Category Archives: Health

Creating an Emergency Manual for Your Rabbitry

As I write there is a wildfire raging less than 20 miles away from home with a current 0% containment. It has exhibited extreme fire behavior and consumed more than 4500 acres of land in just over 24 hours. Our friends who live closer to the fire area are on pre-evacuation and, while I really suspect we will not see any danger at our home, we are carefully considering what measures we will take if we need to evacuate the area ourselves.

Too many times I prefer to sit in la-la land, assuming the best of everyone and believing that nothing out of the ordinary will ever happen. However, as so many of us know, this is simply not the reality. Life is unexpected because, well, life is unexpected!

Not long ago a magician made news when the USDA forced him to submit an emergency plan for the rabbit he used to pull out of his hat while performing. The rule was from the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS):

“APHIS published a final rule requiring all dealers, exhibitors, intermediate handlers, carriers, research facilities and other entities regulated by the Agency under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to take additional steps to be better prepared for potential disaster situations.  They are required to develop a plan for how they are going to respond to and recover from emergencies most likely to happen to their facility, as well as train their employees on those plans.”

Admittedly, this seems like overkill in the case of a magician and his single rabbit, but the reality is it’s good business and solid animal husbandry. Many of us depend on these animals to provide for our family’s protein. They are defenseless without daily care taking – and if we want to be ethical (who doesn’t?!) we really must give some thought to how we could best care for these animals should the worst occur.

A rabbitry management book is a useful tool in case of emergency, someone taking over the care of your rabbitry while you vacation, or to produce as proof that you really are doing your best to provide the very best care possible for the animals under your management.   The USDA actually outlines what your rabbitry risk management manual should include. (These guidelines generated a 34-page report for Marty the Magician and his bunny that is really worth the read.) Your emergency plan should:

  • Identify types of emergencies seen frequently in your region
  • Identify emergencies that could occur at your particular type of facility
  • Identify specific tasks that facility staff will undertake in an emergency situation
  • Establish a clear chain of command for all employees to follow
  • Identify materials and resources that are available to your facility and elsewhere, and
  • Ensure all pertinent employees are trained on this plan

The guidelines further explain that “the terms ’emergency’ and ‘disaster’ are not limited to major natural disasters, such as hurricanes, and should include consideration of localized events such as a fire, severe weather, or any other unexpected situation that interrupts normal animal care activities.”

Truthfully, while the bureaucracy is intimidating (and overkill), it’s also really useful to take a look at these guidelines to see where the holes may be in your own rabbitry emergency response manual. I’ve had many of these ideas floating around in my head off and on, but I’ve never committed them to paper and communicated with my family about the plan for the rabbits in case of emergency.

While the guidelines consider many different types of emergencies such as structural fire, electrical outages, disruption in feed or water supply, road closures, intentional attack on facility/personnel, unexpected change in ownership (or death of owner), HVAC malfunctions, animal escape, animal disease outbreak, as well as other natural disaster scenarios. Specifically, for evacuation, the APHIS guidelines point out the need for a plan for:

  • Transportation vehicles and equipment/caging. Do you have carriers for every animal you have on site? Once filled, do you have a vehicle that can fit and transport all of those carriers to safety?
  • Alternate location for housing animals. Where are you going to take your furry friends where they will be welcome? Most Red Cross shelters are open to humans, not animals!
  • Husbandry and care needs for the animals during transport and once animals are relocated. Do you need nest boxes? Do your carriers each have a water and food bottle? Do you have enough food on hand to send it with the animals and expect it to last until the emergency is resolved? Are there significant temperature or climate differences between your home and the relation spot that need to be considered?
  • Animal Identification. Are all your animals tattooed in a timely manner all the time? Do you have a list of which tattoo number belongs to whom out of the danger of the disaster?
  • Records Transfer. Do you have electronic back ups of your pedigree programs? Breeding records? How about a paper copy of registrations and Grand Champion certificates, as well as Bills of Sale?  Are these stored in a location that would be unaffected by your disaster?

