Advice from the expert: How to keep your rabbit entertained

By Emma Purnell, RVN Cert Nut.

Rabbits are clever and inquisitive creatures and need plenty of mental stimulation.

Without this the destructive behaviours that often become a problem can be more pronounced. Toys are a great way to keep them entertained and there are plenty to choose from! Regularly switching them can make sure things stay fresh and keep their interest.

Homemade toys

Homemade toys are often cheap and cheerful, but can provide hours of fun. A toilet roll tube can be any number of fun games! Simply stuffing it with hay gives them a challenge, adding in some dried forage of a few of their daily pellet ration can ensure they take an interest. It is often small and light enough for them to throw around, another thing they love. The tubes can also be cut down and mounted on a cardboard base to give different small containers to add small treats to – always ensure these sections of toilet roll are tall enough to provide a challenge but short enough that they can reach them otherwise they will become frustrated. Cardboard can also be used to make shelters (even castles!) to allow for hiding places, but always ensure there are two exits, being cornered can make them anxious. One of the simplest toys can be the use of a piece of string and some pegs to peg greens up along a line. This gives the rabbit the ability to work for the food rather than just picking it up and keeps their attention longer. Digging trays are a great idea and help to satisfy the natural urge to dig. Soil can be used if sourced from a clean, safe area – but children’s play sand can work just as well and avoids the risk of contamination.

The best form of homemade toy is also one of the easiest – scatter feeding of pellets. Scattering the pellets around their environment or through their hay can provide lots of entertainment as they search them out and it helps to keep them active.

If the budget for toys is a bit higher then there are even more options available. Cheaper toys can include wooden or willow balls, sometimes containing forage, which allow for activity through chasing as well as chewing behaviours. Some balls and similar contain bells which some rabbits seem to love but others can be frightened of so take care when first introducing them. Small wooden or plastic throw toys can be popular, and children’s stacking cups seem to be a favourite! Initially putting a pellet or two between the cups can help encourage them to start playing. Frames with several toys dangling from them can also help to keep them interested either through chewing or movement. Do make sure any gap or space in the toy is not big enough for them to fit their head through as this risks injury.

Puzzle games

Puzzle games can be purchased fairly cheaply and can be a great way to get their mind active. They often involve sliding, moving or lifting out tabs to find treats hidden underneath. Feed balls are similar, they have a single opening and need the rabbit to push or throw them around to get to the pellets inside. Material mats are also available which you can scatter their daily feed onto, giving them more of an opportunity to search for their food.

For higher budgets, there are a number of wooden shelters and play spaces that can be bought to give areas to hide as well as for them to jump on top of and explore. Increasing their space and the number of levels can give them more to explore and scatter feeding in these areas will encourage exercise. Always take care that they cannot slip and fall from anything high and risk injury.

As you can see, there are many things that we can do to make our rabbits lives more fun and, whatever your budget, enjoy watching them play – but always take care that treats and pellets are from their daily food allowance and that they are supervised with anything they could chew, removing toys that have been damaged.

Emma qualified as a Veterinary Nurse in 2008 and works for Nutravet (UK) Ltd. She has a BSc in Zoology with Animal Ecology and an MSc in Ecology, helping to fuel her interest in the most exotic species. She has a particular love of small furries and has a grade A distinction in Canine and Feline Clinical Nutrition (CertNut). 

Top tips for pet owners during summer

During summer months we love nothing more than spending our time outdoors with pets.

With warmer weather and longer days, it’s the best time to be out and about enjoying lots of exercise and fun with our four-legged friends. As well as long hot days, summer can bring with it some challenges for pets and their owners. During this time, it’s important to keep an eye on your pet to ensure they stay happy and healthy.

Here are some positive things you can do to help maintain your pet’s health during summer months:

Hydration

Always make sure that your pet has a clean and fresh supply of water daily. If you are taking them on a long car journey, be sure to take water bowls along to hydrate your pet during rest stops. If your cat spends most of their summer days outside, be sure to leave a water bowl in the garden if they can’t access one indoors.

Ticks

These can be one of the biggest dangers during summer months. Always check your dog for ticks following walks, especially in wooded areas. During summer months check your dog and cat once a day for any ticks.

Cars

Never leave your pet alone in a car, especially in summer months. Cars can get hot very quickly in the sun and this could risk your pet’s health. Either take your dog with you, or leave them at home.

Fertilisers

Some fertilisers and pesticides can be poisonous to your pet. Try to refrain from using them on your garden, as they could make your dog or cat ill if ingested.

Water safety

If you take your dog to the beach or somewhere near a lake, be sure to supervise your dog at all times whilst they are in the water. Don’t assume your dog can swim. Some lakes can contain algae, which is poisonous to dogs.

Protect their paws

Be sure to protect your pet’s paws from hot surfaces during the summer. Pavements and surfaces can get hot in high temperatures and could burn your pet’s paws.

Keep pets cool

Use a fan indoors to help keep your pets cool. If it’s too warm for you then it’s also too warm for them. If you keep the house cool via open windows, be sure to keep an eye on your pets to prevent them from escaping or falling. These can be used for rabbits – but don’t place it directly onto them and be sure to cover wires in case they get chewed.

Offer shade

Create a shady den in your garden to help your pet escape the sun. Make sure they have plenty of fresh water on offer – as well as water to use to cool off. You could use a small paddling pool in your garden to keep your dog cool in high temperatures.

Sun protection

Some dogs and cats can suffer from sunburn, just like us if we spend too much time in the sun. Pets with light skin and short or thin hair, such as white cats are more susceptible to sensitive skin from the sun. Try to limit the amount of time your pet spends in the sun. You could also use sun cream that is specially formulated for pets.

