Monthly Archives: March 2010

Rabbits. Looking after your rabbit


Rabbits can make a great pet. They are cute and usually quite friendly especially if handled well from a young age.  They can live for up to 8 or 10  years of age and bond well with their owners. Rabbits can live outside in a hutch, however they can also be trained to use a litter tray and live indoors.  Be warned though – they tend to chew through cables so you need a rabbit proof house before you let one loose.

Here is a some veterinary advice on important issues for rabbit owners in Ireland.

Important Healthcare information.


One of the main reasons vets see rabbits is due to dental problems. Rabbits teeth grow continuously, therefore they need to spend lots of time grazing to keep their teeth worn down.  Wild rabbits eat hay and grass – so  this is a good place to start with our pet rabbits. Avoid lots of carrots and lettuce. This can be too rich and means they will not spend enough time eating. Also be careful about mixed pellets – rabbits will select the tastiest morsels and leave the rest behind. This can results in your bunny becoming overweight and often they can get teeth problems.

We recommend feeding ad lib hay and water. If you are feeding dry mix use “Supa Rabbit” from Burgess pet foods – available in our clinics. An occasional piece of carrot once a week will do as a treat!

Dental problems in rabbits can be very difficult to resolve – they often result in eye problems or abscesses.

It is a good idea to have a block of wood or an apple tree branch in your rabbits hutch – this gives him something to gnaw on.

Fresh water is essential – bowls or bottles are fine. If you are using water bottles check every day to make sure the nipple is not blocked.

Outdoor rabbits can graze the grass – it is possible to get hutches that sit directly on the grass. This allows your rabbit to graze without becoming prey for a dog or cat. Rabbits are tougher than you think and can defend themselves well. We have lots of clients whose rabbits live in harmony with their dogs and cats.


Rabbits can be affected by myxomatosis , a deadly virus that is spread by fleas and other insects. Signs include swelling on the skin particularly the eyes, mouth and genitalia. It is frequently fatal. We recommend annual vaccinations to help prevent this disease in our rabbits.

Here is a useful link to a site with info on mysxomatoses.

We also recommend vaccination against Viral Haemorrhagic Disease of Rabbits, this virus typically results in sudden death in rabbits. It is endemic in Ireland and has been isolated in veterinary laboratories.

Fly strike

Rabbits are in danger of getting “fly strike”.  Fly strike occurs when flies lay their eggs on rabbits. The eggs hatch into maggots which then eat away at the rabbits flesh. In warm weather this process can happen in hours.

Flies are attracted to dirty or damaged skin. Rabbits with obesity,poor hygiene,dental problems, urine scald or diarrhoea are at high risk. Also rabbits with arthritis  who cannot groom themselves are at risk.

Prevention is achieved through the use of fly repellants, careful checking of your rabbits bottom daily. There are prescription medications available also. Some of these are not licensed in Ireland – however your vet may be able to source them for you.


Rabbits can get fleas – they are often implicated in the spread of myxomatosis. Preventative treatments are available from your vet. We use advantage (a spot on remedy from Bayer) – it is licensed for use in rabbits in the UK but not in Ireland. (This is because the market is too small for the pharma co. to spend money getting a license for rabbit use.)

Female Rabbits

A huge percentage of female rabbits aged over four will get uterine adenocarcinoma (cancer of the womb). Therefore it is a good idea to get them spayed while they are young.

Male Rabbits

Male rabbits can be neutered too. Neutered males are easier to handle and they tend to be less aggressive.

Older rabbits

Like dogs and cats rabbits can suffer from arthritis. Feet problems are common too – especially sore hocks. Ensuring a soft surface underfoot and clean dry bedding helps to prevent this problem.

Handling your rabbit

Rabbits have a very light skeleton and powerful back legs. They can easily injure their spine if they jump from your arms to it is important to handle them correctly. Never pick them up by the ears!. Pick the up gently, cradling them in your arms and supporting the back. If you have a nervous rabbit keep a grip on the scruff of the neck – this will not hurt him, however he may find it stressful so do not hold on to him for longer than necessary.

Rabbits that are well handled when they are young will make the best pets.

Rabbits are a burrowing animal so they tend to have quite long nails.  Be very careful clipping them as it is easy to clip the “quick” and make their toes bleed.

Rabbits with normal teeth do not need their teeth clipped. However if your rabbit develops dental problems he may need his teeth clipped regularly.

Arthritis in dogs and cats. Things you should know.

  • Arthritis is very common in older pets.
  • It is a painful condition.
  • The signs are not always easy to spot as dogs and cats are genetically programmed to hide pain.

