How to pack a parcel in 5 (or so) easy steps

February 24th, 2014

Sometimes I have to send packs of my book to the wholesaler (who pass it on to Amazon or your local bookshop); I thought you might be interested in this quick tutorial on packing methods.

Step 1: Get a Box

Boxes are the best thing ever!

Boxes are the best thing ever!

Step 2: Remove Rabbit from Box

All boxes belong to me!

All boxes belong to me!

Step 3: Add Bubble Wrap

box bubble wrap

No, you’re doing it all wrong. First thing you add to a box is a door!

Step 4: Remove Rabbit from Box

You're doing it wrong, first thing you add to a box is a door!

Although this is surprisingly comfy.

Step 5: Add Books

rabbit books

You should definitely get your mum to buy one of these – they are very tasty!

Step 6: Remove Rabbit from Box

Ha! I'm not even in the box!

Ha! I’m not even in the box!

Step 7:  Get suspicious about lack of rabbit in box and go and find out what rabbit is up to

You were playing with the box, so I went to see what other toys I could find to play with.

You were playing with the box, so I went to see what other toys I could find to play with.

Step 8: Address Box

parcel

Step 9: Remove Rabbit from Box

Oops, I told you to add a door, no worries I can break into this in no time.

Oops, now how are you going to get them out? I told you to add a door, no worries I can break into this in no time.

Step 10: Hide box so rabbit can’t eat it before delivery guy (or gal) comes to pick it up.

And that is how you pack a parcel!

 

If you’d like your own copy of my book on rabbit behaviour, you can get hold of it on my website here. It’s £8.99 (£9.99 outside UK) including delivery and at the moment I’m offering a special edition with extra content.

 

Rabbit Welfare Statistics – PAW Report 2013

February 5th, 2014

The third annual PDSA Animal Welbeing Report came out at the end of the last year (see previous years 2011 & 2012). The PAW Report is the PDSA’s survey of various things that effect animals welfare, so things like: are they getting the right foods, do they get enough exercise and appropriate health care. It covers cats, dogs and rabbits, though, of course, it’s the later that I’m going to tell you about.

I do like a nice bit of data to quantify the issues; it’s nice to have numbers on how good (or bad) things are, that way you tell whether things are getting better (or worse). Sometimes it can feel like no matter how much you harp on about rabbit welfare things don’t improve, but is that actually true?

Here are the figures in a nice graphic (feel free to share that around):

paw report 2013 rabbits

So what do all those numbers mean?

Diet

I think this area has shown most improvement. There is a big decrease in muesli, possibly relating to the publicity around the muesli research I posted about, and an uptick in hay eating. As diet makes a bit impact on rabbit’s physical health, that’s a great thing for rabbit’s welfare. It’s likely to mean few cases of dental disease, obesity and digestive issues.

Neutering

This is an interesting one because neutering has increased, which is good news as it helps prevent behaviour problems, unwanted pregnancies and shows owners are willing to get routine vet care. However, what surprises me is there hasn’t been a corresponding downward trend in rabbits living alone. I’d have expected that with more rabbits neutered they’d go on to having a companion. Perhaps there is a gap in education there – we’re doing a good job of selling the health and behaviour benefits but haven’t got the message about companionship out as widely.

Exercise

There is a turn for the worse here, with less rabbits getting daily exercise in a run or garden, or having the opportunity to play with toys. That’s bad news, as exercise and enrichment activities are also important for rabbit’s well-being. Rabbit’s that don’t get enough exercise and stimulation are more likely to display problem behaviours and generally be unhappy.

It seems an odd thing to change for the worse when there have been a lot of changes for the better. I wonder if some of this could be down to the phrasing of the questions, for example Scamp doesn’t exercise in a run or the garden. Maybe the question is tricky for house rabbit owners to answer? Just one thought – stats don’t always show a clear picture.

 

On the whole though, I there are some positive changes. What do you think, are things getting better or worse for rabbits?

Muesli v. Pellets – Research into Rabbit Diets

January 22nd, 2014

Last April there was a lot of publicity over some joint research by the the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and Burgess Pet Care into the effects of diet on rabbit’s health. The paper with the results was just published and I thought I’d summarise some of the findings for you.

What they studied

Thirty two dutch rabbits were neutered, vaccinated and divided into four groups to feed one of the following diets:

  • Extruded nuggets with hay (EH)
  • Muesli with hay (MH)
  • Hay only (HO)
  • Muesli only (MO)
Muesli v. Pellets

Left – muesli, a mix of grains, squished peas, stalks, and pellets. Right – extruded nuggets.

They were then monitored over an 18 month period to observe the impact of the diets. The researchers measured things like how much food they ate and what came out the other end, and took x-rays of their teeth at regular intervals.

