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Pet Advice

Helpful info for pet owners

Whether you are a first-time pet owner or have had pets all your life, the advice we are given on how to best look after our furry friends is always changing and improving. Here you can find some answers to the most common questions we get asked from vaccinating to neutering.

  • Choosing a new pet
  • Fireworks
  • Holidays
  • Elderly cats
  • Elderly dogs
  • Rabbits
  • Small Furries
  • Insurance
  • Bereavement

Choosing a new pet

There are a number of considerations when choosing a new pet. This guide aims to help you make the best decision for you that suits your lifestyle and living arrangements.

Dogs

The first choice is what kind of dog. The range of breeds today is massive from Alaskan Malamutes to Yorkshire Terriers, German Shepherds to West Highland White Terriers.

Here are some key points to bear in mind:

  • Dogs from breeds developed for working and sporting activities, such as spaniels and Collies, will require more exercise than toy breeds or even giant breeds
  • Some breeds with curly or long haired coats will require clipping or grooming by a dog groomer
  • Long haired dogs will require more grooming
  • Some short haired breeds cast their coats heavily
  • Research the breed

Adult or Puppy?

Rehoming an adult dog can be a rewarding experience. This means taking on a dog that has had a previous owner, so there can be issues to be overcome whether it be the dogs health or behavioural problems.

When choosing a new dog always obtain as much information as possible; previous history, vaccination and worming records and arrange for the dog to be checked by a vet as soon as possible.

When adopting a puppy, remember to choose wisely as you will be together for about 15 years. Once you have selected what type of dog you want, do research to get as much information as possible. When you have selected a breed, always look for a reputable breeder. When visiting puppies you should always be able to meet the mother at the same time and spend time with the mother to assess her temperament. If the mother is not present, this could be an indication that the pup is being sold on through dealers which can create extra problems. If the puppy has a passport, this means it has been imported.

Here’s a check list to go through when choosing a puppy:

  • What diet has the puppy been fed? It is always best to keep the puppy on the same food initially. If necessary gradually move them on to a good quality puppy food
  • Has the puppy been dewormed? If so what product? Your vet will ask you this when you take your puppy for its first check-up
  • Is the puppy micro chipped? It is now the law in the UK that all dogs are microchipped by the breeder by 8 weeks old
  • Has the puppy’s mother or father received any breeding health checks? E.g. Hip Scores or eye conditions
  • Has your puppy got a pedigree? If so, ensure you obtain a copy of the pedigree with Kennel Club Registrations of both the mother and father
  • If you want the puppy to be Kennel Club Registered, ask the breeder to do it as it is a lot easier for them
  • Has the puppy received any vaccinations? If so you need a vaccination card to show your vet
  • Tell the breeder that the sale is not finalised until you have had the puppy checked by your own vet

Cats

Adult Cat or Kitten?

The most important thing to consider when adopting a kitten is what kind of lifestyle it will have when it grows up and what type of personality you are looking for. If the kitten is going to be left alone for long periods of time whilst you are at work it may be better to consider getting a pair of kittens so they can keep each other company.

Kittens from feral or farm cats may not adapt well to a totally indoor lifestyle so you need to consider beforehand if you want an indoor or outdoor cat. When visiting a litter of kittens always ask to see the mother to make sure she is happy and healthy, this will also give you an idea of her personality. A kitten should not be rehomed before they are 8 weeks old, this is to make sure they are fully weaned from the mother and helps to avoid problems once they go to their new home. We often see kittens that have been rehomed to young and this can lead to sickness and diarrhoea.

If you a considering a pedigree kitten then make sure you do research into the different breeds. You may be drawn to a particular breed because of its apperance but you should also consider personality, grooming requirements and breed specific health concerns. Pedigree kittens are often not rehomed until they are 13 weeks old, this allows for health screens, vaccinatons and worming to be done and they will be registered with one of the cat registration bodies GCCF or TICA.

Here’s a check list to go through when collecting a new kitten:

  • How old is the kitten? Do they look younger then 8 weeks?
  • Have they been wormed? Which product and when?
  • Have they had any vaccinations? You will be asked for this information from your vet
  • For pedigree breeds have they had DNA Health Checks? ask for certificates if complete

If you work long hours or are elderly, it may be more appropriate to get an older cat, as kittens can be alot of work. There are always lots of older cats looking for new homes at animal rescue cnetres and cat charities.

An adult cat will have a distint personality so it is important to make sure that their personality fits with your lifestyle. If the cat has previously been an outdoor cat they are unlikely to want to adjust to been indoors. Is the cat used to being handled? living with children or other cats? Most animal rescues/ charities will have vaccinated the cat for you, make sure you get paperwork for this so you know when booster vaccinations are due, also check if that cat has been flea treated and wormed and which products were used. Always enquire about any known pre-existing illness so you can consider the cost implications of this illness. If rehoming from a previos owner ask which vet practice so that their medical record can be obtained.