A few other thoughts that have crossed my mind as we consider the logistics of possibly moving our animals:

  • Actually practice the plan. Nothing on paper is committed to memory unless it is practiced.
  • In an emergency situation, a bale of hay can go a long way for a lot of rabbits! Having a bale on hand at all times provides a distinct level of comfort.
  • Identify — in advance — which animals can be quickly culled and which are essential for the survival of the breeding program. Write it down and consider identifying their cages with a mark so anyone helping with the evacuation will know where to focus their energies.
  • What is available for nursing mamas and their babies for transport? Possibly laundry baskets, banana boxes, or larger pet carriers are a possibility.
  • How many bags of feed do you use a week/month? Do you have a 30 day supply as a general practice?
  • Consider the ethics of releasing domesticated animals to fend for themselves in an emergency. Obviously, the priority in any situation must be the humans… but to expect natural survival instincts to kick in for a rabbit that has been bred to be dependent upon humans for decades is irrational. Their care must be a priority in the same way a human baby should be protected in a disaster.
  • Do you have a “go bag” of  rabbit first aid packed with items like gauze, Neosporin, critical care, electrolytes, nail clippers, Vetricyn, etc. Where is your tattoo kit?
  • Where is your plan kept? Is is handy where you can grab it and skim if your mind is stressed and you’re worried about other things? Could you hand your plan to a helper and feel confident they would understand your methods and wishes from what’s written down?
  • What about copies? I have my pedigree program on my computer – but if my computer is damaged I’m in trouble! I also have a notebook binder with rabbitry information. This needs to be copied and sent to a safe place completely separate from my zip code in case the binder burns or is damaged through water or wind attacks.

I hope this post isn’t the world’s biggest downer! I’m a big believer that if you see 10 problems coming down the road at you, 9 will fall into the ditch before they ever meet you. BUT — there’s always that one… and Murphy’s Law!

The Scoop on Poop

Image Credit goes to hopperhome.com

Image Credit goes to hopperhome.com

I just found this article on rabbit poop – I thought it was really interesting. Because, you know, poop is a really exciting topic and stuff.

 

The Scoop on Poop
By Charlcie Gill

Rabbits produce two types of droppings: fecal pellets and cecotropes. The latter are produced in a region of the rabbit’s digestive tract called the ceacum. The ceacum contains a natural community of bacteria and fungi that provide essential nutrients and possibly even protect the
rabbit from harmful pathogens. By consuming the cecotropes as they exit the anus, the rabbit takes in nutrient-packed dietary items essential to good health. Though often referred to as “night droppings”, cecotropes can be produced at almost any time of day.

Unlike the small brown “bunny marbles” we know as fecal pellets, normal CECOTROPES resembles a dark greenish brown mulberry, or tightly bunched grapes. Composed of small, soft, shiny pellets, each is coated with a layer of rubbery mucus, and pressed into an elongate mass.
Cecotropes have a rather strong odor, as they contain a large mass of beneficial cecal bacteria. When a rabbit ingests cecotropes, the mucus coat protects the bacteria as they pass through the stomach, then re-establish in the ceacum.

When things go wrong…

Diarrhea
True diarrhea is more common in young kits than older rabbits. One of the most common causes is coccidia. In a kit, dehydration caused by diarrhea can rapidly result in death. It is wise to consider incidences of diarrhea a true emergency. Common antibiotics used to treat coccidia
include Albon™ and the potentiated sulfas, such as Trimethoprim Sulfa (TMZ) or Bactrim™. Another cause of diarrhea in kits is stress at weaning. Very young rabbits have a sterile lower intestine until they begin to eat solid food at the age of 3-4 weeks. It is during this time that their intestines are at their most critical phase. Weaning too early or weaning under stressful conditions, can make kits susceptible to enteritis (inflammation of the intestinal lining), which can cause fatal diarrhea. When I wean kits, I always offer good grass hay. Adding rolled oats to the ration at a rate of 20% in relation to pellets for about a week is also a helpful preventative.

