February, 2019

February 20, 2019

Bladder Sludge in Rabbits and Guinea Pigs

Bladder Sludge in Rabbits and Guinea Pigs
Wrriten by Cayla Iske, PhD and Dianne Cook, Licensed Veterinary Technician

Bladder sludge. Bladder stones. Hypercalciuria. Urolithiasis. Whichever term you may be familiar with, they all describe one of the most common heath concerns facing our little critters, especially rabbits and guinea pigs. But why do some animals develop bladder sludge? The short (and frustrating) answer is no one is completely sure why some animals are so predisposed to this issue. 

What contributes to bladder sludge?

So, what are the factors that contribute to the production of bladder sludge?  Many have adopted the “calcium hypothesis” which proposes that high dietary calcium is at the root of the issue. The hypothesis has merit when considering that rabbits and guinea pigs (unlike humans and most other species) cannot adequately control their calcium absorption. In humans and other species, the body absorbs enough calcium to maintain healthy blood calcium levels and excretes the excess.  Bladder stones and other issues related to excessive calcium can still occur in non-rabbit and guinea pig species, but they are rarer in comparison. 

What’s different about rabbits and guinea pigs?

Rabbits will absorb nearly all of the calcium they consume and guinea pigs are thought to absorb a significant portion of dietary calcium as well. Excess calcium is then filtered through the kidneys and excreted in the urine. But the kidneys can only take so much before they can’t filter any more. When this happens, the calcium forms a solid crystal which gets excreted through the urine, producing a cloudy sludge.

If calcium can lead to bladder sludge in my rabbit or guinea pig, should I just avoid it altogether?
Adequate dietary calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth.  If your rabbit or guinea pig’s diet is deficient in calcium, the body will pull the calcium it needs from stores in the bones. When this happens, it makes bones weak and prone to fracture or break. Calcium is also required for strong, healthy teeth; if the diet contains too little calcium, the body will preferentially use that calcium for other physiological processes over tooth maintenance. This can cause the teeth to get weak and loosen or break.  For rabbits and guinea pigs (whose teeth grow continuously throughout their lives) receiving adequate calcium via the diet is especially important. 

How do I know if my rabbit or guinea pig develop bladder sludge?

Some rabbits and guinea pigs that consume a relatively high calcium diet won’t develop bladder sludge at all; conversely, some animals on a low/adequate calcium diet will get sludge. What this tells us is that the causes of bladder sludge are multifactorial. Some factors have been anecdotally found to increase potential for development of bladder stones include:

  • Obesity
  • Inactivity
  • Decreased hay intake

Another hypothesis is that some animals are genetically predisposed to developing bladder sludge.

Potential symptoms of bladder sludge to look out for

  • Some symptoms to look for to indicate your pet might be having bladder issues include:
  • Signs of blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Slow or frequent urination of small volumes (stranguria)
  • Signs of painful urination (dysuria)
  • White crystals in the urine
  • Dried sludge on the hindquarters.

No matter the reason for development of bladder sludge, there are some proactive steps you can take to help your beloved rabbit or guinea pig avoid this painful and unpleasant condition.  Be sure to work with your trusted veterinarian to formulate a health and nutrition plan that meet’s your pet’s specific needs before making any changes to your pet’s daily routine.

What can I do to prevent/treat bladder sludge?