Choosing an Exotic Pet

When considering adopting an exotic pet planning and research key. Whilst dogs and cats are quite happy adapting to our enviroments exotics have very specific needs that must be met to keep them happy and healthy.

Things to consider:

  • What equipment and space is required?
  • How easy is it to keep/feed/clean and medicate?
  • What do they eat and where can you source the food from (all year round)
  • What kind of costs are incurred in general and for vet treatment
  • What sort of things commonly go wrong with this pet?
  • Is there insurance available?

Once you have decided on a species:

  • Do not buy 2nd hand cages/tanks/pet furniture
  • Prepare your pets new home at least 2 weeks in advance
  • Monitor temperature and humidity levels to ensure they are correct
  • Only buy exotics from a specialist
  • Choose the biggest and brightest individual
  • Obtain any required certificates
  • Make sure you have the facilities to get your pet home so they are comfortable
  • Organise a vet check to make sure the pet is healthy and all its needs are being met
  • Monitor your new pet for at least 6 weeks before mixing with other exotics of the same species
  • If you have other exotic pets, keep them separate. Do not share any equipment and wash your hands between handling

Fireworks

Fireworks can cause a significant amount of stress to owners and their pets. Pets often become anxious, unsettled and often vocal due to the loud noises and flashes of light caused by fireworks.
 
Below are several ways in which to help your pet feel safer and more comfortable.

  • Avoid leaving your pets alone – they will feel safer with you around
  • Keep your cat or dog inside, and keep all windows, curtains and doors closed
  • If your pet starts feeling anxious – stay calm and act normally. This will help your pet feel safer and lets them know there is nothing to fear. Do not respond directly to their anxiety – you will only reinforce it
  • Create a den – Create a dark quiet space for your pet where they can go if they choose to. Try placing a blanket over a dog crate and placing it in a quiet room with the curtains/blinds closed, blackout curtains would be preferable
  • Turn on the TV or some music to drown out some of the noise
  • Provide your cat with a litter tray if it is used to being able to get into the garden
  • Make sure your pet is wearing a form of identification. If they manage to escape, this will make sure you can be easily contacted when your pet is found. Microchips are excellent but remember to ensure your registered details are up-to-date with the chip database. However, they do not replace collars which are useful for restraining an anxious dog as well as identification
  • Ensure that any collars are safety collars so your pet does not hurt itself if it gets caught on other objects. Reflective collars are a good idea since it is often dark and being hit by a car is one of the bigger risks
  • Adaptyl – Dog Appeasing Pheromone are products containing pheromones similar to that produced by a lactating bitch to calm puppies. This is available in plug-ins, collar's and sprays
  • Pharmaceuticals – There are several drugs that can be used to help reduce stress during fireworks season. We do recommend trying the above methods first before turning to medication unless otherwise specified by your vet
  • Take your dog for a walk during daylight, when fireworks are less likely to be let off

With rabbits and smaller animals:

  • Bring their hutch or cage inside to a quiet room, garage or shed
  • If you cannot move it, turn it away from the open garden to face the house, cover it with thick blankets or a quilt so your pet isn't able to see the flashes and provide them with extra bedding so they can hide away 

Not all pets are affected by fireworks but if you're not sure whether your dog is stressed by fireworks, his symptoms may include some or all of the following: 

  • Salivating and drooling
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Scratching to get into the house or out of a room
  • Hiding in corners or under furniture
  • Whining, barking or howling
  • Whimpering and excessive or abnormal attention seeking
  • Loss of bodily functions - bladder and/or bowel
  • Refusal to eat 

If you are unsure of your pets behaviour or if you know your pet is stressed by fireworks, please seek veterinary advice well before fireworks season. The later you wait the less effect a lot of the above mentioned treatments will have.

Holidays

You may have someone in your family to watch your pet while you are away, and there are some commercial enterprises which will look after your pets in their own home.

Your pets staying at home

For most situations, boarding kennels and catteries are the answer. Before leaving your pet in kennels or cattery, visit the establishment yourself to make sure that it is suitable. Leave your pet there for a short stay (perhaps a weekend) as a trial. Once you have found a good kennel or cattery, keep using it as your pet will become accustomed to being left there for short periods.
 
All animals going to kennels or cattery must be fully vaccinated and protected against fleas. With dogs make sure that they receive a special Kennel Cough Vaccine. Each kennel/cattery will have its own requirements  to allow your pet to stay there, make sure you check these at least a month in advance so arrangements can be made.

Your pets coming with you

UK Holidays

Finding a tick buried into your dog’s skin is not very pleasant at all. Besides causing a possible skin reaction they can transmit really nasty diseases some of which can be life-threatening. Lyme disease is one such disease. Transmitted by the most common ticks in the UK, the sheep and hedgehog tick, this disease can affect both dogs and humans. Ask the vet or at reception for the best tick protection for your pet.

Did you know 1 in 6 dogs suffer from travel sickness

The tell-tale symptoms of dog travel sickness include excessive drooling, restlessness, trembling, anxiety and excessive swallowing or lip-smacking. But it’s important to remember that different dogs display different symptoms. Some pups may vomit without any other signs of discomfort. Others may not throw up at all. If one or more of the above symptoms is present while driving, it’s possible your dog is a travel sickness sufferer.