Unformed Cecotropes
The ceacum is a delicately balanced ecosystem. If the intestine is moving too slowly, or if the rabbit is getting a diet too rich in digestible carbohydrates and too low in crude fiber, the complex population of bacteria in the ceacum can become unbalanced.

 

Continue reading…. https://www.arba.net/PDFs/poop.pdf

Wild Rabbit Nursing Babies

nursing babiesThis is a really fascinating video of a wild rabbit feeding her babies. I’m absolutely amazed… even though it’s a slow video, stick with it to the end – amazing finish!

 

 

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If this doesn’t work try this link: Wild Rabbit Nursing Kits

Diagnosing Snuffles

Pan American Vet Labs has announced they will offer a service to diagnose pastuerella.

Pan American Vet Labs has announced they will offer a service to diagnose pastuerella.

If you’ve been reading here for awhile you’ve probably figured out I have a bit of a personal problem. I get very nervous about germs.

 

On a human stand point this means that I groan internally every time I use a public bathroom, get totally freaked out if someone offers to let me drink after them, and one of my “must haves” on a husband list was that the poor man had never had cold sores. Yep. I was in to the important stuff.

 

From the rabbit side my germophobia has caused several arguments with my husband about proper rabbitry ventilation and sun exposure, two separate quarantine areas, and a slightly neurotic fear of any rabbit that sneezes. That fear of sneezing is also a fear of snuffles, and my desire to just plain not have to worry about it brought us to a decision to vaccinate every show rabbit we have with BunnyVac before we ever put it on a table.

 

Awhile ago we were at a show and happened to be set up next to some rabbits that sneezed. At the first sneeze I was completely alert and aware of everything those rabbits did. I calculated the four foot radius around their carriers and breathed a sigh of relief when I realized my rabbits were far enough away that those rabbits would have to be expectorating ninjas to infect my rabbits with anything. Then I settled down and watched.

 

The rabbits in question were consistently sneezing. I even saw snot from them on occasion as I observed. However, their eyes were bright, they ate food from their dishes, they drank water, their ears were perky… they didn’t seem sick. They just sneezed.

 

This is a problem. I live in a world where I like things to be black and white and a sneezing rabbit needs to be clear to me that it has pastuerella or snuffles. After hours of observation of those rabbits across the way, to this day I still can’t be sure what I was observing. Sure, a sneeze is suspicious but in the spring time with things blooming coupled with the 50 mph wind gusts in our area… how can you know for sure what that sneeze means?

 

I’ve discovered another tool in the tool box of diagnosis. Pan American Vet Labs in Texas, the same company that produces the BunnyVac, has recently made a diagnostic option available to the general rabbit breeder.

 

The bacteriologic culture service toolkit contains a snot extractor (that’s my non-official name for the instrument that snatches the boogers out of the rabbit’s nose) and mailing supplies. Breeder supplies postage. As I understand it, if you have a rabbit that is looking suspicious, you can grab a mucous sample from the nose or an abscess using the “sterile culturette swab,” put it in their media kit, and mail it off. (Samples should be shipped within 12 hours of collection by a service like FedEx or Priority Mail that can deliver to the lab within 72 hours.)

 

PavLab will test the sample for pastuerella, bordetella, staphylococcus, and streptococcus. Additional identification is possible for E.Coli, pseudomonas, proteus, and similar enteric bacteria may also be done. Generally they have about a 48 hour turn around before you get an email identifying exactly what’s going on with your rabbit, giving you the clarity that I (and the other type-A germophobes in this world) may desire.

