay that provides the appropriate fibre needed for healthy digestive system function.

Obesity

Obesity in guinea pigs can lead to respiratory, heart and liver disease.  Typical guinea pig feeds on the market contain high levels of fat, commonly over 3% and as high as 5%.  These feeds contain corn, oats, and other grains that are designed to appeal to the consumer, but raise the starch and energy content of the food.  When these high-fat foods are fed freechoice, obesity can occur.

Obesity not only leads to the previously mentioned health problems, but can also prevent coprophagy, which is necessary for the maintenance of normal gastrointestinal health.  Oxbow’s Adult Guinea Pig Food was designed to prevent obesity by adding sufficient fibre, while at the same time eliminating grains that raise fat content.  This combination of high fibre and low fat aids in overall digestion.

The minimum fibre level of Oxbow’s Adult Guinea Pig Food is 25% and the maximum is 28%, thus providing a healthy balance of fibre and energy.

Enteritis

Enteritis (intestinal inflammation associated with toxin production) is a problem commonly associated with diets that contain high levels of energy (starch and glucose).  A low-fibre, high-starch diet promotes gut hypomotility and changes the intestinal pH and microbial population which allows pathogens (bad bacteria) to produce toxins that can be fatal.

The guinea pig with enteritis may have soft stools and be hunched and inactive due to increased GI gas production and the resulting abdominal pain.  High fibre, low-starch Adult Guinea Pig Food is formulated to prevent enteritis.

Urolithiasis

Urolithiasis (bladder stones) is being seen in more and more guinea pigs.  Although many are secondary to urinary tract infections, a certain percentage of stones are caused by an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus in the diet.

Grass hay is a forage feed, the natural diet for a wild guinea pig, has a higher calcium to phosphorus ratio.  Grains have the inverse relationship and contain more phosphorus than calcium.  Research has proven that diets containing an inverse ratio of calcium and phosphorus can cause stones and soft tissue calcifications.  Dietary levels of vitamin D and magnesium may also influence the development of bladder stones.

Oxbow’s Adult Guinea Pig Food provides the mature guinea pig with the proper calcium to phosphorus ratio and appropriate levels of vitamin D and magnesium.

Oxbow Essentials – Adult Guinea Pig Food

Oxbow Animal Health agrees with nutritionists and veterinarians that less nutrient dense diets are needed to prolong the lives of small mammals, especially guinea pigs and rabbits.

Adult Guinea Pig Food is specifically designed to meet the maintenance nutritional needs of the adult guinea pig.  The first ingredient in Adult Guinea Pig Food is timothy hay, which veterinarians recommend for improving the nutritional health of guinea pigs.  Timothy hay mirrors the proper calcium to phosphorus ratio found in natural forages, stimulates gastrointestinal motility, and aids in the prevention of obesity.

Through the science of nutrition, Oxbow Animal Health wants to provide adult guinea pigs with the opportunity to live longer and healthier lives.

 


Dr. Peter Fisher is owner and director of the Pet Care Veterinary Hospital in Virgina Beach, Virginia.
He specialises in the critical care of small mammal exotics.

References

  • Hillyer, EV, KE Quesenberry, and TM Donnelly.
  • “Biology, husbandry and clinical techniques [guinea pigs and chinchillas].” Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. Eds.
  • Quesenberry and Hillyer. Philadelphia: WB Saunders, 1997. 243-59.
  • Kupersmith, D. “A Practical Overview of Small Mammal Nutrition.” Seminars in Avian and Exotic Medicine 7:3, WB Saunders, (1998) 141-47.

 


Critical Care Fine Grind Usage Instructions

Critical Care Fine Grind Usage Instructions

Tips for Use of Critical Care Fine Grind in Smaller Nasogastric Tubes

Critical Care Fine Grind has been used successfully with nasogastric tubes as small as 5 French. The following tips are helpful for successful use with smaller gauge tubes:

Oxbow Critical Care Fine Grind powder is mixed with 2-3 parts warm water.

  1. Test product through the desired nasogastric tube using appropriately-sized syringes (see below) prior to placement in the patient. Flush the tube with warm water, and determine the amount of flush required to thoroughly rinse the tube.
  2. Smaller gauge tubes require smaller syringes. Larger syringes used with smaller nasogastric tubes produce increased pressure leading to difficulty/failure of product delivery. Limit syringe size to 3 ml with a 5 French tube, larger nasogastric tubes usually accommodate 10 ml and larger syringes.
  3. Deliver product slowly, with steady pressure. Rapid administration produces increased pressure and difficulty with or failure of product delivery.
  4. Mix product as indicated. Use of Critical Care Fine Grind with smaller nasogastric tubes does not require additional product dilution if used with appropriately-sized syringes.
  5. Flush nasogastric tube with warm, clean water after every feeding. Use an adequate volume to ensure complete rinsing of the tube.