If your pet gets travel sick arrange a check up before you travel and we can advice the best product for your pet.

Going Abroad

If you are going abroad please refer to the DEFRA website or call 0870 241 1710 for the latest information. It is your responsibility to ensure your pet has all the relevant vaccinations and treatment prior to travel.

If you are travelling to an EU country your pet will require a PET Passport. In order for the vet to give you this, your dog must be fully vaccinated, have a registered microchip and will usually require Rabies vaccination at least 21 days prior to travelling.

If you are travelling to a Non-EU country your pet will require the same as an EU country but in addition will also need a blood test 30 days post rabies vaccination to confirm the vaccine has been successful and a third country veterinary certificate.

Every country has its own individual set of requirements and it is important that you refer to the DEFRA website to get the lastest information.

Elderly cats

Cats today are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. With improved healthcare and preventive medicine programs, we are seeing more and more cats live to their upper teens and early twenties. Because changes in body condition and daily behaviors can be subtle, we rely on careful observations by you, their caretakers.

Cats are considered to be 'senior' when they are 8 years or older. Many owners view ageing as a ‘normal’ process and feel that nothing will help their cat, and some owners worry about mentioning problems they’ve noticed in their older cat as they fear the vet will say it’s serious or that the cat may need to be euthanased.

However, these concerns are often unfounded and your vet is there to help wherever they can. Talk to your vet to discuss any concerns you may have. It is very important to take your older cat to see the vet regularly to ensure they are not suffering or in hidden pain – there are lots of treatments available for many of the issues.

You’ll want them to enjoy their golden years free from discomfort.

What happens during ageing?

  • Activity levels decrease and muscle tone reduces
  • Appetite and/or fluid intake may change
  • Vision and/or hearing may not be as acute
  • Tartar build up can cause gum and dental disease including gingivitis and cavities.
  • Bowel and urinary system functions may change
  • The immune system may weaken
  • Light sleep may increase but deep sleep decreases
  • Coat condition may deteriorate
  • Age-associated disorders may develop, such as arthritis, diabetes, hyperthyroidism or renal impairment
  • Psychological and behavioural changes can occur, such as senility, aggression, increased dependence or excessive vocalisation

When to take your cat to the vet

In addition to your regular pet health checks, your cat should be seen by a vet if there are changes to their:

  • General health
  • Appetite and/or thirst
  • Elimination of faeces and/or urine
  • Mobility/activity or if they seem to be in pain
  • Behaviour – including vocalisation or grumpiness. Reduced interaction with you or other pets can be a sign that not all is well with your pet’s health

The following indicates some health issues to watch out for, that elderly cats can be predisposed to:

  1. Senility and cognitive dysfunction
  2. Cognitive dysfunction is a decline in higher brain functions, including memory and learning that often occurs with old age

 Signs include:

  • Disorientation
  • Changes in social and environmental interaction
  • Changes in sleeping/waking patterns, such as sleeping more during the day and being restless at night
  • Vocalisation
  • House soiling

If you have noticed any changes in your cat’s behaviour, take them to your vets for a health check, discussing the behaviour changes with your vet in as much detail as you can.

Constipation

Cats can experience changes in bowel habits as they grow older, including constipation. Signs of constipation include decreased frequency of passing faeces, straining to pass, pain and/or crying when trying to and passing hard faeces. You must ensure your cat always has access to fresh water – speak to your vet for dietary and treatment advice.

Deafness

Deaf cats compensate for their lack of hearing by using their other senses, so deafness in cats often goes unnoticed.
 
Signs of deafness may include:

  • No response when called or to loud sounds
  • Being easily startled
  • Loud miaowing
  • Signs of dizziness or disorientation

Signs of ear disease which may cause deafness include:

  • Shaking the head
  • Clawing at the ear
  • Pus, discharge or an unpleasant odour from the ear

Dental disease

Older cats need regular dental health checks to check for signs of dental disease, including tartar build up and red, inflamed gums. Speak to your vet about health checks and preventative care for your cat’s teeth.

Diabetes mellitus

This condition affects the control of blood sugar levels and usually occurs in middle-aged and older cats, particularly those that are overweight.
 
The signs of diabetes can be similar to a number of other diseases and include:

  • Increased thirst and/or appetite
  • Passing more urine
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy/weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Being more prone to other infections eg skin or urinary tract infections

Diabetes is often treated more successfully if detected and treated in the early stages

Hyperthyroidism

The thyroid is made up of two glands located on either side of the windpipe at the base of your cat’s neck. It helps to regulate metabolic rate. In some cats, the thyroid becomes overactive which speeds up the metabolism. Hyperthyroidism mainly affects cats over the age of 10 and can occur in either or both of the glands.