Barbecues

If you have a barbecue during the summer, don’t feed your pet any food that they shouldn’t have. This could cause them to have a sensitive tummy. Speak to guests and advise them not to feed your pets scraps.

Exercise

During particularly hot days, walk your dog in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest time of day. The intense heat of midday can overwhelm your dog. Don’t over exert your dog.

Grooming

Regularly grooming your pet during summer can help to reduce excess fur. It will especially help to reduce fur balls in your cat’s stomach.

Rabbits and small furries

Make sure their hutch and play area are in the shade. For indoor rabbits be sure that their cage is not placed in direct sunlight. Ensure they have plenty of fresh cool water to stay hydrated.

Keep an eye on your pet

Keep checking on your pet and look out for signs of heat stress. These signs can include, heavy panting and excessive drooling. Your vet is best placed to monitor your pet’s health, it is important to have regular health checks with your local vet to ensure your pet is receiving the best possible care.

Ask your vet about any of the above or if you are worried about your pet’s health.

 

Understanding gut health in pets

The gut is inhabited by billions of microbes (microflora). These bacteria have a fundamental impact on the physiology and wellbeing of your pet. The benefits of a healthy microflora are not just limited to digestion.

Your pet’s gut can’t function properly without the trillions of microbes living and working there – called the gut microbiome – this ecosystem of bacteria provides a myriad of life-supporting functions that can help your pet live their healthiest days. There is increased awareness of the benefit of probiotic support for hospitalised and convalescent animals where microflora balance and the GALT immune response can be affected while animals recuperate.

Supplementing your pet’s diet with a high-quality probiotic and maintaining a healthy gut flora provides a wide range of health benefits, which include:

Supporting immune function

With so much of the immune system centred in the gut, it’s no wonder that the microbes living there have such a supportive impact on a pet’s immune function. Probiotics work hard to support the gut barrier, which blocks out harmful bacteria and toxins from leaking into your pet’s bloodstream.

Approximately 70% of the body’s immune Lymphatic tissue is located in the digestive tract, mostly in the form of ‘Gut-Associated Lymphatic Tissue’ (GALT). The GALT contains many types of immune cells that optimise the efficiency of the immune response. Studies have shown that having a healthy microflora stimulates this immune tissue. Therefore, a healthy digestive system is important for optimal immune support.

Healthy weight management

A healthy gut full of friendly flora can help your pet with weight management. Probiotics support blood sugar levels already within a normal range, help to encourage safety hormones and maintain healthy digestion, all of which can help to keep your pet from wanting to overeat and gaining unwanted weight.

Soothes sensitive tummies

Sensitive digestion is a common reason for pet owners to take their animal to the vet. Studies indicate that both cats and dogs experiencing temporary diarrhoea see significant benefits from taking a probiotic supplement when it comes to both recovery and prevention.

Easing stress

Both cats and dogs can experience stress in a number of situations. Probiotics can help the body to produce and regulate feel good neurotransmitters (like Serotonin and GABA) that can support a positive mood. Beneficial bacteria can also keep stress at bay by supporting appropriate levels or cortisol, the ‘stress’ hormone.

Maintain energy levels

As they get older, pet’s energy levels can wane, which can be due in part to an imbalanced microbiome. Probiotics can help to support energy levels by helping your pet to thoroughly absorb all the nutrients from the foods they eat. Some friendly flora even produces B Vitamins, which are essential for energy production.

Maintain joint health

Painful joints can majorly impact on active pets and surprisingly a healthy gut can do wonders to support your pet’s physical strength. Some strains of bacteria produce vitamins that can help you pet metabolise calcium for strong bones and beneficial bacteria can also help to make enzymes that support the body’s overall mineral absorption.

If you are worried about your pet’s gut health, you should consult your vet who will be able to offer advice dependant on your pet’s health needs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q&A with Dr Tammie King

During the pandemic, the rise in pet ownership was dramatic, with a reported 17 million homes in the UK owning a pet.

Dr Tammie King, Applied Behaviour Technical Leader at Waltham Petcare Science Institute, Mars Petcare answers our questions about the changes in behaviour of our four-legged friends following the pandemic:

How has the pandemic/lockdown changed our relationships with our pets?

As we navigated the last couple of years, we spent considerably more time with our pets in comparison to life before lockdowns. Many people faced prolonged periods of isolation and looked upon pets for companionship and comfort, entertainment and stress relief. Whether distracting us from the news, getting us out for stress-relieving walks where we encountered other people and animals, or simply giving us the companionship we craved, pets made a vital impact during the pandemic.

The Mars Petcare State of the Pet Nation report reveals that 82% of pet owners in the UK believe they suffer less with problems such as loneliness and depression thanks to the companionship pet ownership brings. It also shows pets are now very much part of the family, with 72% of UK pet owners referring to themselves as their pet’s ‘mummy or daddy’.

Pet owners have got to understand their pets’ behaviours and habits much better – such as the time of day they prefer to nap or when they like to be walked or petted – all the small cues that communicate their needs and emotions. Behaviours which may have been missed before are now obvious to many pet owners as they learn their pet better and can respond to their needs. By recognising and understanding these subtle behavioural cues and changes in their pets, owners are more likely to notice if their pet becomes ill or injured and when to seek veterinary care or behavioural support. Many people are now increasingly mindful of their pet’s wellbeing and what they can do to make them happier and healthier.