Instructions for Placement of the Nasogastric Tube in the Rabbit

  1. Some patients benefit from sedation for this procedure. The authors recommend a combination of an opioid and a benzodiazepine (i.e. buprenorphine or butorphanol and midazolam) to reduce anxiety and stress. A local anesthetic (2% lidocaine gel or opthalmic drops) is placed into the rabbit’s nostril.
  2. Tube size is selected based on patient size; generally 5-8 Fr. argyle tubes are considered more pliable and resistant to degradation by stomach acid.
  3. Passage length of the tube is determined and marked by measuring from the tip of the nose to the last rib.
  4. The rabbit is carefully restrained to prevent patient injury, and the head flexed ventrally, which will aid passage of the tube into the esophagus instead of the trachea.
  5. A water-soluble lubricant or 2% lidocaine gel is applied to the tip of the tube and the tube gently introduced into the nostril, aiming ventrally and medially into the ventral meatus. A properly placed tube meets little resistance. The tube is advanced to the level of the stomach as indicated by the length previously marked on the tube.
  6. Verification of tube placement is determined by aspiration of stomach contents with a syringe. Placement of radiopaque nasogastric tubes can be confirmed radiographically.
  7. The tube is sutured to the medial aspect of the nostril and to the top of the head. Most rabbits do not require an Elizabethan collar, and tolerate the nasogastric tube well.

Placement of a 5 Fr argyle nasogastric tube in a rabbit.

Placement of a 3.5 Fr nasogastric tube into a guinea pig. Tube placement in smaller patients is possible with care (see text).

The nasogastric tube in place and sutured to the nare and the skin between the patient’s ears. Rabbits generally tolerate nasogastric tubes very well.

Feces of a test patient after three days of Fine Grind Critical Care administered via a nasogastric tube as the sole source of nutrition.


Critical Care for Herbivores – Frequently Asked Questions

Critical Care for Herbivores – Frequently Asked Questions

What is Critical Care and when do I use it?

Critical Care is to be used in animals that are not eating voluntarily and are under a veterinarian’s care. It is a complete feed that is prepared by adding water. Critical Care can also be used as a complete feed for those animals with advanced dental disease and require a soft food diet. When syringe feeding, we recommend using a catheter tipped syringe.

What is in Critical Care?

Critical Care is primarily composed of timothy hay and supplemented with oat groats, soy beans and wheat germ for added energy that is needed by nutritionally stressed animals that are ill, recovering from surgery, or need additional food supplementation. Electrolytes and stabilized vitamin C are also added.

How many meals will Critical Care make?

Package Size Total prepared ml in package Number of 10 ml meals in package Number of 15 ml meals in package Number of 20 ml meals in package
141 gm pouch 520 52 35 26
454 gm bottle 1,660 166 112 83

How much Critical Care should I use?

The recommended amount is to feed 50 cc of mixed product per kilogram of bodyweight (generally, divide this amount into 4-6 meals per day).

Weight of animal (kg) 3 meals / day 4 meals / day 5 meals / day 6 meals / day
0.5 8 ml 6 ml 5 ml 4 ml
0.9 15 ml 11 ml 9 ml 8 ml
1.4 23 ml 17 ml 14 ml 11 ml
2.3 38 ml 28 ml 23 ml 19 ml
3.2 53 ml 40 ml 32 ml 27 ml

How long will Critical Care last?

Approximate length of time a 141 gm pouch will last when used at the standard rate of 50 cc per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of body weight.

Weight of animal (kg) Mixed at a 1:1.5 ratio
0.9 11 days
2.3 5 days
4.6 3 days

It’s too thick; can I mix more water with the Critical Care?

Yes, due to the physical characteristics of the hay in the Critical Care, absorption properties can differ from one batch to the next. More water can be added to reach the consistency of tomato sauce.

How do I get the Critical Care in the syringe? I can’t pull it up through the tip?

Most often it is necessary to remove the plunger and spoon in from the top. If using a catheter tipped syringe, it may be possible to pull it up through the tip depending on the amount of water used.

What is the shelf life?

Use before “Best By” date stamped on product. This is generally 2 years from manufacture date. Use within 6 months of opening the package. It can be frozen to extend its shelf life an additional 6 months.

What is the shelf life after it is mixed?

Unused mixed Critical Care should be refrigerated and used within 24 hours. More water will need to be added as the fibre will absorb more moisture the longer it is left in contact with water.

What happens if I use outdated Critical Care?

Critical Care will still work as an appetite stimulant on a short term basis, even if the product is outdated. For longer terms, do not use outdated product. *For additional information on nutritional management contact your veterinarian or call Oxbow Pet Products.

Why can’t I purchase Critical Care in a store or on Oxbow’s website?

Critical Care is designed for animals that are not eating. When an animal is not eating, it is a symptom of an underlying health problem that must be diagnosed properly by an animal health care provider. The pet may have an intestinal blockage, which could be made worse by force-feeding food into the system. By not addressing the underlying health problem, your animal’s condition may get worse instead of better.