The signs may vary from cat to cat, but most commonly include:

  • Increased appetite and/or thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Behavioural changes such as hyperactivity, restlessness and being more vocal
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Poor coat condition

If you notice any of these symptoms, take your cat to see your vet for a health check. Once a cat is treated for hyperthyroidism, they will return to normal fairly quickly in most cases. If the disease has been detected and treated early on the cat often lives several more years. Untreated, it can damage other organs.

Kidney disease

Disease of the kidneys is one of the most common problems affecting middle-aged and older cats. Unfortunately, damage to the kidneys is irreversible and tends to worsen over a period of time. However, with the help of various treatments, affected cats can often maintain a good quality of life for several months or years. Most cats do not show signs of chronic kidney disease until 75 per cent of the kidneys have been damaged.

Signs can vary between individuals but the most common signs are:

  • Increased thirst
  • Passing more urine
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Poor coat condition
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Bad breath

Many vets will try to diagnose kidney disease in its early stages, before clinical signs develop, by offering cat owners the option of urine and blood tests for their older cats at routine checkups or vaccinations. By doing this, early dietary management or other treatment may significantly extend an affected cat’s life expectancy and quality of life.

Hypertension

In cats, high blood pressure – known as hypertension – often occurs in association with another underlying disease – for example, cats suffering from kidney disease or hyperthyroidism often have some degree of hypertension as well. It can also occur as a primary problem in itself. The organs most vulnerable to the effects of high blood pressure are the eyes, kidneys, heart and brain. Initially there may be very few signs of high blood pressure, particularly if it is the primary problem but sometimes the signs can occur very suddenly.
 
Signs of hypertension include:

  • Blindness
  • Changes inside the eye, including bleeding
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures

Many cats can go on to lead relatively normal lives following diagnosis and stabilisation of hypertension, but this will depend on the type and severity of any underlying disease. If left untreated, these signs can become permanent so seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.

Arthritis

The term ‘arthritis’ means inflammation of the joint and this condition is extremely common in cats. However, it often goes unnoticed as owners think the cat is just slowing down with age, when it is actually a very painful condition. It is worth getting your cat checked regularly as treating chronic problems like arthritis will make a huge difference to their quality of life.
 
The main signs shown in cats are:

  • A change in behaviour, for example:  grumpiness, reduced interaction or tolerance with people – the discomfort associated with arthritis can be a cause of aggression in cats
  • Not using the litter tray if the sides of the tray are too high for your cat to easily get into
  • Reduced interest in play
  • Difficulty grooming, especially the middle of the back and tail
  • Increased stiffness immediately after resting which gets better with movement
  • Stiffness, lameness and reduced mobility – an unwillingness to jump or climb

If your cat is overweight, this can make arthritis worse so it is very important to ensure they maintain an ideal weight. Regular, moderate exercise will also help – play is the best way to achieve this. Arthritis is an ongoing problem and cannot be cured. However, in many cases it can be managed successfully allowing your cat to be mobile, pain-free and to lead a reasonably active life.

Cancer

Cats can develop different types of tumours which may either be benign – not usually harmful – or malignant – faster growing and usually harmful. Sometimes the tumours can spread to other areas of the body. It is a good idea to regularly feel all over your cat’s body for any lumps or bumps. Other signs of cancer vary dependent on the organ affected, but can include weight loss, increased thirst, passing more urine, depression, poor coat condition, vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

Elderly dogs

Dogs over the age of 8 are considered by some to be old, but this depends a lot on the breed. The ‘average’ life expectancy of a dog is 13 years, however smaller breeds tend to live longer than larger breeds. Old age brings many changes; some sudden, others gradual, and you will need to be on the lookout for those that signal problems and be prepared to make allowances for those little inconveniences that come with caring for an elderly dog. By preparing for their later years, we can all enhance the quality of life that they deserve.

Feeding

  • As they become less active, older dogs can be prone to putting on weight. Switching to a complete senior diet that may be lower in protein or fat will help keep extra weight off
  • Feeding smaller meals 2 or 3 times a day can be good but watch out for those in-between meal snacks or scraps
  • If your dog suffers from neck or back pain raising the food and water bowl will reduce discomfort

Exercise

  • Older dogs can become less energetic and sleep more. On walks let your dog set the pace. Try to go for frequent short walks instead of one long one
  • Your dog may not want to go on long hikes as he gets older but it is still important to exercise him enough so that he stays fit. His daily walks will give him mental stimulation and keep his joints mobile
  • He may show signs joint stiffness in the morning or after strenuous exercise so ensure he has a comfy bed to sleep on
  • You may want to provide ramps to help them navigate stairs or a car to ease the difficulties they may face

