Rabbit Dietary Recomendations

In my experience, obesity and intermittent soft stools are the two biggest health problems of pet rabbits.  Both may be caused by an improper diet high in protein and calories while deficient in insoluble fiber.  It is important to remember that rabbits are born nibblers.  In the wild, they eat a combination of grasses and leaves.  In captivity, rabbit custodians should try to replicate the wild diet as closely as possible.

The following are my diet recommendations for pet rabbits:  (Recommendations assume a five pound rabbit.)

1)  Feed grass hay (timothy, meadow or Bermuda) free choice.  Place the hay in different types of feeders for behavioral enrichment.  Avoid alfalfa and other legume types of hay.  These are too high in protein and calcium.

2)  Feed at least two cups of leafy green vegetables per day.  Mix several different types together.  My patients seem to like collard greens, romaine lettuce, parsley and dandelion the best.  The tops and leaves of broccoli, carrots and beets are also good for nibbling.

3)  Limit the amount of pellets to one fourth of a cup per day.  For rabbits that suffer from soft stools, I try to remove pellets from the diet completely.  In a normal rabbit, insoluble fiber is fermented in the cecum and eventually released as cecotropes.  During the night, the cecotropes are eaten by the rabbit directly from the anus.  These ‘night feces’ contain important nutrients that are vital for good health.  Rabbits on a diet deficient in insoluble fiber produce malformed cecotropes that stick to everything . .  their fur and carpeting included.    

4)  Limit treats to less than a tablespoon per day.  My patients love carrots, berries and pineapple.

5)  No human junk food is acceptable.  This includes chocolate, bread, chips and soda.

Please consult your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet.  Remember to make changes in gradual steps and monitor your pet’s weight throughout the process.

Parrot Care

General recommendations for parrot care:

Nutrition/Diet:  Fifty percent of the diet should consist of high quality pellets.  My favorite brand is Harrison’s.  (Available on line at www.harrisonsbirdfood.com.)  Forty percent of the diet should be high quality vegetables.  Dark green, leafy and yellow vegetables are best.  Five percent of the diet should be made of fruits.  My birds love apples, bananas, berries and grapes.  The last ten percent is reserved for treats.  For parrots that means nuts including almonds, Brazil nuts and pecans.  Limit peanuts because many birds become addicted to them.  Reserve these for special training rewards.

Bathing/Misting:  Macaws and other tropical parrots require daily baths for proper feather maintenance.  African Grey Parrots are used to arid conditions.  I recommend two baths a week for this species if the bird has normal feathers.  For feather pickers, daily baths are used to stimulate normal preening.

Exercise:  In general, caged birds suffer from obesity and lack of exercise.  If possible, birds should be allowed supervised time out of their cages every day.  Hand trained birds enjoy a daily session of ‘birdie aerobics’.  Hold the bird on your hand with their feet locked under your thumb.  On the count of three, drop your arm sharply towards the ground.  The sudden drop stimulates the bird to flap their wings.  Start with two or three drops with out-of-shape birds and work up to 20 to 23 repetitions.  Watch the bird’s respirations closely.  Give the bird a chance to catch their breath between drops. 

Sleep Requirements:  Birds require ten hours of undisturbed sleep per day.  Ideally, the cage should be moved into a darkened room where the bird will not be disturbed.  Many people make the mistake of covering the cage but leaving it in a busy TV room.  Sleep deprived birds often develop behavior problem including feather plucking and biting.

Ultra Violet Light:  African Grey Parrots require direct unfiltered sunlight every day.  Birds deprived of natural light often develop problems with calcium metabolism.
 
Temperature Requirements:  Birds body temperature is higher than humans.  Ideally, they should be kept between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

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The Proper Way To Pill A Cat

The following entry is a guide to pilling your cat.  My cat Tigre is the not-so-willing participant in this demonstration.  Note the displeasure on his face.

 Step 1: Wrap the cat in a towel.  Make them a ‘kitty burrito’. 

                                                          

Step 2:  Hold the cat’s head from the top with your non-dominant hand.  Point the cat’s chin at the ceiling.  The lower jaw will open automatically in this position.

Step 3:  Coat the pill or capsule with butter before administering to your cat.  The butter will help the pill slide down the esophagus without sticking. 

Step 4:  Pop the pill down the cat’s throat.  When the cat swallows and licks its lips, you know they have swallowed the pill.

Step 5:  Administer 3 cc’s of water to flush the pill into the cat’s stomach.  Depending upon the type of medication administered, esophageal strictures may form from a ‘stuck’ pill.  To avoid this serious side affect, never dry pill a cat.  Always butter it and administer water after pilling.
                                                                                                      

You Make The Diagnosis: Naked Bird

Ni is a female African Grey parrot of unknown age.  She loves to mimic noises.  Her repertoire includes meows, barks, trucks backing up and even a bomb drop.  She says “hello” in two different voices, a low masculine one and a soft feminine one.  Ni loves having her head scratched.   

About 50% of Ni’s diet is Harrison’s High Potency pellets.  The rest is primarily vegetables with a few fruits and nuts thrown in.  She has a large cage filled with toys, perches of various sizes and a box to hide in.  Even though Ni hates baths, she receives two or three a week.  She is toweled for her nail trims every 8 to 12 weeks.  Her wings are left untrimmed.  

Study her picture and answer the following questions:  What condition does she suffer from?  What causes it?  Are there any cures?  

 

DIAGNOSIS: FEATHER PICKING/PLUCKING

Unfortunately, feather picking or plucking is a common problem of African Grey parrots.  Notice the normal feathers on the head compared to the abnormal body feathers.  This condition is self-induced.  It starts with the bird chewing on a few feathers and progresses to large areas of baldness.  In severe cases, the bird might even mutilate themselves.  I had one patient chew through the skin and muscles along the keel.

There are a wide range of causes for this condition.  For convenience they are divided into two groups, medical and non-medical.  Medical causes include a wide range of disorders from nutritional deficiencies and food allergies to heavy metal toxicities and cancer.  Hormonal, behavioral and emotional factors make up the non-medical causes.  

Identifying the underlying cause is difficult.  My basic work-up for a feather picker/plucker is blood work, x-rays, gram stains of the crop, choana and cloaca, fecal check for parasites and a skin scrape.  If these tests do not reveal the answer, a feather follicle and skin biopsy is the next step.  Quite often, the cause is never identified.  All of Ni’s test results were ‘within normal limits’.

Feather picking/plucking has multiple treatments depending upon the cause.  For birds like Ni, the most common approach is behavioral modification therapy.  A combination of drugs, environmental changes and behavior techniques are used.  I reserve e-collars and body gloves for birds that mutilate themselves.  Unfortunately, nothing worked for Ni.  Hopefully a better treatment program will emerge in the near future, although I fear Ni’s feather follicles might be too damaged to ever grow normal feathers again.