  1. Increase water intake. An increase in water consumption dilutes the urine and helps prevent the formation of stones, while also helping flush out the kidneys to reduce stress. Make sure both a bottle and tip-proof water dish are available at all times to encourage drinking. Include these vessels in both the habitat and any other areas where they exercise or explore throughout the day. It is also important to ensure all bottles are properly positioned and functioning properly. Replace with fresh water no less than every other day.
  2. More exercise. Get your pets up and moving! The more your rabbit or guinea pig moves, the more they shake up the contents of their bladder.  This moves the high calcium urinary sediment around, helping prevent stone formation. Movement may also stimulate a desire to empty the bladder more regularly.
  3. Improve sanitary conditions and enclosure. Use a high-quality, absorbent bedding that wicks urine and other fluids away. A clean enclosure will promote healthy urination and keep things moving to prevent stone formation. At minimum, spot clean enclosures every other day and deep clean once a week. If possible, provide a multi-level enclosure, or one that promotes movement. This will help increase activity (see #2).
  4. Increase fresh green intake to upwards of 15-20% of their diet. Be sure to do this slowly and monitor your animal to ensure they are tolerating the dietary change. Really focus on the low calcium greens (http://rabbit.org/suggested-vegetables-and-fruits-for-a-rabbit-diet/) with smaller amounts of veggies and even less fruit. The fresh greens can increase water intake (see #1) as well as provide vitamins, minerals (other than calcium), and phytonutrients to promote a healthy and properly functioning urinary tract.
  5. Eliminate packaged treats. Packaged treats provide concentrated little nuggets of nutrients, which may not be beneficial for animals with bladder sludge. The increase in greens (above) will be their new treat.
  6. Offer a variety of grass hays and eliminate alfalfa from the diet. Alfalfa hay is great for some animals; however, it contains much higher concentrations of calcium and may exacerbate bladder stone issues in some animals. Rotating your grass hay offering will also provide some enrichment and discourages picky eating by keeping your pet excited about their hay.
  7. Offer a grass hay-based pellet at recommended daily feeding amounts. You can also consult with your veterinarian to see if reducing the amount of offered pellets may be right for your animal. Reducing the volume of pellets and offering an increase of loose grass hay and greens will dilute dietary mineral concentrations and may help reduce strain on the kidneys.
  8. Offer Oxbow’s Natural Science Urinary Support Supplement. This highly-palatable supplement provides herbs that support normal urinary function/health. This supplement contains:
  • Glucosamine (plant-based) to support the replenishment of mucous that lines and protects the bladder. 
  • Marshmallow root and dandelion leaf which are natural diuretics to reduce water retention and promote urination.
  • Astragalus root which acts as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant to protect kidneys from oxidative damage and support renal function.
  • Cranberry which is an antimicrobial that helps prevent urinary tract infections.
  • Pumpkin seed to help relieve spasms and cramping from urinary disorders.

In some cases, you cannot prevent the development of bladder sludge. However, implementing some of the above actions can help to reduce your animal’s chance of stones or provide relief to an animal with stones.

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February 13, 2019

What Are the Best Kinds of Treats for Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, And Other Small Pets?

What Are the Best Kinds of Treats for Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, And Other Small Pets?

What are the best treats for rabbits and guinea pigs

Whether you’re rewarding your pet for being adorable or you need an incentive for training, treats can be a great way to strengthen the human/animal bond! With so many different options and varieties on the market, it can be hard to choose one that’s not only delicious but healthy as well. So, what should you look for when selecting a yummy reward for your pet?

Sack the Sugar and Axe the Artificial Colors

While your pet may love yogurt drops and other sugary treats, their gastrointestinal systems do not. Sugar and an abundance of artificial flavors can cause dental issues, gastrointestinal problems, and weight gain. Do you already have an obese pet? You don’t have to completely drop treats from their diet - just minimize their treat intake to once per week.

How Often Should I Feed Treats to My Pet?

Feeding frequency and portion sizes are important for pets and people alike. It’s easy to take one look into your adorable bunny’s eyes and want to hand the entire bag of treats, but you’ll want to resist this urge in order to keep your pet healthy and happy in the long run. Make sure to read your treat package's nutrition label and only feed the daily recommended amount. Oxbow recommends that treats only comprise 2% of a small pet’s diet and that you don’t exceed feeding 1-2 treats per day. 

Avoid Overfeeding

Overfeeding treats is very easy to do, but Oxbow is here to help! If you’re having a particularly rigorous training session with your pet, try breaking the treat into small pieces that you can feed one at a time. 

If you have a home with multiple family members or roommates, we recommend keeping a simple feeding log on your refrigerator or above your pet’s habitat (or anywhere else that’s public and very easy to see) so that everyone can take note and not overfeed your little one!

Packaged Treats Aren’t Your Only Option

While packaged treats are incredibly convenient (not to mention delicious), giving your little one a morsel of their favorite leafy green, vegetable, or occasional slice of fruit is also a great way to say, “Good job!” That’s why our Simple Rewards Treats are made with natural ingredients such as cranberries, bananas, apples, carrots, strawberries, barley and other delicious flavors pets love!