Critical Care for Herbivores – Information for Pet Owners

Critical Care for Herbivores – Information for Pet Owners

Dear Pet Owner,

Your veterinarian recommends using Oxbow’s Critical Care™ for your pet. Critical Care™ is a superior pet food which can be given voluntarily or by syringe feeding to herbivores which are unable to eat their normal diet due to illness or surgery. The special composition of this high-fibre timothy hay based product ensures an improved physiological gut environment and aids proper digestion.

How do I prepare Critical Care for Herbivores?

Mix one part of the powder with 2 parts of warm water. Please ensure Critical Care is fed at room temperature or warmer.

Critical Care should ideally be prepared fresh for each feed. If necessary, the powder when premixed with water can be refrigerated up to 24 hours.

If the consistency of the prepared feed is too thick, you can add water at any time until you have the desired consistency. (Remember if you increase the water content in the preparation of Critical Care™ for a thinner liquid consistency, you will also need to increase the total volume of the meals to ensure the animal’s energy and nutrient requirements are met.)

What methods of feeding are there?

  1. Place the prepared feed in a bowl.
  2. Offer the feed on a small spoon.
  3. Administer using a syringe in small amounts between the lips. Not too much or your pet could choke. Special syringes from your vet will facilitate this type of feeding. Often it will be necessary to take the plunger out of the syringe and scoop the feed into the back of the syringe. Insert the plunger and the syringe is ready to use. The product cannot be siphoned up through the tip unless a catheter tipped syringe is used.
  4. In special cases, your veterinarian can administer Critical Care™, prepared with more water, with special feeding tubes.
  5. Form into small balls for the transition period from the liquid to a staple diet. This is done by using less water during preparation.
  6. Sprinkle a little of the powder as a top dressing on normal food to improve the taste. You can also mist your animal’s hay with water and then sprinkle the powder onto the food, giving the powder better adherence.

How much do I feed and when?

The required amount of Critical Care™ for each animal depends on a number of factors, such as animal type, age, weight, and clinical condition.  The daily amount for any particular animal may be adjusted based on veterinary recommendation.

Generally, for a herbivorous mammal, the amount is 3 tablespoons of dry product or 50 ml of mixed product daily per kilogram of body weight.  A weaker animal should often be given more frequent, smaller meals.

The following table provides information on how much to administer at each feeding.

Body Weight Amount Per Day No. of feeds per day with feeding amounts
3x 4x 5x 6x 7x
0.5 kg 25 ml 8 ml 6 ml 5 ml 4 ml 3 ml
1.0 kg 50 ml 17 ml 13 ml 10 ml 8 ml 7 ml
1.5 kg 75 ml 25 ml 19 ml 15 ml 13 ml 11 ml
2.0 kg 100 ml 33 ml 25 ml 20 ml 17 ml 14 ml
2.5 kg 125 ml 42 ml 31 ml 25 ml 21 ml 18 ml
3.0 kg 150 ml 50 ml 38 ml 30 ml 25 ml 21 ml
3.5 kg 175 ml 58 ml 44 ml 35 ml 29 ml 25 ml
4.0 kg 200 ml 67 ml 50 ml 40 ml 33 ml 29 ml

Although Critical Care™ contains all the essential nutrients for a complete on-going diet, it is intended for short-term assistance before returning the animal to its regular staple diet. As soon as your pet starts to eat normally, the Critical Care™ ration is reduced gradually day by day.

Fresh water should be available at all times. Weak, dehydrated animals may also require additional fluids to be administered by a veterinarian.

How do I get started when syringe feeding?

Often when syringe feeding, it is not the food that deters the animal from eating, but the procedure of restraint. So it’s very important that the caregiver remains calm and relaxed. Slow and deliberate movements with frequent breaks will decrease the stress for both the animal and the caregiver.

Tips:

  • Take a deep breath and relax
  • Get on the floor or in a location where the animal is comfortable
  • Give a syringe of water to the animal prior to feeding
  • Stroke or massage the animal
  • Feed in small amounts between the lips

Instructions for Species

Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs with a poor appetite particularly benefit from the Critical Care™ nutrition. The product contains proper quantities of stablised Vitamin C, which is critically important for these animals. Their Vitamin C requirement increases as much as 10 times when under stress.

Feeding directions for a guinea pig weighing 1 kilogram: Feed 50 ml of Critical Care™ prepared with water daily over the course of several meals. Depending on the situation, this could be comprised of 3 meals of approximately 17 ml, or 5 meals of 10 ml.

Guinea pigs need fibre rich nutrition several days after birth. Critical Care™ can be used as a rearing feed for orphaned young.

Rabbits

A sick or post surgical rabbit or any rabbit with deficient intake of nutrients also benefit greatly from Critical Care™. Remember that rabbits are easily stressed by change or when syringe feeding. Therefore the feed should be administered as carefully and calmly as possible. Ideally rabbits should be fed Critical Care(TM) every 3 to 4 hours. If this causes the animal too much stress, limit the feed to 3 times daily.