 

It’s not exactly cheap – the toolkit costs $4 per culturette (plus shipping which is about $7 in the US). The culturettes have a year or two shelf life, so you can keep the swabs on hand until needed. At the time the culture is sent off there will be an additional $30 charge to run the diagnostic test to culture and identify bacteria.

 

For what it’s worth, Pan American Vet Labs is not the only place you can get this service, but it seems to be the cheapest. Here is information complied by Kelly P. on the facebook forum that discusses other options:

 

I spoke to several labs around the USA regarding culturette testing for p. multocida and bordetella. I live in California, so most of the labs were here in my area. I also limited my research to labs that accept culturettes and excluded labs that require a serum specimen, since most rabbit breeders don’t have the means to extract serum from whole blood. Here’s what I found:

•UC Davis, Ca
oUC Davis’ PCR lab doesn’t test for p. multocida, but does test for bordetella. Since I am interested in both, I didn’t ask their pricing. The other labs on campus only deal with large animals. The direct phone number for the PCR lab is 530-752-7991. If you’re interested in checking out their website for these tests and others, go here: http://www.cahfs.ucdavis.edu/lab_tests/
• Zoologix, Inc in Chatsworth, Ca
oTests for both p. multocida and bordetella, uses culturette swabs, but each test costs $85 (that’s $85 for p. multi and $85 for bordetella). Their phone number is 818-717-8880 and their website is http://www.zoologix.com/rodent/Menu.htm 
•Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL)
oTVMD tests for both, uses a culturette, and charges about $30 per animal (pricing varies whether you live in Texas or are out-of-state). I spoke with Dr. Naikari who works in the Amarillo lab. He was very polite, professional, and happy to answer questions and explain procedures. The number to the Amarillo lab is 888-646-5624 and the web address is http://tvmdl.tamu.edu/ 

It was a little difficult to obtain the bacterial transfer media. I discovered they’re sold on the Internet, but only in bulk quantities much greater than I’ll need before they expire. I called a local hospital, a (human) medical supply company, and several pharmacies. None were willing to sell me less than a case. I also called about five vets before finding one that was willing to sell me a handful of them. If you’re unable to obtain these locally, along with the appropriate shipping material, you can order them from TVMDL.

When you purchase the culturettes, be sure to get the kind with the suspension in them (bacterial transport media). According to Dr. Naikari, the suspension helps preserve the bacteria and also keeps it from drying out. I found culturettes on the Internet that are “dry” and won’t work if you plan on shipping to a lab. TVMDL’s website has a very informative page on all the rules and procedures for shipping lab samples. It can be found here: http://tvmdl.tamu.edu/products-services/shipping/

 

 

In the end, at approximately $1/rabbit/year it’s still cheaper to vaccinate your whole herd than test individually for sickness, as it will likely be about $50/rabbit to run a diagnostic test. But for those who have that special rabbit and need to know whether to cull or treat, or whether it’s allergies or pastuerella, it’s really nice to know this is an option!

 

I haven’t used this myself, so I can’t speak for this service personally. However, I do appreciate knowing what options exist. I’m certain if you have any questions you can contact Bob Glass, bglass@pavlab.com and he will respond to your specific concerns.

 

Fostering Kits

When to foster baby bunnies.

When to foster baby bunnies.

Today we woke up to find our Cinnamon doe, little miss Fancy, hovering over a nest filled with – count them! – 13 babies!

 

{Let’s have a moment of silence to be thankful that humans don’t have 13 babies at a time. I can only imagine the gray hair I would be sporting if I had multiples…}

 

We have a few more litters due right now as well, so once I saw the crazy number of babies in Fancy’s nest, I started hoping that another doe would have a small litter so we can foster babies to the other doe. That brought up the idea of fostering and I realized I haven’t blogged about it here yet.