On the flipside, people have also been made aware of some behaviours their pets exhibit that are problematic or undesirable, and these can impact the human-pet relationship. It is important that pet owners recognise that pets don’t behave in this manner out of spite, they are simply doing what works for them. Seek veterinary advice and credible behavioural support if necessary. When choosing a behaviourist, look for practitioners that are registered members of professional associations that meet current scientific and evidence-based behaviour and training standards, for example:

At a time when many people have been working from home and often on their own for long periods of time, pets have stood in as colleagues, occasionally interrupting too! People have got used to spending all day with their pets and now many want to continue to be with them, people enjoy having the flexibility to take the dog for a walk at lunch time or spend a break in the day cuddling their cat. Many pet parents would also like to see pet-friendly spaces in the workplace, shops, restaurants and when they travel. It’s great that people want to spend so much time with their pets, but we need to be considerate of our pets needs and whether they also enjoy the interaction and environment. A relationship based on understanding and trust is key for both species to thrive.

Dr Tammie King

Do you think lockdown has impacted our pets’ dependency on us?

In some instances, lockdown has increased our pets’ dependency on us as they are now used to having their owners around them on a day-to-day basis, strengthening the human-animal bond more than ever before. This is their new normal. Many pets have become used to their needs being taken care of on a more immediate basis than before lockdown, when many pet parents were out at work. Some pets are also likely to have become more attached to their caregivers which may make it a difficult transition if owners are beginning to spend more time away from their pets.

The pandemic also meant many pets have not experienced proper socialisation and an introduction to various new environments and stimuli. Now the world is starting to open again, pets will need gradual socialisation and exposure to new situations. It is our responsibility to support them as they may experience stress and fear in these novel environments, especially in crowds of people or new places. Pets depend on us to recognise how they may be feeling by observing and acknowledge their body language. We can then act accordingly and support them as they encounter unfamiliar scenarios, people and other animals.

What are the biggest mistakes you see people make when they get a new pet?

The biggest mistakes I see are underestimating the responsibility, cost and time commitment that pet ownership entails and making sure the animal is the right choice for them, their family and, ultimately, considering how the pet will be affected as a new member of the family.

Things to consider before getting a pet:

  • Why do you want a pet?
    • Consider your motivation for getting a pet to help understand if it is a good idea for you. Because “they look cute” is not a good enough reason. Avoid impulsive decisions which can lead to impulse purchasing/acquisition. Important to take potential pet ownership seriously and decide if it is the right thing for you (and the pet!)
    • Be objective. Try and take emotion out of it. Rescuing a pet (like a dog or cat) is a wonderful thing to do and no doubt makes you feel good, but it must be right for you and the pet
  • Your lifestyle
    • How much time do you spend at home? What type of pet would best suit you and your lifestyle? Do you move to a new house often? Do you go on long holidays abroad?
    • How much spare time do you have (for training/exercising/grooming etc)? Do you have the time & willingness to engage with your pet over the course of its entire lifetime?
    • What is your household like? Do you live alone or with family? Young or older children? Elderly family members? Other pets?
    • Do you rent or own your home? Will your landlord agree? Neighbours with pets? Have you considered damage that may occur to your home, such as from a chewing puppy? Do you have expensive décor (carpets/furniture etc)?
    • Do you or any household members have pet-related allergies?
    • How much physical space do you have in your home? Small/large living space? Apartment? House? Enclosed/secure backyard etc.
    • What type of pet personally appeals to you? Will other family members like them too?
    • Are their reputable pet friendly facilities nearby (dog parks, boarding, day care, vets, groomers etc)?
    • If you decide YES to a pet – consider when the best time is to get your pet. Can you take some annual leave? Kids at school or home? It’s important to lay down proper training foundations to help new pet adjust to your lifestyle.
  • Your time commitment
    • Do you have time to interact with your pet (e.g. walking/training/general husbandry/affection/ social interaction – for social species)? Does the species in question need to be group housed – e.g. chickens/rabbits/rodents etc? Pets can be a long-term commitment. Small dogs and cats can live up to 15+ years
    • If you have a dog, are you willing to walk/socialise your pet every day?
  • The financial impact
    • Cost of the pet
    • Veterinary care (medical bills, routine vaccinations, parasite control, neutering etc.)
    • Pet insurance
    • Grooming
    • Boarding/catteries
    • Training, day care
    • Associated pet items e.g. pet food, toys collars, leads, litter, bedding, bowls, treats, enrichment items (scratching posts, digging pits, cat runs etc. Dependent on pet how much equipment you may need etc.)
  • Do your research (be informed)
    • What sort of pet are you interested in? Find out more about these animals – talk to others who have them, meet them, spend time and to really establish if this is the pet for you. If it’s a particular dog breed or breed type, learn more about them – their characteristics, potential health issues, speak to breeders and visit rescue organisations to get a good overview both good and bad. Read about different pet species and their requirements. It is important to become knowledgeable so you can make an informed decision that will be best for you and the pet in the long run
    • Some considerations – male/female, neutered/entire, young/juvenile/adult/senior, pure breed/mixed breed, breed type, hair type and length, size of pet, temperament inc. activity level etc.
  • Ways to adopt a pet (some recommendations)
    • Consider first what type of pet you think will be most suitable, based on your available finances, time commitment and lifestyle and then do (some more) your research
    • If you are getting a pet from a breeder (make sure they are reputable): https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/dog-breeding/the-kennel-club-assured-breeders/:
      • Ask lots of questions and be prepared to answer questions
      • Visit the puppy/kitten (see the mother, littermates and possibly relatives)
      • Avoid meeting outside the premises. View the conditions the pup/kitten is raised in, as well as their health/appearance and temperament. They should be happy and confident
      • Ask to see the results of health testing of the breeding stock. View vaccination/worming/microchipping certificates and pedigree (if relevant)
      • Puppies and kittens shouldn’t leave for a new home until 8 weeks old
      • Take your time. Visit more than once if you need to
    • Be aware of online ads. Puppy smugglers often advertise through these media
    • Re-home a pet from friends/family or rehoming/rescue organisation (e.g. Dogs Trust, Battersea, Cats Protection, RSPCA etc).
    • Consider fostering a pet to provide you with an opportunity to see if owning a specific pet is the right choice for both you and the animal

What behavioural changes should pet owners look out for when returning to work?