Feeding instructions for a rabbit weighing 2 kilograms: The daily ration consists of 100 ml of mixed Critical Care™ mixed with water. Feed several small meals per day. See the feeding chart for specifics on meal sizes.

Other Herbivores

Herbivorous reptiles, birds, and larger mammals (including macropods), can also be fed Critical Care™ when required. The estimate given above for feed recommendations of 50 ml Critical Care™ mixed with water per kilo or body weight is not the same for all animal species. To ensure an appropriate supply in individual cases, please refer to your veterinarian for specific caloric needs.

How do I evaluate successful feeding?

Look for normal appearing faeces – round and consistent; the animal gaining weight; the bowel movement normalizing and bloating decreasing; after a few weeks there may also be an improvement in hair and skin.

What do I do if my pet does not like Critical Care™?

Most animals enjoy eating Critical Care™. But some animals are accustomed to a certain taste and some are so weak that they refuse everything.

Here are a few helpful suggestions in this situation:

  • Always prepare the feed fresh.
  • Make sure that you use warm water to intensify the product’s natural aroma.
  • Initially give a very small amount so the animal can get used to the taste.
  • Try again a little later.
  • For syringe feeding, please use an oral or catheter tipped syringe from your veterinarian.
  • If necessary you can optimize the taste for your pet by temporarily mixing in a small amount of a highly palatable treat, such as a grated apple. [NOTE: sugary fruits and vegetables (apple, banana, carrot) can result in abnormal digestion in rabbits and guinea pigs, so ensure that these items are a very minimal part of the diet.]

Remember that if you are upset and stressed in an assisted feeding situation it can upset the animal. Be calm and patient and take a break if the meal is becoming a battle for either of you. Try again a little later. Or call your vet and discuss the situation.

Why Critical Care™?

Our goal at Oxbow is to provide the very best nutrition products for small herbivore pets and the very best nutrition education for their owners.

We created Critical Care™ based on vet requests at the 1999 International Conference on Exotics. These exotic animal vets needed a high fibre, specialised feed to assist them in treating small herbivores and returning their digestive systems to a healthy state after illness. Critical Care™ has now become the industry standard across Asia, Europe and North America for syringe feeding rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and many other herbivores.

Our many happy customers around the world report that Critical Care™ has a profound effect on the recovery of their precious little friends. We hope that you and your pet have the same wonderful outcome.

 


How to feed the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) gastrointestinal tract

How to feed the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) gastrointestinal tract

N. A. Irlbeck – Department of Animal Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins 80523-117

Rabbits are found in virtually every country in the world, providing protein, fiber, animal research, and companionship (third to dogs and cats). Because of an ability to utilize low-grain and highroughage diets, they have the potential to be a future protein source.

Abstract

Classified as an herbivorous nonruminant, rabbits have a simple, noncompartmentalized stomach along with an enlarged cecum and colon inhabited by a microbial population (primarily Bacteroides). Rabbits practice coprophagy, which enhances strategies of high feed intake (65 to 80 g/kg BW) and fast feed transit time (19 h), allowing rabbits to meet nutritional requirements. Coprophagy also increases protein digestibility (50 vs 75-80% for alfalfa). Feces are excreted on a circadian rhythm, and data indicate that the internal cycle differs when shifting from ad libitum to restricted feeding. Microbes digest cellulose (14% in rabbits vs 44% in cattle) in the hindgut of the rabbit, but the contribution of amino acids from microbial protein is thought to be minimal. Lysine and methionine may be limited in traditional diets, and urea is not utilized.

Acetate is the primary microbial VFA, with more butyrate than propionate. Unlike ruminants, more VFA are produced on starch than on forage diets; however, VFA provide limited energy for maintenance. Fiber is essential to maintain gut health, stimulate gut motility (insoluble fiber only), and reduce fur chewing. Low-fiber diets result in gut hypomotility, reduced cecotrope formation, and prolonged retention time in the hindgut. High-starch diets may be incompletely digested in the small intestine due to rapid transit times, resulting in enteritis. Low-energy grains like oats are preferred. Low-protein concentrations increase cecotrope consumption and high levels decrease it. Finely ground feeds lead to enteritis, so a coarse grind is recommended. Rabbits have an unusual calcium metabolism, absorbing Ca without vitamin D facilitation; the excess calcium is excreted in the urine (parathyroid hormone and calcitonin regulate serum Ca levels). Diets high in Ca (alfalfa based) may result in kidney damage for animals at maintenance. Correct feeding management based on the idiosyncrasies of the rabbit gastrointestinal tract will maximize production for future meat production. A balanced diet containing adequate fiber (20 to 25%), minimal starch, and optimum protein concentration is the key to preventing gastrointestinal distress.