Health

  • Older dogs may struggle with their sight and hearing
  • Twice yearly veterinary check-ups are essential for an ageing dog
  • Your dog’s eyes may appear cloudy, which could mean that he has old age changes or cataracts. Seek veterinary advice on this
  • Most dogs adjust to failing sight, since it is usually a gradual process. Try to avoid moving the furniture in your house and leaving objects in his way. Keep him on the lead during exercise, especially near roads
  • Your dog may lose the ability to hear certain sounds. He may for example be able to hear a whistle, but not his owner’s voice. Be creative in developing new forms of communication with your dog
  • You will need to pay particular attention to the condition of his teeth and the length of his nails. His nails will be less worn as his walks get shorter
  • If your dog hasn’t been neutered already, there may still be benefits in doing so at an older age. Seek veterinary advice on this
  • Your dog’s coat may change in condition. Daily grooming will be good for his coat and is a great opportunity for you to check him over for any new lumps or bumps that may indicate a problem

Behaviour

  • To help your dog remain mentally active try to provide new and interesting aspects into his routine. Make plenty of time for games and interaction with him
  • Older dogs may start to exhibit symptoms of senility including compulsive behaviours. Seek advice from your vet at the first sign of behavioural changes
  • Your dog may begin to bark more often; this may be because something is troubling him, or because he is going deaf. Seek veterinary advice on this
  • As dogs get older they can become less tolerant. It is important to respect your dog’s space

Rabbits

Welcome to the world of rabbit ownership. It’s joyful, fun, interesting, sometimes very worrying and certainly all-absorbing. Rabbits can make wonderful pets but there is more to looking after them properly than many people realise.

The first thing to note is that rabbits are not cheap and easy children’s pets, they have complicated needs.

Under the fur, pet rabbits are exactly the same as wild rabbits. If you are thinking of taking on rabbits, please check if rabbits are right for you before jumping in.

Its also worth considering the long terms costs. Rabbits are not a cheap pet to keep: they can cost £11,000 over their lifetime.

If you have just become a rabbit owner then this page gives you the basics on what you’ll need to consider to give your new pets the lives they deserve. The more you put in, the more rewarding your experience will be.

The 5 freedoms

You must give your rabbits the freedom to:

  • Display their natural behaviours including running, jumping, digging, foraging and rearing up on their hind legs
  • Have a natural diet. This should be made up of 85% hay or grass, 10% leafy green veg, 5% extruded pellets or nuggets (about an egg-cup full)
  • Have the companionship of at least one other rabbit.  Studies have shown that rabbits value companionship as much as food. It is cruel to keep a rabbit alone, it should have the company of another neutered rabbit
  • Live in the right accommodation. Rabbits need a large, secure enclosure that gives them the space to exercise and display their natural behaviours. Their total space should be 10ft by 6ft and at least 3ft tall.  A hutch should be at least 6ft by 2ft by 2ft and be attached to an exercise run permanently
  • Be healthy rabbits. Your rabbits must be neutered (castrated for males or spayed for females) and their vaccinations kept up to date. You’ll need to register with a rabbit-savvy vet and carry out regular health checks to make sure your rabbits are in good shape. As part of their make-up as a prey animal, when rabbits are unwell they often don’t show it so you need to be vigilant

Rabbits are sociable

Wild rabbits live in colonies, never on their own. Pet rabbits should be kept in neutered pairs or compatible groups. Recent scientific research has confirmed that rabbits suffer from stress and loneliness if kept alone: they value companionship as much as food – and you wouldn’t keep them without food, would you? If you have a single rabbit check your local rescue centre for a friend for your bunny.

Rabbits are active

They need plenty of space, including a spacious and safe exercise area that is permanently attached to their hutch or cage. In addition, they’d really enjoy free run of the garden or rabbit proofed parts of the house) when supervised. Cages/hutches should be regarded as burrows to rest in as part of a larger living area, not prisons! In the wild they run about for several hours every day.

Rabbits can live indoors as house rabbits, or outdoors in a large hutch that has an exercise run attached to it.

There are lots of options: indoor cages of different designs; adapted wooden playhouses for the garden; and various combinations of runs attached to hutches. Whichever you choose, you will need to adapt part of the house and/or the garden for your pets. Check out our housing section for advice on accommodation for your rabbits.

Rabbits eat grass (or hay)

Rabbits should be fed in a way that is as close as possible to their natural diet: mostly grass or hay. In fact, rabbits could live on hay and water alone, but we recommend providing some fresh leafy vegetables and a small amount of commercial feed (not muesli). The long fibre of grass or hay is vital to their digestive, behavioural and dental health.

Rabbits are prey animals

Because rabbits are preyed upon by many other species (dogs, cats, foxes and even humans), they are naturally shy, quiet animals who hate being held above ground level. They do not like to be picked up and carried around, so children should be encouraged to interact with them at ground level instead. Gaining the trust of a rabbit takes time and effort. If your child is looking for something soft and cuddly to pick up then buy a fluffy toy, a rabbit is not for them.

Rabbits don’t like loud noises or sudden movements, so don’t terrify your pets with loud music and rowdy games. Keep toddlers away – their jerky movements are very scary to bunnies. Rabbits don’t like being picked up (the only time a wild rabbit gets picked up is if it is about to be eaten by a fox) and they have large teeth and claws, which they’ll use if they are scared or angry.