Hay Intake

Unsurprisingly the hay only group had the largest hay intake, but there were also differences between the Muesli-Hay and Nugget-Hay groups, with the Nugget-Hay group consuming the higher portion of hay.

Selective Feeding

All the rabbits on muesli selectively feed (left some of the components of the mix). They general left the the pellets, but in some cases the grains and alfalfa stalks too – although this is just one type of mix so it’s possible preferences could vary. The concern with selective feeding is that when the nutritional contents is calculated it assumes all the components are eaten, and rabbits may miss out on nutrients if the leave parts of the food.

Changes in Teeth

The study measured the growth and wear rate of the incisor (front) teeth, and noted that although in all the groups the amount of growth matched the amount of wear (the teeth didn’t overgrow), in the hay only group the teeth wore down and regrew at a faster rate.

They also noted that the both MO and MH groups developed longer premolars (the first of the teeth in the back of the mouth) and the teeth became more curved, changes which they propose many be early signs of dental problems. Three of the Muesli Only group also had to be removed from the study after developing dental disease.

Calcium/Phosphorus

On the subject of teeth, it’s been suggested in the past that a contributing factor to teeth issues in rabbits maybe selective feeding resulting in a poor calcium/phosphorous level/ratio which effect bone/teeth formation. However, this study found that when they calculated the rabbit calcium/phosphorous intake on just the parts of the feed they did eat, the diet still remained within expectable values. Although it might be worth noting this is just one brand of muesli and the same may not be true of all.

Weight

One side effect of a bad diet is weight gain. The study found that the hay only group maintained a perfect body condition, however they were lighter (grew into smaller rabbits) than the other groups. That makes sense, when you consider the origin of commercial rabbit foods was in making rabbits grow faster and larger for purposes we won’t mention here. Both groups eating hay plus either Muesli or Pellets maintained a good body condition, but unsurprisingly those fed Muesli only didn’t fair so well and became obese.

Poop

We all (hopefully) know changes to a rabbit’s poop size and quantity can signal a problem, like the beginning of stasis, therefore  monitoring poop is a good way to measure rabbit’s digestive health.

Caecotropes are normally eaten as they are produced, so in a healthy rabbit with a balanced diet they are rare to see. Excess caecotropes (sticky poop) is a common diet related issue in rabbits and the study found that occurred most frequently in the rabbits fed muesli and most of all in those also receiving no hay.

There were also differences in the normal round droppings too; those eating muesli produced fewer and smaller droppings, and by the end of the study those eating muesli and hay were also producing similar small droppings. So even when fed alongside hay, the muesli still had a negative effect on droppings, which in turn might indicate a digestive system that isn’t operating optimally.

What this means

Although I’m sure most of the bunny savvy already feed pellets and hay, it’s nice to have research backing up the feeling that these are the right option for your rabbits health and well-being. Concrete evidence is also important to the manufacturers making decisions about formulating foods for our rabbits. Already some retailers for example Pets at Home, have taken muesli off their stock lists which is great for the health of the wider bunny population.Why not email or write to your local shops and encourage them to review their product selection too?

The message is getting through, the lastest PDSA PAW Report (full report on the report to follow) shows that the portion of owners feeding Muesli dropped from 49% in 2011 to 34% in 2013, but that’s still 1 in 3 rabbit eating a diet that may cause serious health issues.

Need more diet info?

If you’d like to learn more about bunny food, I’ve a section on rabbit diets on the main site, including information on choosing dry food and a chart comparing popular brands.

Any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments…

Refs

Prebble, J., Meredith, A. (2013) Feeding rabbits and getting it right – the effects of diet on health and behaviour, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.

Prebble, J., Meredith, A. (2014) Food and water intake and selective feeding in rabbits on four feeding regimes, Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition.

 

Rabbit Gut Stasis: 4 things every owner should know

December 12th, 2013

I often write about the fun ‘adventures’ Scamp has. This one isn’t so fun, but I like to be educational too -sorry. Don’t worry though, he’s fine in the end!

Every rabbit owner should know about stasis, because sooner or later you’ll probably come across it. Gut stasis is when food stops moving at it’s normal speed through a rabbit’s gut. It’s often associated with another problem i.e. something makes your rabbit feel unwell (pain, bad teeth, stress etc.) and they stop eating and then the gut stops working. Sometimes though there is no identifiable cause.

Scamp (who is fine now) had a couple of months ago and I thought I’d share in case it helps someone else in future.

1. It starts with not eating.

The story starts when I pop down to the kitchen and find Scamp stretched out in his litter tray. Not his usual napping spot but I presume he’s just laying in wait for someone to open the baby gate so he can sneak past. Except he refuses the ‘well okay you look cute I suppose you can have a treat’ pellet I offer. Then he refuses the piece of carrot. Uh Oh! If you don’t already know a bunny not eating is a sign of something not right.