Introduction

Domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are found in virtually every country in the world, providing protein, fiber, research models, and companionship; they rank third in number to dogs and cats as companion animals in the United States. Almost everyone has had a rabbit in the backyard at one time or another. But have you ever taken the time to actually consider the physiological idiosyncrasies of the rabbit and how they apply to feeding? As a child, I was instructed to feed my rabbits alfalfa hay and an ear of corn. In the summer, I was “lucky” enough to have the chore of pulling grass for them. Today, pet owners are advised to feed a complete pelleted diet, supplemented with grass hay and small amounts of produce. Commercial rabbitries throughout the country feed a complete pelleted diet (alfalfa-based) with various supplemental feeds.

Rabbits can utilize low-grain and high-roughage diets (McNitt et al., 1996). Because rabbits are able to utilize this type of diet, are able to breed year-round, and have a “quick” generation interval, they are uniquely poised to provide animal protein for developing countries, where grain can only be justified for human use. It must be clarified, however, that rabbits are not able to survive solely on poor-quality, low-energy forages. Due to their small size and high metabolic rate, a high-quality forage is needed. So, what is the correct way to feed rabbits? An in-depth evaluation of the digestive tract of adult rabbits may help to understand potential complexities when feeding this unique animal.

Classification and Description of the Gut

Rabbits are herbivores, are concentrate selectors, and are classified as hindgut (cecum and colon) fermentors (Cheeke, 1987; McNitt et al., 1996). Because there are no mammalian enzymes to break down the cellulose components of their plant-based diets, rabbits as well as other herbivores have a symbiotic microbe population (primarily Bacteroides). Ruminants have a voluminous area (rumen) within the gastrointestinal tract where fiber fermentation occurs. The omasum limits the removal of fiber from the rumen until fermentation is complete. In horses, also a hindgut fermentor, the colon is the major site for the microbial population and fiber fermentation. Horses compensate for reduced fiber digestion by consuming more forage and increasing its passage rate through the gastrointestinal tract. Because of a smaller body size and higher metabolic rate than horses, rabbits rely on other adaptations for forage utilization (Cheeke, 1987).

In rabbits, the microbial population is found in the cecum. The rabbit cecum is very large, compared with the rest of the gut (Stevens and Hume, 1995) and forms a spiral that fills the abdominal cavity. The cecum has a capacity 10 times that of the rabbit’s stomach, about 40% of the gastrointestinal tract (Jenkins, 1999). Instead of completely fermenting fiber, rabbits utilize a mechanism to sort out indigestible fiber and expel it from the body, a process that is a specialized feeding strategy that overcomes poor-quality protein (Carabano and Piquer, 1998; Jenkins, 1999). This sorting mechanism occurs as digesta enter the rabbit large intestine and muscular contractions facilitate the separation of fiber and nonfiber (protein, soluble carbohydrates, etc.) fractions. A series of peristaltic (move fiber through colon) and antiperistaltic waves (move fluid and nonfiber components to cecum for fermentation) separate out nonfiber fractions for further fermentation in the cecum (Cheeke, 1987; Carabano and Piquer, 1998); particle size and density aid separation (Cheeke, 1994). The fiber components are voided from the body (day, or hard, feces) about 4 h after consumption of the diet (Cheeke, 1994). After fermentation of the nonfiber components in the cecum, a pellet is formed (called a cecotrope, also soft, or night, feces) that is voided from the body approximately 8 h after consumption of the diet (Cheeke, 1994). A neural response (Jenkins, 1999) or the strong odor of VFA (Stevens and Hume, 1995) in the cecotrope seem to stimulate its consumption directly from the anus. This practice of consuming cecotropes is called copraphagy, or cecotrophy (Cheek, 1987). In natural settings, copraphagy usually occurs during the day, opposite of feed intake and the voiding of hard feces, in a circadian rhythmic pattern (Carabano and Piquer, 1998; Jenkins, 1999), and is an integral part of the rabbit’s digestion process (Cheeke, 1994). If a rabbit is equipped with a collar preventing copraphagy, the digestion of the diet is significantly reduced, even when a highly digestible diet is fed.

Because of their small body size, if allowed to consume a diet ad libitum, rabbits will daily eat an amount that approximates 5% of their body weight in dry matter and drink about 10% of their body weight in water (Okerman, 1994). Even at this intake, if a rabbit were to consume only low-quality forages, there would be insufficient energy and nutrients to meet its metabolic requirements. However, if rabbits at maintenance are fed a high-quality pelleted diet for ad libitum consumption, they will become obese (Cheeke, 1994; Brooks, 1997). A recommended amount of 26 g of high fiber (25% crude fiber) pellet per kilogram of BW is recommended to maintain body condition (Jenkins, 1999). Rabbits require a diet of 2,200 kcal/kg of diet (as cited by Cheeke, 1994), or 2.2 kcal/g of diet. If a 3.64-kg rabbit is fed according to Jenkins’s recommendation (1999) of 26 g/kg BW, the animal will be consuming 208 kcal of energy (94.64 g × 2.2 kcal/g = 208 kcal). If a rabbit is allowed ad libitum consumption of the pelleted diet, 5% of BW, it will almost double Jenkins’s (1999) recommended allowance, resulting in a higher energy intake and ultimately obesity.