 

One relatively common practice for rabbit husbandry is fostering kits from one doe to another. There are typically specific reasons why this would be advantageous as a management technique: perhaps the original doe had too many kits for them to thrive, perhaps one doe is exhibiting a distinct lack of maternal instinct, perhaps it makes sense to have a fantastic show rabbit birth the litter but not raise it so there is less wear and tear on her body. There are several rationale for fostering to begin with, so…

 

How do you actually do it?! The basic premise is to take kits from one litter and place them with another litter. We have had good success with this when we do the fostering within the first 2-3 days of a newborn kit’s life. We will remove both nestboxes from the cage and rearrange as needed. (I usually keep the nestbox away from mama for about an hour so that any scents will have a chance to mingle.) Then I put the nestbox(es) back and let the does do all the dirty work!

 

Remember to identify the moved kits in some way! Some will tattoo a dot in the moved kit’s ear, another idea is to put nail polish on the kit’s paws or fur. Just remember that all bunnies tend to look remarkably alike when side by side… and to keep your pedigrees straight you’re going to need some type of identification on the newborn kits.

 

I’ve also heard suggestions of putting a bit of vanilla extract on the foster mama’s nose so she won’t be able to smell the difference between her birthed and adopted kits. This might be a useful tactic for a high strung mother… but it’s not one we’ve yet practiced or even felt like we needed.

 

When do you know when fostering is needed? Most commercial breed does can very adequately handle 6-8 babies with plenty of milk for them to grow and thrive. When you have more kits than nipples, you might want to consider fostering! So far, the largest litter we’ve had a mama successfully raise is 10. Those kits were healthy but definitely did not have the weight gain and growth we see in a smaller litter. There’s a lot of flexibility in what an individual doe can handle with her milk supply. Regardless, consider putting her on 18% protein feed for as long as she’s nursing her kits.

 

We’ve only had one complete fostering failure and that was when we tried to put a baby about 10 days old in with a new litter. The foster mama was not pleased with this state of affairs and the kit was dead by the morning, which was a major bummer all the way around.

 

Only in rabbits can your animals actually claim the “brutha from anotha mutha” phrase! May your nestboxes be full!

A Rabbit With No Ears

It’s not a movie, even though there’s a movie by that name. (Rabbits Without Ears.) It’s also not a response to a nuclear disaster, as people fear is the reason behind a rabbit born with no ears after Fukushima meltdown in Japan.

It’s ugly and strange, but it’s happened to us. We have some earless bunnies.

The vast majority of the rabbits in our rabbitry are excellent mothers, even our first-timers. But then, occasionally, just like in real life, there are…

The ones.

You know. The ones you don’t really like to take out in public because you aren’t quite sure what will happen. Kind of like that one family member who might get rowdy at a holiday dinner and be the star of a story told for generations?

Yeah. We have one of those.

Let it be freely said, I adore our Cinnamons. They are beautiful rabbits, friendly, and easy to hold and cuddle. They’re fabulous!

But then, there’s the one.

One Cinnamon doe had her litter a few weeks ago. I’m not completely bitter she had it at about 1 am and I stayed up to make sure she did alright so the babies wouldn’t freeze to death. (Alright, I’m a little bitter.) (I’m also glad I stayed up because she made a nest of hay out of the nestbox!)

I’m bitter because the darn rabbit did such a fabulous job of cleaning her newborns up that she ate the ears right off of them! Out of six babies, only two have been left untouched, one poor baby lost half of its head as well!

An overzealous mama took the ears clean off these babies at birth while cleaning them up.

An overzealous mama took the ears clean off these babies at birth while cleaning them up.

Darn doe.

We weren’t sure if the babies would survive their injuries, after all, losing a large flap of skin at birth seems to put a damper on the whole, “Welcome to life!” philosophy. Particularly in the case of the scalped baby, we didn’t know if it would be a more humane choice to put it down immediately.

But when we felt the hurt babies they didn’t seem to be in pain, so we let them go for 24 hours. A day later everyone was fat and the ears were scabbed. And 24 hours after that those babies were thriving.