I pop him out to see how he moves and he starts doing the classic ‘my tummy hurts’ press ups. If you haven’t seen them it looks like your rabbit is going to lie down and relax but they get up again, and then go to lie down again and generally fidget like they can’t get comfortable. Your bun might also sit huddled up – although they do nap like this sometimes normally so if you are worried poke them or offer a treat before panicking! The other sign of a problem is a lack of poop, because if food isn’t moving through the gut, it’s not coming out the other end. So the next thing to do is clean out the litter tray so you can monitor poop production.

2. When it happens, it probably won’t be office hours.

Did I mention it’s 1.30am? Most vets are open 8-6 Mon-Fri and maybe Saturday, if you are lucky. That means there is a 65% chance when your rabbit decides to stop eating they’ll do it when your vet isn’t open. Depending on your vet practice that means calling a vet at home to meet you there (Hi, I know it’s 11am on Boxing day but my rabbit is choking on a bit of rabbit food – Christmas 1998)  or your practice might have a deal with a practice that specifically offers emergency care. Phone your vet’s normal number and there should be a answerphone message with instructions. Even better find out right now where you can take your rabbit in an emergency… go on I’ll wait for you, no time like the present.

3. It will cost you a small fortune.

Our vets have have a choice of emergency practices you can use when they aren’t open. The nearest one is 20 minutes away (as opposed to our normal vet which is closer to five. Still, it’s better than it used to be, at once point the emergency practice was 40 minutes away!

If it’s after 11pm at night it costs £120 to walk through the door. Then there is the consultation fee of £38. So that’s £158 spent and you’ve seen the vet. Of course, then you have treatment costs e.g. drugs another £54. For my readers in the US that converts to $340, although prices vary a lot by area so do find out what it would cost in a practice near you.

Just think of the amount of carrots this could have bought!

Just think of the amount of carrots this could have bought!

If you don’t have a plan for how you would lay your hands on that amount at 1.3o am in the morning then now is a good time to think about it. You might have insurance – check whether your vet still wants a deposit up front, having a savings account (do you have access to a cash machine) or a credit card (don’t forget you have to pay those back).

After seeing the vet and getting stuck with quite a few needles (painkillers and drugs to encourage the gut to move) Scamp came home again. Probably because his notes from when he was little and had stasis (after spending the night rooting around the bin and munching raw potatoes – the wild things we get up to when we’re young!) said he got really stressed out and wouldn’t play ball with the nurses. It quite common for a rabbit to be kept in for fluids, particularly the longer they haven’t been eating, and this will add even more to your bill.

4. Getting a rabbit eating again is really important

One key reason for a vet trip is confirming your rabbit hasn’t got a physical blockage that’s stopping gut movement rather than just a lack of movement. A blockage could be something they’ve eaten (not too common in rabbits as they chew their food well) but also just where fur and food has formed a dried up lump in the guts where it isn’t moving through. If there is a blockage, adding more food can make things worse.

Once you’ve confirmation there is no blockage it’s time to work on getting your bun eating again. Scamp was sent home with recovery food – which is basically powdered pellets (which you can use if you can’t get hold of the powder). You mix it with water to make a lovely gooey green slurry and then attempt to suck it up a syringe and squirt it into your rabbit’s mouth. A few tips:

1. Use a 1ml syringe – the bigger ones just get jammed.
2. Chop the end off the syringe.
3. If you pull the syringe up and it appears empty, keep it in the mix and tap it on the base of the container to clear the block.
4. Put a towel down first, you will get messy.
5. Aim the syringe just behind the front teeth, pointing across the to opposite side of the mouth, not down the throat, to avoid choking.
6. Little and often is most effective.
7. Any they have to clean off themselves afterwards still counts as eaten.
8. Have tasty food to hand afterwards, they often feel more like nibbling just after having some recovery mix.

I’m pretty good at pinning bunnies down so Scamp, much to his disgust, did eat some recovery food – 4-5 syringes every three hours (cos who needs sleep!). Scamp started munching dandelion, something he’s not usually that fussed about, once he got home from the vets (a vet trip often ‘perks’ a rabbit up).

Rabbits often have odd preferences when they are unwell so try and offer a wide range of options, turning their nose up at one thing doesn’t mean they’ll do the same to all. In addition to the dandelion, Scamp’s initial list of acceptable foods were: raspberry stalks (but not the leaves),  parsnip.  strawberry leaves (but not the stalks) and seed heads from oat hay. Pellets, which like most bunnies he usually loves, he completely turned his nose up to.