As people start returning to work and activities that keep them away from home for longer stretches of time, pet owners should be aware of any behavioural changes in their pets. It’s another period of change that both pets and people are having to adapt to, with some coping differently to others. Some find the transition overwhelming, especially those pets adopted during the pandemic who have only known a life where their people are always home. Others may relish the alone time once more and a quieter living space. Every pet is an individual and it is imperative people observe how their dog and/or cat is behaving as changes in their routine occur. Separation-related behaviours are common responses to being left alone for many pets. These can range from mild boredom and destructiveness to severe anxiety where pets experience extreme distress, which may require veterinary prescribed medication and intensive behaviour therapy.

Keep an eye out for pacing, unsettled behaviour, barking, whining, whimpering, miaowing, avoidance, hiding, inappetence, destructiveness or other behaviours that suggest your pet is feeling stressed. If in doubt, set up a video camera to record your pet when you are not at home, or ask the neighbours if they hear anything. This will help you understand how your pet is coping and whether you can speed up or if you need to slow down the transition. Don’t scold a pet that reacts negatively while you’re away — this can increase their anxiety and damage the relationship you have with your pet.

What are the most common pet behaviours that identify a problem, but owners often miss?

Changes in behaviour are often the first sign of illness, disease or discomfort which may lead to more obvious signals that your pet is in pain – to begin you might simply notice that your pet is ‘just not itself.’

Changes in behaviour that may indicate signs of discomfort include:

  • An increase or decrease in activity level
  • Altered mobility (lameness, movement)
  • Increased sleeping or a change in sleeping habits
  • Unusual aggression
  • Anti-social behaviour
  • Nervousness
  • A change in appetite
  • Altered elimination patterns
  • Changes in other behaviours (e.g., licking or scratching)

How can owners reduce any stress for pets when returning to work?

Even if your pet coped well with being home alone before the pandemic, they also acclimatised to a new normal: their human at home all the time. Refamiliarizing these pets with a routine will help ease the transition. If you adopted a new pet during the pandemic, it’s possible your pet has never experienced any extended time away from their people. You can help alleviate potential anxiety in pets with a little preparation.

Here are seven top tips to help prepare your pet for some time alone as you return to work:

  • Spend regular time apart. Try not to make an abrupt transition to spending lots of time away from home. Instead, start with small separations, like closing your pet in a separate room for a short period of time or leaving to go for a drive. Be sure to start with brief absences and gradually building up the time you are apart. Be mindful of how your pet is behaving and make sure they are relaxed in your absence
  • Minimize the fuss. You want to convey to your pet that your absence isn’t a big deal — that they don’t have to worry about being apart and that you aren’t worried either. Don’t sneak out but avoid dramatic or emotional hellos or goodbyes. Make departing and arriving seem natural and not notable
  • Monitor for stress and anxiety. As you practice short separations from your pet, consider setting up a camera to watch how they react while you’re gone. Keep an eye out for pacing, barking, whimpering, salivating, destructiveness or other stress-related behaviours. This will help you understand how your dog is coping and whether you can speed up or need to slow down the transition
  • Create a safe haven. Make a space in your home where your dog or cat feels safe, comfortable and protected. Leave some tasty treats or a favourite toy when you leave
  • Develop a predictable routine. Just like people, pets like consistency. They need to know they can count on their next walk, play time or meal. Establishing a consistent routine — one that you can keep up in the future — will help make the transition easier. Also leave them with something to do when you are gone so they have some choice in how they spend their time. Food dispensing toys are great enrichment items and can entertain pets in your absence
  • Get some exercise together. There’s nothing like a fun activity or game before a period of alone time. Exercise can help them expend pent up energy, engage their minds and improve their mood (and yours!) Cats and dogs are naturally more active morning and evening, so these are ideal times to engage in some exercise together
  • Ask for advice and help. If you find your pet is really struggling with separation, reach out for support. Family or friends might be able to help pet-sit or break up alone time with drop-in visits. You can engage a dog walker to provide a midday visit or take your dog to a day-care during the day while working on separation issues. If you and your pet require more specialised support, reach out to a qualified pet behaviourist.

5 things your dog will need during a long walk

We all know how important our dog’s daily walks are for their physical and mental health. Not only does a walk provide your pup with an opportunity to do their business, but it also keeps them mentally stimulated, physically occupied and helps them to feel safe and secure in their neighbourhood.

But, some breeds need more physical activity than others, with energetic breeds like Huskies, Retrievers and Collies needing upwards of 2 hours of exercise a day to remain happy and healthy. If your pup enjoys a long walk as part of their daily routine, here are a few essentials that you should bring along.

A Harness

No matter the breed of the dog, a supportive harness is always the safest way of attaching their leash. Standard collars can cause serious damage to your dog’s delicate neck bones, so kitting them out with a back-clip harness will help equally distribute the force of their pulling. There are a variety of recommended harnesses for puppies and dogs which will provide greater control for you whilst still ensuring comfort for your canine companion.