When allowed to select their own diet in a natural setting, rabbits will select the most tender, succulent plant parts or the plant parts that are most nutrientdense and lowest in available cell walls. Some researchers call animals that practice this type of eating behavior concentrate selectors, a practice that allows the animal to meet the dietary requirements for their high metabolic rate (Cheeke, 1994). Their chosen selections are low in fiber and high in carbohydrate and protein; therefore, a larger gut volume is not needed. Rabbits simply eliminate fiber as quickly as possible from their gastrointestinal tract. Rabbits have high feed intake (65 to 80 g/kg BW) and fast feed transit time (19 h), which enable them to consume lower-quality forages and still meet nutritional requirements (Carabano and Piquer, 1998).

Most problems seen in rabbit production (commercial and companion animal) involve the gastrointestinal tract. Enteritis is the primary gastrointestinal disorder, and it often results in diarrhea (Cheeke, 1994). This disorder is often a result of an imbalance in normal microflora in the gut, whether that imbalance is due to insufficient fiber, too much starch, or the addition of antibiotics to the diet. Understanding the idiosyncrasies of the rabbit gut and how dietary components affect that microbe population is a key to proper feeding management. These issues are discussed next.

Gut Microbes and Utilization of Fiber

As stated earlier, rabbits have a symbiotic microbe population found in the hindgut responsible for fiber fermentation. When compared with other herbivores, actual fiber digestion capability for rabbits is relatively low (14% for alfalfa hay in rabbits compared with 44% in cattle, 41% in horses, and 22% in hogs) (McNitt et al., 1996). The actual crude fiber component of most forages fed is only 20 to 25% (McNitt et al., 1996), depending on forage maturity. Obviously, the more mature a forage, the higher the crude fiber. Examples of crude fiber in forages from the United States-Canadian Tables of Feed Composition (NRC, 1982) are 23% in early bloom alfalfa (31% ADF, 40% NDF), 38% in mature alfalfa (44% ADF, 57% NDF), 28% in early bloom timothy (32% ADF, 61% NDF), and 32% in full-bloom bluegrass (38% ADF, 68% NDF). This is comparable to the range of 12 (low fiber) to 25% (high fiber) crude fiber found in rabbit pellets (Brooks, 1997). Other nonfiber fractions of forage, protein, and soluble carbohydrates are easily digested by rabbits.

In rabbits, dietary fiber has a critical role in maintaining gut health, stimulating gut motility (insoluble fiber only), reducing fur chewing, and preventing enteritis (McNitt, et al., 1996; Brooks, 1997). Rabbits need a minimum dietary fiber level of 20 to 25% to maintain gut health. Diets less than 20 to 25% fiber result in gut hypomotility, reduced cecotrope formation, prolonged retention time in the hindgut, and often enteritis (Cheeke, 1994; Jenkins, 1999). Composition of the hard feces and the cecotrope is influenced by the diet. If dietary fiber concentration increases, the fiber composition of the fecal pellets also increases. Thus, high-quality fiber is essential for gut health in rabbits (McNitt et al., 1996; Stein and Walshaw, 1996). Fiber fermentation in rabbits does not seem to be enhanced by coprophagy (as cited by Cheeke, 1994).

Microbes in rabbit gut produce VFA, as do microbes in the rumen of a cow. In rabbits fed a traditional alfalfa/corn diet, acetate is the primary volatile fatty acid produced by microbes, with more butyrate than propionate being formed. Butyrate is the preferred energy source for the hindgut (Stevens and Hume, 1995; Gidenne et al., 1998; Jenkins, 1999). Microbes in rabbits produce more VFA on starch-based diets than on forage diets (Cheeke, 1994). Stevens and Hume (1995) indicate that VFA provide a major energy source in rabbit colon.

Gut microflora of rabbits are sensitive to most antibiotics (McNitt et al., 1996). If antibiotics are fed, the microbe population is altered, favoring E. coli and Clostridia organisms that produce toxins harming the gut lining, causing diarrhea and enterotoxemia (Cheeke, 1994; Stein and Walshaw, 1996; Brooks, 1997). Antibiotics that may cause this effect include lincomycin, ampicillin, amoxicillin, procaine penicillin, cephalexin, erythromycin, clindamycin, tylosin, and metronidazole. The actual effect from each of the drugs will differ between animals (Stein and Walshaw, 1996). Oxytetracycline, virginiamycin (Cheeke, 1994), or tetracycline (Brooks, 1997) are exceptions and are used as growth promotants, and sulfaquinoxaline is to control coccidia (Brooks, 1997). Under no circumstances should the inophore monensin be fed to rabbits; it is toxic even at low concentrations (McNitt et al., 1996; Martin, 2000).