Rabbits need a good vet

Wild rabbits don’t live very long…but a well cared for pet rabbit can live a very long time- 10 years or more. You need to find a good rabbit vet. Even healthy bunnies need to see the vet regularly (just like humans, they need to be immunised against deadly diseases) and if your rabbits are ever injured or ill they will need rapid veterinary care. It’s also important for pet rabbits to be neutered.

You’ll need to visit the vet at least once a year for their vaccinations, but it’s useful to have at least one more check-up during the year. We hope those are the only visits you’ll need to make to the vet, but having a rabbit-savvy vet is vital so make sure yours is. A great vet is your pet’s very best friend.

Can they dig it?

Rabbits love to chew and dig – it’s what they do when making burrows. Pet rabbits need things to chew (eg hay; apple or willow twigs; kitchen roll inner tubes stuffed with hay and grass) and somewhere to dig. You can make a “digging box” by putting peat into a cardboard box and cutting a hole half way up the side.  Let your rabbits play in a sandpit; or just accept they are likely to burrow in the garden, and make it secure to avoid escapes.

Hide and seek

Rabbits are inquisitive, and love exploring. This is because wild rabbits always need to know the quickest way back to their burrow, and where to find the best food. Rabbits like to climb into (and onto) new toys. So give them cardboard boxes, large pipes, or bits of rolled up carpet to play with. They also like searching for tasty food, so you can hide titbits and watch your bunnies hunting for them! Rabbits like somewhere to hide – wild rabbits use their burrows both as a safe haven in times of danger, and as a place to relax in safety. Bunnies need a dark hidey-hole where they can chill out in peace. Never force your rabbits to come out of their hidey-hole: they will become frightened of you, and may bite or scratch in protest.

Indoor rabbits

Indoor rabbits need at least as much space as they do outdoors. They must be kept safe from any other pets – cats and dogs to them are predators, no matter how friendly they may seem to you. They need to be safe from eating electric cables too, or anything else in the home that might harm them – house plants for example. They should have a comfortable climate, not too hot and not too cold, and they need to be safe from escape when you open the front door.

Have a routine

Without making things boring for you or your rabbits, have a routine so that things don’t get forgotten. Breakfast time means rabbit feeding, changing water, some cage/hutch cleaning and checking their bodies for any problems like dirty bottoms. Work out what you have time to do before going to work.

Evening may be when you have more time and a full clean of their home may be easier then. Check water again, give them more hay – they can never have too much – check their bodies again, move toys around, check their home is secure and just spend time with them and enjoy their company.

Common illnesses

Because rabbits are prey animals they will hide symptoms of illness for as long as possible so if you have any concerns about your rabbits’ health then you must seek vet advice as soon as possible.

There are two very common illnesses caused by viruses that are fatal for unvaccinated rabbits. They are Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (1+2). Wherever your rabbits live they can catch either disease, so vaccination is essential for all rabbits. Vaccinations need to be repeated at least every year.

Rabbits can’t catch cold but if you see them looking like they have, that is called snuffles. It’s caused by bacteria.

Head-tilt looks exactly as you might expect from the name, the rabbit’s head tilts over to one side and it’s unable to straighten up. There may be a loss of balance, weakness in the hind legs, incontinence and if it’s severe, spinning and rolling. This, and going off their back legs, can be caused by a brain parasite named E. cuniculi, for which treatment is available. Ear infections (especially lop breeds) can also cause head tilt, therefore regular ear checks from your vet are vital.

Dental disease is a common problem. Often poor diet is to blame. Rabbits need to eat hay, hay and more hay. Grass is much the same thing as hay, with a higher water content, but grass clippings from the lawnmower should never be fed, as they ferment and cause gastrointestinal disease. Every rabbit should eat its own body size or more in hay every day to keep the gut healthy but just as importantly to keep teeth ground down. So between 80% and 85% of what they eat should be hay or grass.

If you find a lump or an oozing spot then it may well be an abscess. These can be extremely serious and need to be treated as early as possible so you must take your rabbit straight to your vet.

Rabbits are about as susceptible to cancer as humans are. The biggest risk is uterine cancer in females. This can be avoided completely by having your female rabbits spayed. By the age of 4, the majority of unspayed females will have uterine cancer, so please make sure yours isn’t one of those.

You need to budget for the cost of healthcare throughout your rabbit’s lifetime. Make sure you have set aside funds for potential treatments and consider insurance and healthcare plans.

Small Furries

Fly strike

Any rabbit left to sit in damp and dirty surroundings is prone to disease which is why it is important to clean hutches and pens regularly. This is especially important in the summer when flies seek places to lay eggs. It is important to clean rabbits living spaces daily in the summer and to check the rabbit all over at the end of the each day. Fly eggs are very small, white and oval and they stick very strongly to the animal's hair. If these eggs are not removed and are allowed to hatch out (often overnight) they produce maggots. These maggots rapidly cause unbelievable injuries and pain to the animal. During the warmer months, rabbits should be checked over by the owner once a day.