So now we have some disfigured rabbits. What do we do with them?!

Well, first and foremost, we give their mama another chance. The rule of thumb is to give a brand new mom a chance at three strikes before you removed her from your breeding program. I will also say that even though she stinks at cleaning her kits up at birth this particular doe has been a great mom, nurses well, and has even fostered a few kits for us.

Mama's been feeding this baby Cinnamon WELL!

Mama’s been feeding this baby Cinnamon WELL!

Second, we wait to see how the babies develop. Because they don’t have anything genetically wrong with them, if they have killer body types they could still be an asset to a breeding program. That is a question only time and growth will answer.

Finally, if they don’t have a body type we’d like to incorporate into our breeding program, they are still useful as sustenance for our family.

We’ll see how these little ones develop, but I’m comforted that it’s not the end of the world that we have some earless wonders!

When Your Rabbit Won’t Use a Nestbox

We stuffed the rabbit cages full of hay (like this) and let the mama build a nest.

We stuffed the rabbit cages full of hay (like this) and let the mama build a nest.

We’ve been busy this week at Mad Hatter Rabbits! Lots of new babies to first-time mamas.

 

Though we’ve had some great success stories, it hasn’t been without its stress. In particular I had two first-time mamas who were absolutely determined to build their nests outside of the nest box.

 

I sanitized the boxes in case they smelled like another rabbit and turned my mamas off, lined them with fresh hay, had a serious sit down talk with the rabbits and explained that in this weather, with temperatures dipping down into the teens at night, having babies outside the box simply won’t do. They’ll freeze!

 

My mamas didn’t care. They did not want to build their nest in the box.

 

Short of setting up a 24 hour watch outside their cage I wasn’t sure what to do about it. I consulted my Facebook group experts and decided to stuff the entire cages full of hay. This resulted in a big ‘ol mess but also a layer about 4 inches thick that the were able to us as burrows.

 

In my financial mind, an entire 3 string bale of hay is less than the price of one of those baby rabbits if we sold it. The mess is not fun to clean up in any way, but at least I’d have a little window of opportunity to catch the babies before they froze.

 

Mama rabbits were pleased as punch at the addition in their cages! They built their nests and I began my 45-minute interval check ups. (Switched to 20-minutes once I saw the mamas pulling hair.)

 

The first babies were born after midnight. The last doe delivered at 2 a.m.

 

Of course.

 

I do love my coffee for a reason!

 

Once they were born I plucked those little ones up and tucked them with their mama’s fur up into their nestboxes and brought them inside.

 

(Bringing the nestboxes inside is a controversial move. Some breeders say the shock between inside temperature and outside temperature is not safe for the babies. We’ve left babies outside and we’ve brought them back and forth. Can’t say which method we prefer yet.)

 

The next morning I took the nestboxes out to their mamas for feeding. The ones who had their babies in the nestboxes to begin with hopped right inside and fed those babies. The mamas who were determined to have their babies outside the nestbox… stayed outside.

 

Hungry babies.

 

Repeat at dusk.

 

I was beginning to get worried and wondered if I needed to foster the kits from the litters with mamas who wouldn’t feed. Since mama rabbits only feed once or twice a day and it can take as long as a day for their milk to come in, I knew we had sometime to play with… but not too much time. By 36 hours post-birth those babies needed a meal or a foster mom.

 

This morning I took the nestboxes outside again. And the same situation unfolded. Suddenly, a lightbulb went off…

 

If Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, the mountain must go to Mohammed.

 

I scooped those  babies out of the nestbox and put them in the holes their mamas delivered them in, in the hay outside the nestbox.

 

Mama rabbits immediately headed over to the babies and nursed and cleaned them! One of the does even covered them up and pulled more hair. After the mamas finished, scooped the babies up, put them in the nestboxes which are now acting as an RV, and carried them inside.

 

I feel quite brilliant right now. It only took me two days to figure it out!

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