Arthritis is caused by aging and wear and tear of joints, degenerative joint conditions, injuries. When we talk about arthritis in pets we usually are talking about osteoarthritis.

Signs to look out for in dogs

  • Difficulty rising after rest
  • Lying down or resting more than usual
  • Stiffness after exercise
  • Very slow particularly at start of a walk
  • Limping
  • Difficulty climbing stairs or getting into the car

Cats get arthritis too. Because cats are small and agile they are better able to cover up the signs. Because you know your cat best you are well placed to spot this condition

  • Reluctance to jump up or down from furniture/ through the cat flap
  • Watch for a cat that is sleeping more and is stiffening up
  • Look out for scruffy matted coat.
  • Changes in behaviour – often cats with arthritis are less tolerant around people.

What you can do at home to help

  • Maintain activity – try to continue with gentle exercise in dogs- just don’t over do it.
  • Make food, litter trays, beds etc. easily accessible to dogs and cats.
  • Get the best most comfy bed you can afford.
  • Avoid slippy floors for dogs, and keep them from going upstairs.
  • Control their weight.

What your vet can do to help

  • x-rays can be used for diagnosis.
  • Arthritis is a painful condition – so your vet may want to prescribe medications that relieve inflammation in the joints and relieve pain.
  • Joint supplements can be helpful.
  • Special diets are useful.
  • Sometimes surgery can be helpful – dogs can have hip replacements, they are expensive and they require a specialist but they can be done!

Costs for arthrititis medications vary widely – however for an average dog weighing 20kg medication would probably cost about €25 per month, perhaps another 10 -12 euro on supplements and maybe special diets. Add to this the cost of check ups and blood tests.

In our clinic if we have a patient with severe arthritis we would try a wide range of treatments to help them.

Ideally for an arthritic patient we would treat with a non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (relieves pain and inflammation in stiff and sore joints). We would also use a joint supplement Arthri-aid which helps to nourish the fluid in the joint. We would feed the dog on Hills Science Plan j/d – a prescription diet which is helpful in dogs with arthritis. We would examine the patient  twice per year and do blood tests to help assess liver and kidney function. Sometimes we will recommend swimming, hydrotherapy or surgery.

Heavier animals cost more to treat as they need more medications (medications are given by weight.) Also you could expect to visit the vet twice per year for check ups.

There is a wide variation in the severity of the condition. For worse cases more careful management is needed. You the pet owner are the best person to assess your pet as you are with them every day. Your vet will help you with a diagnoses and a treatment plan if you are concerned about arthritis in your pet.

Lungworm in dogs. A potential killer


Lung worm – could your dog be affected?

A new deadly parasite has swept across Europe and the UK and is now effecting dogs in Ireland. Angiostrongylus Vasorum is a lung worm which dogs can infect dogs. The most common symptom is coughing however infected animals can present in many different ways as we have recently seen in our own clinic.

A case of lungworm….

A 2 year old female labrador presented to us with very vague symptoms initially. She deteriorated over a few days and was brought back having had a seizure. Blood tests and chest x-rays showed no abnormalities. Poor blood clotting alerted our excellent vet Jenny to the possibility of a lungworm infection and faecal samples proved her hunch was correct. Luckily our labrador made a great recovery – however this could have been fatal and it is so easy for vets to miss this condition as it imitates many others.  We have seen other suspect cases. There have been a number of deaths reported due to Angiostrongylus in Ireland over the past few years. It is possible that wetter warmer summers have increased the slug and snail population increasing incidence of this disease… read on…

How dogs get lungworm…

The most common route for lungworm infection in dogs is through eating slugs and snails that are carrying the worm. Often ingestion is accidental and dogs can become infected by ingesting slime from a slug or snail. Frogs are another potential carrier of this parasite.

The slug or snail is digested by the dog and this releases lungworm larvae into the intestine. The larvae goes through several moults and the adult worm works its way through the dogs body until it reaches the pulmonary blood vessels. From there its larvae make their way to the lungs where it causes most of its pathogenic effects.

Dogs with lungworm cough up larvae and then swallow them. The larvae are release into the environment from the dogs stools and from there enter into the slug and snail population – and so the cycle continues.

Signs of lungworm infection include

  • Coughing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Lethargy
  • Poor blood clotting
  • Behavior changes
  • Seizures

These signs can of course be caused by many other disease processes, and this is definitely something for your vet to figure out.


We have changed our worming protocol recently and are recommending to clients that they use a monthly spot on flea and worm treatment to prevent fleas, mites and lungworm.

Make sure your dog’s food bowl is washed and that there is no food left out for slugs and snails. We do not recommend using slug pellets as these are toxic to pets – so be warned!