Myxomatosis

This is a disease transmitted by fleas, or from contract with other infected rabbits. Symptoms are usually swollen eyelids and thick discharge from the eyes and nose. The rabbit will become very subdued and stop eating. This condition is usually fatal.  Vaccination each year can prevent this disease.

Snuffles/Pasteurella

This is a bacterial condition and can be related to stress.  The rabbit will develop cold-like symptoms with a runny nose, breathing difficulties and discharge from the eyes. Snuffles can lead to more serious problems such as pneumonia, head tilt and tooth root abscesses.  The hutch should be kept well ventilated and at a constant temperature, removing wet bedding to reduce stress.

Rabbits - average life span 5-10yrs

Rabbits need a balanced diet with high levels of fibre to keep them healthy.

As foragers rabbits must be fed twice a day every day. The traditional rabbit mix sold in pet shops was originally designed to fatten rabbits up - some contain chocolate drops and inappropriate components, leading to obesity and overgrown teeth. It is important the right diet is offered to pet rabbits so as to keep the teeth working hard and help prevent them from overgrowing and becoming a problem. If they do become overlong they curl into the gums and teeth causing big problems with eating. Routine examination of pet rabbits should be carried out by the owner (an adult not a child). If the teeth appear to be causing a problem it is important your take the rabbit for a veterinary health check. Because rabbits eat food high in cellulose (plant fibre), like grass and hay, some of the food they eat has to pass through the digestive system twice. Some of the faeces passed overnight are very soft and pale in colour and contain high amounts of this fibre. These are called caecotrophs and are eaten by the rabbit to go through the digestive process a second time. This makes it easier to get the nutrients out of the tough fibre.

Guinea Pigs - average life span 5-8yrs

Guinea pigs are clever and sociable pets.  They don't need a high space because they don't jump or climb, but they do need a lot of floor space, however they do like a house with an elevated roof to sit on. They need a temperature between 18-26 degrees C and so in winter, they should be housed indoors.   Guinea pigs should be fed twice daily with a high fibrous diet and vitamin C (this is why guinea pig food is different to rabbit food - guinea pigs must have added vitamin C in their food).  Guinea pigs love to have companions - littermates or single sex guineas (not rabbits, as they can bully guinea pigs).
 
Guinea pigs are relatively trouble free and make very good pets for children but always require adult supervision. Long haired guinea pigs do need grooming and this should be taken into account when choosing your guinea pig.
 
Guinea pigs can live for up to 7 years and so this needs to be a consideration when you decide to buy one for your children – you may be left caring for them long after the kids have left home! Always buy from a reputable pet shop or breeder and pick the one that looks healthy, is bright and friendly. The guinea pig should be at least six weeks old.

Handling

Approach the guinea pig from the front and on its level. Pick it up using both hands, one around the hindquarters,the other around its shoulders (for a young guinea pig) or around its chest (for an adult). Guinea pigs may become upset by too much handling.

Health

Guinea pigs should be checked regularly for overgrown claws and teeth. Both can be trimmed by a vet. 
Too much scratching results from skin problems and is often caused by mites or lice. We can provide suitable treatment for these.

Long-haired guinea pigs in particular, may suffer from the potentially fatal disease flystrike, caused by flies laying eggs in soiled fur. Make sure the guinea pigs' home is cleaned every day and bedding changed regularly.

Groom guinea pigs every day, checking their fur all over for any dirt, especially under the tail. If a guinea pig develops bald patches on its face, this could indicate the fungal disease ringworm. In this case, bring your pet to see the vet as soon as possible. Guinea pigs can suffer from vitamin C deficiency, which causes weight loss, general weakness and swollen joints. Ask us for advice on how to provide your guinea pigs with an adequate supply of this vitamin. 

If you have any concerns about your guinea pigs' health, contact us for advice. 

Hamsters - average life span 1-3yrs

Hamsters are very clever and adventurous - they are determined escape artists. Hamsters need lots of toys and frequent handling to keep them tame and socialised.  They are naturally nocturnal so play with them in the evening.  Hamsters are omnivorous, they hoard food and need chewing material to keep their teeth short.

Some species of hamsters like to live alone (eg Syrian) and some prefer a companion (dwarf hamsters).

Gerbils - average life span 3-5yrs

Gerbils are friendly and inquisitive. Gerbils eat seeds, grains, roots and insects in the wild.  They are very active and in the wild live in tunnels in the desert sand.  They need very little water but their supply should be fresh.

They are not smelly pets as they are adapted to preserve water and their faeces are dry.  They like a thick layer of sawdust, or something similar, to tunnel in.  They can be handled if not taken by surprise.

Rats - average life span 2-4yrs

Rats are very intelligent and agile. They should be housed indoors with a large cage. The cage should be high enough to allow them two levels. Rats are omnivores and need protein. They should not be fed human food or nuts.  They need feeding once a day and need cleaning out regularly as they hoard food. Rats are nocturnal and so will be playful in the evening. They enjoy being handled if it is done properly. They are very sociable creatures and so are best kept with another rat of the same sex, preferably a litter mate as they can fight if introduced to a new rat.