Utilization of Protein

In ruminants, microbial protein satisfies the major amino acid requirement for the animal. However, this is not true for rabbits. Even though amino acids produced by bacteria may be available via coprophagy (especially lysine, sulfur amino acids, and threonine; Carabano and Piquer, 1998), research has shown that microbial protein plays only a minor role in meeting a rabbit’s protein and amino acid needs (McNitt, 1996). The majority of microbial protein utilized by the animal is digested in the colon (Stevens and Hume, 1995). As a result, synthetic amino acids are often added to commercial rabbit diets to fully meet amino acid needs, particularly lysine and methionine, which may be limiting amino acids in traditional alfalfa-corn diets (McNitt et al., 1996). Cecotropes do, however, contain approximately 28% crude protein (Stevens and Hume, 1995).

Rabbits are able to digest protein in forages quite well; rabbits can digest 75 to 85% of alfalfa protein, whereas hogs digest less than 50% (McNitt et al., 1996). This capability of utilizing protein from a forage source may be an added asset in developing countries where less grain and protein sources are available for animal consumption. Urea is recycled by the rabbit large intestine in a manner similar to that occuring in the rumen (Stevens and Hume, 1995). However, when dietary urea is fed to rabbits, it is not well utilized by microbes. Prolonged feeding of 0.5% urea in the diet of rabbits will result in liver or kidney lesions (Cheeke, 1994). Urea is converted to ammonia in rabbit gut, and when absorbed, it results in toxicity.

Ingestion of cecotropes is influenced by dietary protein and energy. When an animal is fed a low-energy diet, cecotrope ingestion is maximized (Jenkins, 1999). When an animal is fed a diet for ad libitum consumption, dietary protein and fiber concentration affect cecotrope consumption. Low levels of dietary protein fed to rabbits increase cecotrope consumption and high levels of protein decrease consumption, which seems to be a proteinsparing mechanism (Cheeke, 1994). Coprophagy has been found to increase protein digestibility (50 vs 75 to 80% for alfalfa) of forages in rabbits. As indicated earlier, feces are excreted according to a circadian rhythm. Data indicate that the internal cycle differs when shifting from ad libitum to restricted feeding, which compromises growth. Care should be taken when feeding high levels of dietary protein because excess protein may increase cecal ammonia levels, causing an increase in cecal pH (Cheeke, 1994). This rise in pH may allow pathogens to flourish and may increase the potential for enteritis.

Utilization of Starch

High-starch diets are often incompletely digested in rabbit small intestine due to rapid transit times (McNitt et al., 1996). Incomplete chemical digestion of the starch results in the availability of starch for microbial fermentation (Stevens and Hume, 1995). Excess starch in the gut results in an extremely rapid growth of microbes. If toxin-producing microbes (primarily Clostridium spiroforme) are in residence, high levels of starch may lead to enteritis and possible death (McNitt et al., 1996; Jenkins, 1999). Because of potential incomplete starch digestion, low-energy grains such as oats are preferred over corn or wheat (Cheeke, 1994). Grains processed too finely can lead to rapid bacterial fermentation of the starch and cause enterotoxemia. Thus, a coarse grind is recommended. The addition of copper sulfate (125 to 250 ppm) to rabbit diets sometimes lowers the incidence of enteritis (Cheeke, 1994). Copper sulfate is commonly used in swine and poultry diets and acts by inhibiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria.

Pellet Quality

Rabbits seem to perform better when fed pellets than when they are fed mixed grains or textured feeds, primarily because the animals are not able to sort out preferred items (Cheeke, 1994). For example, pelleted dehydrated alfalfa is preferred to alfalfa in its natural form. Rabbits, like most other animals, will select only the alfalfa leaves and leave the stems uneaten. This feeding practice results in a low-fiber diet and potential enteritis. Pellets need to be hard and durable, because rabbits prefer not to eat the fines. If an animal does eat too many fines or if the particle size is too small, there will be an increase in retention time in the gut, reduced gut motility, and enteritis. Large indigestible fiber particles are needed for normal cecal-colonic motility (Cheeke, 1994). Hypomotility of the gut predisposes an animal to enteritis. Feeding pellets of small diameter (0.5 cm) results in greater feed wastage. Maertens and Villamide (1998) recommend a pellet length for rabbits of 0.8 to 1.0 cm, because longer pellets will cause greater breakage and production of smaller pellets. McNitt et al. (1996) suggest that a solid and firm pellet of 0.63 cm in length and 0.47 cm in diameter is optimum for rabbits.

Calcium Metabolism

Rabbits have an unusual calcium metabolism, absorbing calcium without vitamin D facilitation and activation of calcium-binding proteins in the gut (McNitt et al., 1996; Jenkins, 1999), resulting in excess calcium being excreted in the urine. In most mammals, less than 2% of dietary Ca is excreted in the urine, but in rabbits it is much higher. In one study cited by Jenkins (1999), the fractional excretion of Ca was 44% when animals were fed a “typical” commercial diet. Because rabbits can absorb Ca without the facilitation of vitamin D, a mechanism is needed to regulate serum Ca levels. Parathyroid hormone and calcitonin are thought to prevent serum Ca levels from becoming dangerously high due to dietary influence. Diets high in calcium (alfalfa-based) may result in kidney damage for animals at maintenance levels (Cheeke, 1994) because homeostatic mechanisms are not as effective as in other species. Prolonged high dietary calcium will result in calcification of soft tissues such as aorta and kidney (Cheeke, 1994) and formation of kidney stones. This calcification is intensified if rabbits are supplemented with vitamin D, as is often found with commercial rabbit pellets.