Harnesses are especially useful during long walks. They often include reflective materials to provide great visibility at night and can even come with attachments to carry essential gear like water bowls and poo bags!

Poo Bags

All responsible dog owners clean up after their pup. One of the main reasons you’re taking your dog out for a walk is to let them do their business, so you should always be prepared to clean up after them when nature calls.

If you’re out on a long walk, you might need to carry your used poo bags with you for a while, so it’s a good idea to buy thickly lined bags and make sure that you have a sealed pocket to keep them in until you can find an appropriate bin.

Dog treats/toys

Long walks provide an excellent opportunity to play with your pup, so making sure that you have a few toys on hand is always a good idea. Games like fetch provide great exercise for your dog and strengthen the bond that the two of you share.

If you’re still training your dog, be that for fun or obedience, you’ll need to remember to bring along some treats which you can dish out as a reward for good behaviour. You should also bring some food with a bit of protein on long walks, as your pup may need a boost of energy as they enjoy their needed exercise.

Water and Collapsible Bowl

One of the most important considerations for your dog’s health is to make sure that they always have access to clean water. Dogs can’t regulate their temperature like humans do, so they’re naturally susceptible to heatstroke and dehydration, especially brachycephalic breeds like Pugs and French Bulldogs.

This is especially important during long walks and the warmer days of the year, so before you leave the house, you should always ensure that you have a suitable bowl and a full water bottle.

Clothing

Different breeds have different needs when it comes to appropriate clothing, though most dogs will benefit from at least a waterproof jacket during wet and windy walks. Dogs with thick, long fur will need thinner jackets with fewer straps to prevent overheating and avoid any painful matting in their fur.

Short-haired breeds will benefit from a cosy winter jacket during the colder days of the year, and most pups will need to wear doggy boots to protect their delicate pads from ice and grit during freezing temperatures.

Some Other Handy Things to Take Along on a Long Walk

Alongside our top 5 essentials when taking your pup out for a long walk, a few extra bits and bobs come in very handy whilst you’re exploring the great outdoors.

GPS tracker

This is especially useful when exploring the countryside, where often excitable pups can bolt off when distracted; kitting your dog out with a GPS tracker can help to make sure that your pup will never be out of sight for long.

ID tag

While most dogs are chipped as puppies, providing your dog with a visible ID tag will help get them home much quicker if they get lost during a long walk.

First aid kit

When out in the countryside, you may need to treat any bumps or scrapes before getting your dog to a vet.

A good first aid kit will include:

  • Bandages
  • Tweezers
  • Sterile Gauze
  • Blunt-Ended Scissors
  • Surgical Sticky Tape
  • Antiseptic Spray

Emergency numbers

Alongside your dog’s ID tag, it can be good to include local vet and cab numbers; this can be invaluable in case of an emergency, especially if you are in an unfamiliar area far from home or need transport for you and your pet urgently.

A drying towel

We all know that if our dogs find a lake, they’re most likely going to go for a dip! Avoid any cold pups or smelly car rides by being prepared with a drying towel.

Long walks with our pups are some of the most exciting times for dogs and owners. Alongside providing your furry friend with the exercise and stimulation that they need, these trips help to strengthen the unique bond that we share with our pets.

By ensuring that we’re equipped with everything our pups may need and providing them with suitable clothing to keep them protected from the elements, we can make sure that our dogs are getting the most out of their favourite time of the day!

 

A guide to travelling with pets

Most pet owners will take their pet for a trip in the car at some point, whether that be a quick visit to the vets, to the kennels or on a longer journey for a UK holiday.

Many dogs love to travel in the car, but some pets will find it stressful if it’s something they are not used to. By planning, you can ensure your pet is safe and comfortable during the journey.

Keeping your pet safe

Using a restraint of some sort will help to keep your pet safe during the journey and help to reduce any stress for you and your pet. Not only will a restraint such as a seatbelt or harness keep your pet safe during the car journey, but it is also a legal requirement.

Their safety – a pet seatbelt or carrier will help to prevent serious injuries to your pet if you are involved in a car accident.

Your safety – if your pet is loose in the car, they could seriously hurt you and your passengers in an accident. At just 30mph an unrestrained dog weighing 20kg would be hurled forward with a force equivalent to the weight of a small moose.

Prevent accidents – a loose driver could distract the driver from the road and cause an accident. They could even get in the way of the steering wheel or the brake pedal.

Legal requirement – the Highway Code says that drivers must make sure dogs and other animals are suitably restrained in your car. If you don’t follow The Highway Code, you could be seen as driving without due care and attention. If you are in an accident because you were distracted by your pet, this could be counted as dangerous driving.

Insurance – a lot of car insurance policies require you to restrain your pets properly. A loose pet in the car could break the terms of your insurance and leave you with a big bill to pay if you’re in an accident. It may invalidate your pet insurance if they are injured and need treatment.

There are several methods to restrain your pet safely in the car, which include:

Crates – these work well if your dog is already crate trained. It keeps them safe while giving them a sense of security while travelling. Make sure the crate is big enough for your dog to move around in.

Carriers – these can be used for smaller dogs and cats. They are lightweight and easy to manoeuvre and can be placed on the back seat.

Harness – effectively these are dog seat belts. Most are fitted to your dog and then clipped into existing seatbelts, protecting your dog from serious injury in the event of an accident.

Guards – these metal grills fit between the boot of your car and back passenger seats. They give your dog the freedom of the boot but keep them safely contained.

Tips for travelling in the car with your pet

Windows

Don’t let your dog stick their head out of the window. This can seem like fun and like they are getting some fresh air, but accidents can happen and impact at speed can have devastating consequences. If your dog has his head out of the window, this can also be a distraction for other drivers.