Chinchillas - average life span 10-20yrs

Chinchillas are very bright, inquisitive and good climbers.  They need a large cage with a climbing area, a sleeping box and a daily fresh sand bath.  They are indoor pets and need a constant temperature above 28 degrees C.  Chinchillas are herbivores, needing a lot of fibre.  This helps grind down their constantly growing teeth.  They are very intelligent pets and so need lots of toys for stimulation.  They are sociable and like to be with a single sex group.

Ferrets - average life span 5-11yrs

Ferrets are very intelligent and inquisitive pets. They can live in cages with several levels so they have lots of space.  They can also live freely in the house and use a litter tray. Ferrets are carnivores and need high levels of meat protein and fat.  They need to be fed little and often throughout the day. They are very playful and play happily with humans with tunnels and balls.

Insurance

Although some pets may go through life without any major problems, others may find themselves in need of emergency or ongoing veterinary care. And the costs quickly add up.

One of the best ways to prepare for unexpected bills is to have pet insurance. However the variety and complexity of different policies can be confusing. To help you, we’ve put together this handy jargon-buster so your four-legged friend gets the perfect cover.

  • Accident only insurance: these policies only cover your pet for accidents, NOT illnesses, but premiums are usually cheaper as a result
  • Third party insurance: usually only available for dogs, this will cover you if your dog damages another person’s property, or causes personal injury in any way
  • Excess: the amount you will have to pay when you make a claim. This could be a set figure or a percentage of the total claim (known as co-insurance), or both. There can be ‘compulsory excess’ (set by the insurer) and ‘voluntary excess’ (where you decide the amount). By agreeing a higher excess you could reduce the cost of the policy premiums. Just make sure it’s still affordable for you. Excess's usually apply per condition and per policy year, if you continue to claim for a on-going condition into a new policy year
  • Lifetime cover: this type of policy will usually cover your pet against any new accidents and illnesses for their entire life (as long as the policy is active). As a result, it will generally cost a bit more, but will offer you full peace of mind. Check if there are any restrictions. For example, does it restrict how much you can claim in any single year, or how much you can claim against any single illness or injury or are there restrictions on certain procedures?
  • Elective procedure: treatment that isn’t absolutely necessary for your pet’s well-being, it’s chosen rather than ‘essential’. For instance, neutering a healthy pet would usually be considered ‘elective’. Having your pet neutered could lower the cost of your insurance premium, however. Elective procedures are not usually covered by insurance companies
  • Deferment/Exclusion period: this refers to the time between the start date of the policy and the date from which you’ll be able to make a claim. This is usually between 10-14 days but could be longer, so it’s best to arrange insurance as soon as you can, rather than waiting
  • Maximum benefit: this means a set limit on claims for each illness or injury. There are no time restraints but once you reach the stated limit, the insurer won’t pay any further claims for that particular condition
  • Pre-existing condition: any condition that has already been diagnosed by a vet, or is known to you, before taking out the insurance. Many policies don’t cover pre-existing conditions, which is why vets recommend taking out insurance when your pet is young
  • Premium: the monthly or annual fee you’ll pay for your pet’s insurance. The average cost is about £20 per month, but this varies widely and will depend on your pet’s circumstances, for instance their age and breed. Keeping your pet up to date with routine treatment, such as vaccinations, flea and worming, can help to keep your premium lower, depending on your policy
  • Pre-authorisation: the only way to guarantee that treatment for your pet will be covered by your insurance company, before the treatment is carried out. Not all insurance companies offer this service but if they do it will give you peace of mind especially if the treatment is expensive
  • Time limited: this means there is a set time period (usually 12 months) from the onset of a condition that you will be able to make claims. There may also be a limit on the amount you can claim during this period

Remember that your pet’s insurance cover will only remain active as long as you renew at the end of each policy period (usually a year), and you make the payments on time, also be aware that change insurance providers will usually mean that any pre-existing conditions will not be covered by the new insurance company.

Owning a pet is a hugely rewarding experience. In return for their unconditional love it’s our responsibility to make sure they live a happy and healthy life. Pet insurance not only offers peace of mind, it protects our pets from any unnecessary pain and suffering by providing the treatment they need, when they need it.

Even more info here !

Bereavement

We understand that this is a very difficult decision and emotional time for owners losing a much-loved pet.
 
We endeavor to allow owners time with their animal before and after euthanasia and will try to arrange for this at suitable times. House visits can be arranged at prior request but are subject to availability, please see our house visits page or call the practice for further information.

It will always be very painful and emotionally difficult when a beloved pet dies. Each one is unique in our hearts, but the love we have for them and from them makes it all so worthwhile and wonderful knowing that they were a part of our lives. Our best memorial to them is how we go on with the next chapter of our lives enriched by their love. The following website provides an insight into preparing to say goodbye to your beloved pet.

Compassion Understood
 
Some owners wish for their pets ashes to be returned to them, we can arrange this. Individual cremation with return of ashes does cost more and will vary depending on the size of the animal and the kind of container chosen.

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Pet Health Advice