As he felt better, he gradually increased the variety and volume of food but it took him a couple of day until he was back to his usual self and eating anything edible (and some things not) in sight.

 

I'll pay you back in kisses - deal?

I’ll pay you back in kisses – deal?

 

He’s still having a little trouble with a skin reaction to one of the injections, but it’s not effecting his binkying and hopefully it will clear up soon :)

The Burrowers: Animals Underground Part 3 (Rabbits)

August 31st, 2013

The final episode of Animals Underground, is set above ground – with the youngsters growing up and learning to survive outside the warren. To recap, the original adult population has grown from ten to fifty odd, with the adult females on their second (a few none agouti’s in this batch!) and third litters.

Someone has been planting new gorse bushes between takes!

Someone has been planting new gorse bushes between takes!

Population Explosion

We are told the winter population of wild rabbits in the UK is about 45 Million, in summer when they are breeding the numbers are even higher. Apparently rabbits within the warren time litters together so that the sheer number of young rabbits emerging means some survive, despite this just one in ten rabbits make it to one year old.

After posing the question “How do rabbits synchronise these waves of young?”  we are told it’s down to the top buck (Thumper). As Hazel (top female) gives birth he stays close by and seconds after the babies are born Thumper starts working on the next litter. He repeated the same behaviour, mating with all the other females immediately giving birth. Peckham cites this as the explanation for how the litters are able to arrive at the same time. Which doesn’t seem like an answer to me. It will certainly insure that each female has a litter 28 days (roughly) after the last, but it doesn’t explain how the females synchronise in the first place.

In this case, the obvious answer is rabbits are induced ovulators, so they can get pregnant as a soon as they meet a male. Pop eight female rabbits in a limited area with a couple of boys and it’s a good bet that 28 days later most of them will have a litter, the males don’t wait around. But how does it work for established populations? Do the first litters of the season arrive at the same time?

3D Warren Mapping

Back to the concrete warren we saw excavated last week, and they use lasers to map it in 3D, then pass the data to scientists from Exeter, lead by Dr Dave Hodgson for analysis. This showed the distances between chambers, and between chambers and entrances were very even, though they didn’t say what it was – it would have been nice to know a rabbit idea of the ideal tunnel length.

The particular warren they excavated was around thirty years old, and had grown from a single scrape (nesting tunnel) to a home for fifty rabbits. The believe it developed in three stages, an initial section with large chambers, several entrances and a very interconnected network of burrows. Then some larger warrens with more connections, which they likened to ‘urban sprawl’. Finally there was another set of tunnels leading away from the  central hub. This expansion is seasonal, with the summer breeding boom the females dig out new nesting chambers & tunnels.

The Start of a Warren

This leads on to the question: “How do warrens start in the first place?” Females get their pick of nesting chambers based on their position in the hierarchy. Hazel (top female) got the prime spot, where as rabbits like Beatrix ended up with a nesting spot in the middle of a ‘highway’. For other sub-ordinate  rabbits there is another option – moving out. Acorn, the lowest in the pecking order, has apparently been excluded from the warren by the other females. This means digging her own breeding chamber (called a ‘stop’). We see Acorn digging in the sand above ground, but no information is given on whether she raises a litter or not. The nesting chambers dug by excluded female, could be who whole new warrens begin. At the excavated warren, they unearthered a smaller secondary warren, near the main warren – possibly started by a subordinate female, like Acorn.

What next for the burrowers…

That’s it for the series, so what’s next for the stars? The badgers abandoned the man-made set and built their own, they’ll be released into the wild a secret location, apart from one which failed a TB test. The water voles will be released in The Black Isle, Scotland as part of repopulation efforts.

And the rabbits will go back to the breeder ‘and get lovely homes’ with a few staying on at the warren. Quite how the breeder intends to find ‘lovely’ homes for forty-odd teenage agouti-coloured rabbits which have had no socialisation with people I’ve no idea, but if anyone finds out the secret I’m sure there are many rescue centres that would love to hear it.

So, what have we learnt?

Rabbits breed like rabbits.  Pop ten unneutered rabbits in an enclosure and within a few months the population will be a lot higher. What haven’t we learnt? Much at all about feeding habits, the physical task of excavating the warren, communication, courtship… anything non breeding related really. And unlike water voles and badgers, humans have been breeding and observing domestic rabbits for hundreds of years. I don’t think this discovered anything new, or if it did it wasn’t shared with the viewing public.

Learning More About Rabbit Behaviour

Has watching The Burrowers left you with the urge to learn more about rabbit behaviour? I’ve got just the book for you! Understanding Your Rabbit’s Habits by me Tamsin Stone.

Leave a comment here and I’ll give one lucky reader a copy for free! If you don’t want to wait, you can buy a copy here.