Regular breaks

For long journeys, make sure your dog has a chance to stretch their legs and have a drink of water if it is a warm day. Break up your car journey with plenty of stops, include a trip to a park or a dog-friendly attraction. Remember a break is good for us too.

Keep them cool

Cars can warm up quickly, so it’s important to be aware of your pet’s temperature when you’re on the go and remember to pop on the air conditioning or open windows to keep them cool on particularly warm days.

In hot weather, never leave your dog in the car on their own, even if you’re only popping into the shop. A short period of time can be too long, and any delay could lead to devastating consequences.

Car sickness

If your pet gets car sick, try not to feed them right before the journey. Make sure they have had plenty of time to digest their meal or leave it until after the car journey to feed them. Speak to your vet as they may be able to offer medication to help with car sickness for your pet.

Carry water

Make sure you have a bowl and some water for your dog on long journeys to prevent them getting dehydrated.

Reduce stress

If your pet is particularly anxious about travelling in the car, ask your vet about a calming supplement, which could be given prior to the journey to help reduce stress for your pet. There are many products on the market, such as Pet Remedy, Nutracalm by Nutravet or Scullcap and Valerian by Dorwest Herbs. Your vet will be able to recommend the best product, depending on your pet’s anxiety.

Start young

Pets who are used to travelling in the car from a young age are much more likely to be relaxed and comfortable during car trips. Introduce them to the car as early as you can as part of their socialisation and training. You could start by getting them used to being in a parked car and then take small trips as they build up confidence. Make sure their experience in the car is positive and reward good behaviour with a treat or a fun walk.

Letting them out

When you arrive at your destination, only ever let your dog out of the car onto the pavement side and never a road. Training your dog to wait until you have told them they can exist is helpful. This gives you time to get them safely on their lead, assess traffic or other dangers and get them out safe and stress free.

Airbags

If your pet is travelling in the front passenger seat, don’t forget to disable the airbags. However, letting them travel in the front of the car alongside you could be a distraction, so it would be better and safer for them to travel on the back seat.

 

 

 

Spring allergies in pets

Allergies in pets at this time of year can vary from food, environmental or household, and 10% of allergies in dogs are said to be food related, but many pets can suffer from more than one.

There are certain breeds of cats and dogs that are more susceptible to allergies and most affected, including Retrievers, German Shepherds, Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels and Rex Cats.

Just like their owners, allergies in pets are a common occurrence with an estimated 20% of dogs suffering from them. The type of allergy that your pet has can be hard to diagnose as many of the symptoms are almost identical. Seasonal allergies in pets usually manifest as itchy, dry, or sensitive skin, but there are other common signs. For example, if they have a runny nose, excessively drooling of just not themselves, it could be down to allergies.

Common causes:

Although they can suffer with more than one allergy, there are common types that pets can develop:

  • Atopy (also known as Atopic Dermatitis)
  • Flea allergy
  • Hay fever
  • Food allergy

Other causes of common allergies in pets can include, pollen, mould spores, dust, feathers, perfumes, cleaning products and fleas.

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic Dermatitis (Atopy) is an allergy to something in the environment, such as pollen, moulds, grass, or dust mites. Pets with Atopic Dermatitis tend to have very itchy skin, usually it’s worse on their paws, ears, tummy, and armpits. If your pet has Atopic Dermatitis they may be constantly scratching, licking, and biting, which can make their skin red, sore and open to infection. Pets can develop Atopic Dermatitis at any age, although it can be more common in young dogs and in certain breeds, such as the West Highland Terrier (Westie). Common symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis can include itchy skin, ear infections, licking or chewing themselves, hair loss, dark/thickened skin, weepy eyes, bacterial skin infections and yeast infections.

Finding out what your pet is allergic to can be quite challenging as flea and food allergies can cause almost identical symptoms as Atopic Dermatitis.

To help reduce symptoms and prevent future flare ups, your vet may recommend steps to avoid triggers, such as:

  • Avoid walks when the pollen count is high
  • Rinsing your dog off after walking in long grass
  • Avoiding sprays (except flea sprays) in the home
  • Vacuum and dust regularly

Keep your pet up to date with their flea treatment, symptoms are likely to flare up if they are bitten.

Some pet supplements on the market can contain high quality Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin-E, which can naturally calm sensitive skin, sooth dry, flaky skin and reduce itching and scratching.

Hay fever

Hay fever is an allergy that is common in spring and summer. The allergic reaction is caused by the body’s response to pollen in the air. An allergy to pollen is less common than an allergy to fleas or house dust mites and it’s not easy to tell the difference unless your pet has an allergy test.

When a pet suffers from hay fever can depend on what type of pollen, they are sensitive to and what part of the UK you live in:

  • Tree pollen – from late March to Mid-May
  • Grass pollen – Mid-May to July
  • Weed pollen – end of June to September.

Flea allergies

When your pet gets bitten by a flea, it injects saliva into their skin. Flea saliva is irritating to most animals, including humans and can trigger an allergic reaction in some cats and dogs. Everyday itching from a flea bite is not the same as a flea allergy. A pet that is allergic to flea bites will have a skin reaction every time they are bitten, which can cause intense itching and inflammation of the skin. Other common signs of an allergic reaction to fleas include hair loss, over grooming, lumpy skin, red, inflamed skin, and fleas.

If your pet has a flea allergy, as an owner you need to ensure it is managed properly. A poorly managed flea allergy could cause severe skin disease and illness. With the advice and treatment from your vet and a good flea control, most pets with flea allergies can live a happy and healthy life.