Implications

Feeding a traditional alfalfa and corn diet or an alfalfabased pelleted diet is not the key to feeding or managing the rabbit gut for optimal production and maintenance. Traditional alfalfa is high in protein and calcium, which are both of concern for rabbit production. Corn is high in starch, and high levels of starch result in enteritis. Alfalfa is recommended for growing rabbits; however, one should feed mature animals a maintenance diet of grass hay with less protein and calcium along with minimal amounts (26 g) of high-fiber (25% crude fiber) pellets per kilogram of body weight. Amounts of high-fiber pellets can be increased as energy demands for gestation and lactation increase. Ultimately, correct feeding of rabbits includes high fiber from grass hay, low starch, and moderate protein and calcium levels. This feeding strategy helps maintain balanced gut microbial populations and coincides with potential feed sources available in developing countries.


Literature Cited

  1. Brooks, D. 1997. Nutrition and Gatrointestinal Physiology. In: E. V. Hillyer and K. E. Quesenberry (ed.) Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents–Clinical Medicine and Surgery. p 169. W.B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia.
  2. Carabano, R., and J. Piquer. 1998. The Digestive System of the Rabbit. In: C. de Blas and J. Wiseman (ed.) The Nutrition of the Rabbit. p 1. CABI Publishing, London.
  3. Cheeke, P. R. 1987. Rabbit Feeding and Nutrition. Academic Press, New York.
  4. Cheeke, P. R. 1994. Nutrition and Nutritional Diseases. In: P. J. Manning, D. H. Ringler and C. E. Newcomer (ed.) The Biology of the Laboratory Rabbit. 2nd ed. p 321. Academic Press, New York.
  5. Gidenne, T., R. Carabana, J. Garcia, and C. de Blas. 1998. 5. Fibre Digestions. In: C. de Blas and J. Wiseman (ed.) The Nutrition of the Rabbit. p 69. CABI Publishing, London.
  6. Jenkins, J. R. 1999. Feeding Recommendations for the House Rabbit. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice. vol. 2. p 143. W.B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia.
  7. Maertens, L., and M. J. Villamide. 1998. 13. Feeding Systems for Intensive Production. In: C. de Blas and J. Wiseman (ed.) The Nutrition of the Rabbit. p 241. CABI Publishing, London.
  8. Martin, N. 2000. Personal Communication. Nutritionist, Ranchway Feeds, Fort Collins, Colorado.
  9. McNitt, J. I., P. R. Cheeke, N. M. Patton, and S. D. Lukefahr. 1996. Rabbit Production. Interstate Publishers, Inc., Danville, IL.
  10. NRC. 1982. United States-Canadian Tables of Feed Composition. 3rd ed. National Academy of Press, Washington, DC.
  11. Okerman, L. 1994. Diseases of Domestic Rabbits. 2nd ed. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.
  12. Stein, S., and S. Walshaw. 1996. Rabbits. In: K. Laber-Laird, M. M. Swindle, and P. Flecknell (ed.) Handbook of Rodent and Rabbit Medicine. p 183. Pergamon Press, England.
  13. Stevens, C. E., and I. D. Hume. 1995. Comparative Physiology of the Vertebrate Digestive System. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Application of Hay Science

Application of Hay Science

One way veterinarians can improve the nutritional management of their small herbivore patients is to educate their clients about hay. 

Feeding Physiology

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Additional Reading
  1. Chiou PW, Chang LinBY: Effect of different components of dietary fiber on the intestinal morphology of domestic rabbits. Comp Biochem Physio 108A(4): 629-638, 1994.
  2. Irlbeck NA: How to feed the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) gastrointestinal tract. J Anim Sci 79 (E Suppl):343-346, 2001.
  3. Van Soest PJ: Allometry and ecology of feeding behavior and digestive capacity of herbivores: A review revisited. Proc Comparative Nutrition Society, 2002, p 5.
  4. Oregon State University, Forage Information System. Available at http://forages.orst.edu/. Accessed Dec 21, 2002.

 


Dawn Hromanik
Oxbow Pet Products
Murdock, Nebraska

Dawn Hromanik graduated with a BS in Animal Science from Oklahoma State University where she worked as an animal caretaker in Laboratory Animal Science at the College of Veterinary Medicine and as a lab technician in the nonruminant nutrition laboratory at the Department of Animal Sciences. Following graduation, she worked for a farmers’ cooperative feed company as a Livestock Production Specialist developing feeding rations and animal health programs. She served as Director of Nutrition and Product Development for Oxbow Pet Products.  Dawn’s special area of interest is nutritional management of uroliths in guinea pigs and rabbits.