Treat Time = Play Time

There are so many great ways to feed your pets treats to provide additional enrichment! If you’re not embarking on training your pet, you can still turn treat time into a fun little game. For example, try hiding your pet’s treat in their habitat (their hay pile is a great hiding spot) so that they have to work to find it.  This type of activity encourages both physical and mental enrichment!

Have a Question That You’d Like to Ask Us About Treats or Enrichment?

Join Dr. Micah Kohles during Ask a Vet Live as he answers small-pet related questions. Follow us on Facebook to learn more and to be notified of the next Ask a Vet Live event!

Additional Nutrition and Enrichment Care Tips & Tricks

How can I provide my pet with nutritional enrichment?

What kinds of games can I play with my rabbit, guinea pig, chinchilla or other small pet?

What kind of food should I feed my small pet?

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February 07, 2019

How to Keep Your Pet’s Teeth Healthy - Video

How to Keep Your Pet’s Teeth Healthy - Video

February is National Pet Dental Health Month, which means it's the perfect time to focus on your pet's pearly whites! 

Watch as Dr. Kohles provides easy-to-follow daily tips for keeping your pet's teeth healthy, as well as highlights some signs and symptoms of dental disease that every pet parent should look out for.

By providing the proper diet and accessories and keeping an eye out for signs and symptoms of dental disease, you can ensure your pet's teeth are healthy throughout their entire lives. 

Follow Oxbow's YouTube channel to view more fun and educational pet care videos!

More Dental Health Resources

Small Pet Dental Health Checklist
All About Small Pet Dental Health 

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February 07, 2019

All About Small Pet Dental Health

All About Small Pet Dental Health

All About Small Pet Dental Health

Rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and other small herbivores are expert chewers with teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives.  Dental disease is common in these species, but it’s often preventable through proper diet and care.  The following information is designed to help you take the necessary steps to ensure your pet's teeth are healthy throughout their entire lives.

Dental Disorders – What to Watch For

Rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas are prey animals that will often hide signs of pain and illness.  Consult your veterinarian if you notice any of the following changes in behavior and/or appearance, as they may be an indicator of dental disease. 

  • Noticeably overgrown teeth
  • Observed difficulty with chewing
  • Reduced grooming and/or bald patches in the fur
  • Abnormal eating or drinking   
  • Drooling or wetness around the mouth
  • Reduced activity level
  • Visible signs of pain (e.g. hunching in a corner or grinding teeth)
  • Weight loss

Hay & Your Pet’s Dental Health

  • Grass hay is the ideal, high fiber material to provide healthy dental wear
  • Eating hay facilitates the natural “side to side” chewing motion of small herbivores
  • Offer a variety of grass hays to encourage consumption & prevent picky eating

Quick Tip:
Offer unlimited amounts of grass hay to your rabbit, guinea pig, or chinchilla.  Hay stimulates normal chewing and dental wear patterns, helping decrease the risk of dental disease. 

For tips on how to keep your pet's healthy every day, check out our 5 Step Dental Health Checklist 

More Resources

How to Keep Your Pet's Teeth Healthy - Video 

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February 07, 2019

Rabbit and Guinea Pig Dental Health Checklist

Rabbit and Guinea Pig Dental Health Checklist

Rabbit and guinea pig dental health checklist

Schedule regular veterinary checkups

Your pet should visit the veterinarian at least once a year (twice is even better) for a checkup.  Your vet will assess your pet’s dental health during this visit, and it’s a great opportunity to ask any questions you have about your pet’s teeth.

Feed unlimited amounts of hay

Hay is the ideal high fiber material to provide healthy dental wear for your pet’s constantly growing teeth.  Offer a variety of hays to prevent picky eating tendencies that can lead to dental disorders over time.   

Don’t overfeed pellets or treats

Pellets are an important part of your pet’s daily nutrition, but overfeeding them can limit your pet’s interest in hay.  Always follow feeding recommendations on pellets and treats. 

Offer safe, enriching chews

Chews made with woven hay, untreated wood, apple sticks, and other natural materials are great for helping keep your pet’s teeth healthy.  Offer multiple items to keep your pet interested and enriched.    

Pay attention to your pet

Observe your pet every day and make notes of any changes to his or her appearance, behaviors, and health.  If you’re ever concerned about the way your pet is acting, be sure to consult your veterinarian right away.  

More Dental Health Resources

All About Small Pet Dental Health 
How to Keep Your Pet's Teeth Healthy - Video 

...Read More

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