Your vet will be able to offer advice on the best flea treatment sufficient for your pet. Make sure you treat both indoor and outdoor cats as outdoor cats can bring fleas inside.

Food allergies

A food allergy is when a pet’s immune system overreacts to one or more ingredients in their diet. Common signs for this can include itchy skin, vomiting, diarrhoea, sore tummy, or excessive wind.

Food allergies in dogs can develop at any stage of their life but are most common when they are less than a year old. In cats, they can develop by 4-5 years old. It’s not always easy trying to find what your pet may be allergic too and a food elimination diet is often used to diagnose a food allergy. Dogs tend to be allergic to protein (meat or dairy), with some also allergic to wheat and grains. Cats can be allergic to products such as beef, dairy, or fish.

If an allergy is well managed, your pet can live a perfectly normal life. If you are worried about your pet and suspect they have allergies, speak to your vet who is best placed to monitor their symptoms and manage their treatment.

 

 

Care of Dwarf Hamsters

By Emma Purnell, RVN Cert.Nut.

The term dwarf hamster encompasses several species of hamster including Roborovski and Chinese Dwarf Hamsters. These animals are often seen as children’s pets but may not be ideal for all homes as they have some very specific needs.

Hamsters are nocturnal, they sleep during the day and are active through the night so where their housing is placed is important. They can be tamed and handled fairly easily but are very fast and if scared can give a sharp bite so any interactions with children must be closely monitored for both parties! Handling while sitting on the floor is safest to avoid the risk of a fall from a height. Housing more than one hamster together can be complicated, some species, such as Chinese Dwarf Hamsters, are best kept alone. Some species can be kept in small groups of 2-3 individuals, but these should be introduced when very young, ideally litter mates, and new individuals not added at a later date. Groups can fight and cause major injuries to each other so care should be taken to check them every day to ensure this hasn’t happened overnight. Other animals should be kept well away from hamsters as they will be scared.

Home environment

Many cages sold for hamsters are far too small, even for dwarf species. The larger a space you can provide the better to allow them to explore. When purchasing a large cage do ensure the bar spacing is small enough to ensure they cannot escape. Plastic bottomed cages are better than wooden ones as they can be more easily cleaned and do not soak in urine. Hamsters love to dig so having a deep base to the cage and plenty of substrate at the bottom of the cage to allow this will make them much happier. There are many materials which can be used for this but dust free wood shavings or paper based materials are probably the most suitable. Hamsters will build nests so providing bedding material is also vital. Bedding material which is made up of thin strands or is fluffy and like cotton wool should be avoided, these can get tangled around limbs and cause severe injuries. Good quality hay or paper bedding is far safer. Adding plenty of hiding places, tunnels, tubes and bedding areas can be very beneficial, especially if there are a group of hamsters. Use of a wheel can be enjoyable for them but ensure that the wheel is large or a ‘flying saucer’ type wheel is provided to avoid any risk of spinal problems.

Food and water

Fresh, clean drinking water must always be provided but avoid bottles with a ball-value tube, they can struggle to drink around this resistance. In terms of diet hamsters are omnivores, eating seeds, plant matter and insects. The best way to provide this is a complete, good quality dry diet specially marketed for hamsters. This can be supplemented by some green vegetables, root vegetables or a very small amount of fruit e.g. apple but fruit should be kept to a minimum as some species are prone to diabetes. Any fresh food should be removed if not eaten within a few hours. It is important to check bedding areas for stored fresh food as hamsters will often move food into stores within their bed using their cheek pouches. Dry food can be weighed out and placed in a small bowl, or weighed out and scatter fed/hidden around the cage to provide extra interest. ‘High value’ (tasty) food items could lead to fights between hamsters housed together so be careful with groups to ensure this does not happen.

Healthcare

Hamsters are very good at hiding health issues and therefore if you spot your hamster is not well it is very important that you seek veterinary advice as soon as possible. Hamsters’ teeth grow constantly so they will gnaw – making sure they have a variety of different things to chew on as well as a good diet can help to keep these under control. If they are out of line however they won’t wear down evenly and can overgrow to cause severe dental issues. If you start to see the teeth sticking out or the hamster struggling to store or eat food they will need a veterinary check to find what is going on. Any reduction in eating, sitting hunched, sunken eyes, dramatic weight loss or gain, excess drinking or instability moving around can be signs they are unwell. They can suffer with tumours and if these are seen as soon as they are spotted they are more likely to be able to be treated. Respiratory issues can also be a problem so any sneezing or discharge from the nose or eyes must be checked. Hamsters can also suffer with something called ‘wet tail’ when their back end becomes wet with urine or diarrhoea. This can be fatal and must be addressed as soon as noticed.

Overall hamsters can be wonderful pets with fascinating behaviours, however it is important that they are provided with much more space and care than is often expected as well as handled daily from a young age by a confident adult if they will be suitable as a child’s pet.

 

 

Top tips for pet owners at Easter

Easter can be a fun and exciting time for many when we can enjoy a nice break and some much-needed downtime with our pets.

Whether you’re enjoying nice long walks with your dog or tucking into your favourite chocolate egg, as a pet owner it’s important to remember the hazards for pets that can come with Easter time. Many pet owners see their pet as one of the family and like to include them in the celebrations or festivities.

To help keep your pets healthy and safe this Easter, we highlight some hazards for pet owners to be aware of:

Chocolate

Chocolate contains a powerful stimulant called theobromine that pets can’t cope with, so even the smallest amount can be toxic. Keep all chocolate eggs and treats out of reach from your pets and let other family members know not to feed them to your pet. Keep some of your dog or cat’s favourite treat to hand while you are enjoying your Easter egg to ensure they don’t beg or feel left out.

Hot cross buns

Hot cross buns are a common yummy treat around Easter time and can contain raisins, currants, or sultanas. These are all foods that are toxic to cats and dogs and could cause tummy upsets and for your pet to feel unwell. Be sure to keep these out of reach from your pet, especially if they are left alone in the house – be sure they are all hidden away.

Easter grass

Colourful grasses are often used to line Easter baskets for Easter egg hunts or decoration. These usually contain plastic materials, which can be harmful to pets if swallowed. Try using alternatives like tissue paper and keep all decorations out of reach from pets.

Easter plants

Flowers and plants that add some colour to our homes or gardens at this time of year, such as daffodils and lilies can be toxic to our pets. Lilies contain unknown toxins that if ingested by cats can cause tummy upsets, even a small amount can result in kidney failure. Daffodils contain poisonous alkaloids that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, and excessive salivation in pets. The bulbs are the most dangerous part.

Spring bulbs

All spring bulbs and often what grows out of them are poisonous to pets. Dogs are most likely to be affected as they can be curious when in the garden and root them up, especially when freshly planted or coming into flower in spring.

Roast dinner

Many of us will sit down to enjoy a roast dinner at Easter, but don’t be tempted to feed your pet scraps from the dinner table. Fatty pork or ham can lead to upset tummies for our pets. Be sure to make other family members aware they should not feed scraps to your cat or dog. Give your pet some yummy treats to enjoy whilst you sit down for your dinner to stop them from begging.

Easter egg hunts

These can be fun for the family at Easter, but when all the eggs have been found or the family has given up, be sure to collect all remaining eggs so your dog isn’t tempted by them. Even if you use plastic or boiled eggs these can still cause problems.

House guests

If you have family visiting over the Easter weekend, be mindful of pets who may become anxious with new people in the home. Be aware of open windows and doors, to stop them from escaping if they become stressed.

Spring cleaning

Be aware of household cleaning products and don’t leave them lying around the house for your pet to sniff out. Commercial cleaning products, almost without exception, contain chemicals that are toxic to your dog or cat. Try switching to non-toxic household cleaning products.

If you are worried that your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t, consult your vet straight away.

Q&A with Arden Grange

By Ness Bird, Nutrition Adviser at Arden Grange

Arden Grange is a family run, Sussex-based business who this year celebrate their 25th anniversary. Ness Bird, Nutrition advisor at Arden Grange answers our questions about their crucial sensitivities in pets and what to look out for at this time of year…

How can you tell if your dog has sensitivities or allergies?

Pet allergies are on the rise, and this is especially true for dogs. The causes for dietary allergies or environmental allergies are well documented, for example higher levels of C02 cause an increase in pollen which, in turn, can trigger allergies. 

For dogs, these sensitivities manifest in many ways such as dry, itchy skin, recurring ear infections or diarrhoea. To some level this can be managed by minimising exposure, but with the addition of a supportive diet, that also boosts immunity, symptoms can be effectively controlled.  

If you think your dog has a sensitivity, make sure you consult with your vet and it might be worth considering a different diet.

What are the most common causes of sensitivities and allergies in dogs at this time of year?

Although environmental allergies can be a year-round problem, animals can suffer from hay fever-like symptoms (just like us), which are more common during the summer months when pollens are reaching higher levels.

Limiting exposure to pollen is difficult because dogs need to be walked outdoor. Intradermal skin testing is expensive, but it can be an extremely useful diagnostic tool since particular types of pollen that are problematic to the individual can be identified. If you know which trees and grasses are annoying your dog’s immune system, it can sometimes be possible to alter walking routes to avoid these plants. 

Try to avoid walking at very humid times of the day, if possible. Protective boots may be an idea if your dog’s feet become irritated when walking in particular areas. Nibbling at the feet can be symptomatic of atopy*, so your dog may have sore feet even if he/she is not walking on something that’s directly affecting him/her such as chemicals used to spray crops or insecticides used on grass. Salt and grit on the roads in winter can exacerbate this, so it’s important to be careful at all times of the year

In the warmer weather there are more flying insects about. Reactions to insect bites and stings can be very severe if your dog has an allergy to the enzymes released by the insect. External parasite control is therefore especially important for animals who are allergic to flea or tick saliva, but be sure to use safe, species appropriate products.

How can pet owners reduce those allergies or sensitivities?

Our dogs do a lot of sniffing, so it’s no surprise that certain things can get up their noses and cause them problems. They are also smaller than adult humans, so what might be mildly bothersome to us such as a high pollen count on a summer’s day could be a lot more irritating to an atopic pet. So, a diet that supports the immune system can be very beneficial.

What should a pet owner consider when choosing a diet for a sensitive pet?

The food we choose for our dogs can make a big difference to their overall health and wellbeing. For dogs with sensitivities, it’s important to look for foods that don’t contain common allergens such as wheat/ gluten, beef, dairy and soya for example, as these can be a trigger for digestive issues, itchy skin or other problems.

Consider foods that are palatable and easily digested. It’s also worth looking out for additional ingredients that support a healthy immune system. For example, our Sensitive Range is made with fresh ocean white fish and potato, which is gentle for sensitive dogs and naturally rich in Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, while the supplementary Superfood Blend supports the immune system.

* Atopy describes an adverse immune reaction to one or more environmental allergen/s

Arden Grange recently launched a new advertising campaign – ‘Home of the Range’, which signals a new phase in the history of this trusted British brand.

To find out more about the Arden Grange range visit www.ardengrange.com